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Chapter 7


Is the soldier found In the riot and waste which he spreads around? The sharpness makes him--the dash, the tact, The cunning to plan, and the spirit to act.--Lord L. Gower.


1. It has been frequently remarked by ancient writers that the strength of a free state consists in its infantry; and, on the other hand, that when the infantry in a state become more valuable than the cavalry, the power of the aristocracy is diminished, and equal rights can no longer be withheld from the people. The employment of mercenary soldiers in modern times renders these observations no longer applicable; but in the military states of antiquity, where the citizens themselves served as soldiers, there are innumerable examples of this mutual connection between political and military systems. It is further illustrated in the history of the middle ages; for we can unquestionably trace the origin of free institutions in Europe to the time when the hardy infantry of the commons were first found able to resist the charges of the brilliant chivalry of the nobles. 2. Rome was, from the very commencement, a military state; as with the Spartans, all their civil institutions had a direct reference to warlike affairs; their public assemblies were marshalled like armies; the order of their line of battle was regulated by the distinction of classes in the state. It is, therefore, natural to conclude, that the tactics of the Roman armies underwent important changes when the revolutions mentioned in the preceding chapters were effected, though we cannot trace the alterations with precision, because no historians appeared until the military system of the Romans had been brought to perfection.

3. The strength of the Tuscans consisted principally in their cavalry; and if we judge from the importance attributed to the equestrian rank in the earliest ages, we may suppose that the early Romans esteemed this force equally valuable. It was to Ser'vius Tul'lius, the great patron of the commonalty, that the Romans were indebted for the formation of a body of infantry, which, after the lapse of centuries, received so many improvements that it became invincible.

4. The ancient battle array of the Greeks was the phalanx; the troops were drawn up in close column, the best armed being in front. The improvements made in this system of tactics by Philip, are recorded in Grecian history; they chiefly consisted in making the evolutions of the entire body more manageable, and counteracting the difficulties which attended the motions of this cumbrous mass.

5. The Romans originally used the phalanx; and the lines were formed according to the classes determined by the centuries. Those who were sufficiently wealthy to purchase a full suit of armour, formed the front ranks; those who could only purchase a portion of the defensive weapons, filled the centre; and the rear was formed by the poorer classes, who scarcely required any armour, being protected by the lines in front. From this explanation, it is easy to see why, in the constitution of the centuries by Servius Tullius, the first class were perfectly covered with mail, the second had helmets and breast-plates but no protection for the body, the third, neither a coat of mail, nor greaves. 6. The defects of this system are sufficiently obvious; an unexpected attack on the flanks, the breaking of the line by rugged and uneven ground, and a thousand similar accidents exposed the unprotected portions of the army to destruction besides, a line with files ten deep was necessarily slow in its movements and evolutions. Another and not less important defect was, that the whole should act together; and consequently, there were few opportunities for the display of individual bravery.

7. It is not certainly known who was the great commander that substituted the living body of the Roman legion for this inanimate mass; but there is some reason to believe that this wondrous improvement was effected by Camil'lus. Every legion was in itself an army, combining the advantages of every variety of weapon, with the absolute perfection of a military division.

8. The legion consisted of three lines or battalions; the _Hasta'ti_, the _Prin'cipes_, and the _Tria'rii_; there were besides two classes, which we may likewise call battalions, the _Rora'rii_, or _Velites_, consisting of light armed troops, and the _Accen'si_, or supernumeraries, who were ready to supply the place of those that fell. Each of the two first battalions contained fifteen manip'uli, consisting of sixty privates, commanded by two centurions, and having each a separate standard (_vexil'lum_) borne by one of the privates called Vexilla'rius; the manip'uli in the other battalions were fewer in number, but contained a greater portion of men; so that, in round numbers, nine hundred men may be allowed to each battalion, exclusive of officers. If the officers and the troop of three hundred cavalry be taken into account, we shall find that the legion, as originally constituted, contained about five thousand men. The Romans, however, did not always observe these exact proportions, and the number of soldiers in a legion varied at different times of their history.[1]

9. A cohort was formed by taking a manipulus from each of the battalions; more frequently two manipuli were taken, and the cohort then contained six hundred men. The cavalry were divided into tur'mæ, consisting each of thirty men.

10. A battle was usually commenced by the light troops, who skirmished with missile weapons; the hasta'ti then advanced to the charge, and if defeated, fell back on the prin'cipes; if the enemy proved still superior, the two front lines retired to the ranks of the tria'rii, which being composed of veteran troops, generally turned the scale. But this order was not always observed; the number of divisions in the legion made it extremely flexible, and the commander-in-chief could always adapt the form of his line to circumstances.

11. The levies of troops were made in the Cam'pus Mar'tius, by the tribunes appointed to command the legions. The tribes which were to supply soldiers were determined by lot, and as each came forward, the tribunes, in their turn, selected such as seemed best fitted for war. Four legions was most commonly the number in an army. When the selected individuals had been enrolled as soldiers, one was chosen from each legion to take the military oath of obedience to the generals; the other soldiers swore in succession, to observe the oath taken by their foreman.

