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William P




Location: Sydney, Australia
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PostPosted: Thu 20 Nov, 2014 2:32 am    Post subject: How durable was the pilum?         Reply with quote

The pilum has a legendary reputation for bending and breaking upon impact when thrown (some of it true some of it exaggerated)
however how well could it hold up to thrusting, especially perhaps thrusting at a shield or something harder than bare flesh.

im aware of 2 things
1 marius changed the design of the pilum head to make it more prone to breaking

but it also seems that roman manuals show pila raised and presented to the enemy as spears. as well as their impromptu use at the battle of carrae against the parthians
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Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
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PostPosted: Thu 20 Nov, 2014 5:53 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Short answer, "We don't know", and "It varied." How's that for a cop-out! Variations of the pilum were used for about a thousand years. Some were thick and heavy and could probably punch holes in buildings without a care. Others were scary thin and you really wouldn't want to do anything but chuck them.

Of course, bending isn't really "breaking", it just puts it out of action until you have time to straighten it out. And of course if it's already been bent a straightened a few times it could just break. I've straightened out plenty of pila in my time, but one really nice hand-forged one came back from a throw without it's point. (Not being a smith, I have since ground a new point into the remaining shank.) Modern mild steel isn't really like ancient wrought iron, though, so I'd hesitate to present any of that as scientific evidence!

There are a few modern experts who claim the whole bending thing is a myth, but Plutarch and Caesar both discuss it, and even state that it was desirable, so it clearly did happen. That said, the only pila that survive from the time of Marius have tangs with flanges that wrap around the wooden shaft, so even with only one rivet there is not going to be much swiveling or flopping of the shank! The whole description of him replacing one of the rivets with a wood peg therefore leaves us scratching our heads a bit, but it doesn't seem like the kind of thing that someone could just make up out of thin air.

Matthew
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Philip Dyer





Joined: 25 Jul 2013

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PostPosted: Thu 20 Nov, 2014 6:50 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew Amt wrote:
Short answer, "We don't know", and "It varied." How's that for a cop-out! Variations of the pilum were used for about a thousand years. Some were thick and heavy and could probably punch holes in buildings without a care. Others were scary thin and you really wouldn't want to do anything but chuck them.

Of course, bending isn't really "breaking", it just puts it out of action until you have time to straighten it out. And of course if it's already been bent a straightened a few times it could just break. I've straightened out plenty of pila in my time, but one really nice hand-forged one came back from a throw without it's point. (Not being a smith, I have since ground a new point into the remaining shank.) Modern mild steel isn't really like ancient wrought iron, though, so I'd hesitate to present any of that as scientific evidence!

There are a few modern experts who claim the whole bending thing is a myth, but Plutarch and Caesar both discuss it, and even state that it was desirable, so it clearly did happen. That said, the only pila that survive from the time of Marius have tangs with flanges that wrap around the wooden shaft, so even with only one rivet there is not going to be much swiveling or flopping of the shank! The whole description of him replacing one of the rivets with a wood peg therefore leaves us scratching our heads a bit, but it doesn't seem like the kind of thing that someone could just make up out of thin air.

Matthew

. I've straightened out plenty of pila in my time, but one really nice hand-forged one came back from a throw without it's point. Wow, I guess that why knives makers and arrow head design throwing knives to be cheap and plentiful, once something is thrown or shot, it out of the wielders hands and may be subjected to forces they can't designed to handle and still be good knife, arrowhead, or javelin point. Also, not saying your are wrong, but I wouldn't have such blind faith in the writings of Julius Caesar, he did write allot bragging about himself and his writings are pop culture the wildy mistaken notion that all Celts were naked, painted drenched discretless animals.
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Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
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PostPosted: Thu 20 Nov, 2014 10:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Philip Dyer wrote:
Wow, I guess that why knives makers and arrow head design throwing knives to be cheap and plentiful, once something is thrown or shot, it out of the wielders hands and may be subjected to forces they can't designed to handle and still be good knife, arrowhead, or javelin point.


To be fair, that one *was* pretty thin just below the point! And it hit the edge of a gravel driveway. Probably would have survived just hitting the grass.

Quote:
Also, not saying your are wrong, but I wouldn't have such blind faith in the writings of Julius Caesar, he did write allot bragging about himself and his writings are pop culture the wildy mistaken notion that all Celts were naked, painted drenched discretless animals.


Yes, it's very fashionable these days to dismiss just about everything Caesar writes, but I find that baffling. It might make sense when discussing troop numbers or casualties, though he hardly hides his losses and defeats. In this case, why on earth make up something like pilum shafts bending after penetrating a shield?? Especially since when we make pila today and throw them into shields, they bend?

Caesar's descriptions of the Gauls show a very diversified and sophisticated culture, with complex politics, extensive trade, and a rich culture. The ONLY mention of body paint is in the initial description of Britain which is generally believed to be a rather later addition, not by Caesar at all. If he describes the Celts as fierce, brave, and warlike, those were *virtues* to the Romans. If he also mentions that the lived in thatched houses and had no marble temples, how is that exaggerated or insulting?

