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R. A Forczyk
- Publié sur Amazon.com
Adrian Goldsworthy, a classical scholar, initially wrote this book as a thesis at Oxford University. Goldsworthy felt that, "both the popular and scholarly view of the Roman army is at best highly misleading, and in most cases utterly false." By employing the method introduced by John Keegan in the Face of Battle, Goldsworthy seeks to use classical literary sources to demonstrate how the Roman army actually fought on campaign. The author relies heavily on the standard ancient sources - Caesar, Tacitus, Polybius, Plutarch, Josephus - and synthesizes them in an effort to pain a collective portrait of the Roman army in action. As a scholarly revisionist work, this book does provide an interesting synthesis of material from diverse sources. Yet a sober analysis of this book reveals that it does not merit universal acclaim because it neither breaks significant new ground nor possesses sound analysis.
Readers familiar with the classics of ancient history may be dismayed by the manner in which the author weaves together disparate anecdotes from more than 300 years of Roman military history in an attempt to validate his theories. Examples from different centuries, different theaters of war and different types of war are thrown together into a bouillabaisse that is confusing and misleading. Using examples so disparate in space or time - and with significant gaps in sources - to develop a general theory is intellectually dangerous. Imagine attempting to develop a general theory on how the French army fought between 1640 and 1940 based upon a sprinkling of memoirs from the early 18th Century, the Napoleonic era, and the First World War and the problem should be apparent. It is also noteworthy that the author criticizes other author's for using anachronistic sources in analyzing the Roman army, and then proceeds to do exactly that himself. The author's choice of odd post-classical military references, such as out-dated Victorian military manuals, is particularly odd.
Unfortunately, the author fails to provide much that is really new, and the little that is new is overly generalized and dubious. Goldsworthy concludes that, "the army's organization was not characterized by its rigidness, but, quite the contrary, by its great flexibility. Its units adapted to the local situation." And, "the strategy adopted by many Roman armies on campaign was anything but methodical." The author's main intent is to discredit the monolithic, automaton perception of the Roman army and replace it with a more complex view that encompasses innovation and human motivations. Certainly taken against eighty-year old assessments such as J F C Fuller's, Goldsworthy's text appears more modern. While using outdated ideas as fodder for a revisionist graduate school thesis makes sense, it does not make sense to re-cast this effort as a crusade to correct all other interpretations of Roman military methods.
As in Keegan's Face of Battle, the author attempts to dissect the mechanics of Roman battle. Critical to Goldsworthy's analysis is his unquestioned faith in S L A Marshall's assertion that only 25% of soldiers actively participate in combat. Never mind that Marshall fudged much of his research or that US troops in Korea did not fight in close-order lines as the Romans did, Goldsworthy believes that this 25% figure was germane to the Roman army as well. According to Goldsworthy, Roman infantry tactics were geared toward achieving a penetration in the enemy "line" and thereby collapse their morale, but if this did not immediately occur, the battle could ebb and flow until one side broke. This is nonsense on many levels. First, any subaltern knows that you cannot achieve a tactical penetration without local superiority, and a thin Roman double-line formation could not hope to achieve this against the typical dense-pack formations of most of its opponents. Even if a small penetration were achieved, the Roman soldiers would be quickly enveloped and annihilated once outside the protection of their own battle line. Goldsworthy does raise three important issues, but fails to exploit them: the Roman preference for large reserves, the Roman knowledge that troops in close combat became exhausted after about 15 minutes and the stabbing tactics of the gladius sword.
Modern armies typically maintain 1/9th of their forces in reserve to meet unexpected situations in battle, but the Romans kept a much higher percentage - about one-third. There is no reason to believe that the Romans relied on the unpredictability of winning battles by the extra-aggressive behavior of only 25% of their infantry, but rather, far more plausible theories suggest that the Romans won by well-timed use of reserves. It is likely that against Barbarians, the Romans expected their first two lines merely to hold off and exhaust the enemy for about 15 minutes. At the decisive moment, the Roman general would commit his reserve and this third line would literally massacre the front-rank of the exhausted enemy, who usually lacked the discipline or command and control to employ a tactical reserve properly. As Goldsworthy notes, the Barbarian "wedge" formations usually resulted in the tribal leadership out front and these were the men killed by the Roman reserves; without leadership, the rest of the enemy usually broke and ran. The key question here, is how exactly did the Romans deploy their reserve through the first two lines. However it was done, it required a high degree of training and discipline - both Roman strong points. As for the gladius, Goldsworthy fails to note that stabbing tactics were essentially defensive and far less tiring than the wild, offensive slashing tactics employed by Rome's enemies. Thus, Goldsworthy's depiction of Roman battle tactics is fundamentally flawed, although he does make some interesting observations.
8 internautes sur 8 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
Nikolaus L. Overtoom
- Publié sur Amazon.com
From an aggressive Republic to a dominating Empire, Roman culture and influence spread through three continents on the backs of its armies. Military power, flexibility of command, pursuit of glory, and pure mechanical determination shape the Roman world from 100 BC to 200 AD. For three centuries, the Romans expanded borders and spilt blood, fighting the enemy and themselves. It is to this end that Adrian Keith Goldsworthy attempts to show the Roman world, and more precisely the Roman military, with more emphasis on individuality than is typically discussed. He does so in his work, The Roman Army at War, an in depth book comprising of organization, movement, and tactics, as well as a deeper delve into a sphere of human emotion and motivation, asking why events unfolded as they did and to what end. Emphasis is placed on the individual thoughts and motives within a campaign, whether it is the lowest recruit or the Emperor himself. Gone are the days of archaic military history thinking in terms of emotionless blocks of troops moving in straight lines, ready to lay their lives down for the cause of Roman victory. Goldsworthy navigates through a sea of frail conclusions, unconvincing explanations, and unreliable sources, many of which he cites throughout the text, dealing with the Roman military and how they waged war, coming out the other side into the fairly uncharted waters of how war was waged on the individual. This is the new frontier of military history and is in dire need of further research as stated by Goldsworthy. Blocked off in six main chapters with several sub-topics contained within each chapter, Goldsworthy reveals a story of Roman military life which is not always cut and dry and certainly not romanticized.
