Monday, August 22, 2011

Reader Questions

One of my readers asked the following questions.

1. When you talk about the Carthaginian phalanx, what exactly do you mean? Do you believe they operated in a similar fashion to the Macedonian phalanx, or are you using the term to mean a mass of heavy infantry that fought hand-to-hand with spear and shield?

2. Also, the consul Publius Laverius Laevinius is thought to have had four legions with accompanying allies at Heraclea in 280BC, so was there a specific law limiting a consul's command to two legions, or are you talking about the customary allocation? Of course, at Cannae there were 8 legions plus allies, so they could clearly change things when they needed to!

A. I have found no evidence that the Carthaginian “phalanx” resembled the Greek version. By Carthaginian phalanx I refer to a massed infantry formation equipped with swords versus spears. This is specifically pointed out by Livy and others writing about the Battle of Cannae. The Punic center used Roman weapons captured at Trasimene which would not have included phalanx type spears. Livy goes on to say, “The Gallic and Spanish contingents carried shields of similar shape, but their swords were of a different pattern, those of the Gauls being very long and not pointed, those of the Spaniards, who were accustomed to using them for piercing rather than cutting, being handily short and sharply pointed.”

At Zama, Hannibal did not use a tightly packed infantry, deploying three massive lines instead. Again I quote Livy. “Hannibal put his elephants (80 of them) right in the van of his army; behind them were the Ligurian and Gallic auxiliaries with a certain proportion of troops from Mauretania and the Balearics. In the second line he stationed his Carthaginian and African troops together with the one legion from Macedonia; Then a moderate distance to the rear of these, came a reserve of Italians and Bruttians.

A. Regarding the two legion army per consul. The time of Heraclea predated this requirement. I quote from The Punic Wars by Brian Caven (essential reading for Roman military lovers),

"Imperium – power, and essentially the power to command the people under arms – was  the real basis of the Roman state. However it had come into conflict with the developing rights and liberties of the Roman people, and had accordingly been divided among two senior and four junior magistrates; and certain restrictions had been placed on their use of it, by custom and statute. Imperium, especially consular Imperium, was also the object of the legitimate ambition of the ruling class, which was unwilling to share it among a larger group of magistrates, and also unwilling to allow the same individual to hold it more than once or twice in a lifetime with the result that someone else, who as a member of the aristocracy had a prescriptive right to it, was excluded. Furthermore, in order to prevent the working of the constitution from being hamstrung, the consuls had to be prevented from neutralizing each other’s effectiveness and also from poaching on the reserves of their juniors, the praetors.”

The end result was two consular armies of two legions each and four praetorian armies of one legion each.

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