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[size=150:1f709ugd]Arrian and the ‘kontos’[/size]

What exactly is Arrian talking about when in his treatise ‘Ektaxis kata Alanoon’ or ‘Acies contra Alanos’, he equipped his legionary heavy infantry with the ‘kontos’? It must be a spear of some type, but which? Was it simply a pilum, the weapon commonly regarded as characteristic of legionary infantry in the time of Arrian? Or was it something else, maybe a thrusting spear? This short article does not claim to have the answer, simply because this cannot be established on the basis of the evidence available, but several possibilities will be looked at, without disregarding any type of spear.

Bibliography of secondary literature:
Bachrach, Bernard S. (1973): A History of the Alans in the West, from their first appearance in the sources of classical antiquity through the early middle ages, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.
Bosworth, A.B. (1977): Arrian and the Alani, in: Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, vol. 81, pp. 217-255.
Campbell, B. (1987): Teach yourself how to be a general, in: Journal of Roman Studies vol. 77, pp. 13-29.
Wheeler, Everett L. (1978): The Occasion of Arrian's Tactica, in: Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 19:4, pp. 351–65.
Wheeler, Everett L. (2004): The Legion as Phalanx in the Late Empire (II), in: Revue des Études Militaires Anciennes 1, pp. 147-75, esp. pp. 151-9.

I’m using two English translations of Arrian’s text:
Bachrach, Bernard S. (1973): A History of the Alans in the West, from their first appearance in the sources of classical antiquity through the early middle ages, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, pp. 129-133.

Relying as I have to do on others for the Greek text, I’m using the Greek text provided by Sander van Dorst:
Dorst, Sander van (2002): Arrian's Array against the Alans, at: http://members.tripod.com/~S_van_Dorst/ ... taxis.html which is based on Roos’ translation used in the Loeb edition.

The relevant passages: acies 16, 17 and 26:

Acies 16:
Tetachthoon de epi oktoo, kai pyknè autois estoo hè xyntaxis. Kai hai men prootai tessares taxeis estoosan kontophoroon, hois dè tois kontois makra kai epi lepton ta sidèria proèktai. Kai toutous hoi men prootostatai eis probolèn echontoon, hoos ei pelazoien autois hoi polemioi, kata ta stèthè malista toon hippoon tithesthai toon kontoon ton sidèron:
They should deploy in eight ranks and their deployment should be close ordered. And the front four ranks of the formation must be of spearmen [whose spearpoints end in thin iron shanks]. And the foremost of them should hold their shields at the ready, in order that when the enemies near them, they can thrust the iron points of the spears at the breast of the horses in particular.

Acies 17:
hoi deuterostatai de kai hoi tès tritès kai tetartès taxeoos eis akontismon probeblèsthoon tous kontous hopou tychoien, kai hippous troosontes kai hippotèn katakanountes kai thyreooi kataphraktooi thooraki empagentos tou kontou kai dia malakotèta tou sidèrou epikamphthentos archeion ton anabatèn poièsontes. Hai de ephexès taxeis toon lonchophoroon estoosan.
Those standing in second, third an fourth rank of the formation must hold their spears ready for thrusting if possible, wounding the horses and killing the horsemen and put the rider out of action. The impact of the spear will make the flexible iron point stuck in their shield and body armour and the weight will make it impossible for him to remount. The following ranks should be of the javelineers.

Acies 26:
ei de dè pelazoien, enchrempsantas tais aspisi kai tois oomois antereisantas dechesthai tèn prosbolèn hoos karterootata kai tèi synkleisei pyknotatè tas prootas treis taxeis xynereidousas sphisin hoos biaiotaton hoion te: tèn tetartèn de hyperakontizein tas lonchas: kai tèn prootèn paiein è akontizein tois kontois apheidoos es te hippous kai autous.
If they do close in though, the first three ranks should lock their shields and press their shoulders and receive the charge as strongly as possible in the most closely ordered formation bound together in the strongest manner. The fourth rank will throw their javelins overhead and the first rank will stab at them and their horses with their spears without pause.

Problem: – how alien is Arrian’s deployment to Roman practise?

To begin with, a short word about the usability of Arrian.
The text has posed many translators with a problem. What is Arrian talking about? Can we even begin to use his text as a common model for Roman deployment? Is he perhaps describing something archaic, something entirely alien to the Roman military?
The deployment of heavy infantry in very close order (‘pyknosis’) is not strange, since it is already used by Marc Anthony in 36 BC (Plutarch, Anthony, 45 and 49), who had his legionary infantry close ranks and stab at the Parthian cavalry with their pila. The three tiers of scuta also seems reflected by Maurice’s ‘foulkon’, which may well indicate a continuous tactic. Nevertheless, Arrian’s ‘ectaxis’ is often described as ‘a one-off’, or ‘a regional variation’.

That may be due to the words with which Arrian describes this deployment. For not only is he the first to even provide a name for this deployment, he is also the first to refer to legionary infantry as ‘kontophoroi’. The question is, what was Arrian thinking of when he chose the word ‘kontos’? After all, the original meaning of the ‘kontos’ was a long pole, and the common military use of the word was in the sense of a two-handed cavalry thrusting spear. Some commentators have literally copied that meaning; some even want to see a two-handed ‘sarissa’ infantry spear. Others (like Bachrach) simply translate the word with ‘spear’ (and he even translated ‘lonche’ (lancea) with ‘pike’).

