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Go Back   Armchair General and HistoryNet >> The Best Forums in History > Historical Events & Eras > Warfare Through the Ages > The Ancient Era

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The Ancient Era Discuss Ancient Warfare! Romans, Carthaginians, Greeks, etc.

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  #61  
Old 14 Jul 17, 12:11
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Originally Posted by NoPref View Post
I was using New England forests with old stone walls as an example to show that present day forests are not an indication of woodland cover as recently as 150 years ago, never mind 2000 years ago. Any woodland area in SE England could have been cleared, abandoned, and reforested several times since 50 BC, or may have always been forested. There are cycles here. When the population grows the woodlands shrink and vice versa.
I don't know if you are familiar with the countryside of southeast England (I certainly know little of New England, whichever state and or which part you are thinking of). SE England is a fertile, densely populated portion of the kingdom, which nonetheless contains extensive areas of woodland which certainly have not expanded in any real sense during the last 2000 years. There certainly would have been more extensive woodland cover circa the BC/AD boundary than today. What may have differed is the nature of the cover.

In considering open spaces where armies might confront each other, on looking further into Caesar's commentaries, it is interesting to read how often the woods are mentioned in relation to fighting between the Britons and the Roman forces. Specifically, the woods feature in terms of cover from which the Britons sally to to take the Romans by surprise and attack them at close quarters. Chariots are frequently mentioned as part of the attacking forces.

After the beach landings there is rarely a general confrontation 'in the open field'- such as that later described by Tacitus (-ironically, on a Scottish hillside of all places). Despite Caesar's well known description, the chariots, rather than being the vanguard of a massed army fighting in battle lines, seem to be used mainly to execute hit and run raids, as described below, allowing fighters to emerge rapidly from cover to attack Roman contingents caught by surprise.

The woods from which the chariots are described emerging or retreating at speed, those "intricate and woody places", must surely have had a network of tracks and interlinked clearings through which the chariots and horses could make their approach or their retreat, and into which detachments of Romans pursued at their peril.

This is becoming a little clearer. I am beginning to think more in terms of Bren gun carriers in Epping Forest instead of jeeps on the Ridgeway, although that is still useful.


55 BC

"For as all the corn was reaped in every part with the exception of one, the enemy, suspecting that our men would repair to that, had concealed themselves in the woodsduring the night. Then attacking them suddenly , scattered as they were, and when they had laid aside their arms, and were engaged in reaping, they killed a small number, threw the rest into confusion, and surrounded them with their cavalry and chariots." (Gallic Wars 4.32)



54 BC
He himself, having advanced by night about twelve miles, espied the forces of the enemy. They, advancing to the river with their cavalry and chariots from the higher ground, began to annoy our men and give battle. Being repulsed by our cavalry, they concealed themselves in woods, as they had secured a place admirably fortified by nature and by art, which, as it seemed, they had before prepared on account of a civil war; for all entrances to it were shut up by a great number of felled trees. They themselves rushed out of the woods to fight here and there, and prevented our men from entering their fortifications. (Gallic Wars 5.9)


The horse and charioteers of the enemy contended vigorously in a skirmish with our cavalry on the march; yet so that our men were conquerors in all parts, and drove them to their woods and hills; but, having slain a great many, they pursued too eagerly, and lost some of their men. But the enemy, after some time had elapsed, when our men were off their guard, and occupied in the fortification of the camp, rushed out of the woods, and making an attack upon those who were placed on duty before the camp, (5.15)


[Our men] were little suited to this kind of enemy; that the horse also fought with great danger, because they [the Britons] generally retreated even designedly, and, when they had drawn off our men a short distance from the legions, leaped from their chariots and fought on foot in unequal [and to them advantageous] battle. But the system of cavalry engagement is wont to produce equal danger, and indeed the same, both to those who retreat and to those who pursue. To this was added, that they never fought in close order, but in small parties and at great distances, and had detachments placed [in different parts], and then the one relieved the other, and the vigorous and fresh succeeded the wearied. (5.16)

[5.17] The following day the enemy halted on the hills, a distance from our camp, and presented themselves in small parties, and began to challenge our horse to battle with less spirit than the day before. But at noon, when Caesar had sent three legions, and all the cavalry, with C. Trebonius, the lieutenant, for the purpose of foraging, they flew upon the foragers suddenly from all quarters, so that they did not keep off [even] from the standards and the legions. Our men making an attack on them vigorously, repulsed them; nor did they cease to pursue them until the horse, relying on relief, as they saw the legions behind them, drove the enemy precipitately before them, and slaying a great number of them, did not give them the opportunity either of rallying, or halting, or leaping from their chariots. (5.17)

Cassivellaunus, as we have stated above, all hope [rising out] of battle being laid aside, the greater part of his forces being dismissed, and about 4,000 charioteers only being left, used to observe our marches and retire a little from the road, and conceal himself in intricate and woody places (5.19)

