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Welshhoppo t1_j19bshz wrote

So firstly. Roman swords were very short, at least in the republican era. Your average sword was only about 2 foot long and weighed about a pound. Which isn't really a large amount of metal.

Secondly, the Roman army was a massive financial juggernaut that was basically the most expensive part of the Roman government. They could afford to spend the money on swords. In the late empire, the Romans had a series of military factories in frontier provinces dedicated to producing Roman weaponry.

I can't speak for Medieval warfare, but I imagine the amount of money they were able to spend was a lot less than the Romans could.


Horror_in_Vacuum OP t1_j19c49i wrote

Interesting, thanks for the answer.


bluelion70 t1_j1a0hmn wrote

That’s pretty much what it comes down to. Roman soldiers effectively had their gear subsidized or provided by the state, whereas in the Middle Ages a knight had to equip himself with weapons, armor, and horses, and as you pointed out, good longswords were very expensive because they take much more metal than a Gladius, and require more artisanship to make. Even peasant levies had to provide their own gear, which was why most of them showed up to war with various pieces of farm equipment as weapons.

This is not dissimilar to the Roman system prior to the Marian reforms. After Marius, Rome’s army was state funded, or at least funded by the general/politician who was in charge of it, whereas pre-Marius Roman soldiers had to equip themselves and were actually distinguished by their types of gear, (hastati, principes, triarii) which was based effectively on what the individual could afford to equip himself with.


Welshhoppo t1_j1acwwp wrote

So I might have to go check. But I'm pretty sure the Roman state was providing gear to the army prior to the reforms around the time of Marius. Or at least paying them expenses towards getting their gear in. We have records for orders of supplies from Publicani merchants I think.

Don't quote me yet, I'll come back when I double check.


bluelion70 t1_j1af6m6 wrote

From my understanding, it was the generals who were mostly paying before Marius and in the early years afterward. When Crassus went to hunt Spartacus, wasn’t it because he was the only one willing to pay to raise new legions after Spartacus destroyed the Consular army at Picenum?


Welshhoppo t1_j1ahbcq wrote

I've had a quick read of the Companion to the Roman Army and doubled checked. The legions did receive a stipendium for their service in the army, but a lot of expenses for equipment were taken out of it. Which is how the war in Hispania raged on as long as it did. There were slim pickings for soldiers to make extra cash on the side by looting things.

But yes, eventually the Roman armies got to a point where the Generals paid them. Or the generals negotiated with the state to get their soldiers the best deal for when they reached the end of their service. But it wasn't a guarantee of loyalty, just look at Lucullus for an example where the army dumped him to go home. Even though they were 'full of gold as used to luxury.'


Heyyoguy123 t1_j1mthdn wrote

If I remember correctly, even peasant levies were able to afford or make their own spears, they wouldn’t necessarily bring farming equipment because a spear would be much more effective while being feasible to obtain


Intranetusa t1_j1kagdg wrote

Correction to the post above - Roman swords were longer in the mid Republican era. The gladius actually got shorter (eg. 6 inches shorter) by the time of the early Empire compared to med Republican era swords. They only got longer by the mid to late Empire with the adoption of the spatha for infantry.


r2k-in-the-vortex t1_j1cn0sl wrote

The reason the swords were rather short was because the steel was rather shit. To make longer swords you need more sophisticated methods which they didn't have, or you need to put in a lot more elbow grease to work impurities out of the steel making the sword much more expensive. Over centuries the sword making economy shifted to longer and more expensive blades


WeHaveSixFeet t1_j1d6jwu wrote

I thought the reason the gladius was short was that it allowed the legionaries to get up close and personal with the enemy. The Gauls used longswords. That gets you a couple of good pokes at the Roman's shield before the Roman is in your face. You don't have room to use your longsword, while he's getting stabby. Same goes for spears: very effective until the enemy is up close, then useless.


wegqg t1_j1d8bpx wrote

This ^ celtic longswords were used as slashing weapons and became a hindrance in the press - gladii were able to thrust out between the shield wall and were used, sensibly, as thrusting weapons.


r2k-in-the-vortex t1_j1dk7ni wrote

All else being equal, more reach means more likely to come out the winner, you only need one poke. But all is not equal, longer blade is also heavier and harder to maneuver where it needs to go. That's why length of blade depends on quality of steel, with better quality you can make it longer without compromising weight and strength too much. But if you don't have the quality you end up with a slow club that just isn't that good to use. Romans couldn't have made something like a rapier if they wanted to, their metallurgy wasn't up to snuff.


Thraling t1_j1j7doq wrote

Besides what has already being said (the Celtic sword was used for slashing, not poking), they were typically in bronze, not iron


AnaphoricReference t1_j1pkmwb wrote

Yes. They had no almost no control over how hard the iron would turn out. The real cost would be in fuel and skilled labour. If the weapon turned out too brittle or soft for its purpose, you had to start all over again.