Modern historians who think they know more than the people who were there are far more dangerous than the ancient authors, if you ask me...

Matthew
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Thu 20 Nov, 2014 12:16 pm    Post subject: Re: How durable was the pilum?         Reply with quote

William P wrote:
The pilum has a legendary reputation for bending and breaking upon impact when thrown (some of it true some of it exaggerated)
however how well could it hold up to thrusting, especially perhaps thrusting at a shield or something harder than bare flesh.


The stereotypical pilum is well-designed for the task of punching holes through shields. And it works well for that. It will hold up to thrusting.

It isn't the impact that bends it, it's the weight of the haft hanging unsupported after the impact that bends the shank. So if you were to thrust it through a shield, or into a moving target, then it might bend from similar sideways forces when using it as a thrusting weapon.

(Long-shanked East African spears work similarly, though have wider leaf-shaped heads, rather than armour-piercing heads. No body armour and hide shields, if used on humans rather than 4-legged animals.)

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


Last edited by Timo Nieminen on Fri 21 Nov, 2014 12:45 am; edited 1 time in total
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Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
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PostPosted: Thu 20 Nov, 2014 12:42 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Right, I should have been clearer that I assume there could very well be some sort of lateral or twisting movement in a target when I hit it. Doesn't matter for a javelin or a regular spear (unless it gets extreme), but might bend a pilum that you are thrusting with.

Matthew
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Philip Dyer





Joined: 25 Jul 2013

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PostPosted: Thu 20 Nov, 2014 12:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew Amt wrote:
Philip Dyer wrote:
Wow, I guess that why knives makers and arrow head design throwing knives to be cheap and plentiful, once something is thrown or shot, it out of the wielders hands and may be subjected to forces they can't designed to handle and still be good knife, arrowhead, or javelin point.


To be fair, that one *was* pretty thin just below the point! And it hit the edge of a gravel driveway. Probably would have survived just hitting the grass.

Quote:
Also, not saying your are wrong, but I wouldn't have such blind faith in the writings of Julius Caesar, he did write allot bragging about himself and his writings are pop culture the wildy mistaken notion that all Celts were naked, painted drenched discretless animals.


Yes, it's very fashionable these days to dismiss just about everything Caesar writes, but I find that baffling. It might make sense when discussing troop numbers or casualties, though he hardly hides his losses and defeats. In this case, why on earth make up something like pilum shafts bending after penetrating a shield?? Especially since when we make pila today and throw them into shields, they bend?

Caesar's descriptions of the Gauls show a very diversified and sophisticated culture, with complex politics, extensive trade, and a rich culture. The ONLY mention of body paint is in the initial description of Britain which is generally believed to be a rather later addition, not by Caesar at all. If he describes the Celts as fierce, brave, and warlike, those were *virtues* to the Romans. If he also mentions that the lived in thatched houses and had no marble temples, how is that exaggerated or insulting?

Modern historians who think they know more than the people who were there are far more dangerous than the ancient authors, if you ask me...

Matthew

But he has huge political motive to twist, embellish, everything, he wanted to be consul and then made himself dictator for live. There are plenty of generals to chose to search to form opinions from, Rome was a very literate culture after all, especially if you for accounts as such level of education as men tasked with comanding entire legions .
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Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
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PostPosted: Thu 20 Nov, 2014 1:36 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Philip Dyer wrote:
But he has huge political motive to twist, embellish, everything, he wanted to be consul and then made himself dictator for live.


So, tell me again how you win votes by making up an obscure weapon effect? Or are you saying that the Celts actually *were* naked painted savages and that Caesar's descriptions to the contrary are exaggerations? And he didn't get elected to dictator, he got that because his *army* was backing him up--he didn't win loyalty like that by lying to his troops on a regular basis!

Quote:
There are plenty of generals to chose to search to form opinions from, Rome was a very literate culture after all, especially if you for accounts as such level of education as men tasked with comanding entire legions .


Sorry, are you saying that a lot of other Roman generals wrote about the use of the pilum? I think I'm misunderstanding you!

Matthew
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Philip Dyer





Joined: 25 Jul 2013

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PostPosted: Thu 20 Nov, 2014 8:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew Amt wrote:
Philip Dyer wrote:
But he has huge political motive to twist, embellish, everything, he wanted to be consul and then made himself dictator for live.


So, tell me again how you win votes by making up an obscure weapon effect? Or are you saying that the Celts actually *were* naked painted savages and that Caesar's descriptions to the contrary are exaggerations? And he didn't get elected to dictator, he got that because his *army* was backing him up--he didn't win loyalty like that by lying to his troops on a regular basis!

Quote:
There are plenty of generals to chose to search to form opinions from, Rome was a very literate culture after all, especially if you for accounts as such level of education as men tasked with commanding entire legions .


