The Legionary Class
Welcome to the Legionary Class. In this module, Centurion Hardassius will try to pound the basics of legionary use into your noble heads so that you tribunes and legates do not get our young men killed by being stupid. So pay attention, lords, and learn- that you may issue wise commands and keep your men alive. That’s how you win battles- you make the other bastard die for his tribe or his nation while yours stay alive to keep on killing those lice-infested heathens.
What is a legionary?
Some of you young studs are already thinking ‘what a stupid question. A Legionary is obviously the guys from the fourth-tier barracks with their swords held low.’ That is partially correct. A legionary is actually any soldier serving in a legion, be it the ancient phalanx legion, the antique Camillan manipular legion, or one of the post-Reform legions of Marius. Thus hastati, principes, men of the legionary cohort, the praetorians, and the urban cohorts are all legionaries. The Triarii too, but those are Camillan legionaries who fight with spears. For the purpose of this class, we will not discuss them as legionaries, even though they technically are.
The legionary fights first with his pilum, then with his gladius. He also has a back-up weapon- the pugio, or dagger- but that is not used within our virtual realm. There is no need. Our swords never break, nor do our men ever have them knocked from their hands nor stuck in a bone inside the unwashed body of some barbarian.
The pilum is your javelin, but it is not like your garden-variety throwing spear used by Greeklings, barbarians, or those swarthy fellows from across the big water. No sir, the pilum is special, and every legionary carries two of them. With two pila per legionary, a good centurion can get off four good volleys. How four volleys from two pila per man? Ever heard of Front rank/rear rank? Front rank, throw! Rear rank, Throw! Front rank, throw! Rear rank, Throw! There you go, four volleys, five if the volleys are ragged or some of the boys get interrupted. Three or four good volleys, however, can wreck a phalanx, or send barbarians screaming back into the woods that birthed them.
We Romans know this. Back in the days when we were a phalanx legion, the bloody Samnites wrecked our lines and forced our boys to pass under the yoke at Caudine Forks. Their main weapon that devastated us? The pilum. Well, Camillus took that pilum and modified it for our own use shortly thereafter when he instituted the velites. Later Marius would modify it again and make it universal for all legionaries.
What makes the pilum special? For the first, it is armor piercing. Discount right there half the value of wearing armor! For the second, it has a nice, heavy wooden shaft. For the third, it has a long and slender spearhead with a wicked barb on the end- the modification of Camillus, to allow it to bend on impact. Sometimes it even did. And finally, the long spearhead is fastened onto that heavy wooden shaft by two pins- one metal one, and one wooden one that breaks on impact- the twist of Marius, to ensure the bloody thing cannot be thrown back at us. The barb can kill if it hits, but many are blocked by shields, eh? Well, that barb on a slender neck will penetrate the shield then bend. Even if it does not, the wooden pin would definitely break, leaving the unfortunate target with two very poor choices- fight on with ten pounds of wood swinging from your shield and tripping you up, or throw away the shield. Either way, he becomes less effective. And those pila that miss? Well, their pin still breaks, preventing the enemy from throwing your own hardware back at you.
As I said, a good centurion can usually get four good volleys from his men. Then what? Well soldiers, then it is time to air your iron and put hand-held steel into their bellies. For that we use the gladius.
The gladius is a short sword, though in its time it was merely known as a sword since most blades were about that long. There were several models of the gladius iberius, from a simple straight blade to the nobleman’s beauty shown here. Most match on certain key features, namely size. Two feet abouts, and wide- three inches wide. On top of that, it is made with a welding technique that puts flexible pig iron in the center and coats it with steel, then forging a wickedly sharp edge onto the thing. The gladius we use is not a Roman invention- we have very few weapons we came up with ourselves. No, like most things, we saw something that worked in someone else’s hands and adapted it to our own use, perfecting it while we did so. The gladius used by the legions comes from the gladius iberius– the Spanish sword. It is a stabbing and thrusting sword, and is not intended to be used in long slashes to hack off arms and necks- that kind of fighting it requires too much room or you will hit your mates- a very big no-no in battle. Plus slashing requires more strength, more energy, and more endurance than thrusting and stabbing, which is why we thrust and stab. We can do that all day while the slashers tire after a few minutes. That is how we win! We outlast them.
Of course, our little pigsticker is no good if those long slashing swords or massive sarissas reach us and kill us before we can bring our trusty gladii to good use. So we borrowed the scutum from the Samnites and Campanians. The scutum is a large shield- it is like carrying a portable wall. Put a hundred men shoulder to shoulder and you have a very good wall with which to maneuver and hem in your opponent. The gladius, that little pigsticking stabber, is light enough and small enough to wield with a scutum- stab over it, under it, around it. We can hit them; they cannot hit us. Do it over and over again, and soon you have a legion that can kill eighty times its numbers of foes- they tire, we do not. We hit them, they cannot hit us. Pilum, scutum, gladius- the keys to victory.
Of course, the scutum alone is very little protection. It can be grabbed, torn from your hands, or pierced by pila and arrows. And despite its large size, some weapons will invariably come over, under, or around it to strike your body. So we wear armor. Heavy, thick, metal armor capable of shedding sword blows and deflecting spears.
The armor worn varies by type of legionary. You will notice this, and wonder. The armor and the training/discipline are what separates one type of legionary from another. After a while, you will be able to look at legionary and automatically know to what kind of unit he belongs and if you should ignore him or respect him.
The hastatus wears banded mail, but it is narrow and of low quality. It is still a metal shirt that can deflect weapons, but it is rather thin and a determined strike will penetrate. He also has a plume of horsehair on his helmet- not a crest, but a single lock.
The principe wears the lorica hamata- chainmail. He too has a plume on his helmet.
