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Discussion: A detachment of marines against the army of the Roman Empire – who will win

Discussion about the outcome of a hypothetical battle, which grew out of a story on Reddit in the script for the film.

Fan art based on the story of James Erwin

In 2011, the American author of science fiction stories, James Erwin spent time at Reddit and came across the user’s question: “Could I destroy the entire Roman Empire in the era of Octavian Augustus (one of the most famous Roman emperors) if I went back in time with modern American battalion of marines or an expeditionary detachment of marines? “.

Erwin was not satisfied with the answers of other users to the question and he decided to express his opinion by writing a short science fiction short story , known unofficially as “Rome, wonderful Rome” (Rome, Sweet Rome). In it, an expeditionary detachment of marines (the power of rapid reaction to any challenges, including natural disasters or wars) unexpectedly disappears from the military base in Afghanistan and appears near the Tiber River in 23 BC.

So began a long and large-scale discussion on Reddit – Erwin continued his story, and users confirmed, refuted or offered their options for denouement. At some point the number of messages exceeded 3.5 thousand, and attention to it attracted the company Warner Bros.. Representatives of the group bought out the rights to the story of Erwin (he managed to describe only the string) and in 2012 announced plans to shoot the film based on his motives. Since then, almost nothing is known about the shooting of the picture, Erwin switched to other stories, but on saberedite , new themes continue to appear on the motives of the idea, and the interest in the issue does not fade.

What is said in the original story

The Marine Expeditionary Force is at a military base in Kabul (the capital of Afghanistan) and plans to advance to the southern part of the country. Suddenly, a battalion of 2,200 soldiers disappears and appears in Ancient Rome, not far from the Tiber River. The military immediately fix the complete loss of communications, including GPS and radio. Along with them in the past were 150 specialists in maintenance and repair of the Air Force, 60 soldiers of the Afghan army and 16 American civilians working under contract.

Because of the unexpected earthquake that began during the movement, all the planes and attack helicopters went out of order, but the Marines managed to keep transport vehicles and transport helicopters. By night, the detachment organized a perimeter – they were noticed by several local residents, but in a confusion with them no one had time to speak.

Approximately, the training of Marines for the battle against the Romans might look like. Photo by Corps Daily News

At dawn, several helicopters set off for reconnaissance. At the same time, the peasants informed local landowners about the arrival of strangers – for the detachment is installed by Roman spies, but by the evening they are running away in fear, having seen falling helicopters in the sky. Rumors about unknown “machines” fly around neighboring settlements: there begin riots and religious marches. Soon Octavian August learns about the situation, who at a safe distance studies the camp of strangers and announces to the senate that the war is coming.

While the Roman emperor is preparing troops, the US military is discussing their situation: they almost do not know the Latin language, which deprives them of the opportunity to establish contact with the enemy, fuel for cars will last for a year at a minimum with austerity, gasoline for the remaining aircraft will end at best in six months, A chance to get fuel from burned wood or coal is unlikely.

Fan trailer of the film “Rome, Brave Rome” based on the story of James Erwin

In the meantime, a 10,000-strong Roman army led by the Praetorian Guard is moving toward the strangers. At dawn, a detachment of 50 Roman cavalry soldiers appears on a hill near the fortified position of the Marines. The leader of the group does not intend to immediately engage in battle – he wants to talk with strangers and, perhaps, do without violence. Riders are slowly approaching American soldiers, ignoring the strange flashes, sounds and small objects that fly into soldiers from foreigners. These objects are bullets from M16A4 submachine guns, the fire of which serves as a warning for attackers.

The leadership of the Marines is confused: the adversary comes against the warning fire, he can not be talked with, the range of their bows is not known, and the soldiers, after four days of stress (someone has already committed suicide or is sick with malaria), are barely restrained. The sergeant of the detachment orders the cavalry to stop for the last time and, without receiving an answer, orders to open fire from machine guns and M249 SAW machine guns. A minute later the Roman detachment was destroyed – all 50 horses were shot, and only one survived among the riders.

The next day around the Marines camp a new army is assembling: now it basically consists of archers, not legionaries. Fearing a new collision, the leadership of American soldiers puts up a white flag and, taking with them several relatively good translators, meets with representatives of the Roman army. Both sides of the conflict are frightened by the forces of the enemy: on the one hand a huge number, on the other – unprecedented weapons and perfect coherence. The warring parties agree on a truce, and the commander of the Marines is sent to meet with the Roman emperor. There he tries to negotiate with Augustus, but meets in the eyes of the ruler only the desire to end the strangers.

This narrative of James Erwin is interrupted – initially it was associated with third-party projects of the writer, but after buying the rights to the script Warner Bros he lost the opportunity to continue the story. As it became known in 2013, the scenario script is the author of the plot of science fiction horror film “Apollo 18” Brian Miller. Marines from the original story in the film will be replaced by a detachment of special forces of the US Army, created to conduct guerrilla warfare and organize special assignments.

