Info Favorites Register Log in
myArmoury.com Discussion Forums

Forum index Memberlist Usergroups Spotlight Topics Search
Forum Index > Off-topic Talk > Roman Military Success in the Mediterranean Environment Reply to topic
This is a standard topic Go to page 1, 2  Next 
Author Message
James R.Fox




Location: Youngstowm,Ohio
Joined: 29 Feb 2008

Posts: 253

PostPosted: Sat 15 Mar, 2008 6:49 pm    Post subject: Roman Military Success in the Mediterranean Environment         Reply with quote

Gentlemen-Does anybody know of a post or a source book dicussing why the Roman Army was unbeatable ( for normal purposes) in the mediterranean area, but had a severe decline in efficiency out of it.? I am thinking here of the German forest, the eastern deserts of Mesopotamia and of course North Africa outside the coastal areas.France is the exception, but it was conquered by a military genius, and the empire had trouble holding it after the Principate evolved into the Dominate starting with Septimus Severus.. In fact Gaul went independent several times after 240 ad before the dominate fell apart and became the byzantine empire beginning with Constantine I So, why did the Roman Army,which had developed the perfect military equipment and tactical doctrine for the Maditerranean, fail here? After all much of their equipment and doctrine was adapted from their enemies.Why did this adaptability fail?
Ja68ms
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail
Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
Joined: 17 Sep 2003

Posts: 1,278

PostPosted: Sat 15 Mar, 2008 7:43 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ave!

I'm not sure if there is a single book which gives you just the answers you're looking for, though there are many about the army in general and why it was successful. But I think there may be a flaw in your basic hypothesis. The more you study Roman military history, the less "invincible" their army seems. Still darn good, don't get me wrong! But they suffered defeats all over the place, all through history. Part of Roman success, however, is due to a combination of steadily growing manpower over time, mixed with a relentless tenacity and a really poor attitude about losing. As a comparison, most any Gallic tribe could be crushed and conquered by beating them decisively in battle once. But if several tribes got together and beat one Roman army, that only made the Romans mad! They'd just bring troops from elsewhere and keep at it until they squashed the opposition. Keep on looking at the histories we have, though, and you'll find that there are Roman defeats recorded in many different parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa. Bear in mind, however, that we simply have a lot more surviving records for actions in northern and western Europe, so those are the wars that get the most popular press. So there could just be some statistical skewing.

As you mentioned, Gaul was first conquered by a military genius, and that's part of the answer. Probably the majority of Roman defeats can be attributed to poor leadership. Even with a mediocre general in command, the legionaries were good enough to win most of the time, but with a bad legatus and a particularly good opposing commander, things got bad. I'm sure the Romans preferred a brave opponent to a smart one!

You could be at least partly right, though, about Gauls and Germans being particularly difficult. The Romans recognized the prowess of Batavian warriors by exempting that tribe from taxation, as long as they kept supplying troops to serve as auxiliaries. Of course, it wasn't until after those Batavian auxiliaries revolted that the Romans figured out it was best to station auxiliaries far from their native lands! It is probably significant that the Romans recruited so many Gauls and Germans--they made good troops! Rome recognized the military potential of those areas, and tapped the natural talent and resources there, as they did with so many other things.

Looking again at your question, I'm really not sure we can divide it all into "Mediterranean coastal" and "elsewhere" so neatly. For one thing, Spain, Africa, and even Italy itself all saw numerous Roman defeats before they were brought under full control. The African provinces really were just coastal strips--the only deep penetration southwards was in Egypt, which never seems to have been much of a problem. On the other hand, Judea, right on the coast, was no end of trouble, with each new revolt starting by the destruction of a couple cohorts or even a legion. The later Empire is not my area of expertise, but eventually the WHOLE Western Empire was lost, not just the areas far from the Mediterranean. In large part that's simply because the huge barbarian migrations were coming from the north and east, so the areas farther south were the last to be affected. And of course we're talking about a time span of many centuries, here!

