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Conan

What was the Gladius designed to do?

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You're basically right, but we can't say just that. Because of its versatile design and title of sword, it must have been used for both actions. Likewise, the legionary carrying it must have be drilled in both the thrust and the cut.

 

Not to mention the discussion in this thread, showing (At least from my point of view) that it was primary a thrusting weapon, the argument that it must have been used to slash just because it's called a sword is just ridiculous. You can thrust with a sword forever with out even thinking about slashing. A word is there do describe something, more or less accurately. Yes I'm sure you could use it for slashing, but the word "sword" won't do as proof that is was as much for slashing as thrusting.

 

"Main Entry: sword

Pronunciation: 'sord

Function: noun

Usage: often attributive

Etymology: Middle English, from Old English sweord; akin to Old High German swert sword

1 : a weapon (as a cutlass or rapier) with a long blade for cutting or thrusting that is often used as a symbol of honor or authority

2 a : an agency or instrument of destruction or combat b : the use of force <the pen is mightier than the sword -- E. G. Bulwer-Lytton>

3 : coercive power

4 : something that resembles a sword

- sword

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An interesting perspective, but the word 'sword' dates from a later time than the roman empire. More revealing is the fact that the word 'gladius' also means 'penis', and therefore is a descriptive title to suggest a penetrative thrusting object.

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Alright, interesting thoughts. True, I was exagerating a bit. But would you say the gladius was never used to cut?

 

Of course not. As an example, the only honor higher then being allowed to hold a triumph for a general was to sacrifice Spolia opima at the Capitoline, something that could only be won by killing the enemy leader in single combat. I can hardly see that as a duel where the roman general was only thrusting from behind his shield.

 

Anyway in a "normal" combat situation (formation), thrusting was most probably preferable, but if necessary I'm sure they wouldn't hesitate to cut.

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Well in that case, I seriously doubt one action was used more often than another. In a duel, you sometimes need to slash your opponent, and you sometimes need to stab him. To say the Romans emphasized thrusting more than cutting is a real lack of understanding; to be able to do both, they must have been very well trained in both. You can't sacrifice one for the other. That's the beauty of the gladius' design: you have a versatile weapon, unlike, say, the spear or axe.

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It's a very big difference between a duel and a battle in formation. In the first case you'll have lots of space to move at. In the second you'll be standing very close to another soldier, who's shield is covering up your side. Therefor, slashing is very hard to accomplish and thrusting is preferred. Just because the could use it for cutting doesn't mean they did it normally.

 

I might add also that challenging the enemy leader was a very rare thing to do. From my knowledge it was only done twice before the Punic wars, once in legend by Romulus.

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It's a very big difference between a duel and a battle in formation. In the first case you'll have lots of space to move at. In the second you'll be standing very close to another soldier, who's shield is covering up your side. Therefor, slashing is very hard to accomplish and thrusting is preferred. Just because the could use it for cutting doesn't mean they did it normally.

 

I might add also that challenging the enemy leader was a very rare thing to do. From my knowledge it was only done twice before the Punic wars, once in legend by Romulus.

 

Now, you'll all have to forgive my womanly ignorance here, guys - but wouldn't a Roman general be on horseback? And wouldn't his counterpart - no matter how barbaric, also be on horseback? This being the case, would that not alter the techniques of the fight?

 

You can ridicule me if you wish - and please explain to me in idiot's language, as the legions are not my strongpoint, and I will not be offended by simplistic explanations suitable for a child of six. (I am NOT joking here - I am serious). Of course, even my scant knowledge tells me that the legionary himself was a foot soldier - but did the generals actually march into battle or were they sat in the saddle? Help - please explain. ;)

 

ETA: Also - was it not possible for the gladius to be used to smite off heads?

Edited by The Augusta

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It's a very big difference between a duel and a battle in formation. In the first case you'll have lots of space to move at. In the second you'll be standing very close to another soldier, who's shield is covering up your side. Therefor, slashing is very hard to accomplish and thrusting is preferred. Just because the could use it for cutting doesn't mean they did it normally.

 

I might add also that challenging the enemy leader was a very rare thing to do. From my knowledge it was only done twice before the Punic wars, once in legend by Romulus.

 

Sure, it might have been easier to perform a thrust in close formation, but you have to take the enemy's shield into consideration; it's hard to get around and behind it with a thrust. Thrusts came in handy sometimes, as did cuts. A professional soldier would strike in the most advantageous way depending on the situation, and that didn't always mean just one type of movement - even in densely-packed ranks. Might I add the gladius' shortness would have made tight cuts easier. The kind of close proximity between legionaries you're talking about would even be a hindrance to your almighty thrusts.

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The generals were expected to ride behind the lines in battle yes. Actually dictators had a special taboo about horseback riding that they had to ask permission to break all the time, since effective commanding would be impossible with out that. However there are example where they would fight, mostly in cavalry chock charges if necessary. Most Hellenistic rulers fought in the first line with their soldiers (As Alexander did) so we don't even have too search among barbarians to find that, and a certain Marcellus (unfortunately unspecified in my book) did kill a Gallic king in a duel during one of the Punic wars.

