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Topic: Barbarian Legions - Does height make a difference to fighting and training?

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All Forums : [THE MILITARY ACADEMY] : Military History > Barbarian Legions - Does height make a difference to fighting and training?
30 JUL 2011 at 8:53pm

destraex

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As I understand it the Romans had a few legions that were almost all made up of Gaulish or Germanic soldiers. Barbarians were allegedly much taller than their Italian Roman opponents. Considering that the Legions fighting style and shield were all standard and designed to protect and defend while stabbing out from under. Would Tall Barbarian recruits make the best material? I know that it is a little confusing to identify Barbarian Legions, if they existed ?? Because Roman Legions were often named after their campaigns. So an Italian Legion could have the name of Gaul for instance. If the Barbarian units did exist in the Roman army as anything more than auxillary troops, did they have a good fighting record? I am not talking about late split empire units. More units around Caesar and onwards. Curious. 

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3 AUG 2011 at 12:12am

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Originally Posted By destraex
As I understand it the Romans had a few legions that were almost all made up of Gaulish or Germanic soldiers. Barbarians were allegedly much taller than their Italian Roman opponents. Considering that the Legions fighting style and shield were all standard and designed to protect and defend while stabbing out from under. Would Tall Barbarian recruits make the best material? I know that it is a little confusing to identify Barbarian Legions, if they existed ?? Because Roman Legions were often named after their campaigns. So an Italian Legion could have the name of Gaul for instance. If the Barbarian units did exist in the Roman army as anything more than auxillary troops, did they have a good fighting record? I am not talking about late split empire units. More units around Caesar and onwards. Curious. 
There weren't any barbarian legions until the late Western Empire.  Until that time you'd usually find barbarians as auxiliary units...often as cavalry.  The whole legionary system was adapted to the smaller Romans. The spacing between men was worked out with the size or Romans and the sword that was the standard issue, Gladius Iberius, in mind.  Mixing 6+ foot tall Barbarians with their preferred larger swords wasn't possible. By the Late Western Empire, not enough Romans were willing to serve, so Rome hired Barbarian mercenaries for the legions. These mercs were allowed to use weapons and armor of choice. To be honest, by this time, the quality of training and the whole Roman military ethic had pretty much fallen apart.

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4 AUG 2011 at 7:15pm

Besilarius

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Now, don't forget one of Caesar's legions, V Alaudae. It was raised in Gaul and totally Gaullish in manpower. They were equipped and trained exactly like the Roman miles (foot soldiers) and this should not be surprising because in the Republic before the Punic Wars, a Roman army consisted of two legions of Roman soldiers in the center of the line, and two legions of Italian allies one on each flank of the Romans. Caesar had a manpower shortage, but had plenty of cash from his plundering, so he raised a legion of barbarians.  They were a very reliable and effective legion which had a long career.  During the Civil War it was under Marc Antony but was kept in being by Augustus in the great reorganization after Actium.  Not sure exactly how long they were in existence, but believe they were destroyed by the Dacians around 115AD?  By that point, I'm not sure if they were still Gallic, or had become more Italian. It is unwise to think of Barbarian legions, because the Romans used the people living within the empire (who were not citizens) to join the Auxiliaries.  These battalion sized cohorts were also open to foreigners, who were rewarded with citizenship after retiring on twenty years service.  The Auxilliaries did not fight as legionaires, but they had Roman training and tactical methods that complemented the legions. It was only after the disasters of the later Empire, when manpower was seriously low, that they began using barbarian warbands within the army.  These were not legions, but were just the same barbs on the Roman side of the border, who now fought against the barbs on the far side of the border. They fought as a tribal warband, they were led by their native leaders, and were armed as they had always been armed.  They received, apparently, no training in Roman tactical methods. The edge that the Roman legions had over the barbarians disappeared as the "Roman" army became more barbarian. After Adrianople, the East Romans almost had to turn their field army into a barbarian army by wholesale usage of foederati, barbarian tribes like Huns, Sarmations, and other nomadic people. According to an old latin teacher I had in High School, there was only one significan difference between V Alaudae and a Roman legion.  Alaudae was the Gallic word for the lark.  The Romans nicknamed the legion the larks because...THEY NEVER SHUT UP! The Gauls chattered constantly and in camp were unable to keep it down.  He made the suggestion that Caesar's marshal of the camp was driven mad because the Romans wouldn't stand being close bivouacked to the Gauls for more than a night.  They made laying out the nightly camp a real challenge.  By contrast, the Roman soldiers were more dignified.  More restrained.  More taciturn.  If they were ordered to be quiet, they stayed quiet.  The Gauls took it as a challenge.
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4 AUG 2011 at 8:01pm

