Thursday, September 16, 2010

September Q & A: When Romans clash

In a lovely change of pace, my friend Rich writes, “Who would win in a fight, 1st century praetorian or 4th century comitatensis?”

For this question, I had to use the vast resources at my fingertips to give a proper answer. Now, some would claim that you’d need to buy tons of books about ancient Rome, weighing the various merits of each century and the Empire’s overall military strength at each time. That’s expensive and foolish, however. Wikipedia is much cheaper and far more reliable than any so-called “book” I’ve ever “read”.

First up we have the Praetorian Guard, formed specifically to have a super elite guard for emperors and their generals, under the impression that there would be added safety and status for them to have a private mini-army that could kick the crap out of a more standard mini-army. Against them we have the Comitatenses, who were legions earmarked as a more mobile type of troops, as opposed to those bunkered down at some fortress or other cozy environ. Verily, this fight shall be a true battle for the bards to sing of!

First, we have to address the time distance. There’s a three century gap between the two, which means that the Comitatenses have three hundred years in technological advances to fall back upon. For those that don’t think that could make a big difference, just understand that a present day squad of Marines could take down the entire military forces of any world power at the start of the 1700s. It’s a tremendous advantage for the Comitatenses, one that cannot be overstated (one could also make the quite valid argument that, if the 4th century Comitatenses did decide to make war with some 1st century Praetorians, they‘d have a pretty easy time of it, since their enemies would have been dead for centuries, but to avoid any such cheap arguments we‘re going to casually assume Kang the Conqueror has gotten involved).

Of course, there’s also the issue of the Praetorian Guard having been around during the peak of the Roman Empire’s power, while the Comitatenses selected here are milling about while the Empire is collapsing around them. Not only does that strongly imply that they’re aren’t being trained nearly as well as the 1st century super soldier program, but their morale has to be kind of in the gutter as well. No army is going to be fighting at its best when it’s just getting the crap kicked out of it time and again, so I have to assume the Praetorians have a definite advantage here.

Now we’re going to have to focus on which would have the advantage based on their job description. Now, the Praetorians might offhandedly seem to have a lock on this, what with their super elite status, but just consider the life of the Comitatensis here. Designed to be a more fluid fighting force, they’re the ones that run from location to location always shoring up the weak points in the overall defenses, requiring them to be tough, fast, and adaptable to any variety of situation. In short, it means that whatever the Praetorians throw their way, the Comitatenses should be able to find an answer to it.

In the end, though, I am going to have to give it to the Praetorian Guard. Sure, the Comitatenses may have superior weaponry, but the Praetorians helped inspire the name of Dr. Pretorius, the mad scientist who convinced Victor Frankenstein to revive his creation in Bride of Frankenstein, the single best horror movie of the 1930s. The Comitatenses may be pretty adaptable, but I scarcely think they can successfully adapt to an army of monsters stitched together out of dead parts fighting alongside the Praetorian Guard! Plus, one time Frankenstein’s Monster totally ordered the giant dog he was riding to eat Wonder Woman, who was being mind controlled by Darkseid at the time. 4th century Rome is no match for that.

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