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Gene Green





Joined: 13 Mar 2007

Posts: 62

PostPosted: Sun 04 Nov, 2012 9:01 pm    Post subject: Why the move from gladius to spatha ?         Reply with quote

I often read that the Romans preferred way of fighting was to come up as close as possible to the enemy, and while hiding behind a large shield, attack with a relatively short gladius. This made sense, as the longer sword wouldn't fit this style of fighting well as you'd need to have some distance between you and the opponent to use it effectively. It also seems to match the way Greek hoplites fought when pressed into close quarter combat - their xyphos (sp?) looks as little more than a large dagger.

I also read that in the later Imperial days the Romans and subsequently the Eastern Romans were using the longer spatha instead of gladius. Yet they still maintained more or less the same tactics - or am I wrong ? Was this perhaps due to a large number of barbaric warriors in Roman army, who were used to longer swords ?
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Jack Savante





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PostPosted: Sun 04 Nov, 2012 10:27 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

You've asked an excellent question, one which i would not presume to be able to comment on definitively but i do know some facts relevant to your question.

Tacitus in his 'Agricola' notes that the Romans fought against the British rebels with the gladius while the auxiliaries fought with the spatha. At the time the Agricola is based (mid 1st century) the Roman army was not dominated by 'unromanised', soldiers or mercenaries, and Rome was not yet having trouble raising enough home grown or friendly men to fill the ranks of her armies.

As time wore on, the Romans had increasing difficulty enlisting people into their armies as regular troops. Increasingly peoples from beyond the borders and the fringes of the empire came to predominate amongst the rank and file of the army and rather than Rome putting its stamp on the way they fought, these outsiders changed the way large parts of the Army fought and were outfitted - to suit the tastes of the newcomers ancestral traditions. This, at any rate, is how I would suggest the change may have occurred.

I believe another relevant consideration in the shift to the spatha is the increasing importance of the horse in warfare, particularly with the introduction of the stirrup in the closing centuries of the western Empire.

Using a small sword, while lethal in formation fighting, does to some extent run counterintuitive to instinct. Instinct says: a bigger sword is better! So the spatha must have been an attractive weapon to soldiers who lived in fear of their lives on a daily basis. I know if were a Roman soldier doing patrols in hostile lands and fearful of the retribution of rebellious natives I would personally prefer a spatha to a gladius!

Lastly, though a spatha is bigger and would be more difficult to swing in a tight infantry formation, I imagine it would still be possible to use one effectively for stabbing and thrusting motions in formation fighting; in fact it would allow for a longer reach. Perhaps this was observed by the commanders of the day?

So, not quite an answer I know, but I do hope I have contibuted some useful information to the subject.
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Rebekah Leib




Location: Northern Idaho
Joined: 29 Oct 2012

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PostPosted: Mon 05 Nov, 2012 12:13 am    Post subject: Spatha use         Reply with quote

From what I've read, the fighting tactics differed in Roman history depending on what formation they were using. When using the tight formation of the Greek phalanx (very early on), about the only direction you could attack in was 'forward' so there may well have not have been much room to be swinging a large blade; when they switched to the manuple system/formation there was more maneuverability, so after the pilum were thrown, you engaged with your pugio, or your gladius (which, IIRC, came later after the Romans encountered different sword styles) and had more room to do so. The spatha was longer and heavier, and used primarily from horseback where you'd both need something longer and the bigger blade would give you an additional advantage as a cavalryman.

The latest issue of Ancient Warfare highlights cavalry, and has some info on the spatha. Hope this helps! Happy



Rebekah
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Stephen Curtin




Location: Cork, Ireland
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PostPosted: Mon 05 Nov, 2012 12:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Gene. This is a question that has been asked many times before over at Romanarmytalk. Here are two threads which you might find interesting.

http://www.romanarmytalk.com/rat/17-roman-mil...a-why.html

www.romanarmytalk.com/rat/17-roman-military-h...patha.html

My take on it is that it had nothing to do with the increased use of barbarian troop (who adopted the spatha from the Romans, not the other way around, as many believe), but that it was part of a bigger change in tactics and equipment. The old semi cylindrical scutum was replaced with a round or oval shield, and the sword was no longer the primary melee weapon, the spear taking it's place.

Éirinn go Brách
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Kurt Scholz





Joined: 09 Dec 2008

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PostPosted: Mon 05 Nov, 2012 1:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The spear was the Late Roman stabbing weapon and the sword didn't stay a redundant stabbing weapon. It put a stronger emphasis on the cutting and slashing role with slight changes over time. This development had been pioneered by the auxiliaries in the Roman army and goes back to the La Tène influenced Gallic warriors (copied as thureophoroi and thorakitai in Hellenistic warfare).
The gladius is part of a combination with the scutum, a very heavy shield that became increasingly lighter in combination with an ever longer sword. Switching names in Late Roman times can make it sound more dramatic than the shift in substance.
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Lafayette C Curtis




Location: Indonesia
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PostPosted: Tue 06 Nov, 2012 5:48 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kurt Scholz wrote:
This development had been pioneered by the auxiliaries in the Roman army and goes back to the La Tène influenced Gallic warriors (copied as thureophoroi and thorakitai in Hellenistic warfare).


Careful, careful. We don't exactly know what the thureophoroi were (theories have ranged from a lighter hoplite to a heavy skirmisher to a combination of the two) and where the idea came from (the Thracians? The Gauls? Or just some clever Greek?), and we have even less information on the thorakitai. Even the Gauls are coming under the revisionist spotlight and recent opinions tend to aver that fighting methods possibly differed more among the Gauls themselves than between the Romans and the Cisalpine Gauls (or near Transalpines).
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Michael Curl




Location: Northern California, US
Joined: 06 Jan 2008

Posts: 486

PostPosted: Tue 06 Nov, 2012 6:31 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

You have any books or articles to recommend about gaulish tactics?
E Pluribus Unum
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Kurt Scholz





Joined: 09 Dec 2008

Posts: 390

PostPosted: Wed 07 Nov, 2012 8:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lafayette C Curtis wrote:
Kurt Scholz wrote:
This development had been pioneered by the auxiliaries in the Roman army and goes back to the La Tène influenced Gallic warriors (copied as thureophoroi and thorakitai in Hellenistic warfare).


Careful, careful. We don't exactly know what the thureophoroi were (theories have ranged from a lighter hoplite to a heavy skirmisher to a combination of the two) and where the idea came from (the Thracians? The Gauls? Or just some clever Greek?), and we have even less information on the thorakitai. Even the Gauls are coming under the revisionist spotlight and recent opinions tend to aver that fighting methods possibly differed more among the Gauls themselves than between the Romans and the Cisalpine Gauls (or near Transalpines).


You're right. Thureophoroi use a shield that is comon with the La Tène influenced cultures that get subsummized as Gauls, although there can be design differences. I say La Tène (around since 500BCE) and not Gaulish shield.
While sword and shield type are always in combination, you find this shield design in some places withshorter stabbing and others with longer slashing swords, especially among the Roman auxiliaries and Late Roman army as compared to the legions.
As to "Gaulish warfare", the label is pretty much a modern construct that has little supporting base. It's likely that East and West La Tène were conceptually very different, while every warfighting people adopts from their enemies as many goodies as possible.
The dividing line between light hoplite and skirmisher seems to have blurred long before the introduction of the thureos.
Thorakitai are one of the most elusive units in the sources.
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