Sorry, are you saying that a lot of other Roman generals wrote about the use of the pilum? I think I'm misunderstanding you!

Matthew

I'm saying that forming definite opinions of aspects of history because a famous person said or wrote and taking faith on it is bad acdemic practice, just because an primary source doesn't automatically mean it is good source. It is bad academic practice to assume something is the way it is because some famous figure says it is. It is blind mindless to be speculative drawing history conclusions from writings of controversial people. I could give to shits about the pilum, I just making the point that just some famous comptemprories wrote about something, doesn't mean it should automatically taken their word for it to the point of calling pointing calling out the dangers of hinging an opinion on conversal figure a blind trend. I wasn't trying to say your are wrong, I'm trying to point what I believe is bad practice.
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Neal Matheson




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PostPosted: Thu 20 Nov, 2014 11:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

" because some famous figure "
Caesar isn't famous in the same way that Miley Cyrus is. He wrote a first hand account of his military invasion of Gaul and was a pre-eminent military figure in Ancient Rome. Unless he is directly contradicted by archaeology or other contemporary sources we should be confident in the veracity of his writings.
It is very hard to see what Caesar would gain from making up lies about how a mundane piece of military hardware worked.

http://www.seeknottheancestors.com/
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Fri 21 Nov, 2014 1:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Only a minority of ancient writers who write about the pilum mention bending. (Arrian mentions bending when used as thrusting weapon [1].) Penetration of armour and shields is mentioned more often. But why would one doubt Caesar on the pilum? There are other writers who mention bending, and it's supported by experimental archaeology, and by the performance of similar weapons.

It's true that much ancient writing that has come down to us is propaganda, and to just assume it all to be true is unwise. But, as mentioned above, technical details about well-known technology are unlikely to be propagandic claims. Polybius' comment on the bendiness of Celtic swords might be propaganda, but it's more likely to be error (possibly reflecting common opinion about barbarians). Which is why it's important that other writers and experiment support Caesar (as mentioned above). It isn't blind acceptance of Caesar as a source of truth. (We know that his Commentarii de Bello Civili is biased, but there's still plenty of correct and probably accurate stuff in it - useful history can still be done based on propaganda.)

Propaganda in ancient military writing isn't the problem for this kind of thing; it's that so few writers bother giving technical details. The lack of detail isn't surprising - how many modern newspaper articles about battles give technical details of the weapons?

[1] http://members.tripod.com/~S_van_Dorst/Ancien...taxis.html

"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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Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
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PostPosted: Fri 21 Nov, 2014 5:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Philip Dyer wrote:
I'm saying that forming definite opinions of aspects of history because a famous person said or wrote and taking faith on it is bad acdemic practice


Um, I thought that starting with what people said or wrote is EXACTLY how the academic study of history starts! Nothing is taken on faith, I never said it was. Obviously there are good sources and bad sources. But you have to start somewhere, or you're just making it up to suit yourself, and that's "fantasy" rather than "history".

Quote:
just because an primary source doesn't automatically mean it is good source. It is bad academic practice to assume something is the way it is because some famous figure says it is.


Right. But it's just as bad (or worse) to start with the assumption that every source is lying about everything.

Quote:
It is blind mindless to be speculative drawing history conclusions from writings of controversial people.


But didn't you speculate that Celtic culture was exactly the opposite of Caesar's description? Even if it agrees with other descriptions and with archeology? Don't you seen any chance that something truthful might have slipped into his writings?

Quote:
I could give to shits about the pilum


This whole discussion was started with a question about the pilum! I didn't think I was being radical by quoting an ancient source that was intimately familiar with the weapon and its use.

If we can't use ancient authors with due caution, why study history?

Matthew
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Andrew W




Location: Florida, USA
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PostPosted: Sun 23 Nov, 2014 8:27 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A 2004 metallographic study of two early 2nd c. BC Roman pila found that the iron shanks between the shaft and the tips were incredibly soft: under 100 HV. It's clear that they were, as the written sources claim, designed to bend easily (and be easily straightened, once the battle was over, without snapping).

The points were almost twice as hard as the shanks.

Dimitrij KMETIČ, Jana HORVAT and Franc VODOPIVEC, 'Metallographic examinations of the Roman Republican weapons
from the hoard from Grad near Šmihel,' Arheološki vestnik 55 (2004): 291-312.
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Sun 23 Nov, 2014 1:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hardness below 100HV just means that it's wrought iron. These aren't made of one piece of steel - a steel point is welded to a wrought iron shank.

I think it's more a matter of, rather than being designed to bend, the makers don't care if they bend after hitting a target. The design is (a) very good for armour and shield pierced, because of the long narrow shank, and (b) relatively cheap, since wrought iron rather than steel is used for the shank. Since there is a long narrow wrought iron shank, it will bend easily when subject to sideways forces (such as its own weight) after hitting a target.

Long-shanked spears that are not designed to bend will bend in this way. (As people throwing Cold Steel's version of a long-shanked East African spear into trees have found out.)

"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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