From Beggars and landsknechts to professional standing army

William of Orange, Adriaen Thomasz Key, c. 1570–84.

Upon his appointment as stadholder of Holland in 1572, one of the first tasks of William of Orange was to incorporate the unruly `Beggar’ forces into the regular army. Officers of the Beggars who refused to comply were removed. Orange even discharged Lumey because of ill discipline, despite the fact that this officer had captured Brill, the event that led to the revolt of the Holland towns in 1572. At sea the Beggar forces remained of vital importance for rather longer, but following their contribution to the relief of Alkmaar and Leiden in 1574 Orange had them merged with the newly established navy of Holland.

Reducing the burden of the soldiery upon the population was essential for Orange’s strategy. Glaring examples of misconduct by Beggar troops alienated popular support; numerous Holland regents even pondered a negotiated return to the authority of Philip II. Towns were reluctant to admit soldiers within their walls when misdeeds by members of the garrison were left unpunished. In Leiden, for example, six soldiers raped a girl; in addition the garrison menaced town council meetings. Citizens were threatening to flee or take up arms against the troops. Grievances regarding marauding, above all during the extremely unruly time period of August 1573, added to the discontent and the unwillingness to vote for new taxes. The population in fact strongly disliked all soldiers, Spanish and Dutch alike. In the Provincial States of Holland the towns controlled no fewer than 18 of the 19 votes. In order to obtain the support of the voting towns, not least with regard to new taxes that might pay for the army, Orange had no choice but to take such complaints seriously.

The task was a knotty one as exposure to danger gave soldiers a distinctive moral pretext, different from society’s norms: in war killing was not murder and the taking of booty not theft. Blurred boundaries of right and wrong rendered extortion, torture or rape justified when instrumental to achieve soldiers’ ends – above all when lack of pay had broken their contract requiring obedience. It is not true that criminals and other marginalized individuals dominated the military. These men joined the army too, but most soldiers came from the ranks of apprentices, journeymen, farmers’ sons and farm labourers. Yet they changed, as Francisco de Valdés, a Spanish general commanding several garrisons in Brabant, remarked in 1589: `The day a man picks up his pike to become a soldier, he stops being a Christian.’ The new social identification and the behaviour that went with it were emphasized by nicknames such as Bloedhont (bloodhound), Lucifer, Jonckbedorven (`early rotten’), Magere Hein (grim reaper) or simply Neus (Nose); such names signalled the belonging to very particular norms.

To reduce the Beggars’ influence Orange raised new troops, mostly from Dutch and German territories. One drawback of these men was their `landsknecht’ tradition. The individual skills of landsknechts might be outstanding but their disciplinary reputation was poor. The French soldier and chronicler Brantome characterized them in the following way in the late sixteenth century:

I have heard great captains say that such manner of landsknechts are worthless in a besieged place, because they have a strong tendency to mutiny if they do not have everything they need. They are spendthrift, ungovernable, destructive, and dissipated.

Contemporaries said that Spanish soldiers mutinied after the battle, the German landsknechts before the battle.

Discipline could only be improved with difficulty. Landsknechts might be hired by any government or warlord, but the army command had little to say about the appointment of junior officers. Each month the soldiers elected their own sergeants and officers for quartering and provisioning (two Webels, a furier or Foerier, and a Führer or Voerder). In case of grievances the landsknechts chose representatives (Ambossaten or Amissaten) to discuss their objections with the commanders. The soldiers were usually organized in rotten (squads) of ten with a rotmeester (squad-master), also popularly elected. The inner cohesion of the squad was strong; its members supported each other finding food or when wounded. They regarded their pay appropriate for `ordinary’ service only; for battles and assaults extra money was demanded, frequently in advance.

Needless to say such practices rendered the imposition of a formal hierarchy and central command structure difficult. In 1573 Orange began by having corporals appointed from above, by the captains, who were to replace the landsknecht squad masters. Similar regulations followed for sergeants and quartermasters. The position of Voerder (guide to troops’ quarters) was abolished altogether. While the number of landsknecht officers had varied and been subject to negotiation, the size of the standard infantry staff was fixed by Orange at 13. These measures established a more hierarchical structure of command and made Dutch forces both better disciplined and more effective.

His next step was to reduce the size of the large landsknecht company. Between 1574 and 1577 companies with 150 men instead of 300 or more became standard. Orange’s reforms were in all probability inspired by French, or rather Huguenot, army patterns. Huguenots – linked to Orange in various ways – probably taught him recent innovations in the tactical use of firearms during the French Wars of Religion. Their military units were rather small with a comparatively high ratio of officers to soldiers, and no landsknecht-like corporations existed. Orange’s new companies were likewise reduced and a larger number of men armed with firearms, permitting more flexible operations which suited the warfare in the Netherlands extremely well. Elsewhere at that time – such as in the Army of Flanders – units of landsknechts were significantly larger and consisted predominantly of pikemen.

Relief of Leiden after the siege, 1574.

The comparatively high proportion of officers to soldiers improved control over the conduct of the rank and file. Orange’s basic company structure remained virtually unaltered in the decades to come. Infantry companies of the Dutch army – regardless of the actual number of men (companies of 100 became standard shortly afterwards) – contained three higher officers (captain, lieutenant and ensign), two sergeants, four corporals, two drummers, a company clerk and a barber-surgeon. The standard cavalry company consisted of eight officers: captain, lieutenant, cornet, quartermaster, two trumpeters, company clerk and farrier. Sergeants and quartermasters had specific tasks regarding the maintenance of discipline, supported by corporals who were answerable for their section (one-third or one-quarter) of the soldiers. The latter also trained new recruits. The writer or clerk had to be an honest man with some means of his own, taking care of the registration of soldiers’ pay and keeping account of their actual number. The drummers not only had to be able to drum but were also expected to speak a couple of foreign languages, as they could be sent out to ransom soldiers taken hostage by the enemy. All these lower officers were appointed by the captains. The higher officers (captains, lieutenants, cornets and ensigns) received their commissions from the higher army command or the paymasters.

Under Orange’s direction the Articles of War were also changed, with the creation of additional disciplinary regulations. Most important was the fact that the Articles were no longer a kind of contract between soldiers and their paymasters but a set of duties for soldiers imposed from above. The Articles no longer addressed the soldiers as `you’ (`U’ or `Ghy’); instead the requirements were stated in the abstract third person. All references to landsknecht traditions disappeared (the ring, the Ambossaten), along with mention of the Schlachtmonat (battle month), which stated that a new pay month was to begin after each battle. Earlier in the century a soldier usually took service for three months, but the Articles now made no reference to the duration of the contract, which was assumed to be indefinite. Soldiers now signed on for life; even elderly soldiers remained in the army, performing guard duties or looking after the training of new recruits. This permanency constituted a significant marker of professionalization, alongside the obligatory requirements of obedience and discipline imposed from above.

In the established historiography, Maurice is usually credited with the famous Articles of War of 1590, although some authors point to Leicester as the auctor intellectualis. Yet when the wording is examined, it becomes obvious that this evolved from Orange’s original set of 1574 (for Holland’s army, with 34 clauses) and his improved version of 1578 (for the States’ army, increased to 48). Leicester copied them and added some new items, totalling 55, in 1585. In 1590, under Maurice, there were no fewer than 82 Articles. The last set remained in use until 1799 with only a minor revision in 1705.

The permanent contract, introduced by Orange’s Articles, became a real permanency after 1588 when Dutch troops were no longer disbanded after the campaigns but remained in service year after year, permitting the emergence of a true standing army with increasingly professional characteristics. The troops might be labelled mercenaries, but the institutional setting was thoroughly state-controlled. In times of emergency additional mercenaries in the pay of the United Provinces were contracted. The number of truly independent military entrepreneurs – commanders with their own armies, typical of the Thirty Years War – was always limited. Under pressure from the Spanish counter-offensive of the early 1620s the Dutch contracted the celebrated military entrepreneurs, Count Ernst of Mansfeld and the Duke Christian of Brunswick, for a period of two years. Civilians feared their reputation: the troops under Christian (nickname `the Mad Duke’) had allegedly killed 5,000 peasants on their way to Brabant. Indeed, they proved extremely difficult to control and as soon as possible their high mightinesses tried to get rid of these mercenaries again.

