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Images have been taken from the Aes Graves coin collections of short swords - blade narrow near the hilt and becoming thicker before coming to the point. These are thought to be authentic for the Hastati and priceps of the Pyrrhic war and not markedly different to the Hispaniensis in appearence and application.

 

What you're describing sounds more like the xiphos, which would go along with the later upgrade to the gladius.

 

The earlies Gladius was the Mainz type, which was widest at the hilt, and had a long tapering point. The later Pompeii type had parallel edges.

 

Regardless of the shape, what made the gladius special was the quality of the steel, which allowed it to maintain a very sharp edge.

 

Yes, I think you are right. The Aes Graves were, of course, Italian and the images would be of swords used by Roman and Latin infantrymen, but they do conform to the Xiphos in appearance. There are also images on specifically Roman bronze bar coinage showing swords of the type described above, which are as you pointed out Greek in design. Those are contemporary for the Pyrrhic War and suggest that the Gladius Hispaniensis had not yet been adopted.

 

Please ignore my comment about these being similar in design and application. I can only postulate that whereas the sword was the Hoplite's secondary weapon; for the Roman it was primary. Although they had not, in all probability, adopted the Hispaniensis at this point, they had made the transition from phalanx to manipular battle order and it is my belief therefore that the weapons would have been used in the same way.

Can you post the image (or a link to) of the relevant Aes Grave? I'm not sure when was the later time that such currency was still minted.

 

The Gladius Hispaniensis (Spanish or not) and related short swords were extremely useful in Roman hands not so much for any intrinsic superiority, but because it far better fitted close quarters comabt (ergo, the Roman manipular tactics) than the Spatha and related long swords; for one-to-one duels, the latter would presumably have been still supetior to the former.

 

On the material of the Roman swords, there is a famous passage from Polybius, comparing the Roman with the Gallic swords at the victory of Flaminius over the Insubres in 223 BC:

 

" The Romans are thought to have managed matters very skilfully in this battle, their tribunes having instructed them how they should fight, both as individuals and collectively. For they had observed from former battles that Gauls in general are most formidable and spirited in their first onslaught, 3 while still fresh, and that, from the way their swords are made, as has been already explained, only the first cut takes effect; after this they at once assume the shape of a strigil, being so much bent both length-wise and side-wise that unless the men are given leisure to rest them on the ground and set them straight with the foot, the second blow is quite ineffectual. The tribunes therefore distributed among the front lines the spears of the triarii who were stationed behind them, ordering them to use their swords instead only after the spears were done with. They then drew up opposite the Celts in order of battle and engaged. Upon the Gauls slashing first at the spears and making their swords unserviceable the Romans came to close quarters, having rendered the enemy helpless by depriving them of the power of raising their hands and cutting, which is the peculiar and only stroke of the Gauls, as their swords have no points. The Romans, on the contrary, instead of slashing continued to thrust with their swords which did not bend, the points being very effective. Thus, striking one blow after another on the breast or face, they slew the greater part of their adversaries. This was solely due to the foresight of the tribunes,.. "

 

However please note that the preserved Celtic swords don't fit such description; they don't bend so easily and their iron (or sometime steel) is often as good as that of the Romans.

 

There's an ongoing unsettled controversy on theuse of steel by Romans and other Classical nations; the consensus still seems to be that such steel was accidentally and not deliberately made; even at the time of Pliny Major, Romans seems to still have plenty of misconceptions regarding metallurgy.

 

In any case, Pliny stated the best steel was imported from Parthia and Scythia; next to that, the famous ferum Noricum was the best one. It seems the Romans had a regular trade with that region since the I century BC.

I'll try and find the images again. They are said to date from the 5th and 4th centuries BCE and that is why I said that they were THOUGHT to be contemporary - the later ones - with the Pyrrhic War. The bronze bar images are simply to be found in Osprey "Early Roman Armies" and are absolutely of the right era.

 

On the use of short swords, certainly my point was that even if the Romans were using a sword resembling the Xiphos, as the bar coinage would strongly suggest, they would have used it as their primary weapon. It was a short sword that fitted well with manipular tactics used in conjunction with the scutum. You quote a famous example above with respect to the Celts and more usually, the legionaries were trained to take the slash of the long sword on the reinforced top edge of the scutum and stab at the legs and groin.

 

I think that you are right to point out that the preserved Celtic swords are not so pliable as suggested. Celtic ironmongery was renowned and respected by the Romans. Not within this period, but perhaps testament to this was the Romans use of Celtic metal workers in developing the most famous Roman helmet type in the late 1st century BCE.