[ EDIT- OMITTED IN ERROR] and in those neighborhoods in which he had discovered we were about to march, he used to drive the cattle and the inhabitants from the fields into the woods; and, when our cavalry, for the sake of plundering and ravaging the more freely, scattered themselves among the fields, he used to send out charioteers from the woods by all the well-known roads and paths, and to the great danger of our horse, engage with them; and this source of fear hindered them from straggling very extensively.. (5.19)

Last edited by jf42; 15 Jul 17 at 08:04..
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  #62  
Old 17 Jul 17, 23:36
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The change in woodland coverage in New England from 1620 to, say, 1920 is an example of how rapidly forests can disappear and return over a few centuries. The colonists cleared vast areas of coniferous forest and farmed the rich soil to exhaustion from 1620-1820. At that point many on the most depleted farmland migrated west. Over the next 100 years deciduous forests grew on the abandoned farmland. The remains of the old farms are still visible in the forests - field stone walls and the occasional foundation or cellar hole.

The woodlands of SE England could have shrunk and grown many times over the centuries since 45 BCE. There may have been far less at that time, or the same total amount but in
somewhat different locations, or more, etc.

---------------------

The use of forests for cover, concealment, refuge, or travel is no surprise. In a time when people rarely traveled more than a day's journey from their home, the local people would know every square inch of the land for 10-20 miles in all directions. The invaders would be ignorant of this.

The local woodlands were also a significant resource for everyone. They used them as a source of: fuel, food (fish, mushrooms, and berries in season), animal fodder (acorns for their pigs), etc. These evolved into common rights like: turbary, estovers, piscary, and pannage. If a heavy windstorm knocked down a few trees in the local forest, they were drying in the farmers' woodpiles within a few weeks time.

The above can result in a wooded area that is fairly clear of undergrowth. From the outside the forest looks like an obstacle, but once you enter it you just have to avoid walking into trees in order to pass through it. That's very easy on foot and when herding animals on foot, slightly more effort on horseback, and a little more difficult for a cart or chariot. Local people who knew the footpaths and tracks through the forest would simplify the process.

On a related note, I've guided M113 family vehicles into managed forests in Germany on a training exercise with strict orders to avoid knocking down saplings that the Army would have to pay for. With no recon, at night, without night vision goggles, I could hide them 100-200 meters from the edge of a road. Chariots would have been much easier.

In short, today's forests aren't necessarily yesterday's forests, and constantly harvested forests are a lot more open than they appear from the outside.
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Old 18 Jul 17, 02:59
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The Native tribes in New England would get up and move whenever the farms would play out and leave them to lay fallow. One of the joys of farming in this area is clearing the fields of rocks. Today you can still find walls that mark old farm fields there. Think about the scene in The Shawshank Redemption where Red goes and finds a kid's lunchbox in such a fence.

One of the points of contention between the natives and the European newcomers is the new guys would find fields that were cleared and would praise God for leading them to cleared fields with no farms on them. Then the owners of the land would come back and find squatters on the fields they cleared.

Many towns and villages in Massachusetts and Connecticut were named 'field because of the cleared fields that were found there.

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  #64  
Old 18 Jul 17, 04:17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NoPref View Post
The change in woodland coverage in New England from 1620 to, say, 1920 is an example of how rapidly forests can disappear and return over a few centuries. The colonists cleared vast areas of coniferous forest and farmed the rich soil to exhaustion from 1620-1820. At that point many on the most depleted farmland migrated west. Over the next 100 years deciduous forests grew on the abandoned farmland. The remains of the old farms are still visible in the forests - field stone walls and the occasional foundation or cellar hole.

The woodlands of SE England could have shrunk and grown many times over the centuries since 45 BCE. There may have been far less at that time, or the same total amount but in
somewhat different locations, or more, etc.
"The woodlands of SE England could have shrunk and grown many times" - that reads like speculation.

That pattern of settlement you describe is symptomatic of a mobile, colonising population in what appeared at the time to be limitless space. Clearly not the case in south east England. After the late/post Roman disruption, occupation patterns there have been remarkably stable. Farmland in southern England has been far too valuable to be abandoned. Indeed more has been brought under cultivation. Consequently, between agricultural exploitation and urban development, woodland cover has been receding overall.

The references in Caesar show that the woods in 55/54 BC were not impenetrable but it seems that fighting with/from chariots mainly took place once the teams had emerged from the woods, either along principal tracks or on land cleared for crops. Those were areas where the the mobility of small groups of chariot mounted fighters might be most effective. Fighting across areas of growing crops seems less likely. The attack on the Roman foragers in 55BC was launched after most of the corn in the locality had been reaped so there would have been clear areas of stubble to allow unhampered manoeuvre.
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