Home Forums Ancients Heritical idea about Republican Roman Triarii

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  • #44726
    Piyan Glupak
    Participant

    Most of the rules for ancients that use grades for troops that I have seen classify the triarii of Republican Roman armies highly, for instance as ‘Superior’ troops.  I have started to wonder whether that should be so.

    The two main sources about the manipular Roman armies are Polybius and Livy.  Polybius described the armies of the Punic Wars not too long afterwards, whereas Livy described what seems to be an earlier version, that might have included the Romans that faced Pyrrhos.  Both describe armies with 3 types of battle-line infantry, hastati, princepes and triarii.  Usually the hastati were at the front, the princepes in the middle, with the triarii at the rear.

    The hastati are described as being the younger and less well-armoured of the battle-line troops, the princepes as being in the prime of life, and, being older, able to afford more body armour.  The triarii are described as the oldest and most experienced.  Most modern reconstructions of triarii assume that they were able to afford good body armour, but they might have had older versions of helmets, for instance, than would be common among the other lines.

    So far so good.  However, one thing that commanders sometimes do is assign important and active roles for their best troops.  Napoleon might not have sent the Old Guard in very often, but when he felt it was necessary, forward they would go.  The Persian Immortals did have their bash when other troops had had a go, and may have been thought by the King of Kings to have weakened the Spartans a bit.  One writer that I find believable explains Montrose’s victories largely because he was skilled at using his well-trained and experienced regular Irish infantry (and later on his cavalry) effectively so that the highlanders were not put under undue pressure until they could play their part.

    Curiously, from what I have read, the triarii were not used in an active or decisive way.  Conventionally they were kept at the back of the battle line troops.  There were occasions where they were put on the flanks of the battle line.  Sometimes they were used as a camp guard.

    Without bringing to mind Corporal Jones of ‘Dad’s Army’ (a fictional television character who had seen action in the Sudan), is it possible that the triarii were past the level of military effectiveness required for the other two battle lines, but too important socially to allow heavy casualties?  Should they be graded either as ordinary or even less effective troops?  I would be interested in people’s opinions.  Go on, shoot me down in flames!

    • This topic was modified 4 years, 7 months ago by Piyan Glupak.
    • This topic was modified 4 years, 7 months ago by Piyan Glupak. Reason: Not telling!
    #44730
    Not Connard Sage
    Participant

    Wargames rules writers, and users, love their troop classifications. Even if they’re only imaginary.

     

     

     

    "I go online sometimes, but everyone's spelling is really bad. It's... depressing."

    #44731
    willb
    Participant

    The rules I use have them rated the same as the rest of the legion.   They are supposed to be the older more experienced men so most likely would not be inferior to the rest of the legion.   Being older there may not have been as many of them available to fill the ranks.  Lifespans back then were not as long as present day lifespans.  This might explain why there were only half as many men in each maniple.

    • This reply was modified 4 years, 7 months ago by willb.
    #44746
    Eric Henderson
    Participant

    This is a very interesting question. I have always seen the triarii interpreted as superior troops but I suppose the Roman saying of “send in the Triarii!” could also be interpreted as equivalent of “scraping the barrel”. As I understand it they went in last if the other classes had failed to win the battle which could be interpreted as using the least effective troops to ‘soften up’ the enemy first. There is so much we don’t really know about the remote past but it is a fascinating subject for discussion!

    #44747
    Piyan Glupak
    Participant

    Wargames rules writers, and users, love their troop classifications. Even if they’re only imaginary.

    Personally, I think that troop classifications in wargames are just a vicious plot by rules writers to stop my Prussian Landwehr wiping the floor with Napoleon’s Old Guard.

    #44748
    Piyan Glupak
    Participant

    The rules I use have them rated the same as the rest of the legion. They are supposed to be the older more experienced men so most likely would not be inferior to the rest of the legion. Being older there may not have been as many of them available to fill the ranks. Lifespans back then were not as long as present day lifespans. This might explain why there were only half as many men in each maniple.

