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Classical Armies in Warfare
Rome, Carthage and Alexander
Big Questions
• Why did Rome become the single most
powerful empire in the world?
• How did their military effect politics and vice
• How did the phalanx evolve over the course of
its lifespan?
Big Ideas
• Rome demonstrates that the ingenuity of the
common soldier can win major battles,
despite tremendous odds
• Shows again the power of skilled, professional
• Demonstrates the danger of a military leading
the government not the other way around
Greeks vs. Romans
• At the height of their power, the largest Greek
city states could muster 10,000 helots
• At the height of the Roman Republic, the
Roman army numbered 350,000 legionnares
in a single battle and around 3.5 million
overall at its height.
Roman Military Strategy
• Rome excelled by dedicating a large portion of
its resources to creating an army of
overwhelming power, capable of surviving and
adapting to any situation.
Roman tactics
• Rome begins as a tribe of Greek descended
warriors known as the Etruscans.
– Copy tactics used by Alexander the Great
• Use phalanxes in complex formations to hide your
• Combine phalanx attacks with cavalry charges to
disorient enemy
• Rely on highly trained men skilled in multiple weapons
and combat situations
Rome establishes itself
• Etruscans establish themselves through
military conquest
– Much of Italy controlled by Greek colonists, part
of Alexander’s Magna Graecia
– Etruscans wage war of conquest against Greeks
– Greeks send brilliant general named Pyrrhus with
20,000 men to defeat the advancing Romans
Who was Pyrrhus of Epirus?
• Close friend of Ptolemy, King of the Egyptian
portion of Alexander’s former Empire
– Won several battles against barbarian tribesmen
threatening Greek holdings
– Considered a military genius
Pyrrhic Wars
• Pyrrhus lands 25,000 troops from Greece to
Italy, including a contingent of war elephants
Battle of Heraclea, 280 BC
• Battle of Heraclea indicative of the course of
the war
– 50,000 Roman troops battle a contingent of
25,000 Greek troops including elephants
– Pyrrhus sets up his forces across a nearby river,
waiting to attack Roman
– Both sides clash against each other for the better
part of a day.
• Thousands die, but neither phalax is able to break
through the other’s line
Battle of Heraclea
• Entry of war elephants onto the field throws
Romans into disarray
• Calvary bolts at the sight of these “strange and
brooding creatures”
• Roman infantry retreats
Battle of Heraclea
• Pyrrhus wins the battle but takes staggering
• Of 25,000 men, 12,000 die
– Origin of the term Pyrrhic victory
– Pyrrhus wins nearly every battle he fights, but
loses the war due to attrition
Why such heavy losses
• Neither the Romans nor Greeks were used to
fighting phalanx to phalanx
• When fighting less organized troops (such as
at the Battle of Thermopylae) the phalanx
works extremely well
• When one phalanx fights another, it becomes
a grueling war of attrition in which the victory
is determined by whichever side can kill their
way through the other’s shield wall
The Roman Legionnaire
• Designed to fight in multiple combat
– Weapons:
• Pugio: a short, broad dagger. Used for close infighting,
could double as a spade
• Gladius: main close-quarters weapon, 24-inch short
sword designed for stabbing
• Javelin or Pilum: Spear designed for throwing.
Used against enemies at medium range.
Weighted tip designed to pierce armor
• Sagitarri: Recurved bow, generally carved out of
horn material, used at long ranges
• Darts and caltrops: Legionaries typically carried
up to a dozen iron throwing darts clipped to the
back of shield, for taking down fleeing enemies,
or caltrops for slowing down attackers.
• Carried iron scale armor, that protected entire
body and head.
