CAESARIAN ROMANS

caesarian romans nav image nav image.pngThese are the men who came, saw and conquered the British Isles lead by Julius Caesar in 55-54 BC. Caesar also led them against the Roman Senate itself in 49 BC, defeating his rival Pompey at the battle of Pharsalus. They were also, of course, the same Romans who fought the Ancient Germanic Tribes and the Gauls.

Our Caesarian Romans were sculpted by Mark Copplestone. We make 17 different packs of both armoured and unarmoured Legionaries in various poses, 4 different command packs as well as 12 packs of Gallic, Spanish and Numidian allies.

There are also 9 packs of characters and personalities that were sculpted by Michael Percy as later additions to the range.

Mark Copplestone also sculpted a range of Germanic Tribes that compliment our Caesarian Romans perfectly. Check out Rob Baker's range of Gauls for more Caesarian Roman allies and enemies and our Perry sculpted range of Celts to fight the Romans in the British Isles.

Scroll down for an article on the birth of the Roman War Machine by Adrian Garbett or click on one of the following links to see our Caesarian Roman range:

THE BIRTH OF THE ROMAN WAR MACHINE
Adrian Garbett

 

MARIUS’ MULES & CEASAR’S LEGIONS

The New Legion – The armies of Rome that had humbled Carthage in the titanic Punic Wars did not have respite from war. In North Africa rebellious Numidian princes used the Romans knowledge to train their troops in the image of the Legions, Spain was in constant ferment with Roman generals leading forces of fierce Iberian tribesmen, from Gaul and Germania came land hungry tribes of barbarians and in the East the yoke of Roman rule hung heavy.

The old manipular Legions could no longer cope with the myriad of fighting styles they faced, the drain on manpower also became serious so a simpler, consolidated structure was required. The old Hastati, Principes and Triarii were combined into new, more flexible, cohorts. Initially a variety of armour styles were worn but as the Legions became more uniform so did their equipment.

The Romans were arch acquirers of others technology and the new Legions were kitted out in Celtic style helmets and chainmail shirts and armed with the Spanish pilum heavy javelins. Shields were still the oval convex scutum but could now have the top and bottom squared off in Celtic fashion to lighten the burden and aid manoeuvrability in action.

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MARIUS’ MULES

Gaius Marius (referred to as the ‘Arpinum ploughman’ by some detractors due to his less than noble birth) rose from an eques in the Roman army to attain an unprecedented number of Consulships and be recognised (not always correctly) as the Father of the Roman Legion.

What Marius did give the legions was their superb training and morale, equipment and self-sufficiency, he also taught them to dig! The average legionarius now carried not only his mail armour, helmet, shield, two pila, sword and dagger but also three days rations, a bedroll, cloak, palisading materials and an entrenching tool. The whole kit weighed between 35-45kg (80-100 lbs). It is no wonder that they became known as ‘Marius’ Mules’.

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DEFEAT AND VICTORY

The campaigns against the Cimbri and Teutones – As an example of the changes in the effectiveness of the Legions it is worth comparing the changing fortunes of the Romans against a particular foe, in this case the Gallic-Germanic tribal alliance of the Cimbri and Teutones that threatened northern Italy.

From 113BC the tribes migrated through modern Switzerland into southern Gaul, in 105BC the Roman Consul Maximus gave battle with 8 Legions and their supporting troops (80,000 men) at Arausio.

The tribal warbands annihilated the Roman army and then swept on to slaughter the camp followers of the army, possibly 100,000 citizens died in one day.

By 104BC Marius is Consul, he refuses to fight the tribes even though they head for Italy. He concentrates on re-training his armies, setting up a supply and logistics corp and then digs fortified positions to protect his troops and blunt the tribal assaults. Eventually the tribes split and head off towards the alpine passes that will allow them access to northern Italy. Marius cautiously follows them.

After two years of preparation Marius makes his move. In 102BC, at Aix-en-Provence, he positions his Legions carefully on a hill and awaits the Teutones. The ferocious first rush of the warbands is held this time giving a Roman ambush force the opportunity to cause mass confusion in the Teutones ranks. At this moment the Legions push forward and 90,000 warriors die while 20,000 are enslaved.

The Cimbri are meanwhile defeating another Roman force in the Adige Valley, Marius moves towards them as the over-winter in the Po Valley. The next spring (101BC) Marius repeated his strategy used the previous year and at Vercellae took a hilltop position threatening the flank of the Cimbri as they marched into Italy. Upon sighting the Romans a large number of the impetuous warriors charged uphill only to die to a man on the iron wall of the Legions. As the main force of the Cimbri massed for an overwhelming attack Marius sent a detachment to hide in the German rear. As the Cimbri roared up the hill the ambushers attacked, the Legions launched volley upon volley of pilum into their ranks, drew their swords and advanced to the slaughter.

