Skip to comments.Rome, Sweet Rome: Could a Single Marine Unit Destroy the Roman Empire?
Posted on 11/02/2011 8:30:47 PM PDT by DogByte6RER
Rome, Sweet Rome: Could a Single Marine Unit Destroy the Roman Empire?
It was a hypothetical question that became a long online discussion and now a movie in development: Could a small group of heavily armed modern-day Marines take down the Roman Empire at its height? We talked about the debate with James Erwin, the man who scored a movie writing contract based on his online response, and ran the ideas by Roman history expert Adrian Goldsworthy.
James Erwin was browsing reddit.com on his lunch break when a thread piqued his interest. A user called The_Quiet_Earth had posed the question: "Could I destroy the entire Roman Empire during the reign of Augustus if I traveled back in time with a modern U.S. Marine infantry battalion or MEU?"
The question struck a chord with the 37-year-old Erwin, a technical writer from Des Moines, Iowa, who happened to be finishing a book called The Encyclopedia of U.S. Military Actions (Through Facts on File). Erwin tells PM that he wasnt impressed by other users early attempts to answer this question, and so, posting under the username Prufrock451, he came up with his own response. Erwin wrote a 350-word short story chronicling the fictitious 35th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), which suddenly disappears from modern-day Kabul and reappears on the Tiber River in 23 B.C. Erwin posted the piece, finished his meal, and went back to work.
After work, Erwin checked reddit. Thousands of users had read his post and they demanded more. Excited and overwhelmed, Erwin continued submitting pieces of this growing Internet phenomenon. The next day, Los Angelesbased management firm Madhouse Entertainment contacted him about representation. Within the week, after Erwin had put just more than 3500 words to screen, Warner Brothers Studios bought the movie rights.
Erwins story, which he titled Rome, Sweet Rome, has a cult following among reddit members, its own subreddit on the site, and has inspired fan music and art. But from the beginning, his posts received comments critiquing the accuracy of his conjured tale. Other redditors commented. Historians commented. Marines commented. "You can definitely tell that the story was something that I dashed out on my lunch hour without doing a lot of research beforehand," says Erwin, an encyclopedia writer and two-time Jeopardy! champ. "Any Marine is going to see mistakes in it, and Im sure if there were Romans around, theyd say the same thing." He plans on doing intensive technical research during the screenwriting process.
Sodisregarding troubling questions about time travel and just why some temporally displaced Marines would feel compelled to destroy an empirecould a single MEU destroy the Roman Empire? To sort through the flood of online responses, PM talked to a Roman military expert and found out how the two sides would line up.
An MEU typically contains about 2200 troops, along with their artillery and vehicles. According to Erwins original reddit story (which will be altered for the movie), the Marines are transported back in time with what they have with them, including M1 Abrams battle tanks, bulletproof vests, M4 rifles, and grenades.
The year Erwin chose (23 B.C.) falls in the reign of Augustus, great-nephew of Julius Caesar and considered the first Roman emperor. His legions numbered nearly 330,000 men. They wore heavy leather and metal armor, carried swords and javelins, and operated catapults. They would have never heard the sound of an explosion before. "Obviously, there is a massive difference in firepower," says Roman military expert and author Adrian Goldsworthy. "Not only would Roman armor be useless against a rifle roundlet alone a grenade launcher or a .50 caliber machine gunit would probably distort the bullets shape and make the wound worse."
In the reddit story, however, Erwin said the Marines would not be resupplied with bullets, batteries, or gasoline from the modern world. "There would be no way of obtaining replacements for these supplies in the ancient world," Goldsworthy says. "An average unit of Marines is not likely to be able to make an oil refinery, start generating electricity, or create machine tools to make spare parts for equipment." And even if they could figure it out, it would take many months or even years. So, as soon as the Marines ran out of gas, their tanks would become little more than hunks of metal.
"In the short term and in the open, modern infantry could massacre any ancient soldiers at little risk to themselves," Goldsworthy says. "But you could not support modern infantry. So all of these weapons and vehicles could make a brief, dramatic, and even devastating appearance, but would very quickly become useless. Probably in a matter of days."
Erwins reddit story stipulates that no more Marines will come back in time, although they may recruit in the ancient world. The Marines would have to; even at their lowest periods, the Roman Empire could conscript hundreds of thousands of soldiers whenever it wanted.