Not sure if that's what you're looking for! Besides a book recommendation, I mean! You might try over on the Roman Army Talk board, there are some very knowledgeable folks there, with better libraries than I have on that sort of thing:

http://www.romanarmy.nl/rat/

Good luck, and Vale,

Matthew
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
James R.Fox




Location: Youngstowm,Ohio
Joined: 29 Feb 2008

Posts: 253

PostPosted: Sun 16 Mar, 2008 11:10 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew-Thanks alot! This is what I was looking for. Also I did say they were unbeatable for all practical purposes, i.e. they may have lost battles but the always won the war untill late in the Dominate, when, beginning with Valens I they started losing wars, untill they lost the Western Empire. The Eastern Empire finished the switch to the Byzantine Empire and kept going another 1000 years.
Ja68ms
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail
David Sutton




Location: Bolton, UK
Joined: 06 Mar 2007
Likes: 15 pages
Reading list: 39 books

Posts: 230

PostPosted: Sun 16 Mar, 2008 12:04 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think the military decline that the Roman Empire saw from around the middle of the 3rd Century had more to do with civil war and internal political strife than it did with any decline in the fighting effetivness of the average Roman soldier.
'Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all'

'To teach superstitions as truth is a most terrible thing'

Hypatia of Alexandria, c400AD
View user's profile Send private message
James R.Fox




Location: Youngstowm,Ohio
Joined: 29 Feb 2008

Posts: 253

PostPosted: Sun 16 Mar, 2008 12:53 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

David-I agree, but lack of money and supplies ruins military efficiency too, and Gaul breaking away in 240 to become the Gallic Empire was really the first big step down. This was the beginning of the collapse of the Dominate, which Diocletion finally reformed into the Tetrarchy. When Constantine I re-united the Empire he laid the foundations of what was basically the Byzantine Empire to do it because the Eastern Empire had the money and supplies the West no longer had.That's why he moved the capitol of the Empire to Constantinople, build by and named after guess who Happy The Roman strength was always organization, and without arms factories, central supply storehouses and efficient distribution, your soldier is just another guy in the street. And the thing destroyed at Adrianople was efficient ,organized, training of recruits, With the 20 yr centurians and optios anf file closers gone, who is going to teach? It's like running the Marines w/o the 20yr drill sergeants and corporals. It doesn't work.Thats why the Empire under Theodosius I had to hire Goths and Franks and other tribes under their own kings to do the fighting. They were brave and knew how to fight well, but enough of them were loyal to the kings who hired them out (think Alaric, Theodoric,etc members of the German royal families,) and NOT to the Empire, that in the end it made things worse. The Eastern Empire survived because it had the resources in men and money so that the Emperior Zeno could get rid of the goths under Theodoric, who then founded the first of the german kingdoms in the west,
Ja68ms
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail
Toni Lozica




Location: Rotterdam, NL / Korcula, HR
Joined: 13 Dec 2006

Posts: 32

PostPosted: Sun 16 Mar, 2008 4:04 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

What about Ilyria? I understood that Romans needed more then 200 years to conquer one of the closest territories to Italian mainland. Only when they have exterminated several areas in present day Dalmatia they could finally settle down.
Is anybody out there who knows more on that area?

Parce mihi Domine quia Dalmata sum!
View user's profile Send private message
Lafayette C Curtis




Location: Indonesia
Joined: 29 Nov 2006
Reading list: 7 books

Posts: 2,689

PostPosted: Fri 21 Mar, 2008 4:19 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

James R.Fox wrote:
Also I did say they were unbeatable for all practical purposes, i.e. they may have lost battles but the always won the war untill late in the Dominate, when, beginning with Valens I they started losing wars, untill they lost the Western Empire.


Excuse me? It'd take quite a stretch to say they "always won the wars"--you may get away with it if you look at only the final war in the long successions of wars that the Romans fought against their principal antagonists, but the Romans often lost the wars before these final ones--and quite badly at that. Remember things like the Allia? Or the Caudine Forks?

