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Conan

What was the Gladius designed to do?

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

As a somewhat extreme example, during the late republic one gentleman named Salvidius had helped two sides in the contest. He knew he might run into trouble, so just in case held a banquet with his friends in case it was his last. During the proceedings, a centurion burst in with a squad of legionaries in tow. He promptly pulled Slavidius over a table/sofa(?) and hacked his head off with a gladius, informing the party-goers that they should remain where they were. Which of course they did, well into the night, terrified the same fate as the corpse beside them might also happen to themselves.

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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?

 

 

The general would have almost always been on horseback. If the battle goes south, he needs to make a run for it. Plus, the cavalry has a calvary type of gladius. It gave the rider the distinct advantage of not having to lean over so far, which would allow them to become unhorsed. But to answer your question, yes the Roman general was almost always on a horse, as was his Lts. Only in South America during the time of the Inca do you really see a general not on a horse. This is due to a lack of the horse. Instead, the general was carried around on a litter by four servants. The General has to be visible to his troops. Hope this helps.

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Plus, the cavalry has a calvary type of gladius.

 

I thought cavalry used the slightly larger spatha, not the gladius. Anyway, the cavalry usually rellied on spears.

 

Generals of classical Greece fought usually on foot as hoplites. Later everybody important was on horseback and armed with a spatha. Of course, city assaults were foot business.

 

One of Caesar man at Thapsus cut the trunk of an elephant that had risen him above the ground. Also the wide blade it's a indication of slashing movement while the sharp point it's an indication that it was also a thrusting weapon. It was dual purpose.

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Plus, the cavalry has a calvary type of gladius.

 

I thought cavalry used the slightly larger spatha, not the gladius. Anyway, the cavalry usually rellied on spears.

 

One of Caesar man at Thapsus cut the trunk of an elephant that had risen him above the ground. Also the wide blade it's a indication of slashing movement while the sharp point it's an indication that it was also a thrusting weapon. It was dual purpose.

 

Roman cavalry did indeed use a spatha, which was to all intents and purposes a longer gladius, except that thrusting attacks are not so easy on horseback. For that reason, I would assume that slashing attacks from a spatha were far more common, another reason why it became popualr in the poorly trained 4th century soldiery.

 

However - The spears carried by cavalry tended to be thrown and were actually very lightweight. These were harrasement weapons used in the opening rounds of an attack, leaving the heavy spatha to hack at the enemy when caught in a melee or when pursuing if the spear wasn't available.

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When the early Roman cavalryman charged the opposing infantry's flanks or cavalry, he used his spatha to skewer the enemy, putting the full momentum of his galloping horse behind the blow. With his elbow locked and his arm and sabre pointing straight forward, he would have looked for all the world like a Napoleonic cuirassier (minus the large, oval shield).

 

Once the melee was joined, he used his spatha to cut and thrust. Although it would have been easier to slash, he must have employed both actions to make the most out of the situation - much to the disadvantage of his more cut-oriented foe.

 

The javelins, as says caldrail, were used for skirmishing.

 

Later Roman cavalry included lancers.

Edited by Hadrian Caesar

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When the early Roman cavalryman charged the opposing infantry's flanks or cavalry, he used his spatha to skewer the enemy, putting the full momentum of his galloping horse behind the blow.

The spatha will come out of your hand immediately on contact with the enemy. It might even sprain your wrist. If you're galloping at full chat, a slashing attack will slide off the enemy instead of embedding itself.

 

With his elbow locked and his arm and sabre pointing straight forward, he would have looked for all the world like a Napoleonic cuirassier (minus the large, oval shield).

;) Can't quite see the resemblance myself, but if you say so...

 

Once the melee was joined, he used his spatha to cut and thrust. Although it would have been easier to slash, he must have employed both actions to make the most out of the situation - much to the disadvantage of his more cut-oriented foe.

Stabbing from horseback has disadvantages. In order to do so, the rider must thrust downward which is less effective because the shoulder does not force the blow as it would for a man thrusting at the same height. Conceivably the rider could twist his upper torso to compensate (I love stretched muscles!) but the downward vector is still less strong. For an effective stab, the rider must lean forward to allow his shoulder to add to the blow. There's no doubt whatsoever this happened, you see re-enactors doing exactly that. The risk in reality is that this brings you closer to being unhorsed. The cut-oriented foe in this situation could actually have an advantage, because his upper-body strength is better placed. What makes the fight uneven is the horse - a large animal with considerable weight. If the rider uses a slashing attack, then his shoulder is usefully employed and thats when his advantage in height really shows. But you're not wrong really, because inevitably some stabs would have taken place - though this was more to do with finishing someone off than melee duelling.

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''The spatha will come out of your hand immediately on contact with the enemy. It might even sprain your wrist. If you're galloping at full chat, a slashing attack will slide off the enemy instead of embedding itself.''