If you compare the standard types of side arms armies used in those days:

- The small hand axe (Franciska, Tomahawk) needs one hard edge, but is otherwise not prone to bending or breaking.

- The long knife (Seax) needs one hard edge and a stiff back.

- The short short (Gladius) needs two hard edges and a stiff centerline. This is an order of magnitude more difficult to achieve. Needs to be stiff enough not to bend or break when stabbing a shield or armour.

- The long sword (Spatha) needs two hard edges and a long stiff centerline, that is stiff enough not to break or bend when blocked halfway with another weapon. Again an order of magnitude more difficult than a short sword.

The small axe was a weaponized common tool that was within reach of any household. Owning a seax was fairly common as well, but would have been more expensive. A functioning long sword was really something else. Not because of the amount of material, but the amount of trying (and fuel) that went into it.

The main advantage the Romans had, was centralization and industrialization of weapon making. More fuel and labour dedicated to it.

Edit: To gain some insight into how involved weaponsmithing would be in those times: Try to build a fire of 1500 degrees celsius using just wood. It is impossible.


AuntieDawnsKitchen t1_j19hxe1 wrote

And weren’t a lot of them equipped with spears, which take much less metal?


Trevor_Culley t1_j19zvzk wrote

Not at the height of the Empire. They had two javelins for throwing and the gladius. The late-Republic/early-Empire legions were a weird ancient army in that way. They set aside about 2000 years of pike warfare supremacy for more maneuverable short swords. By the later Empire, they had incorporated more pike-based auxiliaries and shifted back to longer swords and pikes as cavalry became a bigger component on all sides of their battlefields.


terrendos t1_j1ans90 wrote

2000 years of pikes? I assume you mean 200 years. Alexander the Great died in 323 BC, Marian reforms were 107 BC. Pikes weren't really a thing before Phillip II of Macedon.

Unless you're intending to argue that the First Intermediate Period Egyptians were using them, which would be a surprise to me.


ThoDanII t1_j1bftoj wrote

one pilum

Javelins were used by the velites the skirnishers

show me please the roman unit which used pikes


Welshhoppo t1_j1cefbc wrote

No it was two Pila, one was lighter and the other was heavier. So they threw the lighter one first, then followed up with the heavier one at close range.

As for the pike question. Well maybe. There are references to Roman Army units called Phalangarii and Lanciarii, which may have used longer spears. But the evidence for them is sketchy at best. Cassius Dio flat out says that the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antonius (Caracalla) had a 15,000 man Macedonian Phalanx in imitation of Alexander the Great. But take it with a pitch of salt. Although there is the possibility it was true, considering how useful a long spear would be against Persian horsemen.


ThoDanII t1_j1clk9q wrote

>No it was two Pila, one was lighter and the other was heavier.

But AFAIK history marched on and discarded that the legionary used 2 Pila in battle


Welshhoppo t1_j1cmar6 wrote

The Romans always used some form of missile weapons in the legions. Pila were used until at least the 3rd century as we see them on graves and other pieces of art work. Then in the late empire they seem to have used javelins similar to the German Angron or small weapons like the plumbata which was like a very large dart of which the legionnaires carried 5 of strapped to their shields.


Intranetusa t1_j1kaqlu wrote

I've read it was both. Some sources say they often carried two pila, but in some contexts and some time periods, they carried only 1 pila.


Welshhoppo t1_j19i7t9 wrote

The Romans? At least two javelins with a long metal tip. But when you compare it to the amount of armour that your Roman legionnaire wore. It's not a lot.

Plus you could pick them up after the battle and get someone to reforge them back into shape.


Devil-sAdvocate t1_j1is0wg wrote

> Plus you could pick them up after the battle and get someone to reforge them back into shape.

Swords from dead or retired soldiers could be reused as well, meaning they didn't need to make a new sword for every new soldier that ever joined.


AnaphoricReference t1_j1po9k0 wrote

The pilum takes less metal but cannot effectively be used for thrusting. A blade for a thrusting spear takes a similar amount. The short sword is a kind of very short thrusting spear. Compare the Zulu Iklwa: spear or shortsword with a long hilt?


Intranetusa t1_j1kad42 wrote

Roman swords were longer in the mid Republican era. The gladius actually got shorter (eg. 6 inches shorter) by the time of the early Empire compared to med Republican era swords. They only got longer by the mid to late Empire with the adoption of the spatha for infantry.


Acrobatic_Safety2930 t1_j1aaswj wrote

>2 foot long

how long was it in normal units?


Jarlentium t1_j19gida wrote

Until the Catholic Church took their place