Author Archives: gaiusprimus

Final project: Roman marching camps

For my final project, I used Sketchup to create a virtual Roman marching camp. These camps were remarkably well organized, and could be erected with truly astounding efficiency.

The camp is divided into a couple of main areas. This large, central is the Praetorium, the general’s tent. Around the Praetorium are a number of roads. Leading into the Praetorium from the main gate is the Via Praetoria, which turns into the Via Quaestorium on the other side and runs to the other main gate. There are two more roads, perpendicular to the other two, known as the Via Principalis and the Via Quintana. The Via Principalis connects to the Via Praetoria, and likewise the Via Quintana connects to the Via Quaestorium. These two roads allowed easy access to the other four gates, which were the only other means of entry into the camp.

Surrounding the camp was a ditch and a rampart. The exact size of the ditch varied quite a bit. It could be anywhere from 5 feet wide by 3 feet deep to 17 feet wide by 9 feet deep. While the ditch is mostly triangular in shape, there was a small square slot at the bottom of it. The exact reason for this slot is debated. It could’ve been a waste drainage slot or an ankle breaker defensive measure, but most likely it was used as a base for fencing of some kind. The rampart wasn’t really anything major, it was just made from the soil excavated to make the ditch. To allow access into the camp, two different types of gates were used. When the camp wasn’t in an area particularly threatening, the gates would be simple breaks in ditch and rampart. However, when the threat of an attack was larger, the ditch and rampart would be constructed in a way that was semi-circular. The idea behind this was that any attackers trying to invade through them would expose their right side, the side that held the weapon, not the shield, to archers on the inside. This space between the rampart and the interior of the camp was known as the Intervallum, and is probably where the camp followers stayed.

There is significantly more information available about these camps, but to chronicle it all here would take an unreasonable amount of space. For more information, I would recommend looking at some of the attached sources. Trajan’s Column has a depiction of a camp located on it, which provides for some interesting viewing.  Brueggeman provides a formula that allows the approximate size of a camp to be calculated and helps to show just how large they were. Kaye did quite a lot of research into the logistics of camps, particularly how they provided enough water for all the troops. Matyszak is a good book for a general introduction into Roman life. Finally, Roman Scotland has a more detailed explanation of the layout of the camps.

Attached you will find the file that I created for this project. Feel free to download it and explore. Please, enjoy!

Bibliography

Barrette, P., Beckmann, M., George, M., Rich, S., Rockwell, G., Umholtz, G., & Rockwell, P. (1999). Trajan’s Column. Retrieved from The McMasters Column of Trajan Project: http://www.stoa.org/trajan/index.html

Brueggeman, G. (2003). Camp Size. Retrieved from The Roman Army: http://garyb.0catch.com/camp3_dimensions/camp_dimensions.html

Kaye, S. (2013). Roman Marching Camps. Retrieved from Banda Arc Geophysics: http://www.bandaarcgeophysics.co.uk/arch/roman_marching_camps_uk.html

Matyszak, P. (2009). Legionary: The Roman Soldier’s Unofficial Manual. London: Thames & Hudson.

Roman Marching Camps. (2008, March). Retrieved from Roman Scotland: http://www.romanscotland.org.uk/pages/infrastructure/marchcamps.asp

 

 

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The Bayeux Tapestry, pl 61

The Bayeux Tapestry is a piece of artwork that depicts the battle of Hastings in 1066. The battle took place as part of a succession struggle to claim the throne of England. Amongst the contenders were Harold, king of the Anglo-Saxons, William, the duke of Normandy, a Norwegian king also named Harold, and William’s brother Tostig (Contributers, 2014). Tostig and the Norwegian Harold were both defeated by the Anglo-Saxon Harold, which left only him and William as serious contenders for the throne.

Tapestry Snip
Pl 61, Wilson.