Apart from these mercenaries the regular Dutch forces always contained a significant proportion of soldiers from other countries, both Protestant and Catholic. English companies were valued highly, by Orange as well as his sons, for their long military experience. Numerous French and German soldiers took up service too. The mix of nationalities occasionally hampered the command structure since soldiers hesitated to obey a colonel who belonged to a country other than their captain’s. Rivalries between the different nationalities also caused disturbances in army camps, usually related to drinking and gambling. In 1600 a gambling dispute involved as many as five or six hundred French, German and Frisian soldiers, of whom at least six were killed. Guards were placed between the different camps and after 1603 such fights seemed to have disappeared altogether.

Officers and men

Civilian control over the army was strong, as earlier demonstrated in relation to military jurisdiction, regulation of pay and mustering of troops. With regard to the appointment of officers, the role of civilians was likewise prominent. After Leicester had left in 1587 the provinces established themselves firmly in the forefront as paymasters of the troops and thus also responsible for the appointment of senior officers, from the rank of ensign up to colonel. The power of the Council of State was reduced; troops were only to be raised after explicit approval by the provinces in the States-General. Henceforth the Council exercised only an administrative oversight where Dutch forces were concerned, under guidelines laid down by the States-General, and the higher officers were appointed in a process dominated by the stadholder and the provincial governments. The lower officers (sergeants and corporals) received their commissions from the captains, as during Orange’s time.

One disadvantage of such regulations was that officers who enjoyed good relations with the provincial government but who were not necessarily experienced in military matters were often selected. In 1618 Maurice, William Louis and Frederick Henry drew up a decree that enhanced furthered professionalization. For the ranks of captain and above all candidates should have served a minimum for at least four years in the States’ army; for lieutenants, ensigns and cornets three years’ service was required. Captains were chosen from a list of five candidates, compiled in consultation with the provincial government but obligatorily including the current lieutenant and the current ensign/cornet of the company. For the positions of lieutenants and ensigns/cornets, the captain was to make a list of suitable candidates, from which the provincial paymasters were to select three; in the case of a lieutenant’s position the current ensign/cornet was always added as the fourth candidate. The stadholder picked the officers from these lists, giving prominence to the individuals’ past military records. In the case of equally suitable candidates from both native and foreign backgrounds, the Dutch were to be given the advantage. In addition, all captains, lieutenants and corporals of the cavalry too old or injured to serve were to be discharged with a pension, permitting more able officers to take their place. In the infantry such rules were unnecessary as elderly or disabled officers could still perform duties in garrisons; the cavalry involved much more active service, however, with many hours on horseback during convoys or raids in the countryside. And although forbidden since the very beginning of Orange’s command, the `Ordre’ of 1618 stipulated once again that the position of captain or other officer rank must never be bought or sold.

Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen

This was another step towards a more professional army, and it was exemplified by the career of Johan Maurice, Count of Nassau-Siegen. Having started in 1618 as a pikeman in the guard of William Louis, Maurice followed Frederick Henry to the Palatinate as a cavalryman in 1620 and became ensign shortly thereafter. In 1624 he was commissioned as captain of a company, becoming lieutenant-colonel in 1626, colonel in 1629, and ending up as field marshal of the Dutch army. Johan Maurice was a descendant of one of Orange’s brothers, Jan IV of Nassau. In 1625 no fewer than 25 other descendants of Jan IV served in the Dutch army, almost all as officers.

The hierarchical chain of command, the functional assignments to more experienced officers subject to formal regulations and the increased powers of the military authorities exercised in tandem with the Provincial States of Holland together made the States’ troops a model army of the time. Since the 1590s war had increasingly become `not an act of uncontrolled violence, but rather the orderly application of force, directed by a competent and legitimate authority, in the interest of the state’, exactly as the famous scholar Lipsius had recommended. Yet at the same time there remained a number of significant shortcomings. The absence of commanding officers, sometimes even during field operations, was endemic. It was all but impossible to dismiss officers guilty of fraud, insubordination or military incompetence, as any dismissal of a commanding officer would almost certainly lead to the disintegration of the company concerned.

Furthermore, though posts were not sold openly, captains were able to require `gifts’ from their successors. Regulations regarding the prohibition of the sale of military offices had to be amplified in 1628 and again in 1637.

Another problem was the high attrition rate in the number of troops. Maurice estimated that after a campaign of three or four months one-quarter to one-third of the men were lost due to desertion, disease or death. Such high `wastage’ rates were normal in early modern Europe. In the cavalry, the desertion of soldiers was much less of a problem, but the need to find good, strong horses to replace the animals crippled or killed restricted the availability of the horsemen. In the second half of the seventeenth century a cavalry horse cost 120 to 130 guilders, twice the annual pay for an infantryman.

An additional drawback affecting operational efficiency was that not all soldiers were acquainted with their senior commanders; neither did they always know their comrades in arms. Under Maurice, troops were divided in wintertime between the garrisons; he decided the composition of the regiments for the subsequent campaign and often redistributed soldiers to new units. The pressure of the Spanish counter-offensive of the early 1620s produced a change in this practice. The first permanent infantry regiment dated from 1623, when the troops were dissolved in wintertime but returned to the same units the following spring. Throughout the later decades of the Eighty Years War the continuing war threat kept regimental organization intact and encouraged regular exercise and drill, further enhancing professionalization. However, that was to change once peace was signed in 1648.


WWII US Army Heavy and Medium Field Artillery

The 240 mm Howitzer M1, popularly nicknamed the “Black Dragon”, was a towed howitzer used by the United States Army. The 240 mm M1 was designed to replace the World War I era 240 mm Howitzer M1918 which was based on a 1911 French design and was outdated by World War II. The project to replace the M1918 began in 1941. The 240 mm howitzer was the most powerful weapon deployed by US field artillery units during World War II, able to fire a 360 lb (160 kg) high explosive projectile 25,225 yards (23 km). It was the largest field piece used by the US Army during the war except for naval ordnance adapted into railway guns. The weapon addressed the requirement for super heavy field artillery capable of attacking heavily reinforced targets like those likely to be found along the Siegfried Line.

Because of the desire for mobility and maneuverability and because of the belief that the newly developing Army Air Corps would provide much of the support formerly furnished by the field artillery, the War Department did not place a very high priority on heavy artillery. In September 1942, the AGF recommended one hundred one battalions of heavy artillery (155-mm. and 8-inch guns and 240-mm. howitzers) and one hundred forty battalions of medium artillery (155-mm. howitzers and 4.5-inch guns) to be organized in addition to the division artillery units, but the following year, the War Department drastically reduced this number to fifty-four heavy and eighty-one medium battalions. The low number of authorized battalions made impossible the planning figure of 3.93 nondivisional field artillery battalions for each division as devised by the AGF. At no time during the war did the nondivisional field artillery battalions ever exceed the ratio of 2.89 battalions per division. From one hundred forty-two nondivisional field artillery battalions (thirty-two heavy, fifty-three medium, and fifty-seven light) active on 31 December 1942, the number expanded to three hundred twenty-six by 31 March 1945, of which one hundred thirty-seven were heavy, one hundred thirteen medium, and seventy-six light. The AGF had proposed considerable increases in heavy and medium artillery that the War Department did not accept in 1942. After combat experiences in Italy (especially Cassino in early 1944) proved that air support could not altogether replace heavy artillery, the department authorized more heavy and medium artillery than the AGF had originally requested.

The medium and heavy battalions were organized along lines similar to the division artillery battalions. Each had a headquarters and headquarters battery, a service battery, and three firing batteries. Each battalion was authorized two liaison airplanes for observation. With the exception of those in the 8-inch gun and 240-mm. howitzer battalions, each firing battery had four field artillery weapons, giving the battalion a total of twelve guns or howitzers. The 240-mm. howitzer and 8-inch gun battalions all had three firing batteries each, but the batteries had only two guns or howitzers each, for a total of six howitzers or guns in each battalion.

