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Conan

What was the Gladius designed to do?

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Was the gladius designed to thrust into unprotected parts of the body? Slash? Or puncture/penetrate armor?

 

I've spoke to a few roman re-enactures on the matter but have read very little on this in books and literature.

 

Most people have said the gladius was used to thrust at unprotected parts of the body i.e. in the groin, face, arm pit, lower abdomen (below a breast plate/curiass) and in the neck/ throat.

 

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.

 

Then there is the question could or was the gladius used to penetrate armour? I could accept that if there was enough force behind a thrust and the gladius sharp enough it could puncture linen armour but I could not see a gladius getting through a breast plate or mail/scale armour.

 

However since I would have though most legionary opponents would have been mainly unarmoured especially there Celtic opponents the gladius effectiveness against armoured opponents was not essential.

 

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

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Tight cohesive Roman military arrangements makes the concept relatively clear. The gladius was primarily a thrusting weapon to be used in conjunction with protective shielding on either side of the actual sword. Whether a combatant targeted the groin, abdomen, chest or neck may have depended entirely upon circumstances, but most re-enactors would agree that the motion remained a relatively simple forward and sometimes upward motion. Obviously, anyone could swing a gladius with the intention to slash (especially in pursuit of a fleeing enemy, or when cohesive lines broke down, but it's primary function under optimal conditions was the forward thrust regardless of what vulnerable area they may have been targeting.

 

Also bear in mind that the scutum itself was a tool of some capability. Using it to push, smash and keep an enemy off balance might be all that was needed to open a vulnerability for the thrust of the gladius.

 

They [legionaries] were likewise taught not to cut but to thrust with their swords. For the Romans not only made a jest of those who fought with the edge of that weapon, but always found them an easy conquest. A stroke with the edges, though made with ever so much force, seldom kills, as the vital parts of the body are defended both by the bones and armor. On the contrary, a stab, though it penetrates but two inches, is generally fatal. Besides in the attitude of striking, it is impossible to avoid exposing the right arm and side; but on the other hand, the body is covered while a thrust is given, and the adversary receives the point before he sees the sword. This was the method of fighting principally used by the Romans, and their reason for exercising recruits with arms of such a weight at first was, that when they came to carry the common ones so much lighter, the greater difference might enable them to act with greater security and alacrity in time of action.

 

Flavius Vegetius Renatus, De Re Militaris I.12

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Chain mail is relatively easy to stab through. You can even make it through segmentata if you have the right angle (between the plates) and a sharp enough blade. The gladius was primarily a thrusting weapon, but it was occasionally used to slash at unprotected legs and arms.

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Chain mail is relatively easy to stab through. You can even make it through segmentata if you have the right angle (between the plates) and a sharp enough blade.

 

I feel I must diagree on both those accounts quoted above. Although it is indeed possible to stab through mail I wouldn't say it is "relatively easy". As for the segmentata everyone one I have spoke to has agreed that nothing availble at the time of its use could get through a segmentata except possibly an artillery bolt. Also with regard to a thrust between plates I'm 95% sure I have read that segmentata where designed specifically to prevent such an occurance. Although I do not have the source at hand unfortunately to fall back on ^_^

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Perhaps then I'm failing to look at it in context of what was available at the time. I do know that with modern reproductions of ancient weapons, chainmail is easily cut/slashed/stabbed through with a decent blade. However these are modern reproductions, what they had at the time was probably quite different.

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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.

 

Then there is the question could or was the gladius used to penetrate armour? I could accept that if there was enough force behind a thrust and the gladius sharp enough it could puncture linen armour but I could not see a gladius getting through a breast plate or mail/scale armour.

 

However since I would have though most legionary opponents would have been mainly unarmoured especially there Celtic opponents the gladius effectiveness against armoured opponents was not essential.

 

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

 

The blade is heavy despite the short length and well capable of delivering slashing attacks. Republican armies were taught to stab only, but the shortening sword lengths of the empire and the changes in style meant that slashing attacks were increasingly used. Eventually this led to the abandonment of the gladius because poorly trained troops preferred a longer weapon to keep the enemy at bay.

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As for the segmentata everyone one I have spoke to has agreed that nothing availble at the time of its use could get through a segmentata except possibly an artillery bolt.

 

I don't want to turn a gladius thread into an armor thread, but watching a history channel production on lorica segmentata, not even a scorpion bolt went through. The flexible plates absorbed the impact.

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The kinetic energy of such a blow would probably be fatal to the legionnaire behind the Segmentata plates,projectiles dont have to penetrate to be fatal.A Legionnaire didnt wear much padding behind his armour,with no jack to help absorb some of the energy the force would break his bones,maybe rupture the important bits inside.

