University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Violence and Conflict Graduate Workshop, Faculty of History > Telum Acerrimum, being a Firm Reply to some Outlandish Recent Theories Concerning the Use of Missile Weapons in the Manipular Legion

Telum Acerrimum, being a Firm Reply to some Outlandish Recent Theories Concerning the Use of Missile Weapons in the Manipular Legion

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The two and half centuries of Rome’s rise from one of many warring city-states of central Italy to a Mediterranean Empire coincided with the adoptation and use of a particular military formation. The main striking force of the legions, the heavy infantry, was arranged into three lines, each consisting of sub-units called maniples. The precise working of a this checkered-like formation, where only part of the Roman army would be engaged at any given moment, is a source of major scholarly contention. For long, however, the basic fighting method of the individual legionary was never put into question – a rapid mass discharge of javelins, followed by quick advance into close combat with the sword.

In the last decade this view came under increasing scrutiny, some researchers going as far as claiming that manipular tactics involved lengthy stand-offs with the opponents lobbing missiles at each other, occasionally for hours at the time. This paper will rebut those claims. It will be argued that while the textual analysis employed by the revisionists is not without some merits, their interpretation of the evidence provided by Livy is taken too far. Problematic as this particular source could be, it still unequivocally supports the traditional reconstruction of the manipular legionary as a sword-wielding heavy infantryman. Moreover, a discussion of the size, weight and possible employment methods of the surviving Roman equipment from the era of the manipular legion, will demonstrate that it could not be used to any efficiency in skirmishing, but would be prove extremely practical in close combat.

This talk is part of the Violence and Conflict Graduate Workshop, Faculty of History series.

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