It to be a theoretical question that ended up being a long online discussion and also now a movie in development: could a tiny group of heavily equipped modern-day Marines take under the Roman empire at that height?


James Erwin was browsing Reddit top top his having lunch break when a object piqued his interest. A user dubbed The_Quiet_Earth had posed the question: "Could I destroy the whole Roman Empire throughout the reign of Augustus if i traveled earlier in time v a modern-day U.S. Naval infantry battalion or MEU?"

The question struck a chord v the 37-year-old Erwin, a technical writer from Des Moines, Iowa, who happened to be finishing a publication called The Encyclopedia of U.S. Armed forces Actions (Through truth on File). Erwin speak PM that he wasn"t impression by various other users" at an early stage attempts to answer this question, and also so, posting under the username Prufrock451, he come up v his own response. Erwin created a 350-word brief story chronicling the fictitious 35th naval Expeditionary Unit (MEU), which suddenly disappears from modern-day Kabul and also reappears on the Tiber flow in 23 B.C. Erwin posted the piece, perfect his meal, and went back to work.

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After work, Erwin checked reddit. Hundreds of users had actually read his post and they demanded more. Excited and overwhelmed, Erwin continued submitting pieces of this growing Internet phenomenon. The following day, Los Angeles–based monitoring firm Madhouse entertain contacted him around representation. In ~ the week, after Erwin had put just much more than 3500 words to screen, Warner brothers Studios purchase the movie rights.

Erwin"s story, which he title Rome, Sweet Rome, has actually a cult following amongst reddit members, its very own subreddit on the site, and has influenced fan music and art. Yet from the beginning, his short articles received comments critiquing the accuracy of his conjured tale. Various other redditors commented. Historians commented. Marines commented. "You can definitely tell the the story to be something that i dashed the end on my having lunch hour without doing a many research beforehand," says Erwin, one encyclopedia writer and two-time Jeopardy! champ. "Any marine is walking to view mistakes in it, and I"m certain if there to be Romans around, they"d speak the exact same thing." he plans ~ above doing extensive technical research throughout the screenwriting process.

So—disregarding troubling questions about time travel and also just why part temporally displaced Marines would certainly feel compelled to damage an empire——could a single MEU destroy the roman Empire? To sort through the overwhelming of online responses, PM talked to a Roman army expert and found out just how the 2 sides would line up.


An MEU typically contains around 2200 troops, along with their artillery and vehicles. Follow to Erwin"s initial reddit story (which will be altered for the movie), the Marines space transported ago in time through what they have actually with them, including M1 Abrams fight tanks, bulletproof vests, M4 rifles, and also grenades.

The year Erwin determined (23 B.C.) falls in the reign of Augustus, great-nephew of Julius Caesar and also considered the an initial Roman emperor. His soldier numbered almost 330,000 men. Lock wore hefty leather and metal armor, carried swords and also javelins, and also operated catapults. They would have actually never heard the sound of an to explode before. "Obviously, there is a massive distinction in firepower," claims Roman armed forces expert and also author Adrian Goldsworthy. "Not only would roman inn armor it is in useless against a rifle round—let alone a grenade launcher or a .50 caliber an equipment gun—it would probably distort the bullet"s shape and make the wound worse."

In the reddit story, however, Erwin said the Marines would not be resupplied through bullets, batteries, or gasoline from the contemporary world. "There would certainly be no means of obtaining replacements for these provides in the ancient world," Goldsworthy says. "An mean unit of Marines is not most likely to be able to make one oil refinery, start generating electricity, or create machine tools to do spare parts for equipment." and also even if they could figure that out, it would certainly take plenty of months or even years. So, as quickly as the Marines ran out of gas, their tanks would end up being little an ext than hunks the metal.

"In the quick term and in the open, contemporary infantry could massacre any ancient soldiers at small risk come themselves," Goldsworthy says. "But you might not support modern-day infantry. So all of these weapons and vehicles could make a brief, dramatic, and even devastating appearance, yet would an extremely quickly become useless. Probably in a matter of days."


Erwin"s reddit story stipulates the no an ext Marines will certainly come ago in time, return they may recruit in the old world. The Marines would have actually to; also at your lowest periods, the roman inn Empire could conscript thousands of thousands of soldiers whenever the wanted.

"A roman inn centurion would certainly say "Let"s take it 1000 of these guys. 5 hundred of lock don"t come back? Get one more 500 guys,"" Erwin says. "Americans have actually never been very an excellent at sending world out as cannon fodder. Marines are much better trained and also are much harder come replace. No marine sees himself as a cog, and also no maritime is."

Both sides pride us on having competent leaders down to the smallest unit level. Goldsworthy says the fight would rely on who had the better officers. Erwin to trust it would be shock and awe versus numbers.

"Marines room the ideal warriors ever trained," the says. "But they can"t hit an countless wave of soldiers. Nobody can."


The roman inn legions and also Marines space both extremely trained with a clear unit structure and hierarchy the command. They emphasize aggression, overcoming the opponent, unit cohesion, and also being flexible on the ground. "It"s straightforward to arrange world like chess pieces and march lock in a direction," Erwin says. "But when you"ve gained basically large gangs of world going toward each other at knifepoint, it"s an extremely hard to preserve a plan. For this reason they need to improvise."

Romans relied on intimidation to psych the end their opponents. Lock marched in unison and also appeared as big and conspicuous together possible, overlapping shields to protect each other from attack. But wearing bright colors and lining up straight isn"t walk to execute much an excellent against a unit of Marines, that would be ideal off attacking guerilla-style when the Romans marched.

One benefit for the Marines: a knowledge of armed forces history. The Marines would know from Rome"s history that its legions can be vulnerable to ambushes, such together the one that resulted in their crushing loss at the fight of the Teutoburg Forest. The Marines would have serious disadvantages such as navigation, Goldsworthy says. Besides shedding all satellite navigation, their modern-day maps would certainly be nearly useless—everything from the food of rivers come the placement of woodlands would it is in different. But, at least in their first encounters v the Marines, the Romans most likely wouldn"t recognize that.

The vital for the Marines would be to continue to be on the move and avoid gaining bogged under in one place. If castle 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 selection of nasty siege tools on the Marines, such as the scorpion, a huge crossbow that quickly fired lengthy bolts. Romans were likewise known to cut off adversaries from water and also food supplies, forcing them to surrender or die.

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Who would Win?

Historian Goldsworthy states the MEU would probably lose in the long term—without the capability to resupply their modern-day weapons, they just wouldn"t have the ability to overcome the roman numbers. However, the says, they could destabilize the roman Empire, encourage polite war, and initiate local fracturing. " might discredit the Emperor by beating the closest army to Rome," the says. "But they would lack the numbers to regulate Rome itself—with a populace of a million or so—let alone the broader empire."

What about in the film? Erwin states he knows the ending, however won"t expose it at any time soon. He"s at this time on leave from his technical writing project to job-related on the screenplay full-time. A release day for the film version of Rome, Sweet Rome, or what it will certainly be called, is still unknown.

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