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Spenser T.




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PostPosted: Fri 04 Jul, 2014 10:37 pm    Post subject: Short swords versus longer single handed swords?         Reply with quote

Hello again myArmoury,

I'm wondering what advantages (if any) a short sword (by this I mean a sword with the blade length of a roman gladius or shorter) would have over a longer sword (by this I mean such swords possessing a length of about a roman spatha, celtic la tene long sword, or germanic migration period sword).

I'm primarily asking this because one of my friends is an iron age germanic re-enactor and martial arts practitioner, and he has what I think is a better than average amount of knowledge on this stuff (so I generally believe what he tells me about these things). He said to me once in conversation that in the iron age it could be seen that longer swords were cavalry weapons and short swords were infantry weapons. He told me that this could be observed in the roman, mainland celtic, and germanic cultures of the time.

Why would iron age warriors outfit their foot-soldiers with shorter swords, instead of swords the same length as those given to cavalry? does this indicate that there was some advantage to having a smaller sword if you were an iron age infantryman? or would this have been this way for an entirely different reason?

Thank you for any input you may offer on this
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Emil Andersson




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PostPosted: Fri 04 Jul, 2014 11:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Spenser,

I'm not an expert on any on this but the romans' infantry fought in close formations with their large shields, and there the shorter swords could be used to stab around the shields more effectively. Longer swords would get locked out if people get close enough to you, whereas cavalry used longer swords to be able to reach opponents on the ground.

Other iron age peoples might have faced the same kind of issues as the romans, I can't really tell you for sure.
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Luka Borscak




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PostPosted: Sat 05 Jul, 2014 3:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The question is, if there really is a tactical advantage of short swords for infantry, why did Romans adopted spatha for their infantry too in the last two or three centuries of their Empire?
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Tom King




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PostPosted: Sat 05 Jul, 2014 6:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Luka Borscak wrote:
The question is, if there really is a tactical advantage of short swords for infantry, why did Romans adopted spatha for their infantry too in the last two or three centuries of their Empire?


A change in the machine really. The late roman empires army looked different, and served an entirely different role than the Roman soldier most people picture when thinking of rome.
http://www.romanarmy.net/Latearmy.shtml

And the spatha never was as long as we now consider long, just longer than the gladius. We're talking the difference between 18" and 22"-25"; still a relatively short sword for all intensive purposes.
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Matthew P. Adams




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PostPosted: Sat 05 Jul, 2014 9:40 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Tom King wrote:
And the spatha never was as long as we now consider long, just longer than the gladius. We're talking the difference between 18" and 22"-25"; still a relatively short sword for all intents and purposes.

"We do not rise to the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training" Archilochus, Greek Soldier, Poet, c. 650 BC
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Sat 05 Jul, 2014 3:51 pm    Post subject: Re: Short swords versus longer single handed swords?         Reply with quote

Spenser T. wrote:
I'm wondering what advantages (if any) a short sword (by this I mean a sword with the blade length of a roman gladius or shorter) would have over a longer sword (by this I mean such swords possessing a length of about a roman spatha, celtic la tene long sword, or germanic migration period sword).


1. Stronger. If it's the same thickness and width, there's less mass and less leverage to bend/break the sword. Same strength blade, but less force will be exerted on the blade, so the sword as a whole is stronger. If it's the same weight, the blade will be thicker/wider, and there will still be less force.

2. Faster. Usually, the shorter sword is lighter, and therefore faster. For a longer sword, there must be additional mass further out from the grip, increasing the moment of inertia. So even if the same weight, the shorter sword is usually faster.

3. Easier to draw. Especially quickly or without much space. This can matter a lot, since the sword is often not the primary weapon (that will be a spear). One would not always have much time or space to switch from spear to sword.

4. Easier to carry. Partly weight, partly it doesn't get in the way as much because it's more compact.

5. Easier to fight with when in very close quarters or grappling.

And something that matters to armies:

6. Cheaper and easier to make. From 1 above, it's less demanding metallurgically.

Compared to that, there is one practical disadvantage:

1. Less reach.

Sometimes there are social (including fashion) and legal advantages and disadvantages.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Sat 05 Jul, 2014 5:43 pm    Post subject: Re: Short swords versus longer single handed swords?         Reply with quote

Timo Nieminen wrote:
2. Faster. Usually, the shorter sword is lighter, and therefore faster. For a longer sword, there must be additional mass further out from the grip, increasing the moment of inertia.


