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Conan

What was the Gladius designed to do?

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It is true that roman soldiers were taught very specific styles of fighting. A well-formed legion is restricted in its use of a sword. Each man must fit between another, all have big shields, with a narrow slot between them to thrust a gladius forward. Slashing around is only possible when casualties or melee make room for it.

 

Could somebody please help me out here. I thought that Roman legionaries were taught to fight using wooden weapons that were twice the weight of the real gladius, so that they would find the real thing much easier to use. I have also seen somewhere that they were trained to use a variety of strokes against a wooden post, including both stabbing and slashing.

 

If this is true, doesn't it point to the idea that our concept of a tight-knit formation does not always hold true? Or is it just me being a bit thick!????

 

It was the training that made the Roman army what it was, not the weapons or the armour. With good training a man with a sword will easily beat a man with a sword, shield, lorica segmentata and kitchen sink. The Romans were trained to fight, and were trained not to run away: this is the difference. When armies rout is when the vast majority of casualties occur.

Edited by sonic

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I thought that Roman legionaries were taught to fight using wooden weapons that were twice the weight of the real gladius, so that they would find the real thing much easier to use. I have also seen somewhere that they were trained to use a variety of strokes against a wooden post, including both stabbing and slashing.

 

It was the training that made the Roman army what it was, not the weapons or the armour. With good training a man with a sword will easily beat a man with a sword, shield, lorica segmentata and kitchen sink. The Romans were trained to fight, and were trained not to run away: this is the difference. When armies rout is when the vast majority of casualties occur.

 

The legion attempted to fight as a solid wall of shields with sharp points coming at you at a steady unstoppable pace. It often worked, which is why the romans preferred the heavy infantry style. Of course, sometimes things would not go to plan, and then in many cases a confused melee becomes every man for himself until someone brings order or the enemy give up and run.

 

Training was essential but you cannot seperate the arms and armour that went with it. A good man may well be able to defeat roman protection but they often didn't. The defensive value of roman equipment isn't bad.

 

Every army trains its men not to run away. The romans were routed often enough though, and yes, I agree. A man who decides to run is on his own and takes his chances, which aren't good if enemy cavalry spot you.

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Every army trains its men not to run away. The romans were routed often enough though, and yes, I agree. A man who decides to run is on his own and takes his chances, which aren't good if enemy cavalry spot you.

 

Every army might train its men in the hope that they will not run away, not every army punishes those who run by decimation, or by forcing them to stand up to eat for the rest of the war (one of the legions after Cannae, I think!).

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Every army might train its men in the hope that they will not run away, not every army punishes those who run by decimation, or by forcing them to stand up to eat for the rest of the war (one of the legions after Cannae, I think!).

 

True, but few infantries in the history of the world were as disciplined as Roman legions. Though this can be more heavily associated with societal duty (earlier Republic) and training than through the fear of punishment. While decimation is a clear historical fact, there are relatively few instances (and most written incidents are rather obscure) over the course of the 1,000 year history of the Republic and Western Empire. The fear of punishment is more likely to be a deterrent to mutinous behavior on a large scale and insubordinate behavior (including desertion) in smaller and individual conditions. On the field of battle, the morale of the legions was far more likely influenced by strategy, tactics, training and the belief of the individual soldier/unit in these things than the thought that, "If we run away, we may be decimated".

 

Still, I'll readily concede that the idea of discipline through physical punishment was at least a minor influence.

 

At any rate... after a lengthy tangent into cavalry tactics, legionary discipline, etc. have the detractors finally been convinced that the primary function of the gladius, and the Roman military organization, was to thrust? I concede that the gladius was capable of slashing and there was likely some training in this respect, but my impression of the thread was to determine the core function.

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That makes sense as long as they employed both actions regularily, using each to the greatest effect. I can agree, though, that when they had the option of applying either technique, they would go for the more advantageous thrust (but an opportunity to thrust doesn't show itself any more often than one to cut).

Edited by Hadrian Caesar

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"Then his comrades fastened on his armour; he took an infantry shield and a Spanish sword as better adapted for close fighting;

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Until we get to Sassanid Persia, how many of Rome's opponents used heavy armor? Some of the Celtic warriors even fought naked if we are to believe the sources. Seems to me a good thrust from a short sword is all it would take against such foes.

 

Well, starting from their earliest wars - Etruscans would have been armoured at least as heavily, with heavy Greeks influence, and Samnites too wore some armour (the same Cardiophylax that most republican Roman infantry wore). Then of course there was Pyrrhus' invading Hellenistic army which included both armoured infantry and cavalry. Moving on to the Punic Wars - many Carthaginian troops wore armour - again Hellenistic influence and later captured Roman armour. Of course even some Celts, Celtiberians and Spanish wore armour, though only the wealthiest minority. Then in the 2nd century the major enemies included more Hellenistic Successor states: Macedonians and Seleucids, so that's more armoured infantry and cavalry, including the first meeting with cataphracts at Magnesia. In the first century, apart from the fact that the legions spent a lot of time fighting other legions, one of the main enemies was Mithridates of Pontus - another well balanced force with plenty of armoured infantry and cavalry. Then of course we have the Parthians from 53 AD - more cataphracts and Sarmatians from the 1st century AD with more armoured cavalry - all before we get to the Sassanids!

 

Phil Sidnell :ph34r:

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I've read that the gladius was used to slash as well as thrust and was capable of severing limbs even at the shoulder. However I personally find it hard to picture how such a short and relatively light weapon could gain the momentum to cut through a shoulder joint.

 

People thoughts and opinions much appreciated... Thanks B)

 

 

The quote usually cited in support of this is the following from Livy:

 

'Now they saw the bodies dismembered with the Spanish sword, arms cut off with the shoulder attached, or heads severed from bodies, with the necks completely cut through, internal organs exposed, and a general feeling of panic ensued when they discovered the kind of wepaons and the kind of men they had to contend with.' Livy, History of Rome, xxxi. 34.

 

This is from his description of the first meeting of Roman and Macedonian troops at Athacus in 200 BC, but what is often not mentioned is that the only Roman troops engaged were cavalry (and they were fighting against both Macedonian cavalry and light infantry.

 

Also, I don't think it is absolutely certainly the case that at this date (ie in the source Livy was drawing on) the term 'spanish sword' would necessarily have meant the final form that became the trademark weapon of the legions. Experience against Spanish troops in the Punic wars had led the Romans to take Spanish smiths back to Italy to make swords, the key being their technique of making better iron/steel, rather than the design itself. The Spanish used either a straight cut-and-thrust sword, which is obviously the pattern for the later classic gladius hispaniensis, or a recurved slashing falcata. Perhaps at first both sorts were known as spanish swords, if made using the new technique, regardless of shape. So it could even be that these cavalry were using the falcata style of sword (back in the 4th c. BC, Xenophon had recommended the similar kopis or machaira to Greek cavalry as more suitable for a horseman, ' because, from the height of a horse's back the cut of a machaira will serve you better than the thrust of a xiphos' or straight sword).

 

Phil Sidnell

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