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Thread: Hypothetical question: Roman era soldier vs. medieval footsoldier

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    Member Member Metalstrm's Avatar
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    Default Hypothetical question: Roman era soldier vs. medieval footsoldier

    Imagine that you had to pit an average Roman legionnaire or any other footsoldier of that era against an average medieval footsoldier/dismounted knight. Who do you think would win, given their technology and technique?

    (disclaimer: I do not know much about medieval warfare, so by dismounted knight I'm imagining the stereotypical knight in full body armour and all that goes with it)

    I'm guessing the medieval soldier, given the full armour, but who knows..
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    EB annoying hornet Member bovi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hypothetical question: Roman era soldier vs. medieval footsoldier

    The roman legion depended on discipline rather than individual skill. This matchup is not a good one.

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    Member Member brymht's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hypothetical question: Roman era soldier vs. medieval footsoldier

    Exactly. I'd even venture to say the if 1 cohort of experienced Roman Legionaries were pitted against a like numbe rof standard medieval soldiers, the legionaries would win easily.

    In a head ot head 1 on 1 matchup, I'd have to bet on the medieval soldier.

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    EBII Hod Carrier Member QuintusSertorius's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hypothetical question: Roman era soldier vs. medieval footsoldier

    Quote Originally Posted by bovi
    The roman legion depended on discipline rather than individual skill. This matchup is not a good one.
    Except given later legionaries were professional, full-time soldiers, I think it's dangerous to assume they weren't capable individual, as well as collective fighters.
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    Default Re: Hypothetical question: Roman era soldier vs. medieval footsoldier

    The problem is you say medieval soldier. That can mean anything from a villager given a helmet and a pike, to a foot knight in shining armour. From my personal knowledge, foot soldiers were mostly peasants, and the aristocracy fought on horse bakcs, and that very few foot soldiers were a well trained proffessional fighting force (English Longbowmen came close, but lacked training in extensive melee).
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    Combustion Member beatoangelico's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hypothetical question: Roman era soldier vs. medieval footsoldier

    on 1v1 I don't know, it depens on many things, especially the equipment of the medieval guy (plate? mail? two handed weapon?), in a group vs group fight romans would have for sure a big advantage

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    Member Member Metalstrm's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hypothetical question: Roman era soldier vs. medieval footsoldier

    Ok so then I rephrase: consider a cohort of roman soldiers against an equal number of medieval knights for that matter. I think medieval soldiers did fight in units, correct me if I'm wrong, but perhaps their style of fighting was more oriented towards a one-on-one kind of combat?
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    Vindicative son of a gun Member Jolt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hypothetical question: Roman era soldier vs. medieval footsoldier

    Quote Originally Posted by Metalstrm
    Ok so then I rephrase: consider a cohort of roman soldiers against an equal number of medieval knights for that matter. I think medieval soldiers did fight in units, correct me if I'm wrong, but perhaps their style of fighting was more oriented towards a one-on-one kind of combat?
    I'd have to bet in the medieval knights. They were basically walking tanks, and while the initial pila attack would kill many before the real fight began, once they were in melee range, I doubt a legionary carrying burdened by armor and a tower shield would effectively pierce the Knight's armor (Considering the knight would use the shield) The only chance would be to fight until the knights were exhausted (Provided that they stayed with a sufficient number to continuing defending themselves properly. Then the legionaries basically needed a good bash on the knight with their shield, throwing the exhausted man into the ground with his armor. The sheer exhaustion with the armor made sure the knight could do little to raise himself up in time before the legionary found a breach in the joints of his armor and shouved his gladius up there.
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    EBII Hod Carrier Member QuintusSertorius's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hypothetical question: Roman era soldier vs. medieval footsoldier

    Uh, no one ever "pierced" armour. They might get through joints or weakened links, but the idea of punching through steel plate is ridiculous.

    Furthermore, the idea that anyone would fight in armour which made it impossible to get up again is equally silly.
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    Default Re: Hypothetical question: Roman era soldier vs. medieval footsoldier

    It all depends on where they are from. For example Parthians were not especially renown for their quality infantry either; and the mercenaries from Flanders were well regarded...
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    Combustion Member beatoangelico's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hypothetical question: Roman era soldier vs. medieval footsoldier

    european medieval knights do not fight on foot unless in very rare situations (and furthermore the heaviest late medieval plate armor was so heavy that fight on foot was simply impossible), and thus they were not trained at all to fight in a close formation and such. On the other hand plate is almost invulnerable to shortswords like the gladius.

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    EBII Hod Carrier Member QuintusSertorius's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hypothetical question: Roman era soldier vs. medieval footsoldier

    The plate might be, the joints covered with chain, straps, or just about any other bit that affixes the plate to the body or to another piece of armour isn't "invulnerable".

