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It is easier to find men who will volunteer to die, than to find those who are willing to endure pain with patience.

The Roman Legionary describes the professional heavy infantryman of the late Roman Republic and early-to-mid Roman Empire following the Marian military reforms of 107 BC. The reforms were intended to produce a more effective and efficient military that was provided by the manipular system of the mid-Republic.

Typically recruitment for the Roman military was available to all Roman citizens between the ages of sixteen and forty-five. In contrast with the manipular system, Rome under the Marian system maintained a standing army, so legionary recruits would serve for a set period of twenty-five years of service, instead of just for specific campaigns.

A legionary's equipment was provided by the state. He would be equipped with heavy body armor and a helmet, and wield a sword, shield, and two pila for his weapons. The style of legionary weapons and armor evolved over time with new developments in technology and interaction with foreign nations.

A "legion" was composed of 5,400 legionaries, which could be divided further into centuries, and even further into cohorts, which were the Roman equivalent of a modern military battalion. A cohort would also typically be accompanied by an equally-sized group of non-Roman troops that were drawn from the populations of Rome's foreign provinces. These foreign cohorts were composed of archers, cavalry, slingers and other troop types to serve the roles the heavy legionaries couldn't.

Above all else, the main focus of the Roman legion was discipline. Even after the six-month training period in which a prospective legionary was harshly drilled twice a day, legionaries continued to train almost constantly throughout their service. Lengthy marches with full equipment and in tight formations were common. Any infractions were harshly punished by the centurions, the officers in charge of the centuries.

Even after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the legacy of the Roman legions remained. The Byzantine Empire, or the continuation of the Empire's eastern half, was greatly inspired by the success of the legions against their enemies, and their military also maintained a similar level of discipline and organization.

Battle vs. Viking (by El Alamein)[]

The thick treeline cut sharply at the edge of the slope that levelled out into a dry, dusty plain. Divided into groups beneath the canopy were dozens and dozens of Viking warriors, glaring sharply out, scanning the horizon and glancing at their leader. Standing toward the front of his position, the Hersir waited patiently. The steady, rythmic beat of feet on the march, punctuated every so often by the sharp blare of a trumpet, was more than enough information to alert the Vikings to the presence of their enemy.

On the horizon rose a sea of red and bronze metal, the sun glinting off the armor of the Romans as they advanced, slowly and proudly, drawn up in a tight square formation. The Hersir had allowed the Roman's advance vanguard to pass through unimpeded--the cavalry and light troops were now scouting further ahead, leaving the main body of their force on its own. The goal was to make a sudden attack, driving directly into the Roman shield wall, and rout the main body of the force, then to flee before the next body of troops that comprised the rear force reached the scene of battle.

The Roman force was now marching directly parallel to the edge of the slope, right beneath the treeline. The first few ranks of the Roman soldiers passed by--the Vikings were close enough to distinguish an individual soldier and make note of his armaments. Their swords were pitifully short compared to a Viking's sword, their spears were flimsy-looking sticks. Scanning the field, the Hersir identified the leader of this force--a Centurion with a crested helmet. Scowling to himself, the Hersir turned, and, after sharing a glance with the commander of each of his flanks, gave a nod. The two sides shrank together in a jagged wedge to form the Swine Array. There was the briefest of moments of silence.

The Roman trumpet started to pipe up again but was instantly drowned out by a horde of screams. Instinctively the Centurion shouted out commands, his voice lost in the din, but his men were well-drilled and instantly closed hard into testudo formation. The Viking force poured down the hillside at full speed, the warriors in the front leaning hard into their shields and the ones in the rear hurling their throwing axes with all their might. The collision was brutal. An audible crunch could be heard as metal, wood, and bone slammed together, the Roman soldiers staggering back in spite of their formation, pushed and thrown off-balance by the sheer weight of the onslaught. Using this momentum to their advantage, the Vikings battered heavily on the weakened and surprised flank. The first rank of Romans simply collapsed under the ferocity of the attack.

Quickly regrouping, though, now able to distinguish commands after the initial shock of battle, the Romans drew back, pulling together sharply. The first rows of troops held fast with their shields and dared to jab out from within at any Viking soldier foolish enough to approach the tortoise formation, while the second and third rows held the line with their spears. The shields overhead greatly reduced the effectiveness of any projectile assault. A few Viking soldiers, carried away by battle frenzy, threw themselves on top of the shields, attempting to breach the Roman defense from above, but these men were quickly dispatched.

The Hersir issued the command for a withdrawal and the Viking force pulled back as swiftly as they had advanced minutes before, melting away as swiftly as the current of a river. A few pilum javelins halfheartedly gave chase to the Vikings but the Romans held firm. Their center having been compromised, the Centurion gave the order to split into two smaller testudos and to spread apart. The Centurion's strategy was clear--he was trying to maintain formation, gambling on the effectiveness of the defenses to dilute the strength of the Viking forces in separate attacks. The trumpet blared and the soldiers followed the command now drilled into muscle-memory. Suddenly, two much smaller shield walls stood side-by-side on the opposite side of the field as the Hersir's force.

Now the Viking commander found himself confronted with a difficult choice: he could commit to another all-out assault, but he had taken casualties and was uncertain that the Swine Array would be able to penetrate such a closely-knit shield wall. He could also divide his forces to evenly apply pressure on the Romans at the risk of losing the impetus he had secured with the initial attack. Making up his mind, he decided on a feint. He drew up his forces in the same formation and ordered a charge on the right flank before turning abruptly to charge on the left.

The Romans held their ground, hurling javelins out as the Viking forces again took to the field. The pilums were decidedly effective as the Vikings drew closer--the heavy shaft rendered the Viking shield useless after the iron shank became lodged within its wood. The Romans themselves received a barrage of throwing axes, most of which were deflected by the nearly all-encompassing protective capabilities of their scutum shields. As the Roman flank braced itself for impact, the Vikings suddenly swung around and pressed hard into the other flank. Taken by surprise, the Roman left flank crumpled.

However, the Centurion was on the flank that had been spared the attack, and seeing his forces threatened with the very real possibility of an immediate rout, ordered his right flank to advance forward into the Vikings attacking the left. The trumpet sounded and suddenly the Vikings found themselves being encroached upon--in the span of a minute the Roman left had recovered and regrouped enough to provide a substantial meat shield upon which the right flank pinned the Viking forces. Caught in such unfavorably close proximity, and with many of them shieldless thanks to the incessant Roman javelin volleys, the Vikings were cut down in droves. It was over in a matter of minutes--the Hersir's men broke rank and those who could took flight, running for the relative safety of the slope and the treeline beyond. At the order of the Hersir, the remaining Vikings laid down their arms in surrender, in a desperate attempt to bargain for their lives.

The Centurion looked coldly upon his captives, but as if on cue the next group of Roman soldiers appeared on the horizon on their march. With substantial reinforcements he could afford to transport these men to proper custody. As for the loot to be taken from the dead and the prisoners, all for the better. This would send a chilling message that would, once again, demonstrate the glory of the Roman legion.

Expert's Opinion[]

While the Viking forces were more mobile and were able to hit with more momentum, the Roman forces were able to maintain formation and soak up the punishment. The Hersir and Centurion were, in essence, equally effective leaders of their men, but the Hersir was limited by the inability of his offenses to compromise the defenses of the Centurion. The superior armor, better defenses, and much stronger discipline of the Roman Centurion was what led him to victory.

To see the original battle, weapons, and votes, click here.