ELi5: How did public address work before amplification? Like, Caesar addressing his troops on the field


ELi5: How did public address work before amplification? Like, Caesar addressing his troops on the field

In: 23

Flags and horns mostly.

Designated soldiers would carry flags or banners to indicate certain information.
Like “march after the guy with the flag”

More timing sensitive actions could be signalled with horns too.
Like “release the barrage of arrows from the hidden ballista”

And of course the leadership structure of the army was important too.
If you have good sergeants leading smaller groups, you almost dont need a general waving his flags

The idea of the gallant general telling to his men isn’t really something that happened because of exactly the issue you’re realizing. That many people means it’s a ton of ground to cover with one’s voice. Instruments like drums or trumpets / horns were used to give instruction in battle. Sometimes generals would run up and down the line but that was not very effective in the heat of battle.

Mass public speaking was less of a common thing unless it was in a specifically designed theatre where the acoustics of the building would enhance the sound and the event was planned well ahead of time. Generals really didn’t address the common soldier that often. They may address their officers but any speach given to a massive army was likely a bit of fiction or historical revisionism done by people of the age to give the subject a more noble air. If any address was to be given it would be written down and spread by messengers to be read aloud to the masses whom likely couldn’t read at the time. This job would later be known as the “crier”.

Depends on the context. Troops in the field is different to speeches in venues that were designed to have speeches made (amphitheatres, cathedrals, rotundas etc) – historically, buildings were designed to have a voice carry from a specific location, so you didn’t need amplification because the architecture would carry the sound of the voice.

You had to speak loudly and clearly, and oratory was a VERY important skill for any leader to possess. During a speech to the troops, those close enough would relay the message back to those who were too far away to hear. In terms of signals on the battlefield, they used flags or trumpet signals to let troops know what they should be doing.

Often a leader would orate and scribes would jot down the words which would be circulated to others to speak

Anyone remember the “mic checks” from Occupy? Someone giving a speech would have their words repeated by people in the audience. In many circumstances, this was how it was done in the old days before amplification technology was widespread.

Relevant account from Benjamin Franklin on hearing a sermon from George Whitefield, regarded as one of the great public speakers of his day:

>He had a loud and clear Voice, and articulated his Words and Sentences so perfectly that he might be heard and understood at a great Distance, especially as his [audience]… observed the most exact Silence… I had the Curiosity to learn how far he could be heard, by retiring backwards down the Street towards the River; and I found his Voice distinct till I came near Front Street, when some noise in that Street, obscured it. Imagining then a Semicircle, of which my Distance should be the Radius, and that it were filled with [listeners], to each of whom I allowed two square feet, I computed that he might well be heard by more than Thirty Thousand. This reconciled me to the Newspaper Accounts of his having preached to 25,000 People in the Fields, and to the ancient Histories of Generals haranguing whole Armies, of which I had sometimes doubted.

Short answer: the right terrain and a quiet audience can accommodate someone with good ability to project their voice.