Late Roman Legionarii

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ValentinianVictor
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Post by ValentinianVictor » Sat Sep 19, 2009 12:21 pm

ShrubMiK wrote:I thought it was you VV, I recognised some of the arguments and style :D

Personally I'm happy with the idea that LIR legionaries can be fielded as either Impact Foot (if they have spiculum...or pilum, if it was indeed still in use at all) or Light Spear (if they don't). There seems no need to me to talk about Offensive Spear, not based on anything I've read anyway.

Which is a bit of a turnaround for me...way way back when we were using something like WRG 4th Ed and the only army lists we had were those in the purple Airfix book I concocted a LIR Roman list, based on extensive* research, and yes I had legionaries armed with long thrusting spear instead of pila.

* I think maybe I had just read Robert Graves "Count Belisarius" at the time ;)

I'm more disappointed that darts do not show up as a differentiating feature of LIR foot vs. earlier versions and opponents, but that's another story...

Incidentally, I wonder if accounts of Adrianople can be used to infer "normal" fighting styles. IIRC the Roman foot were initially fighting against Vis foot behind wagon laager, so might not be throwing their spears against an opponent behind good cover. When charged by cavalry to flank/rear they might well retain their spears inhand, both because that could be thought more effective against charging cavalry and because of shortened reaction times. And then they are surrounded and compressed into a confused mass so that (allegedly) those in the middle could not properly deploy their weapons. Just a thought.
From various types of Roman art, from wall paintings to monumental works and ivory diptyches, it would appear the 'typical' Late Roman spear was approximately 6 to 7 feet long. Darts are not mentioned as such in Ammianus, I've scoured Rolfe's Latin translation without finding any specific words such as 'plumbata' or 'martiobarbuli'. I'm not quite clear on how big these 'darts' were, from descriptions in 'De Rebus Bellicis' they would appear to be at least a foot long, and some reenactors have them about two feet long. Vegetius claiming that 5 such dart's were somehow clipped to the inside of the shield could not be right if they were as big as this, as having used such shields myself I find it difficult to see how dart's over say a foot long would possibly allow you to grip the shield properly.
As to the Battle of Adrianopolis. Hmmmm.... its not at all clear as to where the Gothic cavalry struck the Roman lines. My own research, hopefully to be published, would indicate that the Gothic horse hit the Roman right flank and part of the gothic cavalry also went behind the wagon laager to hit the Roman left wing, who had advanced upto the wagons by this stage. Who the Legiones Lanciarii and Mattarii were fighting is a matter for conjecture, I favour the gothic infantry who had left the wagon laager and engaged the Roman lines.

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Post by zocco » Tue Aug 17, 2010 7:59 am

Hi all,

I know this subject has been broached before however time for a reprise perhaps…..

I've felt for some time now that the current ratings for Late Roman infantry (eg Later Principate and Dominate lists) doesn't really feel right.

I would like to put some suggestions that I think would enable those armies to play more appropriately. But first a quick overview of the situation.

My main problem with the current classifications of Legionaries and Auxilia as either impact foot/swordsmen or light spear/swordsmen is that they are pretty much premised on the basis that they did not use shieldwall tactics in this period. Dare I say I believe that the evidence suggests otherwise as I'll summarise briefly below;

1. Literary evidence.

Ammianus Marcellinus (AM) - his description of Roman infantry at the battle of Strasbourg (357AD) specifically states them using a formation where their ‘shields, closely interlaced in tortoise formation’… He subsequently describes a legion at the battle being drawn up in a close formation 'like a wall'.

I would also mention AM's description of a unit of auxilia making a foray at the siege of Amida as being in 'close' and 'very close' order.
.
This does not sound like either impact foot or light spear to me or at least not a particularly good interpretation of it as currently applied in the rules.


