Author Topic: Deployment of Consular Legions  (Read 288 times)

Chris

  • Society Member
  • Posts: 1150
  • Country: us
Deployment of Consular Legions
« on: April 30, 2022, 08:22:03 PM »

In his February 2016 PDF about “The Polybian Roman Army in To the Strongest!” Simon Miller wrote: “A Roman consul would command a consular army which would usually consist of two legiones and two alae. Praetors usually commanded a smaller force consisting of a single legio and ala.” Later on in the brief, he explains: “in such a consular army, the two Roman legiones would form the centre, with the allied alae drawn up on either side . . . the allied cavalry would form up on the left and the Roman horse on the right.”

So, if one were to stage a battle wherein two consular armies were present and advancing in tandem, would it be historically correct to have 4 Roman legions in the center and 2 allied formations on each wing?

What would be the approximate frontage of such a force?

Thanks in advance for any feedback or directions to helpful links.

Cheers,
Chris
  • Chris Hahn

Duncan Head

  • Former Officer
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 5296
  • Country: england
Re: Deployment of Consular Legions
« Reply #1 on: April 30, 2022, 09:47:42 PM »
Dionysius of Halicarnassus describes a four-legion army at Asculum against Pyrrhus, and implies that the allied contingents alternated with the legions - "The Latins, Campanians, Sabines, Umbrians, Volscians, Marrucini, Peligni, Ferentani, and their other subjects they divided into four divisions and mingled them with the Roman legions, in order that no part of their lines might be weak".
  • Duncan Head

Chris

  • Society Member
  • Posts: 1150
  • Country: us
Re: Deployment of Consular Legions
« Reply #2 on: May 01, 2022, 10:54:06 AM »
Interesting, thanks for the reference, Duncan.

Recollecting, or trying to recollect, the deployment at Telamon (a fairly recent battle day).

While this engagement was a "sandwich" of sorts, weren't the two Roman armies deployed with Romans in the center and allies on the flanks?

Cheers,
Chris
  • Chris Hahn

Duncan Head

  • Former Officer
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 5296
  • Country: england
Re: Deployment of Consular Legions
« Reply #3 on: May 01, 2022, 12:08:34 PM »
The only source (Polybios) doesn't mention how the allies at Telamon deployed. He only says that Aemilius "drew up his infantry in the usual order".
  • Duncan Head

Mark Hygate

  • Society Member
  • Posts: 15
  • Interests: Ancient and SciFi - particularly Roman Military Organisation
Re: Deployment of Consular Legions
« Reply #4 on: May 03, 2022, 11:29:32 AM »
It's a part of something I hope to finally put together - but I've come to the belief that a single Roman Legion would 'normally' deploy on a 500ft frontage.  This would be easily worked/marked out on a battlefield by measuring 100 standard double-paces.  So, for the total of 8 legions in your OP that's 4,000ft (Roman feet, of course!).
  • Mark Hygate

Erpingham

  • Global Moderator
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 8260
  • Country: gb
  • Interests: Medieval warfare, Old School, home made rules
Re: Deployment of Consular Legions
« Reply #5 on: May 03, 2022, 11:43:14 AM »
This article contains a number of calculations of frontage at various Republican actions.  You can access it through the open access reading option.

The usual caveats apply - we aren't sure how many men were in a legion, how many ranks they drew up in and what gaps, if any, existed in the formation.  The article does, however, explain what assumptions it makes. 
  • Anthony Clipsom

Justin Swanton

  • Former Officer
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4012
  • Country: za
    • Ancient Battle Formations
  • Interests: Anything in Ancients that gives a good game and adds historicity to boot
Re: Deployment of Consular Legions
« Reply #6 on: May 03, 2022, 01:07:32 PM »
We've covered this before but why not again?

A closer look at Polybius shows that a legionary file was three feet wide, not six.

Firstly, Polybius discusses the spacing of a pike phalanx:

Quote
Many considerations may easily convince us that, if only the phalanx has its proper formation and strength, nothing can resist it face to face or withstand its charge. For as a man in close order of battle occupies a space of three feet; and as the length of the sarissae is sixteen cubits according to the original design, which has been reduced in practice to fourteen; and as of these fourteen four must be deducted, to allow for the distance between the two hands holding it, and to balance the weight in front; it follows clearly that each hoplite will have ten cubits of his sarissae projecting beyond his body, when he lowers it with both hands, as he advances against the enemy: hence, too, though the men of the second, third, and fourth rank will have their sarissae projecting farther beyond the front rank than the men of the fifth, yet even these last will have two cubits of their sarissae beyond the front rank; if only the phalanx is properly formed and the men close up properly both flank and rear - Histories: 18.29

The "space of three feet" translates ἐν τρισὶ ποσὶ – en trisi posi – literally "in three feet". That three feet doesn't refer to width but to depth. Why? Because you need to know the spacing between the ranks in order to calculate how many sarissas will project before the front of the phalanx. Read the passage again and you'll see what I mean. Notice that the calculation assumes that the three feet incorporates the entire depth of a rank, i.e. it is to be measured from the midpoint of one man to the midpoint of the man behind him.

