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The pilum bends after hitting a target.

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Hello, in a biography about Caesar, Adrian Goldsworhty says that its just a myth that the pila bends after hitting a target. Have anyone heard this too or something else? If you find something that says it actually bends, please send a link. Thanks in advance! :)

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Hello, in a biography about Caesar, Adrian Goldsworhty says that its just a myth that the pila bends after hitting a target. Have anyone heard this too or something else? If you find something that says it actually bends, please send a link. Thanks in advance! :)

 

I seem to remember seeing somewhere that it was only the 'pila' of the velites that bent - hence the change during Marius' time to pila with a dowel pinning the head to the body. In theory, the dowel would shear upon impact, so the head would then be loose and encumber shields etc. and not be in condition to be thrown back.

 

If only I could remember where I saw it .... :)

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Not exactly history, but it is a pretty regular demonstration on TV documentaries of recreating them and showing how they can bend after hitting shields, at least a shield being moved around in battle. A breakaway approach must have more to do with preventing the pila from being thrown back.

 

Of course a victim can straighten out bends and rethrow, but unless hitting flesh it would probably just bounce off any obstruction. Anyone who has spent time trying to pound in a restraightened nail knows how severely weakened it can be.

Edited by caesar novus

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I don't know if they were designed to bend (though I do recall hearing that, as well as that they were designed to break so that they could not be thrown back) it's just that, when a relatively thin piece of metal with a large heavy staff attached to it gets stuck into something at a funny angle and at high speeds...bending tends to happen. :)

 

With that logic, I would say that some inevitably bent and some didn't.

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The biggest problem with throwing a spear is that your enemy can pick it up and throw it back. The pilum was designed to avoid that by bending after impact, thus making the weapon useless to the enemy. Well, even then it wouldn't of course, it could still be thrown back even with an off balance bent tip, as Caesar complained of when fighting the gauls.

 

The original idea was to mount the tip with two pegs, one wooden, one metal. The wooden peg broke on impact so the head pivoted on the metal one. Whilst this could make the pilum useless as a throwing weapon, if embedded in a shield a healthy stomp on the shaft would force the enemy to lower his shield. This was said to be one reason for the victory against the Cimbrians.

 

The later idea was to make a longer head with a soft length, so that the metal would bend in the same way as the earlier version would pivot. It wasn't overly successful because if need be the enemy could simply bend the head back if he had any time, and with changing tactical requirements, the pilum was replaced by spears in the late empire. The Romans even experimented with extra weights attached to improve penetration. There were heavy and light versions for use by legionaries, plus a much heavier version still for use in defending in sieges.

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to pound in a restraightened nail knows how severely weakened it can be.

 

Yes this begs the question then ... How did the Roman army reuse bent pilae? I had always pictured the Roman Legionaries on fatigue duty heating and straightening their recovered weapons. It strikes me as a total waste if they couldn't.

 

Of course might this mean that reused pilae were far more likely to bent then those that were fresh?

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I had always pictured the Roman Legionaries on fatigue duty heating and straightening their recovered weapons. It strikes me as a total waste if they couldn't.

Heating should do the trick... of melding those stress fractures back to normal. Dunno what temp would be needed (and hammering, blowing bellows, etc?). Maybe someone could experiment by straightening a thin bent nail, then holding a lit match on it before reusing it. Could help me with home repair work if it works.

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to pound in a restraightened nail knows how severely weakened it can be.

 

Yes this begs the question then ... How did the Roman army reuse bent pilae? I had always pictured the Roman Legionaries on fatigue duty heating and straightening their recovered weapons. It strikes me as a total waste if they couldn't.

 

Of course might this mean that reused pilae were far more likely to bent then those that were fresh?

 

The reason the Romans adopted the soft iron shank was that the earlier two-pin approach was fundamentally fragile. Any knock on the side and the wooden pin broke, making your pilum useless. The advantage of the soft iron version was that you could/i] bend it back in line, thus putting right any incidential damage and retaining the pilums utility.

 

This did mean of course that craft enemy might realise he could bend it back and throw it at the Romans - Caesar complains of this sort of thing being done by the Gauls - but the idea persisted for centuries.

 

As for being weakened, remember that the metal was only hardened at the tip. The shank was left as soft metal and didn't weaken that much, although it should be borne in mind it wasn't bent often in normal circumstances.

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I've been doing some work on this topic lately (anyone interested can see the result coming out as 'Legionary' later next month)

 

Therefore, I'll offer two other points to consider - anyone receiving a pilum as part one of a legionary charge is going to have little time to fiddle about with the pilum - bent or otherwise- in his shield/anatomy. Part two of the charge, featuring the legionary himself, is probably on the way and requiring urgent attention.

