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Gene Green





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PostPosted: Sat 12 Oct, 2013 6:43 pm    Post subject: Classical vs Medieval army - basically on the same level ?         Reply with quote

Thinking of classical (Helenistic, Roman) European army vs a pre-gunpowder Medieval army, say XIIIc. Would there be any major technological advantages to the more "modern" force after 1,200 - 1,600 years ? My guess would be a slight advantage in metalworking and perhaps siege machinery technology for a medieval army would be more than offset by a better level of training and discipline of a typical Classical force (at least seems that way from what I read), with arms and armor being basically on the same level (i.e. not like a machine gun vs a musket).
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Mart Shearer




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PostPosted: Sat 12 Oct, 2013 6:47 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The stirrup.
ferrum ferro acuitur et homo exacuit faciem amici sui
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Gene Green





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PostPosted: Sat 12 Oct, 2013 6:52 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mart Shearer wrote:
The stirrup.


Actually I read somewhere - perhaps on this site - that a standard Roman saddle provided a very good level of support; certainly Alexander's Companion cavalry didn't have problems smashing into enemy infantry formations without stirrups.

To me it looks like a non game changing difference.

There's certainly going to be some drastic differences in arms, armor and tactics; but what I am trying to figure out is if any of them were truly major advantages of game changing technology ("machine gun vs musket") vs usual differences that existed in all times between distant and dissimilar but otherwise equally powerful cultures. E.g. even without firearms, Europeans would have a huge technological military advantage over say contemporary Aztecs due to their metallurgy, horsemanship, seafaring, siege engines, powerful crossbows etc. But seems to me that they would have no advantages over the Classical armies living over a thousand years prior.
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Matt Lentzner




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PostPosted: Sat 12 Oct, 2013 8:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

An oldie but a goodie.

Medieval Advantages:
- Larger horses
- Mounted Shock Tactics
- Reinforced Mail/Plate Armor
- Better Metallurgy meaning higher quality weapons and armor
- Polearms
- Crossbows

My opinion of course, but the Romans would get eaten alive by Medieval Cavalry. Their own cavalry would be swept from the field easily. Once that happens then the Medieval infantry can fall on a flank. That seems to me how most battles end. Once the cavalry attacks a flank or the rear, it's over.

Frontally, the Romans don't really have any way to turn a frontal charge. A gladius isn't going to be effective against a mounted knight.

Now, the Romans could field much larger armies so if it's army vs. army then the fight might be even. Man for man, as formidable as the Romans were, they would be outmatched. It's not quite musket vs machinegun, but they are at a significant tactical disadvantage.

I am assuming High or Late Middle Ages. Dark age forced would probably not fare well against Imperial Romans, having pretty much the same weapons and tactics, but without the training and morale.
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Theo Squires





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PostPosted: Sun 13 Oct, 2013 2:40 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think pikes and pike formations would be a significant. Classical cavalry would destroyed if they ran into a Swiss pike square, for instance. I also wouldn't underestimate knights; compared to classical cavalry, knights were far better protected and, as they were professional soldiers, highly skilled. For the rank-and-file there would have been less discipline and morale, as the classical armies were professional and the medieval ones less so.
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Tom King




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PostPosted: Sun 13 Oct, 2013 4:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gene Green wrote:


To me it looks like a non game changing difference..


the companion cavalry flanked their enemies then used uncouched spears to fight them from behind. Not anywhere near the combat style, or battlefield effectiveness of a medieval knight.

Stirrup+couched lance+high castle saddle proved to be a pretty good combination against static infantry tactics.
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Neil Melville




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PostPosted: Sun 13 Oct, 2013 5:01 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Theo, you seem to be forgetting the Hellenistic pike phalanx - the Macedonian sarissa was what the Swiss based their pike on, same sort of length, and their block formation was based on the same principle. Then the pike phalanx was defeated by the Roman maniple formation in several battles from Pydna, 168 BC, on.
Neil

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Philip Dyer





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PostPosted: Sun 13 Oct, 2013 7:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Guys, it seems like all of you are discounting the fact the Roman were only able to expand as far as they did because there soldiers were expert engineers, and that Medieval military carried the idea that sieges and skirmishes were preferable
to huge battles to decide campaigns. Also, are we assuming high Roman Empire? Roman Republic? He specified Medieval armies in the Middle of the Crusading period but he didn't specific the Roman army era.
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Gene Green





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PostPosted: Sun 13 Oct, 2013 10:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well, let's say Macedonian phalanx, properly used (I.e. with cavalry and supporting light troops). Did they ever encounter the equivalent of heavy knightly cavalry ?

