Overestimated historical states

Except they completely did. If you changed out the people/place names for Roman ones, there'd be almost nothing in Caesar's account to tell you he was fighting Gauls instead of Pompey; in terms of military skills, discipline, and organization, the Gauls were very much comparable to the Romans. Caesar uses pretty much the exact same specific military vocabulary to describe Gallic armies as he does Romans; he explicitly calls Gallic and even German formations phalanxes, which Romans only used for heavy infantry formations that displayed good order and discipline. Metalworking was very highly developed in Gaul, and the country quite wealthy, so we should expect armor to be widely available. Moreover, when troops carry large shields like those of the Gauls, torso armor is of comparatively marginal importance; even in periods where less armor is common, the typical pattern of wounds found on skeletons is a wound to the limbs [being much easier to reach without making one too vulnerable to the enemy], followed by a finishing blow to the head. With this in mind, it's not surprising that the quality or availability of armor pretty much never figures in Caesar's accounts of the conquest of Gaul. The fact that he accomplished what he did was absolutely extraordinary, and largely came down to his ability in diplomacy, strategy, and canny battlefield leadership, not the quality of troops.
In book seven of the De Bello Gallico however, Caesar makes Vercingetorix say that trying to beat the Romans in pitched battles not only was detrimental, but near impossible, and that the Gauls should employ a tactic of scorched earth around the enemy, while constantly harassing the Romans with cavalry, and that’s exactly what they attempted to do. Vercingetorix knew the Gauls wouldn’t stand a chance in battle, and so acknowledged Caesar himself. They certainly weren’t the Romans’ equals.

Gaul might have been a rich country, but not so all Gauls, some tribes were certainly richer than others, and none had a professional army like the Romans. I can easily imagine some Celtic soldiers fighting with nothing more than their kitchen knives.

All ancient historians employ the terminology they’re more familair with to make their readers understand what they’re talking about, it doesn’t mean that Celtic armies employed a standard “phalanx” in their tactics. Their main MO was to charge against the enemy, rather than stand their ground, thus the ancient topos “they’re fierce soldiers, but they tire easily.”

Caesar was an extraordinary general, and what he accomplished in Gaul only proves it, but we should never underestimate the impact quality troops can have in a campaing. Scipio Emilianus couldn’t beat some Celtiberians because his men were of abysmal capability, Sertorius couldn’t destroy Pompeius in open battle, despite being a far better general, because what Roman troops he had were lost by his lieutenants and the Iberians he had weren’t up to that task, and Agrippa had a very tough time with the Celtiberians and the Asturians because his troops were heavily undisciplined and wouldn’t follow his orders.
 
Moreover, even if we accept a) that the Romans were universally better armored (which they probably were, but not by as much as is often assumed) and b) that this was a tactical advantage (which, as @dandan_noodles points out, often wasn't the case; armor beyond greaves and a helmet was basically secondary to the shield of the sort used by the Gauls and Romans) this tactical advantage would have been far from universal. Polybius reports that the Gaesatae chose to go into battle naked not because they couldn't afford armor, but rather because it made it easier for them to traverse rough terrain (among other things), and also that they were defeated not for their lack of armor, but rather for their lack of shields. Furthermore, it has been argued that victories like the Teutoburger Wald were only possible because lightly-armored German troops could maneuver through the fens whilst Romans were confined to solid ground, which amplified their advantage of surprise. So yes, in a strait-up fight, armor could provide an advantage in melee. But a more heavily armored force grows tired more quickly (especially in hot conditions), cannot move as quickly, and has more difficulty traversing rough terrain. Thus, there were reasons for soldiers to go unarmored when wearing armor was an option, and ancient sources retflect this.
And that’s true, that’s why Caesar himself had some of his troops in light armor for more covert operations or skirmishes, but in open battlefield it’s undeniable that Roman troops were overall better equipped than Celtic ones, and that their training and discipline, coupled with the military acumen of their general, made every pitched battle’s result between the two quite obvious.
 
And that’s true, that’s why Caesar himself had some of his troops in light armor for more covert operations or skirmishes, but in open battlefield it’s undeniable that Roman troops were overall better equipped than Celtic ones, and that their training and discipline, coupled with the military acumen of their general, made every pitched battle’s result between the two quite obvious.
Oh, I don't dispute that the Romans had the advantage in pitched battle. But a) that is certainly not the be-all and end-all of warfare and b) as you point out, the deciding factors were discipline, professionalism, and Caesar's personal abilities. Having heavier armor, whilst nice, is really not particularly decisive in closed formations, where shields supporting one another provides a major bit of protection. So, whilst of course it's better to have it than not have it in open battle, it isn't the thing that decides the battle.
 
