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March 05, 2003

G.I. Joe learning from the past?

This Washington Monthly article by Nick Confessore is pretty good at pointing out the problems with the way our military is organized. In particular, he notes that units don't have cohesion because they are mixed & matched constantly, and therefore are an assemblage of strangers. But I found this part interesting:


Macgregor's book, Breaking the Phalanx, recommends replacing divisions and brigades with 5,000-man formations designed to deploy quickly and fight as a module. Instead of today's branch-pure units, which must be assembled, like Legos, into a given formation, you'd have a range of set formations designed and trained to field certain capabilities rather than specific troop types.

A Roman legion had about 5,000 troops, about 5 cohorts of a thousand each. They developed group solidarity by fighting under their own Eagle Standard and revered their decades long history and expected to serve out their time in that unit [1]. Funny how history repeats itself.

[1] Periods of the Roman Empire were dominated by a few geographically clustered groups of legions. For instance, early in the Empire the legions of the Rhine were very important, partially because of their connection to members of the Julio-Claudian family (Drusus, his son Germanicus). Later, the legions of Syria conquered the Empire for Septimius Severus. But finally, the legions of the Danubian era helped throw up the emperors that bridged the classical and dark age world....

Posted by razib at 01:02 AM




Most of the steppe armies had decimal-based militaries too. This could have appeared as early as 200 BC (Hsiung-nu) but I'm pretty sure that it was true of Attila's armies.

Many barbarian leaders spent time in civilized military service, including Attila and Genghis Qan (who received the honorary title of ja'ut-quri -- not a Chinese word -- from the Chin Chinese; probably meant "centurion").

Posted by: zizka at March 6, 2003 03:44 PM


Roman legions did average 5,000 to 6,000 depending on what time period is being discussed. They were, however, organized in the Late Republic and early Empire into 10 cohorts, each of 6 centuries of 80 men each (approximately), with the first cohort being double-strength (high proportion of artisians and specialists attached). They also used independent cohorts of quingenary (500 man) and milliary (1000 man) strength, particularly with the cavalry (equitates).

Posted by: Larry at March 8, 2003 09:27 PM