Has any tests been done on Balista/Scorpion Bows? can they be accuratly recreated today with the same materials as was used by the Romans?

I know a accurate medieval WarBow replica can produce 110kj of force on impact,with the correct type of Arrow and point,thats more than enough to kill a man.I imagine a Balista can produce a lot more energy than a hand drawn bow,but i have no info on Balistas,i just presunme there more powerful.

Edited by longbow

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Sorry about this, it's a bit long...

 

From what I've read/discovered, the gladius' design doesn't seem to have been so focused on thrusting. I have a gladius replica which, although it isn't as heavy or rigid as the original, indicates a more versatile purpose.

 

Almost all swords share the ability to both thrust and cut - hence the term: sword. Otherwise, they're usually classified as axes.

 

The gladius' characteristics don't necessarily make it better for thrusting than for cutting. Unlike that of most other melee weapons, its unique grip was to be held by the fingers (thumb included), rather than by the whole hand. As a result, it automatically became more manoeuverable (less unwieldy) than its barbarian counterparts in the heat of battle.

 

This agility has often thought to be caused by the blade's shortness, which is only partly true; the gladius' lesser length gave it yet another advantage over the longsword. One way in which ancient sword combat differs from that of the renaissance is the use of shields. With the use of gunpowder, armour was discarded in favour of agility. Length and reach became more important in dueling.

 

In ancient warfare, on the other hand, reach wasn't such an advantage; because shields were such effective forms of protection, their users could get in closer and even use them as sorts of brutish, offensive weapons. Fighting with a longsword in this case would have posed a problem - especially for the thrust. Should the user miss his enemy with a stab, he'd have had to pull his arm back a long way to make another one. With a shorter sword, however, making thrusts became much easier, even in the very close (shields) combat of the ancient world.

 

Finally, the gladius' acute point probably just permitted more deadly stabs. The only ancient reference to the gladius' primary purpose as a thrusting weapon, as far as I know, comes from Vegetius. He may very well have been mistaken, because by his time (late fourth century), the roman sword had become more akin to the germanic broadsword - mainly a slashing weapon.

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Sorry about this, it's a bit long...

 

From what I've read/discovered, the gladius' design doesn't seem to have been so focused on thrusting. I have a gladius replica which, although it isn't as heavy or rigid as the original, indicates a more versatile purpose.

They'd be daft not to, or the weapon has limited utility. But the standard training of legionary swordplay featured thrusting.

 

Almost all swords share the ability to both thrust and cut - hence the term: sword. Otherwise, they're usually classified as axes.

No, the epee doesn't have a sharp edge nor do some cleaver style swords have points.

 

The gladius' characteristics don't necessarily make it better for thrusting than for cutting. Unlike that of most other melee weapons, its unique grip was to be held by the fingers (thumb included), rather than by the whole hand. As a result, it automatically became more manoeuverable (less unwieldy) than its barbarian counterparts in the heat of battle.

Nope. Try that in combat and you won't be holding the sword for long.

 

This agility has often thought to be caused by the blade's shortness, which is only partly true; the gladius' lesser length gave it yet another advantage over the longsword. One way in which ancient sword combat differs from that of the renaissance is the use of shields. With the use of gunpowder, armour was discarded in favour of agility. Length and reach became more important in dueling.

The short length can be a disadvantage. It requires more guts and practice to get in close. Swords became shorter during the empire and the style more fancy and florid. From the 3rd century AD the gladius is dropped very quickly in favour of the longer spatha, which wasn't generally used to thrust and could be used by poorly trained troops.

 

In ancient warfare, on the other hand, reach wasn't such an advantage; because shields were such effective forms of protection, their users could get in closer and even use them as sorts of brutish, offensive weapons. Fighting with a longsword in this case would have posed a problem - especially for the thrust. Should the user miss his enemy with a stab, he'd have had to pull his arm back a long way to make another one. With a shorter sword, however, making thrusts became much easier, even in the very close (shields) combat of the ancient world.

Long reach is useful if your opponent has shorter weaponry. The reason the romans used a short blade is a quickdraw principle based on the mass formation of a hevavy infantry unit.

 

Finally, the gladius' acute point probably just permitted more deadly stabs. The only ancient reference to the gladius' primary purpose as a thrusting weapon, as far as I know, comes from Vegetius. He may very well have been mistaken, because by his time (late fourth century), the roman sword had become more akin to the germanic broadsword - mainly a slashing weapon.

Yes, that wicked point was there for a purpose. Both Livy and Polybius discuss swordfighting and confirm the changes of style over time.

