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PostPosted: Tue Apr 08, 2003 9:52 pm 
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Joined: Mon Aug 16, 1999 6:01 am
Posts: 1476
Location: Halifax, NS Canada
I happened upon a PBS show the other evening on the Roman Army. Interesting because the premise of the show (a British program) was to take a group of ordinary guys from all walks of life and turn them into soldiers of the Roman Empire - from dress, weapons, food, lifestyle. A few military folk were involved as well as Roman historians to make sure things were as accurate as possible.

The show took time to focus on how the Roman fighting machine worked. It was interesting to see how the soldiers were trained to work together in battle (shields up, javelins at the ready, tight formations, etc.). It also showed how the soldier used the short sword which was referred to as the Gladius.

I don't know alot about the Roman Empire but I could barely believe my eyes when the weapons instructor was teaching the guys to use the Gladius. He first told them that the sword was not used to slash (and that Romans soldiers would never use it to slash) and that it was used at short distance as a thrusting object, usually to the chest. Then, he put down his Gladius and showed the others what he meant - and there it was...the perfect Uechi thrust!!! :) Ya got to love that!!! :D

Do you historical buffs out there have any further info on how some of the Roman weapons worked?

I know the javelins were constructed to bend on impact so that (1) they could not be picked up by the enemy and thrown back and (2) that it would be very cumbersome to defend/fight with that sticking out of a shield one was carrying.

Those Romans....amazing!!!


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PostPosted: Sun Apr 13, 2003 12:34 pm 
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Hi Mary:

Before Hugh or I attempt to reinvent the wheel for you, you might search past topics for Roman matters and Roman Swordsmanship as well as the orgagnization of the Legions.

I will bring some forward for you.

John

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 21, 2003 5:45 pm 
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Mary, there is much made today about how the Roman gladius was not used for slashing or chopping, but there is a quote fom Polybius, an ancient Greek who was sent as a hostage to Rome after Rome conquered Greece and Macedonia in the 2nd Century BCE. He points out that the Macedonians were horrified by the damage done to their troops by the Roman swords, the Gladius Hispaniensis or Spanish Sword, a somewhat longer and frequently wider and heavier version of the Mainz style gladius that we see in the time of Augustus. Mine has a blade of about 25" and is 2 1/2" wide at the base, tapering to a very sharp point. In any case, the Macedonians were horrifiesd at the manner in which these swords lopped off heads, arms, and legs, according to polybius, which leads one to believe that the Legions did much more than stab with them. From wielding mine, I can tell you that it is a great chopper as well as a great stabber, so I am in some doubt as to the insistance upon stabbing as the ONLY method. This sword is entirely too much a "Cut and Thrust" weapon to be used only for thrusts.

Having said the above, however, I will note that the Roman styule of shield and sword work does not lend itself to too much slicing and dicing as that leaves your right side pretty vulnerable to the other guy when you wind up to deliver such a stroke.

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 26, 2003 12:29 am 
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Location: MARSHFIELD, MA. USA
Hi MARY:

I believe Hugh is quite right and recall this passage from Polybius.

Gallic Swords of the time, for example, were longer, softer and had little in the way of point and it was said that that Gauls could be seen often stepping out of the Battle Line to beat their swords straight on a handy rock (or whatever).

It should be noted that another favorite tactic of a Roman Swordsman was to hit the enemy's line at a run, shields up, then thrust over the opponents guard to the eyes.

This particular movement (sans shield) apprears several times in the Tai Chi "Gim" form, where the blade used is similar to the later Legionary "Spatha".

This thrust is delivered palm up. Most of the extended thrusts in the form are the same.

I often practice the form with the "Pompeii" style Gladius replica by Vaciacraft. As the Gladius is considerable heavier and stiffer than the Gim, it is like practicing with a weighted bat.

In any event although the Gladius was short, and later replaed by the Spatha, its use with a shield could negate many of the disadvantages of a shorter blade,

J

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 28, 2003 1:50 pm 
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The gladius, a term that we use today to mean "shortsword", but which the Romans used to mean any kind of sword, was clearly intended to be used with the large body shield called by the Romans the scutum. These were initially some 4.5 - 5 feet tall by 3 - 3.5 feet wide with some lateral curvature to them. They had a broad central spine that tapered toward each end called the "spina", the middle of which was hollowed out to take a lateral hand grip. This was the ONLY manner of holding the very heavy shield in combat, there were no straps holding it to your arm and noguige, the strap arond the shoulders that the Medieval knight used to help support his shield and that was similarly used under a different name by the Macedonian phalangists. As you may imagine, the Legions spent a lot of time practicing with the scutum, actually a double weighted wiker version as well as a double weighted wooden version of the gladius. After God alone knows how many hours in the hot sun working with these, the actual scutum and gladius probably seemed fairly light in comparison! Of course, that was the point. The scutm did shrink and change. By the time of Octavian, the first Princips (or Emperor), Theyhad trimmed six inches off of the top and the bottom of the oval shield to make it handier, especially in the rough and mountainous country where much of the fighting was now taking place as the Empire began to expand its borders against really wild barbarians. By the time of the invasion of Britain in 43CE, the scutum had arrived at the traditional appearance of a rectangle about foru feet high and three or so feet across, but it was sharply curved around to give its user more protection. The spina had given away to the metal boss in the center covering the handgrip and the scutum was initially edged with bronze.

For all of its existence, it was made of 3-4 layers of wood, layed and glued at angles to each other as we do with plywood today. It was then pressed into a form to dry to give it the necessary curve. This made for a very strong shield, unlikely to split along a grain when chopped with a sword or axe. Please do not think of Romans using the shortsword without the shield, it may have been done in some forms of gladiatorial games, but the Legions were taught to use them together.

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1 John 1:5


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