Early legionaries wear chainmail as the principe does, but his helmet is bare. His armor has also received a new piece that hangs down in front, to protect his family jewels.
The legionary wears banded mail as the hastatus did, but his armor is thicker and better made. He too will have a bare helmet and groin protection.
The Praetorians wear the same, but had a crest from midway to the top of their helmet all the way down their back.
The Urbans wear a cuirass. This is a clamshell-type armor made of a solid front piece tied to a solid back piece- much like the shell of a clam. He too wears a crested helmet as do the Praetorians.
Legionary Training and Discipline
The hastatus is your basic farmer with a sword. He provided his own equipment, though it must match the standards set out by Camillus. He was given a rudimentary drill and training, and elected his own officers. He served for twelve campaigns, and thereafter was free to return to his farm to produce the next crop of Roman soldiers. Those who were leavened with experience and proven able were often promoted to the principes. Given he is a farmer with little training, do not expect miracles from these men, though they would perform better than the average citizen-soldier of other nations.
The principe is a hastatus that has proven himself worthy. He would have on average more campaigns under his belt than the hastatus, and thus more experience to the military regimen and discipline. This will make him a better soldier, with a higher morale and better skills.
Marius did away with the two grades and instituted the Early Legionary. From this point on, all legionaries will be equipped and trained to a high professional standard before being sent into combat. He no longer has a farm to which he must return, allowing him to have military discipline instilled in him by his professional and strict centurion- and not just over the course of a summer, but for the next twenty years of his life.
As the Empire settled, arms, armor, and discipline improved. The hardy Legionary, the staple of the Roman Army, came into being. His disciplined ranks were hardened, his morale high due to the faith and confidence he had in himself and his fellow legionaries. Obedience to command was natural, disobedience a foreign thing. His skills were honed, his spirit bound to that of his unit. The Legionary was the most dedicated of soldier the world had ever seen.
Be that as it may, the Praetorians were better, at least in the beginning. Exceptional legionaries were culled from the ranks and made Praetorians- the Imperator’s Guard. These elite men formed an elite unit- with even higher standards than those associated with the Legionaries. This, coupled with his pride at serving in the elite Guard, gave him a much higher morale. They trained constantly, improving their condition until they were as super-soldiers.
The Urban Cohorts were the balance in Rome against the might of the Praetorians. In history, they were armed firemen, policemen, and civil service men, but in our Virtual World they are very elite. The Praetorians became over time more involved in politics and lost some of their military ability, whereas the Urban cohorts of our Virtual World are like the original Praetorians- a military unit created and trained to destroy anything on the battlefield. Their primarily military function is reflected in their stats- they exceed the fallen Praetorians in all things martial.
Legionary Tactics and Tips
You have just learned how the various legionaries are armed, equipped, and trained. You must be itching for a fight to use these hardened veterans in, are you not? No use in having soldiers who do not fight, I always say. But how do you use these hard-asses in battle to the best effect? In this section you will learn some tips and tactics to help you figure that out.
Guard Mode is your Friend.
Your legionaries are tough hardcases who know it and are proud of it. When you order them to attack an enemy unit, they will do so with relish. And when they drive those fools off screaming for their mamas, they will give chase. All in all, what you want from a tough mob, right?
Wrong. You do not want these boys charging off in their lonesome. Unit on unit, they can take out almost anybody. Man on man, they are often less effective than their foes. The strength of a legionary is in his formation, and charging off across a battlefield removes him from the strength of the battle-line. It also opens him up to attacks from cavalry, against which he carries no spear. So be smart- have him engage in battle, but turn on Guard Mode to keep those aggressive warriors in their line.
Fire at will
There is absolutely no reason to carry two pila if you do not use them. On their own, your legionaries will chuck them at the enemy when you order them to attack. They will advance, throw pila, then storm into the enemy line weakened by the pila rain. However, if hostile units pass within range, or move to attack them, they will not throw their pila unless you order them to do so.
Fire at Will changes that. It allows the local centurion to decide to order his units to throw their pila at anything coming into range- be it a passing unit or fellows whipping themselves into a frenzy to attack your line. So be smart- give your centurions the freedom to use their own heads, which could possibly save yours.
Nothing is more irritating than sitting in a rain of arrows and not being able to do a damned thing about it. Horsearchers dance away from your plodding infantry, while foot archers scamper here and there. That is why the centurions devised the Turtle formation- known to you commanders as the Testudo. When so ordered, your men will collapse their battle order to a tight mass of men. Those fellows on the outsides will hold their portable walls (scutum shields) locked in to one another while the blokes inside hold theirs above their heads. This turns your cohort into a shielded turtle that is nigh impervious to archery.
Notice I say archery, not missiles. Rocks and firebombs from onagers and ballistae will still penetrate, and in those tight ranks, be devastating to your men. The same goes for charges by heavy cavalry- doom on hooves if your Turtle is caught by a cavalry charge. In addition, it is tiring to hold this formation over long periods of time. It is also difficult to move in this formation, though it is possible. So use this formation wisely!
Testudo is excellent for assaulting cities, though. Form the men up and march them towards a breach being made. They will easily absorb the defenders’ archery with few casualties while crossing the danger zone between starting position and the walls. Once near the breach, exit the formation and assault your foe through the breach. You men arrive to battle unhampered by loss during the march and ready to kick some barbarian ass.
However, assuming this formation takes long hours of practice. Thus only professionals can do it. The poor hastatus and principe, being citizen-soldiers, have neither the time nor the discipline to learn this, thus they cannot employ the Testudo.
Now you know what a Legionary is. He is a swordsman with a portable wall who can throw armor-piercing javelins. You know his weaknesses- lack of spears- and his strengths- formation and discipline. You should know to use Guard Mode to hold your lines, and Fire at Will to allow your centurions the opportunity to do their thing.