After this Polybius passes on to the Romans:

Quote
Now, a Roman soldier in full armour also requires a space of three square feet [en trisi posi]. But as their method of fighting admits of individual motion for each man – because he defends his body with a shield, which he moves about to any point from which a blow is coming, and because he uses his sword both for cutting and stabbing – it is evident that each man must have a clear space, and an interval of at least three feet both on flank and rear, if he is to do his duty with any effect. – Histories: 18.30

Notice the "also". Polybius here is referring to the depth of a Roman rank, not the width of the files. En trisi posi doesn't mean "three square feet", just "three feet". "It is evident that each man must have a clear space, and an interval of at least three feet both on flank and rear" translates prophanes hoti chalasma kai diastasin allelon echein deesei tous andras elachiston treis podas kat’ epistaten kai kata parastaten. Literally: "Clear that looseness [i.e. not to be too tightly packed] and standing-apartness from each other need to have the men at least three feet in respect of those behind and those on the side." In better English: "Clearly the men need to be loosely arrayed and have space between each other – at least three feet to the men behind and the men on either side." The looseness is relative: Polybius is comparing the spacing of legionaries to that of a pike phalanx in close order where the pikemen are jammed together and have little room for individual movement.

The three feet is measured - as for the three feet between the phalangite ranks - from the midpoint of a legionary to the midpoint of the man next to him and the man behind him. This means that each legionary in fact occupies a square space measuring three by three feet. The width is confirmed by Vegetius who gives double the depth (evidently to accommodate the late legionary's use of missile weapons).

Polybius adds that "The result of this will be that each Roman soldier will face two of the front rank of a phalanx." He mentions earlier that the phalanx is "in close order of battle". Polybius, unlike Livy, was a military tactician and knew the terminology. "Close order of battle" referred to a phalanx of which the files were one cubit wide, i.e. 1,5 feet, the men practically shoulder to shoulder. So two phalangites for one legionary.

PS: Before pointing out that other authors don't agree with this, let me point out first that to my knowledge nobody has actually done an analysis of these passages of Polybius' Greek to see exactly what he is getting at. So it isn't that other authors don't agree with me, just that they've never considered the topic.
« Last Edit: May 03, 2022, 06:41:11 PM by Justin Swanton »
  • Justin Swanton

Anton

  • Society Member
  • Posts: 865
  • Interests: Piquet DBMM
Re: Deployment of Consular Legions
« Reply #7 on: May 03, 2022, 04:37:50 PM »
Thank God I rebased my Romans to a closer order.  Thank you too Justin, interesting as always.
  • Stephen Brennan

RichT

  • Former Officer
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1814
  • Country: 00
Re: Deployment of Consular Legions
« Reply #8 on: May 03, 2022, 04:40:58 PM »
Thank God I rebased my Romans to a closer order.  Thank you too Justin, interesting as always.

Careful now! Interesting it may be, but true is another matter.

But on the plus side you can base your Romans how you like, it doesn't make any difference in the grand scheme of things.

Justin Swanton

  • Former Officer
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4012
  • Country: za
    • Ancient Battle Formations
  • Interests: Anything in Ancients that gives a good game and adds historicity to boot
Re: Deployment of Consular Legions
« Reply #9 on: May 03, 2022, 06:56:57 PM »
Thank God I rebased my Romans to a closer order.  Thank you too Justin, interesting as always.

As Richard said, spacing of individual legionaries isn't something that one can accurately depict at wargaming scales, where a single base can represent several centuries. My own reconstruction of the triplex acies completely discards the quincunx, which I propose is a made-up formation based on a mistranslation of Livy, but that again wouldn't affect wargamers, since a single mid-Republican legion in quincunx formation would require each line to have 15 maniples separated by as many gaps which obviously is impossible to represent on a wargaming table.

I realise that my own reconstruction is so completely at odds with decades of academic hypothesising that there is probably little chance of it being seriously considered, but working through Theodore Szadzinski's doctoral thesis on line relief, where he reproduces the positions of all the better-known authors on the topic, I am genuinely surprised by the extent to which everyone accepts the standard translations of Livy and Polybius, and even the popular interpretations of those translations, without question. I really don't get it. (and please spare me the argument of authority!)
« Last Edit: May 03, 2022, 06:58:43 PM by Justin Swanton »
  • Justin Swanton

Mark Hygate

  • Society Member
  • Posts: 15
  • Interests: Ancient and SciFi - particularly Roman Military Organisation
Re: Deployment of Consular Legions
« Reply #10 on: May 03, 2022, 07:35:45 PM »
..................