Nondivisional medium artillery usually served with divisions and corps in reinforcing and general-support missions. The 155-mm. howitzers were the same as those used in the division artillery, while the 4.5-inch field gun, capable of firing a 55-pound projectile over 11 miles (17.7 kilometers), was based on the British gun of the same caliber. Almost all artillerymen agreed that the howitzer was a splendid weapon suitable for its tasks, but few considered the 4.5-inch gun of much value except in long-range harassing missions.

In the heavy artillery category, the 155-mm. gun (“Long Tom”) was used for interdiction and counterbattery fire in the same manner as the 155-mm. howitzer, the gun permitting the attack of targets beyond the howitzer’s range. The weapon was also used for missions requiring greater velocity than the howitzers were capable of producing. Caterpillar tractors eventually replaced trucks as prime movers of all heavy artillery weapons. A self-propelled version of the 155-mm. gun was used effectively in support of armor. The 8-inch howitzer, slightly heavier than the 155-mm. gun, fired a heavier projectile at a shorter range. Considered by some to be one of the most accurate field artillery weapons in the inventory, its destructive and concussive effect was significant. The weapon was used effectively in operations against cities, heavy fortifications, communications lines, gun emplacements, and bridges behind enemy lines. The 8-inch gun was primarily used for long-range destruction of enemy communications lines and fortifications, but care had to be exercised in selecting targets because of its inaccuracy at long ranges. The 240-mm. howitzer, which fired the heaviest projectile then available, was used for all types of missions except close support.

The light nondivisional artillery battalions were organized under the same tables as their counterparts in the division artillery with minor differences. For example, nondivisional units were not authorized forward observer sections, which had been added to the divisional units in 1944 in response to numerous requests from field commanders for increased liaison and coordination between the divisional field artillery units and their supported infantry.

Han Dynasty Frontier Armies



One of the key transformations of Chinese society during the Han was the abolition of universal military service, an institution that had underpinned the Warring States and the Qin.22 With the Han’s defeat of the feudatory kingdoms in 154 B.C., the possibility of large-scale warfare in the interior of China vanished, leaving only the threat of the Xiongnu on the northern border. The inability of peasants serving one-year terms to master horsemanship and the crossbow left them ill-equipped for expeditionary forces. Their relatively short terms also made them unsuitable for long-term garrison duty. Emperor Wu allowed some peasants to pay a tax in lieu of military service and used this money to recruit professionals. Nomadic enemies of the Xiongnu and dissident elements of the Xiongnu themselves were also recruited to provide skilled cavalry. In some cases convicts were sent to the frontiers to man garrisons. Thus, during the last century B.C. the Chinese army began to shift away from peasant levies to an army based on professionals, nomads, and criminals.

The rebellion against Wang Mang turned this gradual and informal process into official policy. The rebellion had demonstrated that peasant conscripts could be turned against the state, especially during the autumn training session, when adult males of a commandery gathered for inspection. It also showed that peasants would follow locally powerful families to whom they were bound rather than officials. Training peasants to fight thus simply provided potential rebels with a superior quality of soldier. Furthermore, in the course of the rebellions, much of the population had been displaced, and loss of registered population meant a drastic decrease in tax income for the court. Motivated by the need to decrease expenditures and reduce internal threats, and by the uselessness of conscripts on the frontier, the newly established Eastern Han regime abolished both the annual training sessions and the local military officials. This did away with a formal peasant army, and left only a small, professional army stationed around the capital.

Following the split of the Xiongnu into southern and northern confederacies in 48 A.D., nomads were internally resettled on a large scale. To supervise these new inhabitants, the Eastern Han government set up standing army commands in camps at the frontier, one command for each major nomadic group resettled in China. These standing armies were manned by professional Han soldiers. The total number of troops in the camps is not recorded, but scattered citations indicate that they were in the tens of thousands. These camps remained a permanent feature of the Han army, and their troops took part in most of the major campaigns of the second century A.D.

Expeditionary armies were distinct from the standing armies, and drew their forces primarily from resettled barbarians. Most of the cavalry in the campaigns of the first century A.D. that destroyed the Xiongnu confederacy consisted of nomad soldiers. The Han founder had already employed tribal soldiers during the civil war. After the reign of Emperor Wu, these tribes were usually classified as “dependent states” and allowed to keep their own leaders and customs, under the supervision of a commandant. But the Eastern Han went beyond the policy of “using barbarians to control barbarians.” Non-Han soldiers also quelled internal rebellions, much as foreign mercenaries did for monarchs in early modern Europe. The histories record more than fifty cases of the participation of non-Han soldiers in Chinese armies. Twenty-seven of these list no Han troops in the forces involved, and six were under the command of tribal chieftains.

From this evidence it is clear that after the middle of the first century A.D. the primary source of mounted warriors was non-Han soldiers. State-controlled grasslands and stables for rearing military horses, which the Western Han had maintained since the reign of Emperor Jing in the second century B.C., were largely abandoned. The warlords of the Three Kingdoms period (220-280 A.D.) continued to rely on non-Han peoples to provide their cavalry.

In addition to using non-Han troops in their army, the Han also paid bounties for the heads of slain enemies. Xianbei chieftains, before submitting to the Han, received payments for the heads of Xiongnu. In 58 A.D. they again received payments for crushing a force of invading Wuhuan, and at that time they formally submitted. They received annual payments of 270,000,000 cash, and in return they controlled the Wuhuan and killed Xiongnu. Thus the most common military man in the Eastern Han was the nomad warrior serving the empire under the command of his tribal chieftain.


In contrast with the Warring States period, when regional cultures constituted the primary divisions in the Chinese sphere, the imagining of a world divided between nomads and Chinese marked a major step. It posited the fundamental unity of a single Chinese civilization defined by what was not nomadic, and it reduced regional divisions to secondary status. China first emerged as a unity through the invention of a Chinese/ nomad dichotomy, and this bipolar concept remained central to Chinese civilization in later periods.

It is ironic, then, that the political partition of the world into two spheres lasted only a few decades. In spite of increasing payments, Xiongnu incursions did not cease. Each agreement lasted a few years, only to be broken by a new invasion, which was followed in turn by demands for a resumption of peaceful relations based on an increase in payments. The Chinese attributed this to barbarian perfidy, but it reflected the nature of the Xiongnu state. While the Chinese emperor was unchallenged as chief lawgiver, judge, and administrator, power within the Xiongnu state was constrained and divided by kin bonds, customary practice, and horizontal segmentation between clans or tribes. The chanyu maintained control over his subordinate chiefs only by constant negotiations in which he was first among equals rather than an absolute authority. Consensus on his power hinged on his success in battle and distribution of booty.

In such a system, the chanyu could not refrain from military action indefinitely. Nor could he stop his subordinates from attacking on their own, for the power and prestige of chiefs likewise depended on their success in battle and distribution of booty. Sometimes they invaded because of tensions with local Chinese officials, sometimes because of resentment of the chanyu. The he qin policy failed because it relied on a structure of authority that did not exist among the Xiongnu.19

As treaty after treaty was violated, debates at the Chinese court were increasingly dominated by calls for war. Decades of peace had given the Chinese time to develop a new style of army based on cavalry and crossbows that could successfully engage the Xiongnu in the field. In 134 B.C. Emperor Wu finally undertook to destroy the Xiongnu through military action. Although his attempted ambush of the chanyu failed, in the decades that followed, Chinese armies pushed deep into Central Asia and inflicted substantial losses of both men and flocks on the Xiongnu.