However, a detailed study by Wheeler does not lead to a conclusion that Arrian’s theoretical deployment was either strange to Roman practise, nor that it was a regional variant. As a result of that, we can discuss the deployment as a normal deployment in terms of weaponry, too.

Seems, because there are several difficulties with this explanation. In looking at each spear, we’ll begin to examine the text by looking at the three sections in which Arrian supposedly has described the pilum; Acies 16, 17 and 26.

Acies 16:
In fact, the text is not as clear as is often assumed. Wheeler noticed that while the text of acies 17 indeed describes a spear stuck in armour which is bending due to the iron softness, acies 16 does not describe that. As we’ll see below, this sentence is very damaged and various commentators have attempted their own emendations.

I sure hope I used the correct transcript for the Greek characters.

The MS Laurentius gr.LV 4 actually reads: “oii (spatium 3-4 litt.) tois kontois makra kaì èpìleptòâ€
Vortigern I have a drawing of the battle in a book at work, which shows the legionarys useing there pila in a phlanx formation.with the Alans ect stopping short and the rear ranks throwing there pila at them. Will be a while before I can also check up this reference and how they come by it? Also have you read;
Training The Roman Cavalry from Arrians Ars Tactica;
By Ann Hyland.
I met her at conferance a good few years ago her books on horsemanship ect are excellent Big Grin
I dont know if this can add or help.
Regards Brennivs Big Grin
have you read this paper?

P. Rance, 'The Fulcum, the late Roman and Byzantine Testudo: the Germanization of Roman infantry tactics?'

I don't recall if he addressed the spear directly, but I would be curious to know if his reconstruction of the Fulcum is accepted by those more familiar with this period than I.
Hi Tony,
Quote:Vortigern I have a drawing of the battle in a book at work, which shows the legionarys useing there pila in a phlanx formation.with the Alans ect stopping short and the rear ranks throwing there pila at them.
I would like to see that picture. However, a) the battle most likely never took place and b) as you can read above, the assumption of the spears being pila that were thrown is a wrong one. :wink:
No, I have not read Ann Hyland's book.

Hi Paul,
Quote:have you read this paper?
P. Rance, 'The Fulcum, the late Roman and Byzantine Testudo: the Germanization of Roman infantry tactics?'
Yes, the article is online for those who want to read it.
Personally I liked the article and I endorse Rance's views on this.
Robert,

a very good and stringent article. Laus for you!
Thanks Jens. Big Grin
Quote:Vortigern I have a drawing of the battle in a book at work, which shows the legionarys useing there pila in a phlanx formation.with the Alans ect stopping short and the rear ranks throwing there pila at them.
Sounds like Peter Connolly's painting in J. Hackett (ed.), Warfare in the Ancient World.
An admirably succinct statement of the problem, Robert.

But is something missing from your section on the javelin? (It just kinda stops!)
Quote:Spear 3 – the javelin
The sparse description that we have immediately makes clear that the ‘kontos’ is never actually thrown in Arrian’s text. And even though the other spear in this deployment, the or lonche is generally accepted as the lancea,
Quote:An admirably succinct statement of the problem, Robert.

But is something missing from your section on the javelin? (It just kinda stops!)
It probably hit an enemy! Big Grin

My apologies, in my haste I copy-pasted the wrong section - remedied now. Thanks for noticing that goof-up!
Beautiful analisys Robert, laudes for you.

I try to add "other meat over the fire" ( I don't know if the expression exist in english Smile ).

Stadter in "Ars Tactica of Arrian: tradition and originality" does the hypotesis that the ektaxis has been thought as a "example text"
linked to ars tactica. The text simulate a true order of day as style but some explanatory passages in the text (like the role of
kontophorii the 16) confirm the didactic nature. But differently from Aelian Hellenistic manual, Stadter envisages the Arrian originality
in the technical manual (taking only infantry part, that of macedonian tradition, and leaving the roman cavalry part already
actual); the author of Nicomedia try to render more actual and interesting to the reader the old greek military precepts (he dismiss the
formation name of chariots and elephants units because no more usable and change the sarissa lenght). All this in the context of Hadrian effort of renew of the army.

So, this is a my idea, the ektaxis can be a conceptual reconstruction to help the reader to actualize with a "present" situation the
hellenistic tactic described in ars tactica; this is no a new idea (that of battle simulation) Xenophon does the same in Cyropaedia; the
phalanx formation described by Xenophon is very similar to that used in ektaxis: Heavy infantry (hoplites), javelineers, archers.

I agree about the topos of Acies 17, but if on assume the didactic role for the army renew, no sense exist to create confusion in the
reader about the arms for literary motivations. Probably Arrian want to demonstrate a good quality of a pilum-like weapon (that topos was never linked to a normal spear) used as a old dorata (word used in ars tactica to describe a normal cavalry spear), using the same quality applied to weapon when launched: the ektaxis tactic can be applied also with the present roman army waepons arsenal would be the implicit message.