 

Will it, now? Then I suppose every trooper in history who charged the enemy point-first with a sabre just let go of it on impact, and then somehow picked it up from his saddle in order to fight the melee.

Cavalrymen rode on after the initial blow, using the forward movement of their horses to withdraw their swords. You're right about the broken wrists, though. Less experienced soldiers often injured themselves upon charging. Hence the nickname given to a certain cavalry sabre of the American Cicil War, ''Wristbreaker''. If it was so impractical, they would have stopped doing it a long time ago.

 

If you're still unsure, just look up a Canadian armoured regiment. You'll find that some of these still practice sabre charging for show.

 

 

'';) Can't quite see the resemblance myself, but if you say so...''

 

Comment apreciated. From the footsoldier's point of view, I doubt he would have noticed the peculiarities of the mounted warrior running him over.

 

''Stabbing from horseback has disadvantages. In order to do so, the rider must thrust downward which is less effective because the shoulder does not force the blow as it would for a man thrusting at the same height. Conceivably the rider could twist his upper torso to compensate (I love stretched muscles!) but the downward vector is still less strong. For an effective stab, the rider must lean forward to allow his shoulder to add to the blow. There's no doubt whatsoever this happened, you see re-enactors doing exactly that. The risk in reality is that this brings you closer to being unhorsed. The cut-oriented foe in this situation could actually have an advantage, because his upper-body strength is better placed. What makes the fight uneven is the horse - a large animal with considerable weight. If the rider uses a slashing attack, then his shoulder is usefully employed and thats when his advantage in height really shows. But you're not wrong really, because inevitably some stabs would have taken place - though this was more to do with finishing someone off than melee duelling.''

 

Well I'm glad we agree on most of this.

I don't know about you, but I would have been happy to throw my arm forward in the nick of time, forcing my spatha into the belly of the Gaul raising his arm to strike down on me.

Edited by Hadrian Caesar

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When cavalry charge full pelt toward the enemy with sabre pointing forward, you need to realise that the horsemen are not going to stab the enemy with it. Far from it, the sabre is perfectly adapted for slashing strikes. The act of pointing the sword is mainly bravado, to encourage yourself and others in the charge with a display of aggression that hopefully will also frighten the willies out of the poor souls about to receive your attentions. When you actually get there, the sabre would be used conventionally in a swing of the arm. otherwise the sword buries itself in your target, he falls over, and you carry on past. You really will lose the sword there and then.

 

All this is all very well, but it ignores an essential point about roman cavalry tactics. They were not used to charge the enemy in the manner we associate with napoleonic cavalry or whatever. Far from it. To do so was a very unhealthy situation as many cavalry units found out the hard way in the ancient world. Even the introduction of the cataphracts didn't relieve the danger - at least once such a heavily protected unit charged the enemy who promptly stepped aside and let them in, only to unhorse them and finish them off with little difficulty.

 

Ancient cavalry had a supportive role. They were used to scout, to harass, and to pursue. Against another cavalry unit we see a more agressive stance, but against infantry there seems to be a more wary demeanour. Horses don't like charging massses of people and need to be trained to do so - this body of experience wasn't available in the ancient world.

 

Regarding the spatha, this is a weapon with a longer reach than the gladius, essential for cavalrymen who want to hit infantry milling around below them. The spatha is not however a weapon ideal for charging. Its a melee weapon, designed to be used when the rider is in the thick of it. Roman cavalry wouldn't charge in that manner, they would prefer to disrupt the enemy formation by riding up close and throwing light spears. It may cause casualties, or it may distract them while the real threat marches in from another direction.

 

One thing that might be said of the spatha is that it could be used in pursuance - when a broken horde of barbarians is running for the hills a unit of spatha-armed cavalry could conceivably cause many casualties by riding up close and swinging hard at their back/head/shoulder. Note however this wasn't done at the charge. That sort of speed wasn't necessary - a trot will easily gain on a typical tired barbarian looking backward in horror and stumbiling on rough grass.

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Well, caldrail, you know what I think, so I'll just be quiet. But just so you know, every one of England's (if that is where you're from) mounted regiments would disagree with you. If you ever get the chance to visit with one of them, you'll find their sabre drill does, as it has for centuries, include charging with the point.

 

Of course, no Romans will correct you, but the Royal Armoured Corps wouldn't hesitate for a moment.

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Well, caldrail, you know what I think, so I'll just be quiet. But just so you know, every one of England's (if that is where you're from) mounted regiments would disagree with you. If you ever get the chance to visit with one of them, you'll find their sabre drill does, as it has for centuries, include charging with the point.

 

Of course, no Romans will correct you, but the Royal Armoured Corps wouldn't hesitate for a moment.