However, Han losses were also considerable, and repeated campaigns drained the treasury without achieving any decisive result. Difficulties in transporting supplies and harsh weather meant that no army could spend even as much as one hundred days in the field, so victories could not be translated into an enduring occupation. Emperor Wu’s successors consequently abandoned his policy of launching expeditions and instead retired behind a defensive line, while refusing to pay tribute. This policy was successful, for it deprived the chanyu of Han tribute and also reduced his role as defender against Han invasions. The position of the chanyu deteriorated, and in 120 B.C. a dissident Xiongnu king surrendered to the Han with 40,000 men. In subsequent decades other chiefs refused to attend the chanyu’s court.20 Between 115 and 60 B.C. the Han also secured control of the former Xiongnu sphere of influence in eastern Central Asia (modern Xinjiang).

A battle over succession split the Xiongnu empire in 57 B.C., with no fewer than five kings claiming the title of chanyu. After several years one king acknowledged Han suzerainty, visited the Han court, and resettled inside China. This proved to be highly advantageous, for in exchange for obeisance he received generous gifts from the Han. He repeated his visit to the court in 49 and 33 B.C. and sent a son there as a hostage, whose well-being depended on his father’s good conduct and who learned Han culture. The wealth that the vassal chieftain gained allowed him to build up his following and defeat his rivals. Eventually, he grew powerful enough to return to the north and resume the old pattern of demanding tribute, until a second succession struggle renewed the civil war in 48 A.D. This led to a permanent split between the southern Xiongnu, who dwelt in China and submitted to the emperor, and the northern Xiongnu, who resided beyond the boundaries of the Han empire.

The southern Xiongnu became dependent on Han assistance, as indicated in 88 A.D. in a memorial from the southern chanyu: “Your servant humbly thinks back on how since his ancestor submitted to the Han we have been blessed with your support, keeping a sharp watch on the passes and providing strong armies for more than forty years. Your subjects have been born and reared in Han territory and have depended entirely on the Han for food. Each year we received gifts counted in the hundreds of millions [of cash].”21 This policy of resettling nomads still grouped in their tribes inside the Chinese empire would have disastrous long-term consequences, as we will see, leading to a breakdown in civil order in the northwest and the southward flight of large numbers of Han Chinese.

Although the northern Xiongnu continued to defy the Han, they were defeated on several occasions by allied armies of the Han and the southern Xiongnu. Moreover, other tribal peoples such as the Wuhuan and Xianbei broke away from the Xiongnu and received large bounties from the Han for killing Xiongnu. In 87 A.D. a Xianbei army defeated the Xiongnu, killed the northern chanyu, and flayed his body. More than 200,000 Xiongnu tribesmen surrendered after this defeat, and a great Han victory in 89 A.D. completed the destruction of the Xiongnu state.



A wire screen protects this M113. The crew can take cover in their bunker. (111-CC-64235)

Each infantry division had an Armored Cavalry Squadron responsible for reconnaissance, intelligence gathering and security missions. (Note: The cavalry squadron was the equivalent of an infantry battalion, while the cavalry troop equated to an infantry company; both arms used the term platoon.)


DIVISION SQUADRON: 1st Infantry 1/4th Cavalry, 23d Infantry 1/1st Cavalry, 4th Infantry 1/10th Cavalry, 25th Infantry 3/4th Cavalry, 9th Infantry 3/5th Cavalry, 101st Airborne 2/17th Cavalry, 1/1st Cavalry served with Task Force Oregon before joining 23d Division


The squadron had twenty-one officers, two warrant officers and 240 enlisted men organized into a headquarters troop and three armored cavalry troops, A, B and C. The troops were equipped with M113A1 armored personnel carriers (APCs) for reconnaissance and M48A3 tanks (replaced by the M551 Sheridan) for firepower. Troop D was an Air Cavalry Squadron armed with observation, transport and helicopter gunships for aerial reconnaissance.

The headquarters troop rode in six M577 command carriers and ten M113 personnel carriers; four M132 flamethrower carriers dealt with bunkers. Ten 6-ton cargo carriers distributed ammunition while two M88 recovery vehicles and three 5-ton wrecker trucks recovered disabled vehicles. Ten 5-ton, fifteen 2½-ton, seven ¾-ton trucks and eighteen ¼-ton utility trucks provided transport.


The Troop was organized into a headquarters and three platoons and although organization often varied, it had around five officers and 192 enlisted men. Twenty-two M113s acted as command vehicles and personnel carriers. Nine M48 tanks gave direct close support while three M125 81mm mortar carriers gave indirect support. Transport was provided by one 2½-ton, one ¾-ton and three ¼-ton utility trucks; an M88 recovery vehicle recovered damaged vehicles.

The troop headquarters had four M113s. A captain ran his troop from the headquarters (APC) while the forward artillery observer, a lieutenant, kept in contact with the divisional artillery through the radio operator. The crew of the communications APC controlled the radio net while two radar APCs could set up ground surveillance radar to cover the troop’s perimeter.

Each platoon was led by a lieutenant and he led six M113s, one mortar carrier and three tanks. The scout section had four APCs organized into two squads to locate targets, so the tank section and the infantry APC could move in to engage it, while the mortar APC gave indirect fire support or fired smoke.

In action the driver continued to operate the M113 while the vehicle commander fired the .50-cal M2 and the two observers fired the M-60 machine guns (one acted as loader if he had no targets on his side). Each crew member had an M16 rifle and the vehicle carried an M79 grenade launcher. The platoon usually rode on and fought from their vehicles, however, the infantry APC carried a squad to search inaccessible areas. The M125A1 81mm Mortar Carrier provided indirect fire support for the platoon.

The tank section had three M48A3s and it was led by the lead tank’s commander; his two tanks were controlled by tank commanders. All three tanks had a driver, a gunner and a loader. The M48s were replaced by the lighter and faster M551 Sheridan, starting in 1969.

Mines were a constant worry for the cavalry troop and the APC crews often reinforced the floor of their vehicles with sandbags. Four-man engineer teams were often assigned to each troop to sweep for mines.

Each troop had a medic team when it was on operations and they either rode with the radar M113s or the squadron loaned them an M113 as an armored ambulance. A casualty clearing station would usually be set up next to the communications M113 so the medics could call in helicopters to retrieve the wounded.


The commander of an M113 receives new orders as it breaks through the undergrowth during one of 4th Division’s operations in the Central Highlands. (111-CC-59146)

The M113, and its variants, was a lightweight aluminum armored personnel carrier and its low ground pressure allowed the carrier to operate in many areas of South Vietnam, even during the monsoon season. It was able to cross paddy dikes and small streams, while crews were trained to recover their vehicles with winches, cables and beams. The M113s gave squads greater mobility while the armor protected anyone inside from small arms fire and shell fragments. However, the carriers were vulnerable to mines and men often preferred to sit on top of their vehicle rather than sweat it out inside. Some squads stacked sandbags inside to absorb an explosion but the added weight reduced speed and range.

The standard M113 was armed with a 12.7mm [50 Caliber M2] machine gun and a 7.62mm [M60] machine gun and it could carry up to 2,000 rounds of ammunition. It was 4.46m long, 2.33m wide, 2.16m high and weighed nearly 11.5 tons. The gas (petrol) engine in the A1 version had a maximum speed of 40mph but they were vulnerable to enemy fire and most M113s in Vietnam were the A2 variant fitted with a diesel engine.

Several M113 variants were deployed and the body of the M577 command variant was higher to allow the staff inside to work at map tables and operate their communications equipment while the M114A1 reconnaissance version was smaller and only weighed 7.5 tons; the unarmed M548 cargo carrier could carry up to 6 tons of equipment or ammunition for the rest of the platoon. Two variants carried mortars for providing indirect support. The M125A1 variant was armed with a 81mm mortar and it had an effective range of 3,650m. The M106A1 was armed with the heavier 107mm (4.2in) mortar with an effective range of 5,500m. A variety of field modifications were made to the M113 to suit the conditions in Vietnam, including a portable scissor bridge and fire-fighting equipment.


Once it became clear that the M113 was as effective fighting vehicles, upgrade kits were deployed to armored cavalry units. Gun shields, pintle mounts and hatch armor gave the crew extra protection. Kit A allowed a .50in machine gun to be fitted to the commander’s cupola and two 7.62mm [M60] machine guns either side of the troop compartment. Modified versions allowed miniguns, recoilless rifles or grenade launchers to be fitted above the commander’s cupola. Kit B fitted a .50mm [50 Caliber M2] machine gun mounting to the mortar variants.