Moreover, the series of wars (emphasis on the plural) required to win over each antagonist could take decades or even centuries to resolve. By the end of this period, the Rome that conquered was often no longer the Rome that started the war. So, in the end, your thesis only works if you look at "Rome" as a monolithic, unchanging entity--which it wasn't. In fact, the Roman polity taken as a whole was so formidable not because of its victories, but because of its ability to weather the numerous defeats it suffered throughout its long history. Like what Matthew said: when other people lost a war, they just lost it. But when Romans lost a war, it only made them want to avenge the defeat with a victory in the next war; and if that doesn't work, they'll just go on trying in the next war and the next and the next ad nauseam.
View user's profile Send private message
James R.Fox




Location: Youngstowm,Ohio
Joined: 29 Feb 2008

Posts: 253

PostPosted: Fri 21 Mar, 2008 10:02 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lafayette-I totally agree about the Roman attitude towards losing and the advantages this gave them. However, all the writers I have read agreed that the Roman army did NOT change in Basics untill after Adrianople. The barbarians they used up untill that time were usually stationed away from their tribal territories, and armed and drilled to legianary standard by Roman centurians and officers. It was not untill after Adrianople that the Emire stopped doing this, It had lost too many veterian centurians and file closers to do it. That is why Theodosius I went to hireing whole tribes under their kings, Alaric and his Visigoths fought just as well as Romans at battles like the Frigidus, But, they were not seperated from their tribes, they were not drilled and led by Romans, and they were Not loyal to the Empire.This changed the entire Roman attitude to war. The Eastern Empire survived, as it had the men and money to survive untill it could grow a new crop of veterans, the West did not.I am not referring to the fact the Eastern Empire went to cataphracts, the Romans were using those by the 240's.The Eastern Empire went to cataphracts and horse archers because that was the mobile, high volume missle enemy they had to face, the Sassansids, the Arabs etc.But the Eastern Empire still armed and drilled their troops to Roman standards, and taught them loyalty to the Enpire, (which didn't always stick, espically among the Issaurians,but that was life.)
Ja68ms
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail
Bill Tsafa




Location: Brooklyn, NY
Joined: 20 May 2004

Posts: 599

PostPosted: Fri 21 Mar, 2008 11:02 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The two key events that you will want to look into further are the battles with Pirus and the First Macedonian War.

The Roman took their alliances very seriously. A city that had a alliance with Rome could count on them to help them in time of war and was also subject to provide recruits at Rome's demand even if they were not the ones threatened. The Romans often gave them privileges as if they were 3ed or 4th class Roman citizens. Leading families in those allied states were often made full citizens. As they set up alliances across Italy this often brought then into conflict with Greek colonies. A famous case was in Sicily where a Roman allies came into conflict with a Greek Colony. This brought the Greek Colony in direct conflict with the Romans. The Greek colony then asked for the help of the Macedonian king, Pirus. Pirus employed hedgehog phalanx warfare on the Romans and was successful. The problem was that with the Romans no mater how often they were defeated they were still able to raise more armies from their allies. In one battle where Piurs was successful he was quoted as saying "one more victory like that and were finished". This has lead to the modern phrase of a "Piric Victory", success that comes at a very hight cost. Eventually Pirus abandoned the effort and the Romans won through attrition.

The Roman alliances also proved to be critical during the war with Hannible. At the time Romes Population was about 500,000. That would be less then 250,000 men. Of that only 150,000 might be suitable for fighting battles. Against Hannible they would suffer losses of 30,000 to 40,000 in each battle they lost. It is estimated that the Romans lost well over 100,000 men in the 2nd Carthaginian war. It is easy to see that if not for the alliances that the Romans set up earlier they would not have had the manpower to keep up the war effort. It is also interesting that Hannible's plan was to specificaly turn the Alliances against the Roman in a campaign that would free the the subject states from Rome's grasp. A few did go over to Hannible's side but most did not budge and remained faithful to Hannible.

