Roman army formations

The people, conflicts, and daily life of the Roman army.

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Roman army formations

Postby Tiberius Dionysius Draco on Mon Apr 21, 2003 8:57 pm

Avete Romani,

whenever you see a historical movie in wich a Roman army has to battle barbarian hordes, you most of the time get to see one formation of the army. I'm talking about the tortoise formation (shields in front of them and to the sides and shields on top of them).

Surely there were more formations, could anybody give me some information about them?


Tiberius Dionysius Draco
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Postby Publius Dionysius Mus on Wed Apr 23, 2003 9:39 pm

Salve Tiberi!

There were not that much formations in the Roman army. First of all, the 'testudo' (tortoise formation) was used in siege warfare, and was useless in battle. Another formation was the wedge:

"The wedge was an aggressive formation used to 'crack open' enemy lines. Relatively small groups of legionaries could form such a triangle and then drive their way into the enemy ranks, as more Roman soldiers reinforced the wedge from behind, the enemy line could be forced apart. As breaking the enemy's formation was very often the key to winning a battle, the wedge formation was vitally important battlefield tactic of the Roman army." (from:

The Roman battle formation was always a line. In fact, three lines: during the early republic the army fought with 'hastati' (front line), 'principes' (second) and a third line with 'triarii', 'rorarii' and 'accensi'. The third line was later reformed with only 'triarii', and a new front line with 'velites' was added.

the "classic" legion of the early empire also fought in three lines:
cohort 1 cohort 2 cohort 3 cohort 4
cohort 5 cohort 6 cohort 7
cohort 8 cohort 9 cohort 10

A 'cohors' was divided in three centuriae - one centuria was two maniples.

The system is very complicated and difficult to explain in a few words. But there is some very good information at

Much good information can also be found in a very nice and well illustrated book by Peter Connolly ("Greece and Rome at war")

I am planning an essay on the Roman army, but it takes a rather long time to get to know everything. Maybe I'll write it in the next few months... (exams are always a very productive period for me to write such things).

Vale bene!
Publius Dionysius Mus

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By treason they fell
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