Full Version: Trajan\'s Column - interesting Auxiliary - Batavian?
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Herewith is a drawing I made many years ago, while studying the Column (1978!!) reconstructing a type of Auxiliary depicted on Trajan's Column. Several of these guys appear in a scene which looks like a 'flying column' of troops led by the Emperor.
If each figure represents a unit, (pure speculation, and possibly unlikely! ) then the 'Flying Column' might consist of 2 or possibly 3 cohorts armed like this, with slight variations in shield patterns, together with 1 cohort of 'conventionally' equipped auxiliaries, 4 Alae of cavalry, or possibly,since they are shown dismounted and leading their horses, cohortes equitatae (?) and some very interesting 'Symmachiarii' barbarian Allies who look rather Germanic and carry clubs etc ...[Asturum or Aestii?]( scene XXXVI). Also associated with these 'animal skin wearers' are figures in 'cut-down' hemets - no cheekpieces, (chin ties instead), neck-pieces cut off etc.
It is known that at least 2 cohortes of Batavians took part in the War (Cohors I Batavorum milliara pia fidelis and Cohors II Batavorum milliara).
The figures in question clearly wear smaller, differently depicted animal skins than the signifer 'bearskins' and therefore might be wolf/fox skins, and the cut-off helmets are very distinctive too.
I would like to tentavely suggest that these figures represent which case we have a possible shield design for Batavians....I suspect the one currently utilised, and now increasingly referred to as 'the Batavian shield design' by re-enactors is more likely to be that of the singulares. This is not only because the design comes from a sculpture memorial of a Batavian singulare, but because on the Column, the same design is carried by an auxiliary type, who is fairly unique in having a crest ( crests are otherwise shown only on Praetorian Guards) and who may thus represent a singulare..........

What are others views on this tentative, but very tempting suggestion ? Smile
Most intriguing! How accurate is the drawing? The pelt is very large for a fox or marten. Spear is 2 feet longer then a common hasta. Shield design of laurel wreath is more often seen in aux troop depictions, so would hesitate to make that one the "Batavians only" design, although this one is closed at the top. Could you post the TC scene or put in a link to the TC picture database, please?
Hi Robert!
The pelt may be drawn on the large side - and it also occurs to me that the sculptors may have been working from a description only, rather than first hand, hence a close similarity to a signifer......I was attempting foreshortening with the spear( which is why it looks large) - not very successfully ! The actual weapon, Hasta or lancea, is purely conjectural of course, but Tacitus does describe long German spears.....

If you mean the McMaster database, I cannot find this scene on it. I had intended to put up the original scene and IIRC these troops appear in two scenes.... I think it quite significant the highly unusual 'cut down' helmets also appear alongside these troops ( and one at least appears to have cross-pieces added, despite being cut down) - which gives us two points of similarity with known batavian helmet characteristics.

AFIK the shield design is unique and not shown in the hands of anyone else on the Column...
Hi Paul

I remember doing a reconstruction of one of these figures many years ago and proudly sending a copy to a leading authority on the Roman Army who asked why had a drawn a standard bearer with a spear!

Nevertheless I can imagine many Roman Army experts saying something similar these days. They would probably argue that this is just an error on the part of the sculptor who was probably copying something he either did not understand, was following a classification of standard non Roman Barbarian types, or was not bothered in getting right. Therefore any speculation about what troop types they are or unit they come from is a complete waste of time!

Hi Graham,

I suspect the atitude you describe is rather like throwing the baby out with the bath water, and I find it hard to believe that anyone with any real knowledge could hold such beliefs ! Confusedhock:
Trajan's Column was once considered the authority for the Roman army of the period, and the pendulum has now swung to the opposite extreme !
The Column was not intended to be 'meaningless', but a commemoration of Trajan's campaigns. It was also the first monument of its kind, and if it is not 'literal' enough to be easily read by modern scholars, who are basically saying " I can't fully understand it, therefore it is meaningless", that is hardly the designers fault. :? evil: ( thinks: where have I come across that arrogant atitude before?)
Elsewhere, I have seen the cut-down helmets portrayed in this scene used as "proof" that the sculptors didn't know what they were doing, and had no idea about real Roman helmets, yet we now know that such helmets were in use - no cheekpieces, and neck-guard cut off !
I think that so long as what was being portrayed was recognisable to its audience, the sculptors weren't too bothered about every last literal detail.....
I think that whereas 30 years ago, no units could be positively identified we can now be pretty certain, through standards and shield designs, when Praetorians are being portrayed and I think as our knowledge grows the 'distinctively portrayed' units, at least, will be tentatively identified....the designer was trying to portray something that his audience would recognise, after all - otherwise, why not use a standard 'stereotype' figure for all?
Such a thing will not be proven beyond doubt of course, and the Column will always have secrets, but there is much more to be learnt from it, especially when further icongraphic and archaeological finds come to light.......or, the Grail of a written history of the Dacian campaigns, which would then probably allow everything on the Column to fall into place.... Smile D lol:
Salve Paul!