    Again there is no way someone would ride into battle wearing armour that prevented them fighting on foot. That's a myth. Same as the one suggesting knights had to be lowered onto their horse by a winch.

    Equipment alone is a pretty poor measure upon which to judge the myriad different factors at work in a combat.
    Last edited by QuintusSertorius; 04-03-2008 at 17:56.
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    Default Re: Hypothetical question: Roman era soldier vs. medieval footsoldier

    The roman soldiers would probably just screw the gladius and try to twist the knight's head until it popped. A legionaire would probably be trained to fight dirty a lot more than a medeival knight would. That would give him an... edge.
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    Bruadair a'Bruaisan Member cmacq's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hypothetical question: Roman era soldier vs. medieval footsoldier

    By Medieval I'm assuming you mean around AD 1300, and by average footsoldier/dismounted knight you mean an upper class Euro-warrior. Also by using the word pit you mean a hand to hand and/or sword fight. Finally, by using the term average in both cases I assume you imply that all other factors are relatively equal. As the design of and materials used to make the weapons and armour were very much improved the Medieval average footsoldier/dismounted knight would slice through the average Roman legionnaire (which I assume you date from 1st to 3rd centuries AD) like butter. Plus the one on one type of combat would also favor the average Medieval joe.
    Last edited by cmacq; 04-03-2008 at 18:28.
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    EBII Hod Carrier Member QuintusSertorius's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hypothetical question: Roman era soldier vs. medieval footsoldier

    Training (who's better at handling their weapons and managing the fight)
    Morale (who's mentally better prepared for the fight)
    Physical condition (who's in better shape)
    Equipment (who's stuff is better)
    Environmental conditions (who's better adapted to them)
    Situational conditions of the fight (is someone surprised? do they start at range?)

    Are just some of the factors involved. Yet a lot of people are talking as though equipment is the only thing that matters - when it simply isn't. Furthermore, I doubt their equipment is significantly different in terms of quality. Mail-armoured legionary against mail-armoured knight, we're not talking massive differences.
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    Villiage Idiot Member antisocialmunky's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hypothetical question: Roman era soldier vs. medieval footsoldier

    Does this only apply to western Europe? And at what time period? I mean... the Chinese were pretty awesome too and the Romans would have pooped themselves to fight those rocket powered arrow racks and stuff.

    And don't even get me started if we throw Katanas into it. I saw one cut through a tank on the internet once. :-D

    And yes, I was mocking eurocentrism and kantanaism(my equipment would pwn your equipment because it has more mindshare).
    Last edited by antisocialmunky; 04-03-2008 at 18:11.
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    Default Re: Hypothetical question: Roman era soldier vs. medieval footsoldier

    Mmmh... I'd bet on the medieval knights.

    After all, weren't the legionaries surpassed by the heavy use of cavalry by barbariians? I'm not speaking of horse archers, but of "heavy cavalry" (though undisciplined and without stirrups), for example by the franks? Didn't this lead to a "cavalrization" (nice word :P) of the roman army in the late period?

    I'm not a historian at all, but I've read these things somewhere... if I'm wrong correct me.

    However, if this is true and a barbarian army mostly made of "cavalry" (individual "knights" probably, just fighting together) could beat a roman foot-based army, or at least inflict heavy losses, I guess the more technologically advanced medieval knights would have easy time, even if they were undisciplined.
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    EBII Hod Carrier Member QuintusSertorius's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hypothetical question: Roman era soldier vs. medieval footsoldier

    Quote Originally Posted by SunShadow
    After all, weren't the legionaries surpassed by the heavy use of cavalry by barbariians? I'm not speaking of horse archers, but of "heavy cavalry" (though undisciplined and without stirrups), for example by the franks? Didn't this lead to a "cavalrization" (nice word :P) of the roman army in the late period?
    The late "legionaries" of the 3rd/4th century AD, and those of the late 1st century BC to first century AD have little in common besides their names. Recruited from different peoples, trained differently, different equipment and so on.
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    Member Member Pezlu's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hypothetical question: Roman era soldier vs. medieval footsoldier

    Quote Originally Posted by QuintusSertorius
    The late "legionaries" of the 3rd/4th century AD, and those of the late 1st century BC to first century AD have little in common besides their names. Recruited from different peoples, trained differently, different equipment and so on.
    Mh, obviously. Didn't think about that.

