Historical Roman Legions Part II: Marius Legions

By The Crazy Person

The History:

The reforms of Gaius Marius did not happen in the fashion portrayed in Rome: Total War. The game brings the Marius Reforms as a sudden event that opens an entire new tech tree to you. Romans were very resistant to change, so the reforms in the military came gradually. Gaius Gracchus was one of the original reforms who passed laws requiring the state to supply food and equipment to the troops. Also in line with the reformed legions was the practice of capite censi (head count) which was a way for generals to fill depleted ranks by calling for volunteers from the poor non-property owning Romans. It was, however, Marius who made this standard among the legions. From this, being a soldier was a career rather than a duty, a civil service, to the state. This was the basis of the first Professional army. Prior to the military reforms, armies were only raised in times of war. When the war was over, the army was disbanded. Marius changed this to a standing army where soldiers would enlist for a period of several years or a certain number of campaigns. At the end of his service, a legionary would be allotted a plot of land, a reward for his military service. In addition to new recruitment practices, Marius also standardized the use of the Cohort system as opposed to the 3 line system of the old legion. Cohorts would be consisting of soldiers all of equal armor and weapons. The old system relied on the wealth of the soldier to buy equipment; the wealthier you were the better you got. Cohorts made armor and weapon types uniform. When deployed on the battlefield, Cohorts were arranged according to experience rather than social standing. It would be these legions that would guide Rome for the next several centuries.

Setting up your legion:

The legions of Gaius Marius will always consist of 10 units, no matter what extra configurations you use. It is extraordinarily simple in design. A legion is 10 cohorts set up in a double line (5 in the first line, 5 in the second). Technically a legion would consist of 9 Cohorts and 1 First Cohort(since it is rare that you l get a first cohort in campaign mode, it is a matter of personal preference if you wish to use a Praetorian or Urban cohort to simulate this unit). In practice, there would be 6 cohorts of experienced men who formed the first/sixth, third/eighth and fifth/tenth cohorts (the flanks and the center) and 4 cohorts of the lesser experienced cohorts, where you would often find new recruits. They would make up the second/seventh and forth/ninth cohorts.

To simulate the experience vs. inexperienced troops, I use 6 Legionary Cohorts and 4 Early Legionary Cohorts (not only does this simulate experience levels, but it is also a way to help retrain units in frontier cities where only early legionaries are available).

Extra units:

whereas with the Pre-Marius legion you had 8 slots for auxiliary units, with the Marius legion you have 10 open slots for uxillia units. A historical legion would only have 120 horsemen attached to it, and those horsemen were made up of basically the general bodyguard and his advisors, in other words non-combatants. This shows the Roman distaste for using cavalry, however in Rome: Total War, cavalry is still a major piece of any army. Since we are trying the recreate a historical legion, use only Roman cavalry to fill your cavalry needs. Legionary and Praetorian cavalry simply did not exist. After a general bodyguard, I suggest no more than 3 extra roman cavalry units. This way you get a suitable force of cavalry in proportion to your legion while keeping the focus on infantry. The other six slots I would recommend filling with 2 units of Archer Auxillia, 2 Onagers and 2 units of any Auxillia you wish. I usually have one legion that is a siege specialist, so it l have 4 units of onagers or 2 onagers & 2 ballistae. Or I l have a field army that has Auxillia/Light Auxillia. It is simply your choice as Auxillia units are not defined parts of the legion.

Fighting with the legion:

At first you may be thinking, hy isn there any missile unit to engage the enemy before the melee? Well the simple answer is that you do, 10 of them in fact. Remember your legion is flexible. If you miss your velites from the Pre-Marius legion, try detaching one unit of your Early Legionaries, set them up in loose formation with thin ranks and set them to fire at will. Since you should treat your early legionaries as expendable troops, running them into the immediate danger should not be scene as a major loss. You can treat this first line as you would any skirmisher unit. They launch javelins until they are empty or the enemy charges them. Then you march you enemy straight into the enemy line. If time is allotted, let the first line of troops throw their javelins. Once the front line engages in a melee, the secondly should remain behind in formation, prepared to take on any breaches in the front line. Since a Marian legion does include cavalry, I allow the use of a single cavalry unit in this description, to charge around behind the enemy and take them by surprise. Shock cavalry is basically a necessity to any army. While your second cohort line is hanging back, set them to fire at will. Yes this will cause friendly fire, however these are acceptable losses as it hurting the enemy army more than its hurting you.

Formation Variations:

The Legion is incredibly flexible. One variation involves 3 lines of cohorts: 4 in the first line, 3 in the second and 3 in the third. This is a good defensive formation that places the legion into a thick box that can turn to counter any flanking moves. Another variation, which works as another defensive box, is the square formation used by Craussus in Parthia. I understand that using the formation that led a man to his death seems foolish, but the formation itself is effective. The formation requires a line of 4 Cohorts at the front, 4 cohorts at the rear, with the cavalry in the middle. The other two cohorts are lined along the flanks. If you are marching auxillia units with your army, you may or may not be able to contain them inside the square.

Remember that flexibility is the key to success with the Roman legion. On the battlefield, this unit, if used properly, will be able to take on most foes.