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^ I didn't know about that Legion, thanks for the post. Not only that, but apparently we now know why so many, French, Italian, and Spaniards are so often excessively verbose.....It is not their fault, its genetics at work...............................................

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4 AUG 2011 at 8:25pm

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There's a huge difference between a legion that is raised in southern France (i.e. what first century Romans would refer to as the Provincia) and a body of troops raised in one of the three Gauls (western and northeastern France and Belgium).         The Cote d'Azur had been dotted with Greek colonies for hundreds of years before the Romans showed up (guess who taught the Gallic beer drinkers how to make wine), and in Caesar's day that part of France had been organized into a Roman province for several generations.  After the invasion of the Cimbri and Teutones Marius had demobilized his retired veterans in the Provincia, and it must have been in pretty serious numbers because the name Marius (along with Jules) is still part of the Southern French prosopography (large numbers of Marian and Julian freedmen also had something to do with this because ex-slaves always carried the name of their original owners).         What it boils down to is that the population of Southern France was pretty Romanized by the time of the Gallic wars, and would have included large numbers of indigenous Greeks and Italics (non-Roman Italians), who considerably outnumbered the Romans even back home.  So if you looked at a freshly recruited legion from that area, they were probably chattering in Greek mixed with Gaulish, and most of them were likely to have been of normal height with dark hair and and a smattering of olive skin tones.  There would have been a few taller guys mixed in with lighter hair from the interior, but they would have stood out as something you wouldn't normally find in an Italian conscription (unless you raised a legion in the Po valley, where everybody looked like that because they were Celtic anyway).         The concept of a barbarian legion in the first century b.c. is a total non-starter.  Foederati in the fourth century AD is another matter entirely.   

  

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6 AUG 2011 at 7:54am

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Philippe, those are good points, but pleas remember that Alaudae was the first legion raised outside of Rome or Cisalpine Gaul proper.  All other troops raised in that area were auxiliaries. What Caesar did by raising these provincials was outside of normal practice.  Also, the troops were not accepted as legionaires until the Senate voted to approve them.  They may have been in all respects a legion, in fighting methods, in training, in leadership, but it was not a unit within the Roman Republic.  It was a mercenary unit, raised by a governor.  This was very common, Pompey used many mercenary units in the fighting with Pontus.  This was fine and accepted.  These units were not Roman though, and never given the status and acceptance of the army out of Italy. It is not clear, but Legio V was not automatically given status as a normal legion.  Formed in Transalpine Gaul, this was to a Roman, a foreign body of troops. Legios XI and XII had been newly raised when the Hevetii tried to trek through the Aedui lands.  Although brand new, their status was never in doubt. I think that considering their original "out of Italy" raising, this unit would fit the question that this thread addresses, a barbarian legion. Now, we don't know enough about Antony's Martial Legion to consider them, but various commentators have suggested they were raised in Illyria.    Since so little is known of this unit, it is not really clear if they were a true legionary outfit, or the ancient writers were just using the term legion to represent a bit mercenary band. 
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6 AUG 2011 at 8:39am

