Meeting tactics

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Roman army with auxiliary troops divided into three meetings. The third (rear) meeting is at a greater distance and serves as a reserve. The legionary cavalry is being held back.

The meeting tactic is a military tactic that describes a certain form of army formation. The tactical bodies (troops) stand one behind the other so that they have freedom of movement and can support each other directly. The tactic was probably used by Scipio around 205 BC. Developed in BC and used for military purposes until the very recent past.

Explanation and demarcation of terms

"Meetings" are tactically related units that form a common front. Depending on their distance from the enemy, they are addressed as the first, second, etc. meeting. The first meeting is directly opposite the enemy, the other meetings are behind it according to the sequence of numbers.

A second meeting is not a reserve in the strict sense of the word , as its proximity to the first meeting means that it can also come into action without special orders to support it or even be drawn into combat. It therefore differs from the reserve in its lack of independence and often also in its commitment to the support of the first meeting. A third meeting (“ subsidia ”), on the other hand, will in most cases be regarded as a real reserve, as it will still be at the general's disposal even if the first two meetings have already been committed.

Development of meeting tactics

At the Battle of the Trebia (218 BC) and especially at the Battle of Cannae (216 BC), the approximately 200-year-old manipulation tactic of the Romans had reached its limits and had clearly shown its inadequacies. Above the Manipel there were no tactical but only administrative bodies ( legion ). The Roman army deployed in the manipular phalanx could only develop forward. Turns to protect the flanks or the rear of the army exceeded the capabilities of tactical division. However, apply these to the new development was the division of soldiers in Hastaten - Principes - and Triarier -Manipel who marched behind the other in each case, with the rear departments had the order to close gaps in the phalanx in front of them or take them. The formation of the Africans at Cannae (on the wings behind the cavalry with the order to intervene only in the final phase) and the formation of the Macedonian army at Gaugamela (Alexander had smaller independent detachments on both wings) also gave impulses for the development of the meeting tactics . Scipio had recognized that a victory against Hannibal required an army that could make a front on all sides during the battle and could also advance forces against the enemy flank from the approach. In the battles of Baecula (208 BC) and Ilipa (206 BC) he had already made attempts to attack flanks. In the Battle of the Great Fields (203 BC) he successfully demonstrated the meeting tactics for the first time in order to use them at Zama (202 BC) for the decisive victory. Also noteworthy is the fact that Hannibal also chose a meeting list in this battle, although the tactical idea was only a year old.

Scipio had abolished the organic affiliation of a Hastaten, Principes and Triarier maniple and was able to use the Principes and Triarier as a second and third meeting either to reinforce the first meeting, to cover the flanks and back or by pulling out sideways to extend the front as a defense of attempting to overflow or using one's own thrust against the enemy flank. The disadvantages that this development brought with it (only half the depth of the phalanx, therefore less pressure; narrower front with the same number of troops; filling gaps in the front made more difficult due to the greater distance) were due to the advantages of a permanent reserve (third meeting ) and greater tactical agility more than outweighed it. The invention of this tactic represents one of the most important milestones in the development of the art of war .

Uses throughout history

Until recently, the meeting tactic was used in different forms, but always according to the original basic idea. For this reason, a list of the battles in which it was used is also prohibited.


After the victory of Zama, the new meeting tactics in the Roman army replaced the older manipulative tactics and remained an organic part of this new form of combat in the later development of the cohort tactics. First the maniples, later the cohorts, were preferably set up in a checkerboard manner. The gaps enabled the skirmishers to retreat at the start of the battle. The second meeting was then able to fill the gaps in the first meeting to close the front. The flexibility of the army, which was divided into several meetings, allowed the general to react quickly and flexibly to any situation at the latest with the advent of the cohort tactic. Departments for reinforcing the front, for pushing against the enemy flank or for other tasks could always be drawn out of the rear meetings.

Battle of Lützen (1632); the line-up in several meetings is easy to see (also battle plan above!)

16th and 17th centuries

The Spaniards formed their Terzios in the second half of the 16th century according to the meeting tactic. The gaps had increased compared to the Roman model. However, moving a follow-up meeting into the first meeting was no longer one of his tasks. The Terzios waged their own struggle and received support from the follow-up meetings through flanking movements or flanking fire, but not through direct personal support.

At the end of the 16th century, the Dutch resumed meeting tactics in the Eighty Years' War ( Orange Army Reform ). The army was divided into vanguard, main force and rearguard, each of these units for two to three meetings in a checkerboard pattern, the cavalry was also included. The great successes of the Dutch (e.g. Battle of Nieuwpoort in 1600) against the mostly numerically superior Spaniards led the Protestant states of northern Germany to reintroduce the meeting tactics.

In the battles of the Thirty Years War , meeting tactics had already become dominant. Influenced by the Swiss Confederation, the infantry meetings increasingly chose the tactical formation of the Gevierthaufen as the main element of the battle order in all European armies.

Battle of Leuthen (1757); both armies are divided into two meetings (parallel lines)

18th and 19th centuries

In linear tactics , several meetings are already part of the essentials. Usually two meetings are formed consisting of two parallel lines, each line representing a meeting. The space in between is closed and covered on the flanks by specially assigned departments ( battalions ). The battalions of the second meeting are often instructed again to close the gaps that arise in the first meeting, so that the meeting tactics return to their origins.

With the development of column tactics in the wake of the French Revolution , the organization of meetings was abandoned in favor of the formation of a clear reserve. But that was reversed in the middle of the 19th century. The breakdown into meetings was carried out through all levels of organization from regiment to corps, whereby the terms meeting and reserve sometimes blurred into one another. While the battalions in the second meeting of the regiments were to be addressed as a meeting on a strict scale, a division in the second meeting of an army corps could be viewed as a reserve or a meeting, depending on the situation.

20th century

As an example of the structure of armies meeting of the First World War can battle of Caporetto apply (also known as the 12th Isonzo battle).


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  • John Warry: Warfare in the Classical World . University of Oklahoma Press, Norman 1995, ISBN 0-8061-2794-5
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