This piece of the tapestry seems to be about the beginning of the battle. One piece of evidence that supports this is that most figures in this section are wielding javelins instead of swords (Magazine, 2006). It was standard practice around this time to begin battle with javelins, as they had better range than swords. When they broke, then it was time to switch over to the swords for up close combat. Another possible piece of evidence comes from the mace, apparently flying through the air, in the upper right corner (Wilson, 1985). This could suggest that it was thrown in panic, the soldier wielding it terrified by the opening cavalry charge. One final piece of evidence can just be glimpsed on the right hand edge of the above image. It is more clearly visible on the full panel, but it appears that the Anglo-Saxon’s shields are full of arrows. This suggests that the opening volley of arrows wasn’t terribly effective (Rud, 2002). Each of these pieces individually might not be clear evidence as to what is happening in the panel, but taken as a whole it makes for a compelling case.

While it is difficult to predict where the battle could have gone from the opening alone, we do in fact know what happened. Harold’s army used a shield wall as a defensive tactic, which was quite effective at first. Eventually though, the wall was broken, allowing the Norman’s to slip through. Harold was killed, and while his army fought bravely afterward, their cause was lost and they eventually fled the battlefield (Ibeji, 2011). William hadn’t won the throne just yet, but by Christmas the crown was his.

Bibliography

Contributers, W. (2014, April 1). Battle of Hastings. Retrieved from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Battle_of_Hastings

Ibeji, M. (2011, February 17). 1066. Retrieved from BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/normans/1066_01.shtml

Magazine, B. H. (2006, June 12). Weaponry: Norman Arms and Armour. Retrieved from Historynet: http://www.historynet.com/weaponry-norman-arms-and-armour.htm

Rud, M. (2002). The Bayeux Tapestry and the Battle of Hastings 1066. Copenhagen: Christian Ejlers Publishers.

Wilson, D. M. (1985). The Bayeux Tapestry. London: Thames & Hudson.

 

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The Battle of Issus

The battle of Issus was a major conflict between Alexander the Great, king of Macedonia, and Darius III Codomannus, the king of Persia. Macedonia had been preparing to invade Persia for several years prior to the battle, but these plans had been hampered by the death of then-king Philip. The ascension of his son Alexander to the throne allowed the invasion to continue, though the delay allowed Persia to overcome its own problems and better prepare to face the Macedonian forces (Lendering, Issus, 2014).

The battle itself took place in the year 333 BCE. During his invasion of Cilicia, Alexander passed through Issus once without incident. At the time, his army was split with Alexander in control of one section and his right hand man Parmenion in control of the other. Though he believed the Persian’s to be to the east, Alexander understood that his split army was vulnerable at the time. To amend that, he marched south around the coast to meet with Parmenion’s section. To speed the march, he left the sick and wounded behind in Issus. The plan was sound, though Alexander discovered too late that his information was flawed. While he was joining with Parmenion, the Persians had marched north and used a mountain pass to descend on Issus sooner than had been anticipated. They attacked the wounded Macedonians and killed most of them. Their methods were quite messy, and included such lovely methods as “slicing off hands and burning the stumps” (Curtius, 1998). The few survivors fled south to join with Alexander, who started moving back north after news of the massacre reached him. He moved slowly, as the terrain forced his army to reorganize frequently.

With the ocean to the west and mountains to the east, Alexander only had a narrow area to march through. The Persians, however, occupied a much more open plane, which offered their cavalry a distinct advantage. Though cavalry charges couldn’t be repeated for hours and hours, they were brutally effective (Sidnell, 2006). Heavily armored horses tired regrettably quickly, so most cavalry in use was lightly armored (Worley, 1994). In an attempt to mitigate this advantage, Alexander kept his hoplites in two lines, hoping that it would allow his troops time to advance to a more open area. He also kept his companions to the right, planning to use them to destabilize the Persian left wing.