Anyway 30-40 years after the ektaxis Lucian in dialogue between the dead, a peltast use a kontus for pierce horse and horseman, but has a shield (probably a hoplite dora); in Alexander Lucian speak of two escort soldiers: a kontophoros and a longophoros, no clear if they are legionaries, but being Lucian not a military man, the kontus can be any weapons longer that lancea to his eyes. But in "how write the history" he report the title of a historical text write by a military physician of roman army "Partic history of Callimorphe, physician of Sixth (Legion) of Kontophores", no clear how to take this title.
“ARRIAN: ECTAXIS KATA ALANOON OR ACIES CONTRA ALANOSâ€
“ARRIAN: ECTAXIS KATA ALANOON OR ACIES CONTRA ALANOS” , or “Paullus contra Vortigern” ( couldn’t resist that one, since this debate has carried across several threads…..)

Robert’s lengthy post was well worth waiting for, and is a model of how evidence should be presented. It has encouraged me to delve even deeper into the Arrian text, and associated analyses of it in secondary sources. I can only apologise for the length of time it has taken me to get around to posting my findings (due to circumstances beyond my control), although I fear by now only Robert and I have any interest in continuing the debate. It grieves me somewhat that Robert and I find ourselves on opposite sides of this debate, but alas here we find ourselves holding differing opinions, and each earnestly championing our respective points of view. But enough of that !........

To paraphrase Shakespeare’s Mark Anthony’ speech at Caesar’s funeral, “I come not to praise Robert, but to bury him !” ( or rather to bury what I believe are Robert’s flawed conclusions on this particular occasion !) ….forgive me, Robert! I too have found myself arguing a ‘heretical’ viewpoint on occasion against orthodoxy , in this instance the commonly accepted view that Arrians ‘kontois’ means the ‘pila’ I therefore have every sympathy with you!

Because quite a length of time has passed since Robert’s excellent post ( and Laudes for it! ), it might be best to reproduce his post, and intersperse an alternate viewpoint, thereby presenting the reader with both viewpoints simultaneously, as it were. Like Robert, I do not claim to have a definitive conclusion, and can only suggest what I believe to be more likely, on balance of probability.
Bibliography additional to Robert’s:
Perseus Digital Library
Liddell Scott Jones Greek lexicon (LSJ)
Ancient History Bulletin 2: A Note on Arrian’s Ektaxis kata Alanon; M. Pavkovic
Bosworth, A.B. “Alani”
Caesar: Gallic War
Tacitus: Histories
Arrian: Tactica
Plutarch: Pompey

The relevant passages: acies 16, 17 and 26:

Acies 16:
Tetachthoon de epi oktoo, kai pyknè autois estoo hè xyntaxis. Kai hai men prootai tessares taxeis estoosan kontophoroon, hois dè tois kontois makra kai epi lepton ta sidèria proèktai. Kai toutous hoi men prootostatai eis probolèn echontoon, hoos ei pelazoien autois hoi polemioi, kata ta stèthè malista toon hippoon tithesthai toon kontoon ton sidèron:
They should deploy in eight ranks and their deployment should be close ordered. And the front four ranks of the formation must be of spearmen [whose spearpoints end in thin iron shanks]. And the foremost of them should hold their shields at the ready, in order that when the enemies near them, they can thrust the iron points of the spears at the breast of the horses in particular.

Acies 17:
hoi deuterostatai de kai hoi tès tritès kai tetartès taxeoos eis akontismon probeblèsthoon tous kontous hopou tychoien, kai hippous troosontes kai hippotèn katakanountes kai thyreooi kataphraktooi thooraki empagentos tou kontou kai dia malakotèta tou sidèrou epikamphthentos archeion ton anabatèn poièsontes. Hai de ephexès taxeis toon lonchophoroon estoosan.
Those standing in second, third an fourth rank of the formation must hold their spears ready for thrusting if possible, wounding the horses and killing the horsemen and put the rider out of action. The impact of the spear will make the flexible iron point stuck in their shield and body armour and the weight will make it impossible for him to remount. The following ranks should be of the javelineers.

Acies 26:
ei de dè pelazoien, enchrempsantas tais aspisi kai tois oomois antereisantas dechesthai tèn prosbolèn hoos karterootata kai tèi synkleisei pyknotatè tas prootas treis taxeis xynereidousas sphisin hoos biaiotaton hoion te: tèn tetartèn de hyperakontizein tas lonchas: kai tèn prootèn paiein è akontizein tois kontois apheidoos es te hippous kai autous.
If they do close in though, the first three ranks should lock their shields and press their shoulders and receive the charge as strongly as possible in the most closely ordered formation bound together in the strongest manner. The fourth rank will throw their javelins overhead and the first rank will stab at them and their horses with their spears without pause.

Problem: – how alien is Arrian’s deployment to Roman practise?

