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Ancient Roman infantry tactics

Ancient Roman infantry tactics

Members of the ancient Roman Legions were the masters of military tactics.

History

Keywords

infantry, military tactics, fight, tactics, war, military formation, military, legion, battle, cavalry, tortoise formation, military manoeuvre, phalanx, military column, Római Birodalom, armament, soldier, legionary, siege, attack, training, manoeuvre, antiquity, Roman, infantry square

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Scenes

Military column

‘Repel the cavalry’
(Repellere equites)

Wedge formation
(Cuneum formate)

Circular formation
(Orbem formate)

Tortoise formation
(Testudinem formate)

Square formation
(Agmen formate)

Animation

Narration

The highly successful ancient Roman Army became even more powerful after the Marian reforms. Among the most important of these reforms were the standardisation of weapons and the establishment of regular training. By reforming their military units, or cohorts, the legions became more mobile.

The Ancient Greeks and Macedonians proved that a precise and effective unit, consisting of soldiers who are accustomed to each other, can change the course of a battle.

The phalanx may have served as an example for the legions and their units. The Romans mastered the use of military formations by training; their repertoire was broad. When necessary, they were able to re-form their ranks in battle flexibly, rapidly and with discipline.

When a legion was deployed somewhere, it had to march long distances to reach its destination. Legions approached the battlefields in multiple columns, thus enhancing manoeuvrability.

An assault from enemy cavalry presented a serious threat to Ancient Roman infantry; however, they developed a new formation that proved effective against these attacks. Soldiers would close ranks tight, creating a square formation covered with shields on every side. They stuck out their spears between the shields, a formation that resembled a pincushion.

The Roman infantry typically used the wedge formation to attack. Using this method they managed to break through the enemy’s front line relatively easily. Moreover, the cohesive, rapidly approaching shape was a fearsome sight for the enemy.

Legionnaires usually used the circular formation when they were outnumbered or surrounded.

The tortoise formation was an outstandingly successful defence strategy against enemy assault, therefore they used it not only in battles but during sieges as well. This formation was not used for close combat, though, as it made it difficult to manoeuvre.

The square formation was effective against a frontal assault from enemy cavalry, but it was also used in battle to disrupt enemy lines.

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