Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Unity - and maybe undone

Unity  - U is for unity

Continuing with my Celtic/Roman Britain AD 71-84 theme…

U is for unity, the lack of which is an undone, ruined army.

I’m starting with the definition of unity in my Collins Concise English Dictionary.

Unity : – 1. the state or quality of being one; oneness. 2. the act, state or quality of forming a whole from separate parts. 3. something whole or complete that is composed of separate parts. 4. mutual agreement; harmony or concord. 5. uniformity or constancy; …..

From my Collins Latin dictionary:
uniter: (adv.) together in one  

Sadly, during the skirmishes and battles between the Roman Army and the indigenous Celts of Britannia, the Romans had a lot of ‘unity’ and the Celts appeared lacking in maintaining that concept.

The Celts, en masse against the Romans, were still the fighting force that would have been battling against a neighbouring tribe, the fighting tactics similar to small scale warfare. The Celts in no way lacked courage, but they did not have the discipline that the Roman Army had.

That state or quality of unity - of being ‘oneness; complete but composed from separate parts’ does not seem to have been acquired in sufficient strength by the Celts who engaged in warfare against the Roman Army in Britannia.

Why did the Celts of northern Britannia lose against the Romans?

The Celts were fierce fighters; they were highly skilled horsemen and charioteers, so what was lacking? 

They tended to be the more lightly armoured; were said to be sometimes even naked (though I personally doubt that in what we would now call present day Scotland due to my knowing what the weather is like); were less weighed down and in Britannia they knew the terrain better than the Romans. Should that not have gained them a huge advantage?

Celtic battle tactics seem to have been full frontal attack after much rallying to the cause in chanting and taunting the enemy. That was an initial form of unity, of bringing their fervour together, and the noise they must have made would have been terrifying to most enemies, but it seems the Romans were able to withstand that pre-battle fervour named as the ‘Furor Celtica’. Their initial unifying at the beginning of battle didn't last, and the hollering and bawling must have taken a great deal of their energy. .
The Celts were adept at forming a defensive shield wall when they charged the enemy as ‘one’. Yes- they could run together as one line of warriors, but it soon broke up when they engaged with the enemy, when one to one combat started. 

The mounted Celtic warriors were highly skilled and well balanced sitting snug and tight within their four ‘posted’ pommels giving themselves free movement of their arms to hurl their spears and use swords and shields. They were effective during battle with the Romans, the height gained meaning they could fire their spears over a higher area and more accurately hit their target.

The Celtic charioteers were amazingly good at weaving their light vehicles in amongst the engaging warriors, the spearman fighting directly from his chariot.
So why did the Celts not win many major battles against the Roman army in Britannia?

Unity. Discipline. A long line of command structure which issued orders and had them obeyed if not instantly then pretty darned quickly! Who had that?

Back to those two very important concepts-unity and discipline. Celtic warriors trained in one to one combat very effectively but it was each man to his own when on the field of battle. Once the battle was started, in general it was a fight to the death with few, or none, in the Celtic battle lines calling the warriors to order.

What of the Roman soldiers? They trained too, but they trained and acted upon calls from the centurion or a superior soldier nearby. Their tactics were more planned and they were more standard in their formations. Their contubernium groups of eight or ten infantrymen, whether legionary or auxiliary, defended each other and attacked alongside each other –at the behest of the decanus in charge of the small unit, or above him on orders from the optio who was second in charge of the century of 80 or so men. The tessarius, a guard commander, might also be giving orders.

To enable those mentioned to issue their orders the cornicen, horn blower, drew the attention for listening to new orders.

And, of course, above all of those were the junior tribunes, tribunes angusticlavii, and tribune laticlavius. Have I forgotten to mention the legatus and the Roman Governor

Unity? I could not forget to mention the seriously tight formation tactics used by Roman soldiers when the command was given to form what we now call 'The Tortoise'. For the contubernium groups who worked together it was a case of shields tight and shields overhead - making and almost impenetrable barrier that the ferocious Celts could rarely break up. 

Unity was crucial. 

I've included some battle scenes in my sequel to The Beltane Choice which mention some of the above tactics. I'd love to have the northern Celts, my Caledons, win the Battle of Mons Graupius but I fear that would be stretching history just a bit too far for my novel purposes. 


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