12. Such was the sacredness of this obligation, that even in the midst of the political contests by which the city was distracted, the soldiers, though eager to secure the freedom of their country, would not attempt to gain it by mutiny against their commanders. On this account the senate frequently declared war, and ordered a levy as an expedient to prevent the enactment of a popular law, and were of course opposed by the tribunes of the people.

13. There was no part of the Roman discipline more admirable than their form of encampment. No matter how fatigued the soldiers might be by a long march, or how harassed by a tedious battle, the camp was regularly measured out and fortified by a rampart and ditch, before any one sought sleep or refreshment. Careful watch was kept during the night, and frequent picquets sent out to guard against a surprise, and to see that the sentinels were vigilant. As the arrangement in every camp was the same, every soldier knew his exact position, and if an alarm occurred, could easily find the rallying point of his division. To this excellent system Polyb'ius attributes the superiority of the Romans over the Greeks; for the latter scarcely ever fortified their camp, but chose some place naturally strong, and did not keep their ranks distinct.

14. The military age extended from the sixteenth to the forty-sixth year; and under the old constitution no one could hold a civic office who had not served ten campaigns. The horsemen were considered free after serving through ten campaigns, but the foot had to remain during twenty. Those who had served out their required time were free for the rest of their lives, unless the city was attacked, when all under the age of sixty were obliged to arm in its defence.

15. In the early ages, when wars were begun and ended in a few days, the soldiers received no pay; but when the conquest of distant countries became the object of Roman ambition, it became necessary to provide for the pay and support of the army. This office was given to the quæstors, who were generally chosen from the younger nobility, and were thus prepared for the higher magistracies by acquiring a practical acquaintance with finance.

16. The soldiers were subject to penalties of life and limb at the discretion of the commander-in-chief, without the intervention of a court-martial; but it deserves to be recorded that this power was rarely abused. 17. There were several species of rewards to excite emulation; the most honourable were, the civic crown of gold to him who had saved the life of a citizen; the mural crown to him who had first scaled the wall of a besieged town; a gilt spear to him who had severely wounded an enemy; but he who had slain and spoiled his foe, received, if a horseman, an ornamental trapping; if a foot soldier, a goblet.

18. The lower classes of the centuries were excused from serving in the army, except on dangerous emergencies; but they supplied sailors to the navy. We learn, from a document preserved by Polyb'ius, that the Romans were a naval power at a very early age. 19. This interesting record is the copy of a treaty concluded with the Carthaginians, in the year after the expulsion of the kings. It is not mentioned by the Roman historians, because it decisively establishes a fact which they studiously labour to conceal, that is, the weakness and decline of the Roman power during the two centuries that followed the abolition of royalty, when the power of the state was monopolized by a vile aristocracy. In this treaty Rome negociates for the cities of La'tium, as her dependencies, just as Carthage does for her subject colonies. But in the course of the following century, Rome lost her supremacy over the Latin cities, and being thus nearly excluded from the coast, her navy was ruined.

20. At the commencement of the first Punic war, the Romans once more began to prepare a fleet, and luckily obtained an excellent model in a Carthaginian ship that had been driven ashore in a storm. 21. The vessels used for war, were either long ships or banked galleys; the former were not much used in the Punic wars, the latter being found more convenient. The rowers of these sat on banks or benches, rising one above the other, like stairs; and from the number of these benches, the galleys derived their names; that which had three rows of benches was called a _trireme_; that which had four, a _quadrireme_; and that which had five, a _quinquireme_. Some vessels had turrets erected in them for soldiers and warlike engines; others had sharp prows covered with brass, for the purpose of dashing against and sinking their enemies.

22. The naval tactics of the ancients were very simple; the ships closed very early, and the battle became a contest between single vessels. It was on this account that the personal valour of the Romans proved more than a match for the naval skill of the Carthaginians, and enabled them to, add the empire of the sea to that of the land.

23. Before concluding this chapter, we must notice the triumphal processions granted to victorious commanders. Of these there are two kinds; the lesser triumph, called an ovation,[2] and the greater, called, emphatically, the triumph. In the former, the victorious general entered the city on foot, wearing a crown of myrtle; in the latter, he was borne in a chariot, and wore a crown of laurel. The ovation was granted to such generals as had averted a threatened war, or gained some great advantage without inflicting great loss on the enemy. The triumph was allowed only to those who had gained some signal victory, which decided the fate of a protracted war. The following description, extracted from Plutarch, of the great triumph granted to Paulus Æmilius, for his glorious termination of the Macedonian war, will give the reader an adequate idea of the splendour displayed by the Romans on these festive occasions.

The people erected scaffolds in the forum and circus, and all other parts of the city where they could best behold the pomp. The spectators were clad in white garments; all the temples were open, and full of garlands and perfumes; and the ways cleared and cleansed by a great many officers, who drove away such as thronged the passage, or straggled up and down.

