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Forum Index > Off-topic Talk > Individual Roman Soldiers Reply to topic
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Alain D.





Joined: 04 Jan 2009
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PostPosted: Sun 06 Sep, 2009 12:30 pm    Post subject: Individual Roman Soldiers         Reply with quote

I've heard that Romans generally used gladii to thrust, but could cut whenever necessary. This form of combat makes sense in large, tight formations, but it seems like short gladii would be incredibly impractical in one-on-one combat or against anything longer than 30 inches. Are there any accounts of small skirmishes or one-on-one Roman fighting or fighting techniques that would be used for small-scale encounters?

I'm just speculating here, I have no experience with Roman weapons.

Thanks

-Alain
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Luka Borscak




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PostPosted: Sun 06 Sep, 2009 12:52 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I read somewhere that Roman officers forbidd their soldiers to respond on a single combat calls by Gauls before the main battle begun because they often lost such fights. It might be because of their equipment that favoured fighting in formations. Gauls were more focused on individual skill and bravery AND had longer swords.
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Allen Jones




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PostPosted: Sun 06 Sep, 2009 12:53 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The power of the Roman army was their group formation. They were unstoppable when they fought together as one. The way to stop the Roman army was to force them to break formation.

I remember watching a show on the Discovery Channel about a famous battle between the Roman army and Germanic forces were the Germans won by forcing the Romans out of formation and fighting them one on one. I am sorry I can't remember more specifics but I am sure someone here can fill in the gaps that I have left.

I think the reasons the Romans lost when fighting one on one is not because of the short comings of the gladii (pun intended). A short weapon can be very good in a one on one fight. If you can close the distance between you and the other guy a long weapon becomes just as useless. I think the problem is more that the Romans focused so heavily on group work that when fighting one on one they don't have the refined skill and experience to win.
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Bartek Strojek




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PostPosted: Sun 06 Sep, 2009 12:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As far as I can say, gladius could be indeed impractical, but fighting was done with big shield as a cover, so getting close to stab was in fact much easier and in result deadly for anyone forced to fight with longer weapon in very close range.

And roman soldiers usually had at least decent mail and helmet.

So while they certainly were lossing a bit of "shine" outside of formation, I don't think they were particullary bad at single ecounters.


Last edited by Bartek Strojek on Sun 06 Sep, 2009 1:12 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Alain D.





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PostPosted: Sun 06 Sep, 2009 1:05 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for the responses. I've heard of longer spada being used at times. Were these only for cavalry?
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Ben P.




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PostPosted: Sun 06 Sep, 2009 2:43 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It's known as a Spatha and yes they were reserved for cavalry.

BTW I remeber coming across an account where a roman officer took out huge germanic champion on his own
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Sylvain L.




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PostPosted: Sun 06 Sep, 2009 2:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

To Allen Jones :

You certainly speak about the battle of the Teutoburg forest, where 10.000 to 15.000 Germans destroy 20.000 to 25.000 Roman soldiers... This ambush take place in a forest, and don't give to the Romans the possibility to fight in combat formation.

Here a link : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Teutoburg_Forest

S.L.
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Alain D.





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PostPosted: Sun 06 Sep, 2009 3:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Yes, thank you Ben, I meant a Spatha. Wink
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sun 06 Sep, 2009 4:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Luka Borscak wrote:
I read somewhere that Roman officers forbidd their soldiers to respond on a single combat calls by Gauls before the main battle begun because they often lost such fights. It might be because of their equipment that favoured fighting in formations. Gauls were more focused on individual skill and bravery AND had longer swords.

There is at least one account of a Roman defeating a Gallic champion in single combat. Titus Manilius was given the cognomen "Torquatus" because of his victory.
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Sun 06 Sep, 2009 4:47 pm    Post subject: Re: Individual Roman Soldiers         Reply with quote

Alain D. wrote:
it seems like short gladii would be incredibly impractical in one-on-one combat or against anything longer than 30 inches.

I am still debating the historical length of a gladdius versus a pugio (short knife.) If seems like gladii approach 20" blade length. They don't seem terribly mismatched with other blades of the era, especially if used with a shield.

Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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Ben P.




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PostPosted: Sun 06 Sep, 2009 4:50 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
Luka Borscak wrote:
I read somewhere that Roman officers forbidd their soldiers to respond on a single combat calls by Gauls before the main battle begun because they often lost such fights. It might be because of their equipment that favoured fighting in formations. Gauls were more focused on individual skill and bravery AND had longer swords.

There is at least one account of a Roman defeating a Gallic champion in single combat. Titus Manilius was given the cognomen "Torquatus" because of his victory.


Thank you that's who I was talking about Big Grin
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Carl W.




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PostPosted: Sun 06 Sep, 2009 5:52 pm    Post subject: Re: Individual Roman Soldiers         Reply with quote

Alain D. wrote:
it seems like short gladii would be incredibly impractical in one-on-one combat or against anything longer than 30 inches. Are there any accounts of small skirmishes or one-on-one Roman fighting or fighting techniques that would be used for small-scale encounters?