2. Evidence in art.

Some examples here from Dixon & Southern's 'Roman Military Equipment';

a) Roman infantry in formation with overlapping shields are shown both in the Exodus fresco from Dura Europos and on the Tyne shieldboss. Both of these seem to portray a shieldwall and correspond closely with AM's literary description given above.

b) There is also some examples that give a clue to weaponry and notably the type of spears/pila carried - namely a picture of a soldier from a Syracuse catacomb painting (here the spear has been artistically shortened so as to fit within a drawn border), the Exodus fresco from Dura, the Stilchio dyptich and so on. All these show spear/pila of around 6 to 7 feet in length being used or to put it into perspective, of a similar size to those used by Anglo-Saxon warriors which are classified in FOG as spearmen precisely because, as stated in Wolves of the Sea, they used shieldwall tactics.


3. The Dutch Late Roman army re-enactment group Fectio

This site shows both a standard shieldwall and a Late Roman Fulcum – which is a more defensive form of shieldwall particularly useful against enemy mounted.

4. Modern studies

a) Rance's description and analysis of the Byzantine Fulcum indicates that the Romans used shieldwall tactics (just like those shown by the re-enactment group) in Late Roman times and even likely back to at least the late republican period (ala Mark Antony’s use of a Fulcum/Testudo like formation in 36 BC against the Parthians).

b) Ospreys recent book 'Roman Army tactics.109 BC – 313 AD

The author points out roman tactics had become somewhat less aggressive in the later period (sometime after 313 AD). This is a view that is pretty much accepted in the academic community (eg Nicasie, Barbaro etc) although the date is somewhat conjectural (I’d suggest somewhat earlier – probably in the mid --late 3rd century). However as mentioned previously shieldwall tactics were used much earlier when circumstances suited their usage (inclusing Arrian’s description of a phalanx type formation against the Alan’s).




Summary

There seems to be a good body of evidence that Roman infantry of the period covered by the Later Principate, Dominate and Foederate Roman lists (and perhaps even some of the earlier Byzantine lists) used a formation akin to a shieldwall. The argument therefore should not be about whether they used shieldwall tactics but rather how this should be represented in the troop classifications and to what units and period it should be available.

My thoughts on this are as follows;

1. the current troop classifications for legionaries and auxilia infantry for the later period Roman lists are not sustainable and could to be revised. This is because the Light spear and impact foot classifications as they currently stand do not take into account the defensive effects of a shieldwall. Light spear is in fact defined as being for troops that are unable to form ‘any sort of spear phalanx’ (ie a shieldwall) - see pg 129 in the FOG rules, whilst impact foot is derived from the DBx Warband classification and has been grafted on to legionaries and the like in FoG for want of a better classification. Whilst the latter (may) be suitable for the classification of early legionaries (and this is debatable) it creates problems for later period Roman armies.

2. There is an alternative way;

There are two ways of doing this one without rule changes and one with;

a) Without rule changes

Firstly give the option to reclassify Roman legionaries and close order Auxilia infantry as offensive spear for the later (say post 284AD) Principate list and all of the Dominate and Foederate. For the early Byzantine lists (eg Early or Maurikian) these could be classified as defensive spear

b) with rule changes (this is my preferred option)

The above reclassification will I believe work quite well but I think a better one giving a more historic feel could be achieved with the introduction of the following 'Shieldwall' rule (and this would mean that no troop classifications in the army lists need be amended). In this case I haven’t put a date on when the rule can be used but I’d think it would go back to at least the 1st century BC.


Shieldwall rule
In the melee phase: Foot deemed to be in a 'Shieldwall' may add a + POA if after applying all other POA's the enemy has a higher net POA.

For foot to be deemed in a 'Shieldwall' they must be: STEADY drilled Heavy or Medium Foot that are also either impact foot/swordsmen (in >= 2 ranks) or Light spear/swordsmen foot (in >= 2 ranks).


You'll notice that this version is not technically list specific so would apply to other troops eg Drilled Almughavars when classed as impact foot. Admittedly if one wished one could make it list specific. I should also mention that Spearmen do not receive the bonus as they already have the shieldwall aspect factored into their basic POA etc.

I think this rule would work well as the shieldwall rule only gives a defensive bonus if the foot are at a POA disadvantage (and provided that they maintained a STEADY cohesion level and are in 2 or more ranks) but not otherwise.

It would also help better simulate some historical interactions eg

a) Less vulnerability to Cataphracts - such as at Carrhae - this is often given as an example of cataphract superiority over legionaries but provided the legionaries maintained good order this was not so.