– Left only face, neck and underarms vulnerable to
• Scutum: Large tower shield, made of wood
with metal bolted on the front
• Chainmail: Roman soldiers of the Republic
used chainmail armor
– Made of linked chains of iron or bronze
– Light and effective, armor compressed if struck,
taking some of the force of the blow
Other equipment
• Sarcina (Kit): Each Roman soldier carried a
complete toolkit on marches this included
– Saw, hammer, shovel, and nails, cooking utensils
• Roman soldiers were expected to craft a
fortified camp before they slept every night
Roman Camp
• Camps contained earthwork defenses, walls,
latrines and tents.
• These would be set up every day on a march
Power of Rome
• Over 50% of collected taxes went to funding
Roman military
– Military reflected Roman class system:
• Commanders were made up of the Patrician class.
Generals were wealthy individuals who funded much of
their army’s from their own personal wealth
• Gained a measure of the spoils of any conquest. Made
supporting the army a potentially lucrative endeavor
Power of Rome
• Soldiers were taken either from citizen
volunteers or from levies of non-citizens
– Required draft quotas set for each province of the
Republic and later Empire
• As the Romans transitioned between Republic
to Empire, the Legions increasingly became an
all-volunteer professional force, supported by
Rome becomes a Global Power: The
Punic Wars
• Fought between 264BCE-146BCE
• Rome increasingly found itself competing with
a rival Empire for control of Mediterranean
• This Empire operated out of capital of
Carthage, people referred to as the
Carthaginians or the Punics (due to their
Phoenician ancestry)
1st Punic War: 264-261
• Rome enters war ostensibly to fight for a third
party threatened by Carthage: the Italian
• Carthage attempts to avoid battle with
Legions, instead using superior navy.
– Rome in danger of losing control of Med
1st Punic War
• Romans vastly expands navy but Carthage’s
ships are too fast and maneuverable for
standard ramming
• Solution: Roman legions invent the corvus a
large extendable bridge that can be deployed
between 2 moving ships
– Extremely dangerous with a high failure rate.
– Leads to an unbroken string of Roman victories
• Carthage signs peace treaty, evacuates Sicily
2nd Punic War
• Rome begins aggressive expansion into
Hispania, Carthaginian territory
• In response, Carthage’s greatest general
Hannibal planned a military campaign into the
heart of Italy
– Winning hearts and minds: Sought to liberate
allies from Roman control, turn them against
– Won alliance of Gauls, as well as several Northern
Hannibal’s Brilliant Assault
• While most of the Roman Army was tied up in
Hispania fighting his brother, Hannibal led his
army, including a platoon of war elephants
across the Alps (considered impossible at the
• Rome suddenly found a hostile army at their
back door
Hannibal’s invasion
Battle of Cannae
• Read pages 10-13 in your textbook
Respond to the following questions:
– What was Hannibal’s battle plan
– How did he succeed against a larger force
– What was the consequence of this for the Romans
Desperate Roman Counter-Strategy
• Roman Consuls order army to disperse and
begin harassment attacks against Hannibal.
– Highly unpopular with military, dub the dictator
Fabius Cunctator (The hesitant)
– Hannibal losses several hundred soldiers to
guerilla warfare, unable to take Rome for fear of
flank attack
– Sues Romans for temporary peace to regain lost
Hannibal’s defeat
• Battle of Trebia: Greek city of Trebia rebels
against Romans
– Hannibal attacks city (taking severe losses)
– Captures city but can’t take port from Roman
– Forced to retreat back to Carthage, to aid against a
desperate Roman counter-invasion
Battle of Zama
• Hannibal and Scipio Africanus met on the plains
of Utica, Tunisia
• Hannibal arrays army, relying on elephants to
break up Roman lines.
– Romans counter by using fire, loud horns and noise to
terrify elephants.