 Blog 2 image

(Lendering, Map of the Battle of Issus, 2014)

The battle itself was bloody. Alexander’s hoplites were the main targets of the Persians. The Macedonian right wing was also in danger, though Alexander managed to turn the tide of the battle with a single, brilliant maneuver. During the initial charge, the Macedonian forces were fired upon by Persian archers, who then retreated as the attacking phalanx grew closer. However, in order for them to do so, the Persian lines had to open for a brief moment. It was then that Alexander and his companions struck in a devastating cavalry charge. By destroying the right flank of the Persian army, Alexander was able to flank the center and support his phalanx. At that moment, the Battle of Issus turned into the Massacre of Issus. The Persians in the front were pushed forward by their forces in the rear, and were quickly crushed by the combined force of the cavalry and the phalanx.

This battle cemented Alexander’s fame. None could mistake that he had led the charge that won the battle, which solidified his reputation for bravery. It also destroyed the bulk of the Persian forces and led to Alexander gaining Phoenicia and Egypt from the Persians.

Bibliography

Curtius, Q. (1998). History of Alexander. London: Harvard University Press.

Lendering, J. (2014, February 1). Issus. Retrieved from Livius.org: http://www.livius.org/battle/issus/

Lendering, J. (2014, January 23). Map of the Battle of Issus. Retrieved from Livius.org: http://www.livius.org/pictures/a/maps/map-of-the-battle-of-issus/

Sidnell, P. (2006). Warhorse. New York: Continuum.

Worley, L. (1994). Hippeis. Boulder: Westview Press.

 

 

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How the Peloponnesian War Proved the Utility of Cavalry

The Peloponnesian War was a war between Athens and Sparta that lasted from 431 B.C.E to 404 B.C.E. It is often referred to as the war between the elephant and the whale. Sparta had claim on the title of elephant with a formidable army. Athens was the obvious choice for whale, as it was well known for naval dominance. It may sound like every battle was one sided, depending on where it took place, but that isn’t the case. One little known advantage that Athens had was its cavalry. (Lendering)

Ancient Chariot Parade © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 2.5

Ancient Chariot Parade © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 2.5

Horses had been used in warfare for quite some time before the Peloponnesian War. In their earliest days however, they were reserved almost exclusively for use with chariots. Over the years, their use evolved until the more modern idea of cavalry emerged: a unit of lightly armored soldiers charging into battle on horseback (Sidnell, 2006). These units had many uses, from both launching and preventing raids to both martial and psychological benefits on the battlefield (Gaebel, 2002). However, in order for them to be useful the horses had to actually reach the battle field. This wasn’t always the trivial task that it sounds like it should be, especially because transporting horses over water isn’t exactly simple using a boat designed for humans. This put Athens in something of a bind. In retrospect, the solution is obvious: innovation. Athens needed a way to transport horses over water more easily, so they designed a ship to do just that (Worley, 1994). This innovation was what allowed Athens to prove how useful cavalry to the rest of the world, despite the expense and difficulty involved in raising and maintaining it.

The simple truth about Greece is that it is a terrible place to raise horses. A combination of mountains and poor grazing land leaves few regions capable of supporting enough horses for a proper cavalry. This was especially true for Sparta, which barely had enough food to support its human population. As the war wore on however, even Sparta had to admit that well used cavalry could be devastating. As the war neared its end, Sparta was forced to raise cavalry of its own to help handle the Athenian forces. Their lack of training prevented the Spartan forces from being as effective, but they were still far from useless. Ultimately, the Peloponnesian War proved beyond doubt that cavalry was essential for an army to maintain dominance on the battle field (Strassler, 1996).

Bibliography

Gaebel, R. (2002). Cavalry Operations in the Ancient Greek World. University of Oklahoma Press.

Lendering, J. (n.d.). Peloponnesian War. Retrieved from Livius.org: http://www.livius.org/pb-pem/peloponnesian_war/peloponnesian_war.html

Nguyen, M.-L. (2009, June 28). Wikimedia Commons.

Sidnell, P. (2006). Warhorse. New York: Continuum.

Strassler, R. (1996). The Landmark Thucydides. New York: Free Press.

Worley, L. (1994). Hippeis. Boulder: Westview Press.

 

 

 

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