The alignment of forces

For six years since the appearance of the story on Reddit, he had his sabredit , fan art and trailers. Discussion on who will win in the clash is still going on. It is difficult to choose a single-valued winner, but often the priority is given to the Roman Empire, due to its strength and almost unlimited resources relative to marines.

In order to fairly honestly answer the question about the outcome of the war, it is necessary to correctly arrange all positions and goals. The motives of the Roman army are obvious – they need to destroy or enslave all strangers. In the story of Erwin, the tasks of the Marines are blurred enough – an oppositionist suggests that soldiers kill Augustus for a large fiefdom, but the commander refuses. However, this is at least some kind of motivation for the US military, given that they can not return home and are physically unable to destroy the Roman army of the Augustan era, which numbered about 330,000 soldiers.

So can a Marine squad break through the Roman army and kill the emperor?


Based on Erwin’s original story, soldiers move with shock and transport helicopters, as well as with ground-based equipment, including M1 Abrams tanks. In addition, each of approximately 2,220 soldiers has bulletproof vests, M16 rifles of an improved model and grenades.

At the time of Augustus’s rule, his legion wore mostly heavy leather and metal armor, fought with swords, throwing spears and long-range bows, and also used catapults and wall-cars. Obviously, such weapons are nothing compared to the cartridges of modern rifles and shells of tanks, but from the original story it is known that soldiers can not draw any resources.

The bullet at that time did not exist, as well as batteries and gasoline. But even if we imagine that somehow soldiers will be able to extract the fuel needed to use armored vehicles, this will take too much time. Erwin’s story says that gasoline will last for a year for the workability of ground equipment, but this is unlikely, unless the tanker with fuel has moved with the soldiers.

Number of

Unlike Roman hordes, Marines are not taught to work as “cannon fodder”, so they will not sacrifice each other, restraining crowds of enemies, but will find another way. The reality knows such precedents: in 2007, eight employees of private military company Blackwater, a pair of marines and several Colombian special forces officers defended the government building in Iraq from 700 armed rebels for about four hours .

Employees of Blackwater in Baghdad, 2004. Holiday pictures AP

They managed to repel the attack, losing only a few people wounded – this is a real example where professional fighters in a good position can defeat an opponent with numerical superiority, but no one can do it permanently, even elite troops.


Both sides of the conflict are familiar with the tactics of combat, know the principles of the work of the detachments and the military hierarchy, but the Marines will have their advantage – they know the military history and are aware of the Roman strategy. To intimidate the enemy, the Romans were nominated by a giant army, acting as a single military mechanism.

Such tactics would work against a large detachment, but the marines will only benefit the openness of the Romans – they will simply shoot the commanders of the detachment from a long distance and disperse panic-stricken soldiers with the help of tank volleys. It is also possible that the modern detachment will use the “tactics of the barbarians” who attacked the Roman detachments from ambush in the forest.

The battle in the Teutoburg Forest between the Germans and the Roman army.

According to the publication Popular Mechanics referring to historians who specialize in the Ancient Roman Empire, the legionaries will have a serious advantage, because they know their lands perfectly. Marines have to act on an unfamiliar territory without tactical maps and navigation. They have to move regularly and constantly hide, because if they try to dig in one place, the Romans will surround and destroy them with bows and arrows.

Battle outcome

In 1979, Japan released the film “Time Failure”, which tells of a Japanese military detachment caught in the Sengoku period (the second half of the 15th century and the beginning of the 17th century). In addition to 21 soldiers, the group has a tank, an armored personnel carrier, a patrol boat and a helicopter – after several encounters with the ancient Japanese troops, the soldiers despair and yearn for the house. Someone escapes for a better life, others die or find lovers among the local population.

As a result, the detachment has 11 people who join the samurai battle on the side of the famous commander Uesugi Kensin. During the battle, the detachment of the enemy destroys all modern equipment and kills five soldiers, after which the commander fights with the famous commander Takeda Shingen on samurai swords and, using a pistol, kills the samurai. The painting ends tragically: Kenshin betrays soldiers who helped him win the battle, and they are shot by archers. The only survivor of the whole group is a deserter, who left his own for the sake of educating a boy whose father died in battle.

The story of the movement of modern soldiers in the past is also told in the Japanese film 2005 “Spetsnaz against samurai: mission 1549” and in the South Korean film of the same year “Heavenly Legion”. In the last tape part of the detachment of “hitnadts” survives and returns now through the opened spatial portal.

According to historian Adrian Goldsworthy, ultimately, the Marines will lose, not being able to fight with thousands of Roman soldiers. However, the expert admits that the modern military can secretly sow chaos within the Roman Empire and launch a civil war, killing regional rulers or the emperor. After that, soldiers can seize power and try to control the country, but that’s another story.

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