Roman Infantry Attacks

I recently re-watched the movie Gladiator and was struck again by the lack of historical accuracy in films. This is the scene of which I am writing about. What strikes me about this scene is the way the Romans stood and received the charge of the Germans after marching forward of their fixed defenses. To the best of my knowledge and everything I have ever read, the Romans did not stand and receive a charge in open field battles and especially not when fighting from fixed or field fortifications. Instead, whether attacking or defending; when the enemy was within 20-30m the Legionnaires would throw their Pilums and charge or counter-charge into the enemy formation trying to arrive just after their Pilums.1 This ensured that the Roman infantry capitalized on the confusion caused by their spears striking home and killing some of the enemy and causing others to drop their shields when the spears became embedded in them.
The movie makes even less sense sense when you consider that the Roman army abandoned their field fortifications to offer the Germans battle. That is just plain counter-intuitive. If nothing else the Romans were a pragmatic people and and they would have had to be idiots to leave their defenses.
The only conclusion is that the battle scene was choreographed the way ot was for dramatic license. It is certain that open-field battle is more visually appealing than watching the Romans hack down barbarians trapped in the Roman defenses. The sad part is that it presents an unrealistic picture of classical warfare in a medium from which too many people draw their historical knowledge.

1. Adrian Goldsworthy, The Roman Army at War: 100 B.C.-200 A.D., Oxford, UK: Clarendon Paperbacks, 1996, 192-193

1 thought on “Roman Infantry Attacks”

  1. I thought I heard that when engaging the army of Boudica, the Romans were involved in some type of open-field, steady march formation which broke the Celtic line.

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