The Reason The Romans Won Pt 1

By Macabee Callard

Everybody knows the Romans. They Conquered the Mediterranean! But how? No one had ever done it before, and No one would ever do it again. So what was so unique about there fighting force and even if they did conquer it, how did they keep all these different provinces together? I am dividing this into two papers: How they conquered, (pt.1) and how they ruled (pt. 2). So lets go back to 509 B.C. The Roman Republic has just began. The city has thrown out its Etruscan Overlords in central Italy and has begun what is probably the first Republic.

Slowly they expand through Italy, taking city after city, town after town. They Encounter such enemies as the Greeks and the Carthaginians. They fight back invaders such as Pyrrhus and Hannibal, (both who I intend to write on, especially the latter) but eventually, they conquered Italy. Now, I would love to do a complete history of there conquests, (scratch that I don’t feel like writing 100,000 pages) but I intended this to be on why they triumphed, not when. The Romans fought many enemies, but for this purpose I will only include two types to give you a sense of who they fought.

The first was the barbarian style of warfare. Whether it be The Gauls, The Dacians, the Brittons or the Germanic tribes, the romans faced countless forms of this kind of enemy. They had individual traits and styles, but mainly it was pretty simple: Hit stuff. You and a bunch of other dudes would go get some stuff and hit some other stuff with it. The Germanians used a lot of axes, and Gauls swords, but primarily they just charged the enemy line and hit them till their dead. This does not mean these peoples were barbaric in culture; the Gauls were great inventors, making the chainmail armor which would be used so frequently during the middle ages.

Imagine you are a Gallic soldier in the front line of your unit. Since you are in the front line, you know, eventually, no matter how hard you fight, you know you will die. The rank behind you can be pretty sure of that too. And the rank behind them. This was the problem with the barbarian style of warfare; they knew they would die, so why fight well? That was only one of the problems. Another is, you are going to get super tired. If this turns into a prolonged battle, you are going to have to hack at a well armored foe for possibly an hour. With a heavy iron weapon. Imagine how tiring that would be!

The Romans, on the other hand, did not have either problem. For several reasons. To start out, the romans were almost always the ones being charged. Not the ones charging. Sometimes they might do a slow advance, but unless your a cavalry soldier, (where your horse is doing all the work,) your pretty much never gonna charge. The second reason is that romans had massive shields. So your basically just hiding behind your shield until your foe gets tired, and the stabbing them with your gladius.

The last, and most important thing, is a particular part of the roman system of warfare. Its sort of like a line. The guy in the front of the line has to fight for aa certain amount of time, and then he gets to move to the back. Not only does this tire people less, it gives them a motivation to fight harder so they can survive till they can go to the back. With these tactics (and a lot more) the romans beat back the Gauls and the Brittons. Now we enter the section of how they beat the Greeks.

The Romans fought only one serious, well recorded battle with the Macedonians. (A kind of Greek.) The Macedonians used a pike phalanx, wielding 20-foot long spears that you don’t want to get on the wrong end of. This was extremely dangerous, and was like nothing the Romans had ever seen before. But, like always, the romans adapted. They begun using pila, a kind of javelin which was extremely effective. It was a long wooden pole with a weight and a piercing point at the end. Now, you may ask, “Why put a weight on it. Wouldn’t that hinder the throwers ability?” Well, it might, but it would be just light enough to throw past the enemy pike.

If this did not kill the enemy, it would embed in their shield, most likely. At first, this doesn’t seem bad. But this is where the weight comes in. It would weigh down their shield, so the would be forced to either drop their shield and become a lot more vulnerable, or be completely hindered. In addition to this, the pila was designed to snap on impact so it could not be thrown back or taken out. Only the weight and the point were left on the shield of the soldier. There were many other tactics used to fight the phalanx, including simple flanking. Its hard to manoeuvre with a 20 foot spear.

The battle where these things were set in place was the famous Cynosephalea: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xOepuz2hBo There’s an awesome video explaining it. The channel Uses Rome: Total war and talks to historians to inform the watcher about decisive battles in awesome videos.

And that wraps this up. Stay tuned!

9 thoughts on “The Reason The Romans Won Pt 1

  1. Rome TW was a great game. Thanks for the info on Cynosephalea. So do you think the battle would have turned out differently if the weather had been clear?

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    1. Ya, that’s completely possible! While the romans will always be attacking from up close and can easily see their enemy, the Macedonians needed to see through 20 feet of fog!

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  2. Rome TW was a great game. Thanks for the info on Cynosephalea. So do you think the battle would have turned out differently if the weather had been clear?

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  3. Another reason the Romans won was good logistics allowing them to keep larger armies in the field than their opponents. Outnumbering the other side helps. And if the barbarians do happen to win (eg Arusio), well, the Roman system of allies means there are plenty more armies where that one came from.

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    1. Completely correct. Expanding on your second thought, there use of mercenaries, especially in the second century onward, grew and diversified there army so they could have the weakness to every foe they fought.

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      1. Speaking of Arusio Philip Matyszak has a couple of novels set around then. First one is The Gold of Tolosa. Much better quality than most ‘Roman’ novels I think. And his history books of Greece and Rome are pretty good too I think. (Best history of Rome is Tom Holland’s Rubicon IMHO).

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  4. I think one of the reason the Romans won was that their better logistics allowed them to keep bigger armies in the field than their opponents. Outnumbering the other side helps. And if something does go wrong (eg Arusio) their system of alliances allows them to replace the missing army right away. It must have been depressing having the as opponents.

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  5. There are two big tactical reasons for the Roman military victories: one, the manipular system. Instead of having one giant hoplite wall or shield wall as found in Greek or Germanic peoples, you had independent units with independent commanders/lieutenants who could shift things on the fly, allowing much greater tactical flexibility. In general this allowed a much greater tactical flexibility on the battlefield.

    Second, the way that soldiers actually fought with those big shields: they didn’t attack the opponent in front of them. They attacked the opponent oblique to them, so like at their 2-o’clock, not their 12-o’clock. This was extremely unexpected for “honor-based” military systems like the Celtic, Celitberian, or Germanic militaries, and it was extremely effective at killing people. It was as if each and every enemy soldier was being flanked even if the unit was not exposed to flanking.

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    1. Wow! That second thing is ingenious! Though I wonder, when did it come into play? Because early on, when they were fighting people like the Etruscans, Greeks, or Carthaginians, that may have been less effective because their enemies had shields too.

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