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It's only a barbarian legion if you're going to accept an elitist, Roman senatorial class-oriented view of what constitutes a barbarian.  Our view of what was going on back then is often colored by the fact that histories were written as light entertainment by and for a very restrictive group.  A modern person (whatever that is) shouldn't feel compelled to view antiquity through the rose-colored glasses (pace Badian) of how the victors of the Social Wars viewed things.  Think of what an old moneyed Park Avenue blue blood would have said a few years ago if asked if someone from a small town in Texas were one of the right people.         To modern eyes mid first century Transalpine Gauls weren't really any different from Cisalpine Gauls, except that the political elite in Rome were often stuck-up prigs and insisted on treating them differently.  For Caesar to raise a Roman legion in Transalpine Gaul was pretty Marian and radical, but was also an extension of what had been happening in Italy for the last few hundred years (Latin Allies fighting their way up from second-class to full citizens).         Since none of us really speak Latin all that well, we aren't likely to turn our nose up at someone who speaks it with a funny accent.  So by that definition, a Transalpine Gaul isn't much different from a Cisalpine Gaul (and might even be a tad more civilized to our way of thinking, though, heavens forbid, they lived farther from Rome).  Somebody from Pontus (which also had a smattering of Greeks) is not as likely to fit in to an Italian environment, though in the aftermath of the Mithridatic wars it's pretty easy to see why Pompey would look to them as a source of legionary manpower.         I'm not really trying to argue with you on this, but I am suggesting that we shouldn't feel compelled to swallow the ancient political and social cant hook, line, and sinker.  We have our own cant to layer onto things, thank you very much.

  

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7 AUG 2011 at 3:33pm

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I'm sorry if my tone makes you think this is an argument.  Just enjoy a vigorous give and take. The thought came back to me about the slave legions that were raised in the Second PUnic War.  They fought under the consul Marcellus and his praetor Tiberias Gracchus. They were bought by the government and trained to fight as legionairres.  If they fought well, they would be rewarded with freedom.  Think they had a number of successes but believe they were ultimately destroyed in an ambush.  Mithridates of POntus formed a legion of his own in the fighting with Pompey, but it was destroyed in the fighting.  Between these two experiences with non-native Italians in legions, Caesar's experiment of raising the Alaudae is generally treated as a real stretch and in his case required by necessity. Also, the Romans were really short sighted in their attitudes toward foreigners.  Barbarians were strangers and they looked down on everyone, including the Greeks.  The people living in the Province did not have full rights and full citizenship.  A legion raised from among them wasn't going to be treated by native born Romans as equals.  This was an especially painful point for the Socii, the Latin allies who had fought alongside the Romans for centuries.  They did not get citizenship, or equal treatment, until the Servile War.  To save their system of alliances, at that point, the Senate made them equal in status to the a naturla born Roman. These other native Italians were very touchy about this, and weren't going to take anyone foreigner, any barbarian, being treated the same.  They had to rebel to get a change in status and citizenship. There is a very good treatment of the Roman Republic by Klaus Bringmann.  With your interest in the period, you'd probably enjoy it a lot.
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14 AUG 2011 at 2:01am

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So we are saying that there were not any Legions that were full of gauls or germans until so late that they are no longer considered legions? I guess my original question is a moot point then as that means their were not many tall soldiers in legions. I could have sword that around 1st C AD a lot of manpower was Gaulish or Iberian in the legions. Still Roman Citizens but certainly Gaulish and thus taller on average. 