Marius ensured that this victory would be overwhelming and ordered every man, woman and child killed or enslaved, an estimated 140,000 died and 60,000 captured that day. Never again would a Roman Legionary force be defeated by barbarian warbands in open battle, the war machine was born!

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THE TEMPERING OF THE LEGIONS

For the next 40 years the Legions fought against and defeated a bewildering array of enemies both external and internal with increasing success.  First they blunted the imperial dreams of Tigranes of Armenia, and then there came the ‘Social War’ with Rome’s Italian allies rising in revolt because they were refused citizenship. In Asia Minor the redoubtable and resilient Mithridates of Pontus caused unending problems and at one point looked set to eject the Romans entirely from the East.

Between 88 and 82BC there was civil war between democratic (including the ageing Marius) and conservative politicians leading legion against legion. The mighty Sulla restored order over time after seizing Rome, making himself Dictator; reforming the government, crushing the democrats and then returning power to the Senate.

Fascinating side shows included an “accidental” short lived second war with Mithridates, a rebellious independent Roman state set up in Lusitania (Western Spain/Portugal) with wild tribesmen fighting alongside Roman legionaries and a commander with a personal bodyguard of Numidian cavalry. Finally there were numerous slave revolts and fascinating campaigns against Mediterranean pirates.

All these campaigns and battles gave the Legions an unparalleled training ground, all that was needed now was an individual who could merge personal ambition with military sensibilities and use the war machine to its full potential. That man was Julius Caesar and he was about to get his opportunity to prove himself and the war machine.

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THE GALLIC/GERMAN WARS

It is often claimed that Ceasar’s only reason for pursuing and then writing about his conquests and triumphs was to further his political and personal power, while this is undoubtedly true it must be noted that all his colleagues were doing the same (often with disastrous consequences) and that Ceasar’s grasp of the bigger strategic picture was consummate.

The Helvetian migration – Upon taking the position of Governor of Gaul Caesar must have been delighted to discover that nearly half a million Celtic Helvetii were heading out of Switzerland towards Gaul. The entire people had been forced out of their homelands by intolerable German pressure.

Caesar ordered the Legions to begin constructing a huge earthwork across the Celts line of march forcing them into inhospitable terrain. The fortification ran for 19 miles and channelled the horde of Celts along the Rhone Valley. This gave Caesar time to concentrate 5 Legions and other troops (to a total of about 35,000) for a cat and mouse pursuit of the Helvetii.

Battle is joined

After scouts reported that the Helvetii were crossing the River Arar Caesar moved up by forced march at to find the eastern bank protected by 30,000 very suprised warriors. The Legions immediately attacked and wiped out them out to a man, the rest of the Helvetii were now preparing to cross the River Loire and Caesar followed slowly waiting his chance.

It would seem that the remaining 400,000 Celts were having problems gaining enough supplies (many local tribes did not want to support them for fear of Roman retribution, many joining Caesar to drive them out) and finally the vast mass of humanity turned to face their pursuer at Bibractae. There were still 70,000 Helvetii warriors facing 30,000 Legionaries, 20,000 Gallic foot and 4,000 Gallic horsemen.

Caesar triumphant

The Romans positioned themselves on a hill, their allies covering their flanks. The Helvetii warriors launched a furious attack along the line, which the Legions held with difficulty, but the warbands tired and withdrew to catch their breath. Suddenly the Romans became aware that the Helvetii were trying a different tactic and assaulting their right flank at the same time as assaulting frontally. This put even more pressure on but the Legions held and, as night fell, the exhausted warriors pulled back to their wagons and families.

Normally in ancient warfare the fall of night meant the cessation of hostilities as both sides needed rest and recovery time, not so Caesar! He ordered the Legions to pursue, their superior training and stamina now came to the fore as they surged into the Helvetian camp, the fighting was hideous as Celtic men, women and children threw themselves at the Romans, of the original migrants only 100,000 survived that terrible night.

Ceasar’s strategy

Now Caesar had thousands of prisoners, the normal course of action would be to sell them into slavery, but not Caesar. He ordered them to return to their homelands in Switzerland. This was not a charitable or compassionate act Caesar was building a buffer state against his next target the Germans of Ariovistus.

Ariovistus had been terrorising several Celtic tribes in the modern Alsace area while the Helvetii had kept the Romans occupied. Now the chieftains of these tribes asked for Roman assistance and protection against these most barbarous of barbarians. Caesar never hesitated, he moved into German territory, manoeuvred to gain tactical advantage and then, on September 10th 58BC, attacked with 50,000 troops against 75,000 Germans at Vosges.