True enough for short, high acceleration hacks and jabs - which makes short swords good at close quarters.

But given more space and the time to overcome a larger sword's inertia through a longer arc, the tip of the longer sword will be moving at a greater velocity, and so with its greater weight will be imparting a lot more power/energy on impact.
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Sat 05 Jul, 2014 6:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

For the Romans, the short sword encouraged aggressiveness. Putting a highly-trained and motivated psychotic armored knife-fighter right in the face of face of the average farmer was pretty intimidating. Heck, it's intimidating even for the average unarmored warrior. The Romans were all about aggression and brutality on the battlefield.

As others have said, it's also handier to lug around the empire, and handier in the crush of battle (though the Romans preferred to have a little elbow room, as most other folks did).

I *don't* think cost had anything to do with it, judging by the completely needless amount of decoration that went onto most Roman equipment.

And it's worth repeating that Roman infantry only used the short sword *instead* of longer swords for maybe 3 centuries. In the Republic they used the longer gladius hispaniensis, and in later times there were various forms of longer spatha that became popular.

Matthew
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Sat 05 Jul, 2014 8:18 pm    Post subject: Re: Short swords versus longer single handed swords?         Reply with quote

J.D. Crawford wrote:
Timo Nieminen wrote:
2. Faster. Usually, the shorter sword is lighter, and therefore faster. For a longer sword, there must be additional mass further out from the grip, increasing the moment of inertia.


True enough for short, high acceleration hacks and jabs - which makes short swords good at close quarters.

But given more space and the time to overcome a larger sword's inertia through a longer arc, the tip of the longer sword will be moving at a greater velocity, and so with its greater weight will be imparting a lot more power/energy on impact.


"Faster" as in less time between starting the blow/thrust, and hitting (or missing). Not "faster" as in higher maximum velocity.

It's true that a heavier and faster-moving weapon will have more energy. Does that translate into a 2nd disadvantage for short swords: less damage? Against an unarmoured opponent, the short sword seems to perform quite adequately. Against an armoured opponent, neither performs very well. Perhaps it takes more skill to get that kind of performance from a shorter sword?

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Spenser T.




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PostPosted: Sat 05 Jul, 2014 9:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

These are all really great points! Thank you all for taking the time to share this info here
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Sun 06 Jul, 2014 7:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It may be wroth noting that, although most sixteenth-century Western European military theorists preferred swords with approximately 36 inches of blade for infantry, numerous Landsknechts during this period wore and wielded katzbalgers with 24-or-so-inch blades. None of the classically oriented Italian, French, and English sixteenth-century military writers I'm familiar with wanted to go back to sword blades as short as the Romans used, even as they recommended reviving use of the shield and various Roman tactics and forms of organization. The one military writer to specifically address katzbalgers noted their utility in the press of combat but expressed contempt for the lack of sharp points. Yet while perhaps a step down from the Swiss, Landsknechts were nonetheless some of the best infantry around and apparently fared well enough with their curious little round-pointed swords.

I suspect short Roman infantry swords at least got the job done satisfactorily, both because of the potential advantage listed by others in this thread and simply because a foot or so of blade length wasn't so important alongside all the other factors at play on the battlefield. Additionally, the mediocre quality of Roman metallurgy - as Alan Williams describes it - likely increased the appeal of a robust design.

Read my historically inspired fantasy fiction in here. I walk along a winding path set by Ludovico Ariosto, William Morris, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Ursula Le Guin.

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
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To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
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Spenser T.




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PostPosted: Mon 07 Jul, 2014 12:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Benjamin,
Thank you for your post, it was very interesting. I would never have thought to look at the landsknecht mercenaries for insight into this enquiry.
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Mon 07 Jul, 2014 4:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Another factor with the Romans specifically could be how a short blade facilitated wearing the sword on the right side, which allowed them to draw their swords without interference from their large shields.

(You can draw a longer sword worn on the left side under a large shield, but it requires different movements. See the attached images from an early seventeenth-century shield drill manual.)



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Read my historically inspired fantasy fiction in here. I walk along a winding path set by Ludovico Ariosto, William Morris, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Ursula Le Guin.

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jul, 2014 4:51 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Benjamin H. Abbott wrote:
Another factor with the Romans specifically could be how a short blade facilitated wearing the sword on the right side, which allowed them to draw their swords without interference from their large shields.