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17 AUG 2011 at 7:21pm

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Destraex, I have been looking in my books, but really cannot find any reference to legions in the roman army that were barbarians. The only "legions" that seem to have been made of barbarians were the ones raised in imitation of the roman army by foreigners, like MIthridates of Pontus.  And I would add the Fifth Alaudae as noted earlier. As to your question about height making a difference, the ancient sources talk about the terrifying, huge barbarians, like the Gaullish invaders who sacked Rome, but overall the romans always ended up winning in the end.  Probably in a one on one sword fight, the taller (and presumably stronger) barbarian may have had a slight advantage.  The Romans recognized this and adapted to put the best weapons, armor, and tactics at the hands of the miles. We don't think of the legions changing a lot, but in fact one of their great advantages was the adaptability of the roman system. Early on in the wars with Macedon, the Italian cavalry were outclassed by the Thessalian horse of the Macedonian army.  Within a year, the outfit of the cavalry of the legions was changed to the better Thessalian rig. It is always a little surprising to me that the Successor Kingdoms did not stand up well at all to the Romans.  Pyrrhus did as well as any of them, but he failed totally. I think it is worth realising that part of Rome's genius, and their military strength, was the way the republic made it's alliance system in Italy.  Unlike the Alexandrian Successors, they did not conquer everything in sight.  Instead they offered alliance in full with Rome.  In exchange for military requirements, the ally only gave up it's right to independently carrying on war.  There was no cash involved, not taxes, not tribute, not donations. During the time of the Samnite wars, Italy was in an almost perpetual state of war, everyone fighting everyone else.  By brokering this type of alliance, in which the ally kept economic independence, religious independence, andtrade freedom, Rome built up a huge base of satisfied peoples.  This resulted in huge military manpower.  Polybius notes that in one year that Rome expected a Gaullish invasion, a military census was taken.  The military reservoir was about 320,000! This was what gave rome the edge in most conflicts.  They could lose multiple armies or fleets, as in the two Punic Wars, with losses in the hundreds of thousands, and still keep on fighting. A recent estimate of Carthage came to at most 30 -55,000 military manpower pool.  The same situation faced the Hellenistic kingdoms of the East.  They could all raise one big army, but as empires, the vast native population could not be trusted and armed.  Only the military colonists were able to fill the armies in any number.  Once their limited pool was in arms, then only mercenaries were able to be used to swell the army size.  This was a highly expensive method.  Ptolemy in Egypt at one point raised a phalanx of native Egyptians, but as soon as peace was made, it was disbanded and never raised again. They could raise huge armies, the Seleucids at Raphia had an army of 62,000 and at Magnesia had 70,000.  However, due to the manpower issue and the limited mercenary pool, or the limited cash to hire, most campaigns had one big battle which decided everything. Not that the Roman system was perfect.  Since there was no standing legions, at the beginning of each war, the army was militia grade.  Since the Republic was cash poor, the hiring of mercenaries was severly limited.  Once the first clashes were over (and a couple of consular armies beaten up) then the legions became blooded and began to be veterans. The armies which fought the Macedonians and Seleucids included a lot of experienced soldiers who had learned how to hold things together against Hannibal, and it showed.
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29 AUG 2011 at 4:13pm

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I think Belsarius that you have covered most of what I say below. But here is what I have found so far: Perhaps I should not have said barbarians - with reference to Taller or larger soldiers. I should have referenced "Roman Citizens of the originally barbarian provinces outside of rome"    I know that especially when it came to imperial rome, a fair percentage of recruits were from provincial citizenship. Which would have included barbarians granted citizenship I would expect. I have also been reading that it was common even though not specifically recorded well that a legion recruit locally near its base. Apart from the local wemon which bore child to the legionary.  For instance: Legio tertia Gallica 
Third Gallic legion) was a Roman legion levied by Julius Caesar around 49 BC, for his civil war against the conservative republicans led by Pompey. The cognomen Gallica suggests that recruits were originally from the Gallic Roman provinces. The legion was still active in Egypt in the early 4th century. The legion's symbol was a bull.

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29 AUG 2011 at 9:48pm

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ok home sick so got to look at some of my books further. Here is a quote from osprey (cringe) Warrior: Roman Legionary 58bc-ad 69 "A legionary recruit was supposed to be a roman citizen but the civil wars had resulted in a wide dispersion of the legions and the need for rival commanders to recruit on the spot. For example in 52bc julius caeser raised legio V alaude from native gauls; only later did he enfranchise them (suetonius, caeser, 24)." "The real requirement for entry into the legions, whether conscript or volunteer, was free birth, not roman citizenship; citizenship could be granted at enlistment or at some point during service. The Galatian legion XXII Deiotariana was not formed from Roman citizens. Its soldiers were subjects of, or mercenaries, serving the indipendent kingdom of galatia until its absorbtion into the empire in 25bc. Roman citizenship would have been granted at the time of transfer." "In AD23 the emperor tiberius bemoaned the lack of suitable italian recruits coming forward to serve in the legions"  "Tiberius complaint also reveals that Italywas no longer considered the major source of manpower for the roman army. While legions in the west still drew substantially from italy but increasingly from local sources, the legions in the east, particularly in egypt, recruited from provincial sources from their beginnings. An important inscription of augustan date from egypt records the names and origins of 36 legionaries from III Cyrenaica and XXI Deiotariana (ILS 2483). The men specify origins in asia minor (20 soldiers), egypt (7), syria (2), Gallia Narbonensis (2), castris (2), cyrenaica (1), Cypris (1) and italy (1). Only three of the legionaries originated in the west,  and only one from italy itself (vercellae); perhaps these three were the only Roman citizens in enlistment. The majority of recruits came from asia minor and were made citizens and given roman names on enlistment."