The M551 was a high-speed, yet heavily armed, armored reconnaissance vehicle capable of operating in swampy areas. It was developed to replace the heavy M48 tanks operating with the divisional and regimental cavalry squadrons (11th Armored Cavalry continued to use their M48). The main weapon, a 152mm M81 gun/missile launcher, was equipped with advanced night-vision equipment; the tank also had a .50in [50 Caliber M2] machine gun and a 7.62mm [M60] machine gun. The tank had a four-man crew and the diesel engine had a maximum speed of 43mph. It was 6.30m long, 2.79m wide, 2.95m high and weighed 16.7 tons.

The first Sheridans were delivered to 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry and the 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in 1969 but confidence in the new tank was undermined when a mine ruptured the hull and detonated the ammunition inside one. There were reliability issues with the missile electronics and the caseless ammunition but the combination of the night sight and the 152mm canister round proved to be effective. Over 200 Sheridans were in action by the end of 1970.

The Third Service II


On 3 January 1917 a new committee, the Second Air Board, was set up under the presidency of Lord Cowdray, a Yorkshireman who had built his fortune constructing railways, docks, dams and harbours around the world. The board took on responsibility for designing aircraft and engines (actually making them was now the province of the Munitions Ministry) and for allocating them to the army and navy. Representatives of all the departments concerned, including the naval and military air executives, were gathered under one roof in offices at the Cecil Hotel in the Strand, London. Production was overseen by another powerful figure from the industrial world, a Scotsman, Sir William Weir. By the end of the year production of new types (which, on the whole, had the advantage over their German opponents) was in full swing and there was no shortage of pilots to fly them.

By then the move to create a single, independent air force was building up powerful momentum. It was the air war over Britain – rather than events in France or at sea – that made it unstoppable. Compared with the bloodletting in other theatres, the casualties caused by the German air raids of 1915–17 were miniscule. Nor was the material damage great – about £3 million worth of property was destroyed. The moral effect, however, was huge. The panic that gripped the streets of London when the Germans appeared overhead was not confined to the masses. The alarm felt by their masters was just as intense, as was demonstrated on the day of the great Gotha raid of 7 July 1917, when three tons of explosives dropped on the capital killed fifty-seven people. It was a Saturday and as ministers made their way to Downing Street for an emergency cabinet session, they witnessed the alarm of citizens in the streets. The mood was catching. The demeanour of the politicians was noted disapprovingly by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Sir William Robertson, who was at the meeting and wrote in a letter to Haig that ‘one would have thought the whole world was coming to an end . . . I could not get a word in edgeways.’

The raid crystallized the feeling that arrangements were hopelessly inadequate to fight the air war. There was no doubt in the public mind as to where the responsibility for protecting civilians lay. Ira Jones had finished his flying training at Northolt, Middlesex, and had just returned to the Regent Palace Hotel in London after a night out when he ‘heard the air raid buzzers for the first time . . . I have never seen the mood of a happy throng change so quickly,’ he recorded afterwards. ‘One moment, all was gaiety, the next there was a stampede of shrieking creatures who had been transformed from apparent fairies into wild women. I followed the mob from the grill room into the foyer, where most of the hotel’s customers had assembled. One “lady”, pointing at me, angrily screeched: “You’re in the Flying Corps! Why aren’t you up there, chasing those devils away?”’

Something had to be done. Four days after the July raid General Smuts was instructed by the Cabinet to examine ‘the air organization generally and the direction of aerial operations’. Jan Christian Smuts was a brilliant all-rounder who had succeeded at everything he had tried. He had turned from the law to politics and then to warfare, fighting the British in the Boer War, then negotiating a peace that unified South Africa and established Boer dominance. His former enemies became his friends and supporters. He led the British military campaign against the Germans in East Africa before being sent to London. There, in the summer of 1917, the Prime Minister David Lloyd George invited him to join the War Policy Committee.

Smuts took less than a month to produce his first report. It ran to only a few thousand words and its recommendations were straightforward and commonsensical, restricted to the sphere of improving London’s dismal anti-aircraft defences. There were to be more guns and searchlights, and three new RFC fighter squadrons, controlled by a central organization, the London Area Defence.

His second report, which came out in August, was a far more significant document. Smuts employed an apocalyptic tone, which echoed the panicky mood of July. For him, the crucial factor was how to prepare for a dreadful new era of warfare, of which the Gotha raids had provided only a glimpse.

‘As far as can be foreseen,’ he wrote, ‘there is absolutely no limit to the scale of its future independent war use, and the day may not be far off when aerial operations with their devastation of enemy lands and destruction of industrial and populous centres on a vast scale may become the principal operations of war, to which the older forms of military and naval operations may become secondary and subordinate.’

Like his predecessors, Smuts came to the conclusion that to produce an air force capable of meeting the challenge, the RFC and the RNAS would have to amalgamate. The efficiencies created and the extra aircraft production generated by the reforms of Cowdray and Weir would allow the establishment of a bombing force that was capable of reaching out to German cities and factories.

Thus, the principal rationale for an independent air force was to produce a bombing fleet that could punish Germany for attacking the British homeland and deter it from doing so in the future. As it was, the Independent Force that resulted was stillborn and its ‘strategic’ bombing campaign against the war economy of the enemy never amounted to more than a series of incoherent and patchy raids. In the judgement of Arthur Harris, a young RFC pilot at the time, who would go on to preside over the effort to reduce German cities to rubble a generation later, ‘the bomber was in no way an important weapon of the 1914–18 war’.

At the core of the report was Smuts’s recommendation that the separate existences of the RFC and the RNAS should cease and that they should be reborn as a single entity: the Royal Air Force (RAF). As was appropriate for what was the world’s first independent air service, it would have its own government department: the Air Ministry. However, this amalgamation was no more popular at the top of the army and navy now than it had been when it was first mooted. The man who might be expected to give it a warm welcome – Hugh Trenchard – was initially opposed to it, believing that the structural, buttressing relationship that had grown up between the RFC and the ground forces would be weakened if the air force stood alone. He would nonetheless agree to be the RAF’s first Chief of the Air Staff, a post he held for only a few months before falling out with scheming air minister Lord Rothermere.

In peacetime it is unlikely that such an institutional evolution would have taken place at such speed – or indeed at all, given the strength and vehemence of opposing institutional interests. But the decision had been taken at a time of emergency in the middle of a war that seemed likely to continue for years. The likelihood of – and domestic terror of – air attack was almost certain to grow. In the eyes of politicians and the public, a joint air force seemed to offer a rational response to the threat. Wrested from Admiralty control, the navy’s aircraft would now be free for land operations. The new bombing force offered the illusion of retaliation against the Germans for their air assault on the homeland, as well as the possibility that the Germans might be deterred from continuing with it. The process had gone too far to be deflected by sophisticated military arguments. The decision was made, the official birthday set, and, on 1 April 1918, the Royal Air Force came into the world.

This historic moment was barely noticed by those it most affected. In France the Germans were about to launch the second phase of their Spring Offensive and the airmen were locked in an exhausting series of mass battles over the Somme plains. However, one event seemed to offer hope that events were going the Allies’ way. On the morning of 21 April Manfred von Richtofen was on the ground at Cappy airfield, about ten miles south-east of Albert on the banks of the Somme, waiting for the ground mist to lift. At 10.20 a.m. it began to clear and, in his Fokker triplane, he led a flight off to intercept some British aircraft reported to be well over the German lines and heading their way.

He was in a sombre mood. A few days before he had been reflecting on the tone of his boastful autobiography. ‘When I read [my] book I smile at my own insolence,’ he wrote. ‘I am no longer so insolent in spirit.’ Flying alongside him was Leutnant Hans Joachim Wolff who recorded that they saw seven Sopwith Camels flying in their direction, and above them, seven more. Battle was joined. There was the initial, inevitable confusion, then Wolff looked over at Richtofen and saw that he was ‘at extremely low altitude, over the Somme near Corbie, right behind an Englishman’.