That gets brought up a lot, but I'm not sure how much weight it carries. I *do* find the right-side suspension to be handy and easy, mind you! But it's interesting that centurions and standard bearers usually wore their swords on the *left*. No reason for this that we can see except as a mark of rank! It also seems that even regular legionaries wore their swords on the left sometimes, according to Josephus and some artwork. From experiments I've done, there isn't really any problem drawing a short sword from the left side. Worked fine for the Greeks, after all, and any number of other cultures before and after that.

On top of that, Gallic warriors generally wore their *long* swords on the right. Not really a quick-draw position! Not that Gallic swordsmen necessarily had great need for a quick draw, but still...

Matthew
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Jason S. Gleason




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jul, 2014 6:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The gladius was a better thrusting weapon than a spatha. The point of impact was closer to the hand, which meant that less of the force of the thrust was lost due to torque if a stab wasn’t perfectly in line with its point of impact. In the chaos of battle, that’s pretty frequent. On top of that, a shorter blade gives better leverage at the point of impact, especially with a thrust. As such, driving a two foot blade after the initial momentum encounters resistance is easier than doing so with a blade half a foot longer.

Both weapons were made of the same iron (or crappy steel). Because they were tempered, carbonized iron rather than crucible steel (like the wootz steel of Iran and Afghanistan), they were too brittle to be thin, agile weapons. The spatha’s blade had to be thick, which pushed its center of gravity out to about a third of the length of the blade. The gladius had a center of gravity much closer to the hilt, which makes a huge difference when thrusting.

In the first and second centuries, the Romans favored tight formation fighting (although not as tight as the Greek hoplites). They carried large shields (scutum) and had a man standing to either side of them. As such, they could typically chop or stab down over their shield, thrust forward by angling their shield open, or raise their shield and thrust beneath it. Moving from and overhead attack to a below-shield stab behind your own shield has to be done quickly in order to take advantage of an opponent’s weak point. In such quarters, maneuvering a 30” blade necessitates rotating it out to the side, in space that’s occupied by your brother; an 18”-24” blade does not have that limitation.

Finally, the Roman gladius Hispania was a terror against maille armor. It had an awesome, wedge shaped point that was heavy and durable, and opened up the rings of butted maille very effectively. With a direct strike, a Roman gladius punched through butted maille like a hot pugio through butter. Butted maille could usually withstand a slash from a spatha, although a few slashes could tear a hole in it. Even those spathae that were crafted with the same wedge-style point as the gladius Hispania did not penetrate lorica hamata as well as a gladius, because of the aforementioned mechanics of transmitting force down the longer blade.

In the third and fourth centuries, Roman battle formations opened up a bit. Shields got smaller and individual units got more maneuverable. Steel got better and cavalry was more commonly employed. All of these factors contributed to the further development and adoption of the spatha. But, even with the widespread use of the spatha, the Romans continued to employ a shorter sword, referred to as a “semispatha”. Which (from what little we know) seems to have conformed to the fundamental characteristics of a shorter gladius.
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jul, 2014 8:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jason S. Gleason wrote:
Both weapons were made of the same iron (or crappy steel).


Better to say "low-carbon steel". Obviously the carbon content varied, and some Roman steel was quite good. But I'll agree that some Roman workmanship definitely counts as "crappy"!

Quote:
Because they were tempered, carbonized iron rather than crucible steel (like the wootz steel of Iran and Afghanistan), they were too brittle to be thin, agile weapons.


Huh, I've never heard of "brittle" Roman swords before, nor any ancient iron sword, for that matter. I'm not sure how much the ancients were quenching and tempering, either--I just don't remember the evidence on that issue! But Roman swords are often found deliberately bent, folded, or rolled up, which implies to me that they were anything but "brittle"! Medieval swords were usually not wootz, either, but no one seems to have any problems with those.

Quote:
Finally, the Roman gladius Hispania was a terror against maille armor. It had an awesome, wedge shaped point that was heavy and durable, and opened up the rings of butted maille very effectively. With a direct strike, a Roman gladius punched through butted maille like a hot pugio through butter. Butted maille could usually withstand a slash from a spatha, although a few slashes could tear a hole in it.


Um, no. Swords were not made to penetrate armor. Mail was not butted, but alternating rows of solid rings and riveted. This was not too much of a problem, since most of Rome's opponents had little armor.

Quote:
In the third and fourth centuries, Roman battle formations opened up a bit.


