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Monday, May 11, 2009

Roman Triarii

Triarii were one of the early ancient Roman military Manipular legions of the early Roman Republic(509 BC – 107 BC). They were the oldest and among the wealthiest men in the army, and could afford good quality equipment. They wore heavy metal armour and carried large shields, their usual position being the third battle line. During the Camillan era, they fought in a shallow phalanx formation, supported by light troops. In most battles triarii were not used because the lighter troops usually defeated the enemy before the triarii were committed to the battle. They were eventually phased out after the Marian reforms of 107 BC.

Triarii may have evolved from the old first class of the army under the Etruscan kings. The first class comprised the richest soldiers in the legion who were equipped with spears, breastplates and large shields, like heavy Greek hoplites. They served as heavy infantry in the early Roman army, and were used at the front of a very large phalanx formation. After a time, engagements with the Samnites and Gauls appear to have taught the Romans the importance of flexibility and the inadequacy of the phalanx on the rough, hilly ground of central Italy.

By the 4th century BC, the military formations the Romans had inherited from the Etruscans were still in use. Though their efficiency was doubtful, they proved effective against Rome's largely local adversaries. When Gauls invaded Etruria in 390 BC, the inhabitants requested help from Rome. The small contingent Rome sent to repel the Gallic invaders provoked a full-scale attack on Rome. The entire Roman army was destroyed at the Battle of the Allia. This crushing defeat prompted reforms by Marcus Furius Camillus. Under the new system, men were sorted into classes according to wealth, the triarii being the richest after the mounted equites. Triarii were armed with spears, or hastae, about 2 metres (6½ feet) long. They also carried swords, or gladii, about 74 centimetres (29 inches) long, in case the spear broke or the enemy drew too close. They fought as hoplites, usually carrying clipei, large round Greek shields, and bronze helmets, often with a number of feathers fixed onto the top to increase stature. Heavy plate armour was favoured, with mail also being popular. Many would paint or engrave portraits of ancestors onto their shield, believing that it would bring them luck in battle.
In this type of new Roman legion, the 900 triarii formed 15 maniples, military units of 60 men each, which were in turn part of 15 ordines, larger units made up of a maniple of triarii, a maniple of rorarii and a maniple of accensi.The triarii stood in the third line of the legion, behind the front line of hastati and the second line of principes, and in front of the rorarii and accensi.In a pitched battle, the leves, javelin-armed skirmishers who were attached to maniples of hastati, would form up at the front of the legion and harass the enemy with javelin fire and cover the advance of the hastati, spear armed infantry. If the hastati failed to break the enemy, they would fall back and let the principes, heavier and more experienced infantry, take over. If the principes did not break them, they would retire behind the triarii, who would then engage the enemy in turn—hence the expression rem ad Triarios redisse, "it has come to the triarii"—signalling an act of desperation. The equites, cavalrymen, were used as flankers and to pursue routing enemies. The rorarii, the poorer reserve soldiers, and accensi, the least dependable troops armed with slings, would be used in a support role, providing mass and supporting wavering areas of the line.

By the time of the second Punic war of the late 3rd century BC, this system proved inefficient against enemies such as Carthage. After a series of more "organic" changes as opposed to a single intentional reform, a new system gradually came into being. Infantry were sorted into classes according to age and experience rather than wealth, the triarii being the most experienced. Their equipment and role was very similar to the previous system, except they now carried , large rectangular shields that offered a greater degree of protection than the old round clipeus.
The number of triarii had been reduced to 600 per legion, now forming 10 maniples of 60 men each. The triarii still made up the third line in the legion, behind the front line of hastati and the second line of principes, but the rorarii and accensi had been phased out. Leves had been replaced with velites, who had a similar role but were also attached to principes and triarii.Pitched battles were conducted in a similar fashion: the velites would gather at the front and fling javelins to cover the advance of the hastati. If the hastati failed to break the enemy, they would fall back on the principes, who now carried swords rather than spears. If the principes could not break them they would retire behind the triarii, who would then engage the enemy.

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