The intended victim was in fact a Canadian, twenty-three-year-old Second Lieutenant Wilfred ‘Wop’ May, who was on his first mission and had been told to stay out of the fighting, watch carefully and try and learn something. When a German fighter approached, the temptation was too great and he had gone for him, only for his guns to jam. As he headed for home he looked round to see a blood-red triplane on his tail. He ‘kept on dodging and spinning . . . until I ran out of sky and had to hedge-hop over the ground. Richtofen was firing at me continually.’

As they crossed the German front line, ground troops opened up and the firing continued as they flew over the British trenches. When he reached the Somme, May flattened down close to the water, but as he rounded a bend in the river Richtofen ‘came over the hill. At that point I was a sitting duck. I felt he had me cold.’ Then, seemingly miraculously, Richtofen stopped firing. He too was under attack, from another Canadian, Captain Roy Brown of 209 Squadron, whose report later stated that he ‘dived on a pure red triplane . . . got a long burst into him and he went down vertical.’ Australian machine gunners on the ground also claimed the credit. Either way, Richtofen was dead. His body was retrieved from the wreckage and taken to Poulainville airfield ten miles away. Richtofen was laid out in a hangar on a strip of corrugated metal, staring upwards, in unconscious imitation of the knights that he and his fellow aces were said to resemble.

The following day – ten days before his twenty-sixth birthday – Richtofen was buried with full military honours. Among the mourners was Major Sholto Douglas, who would rise high in the new RAF. He recorded that ‘it was impossible not to feel a little emotional about it’. He nonetheless repeated the general view that the Red Baron was a calculating sort of warrior who used ‘the utmost caution’ and ‘never hesitated to avoid a fight or pull out of one if he thought the odds against him were too great’.

Mick Mannock, who employed the same scientific approach, shed no tears for his rival. ‘I hope he roasted all the way down,’ he was reported to have said on learning of his death. It would soon be his turn. On 26 July Mannock had been out with a novice pilot, showing him the ropes, and had just attacked an enemy two-seater, leaving his pupil to finish it off. Mannock was flying low, breaking one of his own cardinal rules, when a German machine-gun post got his range. The flames he so dreaded sprang from the engine and he spiralled down to his death. Mannock’s demise had a profound effect on his comrades. Ira Jones, by now a veteran pilot and a devoted admirer of ‘the greatest air fighter of all time’, usually recorded the deaths of colleagues with a resigned ‘poor old so-and-so bought it today’, but this was different. ‘Mick is dead,’ he wrote. ‘Everyone is stunned. No one can believe it . . . I have a deep aching void in my breast. I keep on repeating to myself: “It can’t be true. Mick cannot be dead.”’

Of the great aces of the war, very few on any side survived. The British stars, Hawker, Ball, Mannock and McCudden had all gone. The Germans had lost Boelcke, Immelmann and Richtofen, and the French Georges Guynemer and Roland Garros. Aces would reappear in the next war, but they were fewer and their celebrity was more artificial as their personalities were moulded by the official publicity machines to fit the demands of propaganda. The heroic age of air fighting was at an end. From its amateur, makeshift origins military aviation had, in the space of a decade, come to rival the existing services in size and importance. The numbers involved would have seemed incredible to the pilots of the first handful of squadrons as they prepared for that first hair-raising hop across the Channel.

By November 1918 the RAF had swollen to a force of nearly a million. Its 280 squadrons roamed the skies not only of France but of Macedonia, Mesopotamia, Palestine and East Africa. In the course of the First World War they had destroyed 7,054 German aircraft and lost 9,378 aircrew. The airmen’s exploits had won eleven VCs. Soon the life of this vast organization was to be imperilled, however, not by any foreign enemy, but by the politicians who had built it up and by its brothers-in-arms.




The Romans’ success in conquering and maintaining their enormous empire lay partly in their military culture, their weapons and their training. Rome’s ability to provision large armies at long distances was, however, equally as, or more important to its success. The military history of Rome is not one of continuous victory: indeed the Romans often won wars because, after losing battles—and sometimes entire armies and fleets—they could keep replacing them until the enemy was defeated. Polybius, a keen observer of the Roman military at its height, remarked that “the advantages of the Romans lay in inexhaustible supplies of provisions and men.”

A sophisticated logistical system allowed the Romans to exploit their military resources effectively. The Romans recognized the importance of supply and used it both as a strategic and a tactical weapon and the necessities of military supply influenced and often determined the decisions of the Roman commanders at war. Plutarch even mentions the military slang term for such tactics: “kicking in the stomach” (eis tên gastera enallonomenos). Frontinus cites Caesar, certainly Rome’s greatest general, on the use of logistics in military strategy:

I follow the same policy toward the enemy as did many doctors when dealing with physical ailments, namely, that of conquering the foe by hunger rather than by steel. Logistics in Campaign Planning Traditionally, Roman campaigns began on March 1st: in part to ensure the availability of fodder.

The Romans paid close attention both to raising armies and to the preparations for supplying them. Their habitually careful arrangements made a strong impression, and, given the general neglect of logistics in military history, our sources mention such planning remarkably often. For example, Polybius describes the large-scale Roman preparations for a Gallic invasion as early as 225 B. C.:

[The consuls] enroll[ed] their legions and ordered those of their allies to be in readiness. . . . Of grain, missiles and other war materiel, they laid in such a supply as no one could remember had been collected on any previous occasion.

There are many other examples both in the Republican and the Imperial periods.

Commanders naturally wanted to complete their logistical preparations before operations began. When Quinctius Flamininus was preparing his campaign against Nabis, the tyrant of Sparta, in 195 B. C., the arrival of allied troops, including Macedonians, completed his authorized force. Nevertheless, he still waited until the arrival of the supplies (commeatus) requisitioned from the neighboring Greek states before beginning his offensive. At times, troops were moved first and supplies sent after them. When Sulla had obtained the command of the First Mithridatic War, he marched his army over to Greece and then summoned money, auxiliary troops and supplies from Aetolia and Thessaly.

Some wars broke out unexpectedly and preparations had to be made in haste. Sallust notes that when the consul Spurius Postumius Albinus determined to reopen hostilities with Jugurtha, he “hastened to transport to Africa provisions (commeatus), money for paying the soldiers, and other apparatus of war.” The frequency of Roman conflict, and the experience of Roman officials with warfare, made such impromptu preparations much easier. Other times, military campaigns were planned years in advance.

The Security of Supply Lines

Ensuring that the army continued to receive supplies, despite an enemy’s attempts to interrupt them, remained an important priority in Roman warfare in every period. Provisions reached the army in a variety of ways: by sea and river, overland and through foraging and requisition. In each of these circumstances, enemy action was a threat, and the Romans had to deploy military forces, as well as the application of strategy and tactics, to meet this threat. Rome often found it necessary to prevent the enemy plundering Roman or allied territory: it is noteworthy that the fleet of Gaius Duilius, which won the first major Roman victory of the First Punic War at Mylae (260 B. C.), was sent out to prevent the Carthaginians from plundering the territory of a Roman ally.

Security of Waterborne Transport

Protecting sea-borne transport was vitally important in wartime: enemy action could seriously threaten the army’s supply shipments. There are many instances of such threats. In 217 B. C., for example, the Roman grain fleet supplying the army in Spain was captured by the Punic fleet. A Roman task force was immediately mobilized to set out in pursuit, but the damage had already been done. Plutarch notes that the Macedonian king Perseus during his war against the Romans (172–167 B. C.):

. . . made an unexpected attack upon the Roman fleet which was lying at anchor near Oreus, seized twenty ships of burden with their car- goes, and sank the rest together with the grain that filled them. . . .

