The Art of Siege: Romans

By Ace_Cataphract

Sun Tzu said: ...2. When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, the men's weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be dampened. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength... 19. In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns... (Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Book II)

Sun Tzu was a great mind in military history that wrote about conducting warfare. What he said was relevant during his period and is still held dear by generals all over the world. What he says in The Art of War is also quite applicable to Rome: Total War. In an incident closer to the time period and geography spanned in Rome: Total War, some argue that the reason that the Peloponnesian War was so costly and indecisive was because of the exhaustive methods with which siege warfare was conducted. When in the campaign, you don't want to find yourself in a situation where you take so long waiting to starve cities that the enemy can easily raise an army to break the siege before you can, yourself, take the city, or get another army deep into enemy territory to support the besieging army, especially near the middle of the campaign before you're really big, but you have plenty of enemies. This point in the campaign is critical. No one expects to actually lose here, and it's important that you're decisive if you want to win, so I'm here to offer my strategies for besieging and assaulting a city. I will assume that by this point in the game you're dealing with stone walled cities that have real defenses and that you have the ability to deal with these defenses.

This guide is made for the campaign map, fighting against the AI, though the tactics may work in multiplayer. In multiplayer, sieges are very nasty affairs where the attackers are often at a huge disadvantage. And in team sieges, victory is impossible unless both teams perform well, and having an ally good at siege craft is rare. I only make general statements about strategy in this article that are based on experience, testing, and my knowledge of unit performance. Cities are for the most part unique. You'll have to find a way to crack every individual nut. What I will outline in the following will be army compositions for siege armies, some general goals that you should have in mind when entering a siege battle, and some tactics using Roman superior swordsmanship and their ability to skirmish to an extent to have every advantage you can get while assaulting a city.

Roman Factions - The Romans were great engineers in real life, which is far from reflected when you see their Onagers with the hefty price tag of 830 and Heavy Onagers I believe at 1010. Nevertheless, you will rely on these weapons, so be prepared to pay the price for it. As a Roman you have the ability to assault a city like no other. If you really want to preserve every part of the city, including the walls or just don't have money for onagers, you will be able to quickly produce siege towers, ladders and rams to take out the city, though this isn't recommended against most enemies. Your army should have plenty of the best Legionaries you can produce. Before Marius you should have plenty of either Hastati or Principes, whichever is the best you can produce or the best available. Later on go with the best type of Cohort you can afford to buy and maintain. For a full stack army, have 8 of these units. Next is spearmen. These aren't nearly as useful in a siege as they are in the field. I'll make the assumption that you can't buy mercenaries like Samnites or Hoplites just for the purpose of simplicity. If you have Triarii or Auxilia, buy 2 of them. If not just get one more unit of Hastati/Principes/Cohort. Now get 3 units of Cavalry. They aren't useful in urban warfare for the most part, but they're there for when opportunities arise, and just because it must be kept in mind that you will have to fight real armies in the field with this army. 4 units of Roman or Auxilia Archers are next, and finally 3 units of Onagers or Heavy Onagers. Perhaps you would prefer to replace 2-4 units of sword infantry with gladiators, which is fine, as gladiators (especially Samnites), have often proven their worth on walls with their two hit points and great attack with good defense. If you do replace unit with gladiators, keep in mind that when I describe units that are spearheading the assault on the city, whether it's the first one up the ladders or the first ones through the breach, it will be the gladiators. They will be your stormtroopers if you choose to put them among your ranks.