To begin with, a short word about the usability of Arrian.
The text has posed many translators with a problem. What is Arrian talking about? Can we even begin to use his text as a common model for Roman deployment? Is he perhaps describing something archaic, something entirely alien to the Roman military?
I will add some comments here. As well as being a governor/military commander, Arrian was a learned historian ( his history of Alexander is our best source on the subject extant), a military theorist, and something of a philosopher, and he was Greek rather than Roman as such. The Ektaxis as it stands is problematic, as Robert points out in his post, being full of several lacunae/gaps, where sometimes a word or two, or a phrase, must be guessed (emendments)…see Pavkovic, and Bosworth’s several works, especially ‘Arrian and the Alani’ p232 et seq for the state of the manuscript. What we appear to have is a document based on Arrian’s actual orders, but ‘polished up’ in good literary style for subsequent readership ( there are many literary flourishes such as ‘variation’ – the conscious effort not to repeat phrases, but to use alternatives and synonyms), which unfortunately is incomplete ( lacking its last 15-20 lines) and has a large number of holes/gaps/lacunae.
The deployment of heavy infantry in very close order (‘pyknosis’) pyknosis is not 'very close order' ( which is 'synaspismos' - locked shields in the tactical manuals), but rather normal close order, 3 ft per man, though Arrian does say ‘very close order’ at one point…..It is not strange, since it is already used by Marc Anthony in 36 BC (Plutarch, Anthony, 45 and 49), who had his legionary infantry close ranks and stab at the Parthian cavalry with their pila. …Caesar also describes similar tactics at Pharsalus against Pompey’s cavalry, and again during the siege of Alesia… The three tiers of scuta also seems reflected by Maurice’s ‘foulkon’, which may well indicate a continuous tactic. Nevertheless, Arrian’s ‘ectaxis’ is often described as ‘a one-off’, or ‘a regional variation’.

That may be due to the words with which Arrian describes this deployment. For not only is he the first to even provide a name for this deployment, he is also the first to refer to legionary infantry as ‘kontophoroi’. The question is, what was Arrian thinking of when he chose the word ‘kontos’?
As we have remarked elsewhere, Arrian appears to have invented the word ‘kontois’for a legionary weapon for which there was no name in greek- and he never actually uses the word ‘kontos’ as such for the Legionaries weapon- I shall return to this point later, and I hope the Ancient Greek Scholars will not conclude that ‘kontos’ and ‘kontois’ are the same…
After all, the original meaning of the ‘kontos’ was a long pole, …correct, typically a punting pole or barge pole – Triremes carried several, to push off beaches, and fend off other vessels and the common military use of the word was in the sense of a two-handed cavalry thrusting spear ….actually, not quite so; the greeks, fond of slang, nicknamed the large two-handed cavalry lance ‘kontos’ or’ bargepole’, but it was only a nickname, not the actual name although the Romans adopted the word into Latin as ‘Contus’ to mean two-handed cavalry lance. But, being a nickname in Greek, it was applicable to other things as well…..
Some commentators have literally copied that meaning; some even want to see a two-handed ‘sarissa’ infantry spear. Others (like Bachrach) simply translate the word with ‘spear’ (and he even translated ‘lonche’ (lancea) with ‘pike’).

However, a detailed study by Wheeler does not lead to a conclusion that Arrian’s theoretical deployment was either strange to Roman practise, nor that it was a regional variant. As a result of that, we can discuss the deployment as a normal deployment in terms of weaponry, too.

Seems, because there are several difficulties with this explanation. In looking at each spear, we’ll begin to examine the text by looking at the three sections in which Arrian supposedly has described the pilum; Acies 16, 17 and 26.

Acies 16:
In fact, the text is not as clear as is often assumed. Wheeler noticed that while the text of acies 17 indeed describes a spear stuck in armour which is bending due to the iron softness, acies 16 does not describe that. As we’ll see below, this sentence is very damaged and various commentators have attempted their own emendations.

I sure hope I used the correct transcript for the Greek characters.

The MS Laurentius gr.LV 4 actually reads: “oii (spatium 3-4 litt.) tois kontois makra kaì èpìleptò”.
Scheffer in 1664 already emended: “oii dikon (..) tois” into: “?n dè kontois” , thereby inserting the word ‘kontos’ into the sentence.
C. W. Müller, in the Didot edition of Arrian (1846), had a version in more readable Greek, although probably building on earlier emendations: “?n dè kontois makra kaì èpìleptà sidèria proèktai“.
The early 20th-c. translation of Antoon Gerard Roos – used by most translations (including the one from Sander van Dorst used here) went a bit further, and was used for the Loeb edition: “ois dè <tois> kontois makra kaì èpì leptòn tà sidèria proèktai”.