I don't know the Late Roman stuff as well, but I don't recall anything like this. As with earlier formations, the spacing probably varied according to need. There are definitely accounts of very close formations being used at some times.

Quote:
Shields got smaller...


Not really. They were typically oval or round and about 3 feet in diameter. Very comparable to the area of a rectangular scutum.

Quote:
...individual units got more maneuverable.


There was a reorganization of the army into frontier troops and mobile units, but it's hard to imagine any units more tactically maneuverable than the old legions and cohorts!

Quote:
Steel got better...


Eh? I'd love to see some studies on that.

Sorry, it looks like I'm picking on you! Didn't really mean to. You're completely right that the adoption of longer swords by the infantry was due to multiple factors, and that shorter swords were still in use.

Matthew
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jul, 2014 9:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

According to Alan Williams, steel production and hardening techniques did get significantly better in the fourteenth century in Europe (earlier elsewhere in some cases). See The Sword and the Crucible and The Knight and the Blast Furnace. Many Roman swords - half of those Williams surveyed - weren't even hardened.
Read my historically inspired fantasy fiction in here. I walk along a winding path set by Ludovico Ariosto, William Morris, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Ursula Le Guin.

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
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Jason S. Gleason




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jul, 2014 1:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew Amt wrote:
Sorry, it looks like I'm picking on you! Didn't really mean to.


I wanted to respond to this first, so that nobody felt like I was trying to escalate this. I didn't think you were trying to pick on me. I didn't read any personal attacks in what you wrote--you were critiquing rather than criticizing. This is what a good debate ought to be!

In the same spirit, I'd like to respond to a number of your responses, if I may:

Quote:
Better to say "low-carbon steel". Obviously the carbon content varied, and some Roman steel was quite good. But I'll agree that some Roman workmanship definitely counts as "crappy"!


I stand corrected. It was low-carbon steel, and specimens found were often pattern welded from numerous blooms.

As for the craftsmanship--I wouldn't necessarily consider it crappy. "Mass-produced" is a better term, I'd think. It was damn good for the time, and these were weapons that professional soldiers staked their lives on. Most were utilitarian tools, however--and not "works of art".

Quote:
Roman swords are often found deliberately bent, folded, or rolled up, which implies to me that they were anything but "brittle"! Medieval swords were usually not wootz, either, but no one seems to have any problems with those.


On the note of "brittleness", I was suggesting that one of the reasons that they were thick, hefty blades was to avoid the brittleness that such steel would have displayed if they were made to blade geometries such as Italian or Spanish side swords (which didn't even exist until over a thousand years later). I've read papers in which swords were deconstructed for metallurgical examination. They found numerous silicate inclusions, other types of slag inclusions, and large and irregular ferrite crystals as well as perlite and cementite farther toward the center of the sword. Although we don't have many specimens to analyze, that's pretty common for low- to mid-grade steel from bloomeries. It suggests that the iron ore was pattern welded, the steel was incidental from the smelting process, and the exterior of the sword was reduced almost to iron (the ferrite). The size of the crystals indicated that they probably weren't repeatedly heated and quenched. The inclusions of the interior, along with the large crystals of the ferrite, suggest that the blade would not have "sprung true", and would have to be thick to avoid being brittle. This assumption is corroborated by the blade geometry.

On the note of wootz steel, medieval swords were made with technologically superior steel. Blast furnaces were well known in the 8th through 10th centuries in Spain, which is where "Spanish steel" first got its reputation. They basically developed technology similar to that used by the Iranians and Afghanis to create wootz steel.
Quote:
Swords were not made to penetrate armor. Mail was not butted, but alternating rows of solid rings and riveted. This was not too much of a problem, since most of Rome's opponents had little armor.


Here we'll have to agree to disagree. Many types of maille (such as the Roman lorica hamata) were made with riveted rings joining solid rings together. These tended to offer the most protection, and stopped thrusts from most attacks. Examples of butted maille, however, have been found, as they were cheaper and faster to produce than riveted. Early Celtic maille could be joined with either riveted or butted rings, and (unless I am mistaken, which happens pretty often) historical examples have been found of both. Maille at the time was also usually made with lower grade steel or iron than the swords that were used against them.

