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Thread: Military advantage of being short

  1. #1 Military advantage of being short 
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    I was watching this video Luxtpm posted in Pseudo of Romans fighting "Astures", some kind of Spanish tribe I think.

    Anyway, it occurred to me that the small stature of Roman soldiers would make it easier to make armor that covered all of their vital areas, because it simply requires less armor (fewer materials to equip a large army, anyway). Also it sometimes helps to have a low center of gravity, because it means your enemy will mostly be attacking you from above, where your breast plate, shoulder guards, and helmet have the most effect.

    The downside is having a short reach, but that can be alleviated somewhat by using spears. And, of course, the other downside is that size does tend to affect strength, so one's opponents will tend to be stronger.


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    It could be an advantage, but not battle-winning. There is a reason dwarves didn't take over the world :-D


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    In more recent times, some armies, including those of the former Soviet Bloc, have deliberately designed smaller interiors for tanks and have selected shorter soldiers to make up the crews.

    Historically big tall guys with long, strong arms were chosen for grenadier regiments for obvious reasons.
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    I'm not sure Romans on average would have been shorter than their contemporaries. They would probably be better fed than many they came up against. Italians today are not much shorter than other Europeans, average heights globally vary much less than stereotypes would have us believe. For Europeans average heights really only vary between 5'9 and 6'1, although the Netherlands are the only country that actually crack the 6 foot bar. The countries where we see very short people happen to be places with endemic starvation, like Bolivia and India.

    Besides up until 107 BC Roman military personnel had to be landowners, citizens, and pay for their own armament. So, there wasn't really a military advantage, because the state didn't pay for the armour anyway, either you were a rich soldier, so you could afford to be in back (triarii line) and wear full armour, or you were really rich and could afford to be an equite on a horse. Even so, the poorest hastati still could afford armour, so it doesn't seem like the cost of armament was a factor.

    After 107 the Romans switched to a professional standing army, where citizens could earn land and pay for serving, rather than being rich citizens who participated in the regular wars for plunder and status. This much larger and better trained military was what Julius Caesar used to do most of his conquering. Surprisingly, the Romans managed with their amateur army of landed citizens to gain a firm foothold all around the Mediterranean.

    Of course, the actual cost of arming soldiers is probably much less in that period than the problem of feeding an army on the move. Finding enough money for armour is probably a walk in the park next to finding enough food to feed an army during a winter campaign in Northern France. Apparently, maintaining the horses practically bankrupted Rome.
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    Rich guys out front!

    We should adopt the old British system and let the officers BUY commissions!

    Shut down the military academies and save money there too!

    Obviously rich guys are smarter than the rest of us, DUH, that is why they are rich. They will make the best fighters no matter how short or tall they are!
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Finger Prince
    Rich guys out front!

    We should adopt the old British system and let the officers BUY commissions!

    Shut down the military academies and save money there too!

    Obviously rich guys are smarter than the rest of us, DUH, that is why they are rich. They will make the best fighters no matter how short or tall they are!
    It would be nice if once in a while you actually contributed in some meaningful way to threads you participate in.

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    I think hand-to-hand combat strength would be the most important making small size a strong disadvantage for most soldiers on the line.
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    It is obvious that the rich are superior, therefore best equipped to defend their respective nations. As evidence I offer the historical fact that rich nations regularly dominate the battlefield when engaged with poorer ones.

    Returning to the topic, malnourished warriors tend to be shorter, and some cultures such as ancient Sparta and early 20th century Japan deliberately put their warrior class on short rations to build character and discipline and tolerance to hardship.

    According to Dunnigan, Japanese troops were generally shorter than the officers who led them due to said policy, and it is not too hard to find evidence the Spartans had to steal food or go hungry as a regular practice. This practice does not seem enough to assure victory.

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    Quote Originally Posted by The Finger Prince
    According to Dunnigan, Japanese troops were generally shorter than the officers who led them due to said policy
    But if the soldiers were already past puberty when they go on starvation rations would it still make them shorter?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scott John Walker
    Quote Originally Posted by The Finger Prince
    According to Dunnigan, Japanese troops were generally shorter than the officers who led them due to said policy
    But if the soldiers were already past puberty when they go on starvation rations would it still make them shorter?
    It's social class, so they'd be starving even in their mother's bellies. Meanwhile the military families of rank are having fat babies. Sumo wrestlers come from families that specialize in this one body type. The king of Hawaii was traditionally the tallest guy on the island... and that was also hereditary.