What do these emendations of Acies 16 mean for us? Wheeler argues, in my opinion rightly, that the text of the sentence is now full so of emendations that although more readable no longer usable to support the current translation.
I would not go so far as to say ‘unusable’, we may still glean much from it, even without the emendments/replacement words – which are in fact quite probable anyway! As I understand matters from your post, the original text has” (missing) ending in (soft and) thin iron shanks”, or possibly; (missing) ending in soft and thin (missing) – I am a little uncertain of your post here, since either you have simply not quoted the words ‘iron shanks’, or you consider those words are an emendment. Now since the only two weapons mentioned are ‘kontois’ ( note not kontos, a point I shall return to) and longche, the missing word must be one of these, and since Arrian is speaking of the front four ranks, whom elsewhere he tells us were ‘kontois’ armed, the only word that fits the bill is ‘kontois’ – the emendment is therefore all but certain…( significantly, there does not seem to be any plausible alternative)
Roos’ text is not what the damaged original MS has, for it disregards the missing letters and the emended text is the invention of the editor. The current translations of ‘spears ending in thin iron shanks’ is therefore a modern insertion,
…no, only the word ‘kontois’; and perhaps ‘sideria proektai’ depending on your meaning – see above - but the remaining words offer some assistance…
no doubt to make it more agreeable with the next line. The best we can do with the words available is concluding that the ‘kontoi’ in acies 16 had a long slender blade,
….this is Robert’s translation /version, but the Lexicons do not support this. In fact the Greek words do not, and cannot have, that meaning. According to the LSJ, ‘makra’ means soft, ‘epilepton’ means thin or light, but not ‘narrow’( as in ‘narrow spearhead’, as translated by Robert elsewhere) or ‘slender’ – there are many greek words for these words, but ‘epilepton’ is not one of them (see LSJ and other lexicons) and (assuming ‘sideria’ is not an emendment here)‘sideria,…. and sideron’ later in the text… refers to an implement made of iron. “soft and thin iron shanks” is therefore a correct translation. ‘narrow iron spearhead’ or ‘long slender blade’ is most certainly incorrect, and not what the Greek says.
all the rest is based on later speculative emendations.
But the text of acies 16 is unusable as proof for any conclusion about the weapon described.
Acies 16 is not so easily dismissed. Even if ‘kontois’ is not the correct emendation ( and it certainly almost has to be) the “ soft and thin makra kai epilepton (iron shanks)” of this weapon are all but unmistakeably a description of a pilum, particularly ‘epilepton’/thin or light ( and not narrow or slender)

Acies 17:
In acies 17 we seem to be on more secure ground, since the description of the ‘flexible iron’ that is bent when stuck in the enemy seems to be a spitting image of a pilum. Again, seems, because there are difficulties here, too.
First of all, the sentence itself is odd, because the Alan cavalry did not have any shields, so why is Arrian writing that?
I’m afraid this assumption regarding shields is not correct! In any Sarmatian army, including the Alans, the ‘chiefs and notables’ and their bodyguards consisted of armoured ‘cataphract’ horsemen, who were their elite and main ‘strike’ force, but the bulk were unarmoured Horse archers, and a Sarmatian army often included infantry too (see e.g. Tacitus description ‘Histories’ 79, where he also adds that the Sarmatians are “unprotected” and “do not normally carry shields”, clearly implying some did, so Arrian is almost certainly correct here.)….
In acies 31, the last surviving part of the text, Arrian even writes that the enemy does not wear armour at all, which flies in the face of the description in acies 17.
…again, not so – see above. Arrian’s various descriptions tally exactly with the composition of typical Sarmatian armies….

What also looks odd is the actual description itself. Apparently the ‘kontoi’ are thrust into the enemy, not thrown, ..
…not necessarily! The word used for ‘thrust’ is ‘akontismon’ which derives from a root meaning ‘distance thrown with a javelin , and ‘akontis’ generally means to hurl or throw, and secondarily to ‘strike/pierce/hit’(LSJ), so is more likely to mean thrown than thrust…
and apparently the shanks bend when they are subsequently pulled out again. But no ancient description exists of a pilum bending when simply thrust at an enemy.
..I’m not sure that is true, and in any event, using pila as a thrusting weapon, though mentioned several times, is a rarity, so unsurprising that no literary description exists. Obviously a thin shanked pila shaft is going to be more prone to bend in such a situation than a sturdy spear-shaft, designed for the job….…
Pila can surely bend when thrown from a distance, the impetus is surely enough to, in some cases, make the shaft bend upon impact. But pila shafts were not made from extremely soft iron (???) and it is difficult to accept that a thrust at an enemy shield could make a pilum shaft bend, let alone a thrust at the body! Similarly, pilum shafts also do not bend when they are wrenched from a shield
This too is an assumption, and not borne out in the sources. Caesar has pila bending when the Gauls try to wrench them from their shields (Caesar; Gallic War I.26 )……..
(let alone armour), so again things are not the way they seem to be.


Again, one wonders why Arrian writes exactly that – did he perhaps have no practical experience whatsoever? But we know he had plenty of experience, he saw action on the Euphrates front against Parthians and Armenians. He had experience enough with cavalry and armour as well, as is known to us from his works. …Exactly! He knows what he is talking about !.... So what is the reason of this apparent confusion? ….I don’t think Arrian is confused at all, and knows exactly what he is talking about...the principle that the source is right unless proven wrong should be applied here. Any ‘confusion’ is surely down to us moderns misunderstanding and ignorance….

There is a possibility, as is put forward by Wheeeler, that Arrian is not being literal here at all, but inserting a ‘topos’, a literary reworking of traditional material, particularly the descriptions of standardized settings, but extended to almost any literary meme. A topos was meant to create an ‘aha-erlebnis’ with the reader. Such a topos, which was a common concept in ancient writings, would show the author to be a man of learning who had read a lot. As a concept, this would not be strange to Arrian’s purpose, who dedicated his works to the emperor. Also, a topos could be a description of something that was not literally correct (Philip Rance describes a topos about elephants supposedly being very tall, noisy and very smelly, which was used by many authors almost verbatim throughout the classical period).