    The rules I had been looking at grades them as ‘Spear(Superior) whereas most pila armed legionaries are ‘Blades(Ordinary’, which means that the triarii do a lot better against cavalry. By the time of the army described by Polybios, the hastati and principes used pila and sword, not the thrusting spears the triarii at that time.  Grading triarii the same as the hastati and princepes does seem to solve a couple of possible wargaming problems.

    Presumably, in Spain, where the army seemed to go over to using cohorts rather than maniples as the basic tactical unit, a cohort would consist of a maniple of hastati, one of principes and one of triarii.  It is difficult to imagine the different components of the cohort being composed or armed differently.

    Your point about the maniples of triarii being half the size of the hastati and princepes maniples is as Polybios describes.  However, Livy (who, it is to be admitted, wrote several centuries later than the army he described) said that the earlier version of the manipular army had similar numbers of hastati, princepes and triarii.  He said that only the hastati used pila at that time; both the princepes and the triarii used thrusting spears.

    #44749
    Piyan Glupak
    Participant

    This is a very interesting question. I have always seen the triarii interpreted as superior troops but I suppose the Roman saying of “send in the Triarii!” could also be interpreted as equivalent of “scraping the barrel”. As I understand it they went in last if the other classes had failed to win the battle which could be interpreted as using the least effective troops to ‘soften up’ the enemy first. There is so much we don’t really know about the remote past but it is a fascinating subject for discussion!

    It is my understanding as well that if it came to the triarii becoming involved it would have been a very close battle.

    It seems to me that if you can’t be sure of doing an accurate simulation when doing army lists or wargames rules, all you can do is to try to encourage the players to deploy and make decisions that seem to be what the real life generals would try to do.

    #44790
    Noel
    Participant

    The triarii should be just as effective as the other legionaries, in my opinion.  They were older soldiers, they had decades of experience but perhaps not the energy or enthusiasm of the younger troops.  They shouldn’t be elites.

    The phrase “down to the triarii” was supposedly a commonly used one meant to say “the shit has hit the fan”.  I think it was largely understood that these guys would not be called upon to fight unless things had gone badly.

    #44815
    Sane Max
    Participant

    An important point to consider that counters the idea they might not have been very good, and thus kept til last for a reason, is the political factor you touched on.

    The Triari were the oldest, and were ‘solid citizens’. They would have been very important men in the assemblies, of influential families. A wise politician would have used them with caution. Imagine an American or British Regiment composed largely of Local councillors,Justices of the Peace, small business owners, Union Reps, bank managers and lawyers. I would have been careful to keep them for emergencies too.

    But I also dislike every attempt I have ever seen in wargames rules to have three separate formations magically replacing each other in some sort of starlight express manoever, and have avoided owning a republican army for that very reason. I also have long secretly suspected the average roman soldier of the period was no better or worse than his opponent.

    • This reply was modified 4 years, 7 months ago by Sane Max.
    #44847
    Fredd Bloggs
    Participant

    The Triari were the oldest, and were ‘solid citizens’. They would have been very important men in the assemblies, of influential families. A wise politician would have used them with caution. Imagine an American or British Regiment composed largely of Local councillors,Justices of the Peace, small business owners, Union Reps, bank managers and lawyers.

     

    Qnd back to Cpl Jones we go…. Dad’s Army.

    #44848
    Noel
    Participant

    But I also dislike every attempt I have ever seen in wargames rules to have three separate formations magically replacing each other in some sort of starlight express manoever, and have avoided owning a republican army for that very reason.

     

    I have Hail Caesar, which doesn’t do this (much to the consternation of many gamer that wants it to!), but instead has two mechanisms that I think reflect it better.  The first is the support ability of units (where units touching those in combat add to the attack) and the other is the drilled Roman troops, which allow retreating units to pass through them.   I think this is a better representation than swapping out units or other oddities that I’ve seen.

