An Interesting Description of a Gladius in Action

Discussion in 'Historical European Swords and Sword Arts' started by Steel Tiger, Mar 6, 2008.

  1. Steel Tiger

    Steel Tiger Senior Master

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    While hunting about looking for interesting tidbits of information I happened across this. It is from Livy's History of Rome, and may be the earliest reference to a Roman using a gladius hispaniensis. I thought someone might find it interesting.

    I have emphasised the most pertinent part. Now the shield that Manlius was using would have been of the early Republican type with a rounded top and bottom and was probably slightly lighter (probably not significant) than the iconic rectangular shields of the middle empire, so this technique may not have continued beyond the changes in shield design.

    What is interesting is the way in which he used the sword, close-in with upward thrusts from low down. It is quite different to the images we get of Roman legionaires standing with their swords slightly above waist height, pressed firmly against the rim of their shields, and apparently ready to thrust straight forward.

    This is, of course, an image of individual combat, but what it does do is present another way of looking at the gladius, which, due to imperial imagery, has come down to us as an almost archetypical close order fighting weapon (a task it is very well suited to).

    This particular variety of the gladius was probably about 75-80cm long with a 65cm blade and probably weighed around 1.4kg, a form that continued in use until about 20BC.


    I also quite like the name of the Roman involved - Titus Manlius.
     
  2. exile

    exile To him unconquered.

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    Very nice, ST! Another illustration of the truism that sometimes less is more. The shortness of the gladius gave it some of the desirable handling characteristics of a knife, without compromising its robustness as a heavy combat weapon.

    You gotta hand it to the Romans: they were incredibly versatile as soldiers. And you've put your finger on the crucial point, which applies not just to the weapon but to the warrior: we think of the Roman soldier as an efficient cog in a shield wall machine, maybe in sawtooth formation as in the great battle where Suetonius's small army turned the vastly larger Celtic forces under Boudica into chopped liver. But as this chap shows, he was no slouch at single combat either.
     
  3. Blindside

    Blindside Senior Master

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    As a counter to the view of the gladius hispaniensis as soley a thrusting weapon, another quote by Livy:
     
  4. Steel Tiger

    Steel Tiger Senior Master

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    I think that it is quite clear from the general appearance of the earlier gladii, in that they were similar to the Greek xiphos, that they were originally a cut and thrust weapon. An interesting point about some designs of gladii is that the upper portion was wider, by perhaps 1cm, than the lower portion. That would suggest a possibility of chopping like the contemporaneous machaira, or the kukri, or yataghan.

    An interesting comparison is the way in which Spartan and Roman thinking varied with regard to their side arms. In the case of the Spartans their sidearms got shorter, going from the more standard xiphos of about 60cm during the Persian Wars to something about 25cm long during the Peloponnesian Wars. The Romans went the other way. The earliest blades were around 65cm long. This gradually grew until they were around 100cm in AD100. Not long after that they were replaced by the spatha.

    So it would seem that while the Spartans were focussing on close order fighting (their spears got longer as well from 2.4m to 3.6m), allowing no real room for sword-fighting, the Roman fighting order was opening up, perhaps as a result of encountering so many varied enemies, many of whom had a strong focus on individual prowess within battle formations.
     
  5. Doc_Jude

    Doc_Jude 3rd Black Belt

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    That's a really good book. A friend of mine (history major) lent it to me.
     
  6. Andy Moynihan

    Andy Moynihan Senior Master

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    Just looking at the blade width/shape, it was indeed made with cutting edges.

    And you have to figure, even though by the time the rapier came into use much later in the Renaissance period, though it's blade geometry made it a poor cutter(it was optimized to thrust to fit the combat conditions of the duels of its day), even ITS edges, as far as possible, would be sharpened as far as they could be if for no other reason than to discourage it from being grabbed, so, take away the single duel aspect, reintroduce the need to freely attack in multiple directions as in mass battle, and looking at the gladius' blade profile I'm convinced beyond unconvincing that it could, and did, cut as well.
     
  7. Darth F.Takeda

    Darth F.Takeda Blue Belt

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    Besides the low stab (pretty much like the 90degree upper arm to forearm and sword in strait thrust of Pekiti Tarsia) they also did a high stab, over the top, to the subclavian area. (Same is in PT and many other arts.)

    They actually did a good job depicting known and suppossed Roman fighting in the series Rome.
     
  8. chinto

    chinto Senior Master

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    the romans were known to tell their troops that 2.5 inches of penetration by a thrust to the body is lethal 80%+ of the time.. and if you know your anatomy you know that it is true. the gladia was designed for close combat thrust with a wide blade and good point. it will slash or hack if you wish, and would likely take off a hand if you stuck it out there for him to do so. but there was no romance or naming of swords by the romans. they were in the business of killing efficiently and quickly.
    In a good shield wall you do not attack the man in front of you! you kill the guy to your right, in front of your buddy. The most efficient way to do that against the galls and most of the enemy's of Rome, was a fast thrust or two as it exposes less of the legionary's arm to counter attack and had a higher lethality rate then a slash or hack. Also, in close made the use of the longer weapons used by their enemy's harder to use.
     
  9. hafoc

    hafoc Yellow Belt

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    Great quotes, Steel Tiger.

    But perhaps more interesting that the exact delivery of the death blow is the manner in which the shield is used -- to displace the enemy's and open up a path for the blow.

    There are descriptions of that sort of thing in medieval European martial arts manuals, and modern students have attempted to reconstruct them. Here is an example:

    http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=R8SRaa33otU
     
  10. lklawson

    lklawson Senior Master

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    IMS, Vegititus described a Legionaries' gladius drill: Thrust, Thrust, Chop, Thrust, Step, Shield-Batter

    Peace favor your sword,
    Kirk
     
  11. lklawson

    lklawson Senior Master

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    The blade design was time tested and well proven by the time the Romans used steel to form their incarnation. You can see similar designs going well back into the Bronze age: Single-handed, Broad-Baded, double-edged, pointed, minimal or no cross-guard...

    Two that spring immediately to mind are examples from Luristan and what has been dubbed the "Canaanite Sword."

    Luristan:
    Canaanite Sword:
    Anyway, cool ref.

    Peace favor your sword,
    Kirk
     
  12. lklawson

    lklawson Senior Master

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    Not to be too big of a wang, but Meyer clearly intended the Rapiers he used to cut and cut well.

    Peace favor your sword,
    Kirk123
     

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