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29 AUG 2011 at 9:56pm

destraex

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Oh and I think I may have answered my own question with regard to height existing in the Roman Army. From the same book: "Height The ideal height for a Roman Legionary was 6 Roman feet (1.77m:5ft 9in.) and men of at least 5 feet and 10 inches (1.72; 5ft 7in.
were preferred in the first cohort (Vegitus, Epitome, 1.5). However the reality was different. Nero's legio italica was notable for two reasons: its composition of Italian recruits and the fact that all the men were at least six roman feet in height (suetonius, Nero, 19).  "The skeletal remains of a soldier who died at pompeii in ad79 suggest he was about 1.7m (5ft 7in.) tall, but a soldier from the fort at velsen in holland was about 1.9m tall (c.6ft 2in). He may have been a local recruit from frisii."

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31 AUG 2011 at 5:49pm

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Hi, Destraex, sorry to be away for awhile.  Irene took us out for about four days.  Surprisingly, it was a crew from Mississippi Power operating in Maryland, that brought us up. Thanks for the digging.  That's good stuff.  As to the height differential, possibly the barbs got more protein than the Roman farmers may have.  The Republican Legionairres did not like eating meat, and it actually was almost a punishment for them if that was the only rations available. Their preferred mess was a barley mash (Yuck!)  Probably developed the diet from the poor farming conditions in central Italy.  Most farm families presumably did have goats and cattle, but they were expensive.  Mostly they are thought to have made cheese and only rarely slaughtered their animals.  The barbs being hunters and gatherers likely had a richer diet in protein than the farmers. By the way, this discussion has led me to a book that I never knew of before.  Dr. Philip Matyszak has a well reviewed book on Mithradates the Great: Rome's Indomitable Enemy. Always have been curious about his forming a legion and this book may have good details on this event.
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31 AUG 2011 at 8:06pm

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^Another recent book on Mithradates, "The Poison King", by Adrienne Mayor. I quite enjoyed it.

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2 SEP 2011 at 7:05pm

destraex

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No problem Besilarius.  I will now go out and buy barley, while stopping my meat rations
I happen to think the height thing is a combination of genetics and diet. Otherwise today average heights would not be so disparet while peoples have access to the same food quality and quantity. Yes I know some choose not to eat meat. But in general every bodies meat intake has risen. So much so that we have the vegan movement pushing back the other way. Another point would be to look at the bushmen hunters from africa. Tiny people, yet they hunt to live and eat meat frequently I assume. They sure are not killing plants with their spears. In general City folk - small and weak Farm folk - larger and stronger Hunters and Survivalists - not sure Warriors culture - expected to fight to survive - largest. Climate, Habitat, genetics and culture all of course come into play. With regard to Roman Legionaries though. It does sound like the glory days or the legion up until the civil wars included primarily Italian recruits. After the Marian Reforms is when we start getting larger numbers of western barbarian in the legions. Certainly in the 1st AD I expect you will find a lot more "foreign citizens" if you can call them that in the legions. VEry similar to looking at the british napoleonic armies. Irish, Welsh and Scots anybody? I would say that a fair chunk of British units were made up of Irish, Welsh and Scots. The highlander units of course were more of a problem communications wise and had to have their own kilted units. I expect people would be surprised to learn what percentage of "barbarian" blood ran through the legions.

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5 SEP 2011 at 8:30am

Besilarius

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Destraex,  thought you might at some time enjoy this. The author mentioned above, Dr. Philip Matyszak, has begun a series of books that look very hopeful.  Got his one on "Roman Conquests, Macedonia and Greece." He explains how Rome, which had no policy of taking over Greece, ended up in control.  After the exertions of the Hannibalic War, Rome only wanted peace on its borders, but the Greeks and the Macedonian kingdom, could not keep quiet.  Little by little, the Romans had to exert more influence, and send armed forces to try and keep the area from becoming a constant warzone. Actually, the author's sensibilities, and ironic sense of humor, make this a pretty entertaining read.  He does go into military matters, but that is secondary to the political events and outside influences. Probably would make the basis for a good game on ancient power politics.  I'm really psyched now to find his book on Mithridates, since most histories give that whole region short coverage.
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