"A Roman centurion would say Lets take 1000 of these guys. Five hundred of them dont come back? Get another 500 guys," Erwin says. "Americans have never been very good at sending people out as cannon fodder. Marines are better trained and are much harder to replace. No Marine sees himself as a cog, and no Marine is."
Both sides pride themselves on having competent leaders down to the smallest unit level. Goldsworthy says the battle would depend on who had the better officers. Erwin believes it would be shock and awe versus numbers.
"Marines are the best warriors ever trained," he says. "But they cant fight an endless wave of soldiers. No one can."
The Roman legions and Marines are both highly trained with a clear unit structure and hierarchy of command. They emphasize aggression, dominating the opponent, unit cohesion, and being flexible on the ground. "Its easy to arrange people like chess pieces and march them in a direction," Erwin says. "But when youve got basically huge gangs of people going toward each other at knifepoint, its very hard to maintain a plan. So they have to improvise."
Romans depended on intimidation to psych out their opponents. They marched in unison and appeared as big and conspicuous as possible, overlapping shields to protect each other from attack. But wearing bright colors and lining up straight isnt going to do much good against a unit of Marines, who would be best off attacking guerilla-style while the Romans marched.
One advantage for the Marines: a knowledge of military history. The Marines would know from Romes history that its legions could be susceptible to ambushes, such as the one that led to their crushing defeat at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. The Marines would have serious disadvantages such as navigation, Goldsworthy says. Besides losing all satellite navigation, their modern maps would be practically uselesseverything from the course of rivers to the placement of forests would be different. But, at least in their first encounters with the Marines, the Romans probably wouldnt know that.
The key for the Marines would be to stay on the move and avoid getting bogged down in one place. If they stood still, Goldsworthy says, the Romans could easily surround them and then take advantage of their huge numbers advantage. The Romans would probably use a variety of nasty siege weapons on the Marines, such as the scorpion, a large crossbow that rapidly fired long bolts. Romans were also known to cut off opponents from water and food supplies, forcing them to surrender or die.
Who Would Win?
Historian Goldsworthy says the MEU would probably lose in the long termwithout the ability to resupply their modern weapons, they simply wouldnt be able to overcome the Roman numbers. However, he says, they could destabilize the Roman Empire, encourage civil war, and initiate regional fracturing. "[The Marines] might discredit the Emperor by defeating the closest army to Rome," he says. "But they would lack the numbers to control Rome itselfwith a population of a million or solet alone the wider empire."
What about in the film? Erwin says he knows the ending, but wont reveal it anytime soon. Hes currently on leave from his technical writing job to work on the screenplay full-time. A release date for the film version of Rome, Sweet Rome, or what it will be called, is still unknown.
I believe that’s the same one as post 16.
I would love it if that’s the ending, where they are summoned to the imperial court to meet with Octavian himself, and they accept.
Wouldn’t that be a heck of an ending.
Only problem is that I think a modern America would find it very difficult to live in the Roman Empire.
The casual brutality, slavery, etc. of the time is quite appalling.
Point not addressed. Some modern flues are descended from the flue virus of 1918. There is also the bubonic plague http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-chat/2792352/posts and any number of bioweapon possibilities.
How ruthless a campaign do we want?
They wouldn’t have modern filtration methods so solids would quickly clog the fuel injectors.
The Marines would have no motive to fight the Romans. They would have a motive to join the Romans and wipe out the Arabs.
Good point. Each side would have different germs and anti-bodies.
My bet is that the Romans would have the immunity advantage, since it is their turf and they did not live in modern sanitation.
Not exactly. The Aztec client states rebelled and attacked along with the Spanish in an attempt to throw off the Aztec oppression. And there were a lot more of them then there were of the Aztecs.
Of course, later they found out the Spanish were not much better. That is usually the way it goes.
just thinking about the disease/medical angle is interesting. Are soldiers vaccinated against smallpox now? Plus all the other ways of dying of illness that we no longer take for granted but were a normal element of human life forever, up until very recently.
a solar-recharge capability for communications would certainly open some interesting possiblities for the romans once they co-opted the survivors (hopefully).
