Maniple (military unit)
Maniple was a tactical unit of the Roman legion
Roman legion
A Roman legion normally indicates the basic ancient Roman army unit recruited specifically from Roman citizens. The organization of legions varied greatly over time but they were typically composed of perhaps 5,000 soldiers, divided into maniples and later into "cohorts"...

 adopted from the Samnites during the Samnite Wars
Samnite Wars
The First, Second, and Third Samnite Wars, between the early Roman Republic and the tribes of Samnium, extended over half a century, involving almost all the states of Italy, and ended in Roman domination of the Samnites...

 (343–290 BC). It was also the name of the military insignia carried by such unit.

Maniple members, seen as each others' brothers in arms, were called commanipulares (singular, commanipularis), but without the domestic closeness of the much smaller contubernium
The contubernium was the smallest organized unit of soldiers in the Roman Army and was composed of eight legionaries. The men within the contubernium were known as contubernales. Ten contubernia were grouped into a centuria...


Historical origin

The Manipular system was adopted at around 315 BC
315 BC
Year 315 BC was a year of the pre-Julian Roman calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Cursor and Philo...

, during the Second Samnite War. The rugged terrain of Samnium
Samnium is a Latin exonym for a region of south or south and central Italy in Roman times. The name survives in Italian today, but today's territory comprising it is only a small portion of what it once was. The populations of Samnium were called Samnites by the Romans...

 where the war was fought highlighted the lack of manoeuvrability inherent in the phalanx formation
Phalanx formation
The phalanx is a rectangular mass military formation, usually composed entirely of heavy infantry armed with spears, pikes, sarissas, or similar weapons...

 which the Romans had inherited from the Etruscans.

After suffering a series of defeats culminating in the surrender of an entire legion without resistance at Caudine Forks the Romans abandoned the phalanx altogether, adopting the more flexible Manipular system.

The manipular legion

For the next two hundred years (until the Marian reforms
Marian reforms
The Marian reforms of 107 BC were a group of military reforms initiated by Gaius Marius, a statesman and general of the Roman republic.- Roman army before the Marian reforms :...

 of 107 BC
107 BC
Year 107 BC was a year of the pre-Julian Roman calendar. At the time it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Ravilla and Marius...

) the Roman army was organized into three lines: the hastati
Hastatii were a class of infantry in the armies of the early Roman Republic who originally fought as spearmen, and later as swordsmen. They were originally some of the poorest men in the legion, and could afford only modest equipment — light armour and a large shield, in their service as the...

, the principes
Principes were spearmen, and later swordsmen, in the armies of the early Roman Republic. They were men in the prime of their lives who were fairly wealthy, and could afford decent equipment. They were the heavier infantry of the legion who carried large shields and wore good quality armour. Their...

, and the triarii
Triarii were one of the elements of the early Roman military Manipular legions of the early Roman Republic . They were the oldest and among the wealthiest men in the army, and could afford good quality equipment. They wore heavy metal armour and carried large shields, their usual position being...

. These were divided by experience and fighting ability, with the youngest soldiers in the hastati making the first engagement. Where resistance was strong this rank would dissolve back through the Roman line and allow the more experienced soldiers in the principes to fight. In turn, the principes could yield to the hardened triarii if necessary. The latter situation led to the Roman saying "ad triarios redisse", "to fall back on the triarii", meaning that things had come to a desperate pass. The maniples in each line generally formed with a one-maniple space between each maniple and its neighbours, and the maniples in each of the forward lines covering the gaps in the line behind, so that retreating troops of the forward lines could withdraw without disrupting those behind them. Sources disagree on the numbers involved and in all likelihood they varied considerably but a generally accepted number is 20 maniples of hastati and 20 of principes of approximately 120 men each and 20 half strength maniples of "triarii", for a total of 6,000 men.

Attached to a legion were also a number of very light skirmishers called velites
Velites were a class of infantry in the Polybian legions of the early Roman republic. Velites were light infantry and skirmishers who were armed with a number of light javelins, or hastae velitares, to fling at the enemy, and also carried short thrusting swords, or gladii for use in melee...

armed with javelins
The pilum was a javelin commonly used by the Roman army in ancient times. It was generally about two metres long overall, consisting of an iron shank about 7 mm in diameter and 60 cm long with pyramidal head...

 drawn from the poorer sections of Roman society, a handful of Equestrian cavalry, auxiliaries (mostly cavalry) drawn from Rome's Italian allies (socii) and a large number of non-combatants.

Drill and fighting formations

Primary sources

  • Primary sources for early Roman military organization include the writings of Polybius
    Polybius , Greek ) was a Greek historian of the Hellenistic Period noted for his work, The Histories, which covered the period of 220–146 BC in detail. The work describes in part the rise of the Roman Republic and its gradual domination over Greece...

     and Livy
    Titus Livius — known as Livy in English — was a Roman historian who wrote a monumental history of Rome and the Roman people. Ab Urbe Condita Libri, "Chapters from the Foundation of the City," covering the period from the earliest legends of Rome well before the traditional foundation in 753 BC...

  • A primary source for later Roman military organization and tactics is Epitoma rei militaris (also referred to as De Re Militari
    De Re Militari
    De Re Militari , also Epitoma Rei Militaris, is a treatise by the late Latin writer Vegetius about Roman warfare and military principles as a presentation of methods and practices in use during the height of Rome's power, and responsible for that power...

    ), by Flavius Vegetius Renatus

Secondary sources

  • Pauly-Wissowa
    The Realencyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft, commonly called the Pauly–Wissowa or simply RE, is a German encyclopedia of classical scholarship. With its supplements it comprises over eighty volumes....

    (German-language encyclopaedia on everything relating to Classical Antiquity)

External links

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