It seems to me that knightly forces were often poorly led, undisciplined, and with piss poor coordination between units. So a determined well trained well equipped pike formation with some support units could be at least an equally strong force. Definitely the Mongols proved that the crouched lance is no match for better unit cohesiveness, better signal system, and better leadership.

Also, didn't the English knights often prefer to dismount and fight as infantry ? Or was this at a later period ?
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Philip Dyer





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PostPosted: Sun 13 Oct, 2013 11:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gene Green wrote:
Well, let's say Macedonian phalanx, properly used (I.e. with cavalry and supporting light troops). Did they ever encounter the equivalent of heavy knightly cavalry ?

It seems to me that knightly forces were often poorly led, undisciplined, and with piss poor coordination between units. So a determined well trained well equipped pike formation with some support units could be at least an equally strong force. Definitely the Mongols proved that the crouched lance is no match for better unit cohesiveness, better signal system, and better leadership.

Also, didn't the English knights often prefer to dismount and fight as infantry ? Or was this at a later period ?

The big problem is that the question isn't narrowed down to much on either side. Classical by time period or country and Medieval by Duchy, etc. Also the dismounting thing was more of hundred years war thing when armor was getting to advance that for the richest men, such as the Italian Vanguard at the Battle of Verniel, bows would be almost completely ineffective.
in the 13th century it was relatively uncommon for knights to fight on foot.
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P. Schontzler




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PostPosted: Sun 13 Oct, 2013 11:45 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gene Green wrote:
Well, let's say Macedonian phalanx, properly used (I.e. with cavalry and supporting light troops). Did they ever encounter the equivalent of heavy knightly cavalry ?

It seems to me that knightly forces were often poorly led, undisciplined, and with piss poor coordination between units. So a determined well trained well equipped pike formation with some support units could be at least an equally strong force. Definitely the Mongols proved that the crouched lance is no match for better unit cohesiveness, better signal system, and better leadership.

Also, didn't the English knights often prefer to dismount and fight as infantry ? Or was this at a later period ?


Disorganized knights is a myth. Knights were effective combat units. There were occasions of overconfident knights charging when they perceived an advantage against a weaker foe but that was the exception to the rule. Read accounts of the crusades where a well formed unit of knights was able to cut through an enemy line to escape.

And as far as comparison of tactics, Parthinians had a similar effect on the Romans as the Mongols on knights, but to a much larger magnitude. It's not a fair comparison.
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Jaroslav Kravcak




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PostPosted: Sun 13 Oct, 2013 11:57 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

My own view is, that despite much hiss about romans, they could be taken as one of the most advanced militaries available to their commanders at their respective time, but that doesnt mean they were the best army this world could offer before 17th/18th century. Even in their own times I see them outclasses by phalanx-cavalry combination of Macedonians in its ideal condition. Parthian combination of horse archers and cataphracts also seem like able to at least deliver a stalemate in battle in terrain and situation, that wouldnt favour the romans.

As far as later eras go, macedonian combined arms army would have roughly similar components to complete rennaisance army, they might match them in discipline and spirit, but otherwise, they look like being outclassed in any area. As for romans, no army similarly armed and trained was put to greater use during this period (Machiavellis fantasy excluded), I believe for a good reason, because it would be ineffective in context of the era. This might go for late middle ages as well, but to much lesser extent.

As for earlier periods, my own view is, there is no clear cut winner, at least I dont think romans/macedonians would be superior to contemporary medieval armies right away without question.

As for phalanx vs knightly heavy cavalry, only partian cataphracts come to my mind, they took over large part of territory previously under Seleucid control (I hope Im not mixing things together Laughing Out Loud ), but I dont know of any actual battle, it almost seems like they got their without much fighting. On the other hand, only battle of Parthia vs western powers ever described in any detail in popupar literature is Carrhae, I can name Nibisis as other more or less partian victory and victories of Ventidius Bassus on roman side. There seem to be little interest in partian version of the story, there might be much more information to get, more battles and more particular information about how parthians themselves viewed their cataphracts, how they used them and trained them. There is an example of legion vs Seleucid cataphracts at Magnesia, where they most propably defeated part of roman infantry line, its often downplayed as impropable (or something similar), I havent seen any clear cut description of what exactly happened, certainly nothing that would absolutely favour the downplayed version of them doing basically zero damage.
So (my) unanswered questions are: How much is to be learned from Partian sources of history, how much place do they get in version of history known to broad public in the west?
How much is there to be known about realities of this partian heavy cavalry, or its iminations, their use, training and how they wre viewed by their own users, rather than casual enemy observers? How would such a rider had viewed himself?
How much is basic view of ancient warfare of western academia biased and conjured of speculations, how much of hard evidence?
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Sun 13 Oct, 2013 1:24 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matt Lentzner wrote:
An oldie but a goodie.