One of Hannibles allies was Macedonia. It is for that reason that he Roman felt threatened and began the 1 st Macedonian war. The battle between Greek spears and Roman sword and shield was a close one. It was only decided when the Romans made use of their organization and out flanked the Greek Hedgehog formation. Roman units where divided into small groups of "manipoles". It is much easier to break off a small unit and send it off in another direction. This proved critical to maneuvering tactics.

No athlete/youth can fight tenaciously who has never received any blows: he must see his blood flow and hear his teeth crack... then he will be ready for battle.
Roger of Hoveden, 1174-1201
www.poconoshooting.com
www.poconogym.com
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website AIM Address
Peter Bosman




Location: Andalucia
Joined: 22 May 2006

Posts: 598

PostPosted: Fri 21 Mar, 2008 11:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I am actually completely baffled about 'mediterranean and elsewhere'.
Per example Spain may to americans be a mediterranean country but that would then say a lot about their perception.
Spain has just over a third of it's circumferance bordering with the mediterranean and over here at the south just a small strip of 30 km. wide has a mediterranean climate separated from the inland climate by a mountain range stretching across about the whole south of Spain.
Culturally the very broadest interpretation would include the whol of andalucia, valencia and cataluna as being 'mediterranean. That would leave the centre, the north, west(plus Portugal) and northwest as all very differing regions yet all was under Roman influance after the punic wars.

Furthermore I would not want to state that the romans could not conquer the netherkands and germany beyond the Rhine. hey established a pretty secure and stable buffer zone and the effort to push the border north was probaly not worth the gains.
Very nuch the same thing with Spain in 'Flandes', the 80 year war in the low countries. In the Netherlands popular history has it that Spain lost the war but in reality they were pretty successful in battles. The costs and tasks of winning battles and the permanent occupation of an unwilling country are two. Spain in the end simply gave it up and offered land in Spain to a lot of 'flemish' catholics.
You can look at the US in Iraq too if you need a contemporary example.

The Romans lost battles all over the place but they learned and came back to eventually win the war. Look at the Punic wars if you want the most striking example of ' Rome' possible.
I have no doubt whatsoever that they could have conquered the north of britain, the low countries and germany. The romans however knew what this would involve.
The romans very well knew how difficult is was to occupy truely hostile country where the population would refuse to be won over by the comforts and stability of roman culture. THAT was the underlying critical succes factor: would they be able to implement a cultural base on which to build their administrative system.
The cultures to the Northern edges of europe were just too independant 'to see the advantages of roman developments, globalisation and open communications' Laughing Out Loud
The price for either was simply to high. The germanic tribes valued their independance and Rome faced HUGE cost at such a distance.
So why bother if it going to cost you FAR more than it would ever be worth. Better to create a buffer zone and that is what they did. Quite effectively too.

Remember that between the late middle ages and us lies about half the time span of the western roman empire. I guess that would make them pretty successful by any terms Idea

peter
View user's profile
James R.Fox




Location: Youngstowm,Ohio
Joined: 29 Feb 2008

Posts: 253

PostPosted: Fri 21 Mar, 2008 1:27 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sirs-I gave a detailed answer to both your questions but the @#$%^ computer lost it, I can't think why, I was logged in or so I thought, since I had the reply box. Right now I have a headache. I'll try again later.
Ja68ms
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail
Ken Speed





Joined: 09 Oct 2006

Posts: 654

PostPosted: Fri 21 Mar, 2008 5:47 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Peter,


The Romans were subjected to a horrific defeat at the hands of "German" tribesmen led by Arminius at the Battle/Massacre of Teutoberg Forest in 9 AD. Three entire legions were virtually completely wiped out. It literally stopped Roman Imperialism cold. It could be argued that the Battle of Teutoberg Forest was one of the most historically and culturally important events in European history and maybe World history.

