In the series Spartacus, season 3 episode 6, it appears that a small group of 3-4 gladiators (with just swords) manages to break a tight wall formation of 6-8 Romans attacking them with roman shields, and slay many of them.

However, this appears to me to look greatly unrealistic since the roman shield wall seems to be incredibly dense and massive. Would it be likely that a few top champion gladiators could break a roman formation in real world history? Or am I overestimating the shield wall formation?


Actually it would be possible for pretty much any soldiers to win in that situation not only the gladiator champions.

Roman shields look flawless against arrows or such but in close combat against mobile soldiers they make you just a dead weight.

First of all for a functional shield wall 5 sides of a box formation must be tightly connected(some later shields actually had hooks on them for that purpose)...in this case 8 people are just too few making them very unstable.

secondly big square shields diminish your offensive capabilities a lot,it leaves you a small space to hit with your sword and you can't see much.In large battles you just stab directly in front of you and hope you will hit something.

Now imagine yourself holding large heavy shield with your left forearm,you put the pivot point in the middle of the shield,if someone kicks on the upper part of the shield you will get hit in the head by our own shield xD

Now imagine if someone jumps on it,you will be lying on the floor under your own shield...if you are lucky enough and they are badly connected you get the domino effect for extra fun.

So if 4 gladiators just jump on the shields you instantly disable 4 Romans, leaving 4 of them standing...now if those 4 keep their formation looking forward they are dead because their left sides are defenseless,if they do turn you can now jump on them too...now you have 8 Romans lying on the floor squirming like the turtles in less than 10 seconds.

In similar way that's why Rome lost so many small battles against unpredictable "guerrilla" armies and won so much in large battles and sieges.


Yes they can

Spartacus was a real person who commanded in the Third Servile War - 73BC - 71BC (also called The Gladiator War or The War of Spartacus)

This war went on for almost 3 years with the rebellious slaves holding their own against the various forces of Rome, from Local Militia up to full fledged consular Legions.

The unorthodox tactics employed by Spartacus and the slaves caught a lot of the Roman military forces off guard. For example

In their first battle against Roman forces following their escape - The Battle of Mount Vesuvius, they fortified themselves on the slopes of the volcano, and then when the Romans lay siege to their camp, they rappelled (using ropes made from vines) down the mountain and flanked the Militia sent to "deal" with them, annihilating them.

A second Militia was then defeated soon after.

Now defeating a militia is not the same as defeating the might of the Roman Legions... But...

in 72BC 2 Consular Legions were then dispatched commanded by Gellius and Lentulus. First blood when to the legions with Gellius' destroying a slave army (not commanded by Spartacus) near Mount Garganus.

Spartacus, with the majority of the slave army then defeated both Legions in quick succession.

In 73BC Crassus (Yes that Crassus) was given command of the Legions tasked with bringing the rebellion to a stop.

It started badly when 2 of his Legions were routed following disobedience of one of Crassus' subordinates. Crassus decimated the legions for this. However the tide soon turned and eventually Spartacus and the slaves were defeated. Extra legions were sent under the command of Pompey (Yes that Pompey) though they only rounded up routed slaves.

Therefore gladiators have broken Roman formations a number of times in real life.

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