Traditional Roman Legions

By Ace Cataphract

This strategy is best at 15000 denarii.

In BI, it is possible to make very effective legions true to history. First, we will examine the historical legions. A standard legion had ten Cohorts with varying numbers of auxiliary missile and support troops, and two Alae of cavalry on each flank of the legion. The ten cohorts were organized into two rows. The first Cohort would be placed in the position of honor at the front right of the legion. With the best legionary troops on the right flank, it wasn't unlikely to see the Ala of cavalry on the right side being constituted of fewer men that the Ala on the left (one such example was the fatal Adrianople, though that detail had nothing to do with the outcome of the battle). The Auxiliary troops could consist of anything from screening troops that gave the legionaries more time to prepare and deploy their pila, archers used to harass the enemy from in front or in back of the legion, or units deployed on the flanks or rear to prevent flank attacks.

Eastern Empire:

Now, we can move on to building our legions using the Eastern Empire's roster.

As the Eastern Empire, you have the same cavalry as the Western Empire, but you also have heavier cavalry such as the Catafractii, Clibinarii, and Dromedii. You have much of the same infantry, but the Western Empire has the superior Auxilia Palatina, who are unavailable to the Eastern Empire. For the units in the legion, I would suggest 9 units of Plumbatarii and 1 Comitatenses First Cohort to place in the position of the First Cohort. I recommend the Plumbatarii over the Comitatenses for the reason that they cost the same amount of denarii, yet the Plumbatarii have the same attack and the same defense, but they have superior range with their missiles and two more attack with their darts. The Comitatenses First Cohort, however have superior attack, defense, and numbers than the Comitatenses, and they confer a morale bonus to every unit near them, making them a perfect addition to the legion. The Legion is set up with five cohorts in front, (4 Plumbatarii and 1 Comitatenses First Cohort on the furthest right, though you may opt to put the Comitatenses in the center instead or in any other position where you expect the fighting to be hardest), and five units of Plumbatarii behind them. Making their formations exactly four rows deep on large settings makes the two rows fairly equal in length.

With the Eastern Empire, you have a plethora of options when it comes to selecting the units to use as auxilia and which to use to form the cavalry Alae. Due to the cavalry oriented nature of the Eastern Empire, you may opt to abandon archers and other auxiliary types, and commit all of the remaining money and unit slots to cavalry. Personally, I recommend at least some archers in your legion. There are two viable archer types. If you expect to outnumber your enemy with archers, the best option is to purchase basic Archer units and upgrade them with +3 valor and +3 attack. This raises their missile and melee attack to 11 and 9 respectively. They still have less defense and range than the Eastern Archers, but they have +2 more melee and missile attack. Otherwise, you can just purchase Eastern Archers, who have good range and defense. If you expect rainy conditions, it is likely to be less beneficial to include archers. Rainy conditions severely handicap archers in this game. I've personally seen situations where 5 units of Eastern Archers could not cause a single casualty to a unit of Comitatenses First Cohort or Auxilia Palatina due to rain.

As for foot Auxiliaries: If you choose to include them, Legio Lanciarii are good options. They are excellent against light cavalry, and can hold heavier cavalry at bay for a time, in addition to being able to deploy javelins. If you have the money, additional Plumbatarii or Comitatenses can be purchased to operate around the legion proper, using it as a base for which to flank and cover. Priests are also viable, due to the bonus they give to their own troops in morale which, in addition to the First Cohort and general's bonus can make your infantry fight like far more elite soldiers than they are. I do not recommend units such as Limitatnei, who are simply bad troops, and are cheap enough that any extra money is better spent upgrading existing troops than purchasing them. Neither do I recommend Hippo-Toxotai, unless you are sure that your enemy will be using very light soldiers with little range, or very heavy and slow moving soldiers. Hippo-toxotai are crippled by the lack of the Cantabarin Circle ability and have little range, and only 54 men per unit. They can, however, shoot while on the move, and have a decent attack, so they aren't terrible units, though I personally favor most units over them.

Cavalry, however, is a crucial element to an Eastern Imperial army. Equites Catafractii and Clibinarii are excellent cavalry. Catafractii are devastating lancers, and a charge from them can effectively obliterate an enemy infantry flank. Clibinarii, however are also very heavy, but not as devastatingly good chargers. They can, of course, charge hard, but their attack and defense really become noticeable when they charge or wade into a thick section of the battle or into an undecided cavalry battle and use their powerful clubs to turn the tide while taking only a few casualties thanks to extremely heavy armor. They are excellent troops, but their price makes it difficult to purchase more than 4 of them per army. Any more and you are sacrificing the quality of the auxiliary troops or even that of the legion itself. A general using either Roman Empire must realize that even though he isn't commanding the legions of Caesar Augustus or Marcus Trajan, his legions are still excellent troops for forming the base of any army. Dromedarii are also good units to put in the Alae. While they shouldn't and can't replace Catafractii or Clibinarii, they are good units to work with them, since they cause fear among horses, which can turn the tide of a cavalry battle (though camels are best used to flank than to attack heavy cavalry head-on, since heavy cavalry will slaughter them regardless of the fear camels cause to horses). They can also engage medium and light cavalry on their own, and win easily.

Western Empire:

Now, we move on to the Western half of the Empire.

