Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Mini-series - Weaponry through the ages 2

Roman Swords... 
and eventually the full deal of other equipment used by them.
My posts about weapons through the ages are not necessarily going to appear in chronological order regarding a general historical timeline. The mini series will be about things which I've a particular focus on in my own novels; or will be about a time period which fascinates me; or will be guest posts written by fellow authors.  The series of posts are likely to go 'live' at random opportunites... so keep looking out for them.

I've already written a little about the weapons my Celtic Warriors would have used, but now here's a taster about some of the weapons my Roman characters sport in my Celtic Fervour Novels. 
There are many sites out there across the internet with detailed information about Roman Weaponry but in this post I've tried to encapsulate just the basics.

Roman use of the gladius was significant, but it was the whole armour and defensive package which often defeated the Celts during the battles fought in Britannia and across Europe. I’ve already given a short description of the typical Celtic warrior who defended with long sword and shield and not much else.

The Roman soldier, whether auxiliary or legionary, was significantly different in what he wore and what he carried. Unlike the typical Celtic warrior, Roman military equipment was standard and the soldier was at great pains to ensure his equipment was maintained to a high standard. The mandatory paying for missing or damaged items was avoided whenever possible. Damage during a battle was unavoidable, at times, but the typical Roman soldier made sure damage was not due to lazy maintenance. That meant unvarying vigilance in certain climates. This constant striving to have the best maintained equipment was for weapons but also for the armour that was constantly worn.
Roman Swords

Infantry Sword: Gladius

The most typical Roman Gladius, with its searingly sharp double edge and formidable triangular-shaped tip, was not thought to be 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 shape from the Celtic locals and fashioned their own versions around the 4th – 3rd century BC.

During those earliest Republican Roman invasions of Iberia (~Spain) the natives used two types of sword. The first was a hook-handled sword called a falcata. This type of weapon was used to hook and slash, the deadly curve on it being most effective for angled slicing. Though it was very effective in disabling a conquering Roman, the Roman army chose the Celt-Iberian second weapon shape as their new weapon of choice. This second weapon was the Roman gladius.

The gladius had a straight double edged blade but there are sub types of the gladius with marginal differences depending on the location needs when the Romans campaigned in hostile territories. These styles of gladius shapes developed over the centuries of usage.

(Apologies - I'm no artist and my drawings are not great but they help me to envisage what a soldier might be wielding)
  • The Hispaniensis Gladius - the basic version is the one adopted from Spain which was slightly leaf shaped- narrower near the centre. 
  • The Mainz Gladius - this type was used in the northern European regions. It typically had a long point.
  • Pompeii Gladius - the most popular type of gladius. This was the shortest blade length with parallel cutting edges and a triangular tip.  
  •  I also found references to a type named the Fulham Gladius which appears to be the type used in Roman Britain which had straight edges and also a long triangular tip. This type was most likely the one my Celtic Warriors would have had experience of combatting.

The tip could be used for both stabbing motions, particularly useful for gutting an opponent between the ribs, or directly into areas of the body which had the most vital organs. The gladius could also be used for swiping in both directions since each side of the blade had a searingly sharp cutting edge. This was particulary useful for disabling the enemy if a strike was made behind the knees, crippling the opponent before the sword would be used in a stabbing manoeuvre to finish off.

When the Romans adopted their form of the gladius, the soldiers were taught to always draw the gladius from the right side with their right hand (there is a little conjecture over this but as far as I can tell the consensus favours the right-hand use). This allowed for effective use in formations where tight clusters were possible, with less chance of a neighbour being accidentally maimed. Since the gladius is designed to be used one-handed, it fit well with the skilled and practised military manoeuvres used to defeat attackers. The light weight of the gladius meant it could be wielded for longer, the user tiring more gradually. More about scutum formation will be covered in another post.

The handles of the gladius were usually formed from hardwoods for the average soldier. Brass, silver and ivory handles were reserved for the officers and higher ranking Romans. The scabbards were often very ornate with metal ornamentation and it was fairly common for the name of the owner to be etched on the blade for identification.

See this site for some fabulous scabbards and decorative elements. http://www.romancoins.info/MilitaryEquipment-Attack.html
Match the fearsome gladius short sword with the rest of the armour of the Roman legionary, or auxiliary, and the result was almost a foregone conclusion when the soldiers fought in typical Roman formations. However, the Roman infantry soldier who ended up fighting in one-to-one combat often had a harder battle to win, since the unarmed Celt might be fleeter of foot and more able to manoeuvre than the heavily armoured Roman.

Equestrian Mounted Force Sword - Spatha

The Roman Cavalry’s primary sword was the Spatha which had a longer blade, thus a longer reach to the opponent. The straight blade of the Spatha was ideal for thrusting and stabbing movements. Many of the examples of spatha are very ornate.


This post is already long enough, so I'll be writing about further Roman arms and armour in another post. 

Look out for that in a few days, but tomorrow I'll be welcoming a fantastic guest- Regan Walker - who has written about a different time period! Stop by and see what a wonderful post she's sent to share with you.

Till then...


No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for reading my blog. Please pop your thoughts about this post in the comment box. :-)