Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Just Whistle

I finally got around to seeing the first episode of the new "Rome" series on HBO. The episode had been playing hide-and-seek on my Comcast On Demand for weeks. I have high hopes for the military aspects of the production.

The opening skirmish between Roman legionaries and a Gaulic warband was intriguing because it showed me things I had never seen in a depiction of Roman fighting before. The Centurion's use of the whistle to signal formation changes and movement was particularly interesting. Did they do that? I've never read about or seen that shown before. Either way, it makes perfect sense. You see whistles in WWI movies when they're about to go over the lip of a trench, like in "Gallipoli." It that case, the sound of a whistle would be chilling. I imagine in a Roman combat it would be rather reassuring. Also in the "Rome" fight was the emphasis on maintaining formation and the importance of using the shield actively. This was clearly done to maintain unit integrity and to use the bravery and aggression of the enemy against him, isolating individual warriors so they could be dispatched in turn. I imagine this combat was either an isolated clash of larger engagement -- say, out on a flank somewhere -- or perhaps a patrol. The scale of the action was much smaller than the opening battle depicted in Ridley Scott's "Gladiator," which was itself much smaller than the scale of the climactic battle in "Sparticus." Nice little battle.

Back to the whistle. It made me think about a feature Michal Fiszer wrote on eDefense about Europe's Future Infantry Programs. As an introduction, Michal explores some of the aspects of small unit infantry fighting, some of which came from his personal experience serving in the Polish armed forces:

The next important question, especially in face of an unexpected attack, is: "What should I do?" It is a responsibility of the team leader to tell his subordinates what they should do. For centuries, commanders at the platoon level have used their own voices to communicate with their troops. This has always been a problem given the terrible noise and distractions of the battlefield.

Now we have a depiction of a Roman infantry leader using a whistle as a tool for maintaining command and control on the battlefield. Did they really do it? I don't know, but it's a great idea.


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