Info Favorites Register Log in
myArmoury.com Discussion Forums

Forum index Memberlist Usergroups Spotlight Topics Search
Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > Horizontal scuta grips and javelin carry... Reply to topic
This is a standard topic  
Author Message
Joseph E.




Location: Northern California
Joined: 16 Sep 2009

Posts: 15

PostPosted: Wed 30 Sep, 2009 12:45 am    Post subject: Horizontal scuta grips and javelin carry...         Reply with quote

I have been puzzling over the (apparent) discrepancy between archaeological evidence for horizontal shield grips on Celtic and Roman Scuta and the many reconstructions showing javelins held vertically in the shield hand.






It is of course very difficult to carry a shaft vertically in the same hand in which a horizontal shield grip is being held. It is also impossible to carry a javelin horizontally in the same hand in which a curved shield is being held, as the shield edges will prevent the shaft from reaching the grip. Greek, Celtic and Germanic long-shields on the other hand, being typically flat, might accommodate carrying javelins horizontally (problem solved), and some of these might also have had vertical, rather than horizontal grips.

So, unless the Roman scutum was, at some period, equipped with a vertical grip, any reconstruction depicting javelins held vertically is inaccurate. In any case, carrying a second (or more) javelin in combat would necessitate holding spare shafts in the shield hand during the throw. So if the curved scutum had a horizontal grip, where in the world was the second pilum put whilst the first was thrown?

If anyone has any pictorial or primary literary evidence to illuminate this issue, please offer it.
View user's profile Send private message
Christopher H





Joined: 06 Mar 2008

Posts: 79

PostPosted: Wed 30 Sep, 2009 1:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A vertical iron grip has been found previously, the Doncaster shield is mentioned here:
http://www.romanarmy.net/artshields.htm
http://www.vicus.org.uk/documents/Auxiliashield.htm

I think the Newstead shield is mentioned in these excavation notes: http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/catalogue/adsdata/PSAS_...84_408.pdf on page 15 where the idea that what could be a vertical rib was used for grasping.
View user's profile Send private message
Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
Joined: 17 Sep 2003

Posts: 1,272

PostPosted: Wed 30 Sep, 2009 7:02 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Avete!

My guess is that those reconstructions are a bit optimistic, shall we say! I have no problem carrying *one* pilum behind my scutum, simply by holding it with my thumb. If it's the tanged type, the junction block can hang over the top rim, supporting the weight. Not sure I'd want to do that for very long, but for the few seconds it takes to throw the first pilum, it's no problem at all. You might also be able to loop your carrying strap around the shaft or shafts and grasp with your hand against the grip, but I don't remember if I've tried that or not. That might actually work better for multiple weapons than trying to hold them all in the grip hand even with a vertical grip!

I can only think of one *Roman* depiction of more than one javelin being held behind the shield, and it's a little ambiguous. (The shafts seem to project from one end and one side...) More often you see 2 weapons held in the right hand. Certainly at least a few Roman-era shields had vertical grips, but horizontal does seem to be the rule.

Does that help?

Matthew
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
Joseph E.




Location: Northern California
Joined: 16 Sep 2009

Posts: 15

PostPosted: Wed 30 Sep, 2009 8:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for the links. It seems that there is archaeological and representational evidence for shields using both horizontal and vertical grips, depending upon where and when the specimen is from. However, it still appears that those with vertical grips are flat barbarian, auxiliary and/or cavalry shields. The Danum/Doncaster shield is an auxiliary or cavalry shield, according to Buckland (though his work was published in 1986).

Still, even most auxiliary shields are depicted in period art as having horizontal grips, like the more standardized legionary shield is widely believed to have had. As I mentioned earlier, flat shields do not pose as much of a logistical problem, since they can accommodate either vertical or horizontal carry; still, I've seen very few period art pieces or reconstructions showing horizontal javelin carry with any kind of long-shield.

My big question remains: If the curved scutum had a horizontal grip, where and how did the legionary hold his second pilus while in the act of hurling the first? The only method I can think of is pinching the shaft between the thumb of the shield hand and the back of the shield board/grip. I've experimented with this method, and, while awkward, it does work, at least with a lightweight javelin with a small diameter (5/8") shaft. I don't know about a weighted pilus with a larger dia. shaft; I haven't built one of those yet. Happy

I have emailed this question to the folks at the RMRS. We'll see if they reply and how. In the mean time, I'd enjoy a discussion of possible solutions, as well as further historical/archaeological evidence sharing on the subject.

EDIT: Matthew, I was typing the above reply when you posted. YES, that does help. In fact, it looks like we may have arrived at a similar theory (thumb grasp for a few secs while throwing). I agree that it was probably not common practice to carry multiple javelins behind the shield while in combat in this manner. My guess is that if several shafts were carried vertically behind a long-shield, it was done with a vertically gripped shield. I think the smaller thureos used by later peltasts may have been vertically-gripped to accommodate this practice.

Thanks for the input!
View user's profile Send private message
Mark Millman





Joined: 10 Feb 2005

Posts: 228

PostPosted: Wed 30 Sep, 2009 10:14 am    Post subject: Re: Horizontal scuta grips and javelin carry...         Reply with quote

Dear Joseph E.,

On Wednesday 30 September 2009, you wrote:
I have been puzzling over the (apparent) discrepancy between archaeological evidence for horizontal shield grips on Celtic and Roman Scuta and the many reconstructions showing javelins held vertically in the shield hand. . . .