Currently cataphracts get a +POA advantage in melee due to their heavier armour. The shieldwall rule would stimulate usage of historical tactics by mounted – namely use Light horse to shoot at the infantry to make them unsteady and only then charge in with the cataphracts.

b) Less vulnerability to barbarian impact foot - the greater defensive resistance (if steady) would represent the greater 'stamina' in combat mentioned in various ancient sources. The current FoG classification of Roman infantry being a drilled (and sometimes more heavily armoured) version of barbarian foot is not necessarily helpful due to the greater points cost of Roman infantry vs barbarian impact foot.

It would also help to even up the current rules imbalance for drilled impact foot/swordsmen and Light spear/swordsmen foot in combat when compared to Spearmen (especially Offensive Spearmen).

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Post by nikgaukroger » Wed Aug 18, 2010 7:57 pm

Haven't the time to go into this in the depth it deserves, however, I thought it would be useful to make a couple of comments.

1. the current troop classifications for legionaries and auxilia infantry for the later period Roman lists are not sustainable and could to be revised. This is because the Light spear and impact foot classifications as they currently stand do not take into account the defensive effects of a shieldwall. Light spear is in fact defined as being for troops that are unable to form ‘any sort of spear phalanx’ (ie a shieldwall) - see pg 129 in the FOG rules,

I'm afraid the use of the Light Spear capability has rather evolved since the rule book was written and includes troops who were able to form some sort of spear phalanx/shieldwall, however, ones for which we deem that Spearmen does not give the correct results. Its usage in the lists includes troops who do not even use spears. Getting the correct result is the thing - of course, you may argue that we haven't, however, just the rules description of a capability is, I am afraid, not a suitable basis for saying the classification is wrong. A v2 of the rules would, hopefully, include a revision of the descriptions.

whilst impact foot is derived from the DBx Warband classification and has been grafted on to legionaries and the like in FoG for want of a better classification. Whilst the latter (may) be suitable for the classification of early legionaries (and this is debatable) it creates problems for later period Roman armies.

Impact Foot was not just grafted onto to legionarii for want of a better classification, it was based around them as much as it was around barbarian "warband" types - it was a conscious design choice made at a time in development where, if it had been thought to be wrong, it would have been changed.
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Post by ValentinianVictor » Thu Sep 30, 2010 9:58 am

The issue is that at various times during the period classed as 'Late Roman' in the army lists, the legionarii appear to have been armed with differing weapons. From some literary evidence it may be that the legionarii were armed with pilum upto the reign of at least Diocletian. This is a generalisation as there is also evidence of perhaps ranks beyond the first two being increasingly armed with the lighter 'lancea' or even 'veruta', with archers providing overhead fire support.

From probably the reign of Constantius II the pilum appears to have been seldom used, Ammianus only mentions infantry using 'pilis' twice, and only then during the joint reigns of Valentinian I and Valens (Valentinian was noted by Ammianus as being 'an inventor of arms', which he may have used the 'De Rebus Bellicis' as a basis for his reforms, and I have suggested that it may have been Valentinian who briefly reintroduced the use of the pilum, although of course there is that quote from Vegetius who implies the use of pilum was still in vogue in at least the 390's/400's, although not widely used). The pilum appears to have been supplanted by the 'spiculum', a weapon roughly six feet long, able to be thrown and also thrust at cavalry. A number of monumental works and other artwork shows infantry with a weapon of this length. Surviving line drawings of the now mostly destroyed Column of Theodosius also show infantry with a much smaller spear, which is either the lancea or veruta, both of which were javelin type weapons.

And then during the early Byzantine period it appears the spear increases in length to about 8 feet or so.

Certainly from Diocletian to the reigns of Arcadius and Honorius I would class the Roman legionarii as offensive spear armed foot, the spear being classed as a heavy weapon able to be both thrown or thrust. The Romans were on the offensive against both the Sasanids and 'barbarian' tribes during this period (290AD-405AD) and deployed both offensive and defensive battle formations dependent on the circumstances.