What you want to do with the Romans in the beginning is what you want to do with everyone minus the barbarians. Unless you're fighting a faction with lots of phalanxes, which is an enemy I'll cover in more depth in the next paragraph, you want to blast the enemy's walls to the ground. Your onagers aren't there as decorations. Your first targets are the towers. ALWAYS target the towers and gatehouse first no matter what enemy. You're already at a disadvantage against the enemy because you have to tire yourself out against them in the battle. They can just sit back and wait in the city center if they want to. You don't want them to have the advantage of more firepower in addition to whatever they have. Now you attack the gatehouse, even if you don't want to attack through the gate. You don't want the gatehouse to be able to assist your enemy. It's two towers combined and has the power to drop boiling oil on you. If you have a ram and want to attack through the gate then by all means stop firing at the gate doors. Next attack the two sections of wall that you want to take down. You always want at least two sections of wall in addition to the gate (if you want the gate) to attack through. Your attacks will be concentrated here. If the enemy has a lot of archers, you'll have to hurry. Cavalry are no good against them now. You can use your archers to try to overpower the ones on the walls or to just be arrow fodder so that your assault troops aren't taken down. Now your infantry naturally are set to fire at will with you being the Romans…right? I hope so. Anyway, now comes the time to attack. You shouldn't be in much of a hurry when you actually attack. You move your men quickly to the openings. Your enemy will probably try to fight you at the section of wall that was broken down. This is a mistake. The first unit to go into the breach shouldn't be the strongest one. It should simply be a unit that will be able to fight for a while. While this unit is occupied in hand to hand combat. The goal is for this unit to buy you enough time for your infantry to throw as many pilii as possible at the enemy, ideally all of them. At this point, it's in the hands of fate. After all your pilii are used up, you send in your men to engage the enemy hand to hand. There's no more that can be said at this point about strategy. There is indeed little strategy in taking a city, because a lack of space reduces possible maneuvers, so you must have goals, not strategies planned. One thing for you to keep in mind in assaults against the computer is that the computer will focus all its troops on the first unit to pass through the walls into their city. For example, if you pass a unit of Triarii through Gap A, the computer will send all its troops at Triarii A, in this time you can send units XYZ through Gap B, flanking the units attacking Triarii A. Only after attacked by the new units will the computer order their men to attack those units.

If the enemy has a lot of phalanxes though, you probably aren't better off blowing holes in the walls with your onagers. If the enemy has them you want to fight them on the walls where they can't use their phalanx formations against you. If you suspect or know that your enemy has lots of archers, ladders are best for assaulting walls. If they don't, then siege towers are even better. The gatehouse is still a real priority to take out, though the towers aren't that great of a priority. Hoplite and phalangite units are terrible in combat on walls against their Roman counterparts. They'll easily fall to your expert swordsmen infantry on walls. When you gain the advantage of being on the walls, you basically control the walls. They won't be able to beat you on the walls or beat you off the walls if they have an equal number of units that are the same level as your legionaries. Now that you have unquestioned control of the walls (they should give up trying to take the walls when you wipe out those that are already on them if not then all the better for you) you should use the height advantage to start raining down death at them. You can run around the walls capturing towers so that the towers can fire down at the enemy your pilii should all be thrown down at the enemy while you have such a nice elevation. Either way, with all the projectiles that you can drop, if they stay close the walls, they're done for. All that should be left is to capture the destroyed gatehouse. Now get your men down from the walls. You should try to get down through separate areas so that they'll divide their power and you can take them out more easily. The march to the city center shouldn't be too bad. If they have phalanxes and hoplites in the streets you shoot them with pilii. If you don't have any, then, although you're essentially throwing away money by doing this, have your cavalry directly in front of your infantry and charge them. It won't be a nice sight. Your cavalry will die, but immediately after, send your infantry behind them. Their disturbed formation will allow your infantry to get in without having to go through a wall of spear tips, and thus, gain an upper hand using their swords.

The thing to remember as the Romans is that pilii and confined spaces are your friends. Against phalanxes though, you can make the enemy's walls your best friends as long as you make sure that the gatehouse and towers don't punish you for it. Which can easily be prevented by ordering a unit to enter them.

I hope that this article has provided you with some insights into assaulting cities as the Romans. If it hasn't, I'm sorry I can't give you a refund for the time you spent reading this lengthy article.