So, unless the Roman scutum was, at some period, equipped with a vertical grip, any reconstruction depicting javelins held vertically is inaccurate. In any case, carrying a second (or more) javelin in combat would necessitate holding spare shafts in the shield hand during the throw. So if the curved scutum had a horizontal grip, where in the world was the second pilum put whilst the first was thrown?

If anyone has any pictorial or primary literary evidence to illuminate this issue, please offer it.

As you asked, here's some primary literary evidence that may throw light on the issue:

C. Julius Caesar, De bello Gallico book 5 chapter 48:
Si adire non possit, monet ut tragulam cum epistola ad amentum deligata intra munitionem castrorum abiciat.

translation by McDevitte and Bohn, 1869:
He directs him, if he should be unable to enter, to throw his spear with the letter fastened to the thong, inside the fortifications of the camp.

Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia book 7, chapter 81 (On the Inventors of Various Things):
iaculum cum ammento aetolum martis filium

translation by Bostock and Riley, 1855:
the javelin, with the thong attached, by Ętolus, the son of Mars

The thong mentioned in both of these texts is the amentum, used to improve range and accuracy when throwing javelins. Soldiers could hold the free ends of the thongs attached to their javelins in the left hand, giving a convenient way to carry several at once when using a curved, horizontal-grip shield.

Note that we have no evidence of the amentum ever being used with the pilum. Luckily for me, Mr. Amt already has described a convincing method of holding a second one while throwing the first.

I hope that this proves helpful.

Best,

Mark Millman
View user's profile Send private message
Joseph E.




Location: Northern California
Joined: 16 Sep 2009

Posts: 15

PostPosted: Wed 30 Sep, 2009 8:05 pm    Post subject: Re: Horizontal scuta grips and javelin carry...         Reply with quote

Mark Millman wrote:
The thong mentioned in both of these texts is the amentum, used to improve range and accuracy when throwing javelins. Soldiers could hold the free ends of the thongs attached to their javelins in the left hand, giving a convenient way to carry several at once when using a curved, horizontal-grip shield.

Note that we have no evidence of the amentum ever being used with the pilum. Luckily for me, Mr. Amt already has described a convincing method of holding a second one while throwing the first.

I hope that this proves helpful.

Best,

Mark Millman


Thanks, Mark. I have a leather 'amentum' on my homemade light javelin. Works somewhat like an atlatl, only with a twist. Wink
I had not thought of nor read about carrying bundles of them by the thongs though. Thanks for that info.

I have heard back from the folks at RMRS with two interesting replies. The webmaster forwarded my message to the entire research group, and this is what I've heard back so far...

" I think it would be possible to grip a small javalin with the thumb, while holding a vertical grip......
But more than one without some form of aid seems a bit difficult....but then I have small hands.
But you do see depictions so they seem to have been doing it....possibly wit ha tong tied to the handle and wrapped around the shafts so they could be pulled free one at a time? Would require some experimenting.

Regards"
(italics mine)

"for smaller spears / darts there is evidence to show them being carried on the shiled.
Here there are two wooden bars nailed to the inside of the shield. Each of these has a groove cut to hold the spear/dart shaft.
These are held in place by a leather strap which is held in place either side of the groove by a broad "T" shaped nail which means the
spear/dart can be pulled out one at a time.

For 1st century AD pilum, Each soldier would carry 2 pila. Each had a butt spike. These would both be carried in the right hand.
In combat one would be held / thrown while the other would be stuck in the ground until needed.

To the curved scutum. Indeed it is difficult to hold a scutum and spear in the same hand! However, here we a talking heavy infantry who would either

a) Wait for the enemy to attack ... one pilum to hold the other in the ground or
b) Advance on the enemy with shields up and two spears in the left hand. The pila would be thrown from a tight shield wall position before actually
making contact with the enemy.

Abdas

Leg xiiii"
(italics mine)
View user's profile Send private message
Joseph E.




Location: Northern California
Joined: 16 Sep 2009

Posts: 15

PostPosted: Thu 01 Oct, 2009 12:06 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

just found these shots from a late Roman reenactment group on fectio.org
[ http://www.fectio.org.uk/shows/archeon2006_2.htm ]



These illustrate the method described above in the email from Abdas of RMRS. So the shield bracket is one answer, albeit seemingly limited to smaller, 3rd-4th century AD weapons such as the plumbata. I don't believe such brackets were in use in Republican times, or in the early Imperial legions, and almost certainly not by any barbarian factions of the same period.
View user's profile Send private message
Alexis Bataille




Location: montpellier
Joined: 31 Aug 2014

Posts: 95

PostPosted: Tue 07 Jul, 2015 3:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Anyone know why Amentum should not be used with Pilum ?
View user's profile Send private message
Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
Joined: 17 Sep 2003

Posts: 1,272

PostPosted: Tue 07 Jul, 2015 6:11 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Alexis Bataille wrote:
Anyone know why Amentum should not be used with Pilum ?


I don't think they were worried about getting the extra range. The pilum was *meant* to be thrown at close range, just before close combat. So the disruption the pila caused was at its maximum when the legionaries arrived with swords drawn. Plus, it takes a moment to get the amentum properly wound and ready to throw, but you want to get both pila in the air as quickly as possible.

Matthew
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website


Display posts from previous:   
Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > Horizontal scuta grips and javelin carry...
Page 1 of 1 Reply to topic
All times are GMT - 8 Hours

View previous topic :: View next topic
Jump to:  
You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot vote in polls in this forum
You cannot attach files in this forum
You can download files in this forum






All contents © Copyright 2003-2018 myArmoury.com — All rights reserved
Discussion forums powered by phpBB © The phpBB Group
Switch to the Basic Low-bandwidth Version of the forum