The navy of Antiochus III, operating from the Hellespont and Abydos during the war of 192–189 B. C., made frequent raids (excursiones) against Roman cargo ships (onerariae) supplying their army in Greece. Later, Mithridates used his naval superiority in the eastern Mediterranean to cut off supplies to Sulla’s forces in Greece in 87–85 B. C. Attacks on sea-borne supply were important elements in the Civil Wars of the Late Republic. In 42 B. C., a Republican fleet under Statius defeated Dolabella’s fleet at Laodicea, cutting him off from supplies. When Octavian sent a large force by sea to reinforce and resupply the Caesarean army at Philippi, it was attacked and destroyed by the Republican navy.

The Romans routinely used their fleet to protect supply transports in wartime. As early as the First Punic War, the Romans assigned a fleet of 120 warships to provide a convoy for merchant ships bringing supplies for the siege of Lilybaeum (249 B. C.). When the commander of the fleet in 209 B. C., Marcus Valerius Laevinus turned some ships over to the consul Quintus Fabius Maximus for use in the assault on Tarentum, they are called by Livy “the ships which Laevinius had for protecting the supply lines (tutandis commeatibus).” Such protection continued in the late Republic: Sallust, in a speech attributed to the consul Gaius Cotta, and set in 75 B. C., refers to the fleet which “guarded our supplies (commeatus tuebatur).”

Such naval escorts were not always successful. The convoy protecting supplies going to Lilybaeum in 249 B. C., mentioned above, did not prevent the Carthaginians from attacking and seizing several of the merchant vessels. The threat of attack was sometimes more destructive than the attack itself: trying to avoid attack by Carthaginian warships, a Roman supply fleet placed its ships in a dangerous anchorage where a storm destroyed the entire fleet including all the army’s supplies. Whenever possible, a fleet put supplies put ashore before a battle. To prevent them from falling into enemy hands commanders of escorts might scuttle conveyed merchant ships, as the Pompeian admirals Lucretius and Minucius did during the Dyrrachium campaign of 48 B. C. 26 Despite the dangers of attack, supplies transported by sea were generally safer from attack than those sent overland, a point made by Tacitus.

Security of Overland Supply

The army provided escorts for supply convoys bringing provisions to troops in garrison even during peacetime, albeit on a limited scale. An incident from the anti-Roman uprising of Athrongaeus in Palestine around 4 B. C. illustrates the small size of such peace- time escorts. Josephus reports that a single century (80 men at full strength) was escorting a convoy of grain and arms to a legion stationed in Jerusalem, when the rebels ambushed the column near Emmaus. The Romans lost half the century and only the intervention of King Herod’s army saved the rest.

Obviously, moving provisions from the operational base to the army over supply lines provided ample opportunities for attack. Due to the increased danger in war, convoy escorts were, of course, considerably larger than in peacetime. A tribune commanded the forces that escorted a supply convoy bringing provisions to the army of Pompeius Aulus in Spain in 141 B. C. Appian does not give the size of the escort, but a tribune would have commanded at least several centuries and possibly a cohort or more.

An escort’s size was not the only factor in successful defense of a convoy. While accompanying a supply convoy to Lucullus’s army from Cappadocia in 71 B. C., a Roman force defeated an attack by Mithridates’s cavalry: the Pontic force had attacked the convoy in a defile, a more easily defensible position, instead of waiting until it reached open country. An escort also had to maintain a disciplined defense cordon, even if the column was proceeding to pick up sup- plies. Tacitus notes the lack of security in an unloaded supply column going to Novaesium from the Roman forces at Gelduba in 69 A. D., during the revolt of Julius Civilis. The troops assigned to defend it moved as if there were no danger:

. . . the cohorts escorting [the convoy] were proceeding as if in time of peace, that there were few soldiers with the standards, that their arms were being carried in carts (vehicula) while they all strolled along at will, he drew up his forces and attacked them, sending first some troops to occupy the bridges and narrow parts of roads.

The column was unable to make it to Novaesium and had to fight its way back to Gelduba without fulfilling its mission. In order to secure its supply lines, an army had to pacify the area between the operational base and the tactical base. This is why Vespasian did not immediately attack Jerusalem when he arrived on the scene in 67 A. D.: if he left hostile forces behind him, in Galilee and Samaria, the rebels would have been in a position to cut off his supply lines. Therefore, he spent an entire campaigning season taking important fortresses in the north of Palestine.

Providing a series of depots between the operational and tactical base was not only a question of “leap-frogging” supplies forward. Depots were generally placed within fortifications, as at Rödgen and South Shields and they served to secure provisions from enemy attack. Therefore, the sources often refer to them as “forts” (castella or phrouria). Vegetius describes this practice:

Among the things particularly incumbent upon a general . . . is to see that the transportation of grain and other provisions . . . is rendered secure from hostile attack. The only way to achieve this is to plant garrisons at suitable points through which our supply-trains pass. These may be cities or walled forts. If no old fortifications are available, temporary forts (castella) are established in favorable positions [and] a number of infantry and cavalry stationed in them on outpost duty provide a safe passage for supplies.

Brutus used fortified lines to protect his supply lines at Philippi (42 B. C.).

The use of fortified depots considerably reduced the risk of attack to supply lines. Once a rear area had been pacified, though, the danger of convoyed supplies, which at first glance seem very vulnerable, was actually rather small. Lacking firearms or explosives, the ambushing party in antiquity usually had to rely on superior numbers to overwhelm a convoy. Even if the enemy knew the likely route of a convoy, the exact time of its movement would not be predictable, so a large ambushing force would have had to wait in enemy territory, itself vulnerable to surprise attack.

Naturally, armies have a tendency to use their worst troops to garrison depots and operational bases, not to mention escort duty, leaving the best soldiers for combat. Livy explicitly states that after the consuls filled their legions with the best troops, they assigned the “surplus” (ceteri ) to garrison duty. In the Republican period, the Romans sometimes used their least reliable Italian allies to defend supply lines, sometimes with unfortunate results. In 218 B. C., Dasius of Brundisium commanded the garrison of Clastidium, in which a great quantity of grain had been stored for the Roman army. He betrayed the city to Hannibal for 400 gold pieces. The city’s capture not only hurt the Romans, but relieved the Carthaginians of considerable supply difficulties. When Manlius Vulso set up an operational base on the Lake of Timavus in his Istrian campaign of 178 B. C., he garrisoned it with a single reserve cohort (repentina cohors) and a few legionary centuries. The Istrians, seeing the weakness of the Roman defense, attacked the base and captured it. Only the barbarian drunkenness that followed, and the timely arrival of Gallic auxiliaries and of part of another legion (which had been foraging nearby) restored the situation, and the base, to the Romans.

Since Roman marching camps also functioned as supply bases, camp security was especially important. The Romans were justifiably famous for their security measures while encamping. Such measures involved both fortification and maintaining the discipline necessary to proper security. This system sometimes broke down, as it did in Albinus’s army in Numidia. Sallust notes that in this case:

. . . [his] camps were not fortified, nor was watch kept in a military fashion, men absented themselves from duty whenever they pleased.

It was no doubt at least partly for logistical reasons that the consul Caecilius Metellus reestablished security in his famous reform of the army in 109 B. C.

Military Strength and Weakness of the Imperial Roman Army




The gradual changes in the nature of the Roman army between the time of Tiberius and 235 certainly affected both Roman society and the empire’s internal power-struggles. Did they also affect Rome’s strength at the periphery? The really big changes were three, though they had all started well before Tiberius’ accession. The first was the regular organization of ‘auxiliary’ troops into quasi-permanent units in which they would normally serve for twenty-five years before being made Roman citizens on discharge, a system set up by Augustus and refined by his successors. As in centuries past, such troops often outnumbered the legionaries, and their effectiveness was of profound importance.