Rance's paper on the Fulcrum also tends to dispell the old wargaming myth that cavalry in particular could routinely ride down infantry, and even cataphracts bounced off if the infantry remained steady and resisted the charge. Why, we even have Ammianus and Julian both claiming that the Romans found that the best tactic to use against the Sasanids was not to wait for the Sasanids to charge them, but almost incredibly the Roman INFANTRY were encouraged to charge the Sasanid mounted troops and chase them from the battlefield, on one occasion this pursuit carried on for '100 stades', or approximately 15 miles!

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Post by nikgaukroger » Thu Sep 30, 2010 10:07 am

Adrian, I hope you are not making the mistake that you need to be armed with a "heavy throwing weapon" to get the Impact Foot capability.
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Post by hammy » Thu Sep 30, 2010 10:26 am

ValentinianVictor wrote:Rance's paper on the Fulcrum also tends to dispell the old wargaming myth that cavalry in particular could routinely ride down infantry, and even cataphracts bounced off if the infantry remained steady and resisted the charge. Why, we even have Ammianus and Julian both claiming that the Romans found that the best tactic to use against the Sasanids was not to wait for the Sasanids to charge them, but almost incredibly the Roman INFANTRY were encouraged to charge the Sasanid mounted troops and chase them from the battlefield, on one occasion this pursuit carried on for '100 stades', or approximately 15 miles!
And in FOG Roman infantry are more than capable of taking a cataphract charge and bouncing it off. Even at impact and one down in melee is not that bad at all. A solid line of infantry is likely to have overlaps as well.

Against the non cataphracts then Roman infantry will normally be + at impact if they charge and even in melee. Again this sounds fairly reasonable to me.

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Post by ValentinianVictor » Thu Sep 30, 2010 10:54 am

nikgaukroger wrote:Adrian, I hope you are not making the mistake that you need to be armed with a "heavy throwing weapon" to get the Impact Foot capability.
No, not really, just pointing out the difficulty of classifying exactly what the Late Romans could potentially be armed with during the time frame the lists classify as 'Dominate'

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Post by ShrubMiK » Wed Oct 06, 2010 9:17 pm

I agree totally.

Which is of course why the list allows the option it does :) It seems to cater for all of pila, spicula, lancea, veruta with no problem at all.

I personally don't believe the real-life tactics or weaponry of any of this period constituted what could be called "offensive spear" though. And I don't think it would be right interaction in game terms either.

And if you consider it from an evolutionary point of view, the spears become longer and tactics change going into the Byzantine era, and after a while we reclassify them as Defensive Spear. An additional brief flirtation with Offensive Spear in between would seem to need additional justification.

I'm really not at all sure that you can equate being on the strategic offensive with foot being classed tactically as "offensive" spear, either!

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Post by ValentinianVictor » Thu Oct 07, 2010 9:14 am

ShrubMiK wrote:I agree totally.

Which is of course why the list allows the option it does :) It seems to cater for all of pila, spicula, lancea, veruta with no problem at all.

I personally don't believe the real-life tactics or weaponry of any of this period constituted what could be called "offensive spear" though. And I don't think it would be right interaction in game terms either.

And if you consider it from an evolutionary point of view, the spears become longer and tactics change going into the Byzantine era, and after a while we reclassify them as Defensive Spear. An additional brief flirtation with Offensive Spear in between would seem to need additional justification.

I'm really not at all sure that you can equate being on the strategic offensive with foot being classed tactically as "offensive" spear, either!
The debate whether Late Roman infantry should be classed as principly swordsmen or spearmen has been discussed by those such as Nicasie, Elton etc. Certainly , when you get descriptions such as '...retained their spears until they were broken by repeated blows' does tend to suggest spearmen, yet other descriptions have the Romans throwing their heavy spear (spiculum) and then charging in with the sword.

Yet again, Rance rather convincing demonstrates that the Romans could form the 'fulcrum' and fought doggedly, probably meeting the defensive spearmen criteria at the same time!