 

Thats not disputed. My point is that the pointed sabre is an aggressive posture, not a form of attack. Imagine for a moment the cavalry are bearing down on you. Each is holding their sword forward and screaming blue murder - the impression is that the rider ahead of me is coming at me saying - "I'm gonna get yuh!". I don't know about you, but personally I think I'd probably gulp....

 

When they arrive at the target the cavalrymen involved are still going to swing their swords to attack. Thats part of the drill too. Saves on injuries and lost swords.

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Thats not disputed. My point is that the pointed sabre is an aggressive posture, not a form of attack. Imagine for a moment the cavalry are bearing down on you. Each is holding their sword forward and screaming blue murder - the impression is that the rider ahead of me is coming at me saying - "I'm gonna get yuh!". I don't know about you, but personally I think I'd probably gulp....

 

When they arrive at the target the cavalrymen involved are still going to swing their swords to attack. Thats part of the drill too. Saves on injuries and lost swords.

 

Yes, the drill you mention does exist, but so does mine. Most of the time, when they charge with their points down, they're still going to follow through on it; they will, as I've said, use the superior reach of the outstretched arm and sabre to bury the blades in the enemy (cavalry of inf.), and then let the forward movement of the horse draw it out again as they pass their targets.

 

That's where our opinions differ, no? I'm just saying they do the same drill today and, just like 200 years ago, their intentions in battle would be to skewer the adversaries at the charge, not cut them.

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Yes, the drill you mention does exist, but so does mine. Most of the time, when they charge with their points down, they're still going to follow through on it; they will, as I've said, use the superior reach of the outstretched arm and sabre to bury the blades in the enemy (cavalry of inf.), and then let the forward movement of the horse draw it out again as they pass their targets.

 

That's where our opinions differ, no? I'm just saying they do the same drill today and, just like 200 years ago, their intentions in battle would be to skewer the adversaries at the charge, not cut them.

 

Your horse is at the gallp - whats that? 30, maybe 40mph? You plunge yoursabre in and yes, it will penetrate given the speed and momentum behind it. But thats the problem! The guy you just skewered falls over - well he would really cos you just killed him - but the sword is buried in him. He starts to fall over but you're still galloping at top speed. By the the time he's fallen you've passed him by yards - and the sword, having stuck in him at a certain angle - is still at that angle inserted in his torso. It just isn't possible to hold on to the sword in these cirmcumstances. If you were riding slower then possibly, especially if he was running away from you. HadrianCaesar - I'm not getting at you or talking BS - if you really don't believe me then arrange with mate to stab something reasonably large, heavy, and solid out of the passenger side of a car driven by a mate. Pleaase arrange medical assistance beforehand - you will get a shock.

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Broken wrists did occur, I'll give you that. But in a proper point-charge, the blade enters at significant an angle (pointing off to the right or left, depending on the strong arm), as you say. If the cavalryman keeps a locked elbow and a loose shoulder (as his training has taught him), the movement of his horse will pull him forward and away before his wrist or body can absorb the impact. His arm will swing back, and his sword will remove itself from its skewered victim as the moving horse and trooper pull it out.

 

The horse, as you know, will pass beside the target - if it ran straight for it, then you'd be right; there would be broken wrists, arms, and much, much worse...

The two adversaries might even be half a yard apart, and yet still, the man in a point-charge can defeat the one in a cutting charge before the latter even comes within striking range. The blade might not even enter any deeper than half a foot.

 

 

I really have nothing more to say. I understand where you're coming from, caldrail, but go ask a cavalry officer who's done sabre drill. The shock will be yours.

On the other hand, you could be absolutely right. That would just mean that cavalry regiments like, say, the Scots Greys, are and always have been wrong.

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No, I think you simply misinterpret the cavalry drill and its purposes. Spears are good for thrusting attacks on horseback - plenty of shaft to hold on to and absorb the impact, and a secondary weapon to rely on when you lose it. A sword? No, on horseback I would use a swing. Horse speed + swing speed = dead barbarian. Both halves of him :) Thats the purpose of a cavalry sabre - absolutely perfect for slashing and hacking bits off your enemy. Also, the sword will naturally slide off the opponent thus allowing you to continue. The point drill is intended to improve aim and just great for skewering fuits on a pole. Unfortunately human beings are heavy and all too often an impaled person does not give up the sword easily.

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caldrail,

 

Type in this link and read the text: http://swordforum.com/articles/ams/cavalrycombat.php

 

It's from the Sword Forum International, and with all probability, its members (many of which have extensively studied their subjects) know what they're talking about.

 

I'm not interested in prolonging this argument. I've told you what I believe, and as far as I can see, you're repeating yourself. If this essay isn't enough to convince you, then please, rather than continue trying to persuade me, go ask a cavalry officer or historian. He'll probably be more informative concerning sabre drill than either of us.

Edited by Hadrian Caesar

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