If they lost, but managed to somehow preclude augustus marrying tiberius’ mother it might have saved his children, as well as germanicus. That single issue (tiberius and his mother) was a major negative in how the roman empire developed. You could argue that germanicus being removed from the rhine left that territory to be allowed to be lost.
their primary weapon was smallpox.
Germanicus being removed from the rhine by tiberius may have altered the long-term outcome there. Rome, at the time, seemed to view the loss of varus legion as a setback which they quickly set to making right, hunting down those involved, recovering eagles, etc.
Ranks of Bronze, about survivors of crassus army. I liked it quite a bit. Birds of Prey was set in roman-era almost as a placeholder. Poul Anderson wrote a great deal in this general time-frame, both from the roman side and stories set in germania during the roman era.
One of my “what-ifs” is if Julius Caesar’s daughter, Julia, had not died birthing Pompey Magnus’ son?
First, the schism between Pompey and Caesar would not have happened and, thus, no “Crossing the Rubicon” Civil War.
Second...can you imagine a rightful heir with the blood of Caesar and Pompey running through his veins?
The marines would ultimately prevail, but Titus Pullo would single-handedly take out half of ‘em!
I thought I had read all of anderson’s saga/viking-era stories, but I haven’t seen this one. Buying now!
That reminds me of another 'what-if?'.
What if Caesar (a friend of the Jews) had not been assassinated and had left for his invasion of Parthia (Iran) and consequently made a province of the Middle East? (He was scheduled to leave two days after the Ides of March)
No Roman sack of Jerusalem and no rise of Islam.....ever.
A man can dream, can't he?
And if there were any female grunts, Titus would conquer them in his inimitable way with his knowledge of their ‘button’.
Interesting - I was waiting for someone to bring up the Byzantines. I always wondered what would have happened if Constantine XI had a couple machine guns or even a good sniper with rifle in 1483.
The Turks would have been finished and the M.E. would be a very different place today.
The Marines would take olive oil and turn it into bio-diesel. The tanks would continue to operate. Rome would fall in a week....
There really aren’t any new ideas in MovieLand are there?
While we are at it, I believe that one could run an Abrams on alcohol. Mileage would suck.
Okay the very sight of the tanks and helicopters would frighten the Romans, let alone the explosions. It would be like they were fighting dragons or something.
Although the Marines won’t be tall compared to the Romans like they would if it were WW2 Japan. The Roman Legions wanted their soldiers to be at least 6ft tall and well built, at least in the early days of the Empire.
Can you imagine the abject terror of being surrounded by tanks, buildings exploding around you and seeing unknown attack helicopters for the first time sending down its own dragon-like flame on the city?
They’d be begging for terms of surrender.
even their spotlights at night would be frightening to the Romans.
Good luck with that. They might have forged guns and cannons far earlier at the least though. For much of the technology though, they'd be able to do little more than a cargo cult.
I just got passed the part where Messalina made the arguement why monopoly was best. I'm facinated by the whole issue of why Claudius failed.
My question. Why would the Marines want to take over the Empire or even fight them? They might come to terms with Agustus—trade a few things for food and wait to reverse anything and return home. They might join the Roman to seize China and crush Germany? It wouldn’t take much—just show them how to make gun powder and crude cannons. An interesting idea.
I thought of one alternative history idea. What if Mexico won the battle of BuenaVista and the Mexican War? California stays with Mexico—they find the gold and become a great power. or
What if a time traveler went back to Germany in 1943 and gave Hitler the history of the war, and ways to improve his V-1s & V-2, Jets and tanks maybe even the A-Bomb! In exchange he ends the Holocaust? Would he do it?
Can you imagine watching the Detroit Lions about to win the Super Bowel, and the Emperor decides to thumb down a play on the field?
That means the player at issue has to commit suicide in front of the entire audience - immediately - before the game can commence.
I’m pretty certain that people do NOT understand how far we’ve come...
The endless harems...
That would make for an amusing ending.
The American Marines storm Rome, kill the emperor declare themselves to be the new leaders
And then die of smallpox infections.
Sounds like an outer limits episode.
Unsupplied, no. With supply lines, yes.
If the vehicles run on diesel, you could probably rig them to run on biodiesel. Failing that, you can make ethanol or methanol. I have no idea how long a modern military vehicle could run on that kind of stuff though. They’d probably be better off with old Russian vehicles if they had to try that.