I put German in quotes because the tribesman in question had no more idea that they were "Germans" than the Pequots did that they were "Indians".


Ken Speed
View user's profile Send private message
Lafayette C Curtis




Location: Indonesia
Joined: 29 Nov 2006
Reading list: 7 books

Posts: 2,689

PostPosted: Thu 27 Mar, 2008 11:21 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

James R.Fox wrote:
However, all the writers I have read agreed that the Roman army did NOT change in Basics untill after Adrianople.


Seriously. What is the starting date of your discussion? I can see your point if you're comparing the Adrianople army with, say, the Roman armies after Diocletian's reforms at the end of the 3rd century, in which he split the army into comitatenses field armies and limitanei border guards. Taking the assertion of "no fundamental change" any further than Diocletian would be quite a stretch, because there were many reforms in the Roman army both minor and major between the rise of Augustus and the battle of Adrianople. If we look further into the Republican period, the assertion immediately falls down because we have strong historical and archaeological evidences for major changes in the constitution and organization of the Roman armies, the most significant being the shift from hoplite phalanxes to smaller and more maneuverable maniples (perhaps inspired by contact with the Samnites) and then the merging of the three (or even four) different types of infantrymen--the hastati, principes, and triarii--into more-or-less homogeneous cohorts before or during Gaius Marius's time (and if the velites are included in the equation, their disappearance also marked a major change because afterwards Romans used foreign auxiliaries rather than citizens as skirmishers).


Ken Speed wrote:
The Romans were subjected to a horrific defeat at the hands of "German" tribesmen led by Arminius at the Battle/Massacre of Teutoberg Forest in 9 AD. Three entire legions were virtually completely wiped out. It literally stopped Roman Imperialism cold. It could be argued that the Battle of Teutoberg Forest was one of the most historically and culturally important events in European history and maybe World history.


Hmm...I'm not sure that Teutoburg Forest was such a significant event. The Romans had known defeat many times before, and afterwards there were several punitive expeditions led by Tiberius and Germanicus into the German lands, some of which achieved notable successes against the Germans (the most significant to the Romans being the recovery of two out of the three legionary eagles lost at Teutoburg Forest). Moreover, Roman conquests certainly did not stop there--Claudius and his generals took the southern half of Britain not much later, and then it's hard to miss Trajan's Dacian conquests in the 2nd century A.D.
View user's profile Send private message
Ken Speed





Joined: 09 Oct 2006

Posts: 654

PostPosted: Fri 28 Mar, 2008 8:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Lafayette,

You wrote, "Hmm...I'm not sure that Teutoburg Forest was such a significant event. The Romans had known defeat many times before, and afterwards there were several punitive expeditions led by Tiberius and Germanicus into the German lands, some of which achieved notable successes against the Germans (the most significant to the Romans being the recovery of two out of the three legionary eagles lost at Teutoburg Forest). Moreover, Roman conquests certainly did not stop there--Claudius and his generals took the southern half of Britain not much later, and then it's hard to miss Trajan's Dacian conquests in the 2nd century A.D."

This defeat quite literally rocked the Roman World. Seutonius wrote that the Emperor Augustus responded to the news of the massacre by saying, "Quinctilius Varus, Give me back my legions!" Rome lost over ten percent of its army in one battle to what the Roman leadership thought were people that were practically beasts. The Romans were as terrified of the Germans as were some of the Japanese were of the Americans at the end of WWII. Yes, punitive expeditions were launched and they had some successes but Augustus warned Tiberius (who he had named co-Emperor before he died) in a letter to be written after his death to never invade Germany.

The results of this defeat are manifold, profound and with us to this very day. The Rhine became a cultural divide between the German north of Europe and the Latinized south. Had it not been for the defeat of Varus it is quite likely that there would never have been an Anglo Saxon invasion of Britain nor Viking raids later and we would be conversing in a Romance language today rather than English, the Protestant Reformation might never have happened, maybe no WWI.
I don't mean to get into alternate history speculation but its hard to imagine how totally different the world would have looked had the Battle of Teutoberg Forest not taken place.

