Monday, February 08, 2010

The Legionary's Guide: FM VII-XXI.XIII

Just finishing up a fascinating little read: Legionary: The Roman Soldier's (Unofficial) Manual.

Written like a Field Manual for someone intent on joining the army circa 99AD, it's a clever little grunt's-eye view of the imperial war machine, with sections on selecting the best gear, preparing for arduous training, how to get a coveted immunis slot so as to get out of shovel work, and proper salary management to ensure a good pension.

A novel addition to the library of any Roman military buff.

10 comments:

JD said...

Now that's something to add to my reading list.

Ed Foster said...

Me too. I always get ticked watching the silly crap about the Romans on the History Channel. You know, the whole "Shield Wall" garbage. A shield wall without 5 or 6 ranks immediately behind to brace it would be knocked flat on it's glutea maximae.

In reality they dresses ranks with their gladius just touching the shoulder of the guy to their right, used a constant rolling barrage of pilums to leave their enemy without a shield, blocked his sword swing with an extended shield (block his swing before he builds up momentom and he's just a dork at the end of a longer lever) and stabbed for the crotch with the blade horizontal to the ground.

If they were high they slid in over the pubic bone, gutted the guy and maybe split his spine.

If they were low, they sliced through one or both femoral arteries and he bled out in 8 or 10seconds.

The second line stuck the leakers that slid through the front rank and took the place of any individual in front of them who was dropped by the bad guys, with their place taken by someone from the third line.

The middle aged guys in the third line straightened out bent pilums (if advancing) and kept them flying over the heads of the front rank into the packed barbarians in front of them, denying the front ranks of the opposition strength in depth, i.e. constant pressure from behind.

Every 12 minutes the front rank retired through the second and third rank (something awfully difficult to do if you're using a shield wall) and took a semi-breather as fresh Romans went up against tired Gauls, Germans, or Dacians.

Add constant pressure on the advancing enemy from velites, javelin armed light infantry that retired through the open, flexible lines of the legionaries, plus 400 yards of bombardment from the 50 or so catapults of each legion, shooting jumbo arrows that could pinion 4 or 5 men at almost a quarter mile.

If, as usual, they were fighting on the defensive, a few hundred yards behind the final line of engagement, they would also have tripping ditched cut to slow down cavalry charges, interspersed with lots of caltrops to make the footing interesting for the other guys.

In between charges by the Gauls, Germans, whatever, they would retire to their start line, retrieving as many used pilums as possible, and start all over again when the next charge came.

It wasn't war in the northern European sense, it was science. I read a suprised remark by a Gaul on how many gray headed men he saw in Roman units.

The Old Man said...

Between you and Bobbi, my to-read list is exploding. You got me doin' Pratchett, I've got a Repairman Jack sittin' here and then ya drop THIS on me? Mercy, madam, mercy. I've still got to hold down a job and keep the Boss happy (not to mention the dogs...). Thanks for expanding the horizons - now go read "The Big E" or "Shattered Sword". It'll keep YOU busy for a while...

Don Meaker said...

I loved that book. My favorite story was the one about the centurion "Fetch Another".

And yes, the noncommissioned officers today still complain about the quality of the spade work.

Don Meaker said...

The word "Caltrop" is our modern word. Irony alert: The Latin word for a small painful obstacle in the ground is "Stimulus"

Anonymous said...

Oh, man we've stepped on some stimulus...

Noah D said...

Well, this one's going on my list.

In return, I will suggest Revelation Space, by Alastair Reynolds.

Carl H said...

Officially on hold at the Lie-berry, along with the author's 'Enemies of Rome'. For my return offering, I suggest 'Whale Road' by Robert Low and/or 'Latro in the Mist' by Gene Wolfe

leBolide said...

Do you have an Amazon Affiliate account, Tam? You read and link to a lot of books, and an affiliate account would score you a portion of Amazon's sales from your referrals.

Tam said...

Why yes, yes I do. :D