Monday, 28 April 2014

X is for xiphoid and xyster

X is for xiphoid and xyster

It’s always a bit contrived doing an X post so I make no apologies. Here are the dictionary definitions for these two and here's how I can relate them to my writing!

Xiphoid: 1. shaped like a sword 2. of or relating to xiphisternum 3. also called xiphoid process and other name for xiphisternum from GK xiphos sword + eidos form

Xyster: a surgical instrument for scraping bone; surgical rasp or file. From GK xuein tool for scraping

I have to use a little artistic licence here, but I don’t think it’s too much a stretch of imagination to relate them to my historical novels.

Xiphoid- shaped like a sword. Well, Swords feature quite a bit in my Celtic Fervour novels though the shape really depends on who is brandishing it.

My Celts would have favoured the long Celtic broadsword whereas my Roman auxiliaries or legionaries would have used a shorter stabbing variety.

The Roman gladius was very different from the Celtic broadsword. It had a searingly sharp double edge and formidable v-shaped tip but it was not originally a Roman weapon. The type of blade originated in ‘Hispania’, now named Spain, but was used so effectively against Roman troops during the early Roman conquest of the area that the Romans adopted the form and made their own versions. By AD 71-84, when my Celtic characters are confronting Roman troops I would be expecting the Romans to be using the Gladius Pompeii style, slightly shorter than the Gladius Hispaniensis and with the original curvature flattened out.    

The Roman soldier generally led with his shield and made stabbing motions with the  gladius, all infantry using the blade from the same side to avoid harming his ‘Roman neighbour’ in battle. The searingly sharp tip stabbing in between ribs was particularly effective, especially if the chest of the Celtic adversary was bare apart from some wode decoration!   Match this fearsome short sword with the rest of the armour of the legionary or auxiliary and the result was almost impregnable.

What would the Celt be wielding?

The long sword was used for cutting movements but was ineffective for stabbing motions since the tip was not so sharply pointed. The Celtic warrior needed more space in battle to swing his sword to make his slicing motions. The arms, areas below breast armour including the legs and the neck areas of the Roman soldier were the most vulnerable and were where the greatest success could be made by the Celtic warrior.

Now when it comes to a xyster  - a surgical instrument for scraping bone or a surgical rasp or file - a Greek.  I don’t imagine the tools my Roman surgeon, in After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks, would be using would be much different from those of Greek surgeons of the era.,_Giorgio_%281834-1914%29_-_n._11141_-_Museo_di_Napoli_-_Strumenti_di_chirurgia.jpg?uselang=en-gb

In amongst this splendid array I’m fairly confident that at least one of these tools would equate to a Greek xyster.

The surgeon Dioscorides, originally Greek, practiced in Rome during the reign of the Emperor Nero (AD 54-68) and then became a surgeon in the Roman Army travelling extensively across the Roman Empire. Though his written works are centred on the herbal and palliative uses of plant materials, he must have wielded a xyster at time or two!  

You can read about my Roman surgeon in After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks, though he's not too fond of my lovely lass, Ineda! 

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1 comment:

  1. Great informative post, Nancy. We're almost done!


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