    That makes the whole thing different, but I'd still bet on the knights on a direct face-off. However, as you pointed out before, there are a lot more variables other than equipment... we could just say for simplicity of our "hypothetical experiment" that they start out in the same "state"; meaning:
    no-one's surprised
    they have the same morale (impossible in real life I think, but this is hypothetical)
    they are fully rested
    they have the typical training of soldiers of their kind (some questions of the meaning of "typical" could arise here)

    However, what about the terrain? We could say "A flat plain, so no-one has higher ground etc. etc."; but a flat plain is an OBVIOUS advatage for the knights, who can charge easily. If they fight in the woods, horses are almost useless, and the legionaries would have the upper hand. If they fight anywhere, the terrain would be more suited to one or the other...

    You were right, I don't see any easy way out of this...
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    Default Re: Hypothetical question: Roman era soldier vs. medieval footsoldier

    I take the bet on the legionaries,
    The medieval soldiers fought as individuals and sometimes got out of order,the romans fought like one big machine,diciplained,stayed in formation,defended well and attacked,etc.
    The medieval soldiers wont be able to breech the roman formation with ease.
    Last edited by eliad91; 04-03-2008 at 19:09.
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    Default Re: Hypothetical question: Roman era soldier vs. medieval footsoldier

    If it's knights v. legions? Definitely knights. I think it's almost unfair: full time professional soldiers with money for equipment, training etc. etc. versus temporary conscripts...
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    Not your friend Member General Appo's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hypothetical question: Roman era soldier vs. medieval footsoldier

    Just one thing here, most medieval footsoldiers were just peasants with merely no formal training, while knights were full time professionals trained from birth to make war. To compare such an individual to a Roman Legionary is totally wrong, no matter if you mean the mainly peasant army of the Republic or the more proffesional soldiers of the very late Republic and early to mid Empire. Against an average unit of western european footsoldiers the average unit of Roman legionary´s would almost certainly win.
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    EBII Hod Carrier Member QuintusSertorius's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hypothetical question: Roman era soldier vs. medieval footsoldier

    Quote Originally Posted by Tellos Athenaios
    If it's knights v. legions? Definitely knights. I think it's almost unfair: full time professional soldiers with money for equipment, training etc. etc. versus temporary conscripts...
    Depends which era you're talking about. Late Republican/Early Principate legionaries were professional, full-time soldiers, far more disciplined than a medieval knight. They were most certainly not "temporary conscripts".

    Something else nothing has mentioned, if we're talking on a grand scale, Roman logistics allowed them to keep much larger armies in the field than medieval commanders. Their talents in that arena surpassed everyone outside of the modern era.
    Last edited by QuintusSertorius; 04-03-2008 at 19:32.
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    Default Re: Hypothetical question: Roman era soldier vs. medieval footsoldier

    Quote Originally Posted by SunShadow
    Mmmh... I'd bet on the medieval knights.

    After all, weren't the legionaries surpassed by the heavy use of cavalry by barbariians? I'm not speaking of horse archers, but of "heavy cavalry" (though undisciplined and without stirrups), for example by the franks? Didn't this lead to a "cavalrization" (nice word :P) of the roman army in the late period?

    I'm not a historian at all, but I've read these things somewhere... if I'm wrong correct me.

    However, if this is true and a barbarian army mostly made of "cavalry" (individual "knights" probably, just fighting together) could beat a roman foot-based army, or at least inflict heavy losses, I guess the more technologically advanced medieval knights would have easy time, even if they were undisciplined.
    cavalry become more available to germanic peoples over the time, but they were still overwhelmingly foot based in the V century, there weren't "true" knights until IX - X century

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    Ming the Merciless is my idol Senior Member Watchman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hypothetical question: Roman era soldier vs. medieval footsoldier

    Late-Medieval soldiery would eat the Legions for breakfast, pretty much. They weren't just at least as professional (armies got increasingly "professionalised" from the High Middle Ages onwards), they had an increasingly crazy advantage in sheer hardware. Even the common infantry started sporting monolith breastplates and close to complete limb defenses, in addition to the rapid proliferation of high-quality weaponry among all ranks.

    And then you had the knights. Trained in pretty much all aspects of hand-to-hand combat both mounted and foot since their early teens, and armed with the best money could buy; these guys had by and large dumped shields by the mid-1400s because those weren't needed anymore with the advent of fully mature articulated plate armour, which also in practice required powerful two-handed weaponry to get through (and even that with difficulty - period accounts of duels fought with pollaxes for example tend to refer to sparks flying as blows glanced off the armour)... Pit an unit of these steel monsters against double the number of Legionaries, and they'll eat the poor sods for breakfast. It gets very hard to win when you can't even hurt the other guys, and they demolish your shield and armour with contemptuous ease...