With the Western Empire, you encounter some more difficulties in selecting an army. The most noticeable thing is the selection of cavalry. For the units in the legion, I would suggest 9 units of Plumbatarii and 1 Comitatenses First Cohort to place in the position of the First Cohort. I recommend the Plumbatarii over the Comitatenses for the reason that they cost the same amount of denarii, yet the Plumbatarii have the same attack and the same defense, but they have superior range with their missiles and two more attack with their darts. The Comitatenses First Cohort, however have superior attack, defense, and numbers than the Comitatenses, and they confer a morale bonus to every unit near them, making them a perfect addition to the legion. The Legion is set up with five cohorts in front, (4 Plumbatarii and 1 Comitatenses First Cohort on the furthest right, though you may opt to put the First Cohort in the center instead or in any other position where you expect the fighting to be hardest), and five units of Plumbatarii behind them. Making their formations exactly four rows deep on large settings (6 rows deep for the First Cohort) makes the two rows fairly equal in length.

As the Western Empire, Scholae Palatinae and Sarmatian Cavalry will be your best cavalry. I personally prefer the Sarmatians who have better stats, abilities, and cost less. With upgrades, they can be a very formidable force, if not on par with Catafractii or Clibinarii. Noticing their stats, you will see that Sarmatians have less defense, but their attack is already significantly higher than a Catafractii. With their attack upgraded, they can be a devastating force, who will not be able to compete with the likes of Clibinarii, but will hold their own well nonetheless. Though it's not wise to do so with ANY cavalry, sending Sarmatians running away from the protection of the Legion is far more dangerous than sending off heavier cavalry units like Clibinarii. Western Imperial cavalry must work with the legion very closely in order to be effective.

As the Western Empire, your selection of Auxiliaries is less limited in some ways, but more so in other ways. On the one hand, you have the powerful Auxilia Palatina. While they are still not good for fighting against line infantry armed with swords and other melee weapons, they are excellent to guard the flanks and work closely with cavalry. Spearmen in the expansion are actually worth something in a fight against cavalry. Unlike the Triarii or Auxilia of the original version, Auxilia Palatina can be used to achieve devastating effects against enemy cavalry. But they aren't fast troops, so great care should be taken that the enemy cavalry and your cavalry engage near the legion, or a place that is easy for the Auxilia to get to. And if your cavalry are defeated away from the Auxilia's reach, they can still hold their own against cavalry, and even win. Foederati Infantry are similar to Legion Lanciarii, but lack javelins, but are better against cavalry and cheaper. I don't recommend them, but they aren't totally worthless.

Roman Archers are another capable Auxiliary unit. Plainly, they are terrible units, but with significant upgrades - my favorite being +3 attack and +3 valor - they can become a force to be reckoned with, while still being cheaper than better archers, even if they still lack the great range of other archers, they at least have good killing power. Bucellarii aren't good against enemy archers, due to a low range and slow rate of fire, and will probably lose if used against enemy archers, but are excellent against armored units. I don't recommend Equites Sagittarii for the same reason I don't recommend Hippo-toxotai. Their range is too short, their attack is decent, but to be a really worthwile force, they require either more men per unit or the Cantabarin Circle ability, which would make them far more useful, though perhaps someone will find that they do like using these units.

Now, the Praeventores are an odd unit worth some discussion for those of you inclined to use them, though that number, I expect, will be few, and many of those who do use them will either find them to be greatly effective, miserably worthless, or may find them to be excellent in one battle while a terrible failure in another. One might quickly compare them to Arcani. I know that I did, but I realized that I was quite wrong about that. Praeventores have the odd dynamic in Barbarian invasion of having a quite high attack and a low price. Like Roman Archers, they are pathetic units used as is, but with some upgrades, namely +3 attack and +3 valor making their price rise from 330 denarii to 810, they can be a dangerous unit if used properly. They can hide anywhere, so that is great, but they also have very valuable uses if one obeys certain rules using them. NEVER attack anyone head-on. Never allow them to be shot at. Don't use more than two units of these troops. I recommend one, though this rule can be broken if you find some creative strategy with them. Never allow them to be the only unit engaging and enemy unit. Their speed makes them quick enough to keep up with heavy cavalry for a while, and while your cavalry engage the enemy cavalry, few people will worry too much seeing a unit of Praeventores sneaking up to attack their rear. This is a grave mistake, since with 18 attack (after the upgrades I recommend) they can do MASSIVE damage to any cavalry unit that's bogged down in combat. They can also be used to do the same to enemy infantry while the two lines collide. Their offensive ability can carve through the strongest of infantry units from behind.

Artillery (both halves):

Artillery isn't a particularly crucial part of any army, but it can be very useful on occasions. Onagers serve the same purpose as in the original game. A couple of units of onagers can force the enemy to attack more quickly than they want to, cause many casualties, or both. And if you're fortunate enough to out-gun him with archers, your opponent is not in any enviable situation. Scorpions and ballistae are decent, particularly against cavalry. Carriage Ballistae are a new threat to any enemy of Rome. They are easily slaughtered by any unit that can catch them or any missile unit, so great care must be taken not to allow light cavalry to hunt them down and to keep them out of range of enemy archers, but if that can be done, they can inflict massive casualties against the enemy.

Closing:

This article isn't designed so much to give you a set army for you to use. This article was written to give you a core to your army in the form of a classical legion, and as an evaluation of the units and unit types of the Western and Eastern Roman Empires, so that you can have a more clear idea as to how to use them yourself. It is a guide as to how to improve some underestimated units and surprise opponents with a good utilization of previously insignificant troops. I hope that you don't trust every word of this guide as fact, but experiment. This guide outlines the best military doctrines of the Eastern and Western Empire in this game by evaluating the units and how they are supposed to be used. Armed with the doctrines and a clearer knowledge of the troops, it is your role to find which combination of troops is best for you, and indeed, which half of the Empire fits your style best. Good luck!

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