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Manipel (from Latin manipulus , from manus , "hand (full), crowd") was the name of a body of troops in the tactical composition of a Roman legion .

The Roman Phalanx Tactics in the Royal Era and Early Republic

Establishment of the Roman legion in the phalanx formation during the royal and early republican times.

In the traditions believed to be credible, the Roman civil army originally operated, probably from the 6th century BC. Under the king Servius Tullius , after Etruscan and Greek models in battle as a heavily armed phalanx . This was set up in a front of 500 to 600 men and staggered down to 6 men. By Marcus Furius Camillus is said to 400 BC The phalanx consisting of a formation was abandoned in favor of a movable manipular legion operating from three battle lines. This enabled the task force to react quickly and flexibly to the order of battle and tactics of the enemy. In particular, when used against groups acting independently of one another, it was found that the previous large phalanx arrangement was too cumbersome and ineffective.

Manipulartactics in the Early Republic

Establishment of the Roman Manipular Legion at the time of the Republic (after the reform of Marcus Furius Camillus)

In the early Roman Republic, the Legion was divided into three differently manned and equipped meetings ( acies triplex ), each of which was divided into 10 maniples. The maniples in the first two meetings were between 120 and 160 men. In the third meeting, which served as a tactical reserve, the maniples were manned by 60 men. A maniple was divided into two centuries , the smallest tactical unit, and was commanded by the centurion of the right, higher-ranking centurion. The most senior centurion of the legion, namely the primus pilus , commanded the first maniple placed on the right wing. Graduated in rank, the centurions of the next maniples followed. The rank of primus pilus was located in the high command structure of the Legion. The first centurion was a permanent participant in the general's council of war. Each centurie was assigned a further officer, an assistant to the centurion ( optio ), and the first centurie of a maniple was assigned a standard bearer ( signifer ) and a hornblower ( cornicen ).

The distance between the associations was the width of a manipulator. The units had a chessboard-like arrangement in the depth, so that the gaps in the line could be covered by the respective rear meeting and possibly closed if necessary. The exact functioning of this arrangement, a so-called quincunx , in battle is not clearly passed down.

Manipulartaktik in the later republic

Probably during the Second Punic War , the manipulation tactics under Scipio first reached its climax in Spain. Through him, the mobility of the manipular structure was fully exploited by quickly regrouping the formations shortly before the battle of Ilipa and merging the maniples into stronger formations. The enemy was completely surprised and defeated with the rapidly changing order of the battle.

In the Macedonian-Roman wars, especially the Battle of Pydna , the superiority of a dynamically controlled manipular legion over a clumsy phalanx formation was repeatedly demonstrated. Individual maniples, under the leadership of tactically independent centurions, succeeded in destroying the unprotected flanks or gaps in the phalanx. These openings were created in the course of the battle, on the one hand, due to the irregular pressure within the formation, which, due to uneven terrain, made the closed and homogeneous forward movement of a phalanx almost impossible. On the other hand, the front rows of the phalanx were exposed to a volley from Pila , which immediately put out of action the phalangites , which were only equipped with a small shield . If the Romans succeeded in penetrating the gaps, the Phanlangit had no chance in the crush against the legionnaire, who was optimally equipped and trained for close combat.

Advantages of manipulative tactics

Setting up the legion in maniples was much easier, especially in rough terrain, than forming a phalanx in full width. Overall, the Legion became more flexible and usable during the battle, and the third line gave it a tactical reserve. The general and above all the officers in command were able to adapt to changed conditions in the battle and react quickly. Due to the quick tactical relocation and the use of a few manipulators at the respective focal point of the battle, the gained advantage could mostly be converted into a victory.

Disadvantages of manipulation tactics

Establishment of the Roman legion in the cohort arrangement, at the time of the later republic, after the army reforms.

Especially the defensive battles against the Germanic peoples at the end of the 2nd century BC, which resulted in heavy losses. BC showed the disadvantages of a pure manipular legion. Against the rapid onslaught of large armies, the previous manipular line-up in the battle line turned out to be too weak and incomplete. The consequences of this, presumably in several army reforms, were the introduction of a uniform armament and military class. In addition, the 30 maniples of a legion were divided into 10 cohorts . The basic structure of the battle order, a formation of at least three staggered meetings, was retained. The first line had four cohorts in the front, with the second and third line being made up of three staggered cohorts each, which covered the respective gaps in the front rows. With the introduction of cohort tactics, the legion's ability to strike and resist was increased without giving up the advantages of a manipulative system.

At the latest at the beginning of the 1st century BC. Instead of the maniples, the cohort became the most important tactical unit within the legion.

See also


  • Leonhard Burckhardt : Military history of antiquity . CH Beck, Munich 2008, ISBN 978-3-406-56247-1 , pp. 83-95.
  • Adrian Goldsworthy : The Wars of the Romans . Brandenburgisches Verlagshaus, Berlin 2001, ISBN 3-89488-136-4 , pp. 26–32, 44–45, 49, 51–52, 55, 97–100.
  • Christian Mann : Military and warfare in antiquity (= encyclopedia of Greco-Roman antiquity. Volume 9). Oldenbourg, Munich 2013, ISBN 978-3-486-59682-3 , pp. 33-36.
  • Robert M. Ogilvie : The early Rome and the Etruscans (dtv history of the ancient world). Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Munich 1983, ISBN 3-423-04403-9 , pp. 45-50 (English original edition: Robert M. Ogilvie: Early Rome And The Etruscans (Fontana History Of The Ancient World). Collins & Sons, 1976 )
  • Philip de Souza: The wars of antiquity: From Egypt to the Inca Empire , original title: The ancient world at war . Koehler & Amelang, Leipzig 2008, ISBN 978-3-7338-0362-9 , pp. 143-146, 150-155.
  • Emil Nack, Wilhelm Wägner: Rome, land and people of the ancient Romans. Ueberreuter, Vienna 1976, ISBN 3-8000-3131-0 , pp. 161-169.