There is an interesting article on Roman fortifications in this month’s issue of Military Heritage magazine. The author, Arnold Blumberg, takes issue with the conclusions of J.F.C. Fuller and Liddell Hart that the practice of entrenching each day slowed the Romans down to the point that they seldom had a chance to select advantageous positions for pending battles. Blumberg said that as far as Fuller was concerned, Roman warfare was little more than “mobile trench warfare” requiring them to always assume “the strategic and operational defensive”.
Blumberg says strategically, marching-camps proved to be an aggressive military instrument. He observed that not only were these displays of “massive military power” demoralizing to the enemy but that fortifications left in the wake of an advancing army served as stepping stones to sustain the army’s movements. Many were transformed into permanent fortified positions that became centers of territorial administration and troop staging areas protecting communication lines.
He says there are a number of examples of marching camps employed both offensively and defensively. He cites the battle of the Sambre River in 57 B.C.E. between Julius Caesar’s troops and the Belgae. The Gauls launched a surprise attack on the Roman camp but the legionaries used the camp as a protective screen for their flank and rear, pivoted, and routed the enemy.
Labienus reversed the strategy in Trier, Germany in 54 B.C.E.. “He unleashed a double flanking attack against the army of the Treveri. He sent his cavalry storming out of the front and rear gates of the compound on a devastating charge that killed the rebel leader and caused the collapse of the Gallic uprising,” Blumberg says.
He also pointed out that contrary to claims that building a camp slowed the Roman armies down, the Romans averaged 20 miles per day. On the other hand, Gallic and Germanic war bands usually included many more women, children and livestock herds, averaging only three to nine miles per day.
See also: Roman Camps