Author Topic: Argentoratum - how many roman lines?  (Read 1779 times)

LawrenceG

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Argentoratum - how many roman lines?
« on: June 29, 2021, 10:05:37 PM »
Spun off from the discussion of Reserves in Rule System Discussions
http://soa.org.uk/sm/index.php?topic=5329.msg70782;topicseen#msg70782

Was the Roman army deployed in 2 lines, or only 1 ?

I had a quick look at
http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A2007.01.0082%3Abook%3D16%3Achapter%3D12

and extracted what I think are the relevant parts:



“[31] Also, when he had come to others, who were stationed behind the standards and in the extreme rear, he said: “Behold, fellow-soldiers, the long-hoped-for day is now here, forcing us all to wash away the old-time stains and restore its due honour to the majesty of Rome.”

Definitely some troops stationed in the "extreme rear", but does this constitute a whole second line, a camp guard, or something else?


“[37] ... (snip) ... And although our left wing, marching in close formation had driven back by main force the onrushing hordes of Germans and was advancing with shouts into the midst of the savages, our cavalry, which held the right wing, unexpectedly broke ranks and fled; but while the foremost of these fugitives hindered the hindmost, finding themselves sheltered in the bosom of the legions, they halted, and renewed the battle.”

Cavalry, having fled, find themselves "sheltered in the bosom of the legions". This suggests that the legions were stationed further to the rear than whatever location the cavalry fled from. However, [38] says they "scattered in whatever direction they could", so the legions might not be directly to the rear of the cavalry, and what exactly does  "sheltered in the bosom" mean?


“[42] Then the Alamanni, having beaten and scattered our cavalry, charged upon the front line of the infantry, supposing that their courage to resist was now lost and that they would therefore drive them back.”

Does a mention of "the front line" imply there is another line separate from the front line ?

“[49] And so there suddenly leaped forth a fiery band of nobles, among whom even the kings fought, and with the common soldiers following they burst in upon our lines before the rest; and opening up a path for themselves they got as far as the legion of the Primani, which was stationed in the centre a strong feature called praetorian camp; there our soldiers, closely packed and in fully-manned lines. stood their ground fast and firm, like towers”

The band of nobles "open up a path for themselves" to the Primani legion, but is it a path through their own troops, or a path through other Roman troops in front of the Primani? Are the Primani on their own at this "praetorian camp" feature, or part of a line? Are these the same troops that were in the extreme rear earlier on?

“[50] But the enemy strove to lavish their lives for victory and kept trying to break the fabric of our line.”

this time only 1 line, apparently.

Next step is to look at the original language, I suggest.



  • Lawrence Greaves

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Re: Argentoratum - how many roman lines?
« Reply #1 on: June 30, 2021, 09:46:03 AM »
Quote
Next step is to look at the original language, I suggest.

To help you, I've extracted this comment from Patrick in an earlier discussion , which doubtless he would have introduced at this point

Quote
I do not think the Allemanni actually penetrated the Roman line: the troops they pushed through appear to have been their own.  The Romans they fought, the Primani legion, renewed the battle, which seems to require a bit of a conceptual and semantic stretch if they were reserves.  Ammianus (VI.12.49) just says:

et iter sibi aperiendo (having needed to open a way for themselves) ad usque Primanorum legionem pervenit locatam in medio (they reached [literally: arrived all the way to] the Primani legion located in the centre)

So they may well have been pushing through their own forces, which were probably shaky, maybe even falling back, given Severus' success on the Roman left.

Had they actually broken through the Roman line, one would expect Ammianus to mention this, if only as a counterpoint to the rout of the cataphracts (which I am surprised never surfaced in discussion of unpredictability on the battlefield).

As usual, Patrick puts a counter position to the orthodox one and I offer it here for the purposes of discussion.
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Re: Argentoratum - how many roman lines?
« Reply #2 on: June 30, 2021, 09:50:32 AM »
My take as well, but rereading Ammianus he does mention "lines" more than once. Let me come back to this.

Mick Hession

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Re: Argentoratum - how many roman lines?
« Reply #3 on: June 30, 2021, 10:29:46 AM »
The original text will be vital. The Project Gutenberg translation of #49 has:
"49. Presently there sprang forward with sudden vigour a fiery band of nobles, among whom also were the princes of the petty tribes, and, as the common soldiers followed them in great numbers, they burst through our lines, and forced a path for themselves up to the principal legion of the reserve, which was stationed in the centre, in a position called the prætorian camp; and there the soldiery, being in closer array, and in densely serried ranks, stood firm as so many towers, and renewed the battle with increased spirit. And intent upon parrying the blows of the enemy, and covering themselves with their shields as the Mirmillos[68] do, with their drawn swords wounded their antagonists in the sides, which their too vehement impetuosity left unprotected."

Now "the principal legion" is clearly an incorrect translation of a unit title (Primani) but the term "reserve" is explicitly used... but by Ammianus or the translator?

