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Did Roman generals fight on the front lines with their legions? Movies such as Gladiator would have you believe that all Roman generals were battle-hardened warriors. However, this was far from the case.
Generally speaking most Roman generals during the Empire and Republic did not fight on the front lines with their men. Instead, most generals rode on horseback overlooking the battlefield. However, on rare occasions the general would enter into combat with his men. These generals would earn the respect of the entire Empire.
While there are several examples of Roman generals supposedly fighting on the front lines with their men there are 2 examples that stand out. The first example is Publius Decius Mus who charged headfirst into battle to restore the morale of his men. The second example is Julies Caesar who at the battle of Munda rallied his troops by walking out in front.
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Without further ado, here is an entire article going over whether or not Roman generals fought on the front lines with 2 examples.
Example 1: Publius Decius Mus
The first example of the Roman general fighting on the front lines with his men comes from the Second Latin War in 340 BC. This war involved the Romans and their Samnite allies against a coalition of Latins, Volsci, Sidicini, Campanians, and Aurunci. Historians have little information surrounding this war but what we know was that it was a Roman victory and led to a sizable increase in territory.
During the Second Latin War, there was a Roman General by the name of Publius Decius Mus. Mus was joined by another Roman general named Titus Manlius Torquatus. Publius Mus had a dream that whatever Roman general engaged in combat first would have to throw themselves as a sacrifice into the battle to secure the Roman victory.
The next morning the Battle of Vesuvius would take place. When the fighting started Publius Mus’s side would get attacked first. Publius would then charge headfirst into combat sacrificing himself and giving his friend Titus Torquatus a chance to defeat the Latin army. This heroic sacrifice of Publius would be immortalized in Roman mythology as one of the primary examples of the Roman ritual of devotio.
This ritual was when a Roman general would sacrifice themselves to secure victory against the enemy. Publius is remembered in Roman history as one of the few generals who engage in this Roman ritual.
As such the first famous example of a Roman general fighting on the front lines with his men comes from 340 BC during the Second Latin War when Publius Mus would charge headfirst into the enemy lines.
Example 2: Julius Caesar at the Battle of Munda
The second example of a Roman general fighting on the front lines with his men comes from Julius Caesar during the Battle of Munda.
After defeating Pompey Magnus at the Battle of Pharsalus Julius Cesar would be one step closer to starting the Roman Empire. However in order to do this he would still have to defeat the last of the Pompeian faction at the Battle of Munda in central Spain.
Here Pompey’s son and Titus Labienus were making a defensive position on the top of a hill. Caesar, eager to end the campaign and return to Rome decided to send his entire force uphill against the encamped Romans.
Caesar believed that these Romans would not fight against his battle-hardened warriors. However, much of the Pompeian legions knew that they had no chance but to win. As such the fighting was significantly fiercer than Caesar had expected and his legions began to fall back.
When Julius Caesar saw that his legions were beginning to fall back he grabbed the shield from a legionary officer and ran ahead to join in the fighting. Eventually, Caesar would be within 50 feet of Pompey’s infantry alone. Here he would dodge arrows and fight alone against Pompey’s infantry while shouting at both the enemy and his soldiers far behind him.
The officers of Julius Caesar’s legions were astonished. Their general was fighting alone in the front of the army while his legions retreated. As such they raced ahead to join their commander. Once the officers were next to him Caesar began to push forward and his legions turned around and joined him.
From this Julius Caesar would eventually win the Battle of Munda and return to Rome as the only person in the Republic that could seize absolute power.
As such the second example of a Roman general fighting with his army on the front lines is at the Battle of Munda with Julius Caesar leading the fighting.
There you have it; an entire article dedicated to answering the question of whether or not Roman generals fought on the front lines with 2 examples.
An overwhelming majority of Roman generals did not fight on the front lines. This was because they were expected to handle the logistics of the battle from the back lines and delegate their orders to the officers. However, on rare occurrences, a general would join his soldiers on the front lines.
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