I was reading a bit in a book I got year back about different forms of warfare from the Eqyptians to the American Civil War. In the section about the Romans there was a picture showing legionares in testudo formation with cavarly on top of their shields. But, in RTW the fromation is useless exept to defend against skirmishers. Also, in The Eagle the legionares form testudo, and hold thier formation until they meet chariots.
Which account is more accurate?
Agrippa 271 Mariner
posted 10-27-12 11:27 AM
1 / 7
I would think that it would be ineffective against heavy cavalry, but other than that, I'm not sure. I could be completely wrong though, because I haven't really spent any time learning about the testudo formation particularly. What was the name of the book btw?
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posted 10-27-12 03:04 PM
2 / 7
History of Warfare or something, it is contained in one of 30 boxes of books in my basement so i won't bother looking for it for a while.
posted 10-28-12 08:31 AM
3 / 7
The problem of the testudo formation is that the soldiers are very close together, making them ineffective in fighting.
There are multiple accounts of roman battles where romans were being pressed together and in which that was considered bad. For example the battle of the river Sambre between caesar and the belgae. Men need space to wield their weapons, even romans with their sticking swords.
I can also imagine that you have a less clear view of the situation when in testudo formation, making it harder to fight.
As far as I know, the testudo was mostly used in advancing on fortified positions, and not really in battles (perhaps with exception of battles against horse arches such as carrhae).
Even against any force of mobile infantry or cavalry, men can just surround them and they are effectively out of the picture.
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posted 05-12-13 03:46 AM
5 / 7
The best example I can think of is Carrhae, where Crassus put his infantry into the testudo formation due to the efforts of the Parthian horse archers, only to make them a good target for the cataphracts. You'd need spears to repel cavalry, a dense formation of short swords is just going to be ridden down. The formation is designed to make the most of those big shields and protect everyone from missiles, but it's very hard to move about when in testudo and you surely can't fight effectively when in one.
Terikel Grayhair Imperator
posted 05-12-13 11:06 AM
6 / 7
It was meant as a means of getting soldiers unscathed to walls and breaches, not as a fighting formation in and of itself.
In that vein- as a means of safe transportation, it was quite effective. Used in battle, it was more of a hindrance than a help.
As previously stated above, the testudo was mainly used by the legionnaires to protect themselves from arrows, slingstones, javelins and other missiles were thrown their way by enemy soldiers when the legionnaires were assaulting a city or similarly fortified position. It was very rarely used on the open battlefield against a mobiles opponent, the aforementioned Battle of Carrhae being the only example I can recall off the top of my head.
As for its speed, well-disciplined legionnaires could actually form up swiftly and move at a decent pace but if speed was a priority they could alter the formation to only protect the front and top so that it wouldn't be slowed down by men having to "crab walk" to protect the flanks.
Here's a short video showing a group of reenactors deploying and marching in testudo formation (around the 1:16 mark).
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