The Germans surprised the Romans with the swiftness of their attack, coming on in deep columns of many ranks; the Legions had no time to throw their pila before combat began. Despite putting the Romans under tremendous pressure the Germans were outfought and when Roman reserves reinforced the only area of German success they broke and fled. They only made it as far as the Rhine where they were killed or captured. This time the slave traders had their day, there would be no homecoming for Ariovistus’ men.

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CAESAR, MASTER OF GAUL

Central Gaul was now completely pacified and the German threat halted for the present, Caesar went into winter quarters with his army. All was not well however and in the north the Belgae tribes formed a confederation and prepared to attack in the spring. As would happen repeatedly news was leaked out possibly by neutral tribes not wanting to incur the wrath of Caesar and preparations began.

Before the 300,000 strong Belgae army could march the Romans invaded with 40,000 Legionaries and 20,000 Gallic allies in support.
Caught unprepared only Galba, King of the Soissones, could muster a force to face Caesar. His 80,000 warriors met the Romans at Axona and they met the same fate as others before them as the iron tread of the Legions rolled over them. Caesar advanced further into the territory of the Belgae confident of victory.

A little too confident maybe? While setting camp in the territory of the Nervii the Romans were shocked as a massive ambush of some 75,000 warriors erupted from nearby forests. The Roman reconnaissance had been none existent and the 5 Legions seemed about to pay a heavy price for this oversight.

It was now that Caesar the politician and strategist became Caesar the Leader of Soldiers. His superbly trained Legions held their ground, followed standing orders and presented a concerted front to the rapidly closing enemy. Caesar went from Legion to Legion inspiring his troops, fighting when necessary and seeing his fragmented army reorganise, hold and then drive the Nervii back. Two thirds of the Nervii lay dead at the end of the day and the Romans held the field despite heavy losses themselves.

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THE DOMINOES FALL

Now Caesar set about reducing any threat from the Gallic tribes with a fervour that verged upon genocide, one after another the tribes were crushed. In 57BC the Aduatuci were subdued after a siege of their capital and the Belgae Confederation died with them. In 56BC the Veneti of Armorica made the fatal mistake of seizing some Roman ambassadors. Immediately the reduction by siege of their towns began, the Venetii had them well fortified and the Romans found it difficult going. Unusually this campaign ended with a naval battle (at the Gulf of Morbihan) where the Venetii outsailed the Romans but could not cope with Latin ingenuity when marines lashed scythes to long poles and cut the Gauls rigging before boarding them.

Caesar now moved to mop up the dissident Belgae tribes in the north, the Menapii and Morini fled while others surrendered without a fight. For all practical purposes Gaul was now Roman, and that Roman was Caesar. Even another German invasion was taken in his stride as another half a million Usipetes and Tencteri crossed the Rhine intent on settling in Gaul. This time Caesar excelled himself in his ferocity and slaughtered every living soul as an example to other ‘barbarians’. Just to rub it in he had a marvellous bridge built over the Rhine and then marched into the German homelands to receive their submissions before returning to Gaul.

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BRITISH EXPEDITIONS

In August 55BC Caesar organised and led a reconnaissance in force across the channel to Britain. This may have been precipitated by British Belgae support for their mainland allies.  The initial landing at Dubra (Dover) was hard fought with support from ship-mounted catapults needed to gain a foothold. A truce followed and the Romans stayed for only three weeks before embarking for Gaul.

By July of 54BC the Romans were back, in force! 20,000 Legionaries and 2,000 cavalry landed again this time unopposed. They carved their way inland pushing aside the resistance of Cassivellanus and his nobles who turned their attention to the fortified Roman camp but to little avail. Finally Caesar accepted the submission of the Britons and once again sailed back to Gaul. The Romans would not return to Britain for over 90 years but when they did it would be for three and a half centuries.

The “odds-on” rebellion – At the time the Romans were sailing back from Britain one Ambiorix of the Nervii did a little mental arithmetic and realised that between them the dissenting tribes could raise a possible 1 million warriors which outnumbered the Romans 20:1. With these calculations offering good odds he launched a series of attacks on Roman winter quarters across northern Gaul, managing to trick one garrison into ambush and besieging several others. The Roman commander at one camp sent word to Caesar who immediately advanced upon the 60,000 besiegers; the Roman relief force numbered 7,000! In what was to become standard Roman tactical response to rebellion Caesar took the initiative, bullied Ambiorix into an ill planned assault, hit the Nervii on the counter and routed them.

By the next campaign season Caesar stood at the head of 10 Legions, he crushed the Belgic uprising and then did another tour of Germany for good measure.

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THE FINAL THROES

While the main Roman forces were in northern Gaul and Caesar saw to his affairs in Italy the last and most able of his Gallic opponents stepped into the fray, Vercingetorix chieftain of the Averni. This leader was very different from those before him, he gathered his warriors and trained them, selecting them for different duties, seeking the most able, organising a corp of archers and generally acting in a most unbarbarian like way!