If treated as a topos, the seemingly odd description of the use of the ‘kontos’ …significantly, as I hope to show, not ‘kontos’ but rather a simlar word, ‘kontois’ would no longer create the need to look for errors on Arrian’s part, nor would we have to look for some specific type of spear. As a commonplace, the topos would not even have to be a correct description of any specific spear.
Surely this statement is something of a ‘too easy’ way out?...we don’t understand, or don’t want to accept what is said, so label it a ‘topos’ and ignore it!…but Arrian is not ‘mistaken’ and there is no need to suppose a ‘topos’. Indeed, why would Arrian insert a ‘topos’ into what was clearly intended as a factual set of orders, albeit polished in a literary sense?….such would be contrary to the whole tone of the piece. Again, we should not so easily dismiss what Arrian wrote!
Retaining a ‘long’ weapon in the hand and thrusting with it rather than throwing it makes perfect sense in repelling a cavalry charge ….making a ‘thorny’ obstacle to horses…c.f. using early ‘plug’ bayonets for just this purpose, and negating the musket’s primary function of firing, in a later era.Or consider Pompey and caesar ordering their troops to retain 'Pila' as thrusting weapons against cavalry. In this instance paradoxically, but logically, Arrian has his 'pila' armed troops (heavy throwing weapon 7 ft or so long) fend off the enemy cavalry, with their longer length, and 'point blank' throwing ability if needed, and has his 'longche/lancea' armed troops, with their shorter and lighter(5-6 ft) weapons which would outrange 'pila', throw overhead.


Acies 26:
This section has in the past been referred to as showing that the spear meant by Arrian should be seen as pila – for does Arrian not recommend that at that stage in the battle, the fourth rank should throw their spears? This passage is mostly read by commentators in English, after which almost everyone thinks this is the passage where Arrian is – therefore – describing a pilum.
Indeed, Arrian writes that spears must be thrown – but he writes that the fourth taxis should throw their lonches – their lanceas!
What has happened? Did Arrian make a mistake here?
Did he suddenly equip the fourth rank with lanceas instead of the ‘kontos’, or maybe even both?
No, not at all…the explanation is a lacuna/gap, or possibly a copyists error as we shall see(post)

Wheeler offers a solution, by proposing that Arrian has changed the sense when he uses ‘taxis’. In Acies 16 and 17, ‘taxis’ seems safely interpreted as denoting the rank of the formation. It may be that in Acies 26, he switched meaning to ‘formation’,
..” switched the meaning?”….hardly likely! This is ‘special pleading’ taken to an extreme….
describing not the fourth rank, but the formations as described in his deployment; ‘taxeis I-III’ not being the first three legionary ranks but the left wing (auxilia), the right wing (auxilia) and the centre (legionary kontophoroi), with ‘taxis IV’ being the legionary lonchophoroi. I’m not sure that Wheeler is correct here …I’ll say ! This is ‘bending’ the text beyond credibility!...
because next, Arrian describes only the first taxis to stab at the enemy ‘without pause’.
Maybe the first taxis is just the heavy infantry, which would make more sense.
Similarly at Acies 20-21, Arrian describes all the cavalry together with one uncharacteristic word, ‘lochos’ (“To de hippikon xympan kata eilas kai lochous oktoo xyntetagmenon ephestatoo tois pezois - The entire cavalry arrayed together in eight wings and squadrons must stand next to the infantrymen on both flanks”)
..Actually, this is not quite right, “eilas/Iles” is the normal Greek translation of “Ala/wing” and refers to the pure cavalry units, 512 strong, as Arrian tells us elsewhere, (Tactica 18) divided into 16 ‘Turmae/troops’ of a ‘Decurion/commander’, ‘Duplicarius/second-in-command’ and 30 troopers; “lochous”/company/troop in Greek practice was a sub-unit of an Ile, and is not a regular unit, or equivalent in the Roman Army, As Bosworth convincingly argues, it here refers to the cavalry units of the ‘Cohors Equitatae’,(8 Turmae were attached to a cohort of Infantry), only half the strength of an ‘Ala’. Arrian may be using ‘lochous’ here to mean ‘Turmae/troops’ hence the entire cavalry consists of the ‘Eiles/Ala/wings’( of the cavalry proper) and ’lochous/companies/troops’ ( of dragoon-like Equitatae),so the cavalry are not described by just the one word ‘lochous’…Arrian is again perfectly correct in his description….
and Wheeler has hypothesised that Arrian in Acies 26, too, used one word (taxis) to denote a unit or formation, instead of a rank. The Latin ‘ordo’ also has the same duality of meaning.

This explanation has its problems too, but I leave it to the linguists to argue whether Wheeler’s solution is accepted or not, but it seems a better way out of our predicament of Acies 26 than assuming that the fourth rank suddenly had changed to using different weapons. Or, even worse, that Arrian used the wrong word, for not only would we then presume to know better than Arrian, making him a silly oaf at the same time, but it would mean the whole text would become unusable.
…Whew! We have come to the end of a digression on Wheeler, which I believe is completely wrong anyway, and largely irrelevant
….but there is bad news for my case coming !....

