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The Close Combat That Forged An Empire

Aug 17, 2007
When you look into military history, some armies stand out well above the rest. The ancient of warriors of Rome are among those elite few that did everything right.

They were organized, well equipped, well trained, and had the attitude that they deserved to win. Rome did not collapse because of its fighting men, but because of corruption and the lack of strength of its policy makers. The Romans understood the warrior principles of always taking ground, and to never to stop fighting. They fought as a team and used superior tactics and strategies to overcome their enemy's superior numbers and size.

Rome did not start out the war machine that we know today. Rome was a small city-state in Italy with a military for self-defense. Like many ancient militaries, Rome's male citizens served in the army part-time and wars were only fought in the warmer months. Like many untested warriors, they were confident that they could they could defend their city. But that belief would be shattered when the Celts crossed the Alps into the Italy.

The Celts must have seemed like nightmarish monsters to the Romans. While the average Roman male was around five feet tall, the Celts averaged well over six feet. In their warrior culture, every Celtic warrior tried to outdo his kinsmen and kill and maim as many enemy warriors as possible. They wore little armor and often fought naked, covered in war paint and tattoos, and ran screaming at the enemy. They were a force to be reckoned with and had taken lands all over ancient Europe.

The Romans marched to the North to aid their neighbors against the Celts in a preemptive defensive maneuver, but they were little help. The Celts destroyed the Roman force. The Celts used their size and strength to break Roman lines and their long swords shattered Roman shields. The hand-to-hand combat was fierce but one-sided, as the bigger Celts beat on the smaller Romans.

Those who weren't killed outright drowned in a nearby river. Few survived, and if the leadership of Rome had not bribed the Celts to leave, they would have burnt Rome to the ground. Those who remained knew if their culture was to survive, they needed to fight better then any of their enemies.

In the following centuries, the Romans began designing an army that would defeat the Celts. First new weapons were made to deal with the huge savage warriors. The Hasta, the traditional spear, was replaced with the Pilum, a throwing javelin to take the enemy down at distance.

But because the Romans knew close combat won and lost battles, they adopted the Gladius (short sword) and Scutum shield that would block the long swords of the Celts. Riot police around the world still use the same shield design and formations today (the best martial arts always last).

Along with new weapons and armor, most importantly the Romans changed their attitude. They became more aggressive and had the mindset that they deserved to win, and running in fear was no longer an option.

Training was designed to toughen soldiers while teaching them the discipline and teamwork that Rome's barbarian enemies lacked. Centurions, the noncommissioned officers of their day, ran recruits through obstacle courses and other drills using gear that was heavier then what they used in battle.

Sport martial arts like boxing and wrestling were encouraged to give the troops combat conditioning. Awards and promotions were given for valor in battle and as the empire expanded, veterans were given land for their service. The troops worshipped Mars the Roman god of war.

If there wasn't a war, troops would be assigned to cities and work as police and break up street fights as well as take part in firefighting. Even the entertainment was brutal. On their free time, soldiers would watch gladiators battle to death in the arena.

Rome's new army struck across all of Italy and began consolidating territory.

Though many years had passed, the Celts still felt confident that they could defeat the Romans and had not improved their tactics. And when the Romans clashed with the Celts in close combat, they obliterated them.

The armor and weapons helped, but what really made the difference was that the Romans didn't fear the Celt any longer and fought like lions. So powerful was this offensive mindset, that during Caesar's invasion of Gaul, his warriors often stood up to the larger Celts man-to-man instead of in formation and still decimated their bigger, stronger adversaries.

The smaller men were able to beat their larger opponents simply because they knew that they had better training.
About the Author
For more information on Chris "Lt. X" Pizzo former soldier, cancer survivor, mercenary, barroom bouncer, educator, and hand-to-hand combat instructor, and his incredible FREE Accelerated Battlefield Combatives close-combat learning system, visit http://www.TopSecretTraining.com
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