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Blake Davidson




Location: USA
Joined: 23 Apr 2017

Posts: 3

PostPosted: Mon 24 Apr, 2017 10:17 am    Post subject: Decorated Roman Spathae         Reply with quote

Hello, everyone! This is my first post on myArmoury after creeping for several years and absorbing all the valuable information contained on the site.

So, before I get to the meat of the topic, allow me to provide a little background. I've always had an interest in the migration period and the "Viking Age," particularly concerning the various Germanic peoples of those eras. As such, I have an interest in their weapons and armor. Naturally, I wanted to learn about the development of those weapons and armor, which ultimately led me to the Romans and their own military equipment. I quickly became fascinated by Roman arms and armor as well and began digging for information.

A few years ago, I was doing a google image search for different kinds of Roman spathae and came across an image on a message board (to my frustration, I can't remember which one) with a picture of a spathe in a museum. It was displayed next to its scabbard. The hilt and scabbard were both decorated in a peculiar manner. There was a purple stone of some sort in the hilt and similar stones in the scabbard. I only recently remembered this particular sword and now that I want to find the image again I can't (go figure, right?). If I could, I would definitely be directing your attention to it.

Now, I know that Celtic and Germanic cultures were fond of decorating their swords with all kinds of bling. It could show their wealth, power, or prowess on the battlefield. But Roman swords usually seem to be more restrained in their decoration. I know that's a very broad, generalized statement, but it does seem that Roman weapons usually reflect their military in that the objective is less about personal glory and more about service to Rome. Roman weapons are often beautiful, but usually less blinged out in terms of jewels, gold, silver, etc. There are obviously exceptions. And it's those exceptions I wanted to ask about here.

If I remember correctly, the spatha I mentioned above was almost certainly used by a Roman and not an auxilia or a warrior who had bought or looted it from a Roman. My memory is fuzzy on the details, but I seem to recall the discussion on that message board indicating it was. So, does anyone here know of other examples of lavishly decorated spathae used by the Romans? More importantly, what would be the context of such spathae? Did they serve a purpose similar to the richly decorated swords used by Germanic elites? Were they badges of honor? If anybody has any information to share or would like to point anything out please feel free. I'm curious to see what I can find out.


P.S. If anyone else knows the specific sword I mentioned please let me know. End my frustration! Laughing Out Loud
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J. Nicolaysen




Location: Wyoming
Joined: 03 Feb 2014
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Posts: 682

PostPosted: Fri 28 Apr, 2017 5:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well Blake I'm sorry no one has been able to help you yet, sounds like you found a very interesting sword.

All I can think of is if it's a spatha it might date as late as 500s AD. So that would open up some Hunnic or other eastern influences, including byzantine. And the early Franks had some bling on their swords for sure. In this case it is a bit like "one man's spatha is another man's early migration sword" and it depends on who is doing the classifying more than any real date.

But if it really was "roman" whether imperial or republic it sounds like a very unusual sword. Spathae I did not think were common in the republic time...

Hopefully you'll strike again and find the pic, and if you do please share it here.
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Mark Moore




Location: East backwoods-assed Texas
Joined: 01 Oct 2003
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PostPosted: Sat 29 Apr, 2017 1:14 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Just out of curiosity, I did a fairly extensive search for a sword matching the criteria you laid out. I saw a whoooole lot of interesting things, but nothing really matching. Sorry, bud....I tried. Wink ....McM
''Life is like a box of chocolates...'' --- F. Gump
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Blake Davidson




Location: USA
Joined: 23 Apr 2017

Posts: 3

PostPosted: Sat 29 Apr, 2017 5:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks, guys. I understand it's difficult to talk about a specific sword without an image to go off of.

J., I thought there might have been some Byzantine, Sarmatian, or Hunnic influence because of how odd the sword looked in a western European context. I've seen many richly decorated swords from those cultures and from the migration period, so I'm certain you're on the right track.

Mark, that's exactly what I did before I made this topic. Laughing Out Loud It really is a source of frustration for me. Perhaps it'll pop up again somewhere eventually. If it's in a museum I would think it would.

Anyway, thank you again for chiming in, gentlemen.
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Niels Just Rasmussen




Location: NykÝbing Falster, Denmark
Joined: 03 Sep 2014

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PostPosted: Sun 30 Apr, 2017 10:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

An obvious difference could be between normal soldiers and centurions/tribunes. Not so much whether Romans as such liked bling or not.
Especially in the Republican period for the young military tribunes (patrician class) it was all about acquiring glory, so you could use it as a launchpad for a political career. They needed to be talked about and that means being seen (and avoid fighting personally).

Normal soldiers could not afford expensive equipment (like scabbard decorations). They used what they got.
Whereas centurions to some degree and especially military tribunes could and likely would. They just have to stay within a certain aesthetic already there.
Like you later have differences between normal sabers and officer sabers, when it comes to decoration.