Yes, I was refering to the McMasters database on Trajans Column and found one of the pictures I based my remark on: ... 11317+true

Showing an aux shield bearing the wreath design. There are more, for I have seen others as well, both on this forum and in books from which pictures were published. My remark was in no way critical, just inquisative, living as I do near the heartland of the Batavians near Noviomagus and wanting to correctly portay a Batavian aux in our (hopefully) future park.

I really enjoy the fabulous work done on this project and would agree with you that given the many confirms we have from archeology we should take artist impression at face value unless proof is delivered of untruth. Even then, we are uncovering only so little of a highly complex society spanning both millenia and a continent, we should in my view be humble in our set beliefs.
Ave Robert !

It is true that a number of auxiliary shields on the column display wreaths - but no two designs are exactly alike. I have details of some 44 auxiliary designs shown on the Column, and of these some 13 have wreaths incorporated into their design, and of these, 3 have double 'figure8' wreaths, but in each case the designs have other elements that make them unique.
Many years ago, Lino Rossi speculated that the wreaths represented units that had been awarded " Torques" and that the double wreaths represented a "Bi-Torques" award, on the basis that the latin word for a festoon of leaves is torques, (see e.g. Virgil Georg.IV.276) and the circular wreath on standards is also sometimes described as torques (see Pauly-Wissowa VI.2 p2450)
This is certainly a possibility, and it is noteworthy that no Dacian shields have such leaves/wreaths ( so the sculptors were not randomly sculpting/painting emblems)and perhaps further evidence may be forthcoming one day. Smile D
Against this theory is the fact that we cannot marry up such a wreath design with a unit awarded "torques" at present. What is certain is that the wreath signified something ( if not torques, then perhaps Civium Romanum? - but against this is the fact that some auxiliary shields display thunderbolt/eagle designs, which by analogy with legionary designs have also been seen as C.V. emblems - sigh! Sad ( )
....more clues/information needed !! But, further to my post above, such frustration does not mean we should give up trying to solve this conundrum, rather we should increase our efforts !! Big Grin
Quote:The actual weapon, Hasta or lancea, is purely conjectural of course, but Tacitus does describe long German spears.....

Is this the passage? Tacitus, Germania, 6
Quote:The spears that they carry—frameae is the native word—have short and narrow heads, but are so sharp and easy to handle, that the same weapon serves at need for close or distant fighting.
Quote:hastas vel ipsorum vocabulo frameas gerunt angusto et brevi ferro, sed ita acri et ad usum habili, ut eodem telo, prout ratio poscit, vel comminus vel eminus pugnent.

Here the German spear can be used both for close and distant fighting. I thought the latter means using it as a javelin; thus, it could not have been that long and heavy. Probably, same size as depicted on the Roman monuments - slightly taller than a human, no longer than 2 meters.
We've discussed these images ourselves (Certainly Caballo and I ) at length. They certainly could be the artists inpression of Batavian auxiliaries. The soldiers all have beards and one of them has a helmet with a chinstrap rather akin to the Krefeld helmet! Tacitus states that Batavian cut neither hair nor beard whilst at war. Civilis himself did this during the Batavian uprising.

I have quite a good image on my PC at work which I'll post on Monday.

They could also be antisignani, wearing the last vesitiges of the velites pelts(?)

The only reason ours has become known as the 'Batavian' shield design is because that's the one our group chose over all the other designs put before them three years ago!! It's not our doing honest! :wink:

Our auxiliaries already wore green and it was the deisgn taken from Connolly's drawing. No other reason at the time!
G'day, Alex ! ( as we say 'downunder')

It was not the dual purpose framea I was referring to ( which was designed for a purpose similar to the Roman lancea, used in the hand or thrown and hence no more than about six feet (1.8m) long.

I had in mind the line before your first quote "Only a few of them use swords or large lances/spears..." and there are scattered references elsewhere in Tacitus to germans with long thrusting spears, e.g. a speech by Germanicus (Annals) "The natives great shields and huge spears ( enormis hastas)are not so manageable among tree trunks and scrub as Roman swords and pila and tight-fitting armour"...and... "Their first line alone carried spears (hastatam)" (p.83, Penguin translation by Michael Grant) and also the battle of Idistaviso (p.86 idem) "With their vast numbers crammed into a narrow space they could neither thrust nor pull back their great spears ( praelongis hastas). They were compelled to fight where they stood, unable to exploit their natural speed by charging.The Romans on the other hand, with shields held close to their chests and sword hilts firmly grasped rained blows... " ( c.f. Mainz reliefs showing this battle-stance)
Incidently, the Romans evidently felt it was they who held the advantage in close country, contrary to popular opinion... :lol:
Thank you, that is helpful! The question remains, though, to which extent and in what time frame the native weapons, such as the longer thrusting spears, were employed by the Roman auxilia. I was trying to clarify the question of the evidence for longer thrusting spears in the Roman army of the 1st c CE in this thread, but nothing more definite than use of long spears in a siege context in Tacitus, Histories 3.27.3, and an image on the Adamklissi Metope xxiv came out.
Greets, all!