In book seven of the De Bello Gallico however, Caesar makes Vercingetorix say that trying to beat the Romans in pitched battles not only was detrimental, but near impossible, and that the Gauls should employ a tactic of scorched earth around the enemy, while constantly harassing the Romans with cavalry, and that’s exactly what they attempted to do. Vercingetorix knew the Gauls wouldn’t stand a chance in battle, and so acknowledged Caesar himself. They certainly weren’t the Romans’ equals.
After Caesar has made them veterans of a long career of victories all over Gaul, not because of anything innate to Roman armies. Moreover, Vercingetorix makes the specific point that the Romans weren't superior in courage or open battle, but in stratagem and siege warfare.

Gaul might have been a rich country, but not so all Gauls, some tribes were certainly richer than others, and none had a professional army like the Romans. I can easily imagine some Celtic soldiers fighting with nothing more than their kitchen knives.
I can imagine a lot of shit, that doesn't make it so. People cling to dramatic stereotyped images (for example, the Romans in this period didn't have a professional army) even when they don't really have any foundation in reality. Roman writers never describe the celts fighting so badly equipped.

All ancient historians employ the terminology they’re more familair with to make their readers understand what they’re talking about, it doesn’t mean that Celtic armies employed a standard “phalanx” in their tactics. Their main MO was to charge against the enemy, rather than stand their ground, thus the ancient topos “they’re fierce soldiers, but they tire easily.”
All ancient armies charged into battle, and the Celts did so in well ordered formations of heavy infantry. When formations don't show good order, the Romans don't call them phalanxes. I like that opening scene from Rome too, but we should be willing to set aside cherished pop culture depictions when they don't line up with the evidence.

Caesar was an extraordinary general, and what he accomplished in Gaul only proves it, but we should never underestimate the impact quality troops can have in a campaing. Scipio Emilianus couldn’t beat some Celtiberians because his men were of abysmal capability, Sertorius couldn’t destroy Pompeius in open battle, despite being a far better general, because what Roman troops he had were lost by his lieutenants and the Iberians he had weren’t up to that task, and Agrippa had a very tough time with the Celtiberians and the Asturians because his troops were heavily undisciplined and wouldn’t follow his orders.
When generals complain about the quality of their troops, they're usually covering up their own shortcomings. Yeah, troop quality definitely affects the course of campaigns, but the disparity is usually relatively slight, and as such tends to fall behind the skill of the commanders, numbers, terrain, and so on. The Celts repeatedly defeated the Romans through their centuries of conflict; the fact that they managed to defeat superior numbers of Gauls is remarkable.
 
After Caesar has made them veterans of a long career of victories all over Gaul, not because of anything innate to Roman armies. Moreover, Vercingetorix makes the specific point that the Romans weren't superior in courage or open battle, but in stratagem and siege warfare.
Never said they were superior in courage, they were superior in discipline and training and Vercingetorix realized this by constantly avoiding open battle against the Romans.


I can imagine a lot of shit, that doesn't make it so. People cling to dramatic stereotyped images (for example, the Romans in this period didn't have a professional army) even when they don't really have any foundation in reality. Roman writers never describe the celts fighting so badly equipped.
The Romans didn’t have a standing army by this time, but those men by 52 had been fighting for the good part of 9 years, that’s bound to make you a professional.

They don’t actually ever describe how equipped they were themselves, all
mentions are made in passing distractedly, but it’s a fact that at the time of Cannae some Roman soldiers didn’t even have decent armor. If some Romans at the time could’t afford armor before, how could the Nervii, or the Venetii?


All ancient armies charged into battle, and the Celts did so in well ordered formations of heavy infantry. When formations don't show good order, the Romans don't call them phalanxes. I like that opening scene from Rome too, but we should be willing to set aside cherished pop culture depictions when they don't line up with the evidence.
The one time I remember Caesar saying Celts and Germans employing a phalanx was in the battle against Ariovistus, and the Romans immediately ripped their shields off of them and routed them. In a proper phalanx, you’d never be able to do that.