Caesar naturally leapt into action and set off north on a tortuous and dangerous trek to join up with his Legions. As soon as he was back in
command the war machine rolled again. He took the city of Cenabum first, where the rebellion had started and then aimed his Legions at the heartland of Vercingetorix. Capturing town after town the Romans drove the Gallic forces before them, unusually they harassed the Romans and denied them supplies which gave Caesar much cause for concern but did not stop him arriving outside the Averni capital of Gergovia in April 52BC.

Now things started going against Caesar, his troops were hungry, the previously allied tribes went into open revolt and when he ordered a full scale assault on Gorgovia it was repulsed with heavy losses he could ill afford. He called for reinforcements from his subordinate Labienus who marched south to rendezvous with his commander. The armies united south of the Seine and attempted to retreat into the Romanised Provincial area of Gaul. But Vercingetorix was waiting.

With 80,000 foot and 15,000 horse this Gallic army was the best ever assembled yet in July 52BC when they met the Romans at Vingeanne there was only an indecisive cavalry skirmish before the Gauls withdrew in good order to a fortified hilltop town named Alesia. Again Caesar maintained the strategic initiative and against all the odds pursued and caught the Gauls as they were still outside the city walls. He drove them inside the walls and then settled down to one of the greatest sieges in military history.

Contravallation/Circumvallation

Not only did the Romans completely surround Alesia with siegeworks but they had to build an outer fortification to protect themselves from the huge (240,000 warriors) Gallic force that arrived relieve Vercingetorix. The fortifications were both over 14 miles in circumference and included forts, specially constructed towers and slopes with spiked defences.

The Gallic relief force launched three huge assaults all of which were beaten off with heavy losses to both sides, the defenders in Alesia began to starve and a final battle seemed inevitable. A picked force of 60,000 warriors co-ordinate their attack on one point of the
fortifications with a massed sally from Alesia and for a time it seems the ring will be broken allowing Vercingetorix to break free but the Romans first hold, then plug the gap and the assault fails. With his people starving and no chance of escape Vercingetorix offers his submission to Caesar and is led through Rome in Julius’ Triumph parade. He is finally executed thus ending the Gallic revolts that have raged for nearly a decade.

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CIVIL WAR

Caesar now had the most battle hardened Legions in the Roman Empire, he would lead them across the Rubicon into history and they would fight in the titanic internecine wars that would wrack the Empire for centuries. Cleopatra and Marc Anthony would come and go, Pompey would be defeated, a short lived Dictatorship would be his followed by 10 years and then a lifetime invitation to be the saviour of Rome. Yet, apart from his murder on March 15th 44BC, Caesar will always be remembered mostly as the great commander in Gaul fighting against hordes of savage barbarians at the head of his mighty Legions.

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THE COMPOSITION OF CAESAR’S ARMIES

While the armies of Marius and Caesar are relatively simple affairs that rely on Legionaries for their mainstay there were numerous colourful auxiliary troops available in varying numbers.

The early forces (from 58BC)

Numbers are always difficult but we are certain that he had 4 veteran and 2 ‘green’ Legions (the latter probably remained in camp during pitched battles), a large force (around 4,000) of Gallic horsemen plus Numidian, Cretan and Spanish skirmishers.

Later battles (up to 51BC)

The 2 ‘green’ Legions have become veterans and 2 more newly recruited Legions joined them. 500 German cavalry and an equal number of supporting javelinmen have joined them.

The supporting troops

A quick description of the troops that fought alongside the Legions.

Gallic cavalry – The nobility of Gaul would be well armed and some wear chainmail shirts, most would have helmets and all carry decorated shields.

German cavalry – Less well equipped than their Gallic counterparts but reportedly much more aggressive and feared. They would have equal numbers of youthful javelinmen fighting with them.

Numidians – These lightly equipped skirmishers provided both javelinmen on foot and on ponies as well as archers and slingers. An important source of quality light troops.

Cretans – The island of Crete had provided superb mercenary archers for centuries. The Romans made full use of them whenever possible.

Spanish – The Romans had fought these fierce warriors for centuries and learnt many hard lessons. They provided scutarii who were armed with heavy javelins and large shield (hence the name), nimble fleet footed javelinmen called caetratii, superb slingers from the Balearic Islands and cavalrymen who were equipped very like the scutarii and were a match for the Gallic cavalrymen.

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Sources

This piece only scratches the surface of this period and I would recommend if you have any interest whatsoever you read at least the first of the sources I have used.

1. Caesar, The Commentaries.
2. Tacitus, Agricola.
3. Barker, Armies and Enemies of Imperial Rome.
4. Keppie, The Making of the Roman Army.
5. Dupuy & Dupuy, Collins Encyclopaedia of Military History.
6. Warry, Warfare in the Classical World

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