 

I'm afraid I can't give a more elaborated explanation now, I'm having a field day tomorrow 7 am.

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Now, you'll all have to forgive my womanly ignorance here, guys - but wouldn't a Roman general be on horseback? And wouldn't his counterpart - no matter how barbaric, also be on horseback? This being the case, would that not alter the techniques of the fight?

 

You can ridicule me if you wish - and please explain to me in idiot's language, as the legions are not my strongpoint, and I will not be offended by simplistic explanations suitable for a child of six. (I am NOT joking here - I am serious). Of course, even my scant knowledge tells me that the legionary himself was a foot soldier - but did the generals actually march into battle or were they sat in the saddle? Help - please explain. ;)

 

ETA: Also - was it not possible for the gladius to be used to smite off heads?

 

Yes, the gladius could. And you're right about the equestrian generals; most of them fought on horseback in the heat of battle, but Klingan's refering to individual duels which took place before the actual battles - often as ways to avoid huge loss of life at the cost of losing a good leader.

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Now, you'll all have to forgive my womanly ignorance here, guys - but wouldn't a Roman general be on horseback? And wouldn't his counterpart - no matter how barbaric, also be on horseback? This being the case, would that not alter the techniques of the fight?

 

You can ridicule me if you wish - and please explain to me in idiot's language, as the legions are not my strongpoint, and I will not be offended by simplistic explanations suitable for a child of six. (I am NOT joking here - I am serious). Of course, even my scant knowledge tells me that the legionary himself was a foot soldier - but did the generals actually march into battle or were they sat in the saddle? Help - please explain. :unsure:

 

ETA: Also - was it not possible for the gladius to be used to smite off heads?

 

Yes, the gladius could. And you're right about the equestrian generals; most of them fought on horseback in the heat of battle, but Klingan's refering to individual duels which took place before the actual battles - often as ways to avoid huge loss of life at the cost of losing a good leader.

 

Ah - got you! Thank you for that explanation, Hadrian. Yes, I've read of these pre-battle duels in Livy. Sorry if I've dragged you off track here.

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Ah - got you! Thank you for that explanation, Hadrian. Yes, I've read of these pre-battle duels in Livy. Sorry if I've dragged you off track here.

 

No problem, man. Not even the other guys know everything.

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Well in that case, I seriously doubt one action was used more often than another. In a duel, you sometimes need to slash your opponent, and you sometimes need to stab him. To say the Romans emphasized thrusting more than cutting is a real lack of understanding; to be able to do both, they must have been very well trained in both. You can't sacrifice one for the other. That's the beauty of the gladius' design: you have a versatile weapon, unlike, say, the spear or axe.

 

I understand where you're you're coming from, but I think you need to realise that there's different styles of swordplay as well as different weapons, which all add up in conjunction with the tactical deployment of the men using them. I agree with what you say about duelling. However, the romans found that swinging a sword around leaves you open to thrusting attackings that do actually put the enemy out of action fairly quickly. Even a good swing with a slashing attack might not. The gladius, used in its intended stabbing mode, allows a more precise and quick method of despatching your foe. During the republic, as Polybius makes clear, the emphasis was very much on thrusting. Troops are shoulder to shoulder with heavy shields carried on their other arm. Slashing attacks in these situations are going to be difficult and may well uspet or injure the guy next to you. There isn't room to swing. In open order the situation is different, but roman heavy infantry didn't usually fight in that formation. Slashing attacks become more popular during the empire, and I think this may well be one of the reasons the gladius became shorter, because the men using them had less room to act than their brawny barbarian foes. The gladius is indeed versatile - no disagreement whatsoever. In the heat of battle during a confused melee it might easily be that romans resorted to swinging the gladius about wildly - I would regard that as a failure of traing and morale because it hints at desperation. A calm well trained legionary knew his business and how best to achieve his ends. His training had taught him to stab rather than swing. His situation was likely to make stabbing the best attack mode of choice anyway.

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Alright, but wouldn't you say they would have had to resort to cutting the odd time? Even in close order? I can't see the thrust coming in handy in every single situation.

 

I'm just saying that if they were employing both actions (which they positively were) in close order, they must have mastered both the cut and the thrust, equally.

 

Situations demanding the use of a cut come up just as often as those demanding thrusts. A professional soldier knows exatly when to use either.

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That short deadly weapon was for up close and personal combat. As stated elsewhere in this thread, also able to be weilded in close quarters and used with agility. In the heat of battle where soliders from both sides are cleaved, wounded, dying and deceased the 'hecticness' of the moment would amount to climbing over bodies and animals as well as terrain, with stench of death hanging like a cloud over the engagement. We of modern times have no clue as to what it was really like in those battles of long ago. I don't care how tuff your 'hood' may be where you reside lol.

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