– Elephants rampage across Carthaginian Lines
• Romans charge into the confusion, Hannibal’s line
is routed
– Carthage again sues for peace, gives up Hispania to
3rd Punic War: Rome’s bloody Revenge
• Carthage stripped of allies and territory
• Required to pay a large indemnity to Rome
– A punitive fee from the loser of a war to the
winner, allowing the winner to recoup the lost
revenue spent on war
• Nevertheless, Roman Senators demand
aggressive war to wipe out Carthage
– Cato the Elder ends every speech with “Carthago
delenda est” Carthage must be destroyed
• City of Utica defects from Rome to Carthage,
Rome uses it as springboard for invasion
– Carthage offers 300 hostages to avert war, Rome
– Engages in month-long siege of Carthage
(thousands die of starvation)
– Carthage is destroyed down to its frames
• Area becomes a vassal state, growing grain for Rom
– Myth of sowing the Earth with salt
Imperial Roman Army
• Under Augustus, Roman army split into 3
distinct parts
– Legio: The legions were made up entirely of
citizen volunteers, each legion numbered around
5,500 soldiers
– Auxilia: Support troops made up of less organized
– Numeri: Allied but non-Roman forces, usually
hired mercanaries
• Each legion commanded by a general
– Generals spread orders to Equistrii who
commanded large sections such as seige
equipment and Infantry
– Individual units were controlled by Centurions
• Both Equistrii and Centurii were well paid, with bonuses
given for success
– Made being in the army very lucrative to Roman middle class
Roman Centurion
Praetorian Guard
• Elite force of Roman soldiers chosen to guard
the Emperor
– Loyal to Emperor alone
– Deeply involved in palace politics
Roman Siege ingenuity: Siege of
• 66 AD: Kanaim Revolt
– Emperor Nero continues his predecessor Caligula’s
notion that Emperor is a god
• Demands Jews venerate Emperor
• Demands placement of Emperor statute in the Temple
• Roman soldiers caught looting temple of silver
– Leads to massive Jewish revolt in 66
• Mountaintop fortress originally designed by
Herod the Great
– Accessible by small path easily covered by archers
– All other sides a sheer cliff-face
– Able to support agriculture, and fed by a spring
• Lucius Silva, leader of the X Legion, rather
than attack from path, chooses to build a
massive ramp up the opposite side of the
mountain, completed in 76AD
End Result
• Known Roman Army can besiege the walls,
Jewish forces inside commit mass-suicide
rather than be captured and horribly
Limits of Roman Power: Battle of
Teutoburg Forest
• Emperor Augustus Caesar attempts to expand
Roman Empire into Northern Germany
• Romans faced stiff resistance in the form of
organized barbarian tribes led by Arminius
– Barbarian a Greek word meaning does not speak
our language
Roman Forces
• Led by Publius Varus, a consul who became
famous for helping put down the rebellion in
– Extremely haughty, believed himself blessed by
– Took to wearing a golden mask while on campaign
Arminius vs. Varus
The Battle
• Roman legion marching through Teutoburg Forest
on narrow mountain path
• Varus, eager to conquer next target, allows
Legion to spread out in straight line, and abandon
their Wagon Train
– The wagons bearing goods needed for the army’s
• Arminius waits until Romans are in a single line in
deep forest, then ambushes from high ground
from two sides
• Entire Roman legion annihilated
• Rome never advances beyond Southern
Germany again
• Germanic Barbarians gain fearsome
Fall of Roman Empire
• What part did the army play in the fall of the
– Massive expense of the army required to patrol so
much space leaves Rome bankrupt
– More and more slack taken up by generals
controlling army
– Leads to a series of Barracks Emperors
• Soldier-Emperors who would overthrow the Emperor
and maintain power just long enough for the next
soldier to attack them
Fall of Empire
• Loss of talented legions in infighting meant
Rome had to rely increasingly on mercanaries
• Coinage issue: Money based on hard currency
(gold, silver, copper), shortage of metal meant
Rome adulterated currency
– Made it less valuable
Collapse of Roman System
• Fall of Rome in 412, leaves small tribes and
petty kings in control of Western Empire
– Unable to raise large armies, they instead rely on
small cadres of elite cavalry
• The first Knights
• Large Army tactics would not be seen in
Western Europe for another 9 centuries