    ***

    You'd certainly want horsemen to be small. I understand the Mongols used to cover huge distances in order to surprise the enemy... and since they're using bows most times any weight not pulling arrows only serves to tire the horse.
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    True, Mongols tended to be short in stature and lightly armored, and modern jockeys are short nearly universally, the Prince understands that in the parts of the world where camels are raced, children are often pressed into service as jockeys.

    Naturally, in the melee of battle armor is more important, as is physical strngth of rider and mount.
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    I'm fairly short in stature - about 5'6" tall. I served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam era and was comforted in the fact there was less of me at which to shoot.

    All theoretical advantages or disadvantages aside, the Roman Army did win a goodly amount of the time. They did something right.
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    There is a bit of a myth about previous cultures, including the Romans. That is that they were short. In fact, and probably, there was a slight reduction in height compared to 21st century westerners. However, not as much as is frequently supposed. The error came from measuring armour from bygone days. What was missed, though, was the 'stretching' effect of putting armour on a living man, so that the various plates are held further apart by being hung on the man's body. In all likelihood, there would have been almost as many tall and massive men in the Roman army as in any modern army.

    In terms of any advantage from being small, with respect to the Romans, forget it. When fighting with swords and spears, the big soldier is the better soldier, since he is stronger, with more reach, and able to throw the spear harder. In the same way, the well fed soldier is the better soldier, since food is needed for strength, stamina and energy.

    Why were the Roman soldiers so effective? Discipline. They were trained for years, and were skilled at working together. Their opponents were mostly ill disciplined people who fought as individuals, making them far less effective.
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    In fact, and probably, there was a slight reduction in height compared to 21st century westerners.
    I doubt it was slight. Nutrition plays a huge role. There is a five inch difference in average height between a North and South Korean for example.
    Last edited by Lynx_Fox; August 2nd, 2011 at 11:07 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic View Post
    Why were the Roman soldiers so effective? Discipline. They were trained for years, and were skilled at working together. Their opponents were mostly ill disciplined people who fought as individuals, making them far less effective.
    The later Roman Empire's armies were really well trained. The Republic, like I mentioned earlier, relied on a hereditary warrior class of landed nobility. In which case, I think we can't underplay the influence of infrastructure and strategic position in Europe played an invaluable role.
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  16. #15  
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic View Post
    There is a bit of a myth about previous cultures, including the Romans. That is that they were short. In fact, and probably, there was a slight reduction in height compared to 21st century westerners. However, not as much as is frequently supposed. The error came from measuring armour from bygone days. What was missed, though, was the 'stretching' effect of putting armour on a living man, so that the various plates are held further apart by being hung on the man's body. In all likelihood, there would have been almost as many tall and massive men in the Roman army as in any modern army.
    Some contemporary Roman writers of the time commented that the Celts were extremely tall. It looks like it may have been a misconception, however.


    MYTH EIGHTEEN: Celtic Height

    A very common misconception exists about the height difference between the Hellenes and Romans on the one hand, and the Celts on the other. Archeological findings have discovered that there was no great height difference between the Celts and their more ‘civilized’ enemies in Hellas andRome. This has led to some confusion, as both Hellene and Roman writers frequently commented on the great height of the Celts. It could be theCelts simply seemed that much bigger due to the other factors. Possibly these writers were referring to certain extraordinarily tall exceptions that had been mistaken for the general height of Celtic warriors.
    Celts: Common Misconceptions about the Celts :: 0 A.D. :: Wildfire Games

    In terms of any advantage from being small, with respect to the Romans, forget it. When fighting with swords and spears, the big soldier is the better soldier, since he is stronger, with more reach, and able to throw the spear harder. In the same way, the well fed soldier is the better soldier, since food is needed for strength, stamina and energy.
    If you're short, then it would take less food to keep you at your peak. Isn't that why hunger causes population groups to become shorter in the first place?


    Why were the Roman soldiers so effective? Discipline. They were trained for years, and were skilled at working together. Their opponents were mostly ill disciplined people who fought as individuals, making them far less effective.
    Facing off against a bunch of tall Goths, Celts, or Northern Africans would tend to instill a sense of teamwork in you. The little guys would quickly realize they're not going to win if they stick to single combat.
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