In ancient warfare usually two sides moved against one another after several skirmishes and the battle turned out to be a pushing contest between the two armies. The one who would break first would lose. Usually, a well planned flanking manouver by a cavalry unit decided the day. Aside from Caesar’s battles, and the ones right before the Second Punic War, we don’t have much detail about battles between Romans and Celts or Germans. From what little we can see, the Romans often lost because they were overwhelmed by the Celts’ numbers, or because they were caught by surprise. For that reason, Marius expressively ordered his soldiers to stand their ground and not ever move from the vantage point he had picked at Aquae Sextiae, because he knew the Teutons would just be inconsiderate and try to overwhelm them. When the Romans did charge, it was always in good order, after throwing their pila, when the Celts charged, they always tried to smash through the Romans and overwhelm them by sheer numbers. All the Romans had to do to avoid that was pick a good position and tire them out until they could rout them.




When generals complain about the quality of their troops, they're usually covering up their own shortcomings. Yeah, troop quality definitely affects the course of campaigns, but the disparity is usually relatively slight, and as such tends to fall behind the skill of the commanders, numbers, terrain, and so on. The Celts repeatedly defeated the Romans through their centuries of conflict; the fact that they managed to defeat superior numbers of Gauls is remarkable.
No Roman general in antiquity ever used that excuse, no account of that has ever come to us anyway. The Celts did defeat the Romans several times, by overwhelming them, it has never happened that a small number of Celts managed to defeat in open battle a large number of Romans. The reverse however was often the case, of course not on the grand scale suggested by the Romans themselves. Caesar constantly won because he was a general with few equals, and because he was commanding the best army of the time.
 
USA was a great power in the LATE 19th Century, that is after the Civil war, before that the USA was too federalist, with too independent and powerful statse in comparison to the national government, to be a great power, in the early 19 century they were a regional power at best
When did the US become any kind of power?
 

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I would add Byzantine Empire to this list. Many expect that they would achieve too much if not invaded by the Arabs and that too, all by themselves. But I don't see them controlling anything more than Southern Balkans and Anatolia even in a best case scenario, if they don't ally with anyone else(like the Goths, Franks or the Slavs or Avars) and also reform the Church to inciude the other Christians in the other regions.

They would loose the Levant and North Africa invariably even without the Arabs invading, if they continued the way they did.
 
I would add Byzantine Empire to this list. Many expect that they would achieve too much if not invaded by the Arabs and that too, all by themselves. But I don't see them controlling anything more than Southern Balkans and Anatolia even in a best case scenario, if they don't ally with anyone else(like the Goths, Franks or the Slavs or Avars) and also reform the Church to inciude the other Christians in the other regions.

They would loose the Levant and North Africa invariably even without the Arabs invading, if they continued the way they did.
A little breathing room for Byzantium maybe 15 years of peace would net it somewhere between 1-3 crises or invasions.

They were normally not the superior force late in its life, had unreliable allies, unstable administration.

A few years of peace and growth could net itself decades of life.
 
I would add Byzantine Empire to this list. Many expect that they would achieve too much if not invaded by the Arabs and that too, all by themselves. But I don't see them controlling anything more than Southern Balkans and Anatolia even in a best case scenario, if they don't ally with anyone else(like the Goths, Franks or the Slavs or Avars) and also reform the Church to inciude the other Christians in the other regions.

They would loose the Levant and North Africa invariably even without the Arabs invading, if they continued the way they did.
Agree,I think they were very overestimated for their level of military prowess. For much of the hype for as some sort of medieval superpower during the Middle Ages, they were continuously pushed back, with only small periods of recovery. Even when they temporarily recovered, the amount of territory they retook was often minuscule compared to what they had lost. They were repeatedly defeated by enemies who were far more 'primitive' by comparison.
 
When did the US become any kind of power?
I would say the Mexican-American War.
I would Say 1812 War, even if they don't win it, With a Reaffirmation of the Status with the Mexican American War, a Regional Power it's one that have a weight in the International Diplomacy and it's too much trouble to be easily disposed, Basically Mexico and the USA for north America, during the XIX century
 
That wasn’t a pitch battle man, some legionaries were ambushed when dispersed, their commander panicked and didn’t have the stones to wait for reinforcements. I’m talking about battles when one army stands against the other.
The Arsacids defeated the Romans at Nisbis in a pitched battle. In total, the Arsacids did fairly well against the Romans in the wars they conducted, they however, tended to be slightly outmatched by Rome. Regardless, pitched battles are only part of the war making schematic, the majority of warfare is made up of decisive logistical movements with a siege capstone, at least for sedentary states.
 
