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Swords and Shields

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I think it might be a mistake to assume the Romans had the best materials. I'm not saying they didn't, but Persia had access to the inheritance of anatolian expertise as well, and the celts had a tradition of 'magic swords' which does imply a small number of high quality blades which is borne out by archaeological evidence.

Edited by caldrail

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I don't know that the gladius was an intrinsically better weapon than other swords of the period. It was the organization, discipline and fighting techniques of the Roman army that made them a force to be reckoned with. For their fighting style, using the large scutum shield in close combat, the short gladius was the optimum weapon. However, I doubt that anyone else the Romans met in combat had weapons of better material, i.e. steel vs. iron, either.


I seems that the prior to the Punic Wars the Romans used a sword something like the Greek xiphos. Sometime during the Punic Wars they replaced it with the gladius, presumably from their experiences in Spain, thus the name gladius hispaniensis. It is generally assumed that it was a superior weapon, and that is why they favored it over the xiphos.


On the other hand it may have just been more cost-effective to produce, and its effectiveness may have been as you suggested, a function of the skill and training of the legionnaires.

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The bent nail is a very good example for your opinion, and the links, illustrate quite nicely. Thank you. My engineer friend, would agree with you. He believes the Romans didn't have the technology etc. to make a "steel" product, but there has been some basis for arguing this view on this thread.


The notion that steel weapons and armor existed in this time seems to be bandied about in fiction and non-fiction. In this month's Military History an article about Trajan's Column refers to one of its details, "Into the Camp" with a description of the legionnaires wearing "steel lorica segmentata body armor..."


So, as a writer, if I use the term "steel" I have a feeling the accurate history police won't fine or discredit me.<g>


I am curious about what you said of the pilum, that they were intended to bend. Was this so a warrior could disengage the shaft from a shield, etc. so as not to become a victim?


I've had a lot of discussions about Roman "steel", and it all tends to stem from the idea that steel is just iron plus carbon, so what's the big deal? But even up into the 19th century a lot of wrought iron was used for constructing bridges, buildings, etc. Today, typical carpenter's nails, known as "common" nails, are soft iron as are railroad spikes, for example. It appears that the Chinese and Indians developed processes for steel making long before the West, but the technology was considered a military secret, not something that was freely shared with the rest of the world. There are pretty strong opinions I've read that "Damascus steel" was actually "Wootz steel" from India that was imported and sold through Damascus.


So if you use the word "steel" in writing about Roman armor, I'm among those who will detect that as most likely incorrect.


Now a Roman pilum was designed so that once it was thrown by a Roman legionary, it wouldn't be thrown back by the other side. There's some pretty good description of its design, along with pictures at this link: Roman Pilum. They were, in fact, designed to bend to render them useless as a weapon once thrown. In addition, they could penetrate an enemy's shield and then bend over, rendering his shield useless as well. One feature that is not mentioned in this article is the way the iron shaft was joined to the wooden portion - at least in some designs - using one metal pin and one wooden dowel to hold it in place. When the pilum struck, or perhaps when an enemy was fumbling around trying to disengage himself from it, the wooden dowel would break, leaving the iron shaft to swivel freely on the remaining metal pin. This design was instituted by Gaius Marius as part of his reforms when he created the professional Roman army around 107 BC.

I appreciate the insight and links!! I love visual models. I do find Roman and barbarian weaponry quite fascinating. In the end, I will try to avoid the word "steel" and use metal instead. I suspect fiction writers in this period who use the word steel either use it because they are ignorant of the facts or because the word steel conjures a shiny and sharp image. I just found it interesting to see the word steel used in some Roman historical fiction and asked because I also believed that a steel product came much later in time. Thanks.

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