Anyway, it is clear that Acies 26 in no way shows that the ‘kontos’ was being thrown (van Dorst is wrong here, as is therefore his conclusion that the ‘kontos’ cannot be a heavy pike), and therefore this part of the text does not offer support for the spear being a pilum.
Sadly for my case, Robert is absolutely right here. Wheeler’s clumsy explanation is so artificial and contrived that it must be highly unlikely to the point where it can be dismissed. What is likely, as Bosworth has pointed out (Arrian and the Alani), is that this is one of the many lacunae/gaps here. Earlier, Arrian gave specific instructions to each of the first four ranks, and then tells the rear four (of’ longchophoroi/lancea’ armed men) to throw their ‘longche/lancea’ overhead. Here, something similar will occur, thus an emendment may be needed….e.g. “If they do close in though, the first three ranks should lock their shields and press their shoulders and receive the charge as strongly as possible in the most closely ordered formation bound together in the strongest manner. The fourth rank will ( “do something”, probably hold their ‘kontois’ ready for thrusting…and the longchophoroi will ) throw their ‘longche’/javelins overhead and the first rank will stab at them and their horses with their kontois without pause. “
The actual words presumed missing here don’t matter too much, it is clear that the fourth rank legionaries are not throwing ‘kontois’…..significantly also, the ‘kontois’ is not long enough to reach over the first three ranks, and so must be less than 8-9 ft long, a relatively short weapon being implied by Acies 17 also.
…But wait!....what is this? The word translated as “ first”rank here, and “third” rank by Bosworth(‘prooten’) does not actually mean either, but means “ foremost” or “those before”(LSJ). Here, Arrian is talking of “those before/ foremost” of the fourth rank. I don’t think he means either ‘first’ or ‘third’ rank, but all three ranks ‘before’ the fourth rank…. Furthermore they ‘akontizein tois kontois apheidoos’ . ‘akontizein’ generally means ‘throw or hurl’, but can also mean ‘hit’ or ‘pierce’ or ‘strike’, and apheidoos means ‘unstintingly’. (LSJ).Bosworth points out that ‘akontizein’ here follows the compound ’hyper-akontizein/throw over’ used of the longche just eight words earlier, and therefore must have the same meaning as before because it would otherwise “be stylistically inelegant for the verbs to have substantially different meanings”. Now, one might leap on this to show that the first-to-third ranks were “throwing their kontois unstintingly” as Bosworth suggests ( though he thought it only referred to the third rank).However, I think, given that the implication is that they do it more than once or twice ( having two pila in mind!), Bosworth is probably wrong and the word is used in its sense of ‘pierce/strike/hit’ which of course could mean thrusting or throwing or, as I believe, both! I think Arrian deliberately uses this ambiguous word here to mean ‘thrust/throw/strike at any way possible’. And it need not break Bosworth’s grammatical rules if ‘hyper-akontizen’ also is meant in this dual sense of ‘throw/strike/hit overhead’ for the longchophoroi.


Spear 1 – the pilum

Most commentators however have translated the ‘kontos’ of Arrian with ‘pilum’. Most do not even question that …and there is still good reason to take this view… –Arrian seems to describe the pilum when he mentions that the ‘kontos’ had a thin iron shank and an iron point that bends upon impact (acies 16 and 17), and also that it was thrown (acies 26). The conclusion seems obvious – Arrian describes a pilum.
But as we’ve seen above, two of the three reasons for accepting this are not valid – acies 16 is too damaged to be trustworthy and too emended by wishful thinking to be of use, ….though, as we have seen, something is still useful from the non-emended part, and the emendments are all but certain anyway, which is why they have been so widely accepted… and acies 26 is clearly misunderstood or misinterpreted. …except that despite the fact that it is clear that the fourth rank probably don’t throw their ‘kontois’, the first three ranks may do so, though I believe the more ambiguous dual sense of ‘throw/strike/hit’ is meant….
Which leaves acies 17, but the literal explanation of that part of the text seems well out of place when taken literally.
…But as we have seen, it is unlikely to be a ‘topos’, and when looked at closely, Arrian’s words are literally true, and better yet, correct! ( Notwithstanding Wheeler’s rather poorly reasoned views). Comparison with Caesar shows that pila can bend when withdrawn from shields, and some of the Alans at least will have shields… Arrian’s words bear out and are literally correct, again!

Of course, it can’t be ruled out that the spear in question is a pilum.
…We can certainly agree on this, Robert!! Indeed, as will become apparent, there are excellent reasons to think it is very likely…
As noticed before, already Marc Antony had his legionary infantry use the pilum as a stabbing and thrusting spear in a very close order formation, therefore we can’t rule it out.
…as do Caesar’s men against Pompey’s cavalry at Pharsalus ( PlutarchTongueompey 69 “but whenever the cavalry charged, they (the reserve cohorts)were to run out through the front ranks, and were not to hurl their pila, as the best soldiers usually did in their eagerness to draw their swords, but to strike upwards with their pila and wound the faces and eyes of the enemy cavalry; “…
But the description in Arrian’s text does not describe, as so often heard, a typical spear that can only be a pilum, ruling out all other types of spear. Nowhere do we see a description typical of the pilum, such as the shaft and shank being of equal length (as Polybius describes). In fact, the words that we can be certain of can describe a slender blade of a common spearhead just as well.
…no they can’t, as we have seen ante above, this is not an accurate translation - "soft thin iron" is, but not 'slender blade'…