Medieval Advantages:
- Larger horses
- Mounted Shock Tactics
- Reinforced Mail/Plate Armor
- Better Metallurgy meaning higher quality weapons and armor
- Polearms
- Crossbows


Well, again, which parts of the two eras are we discussing? I'd agree that medieval metallurgy could make for better armor and weapons for those able to afford it--but that's a relatively small percentage! And don't discount Roman metallurgy, it was in many ways equal to that of the middle ages. Plus, how many of your medieval infantry are as well armored as Roman legionaries? Obviously, that depends on the year!

Quote:
My opinion of course, but the Romans would get eaten alive by Medieval Cavalry.


That's a little over-confident, I'd say! Medieval infantry often stood up to medieval cavalry, and Romans were (very much *in general*!) better trained and better armored. We know they could use their pila as spears against cavalry, and if they are carrying two into action (as we believe they typically did), they could throw one and use the other to thrust. I'd LOVE to see the effect of a volley of pila on a cavalry charge! But if all they do is hold formation and not break, that's half the battle. And they were good at that.

Will the Romans win? Don't know!

Quote:
Their own cavalry would be swept from the field easily.


Not "easily". Again, I'm not saying the Romans would win or lose, but their cavalry was armored and well-trained. They also might be more numerous than in a medieval army, something like a quarter of the total force or more, even in the first century AD. Did cavalry form 25 percent of a typical medieval army?

Quote:
Once that happens then the Medieval infantry can fall on a flank. That seems to me how most battles end. Once the cavalry attacks a flank or the rear, it's over.


Sure, that happened to the Romans a few times!! And they did it to other people as well. Maybe in this case their cavalry would sweep the infantry from the wing of the medieval army, while the legions punch forward and shower the knights with pila.

Quote:
Frontally, the Romans don't really have any way to turn a frontal charge. A gladius isn't going to be effective against a mounted knight.


Like I said, discipline and pila. Plus, if you give them a few hours, they'll dig ditches and plant stakes and caltrops...

Quote:
Man for man, as formidable as the Romans were, they would be outmatched. It's not quite musket vs machinegun, but they are at a significant tactical disadvantage.


Man for man, I'd say the Romans were equal or better! At least from the end of the Republic. Daily training in weapon and marching drill, regular route marches with full pack, a very high percentage of armored men, etc.

Quote:
I am assuming High or Late Middle Ages. Dark age forced would probably not fare well against Imperial Romans, having pretty much the same weapons and tactics, but without the training and morale.


Well, if you're talking "Dark Age" versus Late Romans, sure, very similar, or even overlapping! No real comparison of Dark Age to early Empire, though, in terms of weapons and tactics. But I agree that the contest gets a lot tougher in the later Middle Ages! I just don't want to write the Romans off to utter defeat quite so blithely.

Matthew
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sun 13 Oct, 2013 1:42 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It is impossible to answer this question because equipment is largely irrelevant in most victories. Armies win because of superior training, morale, position, logistics, the commander's skill, etc. The great advantage the Romans had was their "system". They suffered many defeats but they ALWAYS came back - they could always raise one more army and each one would be larger than a medieval army. They also had an uncanny ability to produce just the right commander at just the right time.
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Sun 13 Oct, 2013 2:55 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
It is impossible to answer this question because equipment is largely irrelevant in most victories.


I wouldn't go quite so far, but your point is well-taken. Many of us amateur military historians fixate overmuch on arms, armor, and tactics. While gear does make a difference, it's a difference within a matrix of numerous factors. Regarding this hypothetical, I'd say medieval warriors had few technological advantages over their classical counterparts. Apart from polearms, which weren't necessarily seen in every medieval army, infantry kit and tactics are nearly the same. I do agree with the common opinion that medieval cavalry would have the odds over classical cavalry, and that's an important advantage. I'm not convinced that good classical armies were any better in terms of organization than good medieval armies, but that's little more than a guess.

Both classical and thirteenth-century medieval armies varied dramatically. The details matter. Are we talking a Julius Caesar's favorite legion, the army Publius Quinctilius Varus lead into Teutoburg Forest, or a legion that never saw more than sleepy guard duty? Are we talking Phillips II's choice men-at-arms at Bouvines, the English archers who fought at Falkirk, or some town militia?

Quote:
Armies win because of superior training, morale, position, logistics, the commander's skill, etc.


I'd add luck to this list.

Quote:
The great advantage the Romans had was their "system". They suffered many defeats but they ALWAYS came back - they could always raise one more army and each one would be larger than a medieval army. They also had an uncanny ability to produce just the right commander at just the right time.


Yes, the Romans were absolutely tenacious - though, like everything else, this depended on the circumstances.

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Quinn W.




