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The Roman army was one of the most powerful and successful armies of all time. The size of the Roman army allowed it to conquer much of what is known as Europe today. When compared to other ancient armies, the Roman army was the greatest military in the world at that time.
Roman citizens, much like Americans today, relied on their army to protect them and fight for them. Roman soldiers risked their lives fighting for their empire; some of them made it home safely, others were not so lucky. Soldiers were drafted into the Roman army at the age of 17 or 18 and spent an average of 25 years fighting for the empire (Scheidel, 2005, p 9).
The training process of the Roman army was harsh. There were two phases of training, the first was teaching the soldiers to march and physical training and the second was weapons training (“Military Training” n.d. para 1). Soldiers were taught how to march first because “Any army which would be split up by stragglers at the back or soldiers trundling along at differing speeds would be vulnerable to attack” (“Military Training” n.d. para 1). Roman soldiers marched about 18.4 miles that had to be completed within 5 hours. In the physical training process, the soldiers had to run, jump, and carry heavy packs (“Military Training” n.d. para 1).
During initial weapons training, Roman soldiers were taught combat skills with wooden swords and shields (“Military Training” n.d. para 2). The wooden swords were made to be twice as heavy as the original weapons. “[I]t was thought that if a soldier could fight with these heavy dummy weapons, he would be twice as effective with the proper ones” (“Military Training” n.d. para 2). After initial weapons training, the Roman soldiers were taught to fight with a spear known as a pilum, which was also twice the weight of a normal weapon.
After training for 2 to 3 months, Roman soldiers were sent into battle for the first time on the front lines (Scheidel, 2005, p 9).
There were three reasons for this. The first was to give them confidence as behind them were experienced soldiers who had fought in battles before. Secondly, it stopped the new soldiers running away if their courage deserted them. Finally, those who were more likely to be killed in the initial phase of a battle were at the front. (“The Roman Army and Welfare”, 2013, para )
For the Roman soldiers going into battle the first time was the ultimate test of how well they learned combat skills during training. Whether the soldiers would survive or perish depended on how well they fought, the amount of food they had, the availability of medical supplies and care, and the weather (Byrne, 1910, p 272).
The Roman military fought long and hard wars and lost many of their soldiers. During the Battle of Cannae, in August of 216 B.C, about 48,200 Roman soldiers were killed (Goldsworthy, 2005, p 43). Of the men killed about 45,500 were infantry and about 2,700 were in the cavalry (Goldsworthy, 2005, p 43). The Romans had about 80,000 soldiers in the infantry prior to the Battle of Cannae and about 6,000 soldiers in the cavalry (Goldsworthy, 2005, p 43). Although the Romans lost over half their men during the Battle of Cannae, they were still victorious.
Roman soldiers fought battles with the pilum, the gladius, and the pugio (Goldsworthy, 2005, p 28-30). The pilum was similar to today’s javelin; it “consisted of a wooden shaft of some 4 ft [sic] or so in length, joined by a thin iron shank, perhaps 2 ft [sic] long, and topped by a small pyramid-shaped point” (Goldsworthy, 2005, p 28). It was heavy and its weight was focused at the point, which gave it tremendous penetration power. The pilum could easily go through a soldier’s shield and reach his body, and was difficult to remove once it was in a soldier’s body. The gladius was a sword copied and adopted in either the 3rd century or the early 2nd century by the Romans, from the Gauls (Goldsworthy, 2005, p 29). The gladius had a well-balanced blade and was capable of slashing an opposing soldier’s flesh. The Roman soldier’s weapon of last resort was a small dagger known as a pugio (Goldsworthy, 2005, p 30).
During the time Augustus was emperor, there was a severe lack of medical personnel for the Roman army. Roman soldiers, during that time period, were largely self-reliant (Byrne, 1910, p 267). Instead of having doctors on the battlefield, “the Roman soldiers seem to have been equipped for emergencies with bandages; for in one instance, unwilling to engage in battle, in order to feign disability they used their bandages upon uninjured limbs” (Byrne, 1910, p 267). During times of war, some patricians allowed a soldier to stay in their homes where he was fed and cared for medically (Byrne, 1910, p 268).
Under Caesar, the Roman army made progress medically by allowing medical professionals to go on the battlefield to help the soldiers (Byrne, 1910, p 270).
Tents were set aside for the wounded in the time of the later republic. This was the first step toward the establishment of valetudinaria, or field hospitals. The valetudinarium in the so-called “flying military camp” was simply a group of tents reserved for soldiers suffering from grievous wounds. (Byrne, 1910, p 270)
The valetudinaria helped soldier survive and allowed the Roman army to keep fighting for the empire.
The Roman Empire is considered one of the largest and most well-known today because of its army. The Roman army allowed the Empire to expand and that allowed Roman society to grow as a whole. No other army has been able to accomplish what the Roman army did in its time.
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