Goldsworthy begins with the description of Roman military organization covering the evolution of the Legion due to "the changing scale of warfare" (37) from thirty maniples to ten cohorts. This was due to the need for a "far more flexible legion" (37). He further goes on to discuss the introduction of small scale fighting armies, made up of legionary detachments or vexillations, noting the lesser need for large standing armies because seldom "was there ever an enemy capable of organizing an army large enough to produce such large scale warfare" (38). Reinforcing the idea of Roman adaptableness, Goldsworthy goes into detail on the Roman armies' ability to change where change was needed, highlighting Arrian's Cappadocian legions in what is today eastern Turkey, "the roman army was an inherently flexible organization" (38). He concludes that the armies "ability to adapt to local situations" (38) was a key factor of its success. Goldsworthy follows this point up with a brief description of Rome's chief enemies, the Germans, Gauls, and Parthians, along with concise descriptions of their customs and methods.
The chapter on the Roman campaign deals with the idea of an aggressive and offensive army as opposed to the previous stereotype of an army of rigid defense. In fact, he even goes as far to say that a Roman army on defense had either been taken off guard or was admitting its grim position, "the Roman army sought always to bring the conflict to a decisive conclusion as soon as possible by seizing the initiative and dictating the course of the fighting" (114). The idea was to show Roman force, even if badly outnumbered or under supplied, in order to persuade an enemy out of fighting, "the Roman emphasis on the offensive in all forms of warfare was another aspect of this attempt to dominate the enemy's collective willpower and suggested the inevitability of Roman victory" (114). Goldsworthy continues on to discuss the Roman advantage in siege warfare as well as its ability to excel in low intensity skirmish and ambush combat. He affirms many Roman commanders were able to "use forces of heavily armed, legionary infantry as raiders to attack and completely surprise enemies who habitually fought using the tactics of raid and ambush" (114). He concludes this section dismantling the preexisting ideas of Roman-style warfare's reliance on geographical settings; also its inability to defeat the Germans and Parthians as reasons to the slowing of expansion in those areas. According to Goldsworthy, that would be to "deny the fundamental flexibility of the Roman army" (115).
The second half of his book goes into a much more personal level of the military and its characters. Beginning with the generals, Goldsworthy goes straight into his explanation of a Roman general's mobility and interaction in battle as opposed to the popular opinion of a stagnant observer. Describing the three positions of generalship during battle, front line combat, surveying from the rear of the army, or directly behind the men, he expresses that most Roman generals preferred to stay "close to the fighting without taking part, encouraging their men and directing their reserves as the situation required" (168). This allowed for a flexible general who could plug gaps when necessary and rally troops at different points in the line, a perfect form of command for the Roman army. As Goldsworthy emphasizes "the technical skill of the Roman general lay not in the sweeping moves of grand tactics, but in paying close attention to the detail of small unit tactics, directing his units" (169). He ends with how a general's upbringing in Roman society and the emphasis of "courage or virtus" (169) is the driving force of military success and shaped the Roman general in battle.
Goldsworthy's largest chapter deals with the unit in battle. He goes into explaining the idea that tactics, drill, and weaponry can only go so far on a battlefield. The core ingredient is the soldier himself and how he will react to the speed and stress of warfare. Goldsworthy states, "moral, far more than physical, factors were of most importance in determining the course of the fighting" (244), battles in this period seem to be highly fluid confrontations involving intervals of intense melee and then long episodes of uneasy face off where the difference between victory and defeat could be rather small indeed. He puts emphasis on the idea that most men in a battle "were instinctively more prone to avoiding threats to themselves then to attempting to kill the enemy" (245), also adding that "few men could have had any idea of the grand tactics of the battle, or indeed what was happening anywhere outside their own patch of ground" (245). Once again he is reiterating the concept of the Roman military as a group of individuals as opposed to a robot mob void of all emotion. He, however, finalizes that the Roman edge in battle was mainly due to its "discipline, fear of punishment, and good morale" (246), which allowed them the opportunity to hold out just longer then their enemies.
The final section of Goldsworthy's book deals with the individual soldier in battle concentrating on motivation and bravery. He discusses how discipline, unit cohesion, quality of leadership, opportunities to spoils of war, and even punishment were all essential motivators of the common Roman soldier. Acts of bravery were significant to the Roman army because "in the course of battle there were many occasions when it was important for one, or a few, individuals to push ahead, or cut their way into an enemy formation, in order to achieve victory" (264). The actions of a single man could rally others to go above the call of duty and sway a battle in Rome's favor. Bravery is excellent for morale and was a main cause of factors, such as personal recognition by a general or possibly Emperor, which could change the outcome of a battle. Goldsworthy displays many accounts of individual soldiers being rewarded by the Emperor, which encouraged striving for glory in battle, "the encouragement of boldness through reward helped to motivate individuals to the displays of aggression needed to achieve victory" (279). He finishes his work reaffirming the importance to rethink what we as a society assume of the Roman military and how it worked. They were not always perfect, they were not always victorious, however, as Goldsworthy concludes, "awareness of the difficulties faced by the Roman army only increases admiration for its achievement" (286).