I recently finished listening to “The History of Rome” podcast and am now well into “The British History Podcast”. (Both excellent.) In a listener question episode in the latter someone asked: Who would win in a battle between “some British Redcoats” and “some Roman Legionaries”. The consensus between the BHP host and a self described British classicist was that the Redcoats would win because muskets.
But I wonder.
For the sake of this scenario let’s say there are 500 veteran Redcoats cica 1780 and 500 Caesarian veteran Legionnaires. Just infantrymen on both sides. No artillery, no Calvary.
The strategy of the Redcoats, I assume, would be to stand their lines and fire volley after volley, as they were wont to do, confident, as the podcast commentators were, that they would cut down the Romans before they got close enough to engage in melee combat.
The Roman strategy would be to close the distance between the forces as quickly as possible so as to convert the battle into said combat. If that were to happen, I am confident that, provided enough Romans made it, they would utterly slaughter the Redcoats, then armed with only bayonets and without shields, no match for the Roman shield and galadius.
But it would all depend on how many Romans made it through. And that would depend on how well their shields would stand up to musket balls. If the Redcoats started firing when the Romans were at 100 yards, they could get off at least several volleys (if anyone has a more specific informed estimate please state) before the Romans would make it. I think that initial volley would largely bounce off the shields. Subsequent volleys might and then probably would make it through the shields, but the musket balls would lose a lot of energy doing so and their stopping power would be greatly diminished. When the Romans were in javelin range they’d throw. Not having shields or armor, any Redcoat hit would likely be put out of action. By the time the Romans were close enough for the musket balls to penetrate their shields and still have stopping power, the Redcoats would probably only be able to get off one or two more volleys, and the Romans, arranged in maniples several men deep, could absorb the losses. Then the two forces would be upon each other and the slaughter would commence. One Legionnaire, I submit, could fell 7, 8, 9, 10 Redcoats in less than a minute. In this way of construing it, the Redcoats really wouldn’t stand a chance.
But - it would all depend on the match up in the title of the thread. Am I overestimating the strength of the Roman shield Vs the musket ball? According to Wikipedia the shields weighed 10 kg and were made of three sheets of wood glued together and covered with canvas and leather.