So, all we can really say with any certainty is the Late Romans were able to adapt their battle formations and tactics depending on the circumstances and enemy they were facing.
Last edited by ValentinianVictor on Thu Oct 07, 2010 12:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by nikgaukroger » Thu Oct 07, 2010 9:52 am

ValentinianVictor wrote: The debate whether Late Roman infantry should be classed as principly swordsmen or spearmen has been discussed by those such as Nicasie, Elton etc. Certainly , when you get descriptions such as '...retained their spears until they were broken by repeated blows' does tend to suggest spearmen, yet other descriptions have the Romans throwing their heavy spear (spiculum) and then charging in with the sword.

Yet again, Rance rather convincing demonstrates that the Romans could form the 'fulcrum' and fighted doggedly, probably meeting the defensive spearmen criteria at the same time!

Neither of these would indicate that the Light Spear option is unsuitable, and can apply to the Impact Foot option as well. (And to pre-empt the obvious question look at the Early German and South American lists)
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Post by ValentinianVictor » Thu Oct 07, 2010 1:00 pm

nikgaukroger wrote:
ValentinianVictor wrote: The debate whether Late Roman infantry should be classed as principly swordsmen or spearmen has been discussed by those such as Nicasie, Elton etc. Certainly , when you get descriptions such as '...retained their spears until they were broken by repeated blows' does tend to suggest spearmen, yet other descriptions have the Romans throwing their heavy spear (spiculum) and then charging in with the sword.

Yet again, Rance rather convincing demonstrates that the Romans could form the 'fulcrum' and fighted doggedly, probably meeting the defensive spearmen criteria at the same time!

Neither of these would indicate that the Light Spear option is unsuitable, and can apply to the Impact Foot option as well. (And to pre-empt the obvious question look at the Early German and South American lists)
I'd agree if the infantry were armed with the lancea or veruta, but I fail to see how the Spiculum could possible be classed as a light spear taking into account Vegetius' description of that weapon.

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Post by philqw78 » Thu Oct 07, 2010 1:08 pm

ValentinianVictor wrote:I'd agree if the infantry were armed with the lancea or veruta, but I fail to see how the Spiculum could possible be classed as a light spear taking into account Vegetius' description of that weapon.
The weapon is not important. The effect is.
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Post by nikgaukroger » Thu Oct 07, 2010 1:09 pm

ValentinianVictor wrote: I'd agree if the infantry were armed with the lancea or veruta, but I fail to see how the Spiculum could possible be classed as a light spear taking into account Vegetius' description of that weapon.
So what?

Light Spear capability is a game mechanism not an absolute description of what is carried, although in the majority of cases it is the same thing. Just look at the weapons it covers in some of the Chinese armies where the troops have Light Spear capability. Troops armed with spicula whose effect does not justify Impact Foot may quite naturally fall into the Light Spear classification.
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Post by ShrubMiK » Sat Oct 09, 2010 10:23 am

What is Vegetius's description of spiculum that makes it so unsuitable for for being considered light spear?

If it is simply the occasional reference to it being retained in hand and thrust rather than thrown, that is not enough. Note the classification is "light spear", not "light throwing spear" or "javelin" ;)

Besides, isn't there also historical reference to pila being retained in hand by front ranks against charging cavalry, whilst rear ranks might be optionally armed with lancea? So if you get too hung up on that sort of thing, perhaps Principate Roman legionaries should have the option of being light spear or defensive spearmen instead of impact foot.

And of course the Spartans' most famous moment was when they closed ranks, held their ground, and defended doggedly for a long time. So they should be given the option of defensive spearmen classification too?

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Post by ValentinianVictor » Tue Oct 12, 2010 11:14 am

ShrubMiK wrote:What is Vegetius's description of spiculum that makes it so unsuitable for for being considered light spear?

If it is simply the occasional reference to it being retained in hand and thrust rather than thrown, that is not enough. Note the classification is "light spear", not "light throwing spear" or "javelin" ;)

Besides, isn't there also historical reference to pila being retained in hand by front ranks against charging cavalry, whilst rear ranks might be optionally armed with lancea? So if you get too hung up on that sort of thing, perhaps Principate Roman legionaries should have the option of being light spear or defensive spearmen instead of impact foot.