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PostPosted: Sun 13 Oct, 2013 9:24 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan made an excellent point. The main advantage of the Romans was their ability to absorb defeat after defeat without it crippling the empire. So at the end of the day even if I would give the advantage to a medieval force in general, I don't see them faring well in the long run. No medieval kingdom had anywhere near the resources to match the Roman's industrial-scale warfare.
I would say the superior armor and at elast equal training of a mounted knight would be a big factor in favor of a medieval force but that wasn't the whole army so that only goes so far. In this case the knight beats the heavy Roman infantry in terms of armor, combines that with the versatility and mobility of Roman cavalry, and is at least their equal in terms of hours of overall training and experience. But they were also a minority on the field so whether they could take that small advantage and make it turn the tide of a battle very much depends on how effectively it is utilized. So luck once again takes the day.
If we're talking later middle ages, the English longbow could also be something the Romans could have a hard time reacting to. I haven't seen that mentioned yet. The Romans seemed to use both their archers and their cavalry as harassing froces to suppllement the infantry, but in medieval armies one or both of these were frequently their greatest strengths.
That being said, the Roman's strong suit was set-piece battles, whereas that tended to be avoided in Medieval warfare so the situation would very much affect which side was "in their element."

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Theo Squires





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PostPosted: Mon 14 Oct, 2013 2:41 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Many good points have been raised. Personally, i wouldn't write-off the discipline, organisation, training etc. of the medieval army. Take, for example, the First Crusade. Obviously, I refer to the Princes Crusade. A relatively small army march from Western Europe to the Holy Land and northern Egypt, whereupon they decisively defeat a far more numerous opponent. Facing terrible conditions (heat, attrition etc.) in hostile territory, they win several sieges and land battles over the course of four/five years of campaigning far from home. That takes good leadership, organisation, resolve etc. While many counterpoints can be made in regards to the fractious enemy etc. the First Crusade is, in my opinion, an excellent example of what the medieval Europeans could achieve militarily.

Of course, the Romans had many outstanding successes and its indisputable that the Romans were very professional, disciplined and had an excellent military system. My point is that it shouldn't be taken for granted that the medieval Europeans were an ill-disciplined rabble of peasants in contrast to the ‹bermenschen Romans. There are many examples of good leadership, good organisation and good tactics for both Classical armies and medieval armies.
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Luka Borscak




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PostPosted: Mon 14 Oct, 2013 2:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Roman victory over Macedonians happened because of the decline of Alexander's combined arms system and putting too much confidence in phalanxes. I think many Roman victories can be attributed to the fact their opponents just weren't very good. Personal bravery and skill doesn't matter that much, Celts, Germans, Ilyrians, they were all good warriors, but their tactics, equipment and the general way of making war were on much lower level than Roman. We all know how problematic were well organized and led armies with combined arms systems like Hannibal's and Pyrus'. Also Parthians with their simple combination of horse archers and shock cavalry. And even Celts and Germans managed to defeat Romans many times.
I'm not uunderestimatingRomans, but they knew their war machine is superior to their nneighborsand when they met someone equal to them, they fought hard and bitter wars and if they won, they won because of superior resources, both man resources and material wealth.
A rash charge of medieval knights like English charge at Falkirk or Bannockburn would probably be defeated by Romans, but a clever combined arms system like Richard I's combination of crossbowmen protected by infantry and well timed knightly charges would probably defeat Romans unless there would be a big disproportion in numbers or terrain would favor the Romans greatly.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Mon 14 Oct, 2013 5:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Luka Borscak wrote:
A rash charge of medieval knights like English charge at Falkirk or Bannockburn would probably be defeated by Romans, but a clever combined arms system like Richard I's combination of crossbowmen protected by infantry and well timed knightly charges would probably defeat Romans unless there would be a big disproportion in numbers or terrain would favor the Romans greatly.

Only the first time. The Romans would then raise another army and then another. They will learn after every defeat and they won't stop till their foe is crushed. No military machine in the history of the world was as relentless as the Romans and just when you thought they were beaten they produce a military genius who turns the war around.
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Luka Borscak




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PostPosted: Mon 14 Oct, 2013 6:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
Luka Borscak wrote:
A rash charge of medieval knights like English charge at Falkirk or Bannockburn would probably be defeated by Romans, but a clever combined arms system like Richard I's combination of crossbowmen protected by infantry and well timed knightly charges would probably defeat Romans unless there would be a big disproportion in numbers or terrain would favor the Romans greatly.

Only the first time. The Romans would then raise another army and then another. They will learn after every defeat and they won't stop till their foe is crushed. No military machine in the history of the world was as relentless as the Romans and just when you thought they were beaten they produce a military genius who turns the war around.


I agree with that. Happy
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