Combined Arms

by General Sajaru

Throughout history, there have been many theories on the force composition of armies; some have been more effective than others. In historical times, especially around the time of Rome: Total War, the focus was on large masses of infantry, with minimal support from other types of troops.

The Greek and Macedonian model revolved around solid blocks of pikemen, either hoplites or phalangites, supported by light cavalry and skirmishing infantry on the flanks. This was a fairly inflexible formation, excellent at facing head on attacks, but not very well suited to quick maneuvering or standing up to flanking attacks.

During his conquest, Alexander the Great used an early version of combined arms. At the beginning of his campaign, he fielded approximately 21,000 hoplites and phalangites, 7,000 skirmishers, 3,000 hypaspists (light infantry), 1,000 archers, and 6,800 cavalry (both lighter scouts and the heavier companion cavalry).

With the rise of the Roman Empire, the Roman Legion became the foremost military formation in the world. Once again based around a mass of heavy infantry, this time with large shields, short swords, and pila, there were limited amounts of supporting troops. In a legion of five to six thousand men, organized into ten cohorts of six centuries each, with five centuries of one-hundred sixty men in the first cohort, there were only about three hundred cavalry and a small number of artillery. While many legions had auxiliaries- archers, cavalry, spearmen, and other troops attached to the legion- sometimes up to as many men as the legion itself, their number and composition were never standard.

While the legion swept through the Mediterranean world, Gaul, the Iberian Peninsula, Germania, and points further east, it still had tactical limitations. When they encountered Parthian forces composed of light horse archers and heavy cavalry, they discovered one of those limitations. While under fire by the horse archers, the legionaries would form a testudo. However, when they did so, the heavy cavalry would charge, shattering the Roman formations. Attempts to fight the horse archers with their own archers failed due to the limited number of auxiliary archers present in the Roman Legions. The Roman cavalry was not up to the challenge of fighting off the Parthian cavalry either.

The issues with forces that focused upon a single type of troop or style of fighting did not disappear with the fall of the Roman Empire. During the 1200s, when Genghis Khan formed the Mongolian Empire using the devastating horse archers from the Mongolian Steppes, they ran into similar problems. While they were excellent at field combat, sieges were more problematic. Using extreme terror techniques, they managed to avoid sieges in many cases, and were therefore largely successful.

In Europe, during the Middle Ages, the focus became heavy cavalry: knights. For several hundred years, the knight was the most powerful warrior on the battlefield, until the advent of the longbow. At Agincourt, the English longbow men proved the demise of the French knights; however, even there, only the weather conditions and French arrogance allowed the mostly unsupported longbow men to triumph.

It was not until the 1500s and 1600s that the first true combined arms armies emerged onto the battlefield. While Gustavus Adolphus is often credited as the father of the combined arms force, he was just one of the first to really emphasize a combined arms force mix along with a focus on logistics. Once again, the central focus was blocks of pikemen, supported by arquebusiers, cavalry, and artillery. This was a more flexible formation, able to respond more quickly to changing battlefield conditions because of its varied force structure.

Today, those same thoughts are implemented even more thoroughly. Long range artillery, air support, and tanks support infantry on foot or in armored personnel carriers. Combined arms show up within those infantry units; anti-tank, anti-air, and mortar units support more straightforward soldiers such as riflemen, snipers, and machine gunners.

The same force compositions and strategies can work in Rome: Total War. While the artillery in Rome is notoriously inaccurate, the other three main types of units- infantry, cavalry, and archers- can and should be present in your army.

While the exact mix of forces is up to the individual player, depending upon your playing style, some general guidelines for creating a versatile, combined arms force are as follows:

  • 7-10 Infantry
  • 3-7 Archers
  • 4-9 Cavalry
  • 1 General
  • These numbers are subject to change based upon which faction you play, with some nations, like Scythia or Parthia short on infantry, Carthage or Spain short on archers, and Britannia and the Greek Cities short on cavalry. Mercenary units are of course available to fill such shortcomings, or you can substitute other units for them. For instance, a Scythian army might have horse archers in addition to both foot archers and standard cavalry. As Carthage, you might use War or Armored Elephants in place of archers. As the Greek Cities, extra pikemen or even skirmishing units such as Heavy Peltasts might take the place of some of the cavalry.

    My standard formation, which I use with most factions, is nine infantry, five archers, five cavalry, and a general. That gives me enough infantry to form a line, enough archers to be effective, and enough cavalry to prevent flank attacks, ride down fleeing enemy, or provide decisive hammer blows. For a horse archer focused faction, like the Scythians or Parthians, I might use five infantry, five infantry archers, five horse archers, four cavalry, and a general. As Egypt, I tend to modify my force composition, using seven infantry, seven archers, five cavalry, and a general.


    The Greek Cities:




    House of Brutii:

    The above are only examples of how you might choose to determine the force composition of your army. I recommend experimenting with different combinations of troops to figure out what’s best for your style of play. Remember, though, having your army composed of only one or almost all one troop type limits the battles you can fight and win.

    Using varied troop types enables you to face almost any enemy army. Against an enemy army focused on infantry, simply spread out your infantry, putting more mobile units (in the case of Armenia or Seleucia) on the flanks and place the archers behind them. If your enemy has artillery, you might want to use your cavalry to eliminate it. Otherwise, put your cavalry on the flanks. Then, simply advance into archer range, allow them to open fire, then finish off what remains with your infantry.

    Against a more mobile foe, form your infantry into a curved line, with your archers again behind. Close the gap with your cavalry. This will allow you to protect your archers while they kill the enemy and use your cavalry to react quickly to enemy action. Generally, the infantry forms a line, the archers provide the primary firepower, and the cavalry gives you a quick reaction force to bolster your line, run down enemy troops, or provide a hammer blow to break your opponent.