The triumph lasted three days; on the first, which was scarce long enough for the sight, were to be seen the statues, pictures, and images of an extraordinary size, which were taken from the enemy, drawn upon seven hundred and fifty chariots. On the second was carried, in a great many _wains_, the fairest and richest armour of the Macedonians, both of brass and steel, all newly furbished and glittering: which, although piled up with the greatest art and order, yet seemed to be tumbled on heaps carelessly and by chance; helmets were thrown on shields, coats of mail upon greaves; Cretan targets and Thracian bucklers, and quivers of arrows, lay huddled among the horses' bits; and through these appeared the points of naked swords, intermixed with long spears. All these arms were tied together with such a just liberty, that they knocked against one another as they were drawn along, and made a harsh and terrible noise, so that the very spoils of the conquered could not be beheld without dread. After these wagons loaded with armour, there followed three thousand men, who carried the silver that was coined, in seven hundred and fifty vessels, each of which weighed three talents, and was carried by four men. Others brought silver bowls, and goblets, and cups, all disposed in such order as to make the best show, and all valuable, as well for their magnitude as the thickness of their engraved work. On the third day, early in the morning, first came the trumpeters, who did not sound as they were wont in a procession or solemn entry, but such a charge as the Romans use when they encourage their soldiers to fight. Next followed young men, girt about with girdles curiously wrought, who led to the sacrifice one hundred and twenty stalled oxen, with their horns gilded, and their heads adorned with ribbons and garlands, and with these were boys that carried dishes of silver and gold. After these was brought the gold coin, which was divided into vessels that weighed three talents each, similar to those that contained the silver; they were in number fourscore, wanting three. These were followed by those that brought the consecrated bowl which Emil'ius caused to be made, that weighed ten talents, and was adorned with precious stones. Then were exposed to view the cups of Antig'onus and Seleu'cus, and such as were made after the fashion invented by The'ricles, and all the gold plate that was used at Per'seus's table. Next to these came Per'seus's chariot, in which his armour was placed, and on that his diadem. After a little intermission the king's children were led captives, and with them a train of nurses, masters, and governors, who all wept, and stretched forth their hands to the spectators, and taught the little infants to beg and intreat their compassion. There were two sons and a daughter, who, by reason of their tender age, were altogether insensible of the greatness of their misery; which insensibility of their condition rendered it much more deplorable, insomuch that Per'seus himself was scarce regarded as he went along, whilst pity had fixed the eyes of the Romans upon the infants, and many of them could not forbear tears; all beheld the sight with a mixture of sorrow and joy until the children were past. After his children and attendants came Per'seus himself, clad in black, and wearing slippers after the fashion of his country; he looked like one altogether astonished, and deprived of reason, through the greatness of his misfortune. Next followed a great company of his friends and familiars, whose countenances were disfigured with grief, and who testified, to all that beheld them, by their tears and their continual looking upon Per'seus, that it was his hard fortune they so much lamented, and that they were regardless of their own. After these were carried four hundred crowns of gold, sent from the cities by their respective ambassadors to Emil'ius, as a reward due to his valour. Then he himself came, seated on a chariot magnificently, adorned, (a man worthy to be beheld even without these ensigns of power) clad in a garland of purple interwoven with gold, and with a laurel branch in his right hand. All the army in like manner, with boughs of laurel in their hands, and divided into bands and companies, followed the chariot of their commander; some singing odes according to the usual custom, mingled with raillery; others songs of triumph and the praises of Emil'ius's deeds, who was admired and accounted happy by all men, yet unenvied by every one that was good.


Questions for Examination.

1. What political change has frequently resulted from improved military tactics?

2. Was Rome a military state?

3. Why are we led to conclude that the Romans considered cavalry an important force?

4. By whom was the phalanx instituted?

5. How was the phalanx formed?

6. What were the defects of the phalanx?

7. By whom was the legion substituted for the phalanx?

8. Of what troops was a legion composed?

9. What was a cohort?

10. What was the Roman form of battle?

11. In what manner was an army levied?

12. How was the sanctity of the military oath proved?

13. What advantages resulted from the Roman form of encampment?

14. How long was the citizens liable to be called upon as soldiers?

15. How was the army paid?

16. What power had the general?

17. On what occasion did the soldiers receive rewards?

18. How was the navy supplied with sailors?

19. What fact concealed by the Roman historians is established by Polybius?

20. How did the Romans form a fleet?

21. What were the several kinds of ships?

22. What naval tactics did the Romans use?

23. How did an ovation differ from a triumph?

24. Can you give a general description of a triumph?



[1] This is virtually the same account as that given by Niebuhr, but he excludes the accensi and cavalry from his computation, which brings down the amount to 3600 soldiers.

[2] From _ovis_, a sheep, the animal on this occasion offered in sacrifice; in the greater triumph the victim was a milk-white bull hung over with garlands, and having his horns tipped with gold.

Oliver Goldsmith