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".
Polybius first described the maniple in the mid-second century BC. The manipular legion was organized into four lines, starting at the front: the velites, the hastati, the principes, and the triarii. These were divided by experience, with the younger soldiers at the front lines and the older soldiers near the back. One theory proposed by J. E. Lendon asserts that this order was adapted to the Roman culture of bravery, allowing an initial show of individual heroics among the younger soldiers.:186–190
At the front of the manipular legion, the velites formed a swarm of soldiers which engaged the enemy at the start of the battle. The second and third echelon generally formed with a one-maniple space between each maniple and its neighbours. Retreating troops of the velites could withdraw without disrupting those behind them. Where resistance was strong the hastati 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. At this point in battle the maniple greatly resembled the phalanx.:180–181
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.
Drill and fighting formations
- 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
- 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)