Maniple (military unit)
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Maniple (Latin: manipulus, literally meaning "a handful") was a tactical unit of the Roman legion adopted from the Samnites during the Samnite Wars (343–290 BC). It was also the name of the military insignia carried by such unit.
Maniple members, seen as each other's brothers in arms, were called commanipulares (singular, commanipularis), but without the domestic closeness of the much smaller contubernium.
The manipular system was adopted at around 315 BC, during the Second Samnite War. The rugged terrain of Samnium where the war was fought highlighted the lack of manoeuvrability inherent in the phalanx formation which the Romans had inherited from the Etruscans. The main battle troops of the Etruscans and Latins of this period comprised Greek-style hoplite phalanxes, inherited from the original Greek military unit, the phalanx.
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, famously referred to as "a phalanx with joints".
The manipular legion
For the next two hundred years (until the Marian reforms of 107 BC) the Roman army was organized into three lines: the hastati, the principes, and the triarii. These were divided by experience, 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 armed with javelins 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 and Livy.
- A primary source for later Roman military organization and tactics is Epitoma rei militaris (also referred to as De Re Militari), by Flavius Vegetius Renatus
- Secondary sources
- Pauly-Wissowa (German-language encyclopaedia on everything relating to Classical Antiquity)
- The Military Institutions of the Romans (De Re Militari) Translated from the Latin by Lieutenant John Clarke (1767)