The Arsacids defeated the Romans at Nisbis in a pitched battle. In total, the Arsacids did fairly well against the Romans in the wars they conducted, they however, tended to be slightly outmatched by Rome. Regardless, pitched battles are only part of the war making schematic, the majority of warfare is made up of decisive logistical movements with a siege capstone, at least for sedentary states.
Indeed, that’s why the Romans could never expand in the Parthian’s territory, but the Parthian strategy mainly consisted in avoiding field battle with the Romans and draw them on wide terrain to employ their cavalry. Nisbis was more of a draw than a real victory, Macrinus wasn’t destroyed like Crassus, and besides, he had extremely little battle experience, it’s a miracle the Romans didn’t get a worse deal out of that, proof of what the overall competence of an army can do even with weak leadership.
 
Agree,I think they were very overestimated for their level of military prowess. For much of the hype for as some sort of medieval superpower during the Middle Ages, they were continuously pushed back, with only small periods of recovery. Even when they temporarily recovered, the amount of territory they retook was often minuscule compared to what they had lost. They were repeatedly defeated by enemies who were far more 'primitive' by comparison.
Byzantine successes are always interesting as are their defeats. From what I understand, Byzantium had created a truly large and powerful bureaucracy and a landed elite that tended to combat one another or mutually harm the overall system of empire. One is reminded of how Byzantium extended its bureaucratic and curious methods of rule onto newly conquered subjects such as the Armenians; causing great mayhem and weakening the empire invariably. Byzantine centralism, had the effect of creating eases in which enemies could exploit massive battles and avoid resistance from local populaces. Every major Islamic invasion of Byzantium was met with little resistance until a large Byzantine army arrived, while in the opposite case, the Byzantine armies were generally faced with complex vassals, cities, tribal garrisons, small-scale skirmish forces all prior to the arrival of main forces. Byzantine imperial power once had this in its east, through the Armenians, who in ancient fortresses resisted the weakened Islamic incursions from the south and east and formed an undeniably powerful wall fro Byzantine Anatolia. The Byzantine bureaucracy however found this too dangerous, to leave the Armenians armed; hence the Byzantine disarmament of the Armenian populace in the early 11th century. The results were devastating, instead of the Saljuq empire finding vast ancient forts armed with local tribal levies from Armenia, they faced hollow villages of people who were ready to defect and or servile to new rulers after the Byzantine betrayal. Saljuq forces then defeated the Byzantines resoundingly at Manzikert and proceeded within a short period to conquer the entire Asian sector of the Empire aside from fortresses along Asia Minor and enclaves in certain mountainous districts; there was nothing stopping total Saljuq conquest after the central army was bested. In the Abbasid Amorium campaign, after the Byzantine central army was defeated at Anzen, the Byzantines simply collapsed all pretense of deterring the Abbasid army and allowed total plunder of Anatolia. This is most certainly not the mark of a powerful empire; Byzantium was strong, it had powerful institutions, strong models of kingship, amazing position, Constantinople and great rulers, however it is certainly the case that it was generally on the weaker side when it came to retaking its former holdings and had poor policies for ruling non Greek-Anatolian populaces.
 
Byzantine successes are always interesting as are their defeats. From what I understand, Byzantium had created a truly large and powerful bureaucracy and a landed elite that tended to combat one another or mutually harm the overall system of empire. One is reminded of how Byzantium extended its bureaucratic and curious methods of rule onto newly conquered subjects such as the Armenians; causing great mayhem and weakening the empire invariably. Byzantine centralism, had the effect of creating eases in which enemies could exploit massive battles and avoid resistance from local populaces. Every major Islamic invasion of Byzantium was met with little resistance until a large Byzantine army arrived, while in the opposite case, the Byzantine armies were generally faced with complex vassals, cities, tribal garrisons, small-scale skirmish forces all prior to the arrival of main forces. Byzantine imperial power once had this in its east, through the Armenians, who in ancient fortresses resisted the weakened Islamic incursions from the south and east and formed an undeniably powerful wall fro Byzantine Anatolia. The Byzantine bureaucracy however found this too dangerous, to leave the Armenians armed; hence the Byzantine disarmament of the Armenian populace in the early 11th century. The results were devastating, instead of the Saljuq empire finding vast ancient forts armed with local tribal levies from Armenia, they faced hollow villages of people who were ready to defect and or servile to new rulers after the Byzantine betrayal. Saljuq forces then defeated the Byzantines resoundingly at Manzikert and proceeded within a short period to conquer the entire Asian sector of the Empire aside from fortresses along Asia Minor and enclaves in certain mountainous districts; there was nothing stopping total Saljuq conquest after the central army was bested. In the Abbasid Amorium campaign, after the Byzantine central army was defeated at Anzen, the Byzantines simply collapsed all pretense of deterring the Abbasid army and allowed total plunder of Anatolia. This is most certainly not the mark of a powerful empire; Byzantium was strong, it had powerful institutions, strong models of kingship, amazing position, Constantinople and great rulers, however it is certainly the case that it was generally on the weaker side when it came to retaking its former holdings and had poor policies for ruling non Greek-Anatolian populaces.
That's the problem with centralized states, they are overrated as hell.Same thing occurred in China. In the North-South Dynasty period of China where the aristocracy still exist, Chinese armies were able to resist barbarians well and even periodically reconquered parts of Northern China. The Song and Ming Dynasty by contrast,where the aristocracy was replaced by the bureaucracy, no such thing occurred and both Dynasties saw little effective resistance despite their size and economy. In a centralized state,there was no obligation on the part of local elites to defend the state because they can just switch a master and probably still pay the same taxes. There was no reason to support the ruler.In a feudal state where obligations and duties are stressed between the ruler and the local elite however, the local elite are obliged to defend the state either out of a sense of honour or to protect such rights which may not be honored by a new conqueror.Another thing about centralized states was that the ruler spent much of his energy trying to balance out the power of various generals--often giving them insufficient authority to win wars in fear that he would be overthrown. In a feudal state, where the power of successful generals are checked by both the monarch and other nobles, it is significantly harder for a successful noble to just overthrow the monarch out of the blue.
 