The best way to defeat armor with a gladius was to chop over the shield or stab below a maille byrnie. Bypassing armor was better than trying to penetrate it, every time. Boiled leather curiasses, however, could be penetrated by a gladius (and a four- to eight-inch penetration could easily be fatal), as could heavy cloth or hides worn by Celts and Gauls. Even though there's considerable evidence that the Romans learned how to manufacture maille from the Celts, the Celts never seemed to have mass-produced maille byrnies in the same way that the Romans did with the lorica hamata.

It should be noted that reports of penetrating maille differ, and are subject to much debate. However, modern tests with recreated weapons have shown that even riveted maille was not "gladius-proof", especially the lower grade iron common among the Celts at the time. Butted maille made of such iron tends to get shredded.

In the interest of citing sources, here's a random internet article:

http://www.armourarchive.org/essays/essay__maille_timetable.shtml

Referring to shields:
Quote:
They were typically oval or round and about 3 feet in diameter. Very comparable to the area of a rectangular scutum.


The rectangular profile offers more protection, and an advantage within tight formations. The round and oval shields of later centuries give more mobility (like a kite shield) and an advantage when you have more open space and are swinging a sword. It goes back to function.

Quote:
There was a reorganization of the army into frontier troops and mobile units, but it's hard to imagine any units more tactically maneuverable than the old legions and cohorts!


Legions were super maneuverable. It was why they went away from the Hoplite-style phalanx to the Roman-style legion. Spear formations relied on things like flat ground, natural obstacles, and skirmishers on their flanks to ensure that they could keep ranks; legions were much more effective at wheeling and flowing over terrain.

I was more referring to the maneuverability of the individual on the battlefield, rather than that of the cohort. The individuals within the legions did not have as much space or maneuverability as the Gallic or Celtic skirmishers they faced in Gaul or Germania. But they didn't need it. The real lesson they learned was in Hispania, where they faced mounted skirmishers. That was their big weakness. The legions didn't do well when flanked and surrounded (like anyone else), which was seldom done by foot soldiers, but a real danger when facing cavalry. They had formations designed to counter being surrounded, but it destroyed their ability to press attacks, which was one of their greatest tactical assets. It's also why so much of their military history could be subtitled, "How Not To Get Flanked".

Quote:
Steel got better...


Again, Hispania. They were ahead of their time in a lot of ways. They had higher quality iron ore and already had a culture of working with said iron by the time Rome rolled in and rolled them up. I'll try to find sources on that one, because I could be totally juxtaposing eras here. (i.e., I could be totally talking from my hind quarters--but if you try to quote me on that, I'll deny it to the end.)

Quote:
You're completely right that the adoption of longer swords by the infantry was due to multiple factors, and that shorter swords were still in use.


My original point was that the Roman legionnaires of the first couple of centuries had reasons for preferring the shorter gladius over the longer spatha. Given how they fought, and their technology, it was a more practical weapon. They were very utilitarian, and used the best tool for the job. The Roman legion really was the pinnacle of iron age fighting formations, and the legionnaires were the most successful professional soldiers of their era. Even later in the Empire, when cavalry was more predominant and small siege weapons were carried to break up enemy infantry formations, the legionairres were also assigned the semi-spatha. It was a better weapon for close quarters fighting.

The most important part of your analysis of my initial post, however, is as follows:

Quote:
You're completely right


Wink

In all seriousness, though, you did raise a number of good points. People a lot smarter than either of us, and with PhDs behind their names, still debate this stuff! It's good to find someone who can critically analyze things on the internet!
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jul, 2014 3:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jason S. Gleason wrote:
On the note of "brittleness", I was suggesting that one of the reasons that they were thick, hefty blades was to avoid the brittleness that such steel would have displayed if they were made to blade geometries such as Italian or Spanish side swords (which didn't even exist until over a thousand years later).[...]


Even with slag inclusions, wrought iron tends to fail plastically. It's quite tough, rather than brittle. The blades want to be thick to be stiff enough to avoid bending enough to take a set. Especially if you're likely to thrust into solid things (like armour, or shields).

For lower carbon steel swords, we find them bent, curled, rolled up, twisted. High-carbon steel swords are much, much, more likely to be found snapped. (Lower carbon steel swords with blades in multiple pieces are usually corroded rather than snapped.)

Jason S. Gleason wrote:
Examples of butted maille, however, have been found, as they were cheaper and faster to produce than riveted. Early Celtic maille could be joined with either riveted or butted rings, and (unless I am mistaken, which happens pretty often) historical examples have been found of both. Maille at the time was also usually made with lower grade steel or iron than the swords that were used against them.


