Chapter 3 - The Military Revolution
As armies became more complex, the need to train the soldier in more skills increased. The first evidence of military training in any army is found in ancient Egypt. A surviving scrap of papyrus warns the soldier against military life because of its rigors and the propensity of commanders to use beatings and other physical punishments to induce discipline. The first good description of military training in ancient armies was produced by the Greek historian Strabo, who noted that Cyrus introduced universal military training among the Persians. The conscript underwent 10 years of military training, probably as a reservist, before being enlisted in the regular army. Training was vigorous and included physical conditioning, instruction in the bow and javelin, and horsemanship. Recruits were also trained to forage for food, prepare meals in the field, and make and repair weapons. The recruit was indoctrinated in the military code of the Persian army and taught to "ride well, shoot straight, and tell the truth."
The training regimen of the classical Greeks was directed more at general physical conditioning than the development of specific military skills. This focus was logical in light of the fact that the phalanx tactics of the day required little training to implement. What the phalanx required was discipline, courage, and stamina. It has been estimated that a soldier in the phalanx could fight no more than 30 minutes before being overcome by physical exhaustion. The Greek stress on physical conditioning above all else made good military sense.
In an army as organizationally complex as the Roman army, physical conditioning, while stressed, was not sufficient. The Roman mix of equipment and special military skills required special training which, in turn, required an intelligent soldier. The legions screened applicants for military service and selected only the best physical specimens. Equally important was the selection of men who could read, write, and do some mathematical calculations. The most intelligent were trained in the special skills needed by the army. As a professional army, the legions ran their own specialized training programs in everything from military engineering, medical support, to artillery gun repair. The complexity of war, as in modern times, for the first time made the mental skills of the soldier at least equally important as his physical skills.
The training regimen of the Roman soldier was necessitated in large degree by the use of sophisticated, open formations by the infantry. Denied the protection of the closely packed phalanx, the Roman soldier lived or died by his skill with the sword. The need to fight as an individual and to move over a designated area, selecting targets of opportunity while remaining still part of his larger unit, required courage, discipline, and skill with the sword and scutum ,[note] operating in concert. Roman tactics required the soldier to be able to respond instantly to commands to change the shape of his formation. In 105 B.C., the Roman army adopted the training methods heretofore used by professional athletes in the gladiatorial schools. For the most part the legions trained their own soldiers. Special training grounds, some in Scotland, were available to bring the army to proficiency. It was common practice for a legion being readied for deployment to spend the previous weeks in long field training drills, some of which required that they build three field camps a day. The result was a thoroughly professional army whose level of training was the best in the world.
No army in the West equaled the level of training of the Roman army until at least the 17th century. Prior to that, the primacy of cavalry forces over infantry had relegated the infantry to a minor role on the battlefield. The development of the musket changed this picture, as did the introduction of the bayonet. Now the infantry could deploy in lines instead of phalanxes and deliver more combat power. But the use of linear tactics required a highly trained soldier, one who could also master the 16 steps in loading a musket while under fire. One of the major reasons that Napoleon utilized the column formation instead of infantry lines was precisely because his use of conscript manpower made it impossible to train so many men to the level of discipline and skill required by the linear tactics of his day. As a consequence, Napoleon's column formations represented a return to the use of the infantry phalanx, in which the safety of the packed herd and sheer courage would compensate for the infantryman's lack of skill.