Cheers
Mick
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Re: Argentoratum - how many roman lines?
« Reply #4 on: June 30, 2021, 10:56:50 AM »
The original text will be vital. The Project Gutenberg translation of #49 has:
"49. Presently there sprang forward with sudden vigour a fiery band of nobles, among whom also were the princes of the petty tribes, and, as the common soldiers followed them in great numbers, they burst through our lines, and forced a path for themselves up to the principal legion of the reserve, which was stationed in the centre, in a position called the prætorian camp; and there the soldiery, being in closer array, and in densely serried ranks, stood firm as so many towers, and renewed the battle with increased spirit. And intent upon parrying the blows of the enemy, and covering themselves with their shields as the Mirmillos[68] do, with their drawn swords wounded their antagonists in the sides, which their too vehement impetuosity left unprotected."

Now "the principal legion" is clearly an incorrect translation of a unit title (Primani) but the term "reserve" is explicitly used... but by Ammianus or the translator?



"ad usque Primanorum legionem pervenit locatam in medio " quoted by Patrick seems to be the passage in question.  Even with my non-existent Latin, I'm not seeing the word reserve there.
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Re: Argentoratum - how many roman lines?
« Reply #5 on: June 30, 2021, 11:38:56 AM »
You also need to include Amm. 16.12.20:

"When our leading officers espied them [the Germans], now near at hand, taking their places in close wedge-formation [cuneus - probably not a wedge], they halted and stood fast, making a solid line, like an impregnable wall, of the vanguard [antepilanis], the standard bearers [hastatis], and the staff-officers [ordinum primis]; and with like wariness the enemy held their ground in wedge-formation."

The (slightly odd) translations are justified (not very successfully) in a footnote to the Perseus translation. I don't know enough (sc. anything) about Roman armies of this period to know what these antepilani and hastati and ordinum primi might be, exactly - they are terms familiar from Livy's account of the Republican legion. At any rate, Ammianus seems to envisage some sort of division of the Roman line into forward and rearward components, like the earlier legions.

LawrenceG

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Re: Argentoratum - how many roman lines?
« Reply #6 on: June 30, 2021, 02:20:13 PM »
Quote
[49] Exsiluit itaque subito ardens optimatium globus, inter quos decernebant et reges, et sequente vulgo ante alios agmina nostrorum irrupit, et iter sibi aperiendo, 30 ad usque Primanorum legionem pervenit locatam in medio—quae confirmatio castra praetoria dictitatur,-ubi densior et ordinibus frequens, miles instar turrium fixa firmitate consistens, proelium maiore spiritu repetivit, et vulneribus declinandis intentus, seque in modum mirmillonis operiens, hostium latera, quae nudabat ira flagrantior, districtis gladiis perforabat.

Perseus note 30 is: "aperiendo, EBG; pandendo, Her.; rapiendo, suggested by Clark, cf. xviii. 9, 3; pariendo, V."

aperio = to uncover, lay bare
pando = to split
rapio = to seize and carry off, snatch, tear, pluck, drag, hurry away
pario =  to bring forth, produce and various other meanings carrying that sense.

Relying heavily on Perseus Latin word study tool, and keeping it literal, I get

And thus suddenly a burning band of nobles, among whom also kings were fighting, and common soldiers following, before the others, burst into (or attacked) our advancing formations, and laying bare a path for itself, it reached all the way to / as far as  the legion of the Primani positioned in the centre – (I think it might be the position in the line rather than a feature that is called the praetorian camp) – where denser and in repeated ranks, a soldier the likeness of fixed towers making a stand with firmness, renewed the battle with greater spirit, etc .

“miles” and “repetivit” are both singular, although from the context many soldiers are doing this.

No reference to a "reserve" there unless "castra praetoria" has that as an idiomatic meaning. Still unclear who or what the band of nobles is clearing a path through.
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Justin Swanton

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Re: Argentoratum - how many roman lines?
« Reply #7 on: June 30, 2021, 02:21:18 PM »
You also need to include Amm. 16.12.20:

"When our leading officers espied them [the Germans], now near at hand, taking their places in close wedge-formation [cuneus - probably not a wedge], they halted and stood fast, making a solid line, like an impregnable wall, of the vanguard [antepilanis], the standard bearers [hastatis], and the staff-officers [ordinum primis]; and with like wariness the enemy held their ground in wedge-formation."

The (slightly odd) translations are justified (not very successfully) in a footnote to the Perseus translation. I don't know enough (sc. anything) about Roman armies of this period to know what these antepilani and hastati and ordinum primi might be, exactly - they are terms familiar from Livy's account of the Republican legion. At any rate, Ammianus seems to envisage some sort of division of the Roman line into forward and rearward components, like the earlier legions.