Gladiators? While not military, shows gladius is not impractical for one on one combat, including against other weapons.
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Sun 06 Sep, 2009 9:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

After reading J. E. Lendon's Soldiers and Ghosts, I'm convinced the discipline of Roman soldiers has been greatly exaggerated. Rather like their German enemies and later European aristocrats, Romans loved to demonstrate individual prowess in battle. Lendon goes so far as to suggest their famous manipular formation came as compromise between the need for order and the need to allow soldiers to distinguish themselves.
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Bill Tsafa




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PostPosted: Sun 06 Sep, 2009 9:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

That is very interesting Benjamin. I knew that the Roman lost a few battles because of the self interest of the generals, I did not think it extended to the lower ranks. Could you add some more details.
No athlete/youth can fight tenaciously who has never received any blows: he must see his blood flow and hear his teeth crack... then he will be ready for battle.
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Sun 06 Sep, 2009 9:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'd suggest reading Soldiers and Ghosts for yourself if you can. It's possibly the most stimulating book on historical warfare I've so far encountered. According Lendon, soldiers regularly insisted on quick battle even if the general disagreed. I remember one example involved Fabius Maximus and Minucius against Hannibal.
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Alain D.





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PostPosted: Mon 07 Sep, 2009 6:41 am    Post subject: Re: Individual Roman Soldiers         Reply with quote

Carl W. wrote:
Alain D. wrote:
it seems like short gladii would be incredibly impractical in one-on-one combat or against anything longer than 30 inches. Are there any accounts of small skirmishes or one-on-one Roman fighting or fighting techniques that would be used for small-scale encounters?


Gladiators? While not military, shows gladius is not impractical for one on one combat, including against other weapons.


Yes, that's a good point. I guess when paired with shield a gladius would make a formidable weapon. Do we have any records on how weapons would have been used by gladiators or Roman soldiers?
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Maurizio D'Angelo




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PostPosted: Mon 07 Sep, 2009 10:21 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sylvain L. wrote:
To Allen Jones :

You certainly speak about the battle of the Teutoburg forest, where 10.000 to 15.000 Germans destroy 20.000 to 25.000 Roman soldiers... This ambush take place in a forest, and don't give to the Romans the possibility to fight in combat formation.

Here a link : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Teutoburg_Forest

S.L.


wikipedia?
http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battaglia_della_...Teutoburgo

In this link the numbers are different.
I think that historically the number of Germans is not certain.

I also think that this battle does not prove the inferiority of the legionaries in fighting one on one. It was a betrayal, not a battle. I think that the legionnaires were no better or worse than others in the fight one on one.
By Caesar to Augustus fighting in the sea. A ship was first stop, after being approached with fighting one on one.
Romans did not always lose, in this battles, if I remember correctly.

Ciao
Maurizio


Last edited by Maurizio D'Angelo on Mon 07 Sep, 2009 11:02 am; edited 2 times in total
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Mon 07 Sep, 2009 10:54 am    Post subject: Re: Individual Roman Soldiers         Reply with quote

Alain D. wrote:
Do we have any records on how weapons would have been used by gladiators or Roman soldiers?


Sure, there's tons of artwork of battles and gladiatorial combats. Typically the shield is held vertically in front of the left shoulder, with the sword low and horizontal for a thrust. Sometimes a gladiator can be seen thrusting over his opponent's shield. Remember, the shield is a weapon, too, with both the face and the edges used to strike. Hurts a LOT, lemme tell ya.

Lendon's book "Soldiers and Ghosts" is an absolute must-read! I don't think he was saying that discipline was overrated, more that the very strict and harsh discipline was always in opposition to aggression and "virtus", which is basically "manliness" or machismo. It was a struggle to rein in that ferocity long enough to get the men (and sometimes even officers!) up to the point of the charge in an orderly manner. Lendon entirely changed the way I visualize a Roman army in combat. While it is still common to think of them as being very robotic and mechanical, like an 18th or 19th century British army (possibly because so much was written about the Romans by Victorian Brits?), now I see them more like the Zulus in the movie Zulu Dawn. A huge mass--in formation!--of buzzing hornets, edging relentlessly forward, just champing at the bit for the order to attack and disembowel their enemies. (Interesting parallel with scutum and gladius versus Zulu shield and assegai, as well!)

Lendon mentions several accounts of Romans beating Gauls and other barbarians in single combat. Vespasian's son Titus had a bad habit of charging enemy troops alone on horseback, sometimes even before putting his armor on. His officers and guards were always frantic to rescue him before he could get himself killed. But individual soldiers in the ranks constantly sought to distinguish themselves, sometimes wrecking whole battle plans and getting a lot of Romans killed in the process. But sometimes saving hundreds of comrades and gaining great glory, which of course was the whole point. In the Year of Four Emperors, two opposing Roman armies forced their generals to start the battle at dusk, without even fortifying their camps let alone waiting for dawn! They simply could not wait to come to grips, and they fought ferociously all night through orchards and vinyards. Absolute mess!

But back to the original question, sure, no reason a legionary with scutum and gladius couldn't beat an enemy with different equipment. He's trained, better armored on average, and very aggressive. The difference in length between a short sword and a long sword doesn't really matter when the Roman is slamming his shield into his opponent!

Valete,

Matthew
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Ben P.




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PostPosted: Mon 07 Sep, 2009 10:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well I personally think it would have been a mix of individualist fighting and displine remember formations like repel horse would have to require a ton of disipline. Basically whichever one worked for the situation.
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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Mon 07 Sep, 2009 11:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The HBO series "Rome" introduced an interesting method you don't normally see in Hollywood -- going low to hamstring your opponent while covering from above with the shield.

Don't know if it was done in reality, but it's certainly a different perspective.

M.

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