This site certainly shows roman swords with artistic "bling" (mostly gladii though).
See: http://www.romancoins.info/MilitaryEquipment-Attack.html

In the Roman iron age Germanic elite warriors very much had a roman aesthetic (Danish bog finds), before they developed their own style in the Germanic iron age.

The Hedegaard pugio-scabbard from Denmark (1st century AD).

Source: http://www.horsensmuseum.dk
That is "officer" bling!
Probably a warrior either serving in the Roman army, got it as an alliance gift from the romans, or a warrior that took it as spoils from a high status roman. The third option is the least likely as the bog finds shows you killed the opponents weapons.
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Blake Davidson




Location: USA
Joined: 23 Apr 2017

Posts: 3

PostPosted: Sun 30 Apr, 2017 11:11 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for the information, Niels. It is much appreciated. That certainly adds some context to decorated Roman weaponry in general. Would you happen to know if there is any precedent for soldiers or officers in the later Roman empire (let's say 4th and 5th centuries) fighting for personal glory?
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Timo Nieminen




Location: Brisbane, Australia
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PostPosted: Sun 30 Apr, 2017 4:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Blake Davidson wrote:
Would you happen to know if there is any precedent for soldiers or officers in the later Roman empire (let's say 4th and 5th centuries) fighting for personal glory?


Most of what I've seen written about personal glory in the Roman army is on the Republic and early Empire, where it was a major motivation for fighting. I don't believe that it went away in the later Empire.

"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
Joined: 17 Sep 2003

Posts: 1,306

PostPosted: Sun 30 Apr, 2017 6:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Actually, archeological and pictoral sources both agree that almost all scabbards and belts were decorated in some way. I've only seen one or two undecorated pugio scabbards, for example, while there are dozens with brass, silver, and/or enamel inlay. Sword scabbards have embossing or openwork motifs, and very few seem to have been very plain. There are certainly plenty of plain brass belt plates that survive, or plain tinned brass, but the idea of a plain leather military belt just doesn't seem to have occurred to the Romans!

Officers certainly had their bling, too, of course, but it followed older Hellenistic-influenced traditions.

*Stones* in a hilt and scabbard seem very non-Roman to me! Can't think of anything like that, unless it's something like cloisonne with garnets? Very big in the Migration Era.

Matthew
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Niels Just Rasmussen




Location: NykÝbing Falster, Denmark
Joined: 03 Sep 2014

Spotlight topics: 15
Posts: 800

PostPosted: Wed 03 May, 2017 9:22 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Blake Davidson wrote:
Thanks for the information, Niels. It is much appreciated. That certainly adds some context to decorated Roman weaponry in general. Would you happen to know if there is any precedent for soldiers or officers in the later Roman empire (let's say 4th and 5th centuries) fighting for personal glory?


Especially so in late Roman Imperial Times. Personal glory meant being rewarded with promotion and meant more money and power.
As the senate had lost power to the Emperor, the way to power went more and more through the military.

Either having a career rising in the praetorian guard, or rising in an out-stationed legion where with personal success, your soldiers might declare you emperor. Just see the 3rd century mess.
So essentially the late roman emperors and generals were warlords working their way up through the ranks and they become increasingly more and more "barbarian" and less and less "Roman" in reality, though they still styled themselves "Roman".
If you go in and check family backgrounds most late roman emperors are military men rising through the ranks from families with humble beginnings. Some managed to create (short lived) dynasties, but most were removed shortly by another warlord.

The last great "Roman" General Flavius Stilicho was the son of a vandal soldier as an example.
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Lafayette C Curtis




Location: Indonesia
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PostPosted: Wed 06 Sep, 2017 9:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Niels Just Rasmussen wrote:
So essentially the late roman emperors and generals were warlords working their way up through the ranks and they become increasingly more and more "barbarian" and less and less "Roman" in reality, though they still styled themselves "Roman".


This is probably rather overstated. More recent scholarly opinions on the subject have drifted towards a more two-way exchange with the so-called "barbarians" becoming increasingly "Romanised" over time as well, such that when they finally invaded and dismembered the Western Empire they no longer looked that unfamiliar to the former Roman citizens who came under their rule -- and conversely they were also more likely to maintain and perpetuate existing Roman institutions that they deemed useful than to replace governance and military structures wholesale. This book has one of the most readable summaries out there: http://www.iupress.indiana.edu/product_info.php?products_id=19580

Anyway, to return to the original question, personal glory had always been important to the Roman military mindset. Look up such institutions or ideas as the spolia opima or the tale of Manlius Torquatus. There were also awards for bravery and/or distinguished service like the phalera. I'm somewhat less clear on the 4th- and 5th-century counterparts of these but it's pretty obvious that personal glory remained an important facet of military service.
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