     

    I also have long secretly suspected the average roman soldier of the period was no better or worse than his opponent.

     

    I think amongst professional soldiers, they were no better.  Their strengths, I think, were in their flexible tactical structure, their martial society and their inability to give up even when they were hammered.

    #44858
    Sane Max
    Participant

    The Triari were the oldest, and were ‘solid citizens’. They would have been very important men in the assemblies, of influential families. A wise politician would have used them with caution. Imagine an American or British Regiment composed largely of Local councillors,Justices of the Peace, small business owners, Union Reps, bank managers and lawyers.

    Qnd back to Cpl Jones we go…. Dad’s Army.

    well, no, because Dad’s army were a bunch of well-meaning incompetents, clapped out old buggers, crooks and kids, whereas I have no doubt the triarii were perfectly capable of kebabbing your kidneys – just that (as today) young men are more disposable to society.

    #44859
    Sane Max
    Participant

    I have Hail Caesar, which doesn’t do this (much to the consternation of many gamer that wants it to!), but instead has two mechanisms that I think reflect it better. The first is the support ability of units (where units touching those in combat add to the attack) and the other is the drilled Roman troops, which allow retreating units to pass through them. I think this is a better representation than swapping out units or other oddities that I’ve seen.

    Even Hail Caesar allows a republican player to take small units, which I find a monumental arse-ache to play against.

    #44863
    Piyan Glupak
    Participant

    [snip] But I also dislike every attempt I have ever seen in wargames rules to have three separate formations magically replacing each other in some sort of starlight express manoever, and have avoided owning a republican army for that very reason. I also have long secretly suspected the average roman soldier of the period was no better or worse than his opponent.

    You could well be correct in wanting to avoid imagining the 3 lines as being separate formations.  I see the lines as being close together, so that in practice they were part of the same formation.  I have based my 6mm Polybian Romans so that Hastati and Princepes share 40mm wide by 20mm deep bases.  If I had used 30mm deep bases then I could got the Triarii on as well.

    Sorry if 6mm isn’t your thing.

    #44869
    Not Connard Sage
    Participant

    I blame Phil Barker. It’s my default position.

    "I go online sometimes, but everyone's spelling is really bad. It's... depressing."

    #44870
    Noel
    Participant

    I have Hail Caesar, which doesn’t do this (much to the consternation of many gamer that wants it to!), but instead has two mechanisms that I think reflect it better. The first is the support ability of units (where units touching those in combat add to the attack) and the other is the drilled Roman troops, which allow retreating units to pass through them. I think this is a better representation than swapping out units or other oddities that I’ve seen.

    Even Hail Caesar allows a republican player to take small units, which I find a monumental arse-ache to play against.

     

    Yeah, that ‘list’ wasn’t well thought out, in my opinion, but it is only a guideline to point people who don’t want to work out things for themselves in a direction that is roughly historical.

    The entire game system is a toolkit, which is its best feature.

     

    #44982
    A Lot of Gaul
    Participant

    Agree 100% about HC being a great ‘toolkit’ for designing scenario-based forces. Shortly after the publication of the main rulebook, several of us on the WG forum advised against publishing army list books, but apparently we were swimming against the tide of popular demand. In any case, the Republican Roman army list does also provide the option of fielding legionaries in standard-size units, for those who so desire.

    Cheers,

    Scott

    "Ventosa viri restabit." ~ Harry Field

    #45070
    Michael Fletcher
    Participant

    It’s been a lot of years since I tend my Livy and Polybius. I also confess to not having played HC in anger as of yet but like the look of them as a rule set. My thoughts for what they are worth and based on the phrase ‘ the Battle came to the Triarii’, descriptors of arms and seniority is that they were probably a defensively minded formation used to cover the withdrawal of the army in the event of a battle going badly. Unit gradings and abilities are meant to simulate similar units in all circumstances.

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