 

The huge and major point about the Romans and their short sword of whichever type is that every legionary had one. For the Celts and others, the possession of their long sword was a huge status symbol and reserved for warriors of higher status. Both wore their weapons on the right hip, the Celt for display and the Roman for practical reasons within the context of close order tactics until the adoption of the longer Spatha.

Edited by marcus silanus

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Pliable swords are mentioned by the Romans. Stiffness might in some respects be desirable but that runs the risk of brittleness, and in combat a brittle blade will eventually snap. The best spanish swords, according to sources, can be placed on the head and the blade bent to touch a mans shoulders, and return to its former straightness. That's high quality steel.

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The Gladius Hispaniensis (Spanish or not) and related short swords were extremely useful in Roman hands not so much for any intrinsic superiority, but because it far better fitted close quarters combat (ergo, the Roman manipular tactics) than the Spatha and related long swords; for one-to-one duels, the latter would presumably have been still superior to the former.

 

And looking at the battle of Adrianople, where the Romans ended up packed together very closely, wouldn't they have been better off with the Gladius instead of the Spatha?

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[And looking at the battle of Adrianople, where the Romans ended up packed together very closely, wouldn't they have been better off with the Gladius instead of the Spatha?

 

Actually, no, because the Romans were on the defensive and subject to withering assaults all day, both by missile and melee, and in any case, although the spatha was longer, it was still usable as a thrusting sword in the Roman manner, and I've pointed myself to the difficulties of fighting when pushed together so tightly, because there comes a point when the concentration of men makes fighting difficut regardless of the type of sword used.

 

In any case, the majority of Roman soldiers at Adrianople were mediocre quality and many unwilling to be there at all, and noticeably Vegetius and Zosimus both mention the poor quality of manhood displayed by troops of the day (I think Marcellinus does too, but I don't remember what he said). In fact, the lack of quality was one of the reasons Vegetius wrote his manual of legionary practice.

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In any case, the majority of Roman soldiers at Adrianople were mediocre quality and many unwilling to be there at all, and noticeably Vegetius and Zosimus both mention the poor quality of manhood displayed by troops of the day (I think Marcellinus does too, but I don't remember what he said). In fact, the lack of quality was one of the reasons Vegetius wrote his manual of legionary practice.

 

Did they specifically mention Adrianople? It is generally accepted that the troops at Adrianople were of good quality, and that is why their loss was so devastating.

The troops that were hastily recruited afterwards were inferior, and those may be the ones that Vegetius was describing.

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In any case, the majority of Roman soldiers at Adrianople were mediocre quality and many unwilling to be there at all, and noticeably Vegetius and Zosimus both mention the poor quality of manhood displayed by troops of the day (I think Marcellinus does too, but I don't remember what he said). In fact, the lack of quality was one of the reasons Vegetius wrote his manual of legionary practice.

 

Did they specifically mention Adrianople? It is generally accepted that the troops at Adrianople were of good quality, and that is why their loss was so devastating.

The troops that were hastily recruited afterwards were inferior, and those may be the ones that Vegetius was describing.

Zosimus does. His account of the Adrianople campaign spars no prisoners. Vegetius was being more generic. He says that the "Substance" of the Roman legions had gone, and although he doesn't refer to a specific campaign, his work dates from that period. In any case, I'm not sure why you believe that the troops of this time are generally accepted as good quality. They certainly weren't in the late 4th century. Sebiastianus has to hand pick a corps of raiders and train them himself. The majority of legionaries were unwilling to march at all - Valens spent some time exorting his men to get off their backsides before he marched against the Goths from Constantinople. In fact, it was the new recruits that Sebastianus apparently relied on because they were young and keen. The older men had learned how to dodge duty.

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The older men had learned how to dodge duty.

 

And I know individuals in the workplace who have mastered the fine art of avoiding work. Funny how things haven't changed.

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:D Without a work ethic in the labouring classes, such avoidance is a fairly normal behavioural trait. However when dealing with the Roman legions we should realise that martial virtue was well regarded by the Romans. Military service was an essential qualification for a political career. They tolerated violence in society far more than we do. But more than that, the professional legionary era between Marius and Constantine reflects an idea that military service wasn't just desirable but focused on manual activity - though as we're all aware this was something of an ideal.

 

Troops were required to assist in civil engineering or even construct assets for their own ends. Soldiers on the march built a palisade and ditch to surround their evening camp. If required, siegeworks were created on a scale that the medieval period often couldn't match. With a view to reducing dependence on supply lines and baggage trains, the Roman soldier was expected to carry everything on his back (though in reality draft animals were often used and appropriated by the legionaries from the civilians who owned them)

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