Bookmark! Great comments on this thread. :)
Also, the Romans were highly disciplined warriors and a small band of powerful warriors didn't destabilize the Empire in 200 BC (Hannibal) when he had a close political alternative, there is no way a modern unit could do the same -- they would be aliens for everyone with no base.
Back on topic - a single Marine armed with an unloaded rifle with a fixed bayonet or perhaps just a K-Bar versus a Centurion in full battle gear?
Will read it tomorrow.
Also a lot of discussion here...
|GGG managers are SunkenCiv, StayAt HomeMother & Ernest_at_the_Beach|
Thanks GeronL. Seven hills, 28 legions? Or, One Hill. One Marine?
So all of these weapons and vehicles could make a brief, dramatic, and even devastating appearance, but would very quickly become useless.
The Romans wouldn’t stand a chance if the Marines had “Hollywood Guns”!
(they never run out of ammo)
In April of the year 2000, a six-mile sphere centered on Grantville, West Virginia was displaced in space and time to Germany and May, 1631. The inhabitants of Grantville decided to start the American revolution early; the nobility of Europe were not amused.http://1632.org/
This story deals with the same issues of how to leverage a modern advantage while adjusting to the limitations of older technologies and dwindling resources.
1632 Series (wikipedia)
The thing is, the Romans would have no idea of how they worked, or their limitations. One huge demonstration outside the walls of Rome, destroying some abandoned structures with artillery, slaughtering thousands of sheep, cattle and pigs from the air, and you could bluff them into damn near anything.
I don't think a single human would need to be killed to effect major changes in their society.
Then there is always the God route, openly accept that you were chosen by a single great entity to rise Rome to rule the world but they would have to change their ways first. Admit you're just humans like them, but you were chosen and hand picked because God was upset his son was killed and he was going to give humans one last chance to straiten up or he would destroy the world and start over.
You could install western values in a couple of generations and with the technological advances, hell just accurate maps, you could bring the whole world into a age of enlightenment.
Basically, you become the UN but rule it with an iron fist.
The Spaniards that defeated Montezuma existed at a transitional period of warfare. Muscle powered weapons were slowly giving way to fire-fighting. The Spaniards could continue to fight even when their powder & shot were expended as fire-fighting was a “fair-weather” activity in those days.
Then you have the fact that the Aztecs never saw warhorses or war dogs. Both would have been as terrifying as an Abrams or an LAV, and neither of the latter can live of the land.
Finally we know that the Spainiards made use of native allies. This was the key to their victory. The Marine MEU would have to do the same. I think that would be most difficult as that is a SpecOps function and the Italian city-states mostly remained loyal to Rome during Hannibal’s depredations.
A MEU has enough supplies to sustain itself for a week. In a situation like this they could stretch it out to a month or two on the outside a year. Fuel and ammo are finite.
If I were the MEU CO I'd get on the ships and sail back to America go to Titusville, Pa and drill for oil. With oil all things are possible. Within a few years you're self-sustaining and then go back to Rome.....
The colonel commanding the MEU would have to combine cunning with a level of ruthlessness not seen in Western warfare since the SS were defeated. He would also have to be able to manipulate Roman religion, supersticions, etc. You are after all an alien society that has a greater understanding of your target than they have of you. That is your chief advantage.
Not if they think God was going to resupply them. Working on their religions and superstitions is how this battle will get won. If they think God was sending these men then they would follow with God will see them taken care of, the CO would play on that completely. I still think a merger without violence would be possible, allow the emperor and senate to remain in power, just with some changes.
Second question: Bio diesel? If even one member knew how to make it off the top of his head, which is very easy, that would make an even bigger difference. Their armor would eventually break down and run out of ammunition, but they could go quite a few miles first. Planning for those limits would allow them to accomplish quite a bit if they had the extra range from unlimited diesel.
When they collide, my money is on the Marines.
Finally: could they make black powder on their own? It's not the same as their initial loadout, but I'd guess they would have dozens of Marines who are handloaders. Rome would have issues dealing with that, unless a Marine decided to sell that knowledge to the other side (unlikely with the USMC).
Night vision and a modern knife alone would be formidable and would last for a very long time if they conserved their batteries.