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Entering the Third Century, the Roman Empire, under Hadrian, executed its grand strategy based on the simple concept of perimeter defense. This perimeter defense consisted of legions stationed within fortresses on the Roman frontier, and some were even accompanied by large stone walls (the most famous being that of Hadrian's Wall in North England). Another factor that made it easy for the Romans to adopt this type of perimeter defense strategy was the reputation of it's army, that is, the Roman army was so tactically superior to it's enemies, that it was in itself the biggest deterrent to would-be attackers, not necessarily the fortresses and walls placed along the perimeter.
Another advantage of this strategy was the low cost of army/troop maintenance; in fact, the Roman Empire at one point defended an empire of 50,000,000 people with an army of merely 300,000. This low cost and small army was directly related to the fact that Rome did not employ a central reserve in order to protect the internal empire should the outside perimeter collapse. It was instead based on a defensive system of networked roads and rivers, through which, the small special units tasked with interior defense could quickly travel to reinforce a troubled area. Thus, all available manpower could be brought forth along the main line of battle and this further enhanced the fighting spirit of the troops already engaged on the front line--they knew that they had a strong and dedicated army coming to reinforce them, and they fought harder because of it.
However, despite that at the time this was a tried and true strategy and use of military manpower, it must be understood that a grand strategy of a nation consists of more than just it's military--but also it's politics, diplomacy, economics and, sometimes, religion. It was these latter reasons that soon brought about the extinction of the perimeter defense concept--civil war and internal rebellion soon caused the diversions of legions from the front lines to internal skirmishes; and therefore, the perimeter defense was no longer effective.
In 284, Diocletian had risen through the ranks, and seized enough power to claim his right to rule. After he had reclaimed the frontiers that had been lost before his reign, Diocletian increased the size of his army (to about 400,000 to 500,000), and introduced a heavy reliance on the skirmisher arms and in cavalry. He introduced specialized units to the Roman military; cavalry lancers, Companions, shock troops, crack infantry, and imperial bodyguards soon found their way into the Roman ranks.
Diocletian continued to expand upon the strategy of perimeter defense; however, he adopted a separate approach. He was a firm believer in developing roads and forts, through which he could better maneuver his armies and while the reinforcing army was enroute, the forts could provide longevity (via protection) to the soldiers already engaged on the front line. He also divided the frontiers into four military theaters of operation--each with its own Augustus in command: they were the tetrarchs; Trier, Milan, Nicomedia, and Sirmium and they provided stricter supervision than any frontier army had been provided before. Because of this high demand of road improvement and a larger army, the cost of the army increased, and the willingness of new recruits to join the army only to be stationed further from home by the expanded borders of the new empire, Diocletian also found it necessary to introduce annual conscription based off the same levies as land tax.
Up to this point, the Roman grand strategy of perimeter defense had not really changed, only the way in which it was executed had altered. However, after Diocletian' death, the new emperor, Constantine the Great, drastically and completely overhauled the grand strategy. Constantine introduced a large mobile army (probably 100,000 or more) by pulling resources from the frontier armies to collaborate one large centrally located army. His new strategy was defense-in-depth, and relied heavily on a central mobile army.
Defense-in-depth was based upon the assumption that the outer frontiers could not be made impenetrable, and even if they could at what cost? And since they would eventually be penetrated, a small reserve army that traveled to the point of attack would be insufficient should an attacking enemy penetrate more than one frontier area at one time. Such an invasion could only be stopped if the frontier defense was realigned with strong forts that were built in a deep band, that is, staggered not only along the front lines, but behind one another to form a "running" defense, with the strong mobile army to respond (by region) to any attack.
These in-depth fortresses were, in the beginning, realistic and valuable. That is, they thwarted the siege-less Barbarians from extended attacks upon forts (for fear of attack by the mobile army), they provided a logistical support center, in which supplies could be made available to the Roman army while they were denied to an attacking force, and they were invaluable to intelligence operations and emergency protection. However, as time passes, this new strategy of reliance on the mobile force took its toll upon the standard Roman militia: the infantryman. Because the majority of funding and training and recruitment efforts focused on the "elite" forces, and the traditional Roman infantry tactics, harsh discipline and constant training, simply disappeared, slowly deteriorating the idea of Roman military superiority.
Constantine also introduced and heavily favored German troops, which led to the eventual barbarization of the Roman army. Additionally, he was responsible for reducing the size of the legion from 5,000 to 1,000 men, and he disbanded the old Praetorian Guard, only to replace them with the specialized imperial guards of cavalry regiments--although most of these new guards were German, as well. The overall effect of all of Constantine's labor was, unfortunately, the foundation of the Roman army's decline. That is, although under Constantine the army fought with the same spirit and discipline as previous armies, the limited use of the frontier armies led to their gradual decline through both military efficiency and its esprit de corps.
entering third century roman empire under hadrian executed grand strategy based simple concept perimeter defense this perimeter defense consisted legions stationed within fortresses roman frontier some were even accompanied large stone walls most famous being that hadrian wall north england another factor that made easy romans adopt this type perimeter defense strategy reputation army that roman army tactically superior enemies itself biggest deterrent would attackers necessarily fortresses walls placed along another advantage this strategy cost army troop maintenance fact empire point defended empire people with merely cost small directly related fact rome employ central reserve order protect internal should outside collapse instead based defensive system networked roads rivers through which small special units tasked with interior could quickly travel reinforce troubled area thus available manpower could brought forth along main line battle further enhanced fighting spirit troops already engaged front line they knew they strong dedicated coming reinforce them they fought harder because however despite time tried true military manpower must understood grand nation consists more than just military also politics diplomacy economics sometimes religion these latter reasons soon brought about extinction concept civil internal rebellion soon caused diversions legions from front lines internal skirmishes therefore longer effective diocletian risen through ranks seized enough power claim right rule after reclaimed frontiers been lost before reign diocletian increased size about introduced heavy reliance skirmisher arms cavalry introduced specialized units military cavalry lancers companions shock troops crack infantry imperial bodyguards soon found their into ranks diocletian continued expand upon however adopted separate approach firm believer developing roads forts through which could better maneuver armies while reinforcing enroute forts provide longevity protection soldiers already engaged front line also divided frontiers into four theaters operation each with augustus command were tetrarchs trier milan nicomedia sirmium provided stricter supervision than frontier been provided before because high demand road improvement larger cost increased willingness recruits join only stationed further from home expanded borders also found necessary introduce annual conscription based same levies land point grand really changed only which executed altered however after death emperor constantine great drastically completely overhauled constantine introduced large mobile probably more pulling resources from frontier armies collaborate large centrally located depth relied heavily central mobile depth upon assumption outer frontiers made impenetrable even what since would eventually penetrated small reserve traveled point attack would insufficient should attacking enemy penetrate more than area time such invasion only stopped realigned strong forts were built deep band staggered along lines behind another form running strong mobile respond region attack these depth fortresses beginning realistic valuable thwarted siege less barbarians extended attacks upon fear attack provided logistical support center supplies made available while denied attacking force invaluable intelligence operations emergency protection time passes reliance force took toll standard militia infantryman because majority funding training recruitment efforts focused elite forces traditional infantry tactics harsh discipline constant training simply disappeared slowly deteriorating idea superiority constantine heavily favored german troops eventual barbarization additionally responsible reducing size legion disbanded praetorian guard replace them specialized imperial guards cavalry regiments although most these guards german well overall effect labor unfortunately foundation decline although under fought same spirit discipline previous armies limited their gradual decline both efficiency esprit corps
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