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William Aers




Location: England
Joined: 29 Jul 2019

Posts: 7

PostPosted: Fri 02 Aug, 2019 6:14 pm    Post subject: Changes in Arms & Armour & the Decline of the Roman         Reply with quote

Hi all,

I thought I'd dare to ask an impertinent question regarding the fall of Rome. It took Gibbon several volumes and, as far as I can tell, the debate is still going on to this day. The latest additions being climate change and disease as fashionable excuses for the mass barbarian migrations.

With all that in mind, I thought I'd throw in the question about changes in armour during that period and what affect it may have had on the fall of the empire. So far as I can tell it seems that in some cases armour actually declined in use, with Saxons and other barbarians preferring to use long knives, round shields, spears and longer swords with barely any body armour. That's quite a dramatic change from the Roman legionaries of the Claudian invasion with their curved scutum, various lorica armour and short gladius. Why did this change happen, and why did the Romans lose when their tactics had proved so successful against lightly armoured barbarians in the past?

If we look at the long swords carried by barbarians we can see that their preferred method of fighting is by swinging arcs and powerful blows. I would have thought that the act of swinging the sword in a wide arc would have left them open to a stab from a gladius. If that's the case then how did the Romans lose? I suppose I should take a closer look at what they were wearing at Adrianople. However, this still doesn't explain the seemingly drastic decline in the quality of armour after the fall of Rome.

Why did the barbarians not prefer to use a gladius style Spanish sword as opposed to the seax or longer sword? (Forgive me I'm an amateur and don't know proper the name). I suppose their style of one to one fighting may have something to do with it.

What do you guys think?

For where thou art, there is the world itself.
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Anthony Clipsom




Location: YORKSHIRE, UK
Joined: 27 Jul 2009

Posts: 51

PostPosted: Sat 03 Aug, 2019 12:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Not really my period so I can't give you a detailed reply. However, I would suggest widening the scope from just sword types. The Roman army fights differently in the 4th century from the 1st. The big infantry legions are gone and infantry legions are much smaller. The army has split down into garrison forces and field forces. Cavalry have become more prominent, as have archers. All these suggest an army adapting to new fighting styles in response to new threats.

In terms of spatha use, were they really swinging their swords in big arcs? It is perfectly possible to use a long sword in a more vertical plane while in closer order. On the seax, remember this is a secondary weapon. The primary weapon would be the spear.

Anthony Clipsom
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T. Kew




Location: Cambridge, UK
Joined: 21 Apr 2012

Posts: 186

PostPosted: Sat 03 Aug, 2019 6:35 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Generally speaking, people look far too much at weapons technology when it comes to explanations about the outcome of campaigns or wars. Some technological shifts are important (breechloading rifles, for example), but as long as everyone is using roughly equivalent equipment other factors will normally be more important.

So it goes for the Roman Empire. In theory, someone with a gladius can make a nice tight thrust and beat a big swing. In practice, that's harder than it sounds - but much more importantly, the outcome of some hypothetical 1:1 fight between a legionary and a barbarian is very rarely the deciding factor for a battle. Most people even on the losing side don't get killed - they retreat.

The collapse of the Western Empire is largely about structural factors - large scale logistics, internal strife, etc. Weapons technology is extremely far down the list of issues at play.

Instructor and scholar, Cambridge HEMA
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Matthew Amt




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

Posts: 1,364

PostPosted: Sat 03 Aug, 2019 7:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

T. Kew wrote:
Generally speaking, people look far too much at weapons technology when it comes to explanations about the outcome of campaigns or wars. Some technological shifts are important (breechloading rifles, for example), but as long as everyone is using roughly equivalent equipment other factors will normally be more important.

So it goes for the Roman Empire. In theory, someone with a gladius can make a nice tight thrust and beat a big swing. In practice, that's harder than it sounds - but much more importantly, the outcome of some hypothetical 1:1 fight between a legionary and a barbarian is very rarely the deciding factor for a battle. Most people even on the losing side don't get killed - they retreat.

The collapse of the Western Empire is largely about structural factors - large scale logistics, internal strife, etc. Weapons technology is extremely far down the list of issues at play.


What he said! Even more, those long swords were *secondary* weapons, used mainly by the elite few. SPEARS were the primary weapon, as they always had been.

No society "preferred" to fight without armor. In fact their wealthy classes would always have had at least some armor, though the ratio varied. It was the Romans' huge advantage in infrastructure, centralized government, and a national treasury that turned a profit every year that allowed them to keep a large standing professional army, with a much higher percentage of armored troops. Though it should be noted that legionaries were still legally equipped at their own expense (through salary deductions) right through the 2nd century AD. It was only in the 3rd century AD that they were actually equipped at state expense, with armor and weaponry being made in centralized factories. Of course, this was about the time those barbarian tribes began to be a real problem.

And of course the Romans who fought those barbarian incursions weren't equipped very differently from their foes. Mailshirts, round shields, spears, long swords, helmets. They were better trained and organized--never think of the Roman army of the 3rd and 4th centuries as "declining" or inferior in some way.

Matthew
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Dan Howard




Location: Maitland, NSW, Australia
Joined: 08 Dec 2004

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PostPosted: Sat 03 Aug, 2019 4:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Battles are decided on many factors including numbers, experience, morale, training, supplies, weather, topography, surprise, intelligence, communication, transportation, equipment, commander ability, and so on. If you list all of these factors in order of importance, the differences between the equipment of both sides would be way down near the bottom. I'm a historian and hoplologist, and love studying the intricacies of how military equipment was made and used. It has taken me a long while to realise that the types of weapons and armour that each side used in battle rarely had much influence on its outcome.
Author: Bronze Age Military Equipment, Pen and Sword Books
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Tyler Jordan





Joined: 15 Mar 2004

Posts: 98

PostPosted: Sat 03 Aug, 2019 6:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Battles are fought with spears and bows, primarily. Also I don't think the 'wide arc' you are describing was in great use. The migration era sword was able to deliver a devastatingly powerful cut with a 'cast blow' where the wrist is allowed to break at the end giving a sort of whipping action, without telegraphing so heavily. The forward weight of the weapon does the rest.
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Luka Borscak




Location: Croatia
Joined: 11 Jun 2007
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PostPosted: Sat 10 Aug, 2019 2:25 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hm... It might seem like I'm just shortening other people's answers, but still... Main weapon of the "barbarians" is a spear and javelin, not a sword. Romans themselves didn't use typical "gladius" anymore in the period when they started having big problems with barbarian invasions. Third, maybe the most important, many of the coming barbarians had very strong cavalry, either heavy cavalry lancers + horse archers like Sarmatians or more universal cavalry that used javelins but also involved in hand to hand combat. Adrianople was a battle lost primarily because of cavalry.
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