 

A siege pilum (and this is hypothetical) can be heavier as it is not designed to be carried far (remember a legionary on the march has about 60lb -27kg - of other kit to carry as well) and if hurled down from a defensive position, being heavier, its harder to throw back up.

 

I'd tend to agree with Goldsworthy that pila were not *designed* to bend, but why harden the shank when it may well bend and possibly do some good in the process?

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But there must have been a lot of misses where the pilum hits rocky ground. And there must have been pauses in some battles, where a bunch of unbent pilums laying about would be a temptation to an enemy who might be now low on weaponry and perhaps finding the Romans on the brink of defeat.

 

At least this is what Romans might imagine when sitting around a campfire, and I imagine guys even back then liked technical "gimmicks" aside from their actual efficacy.

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Hello, in a biography about Caesar, Adrian Goldsworhty says that its just a myth that the pila bends after hitting a target. Have anyone heard this too or something else? If you find something that says it actually bends, please send a link. Thanks in advance! :thumbsup:

 

Hi Legio. You asked for some links. This one seems to confirm that the pilum bends and has some interesting pictures as well:

http://www.romancoins.info/MilitaryEquipment-spear.html

 

Then there is an entry in Wikipedia, which other than some basic info provides a couple of suggestions for further reading:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilum

 

Other links, all of which say more or less the same thing, i.e. that the pilum was supposed to bend:

http://www.caerleon.net/history/army/pilum.htm

http://www.novaroma.org/nr/Pilum

http://museums.ncl.ac.uk/archive/arma/welc...nner/page09.htm

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I've been doing some work on this topic lately (anyone interested can see the result coming out as 'Legionary' later next month)

 

Therefore, I'll offer two other points to consider - anyone receiving a pilum as part one of a legionary charge is going to have little time to fiddle about with the pilum - bent or otherwise- in his shield/anatomy.

Agreed. But I was considering that the pilum might travel further than the front rank of the enemy, or that in the dynamic conditions of a melee, enemies behind their front would have time to sort something out.

 

A siege pilum (and this is hypothetical) can be heavier as it is not designed to be carried far (remember a legionary on the march has about 60lb -27kg - of other kit to carry as well) and if hurled down from a defensive position, being heavier, its harder to throw back up.

The Pilum Muralis is known to exist from Caesars time, I understand there's archaeological evidence for it (From Weapons of the Romans, Michel Fuegere)

 

I'd tend to agree with Goldsworthy that pila were not *designed* to bend, but why harden the shank when it may well bend and possibly do some good in the process?

The soft shank was designed as a more practical version of the two pin pilum, and we know the later pila heads were only hardened at the tip. After all, if you're going to go to the trouble of hardening steel for penertation it would be just as easy to harden the whole thing and create a rigid shank - we know they didn't do this. It was the fragility of the two pin plia that gave rise to the 'bendy' pilum. I think too much emphasis might be placed on this however. The whole point, as it were, was to deliver a spear into enemy lines before an attack. The bending bit was after impact.

 

But there must have been a lot of misses where the pilum hits rocky ground.

Yes.

 

And there must have been pauses in some battles, where a bunch of unbent pilums laying about would be a temptation to an enemy who might be now low on weaponry and perhaps finding the Romans on the brink of defeat.

Like at Adrianople in ad378? The goths were of well armed with missiles anyway - they were known for it, but the Romans, compressed and disordered, had less chance of returned missiles than the fluid and mobile goths milling around outside them. Caesar, as I've mentioned before, complains of the gauls throwing his pila back at his troops. Fact is, you could do that whether the tip was bent or not. If you're a defending Roman, you still raise your shield against a thrown stick of that size or risk some bruising in the face. At any rate, it could ruin your whole day regardless.

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Caesar, as I've mentioned before, complains of the gauls throwing his pila back at his troops. Fact is, you could do that whether the tip was bent or not. If you're a defending Roman, you still raise your shield against a thrown stick of that size or risk some bruising in the face. At any rate, it could ruin your whole day regardless.

 

Out of curiosity, do you know what passage?

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Nope. That kind of helps my argument doesn't it? ;)

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Just to look at the whole bendy pila controversy from a different perspective: Is it possible that the Romans didn't care one way or the other about whether the pilum bent, and the purpose of using soft metal for the shaft was simply that it made it easier to refashion into a new pilum?

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