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That's the problem with centralized states, they are overrated as hell.Same thing occurred in China. In the North-South Dynasty period of China where the aristocracy still exist, Chinese armies were able to resist barbarians well and even periodically reconquered parts of Northern China. The Song and Ming Dynasty by contrast,where the aristocracy was replaced by the bureaucracy, no such thing occurred and both Dynasties saw little effective resistance despite their size and economy. In a centralized state,there was no obligation on the part of local elites to defend the state because they can just switch a master and probably still pay the same taxes. In a feudal state where obligations and duties are stressed between the ruler and the local elite however, the local elite are obliged to defend the state either out of a sense of honour or to protect such rights which may not be honored by a new conqueror.Another thing about centralized states was that the ruler spent much of his energy trying to balance out the power of various generals--often giving them insufficient authority to win wars in fear that he would be overthrown. In a feudal state, where the balance of successful generals are checked by both the monarch and other nobles, it is significantly harder for a successful noble to just overthrow the monarch out of the blue.
Another example would be eleventh-century England -- one of the wealthiest, most centralised states in western Europe at the time, and it completely fell to pieces after just one battle. Conversely, Wales was full of feuding princelets and generally poor and backwards compared to its eastern neighbour, and took a couple of centuries to subdue.

ETA: Actually, I think Machiavelli had something to say on the matter. IIRC, he suggested that centralised states were harder to beat initially but easier to conquer once you had defeated their main army, whereas decentralised states are easier to beat in battle but you still have to defeat all the lesser lords to actually conquer anything. I think the examples he used were Alexander vs. the Persians and the English vs. the French in the Hundred Years' War.

ETA ETA: And I would add that people seem to underestimate feudalism quite a lot. For example, I've seen it suggested a fair few times that Byzantium was doomed once it became feudal (or at least feudal-ish) under the Comnenids, although most European countries of the time were also feudal and many lasted better than Byzantium did. Indeed, I think you could make quite a strong case that a feudal Byzantium wouldn't have collapsed like it did after Manzikert, because even after the imperial army was defeated you'd still have had a load of petty lords in their castles who'd have to be individually sieged down.
 
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Another example would be eleventh-century England -- one of the wealthiest, most centralised states in western Europe at the time, and it completely fell to pieces after just one battle. Conversely, Wales was full of feuding princelets and generally poor and backwards compared to its eastern neighbour, and took a couple of centuries to subdue.

ETA: Actually, I think Machiavelli had something to say on the matter. IIRC, he suggested that centralised states were harder to beat initially but easier to conquer once you had defeated their main army, whereas decentralised states are easier to beat in battle but you still have to defeat all the lesser lords to actually conquer anything. I think the examples he used were Alexander vs. the Persians and the English vs. the French in the Hundred Years' War.
Yes,Machiavelli did say that.
 
I think as well that people tend to over-estimate steppe peoples such as the Mongols. Yes, they were formidable warriors, especially on their home territory; no, they weren't invincible, not even the Mongols.
 
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