Page:Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire vol 1 (1897).djvu/87

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
13
OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE

feet, and which was terminated by a massy triangular point of steel of eighteen inches.[1] This instrument was indeed much inferior to our modern fire-arms; since it was exhausted by a single discharge, at the distance of only ten or twelve paces. Yet when it was launched by a firm and skilful hand, there was not any cavalry that durst venture within its reach, nor any shield or corslet that could sustain the impetuosity of its weight. As soon as the Roman had darted his pilum, he drew his sword, and rushed forwards to close with the enemy. It was a short well-tempered Spanish blade, that carried a double edge, and was alike suited to the purpose of striking, or of pushing; but the soldier was always instructed to prefer the latter use of his weapon, as his own body remained less exposed, whilst he inflicted a more dangerous wound on his adversary.[2] The legion was usually drawn up eight deep; and the regular distance of three feet was left between the files as well as ranks.[3] A body of troops, habituated to preserve this open order, in a long front and a rapid charge, found themselves prepared to execute every disposition which the circumstances of war, or the skill of their leader might suggest. The soldier possessed a free space for his arms and motions, and sufficient intervals were allowed, through which seasonable reinforcements might be introduced to the relief of the exhausted combatants.[4] The tactics of the Greeks and Macedonians were formed on very different principles. The strength of the phalanx depended on sixteen ranks of long pikes, wedged together in the closest array.[5] But it was soon discovered by reflection, as well as by the event, that the strength of the phalanx was unable to contend with the activity of the legion.[6]

Cavalry The cavalry, without which the force of the legion would have remained imperfect, was divided into ten troops or squadrons; the first, as the companion of the first cohort, consisted of an hundred and thirty-two men; whilst each of the other nine amounted only to sixty-six. The entire establishment formed a
  1. In the time of Polybius and Dionysius of Halicarnassus (l. v. c. 45) the steel point of the plum seems to have been much longer. In the time of Vegetius it was reduced to a foot or even nice inches. I have chosen a medium.
  2. For the legionary arms, see Lipsius de Militiâ Romanâ, l. iii. c. 2-7.
  3. See the beautiful comparison of Virgil, Georgic. ii. v. 279.
  4. M. Guichard, Mémoires Militaires, tom. i. c. 4, and Nouveaux Mémoires, tom. i. p. 293-311, has treated the subject like a scholar and an officer.
  5. See Arrian's Tactics [12]. With the true partiality of a Greek, Arrian rather chose to describe the phalanx of which he had read, than the legions which he had commanded.
  6. Polyb. l. xvii. [xviii. 15].