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Sorry about this, it's a bit long...

 

From what I've read/discovered, the gladius' design doesn't seem to have been so focused on thrusting. I have a gladius replica which, although it isn't as heavy or rigid as the original, indicates a more versatile purpose.

They'd be daft not to, or the weapon has limited utility. But the standard training of legionary swordplay featured thrusting.

 

True...I never said it didn't.

 

Almost all swords share the ability to both thrust and cut - hence the term: sword. Otherwise, they're usually classified as axes.

No, the epee doesn't have a sharp edge nor do some cleaver style swords have points.

 

Again, I didn't exagerate so much as to say ''All swords''. I said ''most''.

 

The gladius' characteristics don't necessarily make it better for thrusting than for cutting. Unlike that of most other melee weapons, its unique grip was to be held by the fingers (thumb included), rather than by the whole hand. As a result, it automatically became more manoeuverable (less unwieldy) than its barbarian counterparts in the heat of battle.

Nope. Try that in combat and you won't be holding the sword for long.

 

Sorry, I disagree. With the thumb putting pressure behind the guard, very well directed thrusts can be made while properly absorbing the impacts. And by ''fingers'' I didn't mean the tips. The whole fingers curl around the grip - plus a bit of the palm. Try it yourself with an accurate replica; there's more control over the sword's movements. Also, if you try waving a gladius around a bit, you'll find the acutely-shaped grip (which just happens to fit the fingers perfectly) doesn't actually seem comfortable enough for the whole palm. For swords like that, the grips were smoother.

 

This agility has often thought to be caused by the blade's shortness, which is only partly true; the gladius' lesser length gave it yet another advantage over the longsword. One way in which ancient sword combat differs from that of the renaissance is the use of shields. With the use of gunpowder, armour was discarded in favour of agility. Length and reach became more important in dueling.

The short length can be a disadvantage. It requires more guts and practice to get in close. Swords became shorter during the empire and the style more fancy and florid. From the 3rd century AD the gladius is dropped very quickly in favour of the longer spatha, which wasn't generally used to thrust and could be used by poorly trained troops.

 

More fancy? Nobility always had more ornate swords than the Plebs or lower military ranks.

In the hands of a professionnal legionary, practice in point-control wasn't lacking.

 

In ancient warfare, on the other hand, reach wasn't such an advantage; because shields were such effective forms of protection, their users could get in closer and even use them as sorts of brutish, offensive weapons. Fighting with a longsword in this case would have posed a problem - especially for the thrust. Should the user miss his enemy with a stab, he'd have had to pull his arm back a long way to make another one. With a shorter sword, however, making thrusts became much easier, even in the very close (shields) combat of the ancient world.

Long reach is useful if your opponent has shorter weaponry. The reason the romans used a short blade is a quickdraw principle based on the mass formation of a heavy infantry unit.

 

If the combat involves long, single-grip shields, then I disagree. The singular grip allowed the fighter to thrust the shield before his opponent, thus prohibiting his movements and perhaps even his vision. The reach wasn't so important in this case. The adversaries came closer to each other than in the Late Middle-Ages, when shields disappeared. What's more, is those large gallic shields were difficult to get behind with thrusts. That's why the Romans had to employ a sort of slicing cut by reaching behind the impenetrable shield and slitting the enemy somewhere back there, e.g., in the neck.

 

Finally, the gladius' acute point probably just permitted more deadly stabs. The only ancient reference to the gladius' primary purpose as a thrusting weapon, as far as I know, comes from Vegetius. He may very well have been mistaken, because by his time (late fourth century), the roman sword had become more akin to the germanic broadsword - mainly a slashing weapon.

Yes, that wicked point was there for a purpose. Both Livy and Polybius discuss swordfighting and confirm the changes of style over time.

 

Yes.

Edited by Hadrian Caesar

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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.

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Until we get to Sassanid Persia, how many of the Rome's opponents used heavy armor?

 

Well I guess this asks was the gladius designed or capable of puncturing/penetrating armour used by Romes enemies?

 

Or was it used in mind to target unprotected parts of the body?

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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.

 

Against a naked warrior, a cut would be effective as well. The versatility of being able to cut or thrust at any opportune moment is what made swords so popular. Yes, perhaps a thrust is more armour-piercing, but you need to be able to do both. Legionary training must have featured both actions, and would have emphasized both equaly; in Roman infantry practice, every action must be perfected.

 

I agree with Conan. They would most certainly have avoided striking armoured parts of their opponents and instead focused on any weak spots.

Edited by Hadrian Caesar

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