And of course the Spartans' most famous moment was when they closed ranks, held their ground, and defended doggedly for a long time. So they should be given the option of defensive spearmen classification too?
Perhaps this description in Vegetius of the arms of the legionarii might help-

'Their offensive weapons were large swords, called spathae, and smaller ones called semispathae together with five loaded javelins in the concavity of the shield, which they threw at the first charge. They had likewise two other javelins, the largest of which was composed of a staff five feet and a half long and a triangular head of iron nine inches long. This was formerly called the pilum, but now it is known by the name of spiculum. The soldiers were particularly exercised in the use of this weapon, because when thrown with force and skill it often penetrated the shields of the foot and the cuirasses of the horse. The other javelin was of smaller size; its triangular point was only five inches long and the staff three feet and one half. It was anciently called verriculum but now verutum.'

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Post by nikgaukroger » Tue Oct 12, 2010 12:37 pm

ValentinianVictor wrote: Perhaps this description in Vegetius of the arms of the legionarii might help-

'Their offensive weapons were large swords, called spathae, and smaller ones called semispathae together with five loaded javelins in the concavity of the shield, which they threw at the first charge. They had likewise two other javelins, the largest of which was composed of a staff five feet and a half long and a triangular head of iron nine inches long. This was formerly called the pilum, but now it is known by the name of spiculum. The soldiers were particularly exercised in the use of this weapon, because when thrown with force and skill it often penetrated the shields of the foot and the cuirasses of the horse. The other javelin was of smaller size; its triangular point was only five inches long and the staff three feet and one half. It was anciently called verriculum but now verutum.'

And what are you suggesting this shows in terms of capabilities?
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Post by ValentinianVictor » Tue Oct 12, 2010 2:42 pm

nikgaukroger wrote:
ValentinianVictor wrote: Perhaps this description in Vegetius of the arms of the legionarii might help-

'Their offensive weapons were large swords, called spathae, and smaller ones called semispathae together with five loaded javelins in the concavity of the shield, which they threw at the first charge. They had likewise two other javelins, the largest of which was composed of a staff five feet and a half long and a triangular head of iron nine inches long. This was formerly called the pilum, but now it is known by the name of spiculum. The soldiers were particularly exercised in the use of this weapon, because when thrown with force and skill it often penetrated the shields of the foot and the cuirasses of the horse. The other javelin was of smaller size; its triangular point was only five inches long and the staff three feet and one half. It was anciently called verriculum but now verutum.'

And what are you suggesting this shows in terms of capabilities?
Well, its obviously a weapon that can either be retained to fend off infantry or cavalry, or thrown with much the same penetrating power of the pilum it replaced.

The other interesting quote from Vegetius is this one, where again he states that the pilum was still in use-

'As to the missile weapons of the infantry, they were javelins headed with a triangular sharp iron, eleven inches or a foot long, and were called piles. When once fixed in the shield it was impossible to draw them out, and when thrown with force and skill, they penetrated the cuirass without difficulty. At present they are seldom used by us, but are the principal weapon of the barbarian heavy-armed foot. They are called bebrae, and every man carries two or three of them to battle.'

It's not stretching the point to say that the 'barbarian heavy-armed foot' Vegetius mentions may well be the auxila.

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Post by philqw78 » Tue Oct 12, 2010 2:52 pm

But what does any of this change as to classification of the troops?
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Post by ValentinianVictor » Wed Oct 13, 2010 7:58 am

philqw78 wrote:But what does any of this change as to classification of the troops?
Classifying troops such as Late Roman legionarii, who could potentially be armed with darts, heavy throwing weapon, javelin, sword, body armour, helmet and shield is always going to be problematic at best.

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Post by zocco » Sat Nov 06, 2010 7:36 am

Given the variation of opinions but substantial evidence to strongly suggest a change from impact foot to offensive spear (although debated) wouldn't it be best to allow the option for later legionnaries to be ALL offensive spear or ALL impact foot. This would allow for differing tactics used by the Romans in various circumstances (they were after all a professional army and so quite capable of this) and would be in line with the latitude given to the almughavars - who get the impact or off spear option (on I suspect a lot less historical evidence).

cheers

Z.

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