Word for word:

Quos cum iam prope densantes semet in cuneos
- When them (the Alamans) now nearby packed-together in wedges
nostrorum conspexere ductores, - our leaders saw,
steterunt vestigiis fixis, antepilanis hastatisque et ordinum primis, - they (the Romans) stood, their feet fixed-fast [Edit: The antepilani with the hastati and the ordinum primis stood, their feet fixed fast]
velut insolubili muro fundatis, - made-firm like an immovable wall
et pari - and likewise ("pari" is difficult as it can mean many things. In this context I see it as "their counterparts", "like them")
cautela hostes stetere cuneati. - the enemies with caution stood-still, wedge-shaped.

Notice that the antepilani, hastati and ordinum primi are all in a single wall, i.e. the implication is that they are in one line, regardless of whether their designations originally applied to several lines

« Last Edit: June 30, 2021, 03:18:40 PM by Justin Swanton »
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LawrenceG

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Re: Argentoratum - how many roman lines?
« Reply #8 on: June 30, 2021, 02:32:52 PM »
It occurs to me that if the band of nobles cleared a path through their own forces, not through the Roman front line, then they themselves must have previously been in reserve.
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Mick Hession

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Re: Argentoratum - how many roman lines?
« Reply #9 on: June 30, 2021, 02:39:38 PM »

Notice that the antepilani, hastati and ordinum primi are all in a single wall, i.e. the implication is that they are in one line, regardless of whether their designations originally applied to several lines

No, they are not. They are made firm like an immovable wall. It's a simile. It tells us nothing about the disposition of the troops themselves.

Cheers
Mick
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Re: Argentoratum - how many roman lines?
« Reply #10 on: June 30, 2021, 02:46:25 PM »

Notice that the antepilani, hastati and ordinum primi are all in a single wall, i.e. the implication is that they are in one line, regardless of whether their designations originally applied to several lines

No, they are not. They are made firm like an immovable wall. It's a simile. It tells us nothing about the disposition of the troops themselves.

Cheers
Mick

Mmmm...."like immovable walls" if they were multi-line. But I agree it's rather ambiguous.
« Last Edit: June 30, 2021, 02:51:28 PM by Justin Swanton »
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Re: Argentoratum - how many roman lines?
« Reply #11 on: June 30, 2021, 02:59:30 PM »
Quote
No reference to a "reserve" there unless "castra praetoria" has that as an idiomatic meaning.

I found this in the Roman military glossary online

Castra praetoria (LA): praetorian camp; (1) base of the praetorian guard at Rome established by Tiberius; (2) dense close ordered formation in the late Roman army.

Unfortunately no further authority given for the statement.  It may simply be based on an interpretation of this passage in Ammianus and thus not helpful.
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Re: Argentoratum - how many roman lines?
« Reply #12 on: June 30, 2021, 03:01:12 PM »
steterunt vestigiis fixis, antepilanis hastatisque et ordinum primis, - they (the Romans) stood, their feet fixed-fast

Strangely you've missed the key words, antepilanis hastatisque et ordinum primis,  from your translation.

If there are antepilani, there must be postpilani, and ditto (probably) hastati (principes?) and ordinum primis (ordinum posterior/secundis?)

Yes the whole formation is like a wall. To use this to try to interpret the precise shape of the formation (towers? battlements? gates?) is to leave the path of wisdom.

And more generally, Ammianus wasn't writing a detailed technical account of the tactical manoeuvres of the battle, he was writing a colourful literary 'battle piece', full of sound and fury. Some details can be extracted, with caution, since it's all we have, but I hate this picking apart of a single word here and there and trying to twist them to fit some particular theory.

RichT

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Re: Argentoratum - how many roman lines?
« Reply #13 on: June 30, 2021, 03:10:28 PM »
There's a small and mostly unhelpful RAT discussion of the castra praetoria at Argentoratum:
https://www.romanarmytalk.com/rat//printthread.php?tid=20560

No other examples are offered. It does feel like an idiom but who knows?

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Re: Argentoratum - how many roman lines?
« Reply #14 on: June 30, 2021, 03:11:43 PM »
steterunt vestigiis fixis, antepilanis hastatisque et ordinum primis, - they (the Romans) stood, their feet fixed-fast

Strangely you've missed the key words, antepilanis hastatisque et ordinum primis,  from your translation.

If there are antepilani, there must be postpilani, and ditto (probably) hastati (principes?) and ordinum primis (ordinum posterior/secundis?)

They're in my translation. I think it's clear though that the terms no longer meant what they had meant in 340BC. By the time of the Second Punic War antepilani were no longer a thing - they belonged to the legion of the Latin War where the antepilani were the leves, hastati and principes, whilst the postpilani were the triarii, rorarii and accensi. By the late republic the hastati didn't exist either - the legions had been simplified into cohorts of multi-purpose legionaries. The terms were kept however but referred to something very different, just as the 1st Cavalry Division of the US army doesn't ride into battle on horseback but uses helicopters and other suitable contemporary hardware. It's absolutely standard for armies to keep obsolescent designations for units that no longer describe what the units actually are.
« Last Edit: June 30, 2021, 03:13:40 PM by Justin Swanton »
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