In all the Sword and Sandal films viewed during the semester, the Roman military has been presented as a monolithic superpower - a driving force of shields and spears which crushes and conquers all in its path. A combination of superior weaponry, armor, equipment, tactics, and discipline all attributed to Rome's proliferation throughout the European continent. In Sword and Sandal films, this encroaching mass of energy and power is utilized as a spectacle of how far ahead Rome is in terms of the ability to take land and maintain a large empire. From Judea to Spain, it seems that Rome always has forces to spare, and great leaders spawn from its ranks with alarming frequency, both to the benefit and detriment of the main seat of power, the Emporer. In Rome's long history, most of the turmoil and chaos caused at the political level is a result of military coups to overthrow the current leader, as during the time of Julius Ceaser and beyond.
Equipment and TacticsEdit
Throughout the masses of a huge Roman deployment of their legions, a number of mainstays and necessary equipment all contributed to their continuous victory over those cultures and lands technologically inferior. Legionnaires were armed until the end of the third century CE with large, rectangular shields named "Scutum". These shields were far from a single use defensive measure - in fact, the Romans' successes in siege battle relied heavily on a tactic dubbed the phalanx, or shield wall. Not a new tactic by any means, the shield wall was seen as early as the Persians and utilized among the Greeks and later the Germans. In a shield wall, the outermost troops of a formation would raise their shields high to their sides. The height of the shield guaranteed the safety of soldiers' legs, torsos, and necks from incoming swarms of infantry. At the same time, the individuals in the second ranks would raised their shields above their heads, to be held horizontally. This ensured the formation's safety against missile attacks such as arrow fired from a rampart or rocks dropped from above a gate the Romans were attempting to breach. Earlier shield designs incorporated concave notches in the side, through which thrusting spears were deployed in an effort not to become overrun by enemy hordes.
Also supreme amongst the Romans were battle-shifting flanking maneuvers and chesslike precision in terms of commanding legions. Battlefield gambits such as the Pincer maneuver, in which a segment of troops were ordered to retreat, baiting the enemy into chasing the routed soldiers, proved a trump card and often took opposing forces by surprise. As the retreating Roman forces are cornered by their would-be executors, two more hidden legions would close flanks around the pursuers, encompassing them in a circle of fresh and ready troops. Then, with shield wall and spears ready, the circle would close and devour those caught within.
Depiction in FilmEdit
The endless ranks and files of gathered soldiers, perfectly formed and shining in red cloth and shiny armor, is an image ubiquitos to the genre. A seemingly faceless mass of power is a blank slate to a moviemaker with an agenda, and the might of the Roman military has been used as a metaphor for overreaching and tyrannical government since Ben Hur, and whether it's in criticism of the USSR or the oppressive nature of the US government of the mid-twentieth century, the sheer intimidation of the Roman military structure is a powerful message to send, and in the media of film and storytelling, a brilliant method for posing questions to the powers that be in a spectacular and marshally impressive manner.