The late La Tene reconstructions show long spears and very differently shaped spearheads (broad base, nasty narrow point) to the hasta points found in Nijmegen or Newstead (which is what I am basing my reconstruction for Jaspers Batavian bunch on). I am indeed making two larger spears, more like the 2 meter lancea, with massive spearheads in the range of 16" (40 cm) as opposed to the common Roman 10" (25 cm). It could be the former Tacitus is refering to.
As to the shield designs, yes, the closed wreath design with the three half moons on either side (top and bottom) could very well be attributed to the Batavian troops, so could perhaps others. My remark was envoked by the wreath depicted. Thanks for your sharing of the drawing and the analysis. When looking at the more geometrical designs attributed to the Germanis and/or Celtic tribes, it would make sence to see some remnants in their favoured shield design. Most interesting topic Big Grin
With regards to the 'auxiliaries' with animal skins over their heads and other changes in detail of auxiliary and citizens soldiers the acknowledged expert on the column J.C. Coulston wrote that they were " figure type contraventions, ....resulting from sculptural inattention and lassitude".

It will be interesting to see whether in the intervening years he has revised this opinion when his new book on Trajan's Column is published.

I just stumbled over this thread and have a mixed bag of comments to add, not sure how useful you find them:

I was under the impression that the main reason for reconstructing these figures with a long spear was Tacitus' description of the Vitellian army in Rome:

"Yet there was a panic at Rome, as the soldiers pressed on in all directions. It was to the forum that they chiefly directed their steps, anxious to behold the spot where Galba had fallen. Nor were the men themselves a less frightful spectacle, bristling as they were with the skins of wild beasts, and armed with huge lances, while in their strangeness to the place they were embarrassed by the crowds of people, or tumbling down in the slippery streets or from the shock of some casual encounter, they fell to quarrelling, and then had recourse to blows and the use of their swords. Besides, the tribunes and prefects were hurrying to and fro with formidable bodies of armed men." (Hist. 2, 88)

"in urbe tamen trepidatum praecurrentibus passim militibus; forum maxime petebant, cupidine visendi locum in quo Galba iacuisset. nec minus saevum spectaculum erant ipsi, tergis ferarum et ingentibus telis horrentes, cum turbam populi per inscitiam parum vitarent, aut ubi lubrico viae vel occursu alicuius procidissent, ad iurgium, mox ad manus et ferrum transirent. quin et tribuni praefectique cum terrore et armatorum catervis volitabant."

( )

Noting, however, that my little knowledge of latin would indicate that telum is normally something to be thrown rather than thrusted.

I believe that Speidel in Germanic warrior believed that the guy with helmet without cheek pieces represented a Batavian (this is the only useful passage in an otherwise extremely disappointing book).

Finally, in connection with the Kalkriese site, a cache of what is assumed to be WOODEN swords and clubs was found (I believe reported in "Rom, Germanien und die Ausgrabungen von Kalkriese") which also included a long pole with a sharpened point which the excavator believes to have been a thrusting spear. The pole is of squarish cross-section with rounded off corners (like a playing-card) and looks HUGE indeeed. However, given its extreme size and the strange cross-section, I am not convinced that it really represents a thrusting spear.
Quote:I had in mind the line before your first quote "Only a few of them use swords or large lances/spears..." and there are scattered references elsewhere in Tacitus to germans with long thrusting spears, e.g. a speech by Germanicus (Annals) "The natives great shields and huge spears ( enormis hastas)are not so manageable among tree trunks and scrub as Roman swords and pila and tight-fitting armour"...and... "Their first line alone carried spears (hastatam)" (p.83, Penguin translation by Michael Grant) and also the battle of Idistaviso (p.86 idem) "With their vast numbers crammed into a narrow space they could neither thrust nor pull back their great spears ( praelongis hastas). They were compelled to fight where they stood, unable to exploit their natural speed by charging.

Hi Paul,

I think it is spears like these that several authors think of when picturing Late Roman heavy infantry. I think that Vegetius uses the word 'contus' for a thrusting spear like this one. When you think of the growing Germanic influence on Roman tactics and weapons it would be a feasable idea to think of these spears belonging to the array of weapons available to the Roman army. Evidence like that from Tacitus and Trajan's Column proves that the Romans knew such weapons, even if only non-Roman units were equipped with them.

Wheeler and others suggest this very weapon as this 'hasta' (yes, I know, it's a generic name) came into use for the regular infantry from the 3rd c. onwards.
The description of compact infantry sounds very much like the description of Late Roman infantry in synaspismos, before opening up the ranks and using the spatha.

Just my opinion.
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