I realise that my own reconstruction is so completely at odds with decades of academic hypothesising that there is probably little chance of it being seriously considered, but working through Theodore Szadzinski's doctoral thesis on line relief, where he reproduces the positions of all the better-known authors on the topic, I am genuinely surprised by the extent to which everyone accepts the standard translations of Livy and Polybius, and even the popular interpretations of those translations, without question. I really don't get it. (and please spare me the argument of authority!)

Have no worries - I'll be doing just the same - and it will just be 'my' interpretation.  The one part of Polybius' fragment that you haven't quoted in the previous post, however, is the most telling for me.....

"Why is it then that the Romans conquer?"[18-31] - having pointed out in the end of the previous paragraph that the pike phalanx should be irresistable if a single Roman soldier individually faces the 10 men of a pike phalanx.  Even though he goes on to suggest why, it's not against just the phalanx that I consider this supposed 'open-order' of the Roman legionary a poor interpretation (let alone, I might add, the Keppie-quincunx disposition of maniples in the triples-acies).  My conclusion being that Polybius never actually saw the Roman soldiers actually fighting - his vantage point, at best, being a long way from the front ranks.  Thus whilst my research has concentrated much more on the organisation - there have always been digressions into such things as this...
  • Mark Hygate

Justin Swanton

  • Former Officer
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4012
  • Country: za
    • Ancient Battle Formations
  • Interests: Anything in Ancients that gives a good game and adds historicity to boot
Re: Deployment of Consular Legions
« Reply #11 on: May 03, 2022, 08:52:58 PM »
..................

I realise that my own reconstruction is so completely at odds with decades of academic hypothesising that there is probably little chance of it being seriously considered, but working through Theodore Szadzinski's doctoral thesis on line relief, where he reproduces the positions of all the better-known authors on the topic, I am genuinely surprised by the extent to which everyone accepts the standard translations of Livy and Polybius, and even the popular interpretations of those translations, without question. I really don't get it. (and please spare me the argument of authority!)

Have no worries - I'll be doing just the same - and it will just be 'my' interpretation.  The one part of Polybius' fragment that you haven't quoted in the previous post, however, is the most telling for me.....

"Why is it then that the Romans conquer?"[18-31] - having pointed out in the end of the previous paragraph that the pike phalanx should be irresistable if a single Roman soldier individually faces the 10 men of a pike phalanx.  Even though he goes on to suggest why, it's not against just the phalanx that I consider this supposed 'open-order' of the Roman legionary a poor interpretation (let alone, I might add, the Keppie-quincunx disposition of maniples in the triples-acies).  My conclusion being that Polybius never actually saw the Roman soldiers actually fighting - his vantage point, at best, being a long way from the front ranks.  Thus whilst my research has concentrated much more on the organisation - there have always been digressions into such things as this...

Polybius goes on to say why. The pike phalanx worked properly only on flat terrain. That isn't to say it couldn't function at all on uneven ground: Issus and Cynoscephalae are proof of that, but it didn't perform well where the terrain was difficult. My own thinking is that the pike phalanx essentially operated using a form of othismos, with the phalangites using their pikes rather than their shields to apply pressure to the enemy shields. The tacticians speak of the rear ranks applying pressure to the ranks in front. This form of othismos required that the pikemen be aligned behind each other on flat ground with their pikes all projecting forwards past the shoulders of the men in front of them; it didn't work when uneven ground broke up that nice straight alignment.

Roman legions were more flexible in that the legionaries could fight on uneven ground. If they could draw the phalanx on to broken ground they could take the wind out of its othismic sails. Better still, if they could get sections of the phalanx to advance whilst other sections were held up by boulders or thick brush, then they could attack the exposed flanks of those sections and cut the phalanx to pieces. Phalangites were no good at hand-to-hand combat with legionaries. Once their sarissa-guard was bypassed they were helpless.
« Last Edit: May 03, 2022, 09:24:01 PM by Justin Swanton »
  • Justin Swanton

RichT

  • Former Officer
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1814
  • Country: 00
Re: Deployment of Consular Legions
« Reply #12 on: May 04, 2022, 09:12:53 AM »

Justin Swanton

  • Former Officer
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4012
  • Country: za
    • Ancient Battle Formations
  • Interests: Anything in Ancients that gives a good game and adds historicity to boot
Re: Deployment of Consular Legions
« Reply #13 on: May 04, 2022, 09:15:03 AM »

Chris

  • Society Member
  • Posts: 1150
  • Country: us
Re: Deployment of Consular Legions
« Reply #14 on: May 04, 2022, 11:53:36 AM »
Thanks Mark, Anthony, Rich, and Duncan, again.

With specific reference to Anthony, I "discovered" the same article while digging around the Internet.

With regard to the planned solo project, I suppose it's historical in that Romans will be facing off against Seleucids, but after that . . .

it's up to the rules and dice and whatever tactical acumen I can muster.

At present, I am thinking about an alternating deployment for the Roman and Allied legions as opposed to the Roman formations being "bookended" by their Allied counterparts.

Thanks again for advice and suggestions.

Cheers,
Chris
  • Chris Hahn