Ken Speed
View user's profile Send private message
Ken Speed





Joined: 09 Oct 2006

Posts: 654

PostPosted: Fri 28 Mar, 2008 10:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Guys,

I goofed when I wrote, "... in a letter to be written after his death to never invade Germany." Well, that's a little tough even for the Emperor Augustus; what I meant was that the letter was to be READ after his death.

Thanks

Ken Speed
View user's profile Send private message
Michael Curl




Location: Northern California, US
Joined: 06 Jan 2008

Posts: 486

PostPosted: Fri 28 Mar, 2008 11:00 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As has already been said, the romans weren't invincible, they were just really good. First from determination (i.e. punic wars, roman military was in some ways slightly inferior), then from superior training/equipment (not quality necessarily, but in quantity), several very good generals in their history, and finally reputation would scare the crap out of most people after the romans had crushed everyone else.


Also, rome did the worst around the Mediterranean. They frequently crushed germans, gauls, britons with ease, but against the parthians, persians, macedonians, carthaginians, they had quite a bit more trouble.

E Pluribus Unum
View user's profile Send private message AIM Address
Ken Speed





Joined: 09 Oct 2006

Posts: 654

PostPosted: Fri 28 Mar, 2008 10:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Michael,


It gets a little confusing there were the Parthians (of Parthian shot fame, right?) who had a king named Mithradates and then there was Mithradates of Pontus who spent his whole life fighting the Romans (mainly losing battles I think). I've read that Mithradates of Pontus (this is like being in a room where every one but you is named Bill) saw himself as the last defender of Greek civilization and culture as opposed to the Romans. I've also read that he was just another King trying to hold onto power and fight off the Romans. I know even less about the Parthians.


Ken Speed
View user's profile Send private message
Michael Curl




Location: Northern California, US
Joined: 06 Jan 2008

Posts: 486

PostPosted: Sat 29 Mar, 2008 11:35 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Parthians mainly did skirmish warfare, and romans had a trouble defeating them in the open because of their horse archery. Usually the romans would keep their archers,infantry,cavarly together so that they couldn't be charged or shot at. Then they would slowly trudge there way through territory, trying to protect their supply train until they could find a city and take it.
E Pluribus Unum
View user's profile Send private message AIM Address
Ken Speed





Joined: 09 Oct 2006

Posts: 654

PostPosted: Sun 30 Mar, 2008 8:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Michael,


Thanks for the information. I can see that Roman heavy infantry tactics would have a really tough time against horse archers. The horse archers could whittle away at them practically at their leisure as long as they had room to maneuver and didn't need to defend any particular territory.

So how did things shake out between the Romans and the Parthians?


Thanks,



Ken Speed
View user's profile Send private message
Michael Eging




Location: Ashburn, VA
Joined: 24 Apr 2004

Posts: 225

PostPosted: Sun 30 Mar, 2008 11:44 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sorry... read next post...
M. Eging
Hamilton, VA
www.silverhornechoes.com
Member of the HEMA Alliance
http://hemaalliance.com/


Last edited by Michael Eging on Sun 30 Mar, 2008 6:22 pm; edited 1 time in total
View user's profile Send private message


Display posts from previous:   
Forum Index > Off-topic Talk > Roman Military Success in the Mediterranean Environment
Page 1 of 2 Reply to topic
Go to page 1, 2  Next All times are GMT - 8 Hours

View previous topic :: View next topic
Jump to:  
You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot vote in polls in this forum
You cannot attach files in this forum
You can download files in this forum






All contents © Copyright 2003-2018 myArmoury.com — All rights reserved
Discussion forums powered by phpBB © The phpBB Group
Switch to the Basic Low-bandwidth Version of the forum