That leads, secondly, to the matter of recruitment. In the era of the civil wars of 49 to 31 bc, and under Augustus, provincials had entered the legions in large numbers. Recruits came from Roman-colonial or Romanized communities, but also from others: thus an inscription of the early Principate (ILS 2483) shows that almost all the soldiers in the two legions stationed in Egypt had been recruited in non-citizen communities in the eastern provinces (their lingua franca was Greek). All over the empire, the more Romanized provinces provided more and more of the legionaries, while Italians – who made up the bulk of the better-paid praetorian guard – provided fewer and fewer. The authorities were now quite willing in practice to recruit non-citizens, giving them citizenship when they were sworn in. This ‘provincialization’ probably reflected some Roman/Italian reluctance to serve (Italy was too prosperous) but also some intention on the emperors’ part to bring provincials into the mainstream. From Hadrian’s reign on, the normal pattern (though not in Britain) was to recruit legionaries in the provinces where they were needed, but from relatively Romanized/Hellenized elements (and legionaries were more likely than ‘auxiliaries’ to be literate). This was by and large a well-organized and disciplined force; and fighting spirit was probably not lacking either, at least down to Trajan’s time – when battle-commanders chose to entrust the initial impact of the fighting to ‘auxiliary’ units and keep the legionaries in reserve, a procedure that is first attested in a major battle at Idastaviso in Germany in AD 16 (Tacitus, Annals 2.16.3), there could be a variety of tactical reasons.

‘Auxiliary’ recruitment was quite different: the government concentrated on fringe areas such as Iberian Galicia and Thrace, simply supplying officers from the core area of the empire; such units were commonly posted away from their home areas, Britons for example in Upper Germany, while the auxilia in Britain itself might, for example, be Batavian or Syrian. Eventually, but unfortunately we do not know when, Rome also began to employ soldiers who are unlikely to have felt themselves to be Roman subjects: Marcus sent 5,500 cavalry of the Transdanubian Iazyges, whom he had just subdued, to serve in Britain (Dio 71.16). There were Goths garrisoning Arabia in 208, and Goths later took part in Valerian’s war against the Persians. This was probably an increasing trend, but it is hard to tell how much the armies of, say, Constantine and Licinius were really dependent on Goths or Arabs, whom they are known to have made use of.

The other military change of potentially great importance in the period prior to 235 was not so much that many units in the Roman army became ‘sedentary’ from generation to generation, becoming deeply involved in essentially administrative duties, but that many Roman soldiers never experienced battle. This army had never been invincible, but its deplorable failure to protect the Danube frontier in 170–1 suggests significant changes for the worse. Enemy forces reached northern Italy for the first time in some 270 years, while others, as already mentioned, raided as far south as Attica. Our sources on all this are poor, but it may be conjectured that a shortage of officers and soldiers seasoned by warfare had a great deal to do with Rome’s failure, and this in turn was the indirect result of conscious policy. In other respects, the Romans were normally at an advantage: throughout this period they were superior to their opponents in important areas such as artillery and engineering (‘the soldiers are always practising bridge-building’, Dio 71.3).

Temporary causes admittedly contributed, and the Danube line still had a long future. Marcus Aurelius, as we have seen, had had to raise two new legions about 165 to replace the three which his co-ruler Verus had taken from the Rhine and Danube to the east in order to fight the Parthians. Shortly thereafter, the Roman military in the north suffered seriously from the Great Pestilence, as recent studies have demonstrated. Marcus himself had had no military or even provincial experience before 168 – and it showed. Imperial coin-types furthermore had often exaggerated the emperors’ military achievements, and there was a risky deception involved when coin-types absurdly declared in 172–4 ‘Germania subacta’ – ‘Germany has been vanquished’.

Few historians have really tried to evaluate the Severan army, and the evidence is slippery. Even republican armies sometimes mutinied, and there were whole rhetorical topoi about undisciplined soldiery. But an army stationed in Mesopotamia that was mutinous enough to assassinate the provincial governor (about 227, Dio 80.4.2) was a very negative symptom (and see below on the year 235).

We have quite a lot of information about how the Roman army changed between Severan times and Constantine, but assessing its ability to do its job is nonetheless difficult. On the one hand it never, unlike the republican army, won battles it might well have lost, on the other it never, unlike the late-antique Roman army, lost battles that it ought to have won. We have little option but to judge it by its results, though these may be mainly attributable not to its own qualities but to those of its generals, or its logistics, or its enemies, or to any combination of these factors. Recent accounts of Rome’s military performance in this 100-year period are unsatisfactory, but our sources are admittedly tenuous to a degree, whether it is for the defeat at Abrittus in 251 or the battle nine years later in which, or after which, the Persians captured the emperor Valerian (some Roman sources naturally preferred to claim that he was captured by trickery).

Tiberius already knew that it was worth keeping two legions in Dalmatia partly in order to back up the legions on the Danube (Tacitus, Annals 4.5). Later Roman emperors eventually concluded that the long-standing dispositions of the Roman army, with the great majority of the soldiers stationed on or near the frontiers, were ill adapted to resisting major invasions that might come from different directions. It had always been necessary to balance the needs of the Danube frontier and the Euphrates frontier, but both became more dangerous in late-Severan times. Once Rome surrendered the initiative, the distances involved presented an almost insoluble problem: it took something over two months, for example, for troops to travel from Rome to Cologne. The best that could be done was to create a reserve army that could be sent wherever it was needed without weakening some vital garrison. It appears to have been Gallienus who created a central cavalry force (cf. Zosimus, New History 1.40, Cedrenus, i, p. 454 Bekker). The development of these comitatenses, as they came to be called, is impossible to follow in any detail, but Constantine apparently expanded their role (Zosimus 2.21.1 may refer to such troops), while also centralizing the command structure of the army by means of an overall infantry commander (the magister peditum) and a parallel cavalry commander (the magister equitum). Nonetheless it remained difficult to counter any large invasion once it had passed the northern or eastern frontiers. An enterprising governor might raise a local militia (populares: AÉ 1993 no. 1231b shows us a governor of Raetia doing this in 260), but they would be largely untrained and untried.

The reliefs on the Arch of Constantine distinguish between his Roman and his ‘barbarian’ troops, which raises again the complex question of whether Rome was now relying too much on troops who were merely mercenaries. According to the emperor Julian (Caesars 329a), Constantine ‘practically paid tribute’ to the barbarians, and modern accounts suppose that he and his rival Licinius made Rome significantly more reliant on German and other non-Roman troops than any previous ruler; but the ill effects do not yet seem to be visible.

The strength of the Roman Empire’s numerous and various neighbours to the north, east, and south can only be judged, once again, by the results, their aims likewise. From Tiberius’ time to Trajan’s, those who kept their freedom from Rome and their territorial integrity were doing well; this applies mainly to the Romans’ failure to advance far beyond the Rhine and to hold on to Mesopotamia. The incursions of the 160s–70s and of the 240s–60s showed a great deal of vigour. The invaders’ goal was often plunder, including human beings, which the Roman Empire offered in abundance. Dio (71.16) asserts that the Iazyges had taken far more than ‘ten myriads’ of prisoners in Roman territory – a five- rather than a six-digit number, one might think. (Some of the third-century booty has been recovered from the bed of the Rhine, rafts having apparently sunk). Not even Sasanian Persia, the most powerful external enemy Rome faced in this period, showed any determination to hold on to any Roman province, and in fact it had no reliable means of protecting its own core area against Roman forces that were always relatively near. But northern peoples had already in the second century extracted territorial concessions of a sort, obtaining lands within the Roman frontier. This practice went back to Julio-Claudian times. Initially the advantages to Rome probably outweighed the disadvantages; whether that continued to hold true in and after Marcus Aurelius’ time we shall consider in a moment. It certainly looks like a major surrender to strong outside pres- sure. Purchasing the docility of outside enemies by means of payments, unless it was a short-lived tactical expedient, was likewise a recognition of real enemy strength: this started with Domitian, but involved Trajan, Hadrian, and many later emperors. Yet from a Roman point of view, this was by no means an irrational policy, within limits.

Fundamental changes had taken place by the time the conglomeration of Germans known as the Alamanni (‘All Men’), who are first attested in a Roman source in 213, inflicted quite serious harm in 232–3. This was nothing less perhaps than the birth of a new national formation. What made a difference here was probably in the end quite simple: such a new grouping, like the Franks from about 260, could put larger forces into the field than any single German people. But the tetrarchs and Constantine could always, it seems, defeat the northern peoples on the battlefield.