At least some of the finds of early mail originally described as butted have since been recognised as rivetted. There are still some Celtic mail finds that are still "officially" butted.

IMO, the first job of armour on the battlefield is to keep out arrows and spears. You can do a lot more to keep swords out with skill, since your opponent is close and, unless you are having a bad day, you are aware and defending yourself. Arrows and javelins will come from many directions, and quickly. In the shield wall, you risk being speared by the men you aren't watching. And iron butted mail is not good at this (hardened steel butted mail would do much better, but that's early modern/modern armour). Close that iron ring with a rivet, and it takes a lot of energy to break it. Butt it and it takes very little energy to open. Yes, butted mail will work against cuts, but almost everybody has a spear or bow.

So why do we find butted mail? Possibly some of those finds are mis-described. Most of the finds are from burials (often after cremation) or votive deposits - maybe they were made to be burned/buried/sacrificed, and were butted because they weren't intended to be fought in. Possibly butted armour was intended to be worn over textile armour that gave good enough protection against arrows and spear thrusts already, to add cut resistance against sharp swords. Possibly it was just bad armour.

In any case, when the Roman army is using the classic short gladius as its "main" weapon, butted mail is not common. Definitely not common enough to dictate choice of weapon.

Plenty of other good reasons to use a short sword. Having a quick-draw weapon is good when you've just thrown a javelin at short range. With well-trained, disciplined aggressive soldiers, a short sword (and shield) will encourage a very in-your-face fighting style, against which many enemies will want to back off (to the optimum range of their longer weapons). So enemy front ranks will back into their 2nd rank, and have less space, or the whole enemy army will be pushed around. Lots of benefits. All you give up is reach, and maybe cutting power. Reach matters a lot in a duel, reach of swords matters less so in battle (where you will use a spear or pike if you really want reach).

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Jason S. Gleason




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Joined: 08 Jul 2014

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PostPosted: Tue 08 Jul, 2014 4:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Timo Nieminen wrote:
Even with slag inclusions, wrought iron tends to fail plastically. It's quite tough, rather than brittle. The blades want to be thick to be stiff enough to avoid bending enough to take a set. Especially if you're likely to thrust into solid things (like armour, or shields).


I will concede this point. You're probably right--and I'm probably mixing my eras.

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At least some of the finds of early mail originally described as butted have since been recognised as rivetted. There are still some Celtic mail finds that are still "officially" butted.


I also agree with this. I've read numerous articles in which armor that was thought to be butted turns out to have been riveted, particularly in cases where rust has practically eaten it all away. That having been said, maille was manufactured across many, many centuries, and by many cultures. Like everything else, we have examples of a bunch of different methods of manufacture in the region and time dominated by Rome alone (to say nothing of Persian, North African, Japanese, ad infinitum). Since butted maille was cheap and easy to produce compared to riveted maille, and since it will offer some protection from any number of weapons, it wouldn't surprise me to find that some of the maille of that time was butted. On the other hand, if it turns out that all of the examples of butted mail are shown to be misidentified, I suppose that's just as possible.

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IMO, the first job of armour on the battlefield is to keep out arrows and spears.


I concur.

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So why do we find butted mail? Possibly some of those finds are mis-described. Most of the finds are from burials (often after cremation) or votive deposits - maybe they were made to be burned/buried/sacrificed, and were butted because they weren't intended to be fought in. Possibly butted armour was intended to be worn over textile armour that gave good enough protection against arrows and spear thrusts already, to add cut resistance against sharp swords. Possibly it was just bad armour.


It could have been any number of reasons. The problem is that we're dealing with an era about which very little is known. Even scholars who study this at length rely on a lot of conjecture. We have few existing examples and few existing texts.

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Plenty of other good reasons to use a short sword.


This, I think, is the crux of the argument. Just because a blade is longer doesn't mean it's superior. In a duel without armor, I'll take a rapier, thank you very much. In a bar brawl with lightly armored opponents, I'd rather have a side sword. If we're in a general melee, I'd prefer a good coat of maille, a kite shield, and an arming sword (or full plate armor and a longsword, if I can get away with it). In a formation with seven of my closest friends, I'll take the scutum and gladius (or a shorter arming sword of Toledo steel). The weapon is designed for a specific set of circumstances, and the gladius was particularly well suited to the circumstances in which legionairres found themselves.

Anyway, it's a fascinating debate, and plenty of points and counter-points to be made! Happy
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