    In earlier periods it depends. Well-trained soldiers were, well, well-trained wherever you went; it was just that in many parts of Europe this category only included the knights and the other "feudal professionals" like sergeants, the main job of the humbler troops tending to be to form a solid anchor for the cavalry to operate around. On the other hand, while those defensive formations tended to be functionally static they were also rather difficult to break frontally - and on the wings, the natural domain of the cavalry, the Medieval guys with their extreme specialisation in lance-based shock tactics would have a very distinct advantage over their Roman peers (up to and including cataphracts, actually; knights could defeat considerably heavier armed cavalry by sheer shock power), potentially making the life of the latters' infantry centre very difficult indeed. (Chivalry had a bad habit of occasionally chasing their defeated opponents off the field and forgetting they were supposed to turn the flanks of the enemy centre instead, but this was neither an universal pehnomenom nor something unknown in Antiquity either.)
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    Ming the Merciless is my idol Senior Member Watchman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hypothetical question: Roman era soldier vs. medieval footsoldier

    Quote Originally Posted by Gothic
    The roman soldiers would probably just screw the gladius and try to twist the knight's head until it popped. A legionaire would probably be trained to fight dirty a lot more than a medeival knight would. That would give him an... edge.
    No, not really. You actually sometimes read of knights opting to grapple with daggers rather than employ longer weapons, especially in breach assaults and similar "in your face" tactical situations.
    Last edited by Watchman; 04-03-2008 at 21:19.
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    Default Re: Hypothetical question: Roman era soldier vs. medieval footsoldier

    On the other hand, knights in plate armour and legionaries in plate armour? There's an interesting match-up.
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    Default Re: Hypothetical question: Roman era soldier vs. medieval footsoldier

    Well, considering early middle ages, i'd say, burgundian, frank or saxon infantry would be on par with earlier roman soldiery. Other folks were not fond of infantry.

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    Ming the Merciless is my idol Senior Member Watchman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hypothetical question: Roman era soldier vs. medieval footsoldier

    Knights still win in training hours put in, though. That's about the same as Late Medieval Knight vs. Late Medieval Sword-And-Shield Man, and all other things being equal the former tended to win those match-ups. (The Medieval swordsmen had way better swords too...)
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    EBII Hod Carrier Member QuintusSertorius's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hypothetical question: Roman era soldier vs. medieval footsoldier

    Quote Originally Posted by Watchman
    Late-Medieval soldiery would eat the Legions for breakfast, pretty much. They weren't just at least as professional (armies got increasingly "professionalised" from the High Middle Ages onwards), they had an increasingly crazy advantage in sheer hardware. Even the common infantry started sporting monolith breastplates and close to complete limb defenses, in addition to the rapid proliferation of high-quality weaponry among all ranks.

    And then you had the knights. Trained in pretty much all aspects of hand-to-hand combat both mounted and foot since their early teens, and armed with the best money could buy; these guys had by and large dumped shields by the mid-1400s because those weren't needed anymore with the advent of fully mature articulated plate armour, which also in practice required powerful two-handed weaponry to get through (and even that with difficulty - period accounts of duels fought with pollaxes for example tend to refer to sparks flying as blows glanced off the armour)... Pit an unit of these steel monsters against double the number of Legionaries, and they'll eat the poor sods for breakfast. It gets very hard to win when you can't even hurt the other guys, and they demolish your shield and armour with contemptuous ease...

    In earlier periods it depends. Well-trained soldiers were, well, well-trained wherever you went; it was just that in many parts of Europe this category only included the knights and the other "feudal professionals" like sergeants, the main job of the humbler troops tending to be to form a solid anchor for the cavalry to operate around. On the other hand, while those defensive formations tended to be functionally static they were also rather difficult to break frontally - and on the wings, the natural domain of the cavalry, the Medieval guys with their extreme specialisation in lance-based shock tactics would have a very distinct advantage over their Roman peers (up to and including cataphracts, actually; knights could defeat considerably heavier armed cavalry by sheer shock power), potentially making the life of the latters' infantry centre very difficult indeed. (Chivalry had a bad habit of occasionally chasing their defeated opponents off the field and forgetting they were supposed to turn the flanks of the enemy centre instead, but this was neither an universal pehnomenom nor something unknown in Antiquity either.)
    I don't buy it. Marginally better armour coverage, some specialised gimmick-weaponry for dealing with heavy armour. Nor am I convinced there was a step change in quality of weapons across the eras. The Celts who manufactured and/or designed Roman weaponry were no slouches when it came to metalwork.

    I don't think there's any edge at all as far as professionalism or training go; legionaries didn't have any duties besides training for war, marching and building things. As you say, well-trained soldiers are well-trained soldiers.
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