This means that the claim that Arrian ‘for sure’ is describing a pilum can be put aside as unsubstantiated. …I don’t think so!....see post…and certainly no other weapon can be "sunstantiated". As we will see, 'pilum' fits the bill best.
A close look at the text that the translation of ‘kontos’ with ‘pilum’ is overly rash and not supported by the text.
…Except that it is not the word ’kontos’/pole that is being translated as pilum! Rather a similar word, ‘kontois’.Nor is Arrian confused between the two, or using an eccentric spelling.In this same piece( and elsewhere) he uses ‘kontos’/pole correctly, as a slang name for the two-handed 12 ft cavalry lance. So what is the derivation of ‘kontois’ then? As I hinted earlier, if Arrian had wished to describe a two-handed pike, he would have used the familiar word 'sarissa', and if he meant a single handed thrusting spear, 'dory'; but the ‘pila’, a heavy throwing weapon, was not used by Greeks, and there was no word for it in Greek.The generic word for ‘javelins’ –Hyssos, which had been used by Polybius and others, did not really describe the much larger pilum. So Arrian took the verb-root ‘akontis’,/to throw/hurl( of a weapon) and secondarily to strike/hit; and made up a new noun/name for ‘pilum’, ‘kontois’/ a’thrown weapon’(which can also be used to ‘strike/hit’)! QED! (Probably!!)


Spear 2 – the sarissa

Scholars have assumed that the ‘kontos’ is thrown as well as thrust, but as we have seen above, that assumption is false. Uumm, no….the weapon is always ‘akontis’/thrown(with the secondary meaning ‘strike/hit …. See above
Could this then mean that Arrian was being very archaic in his ideas, looking to describe a classical Greek or Macedonian extremely long stabbing spear, the two-handed sarissa?
About this possibility we can be short. Although Caracalla later seems to have wanted to revive a Macedonian phalanx, complete with the sarissa, it is also clear that because the Roman infantry has a large shield, a two-handed sarissa or indeed any other two-handed thrusting spear is out of the question.
Phew! At last we can agree. The ‘kontois’ is not a two-handed weapon – not sarissa or cavalry kontos!

Spear 3 – the javelin

Spears like the pilum or the lancea could be dual-purpose weapons that, in their various shapes, could be used for stabbing as well as throwing. But can we judge from the description that the ‘kontos’ is such a weapon? The sparse description that we have immediately makes clear that the ‘kontos’ is never actually thrown in Arrian’s text.
…except that the ‘kontois’ is! See the use of the verb’akontis’/ throw/hurl, secondarily to strike/hit etc…which is always used in conjunction with ‘kontois’ - see above
And even though the other spear in this deployment, the lonche, is generally accepted as the lancea, a multi-purpose spear than also occurs in conjunction with the pilum, that need not mean that we should for that reason alone interpret the ‘kontos’ as a pilum. ….no, but as you have pointed out,’ pilum’ plus ‘lancea’ is a known weapon combination used by legionaries at this time….and the two weapons are carried by Arrian’s guards too, in sections Robert hasn’t referred to (longche and kontois)
And because the even shorter pure javelin-type spears clearly do not fit Arrian’s ‘kontos’, we can rule out that it was a javelin.
Hurrah! Again we can agree. Apart from anything else, there were plenty of greek words for javelin, such as ‘Hyssos’, so no need for Arrian to invent a new word…..

Spear 4 – the long hasta

When we can rule out pilum,….but we can’t, as you yourself have said ante..” Of course, it can’t be ruled out that the spear in question is a pilum.”….
two-handed thrusting spears and javelins, the remaining possibilities are sparse. But a clue might be received from another of Arrian’s writings, the Tactica, where he describes (Tactica IV: 7-9) not infantry but cavalry being divided in kontophoroi (who charge in the manner of Alani and Sarmatians) and lancearii (who hurl their weapons at long range or use it in hand-to-hand combat). The analogy is clear – Arrian’s ‘kontos’ is a thrusting weapon. [i]..and more importantly, it is a nickname ( at this time at least) for a cavalry weapon, not an infantry weapon, and as we have seen the legionary weapon in question is kontois, not ‘kontos’,so I don’t think this follows at all. Arrian’s ‘kontos/bargepole’ is just a nickname for the 12 foot or so two-handed cavalry spear, and indeed he uses the word ‘kontos’ in just that way to describe Alan weaponry….. it is not a generic word for ‘thrusting weapon’[/i]

Of course, the ‘kontos’ of his infantry in his treatise ‘Ektaxis kata Alanoon’ cannot be exactly like the two-handed cavalry spear for reason mentioned above. But it need not be. Other authors from Tacitus ( who uses ‘contus’ correctly, only to mean the two-handed cavalry Lance) to Vegetius describe infantry with a long spear using that same name, either Greek kontus or Latin contus. Images of such one-handed infantry thrusting spears are also known to us, ranging from ancient Greek hoplites to Late Roman heavy infantry.
I would not dispute that 'contus/kontos' came to describe the long Infantry spear in Late Roman and Byzantine times, but certainly this word is not used for 'long Infantry spear' in the First and Second centuries AD....and there’s the rub…There is no evidence, literary or epigraphic, for Roman Legionary Infantry carrying such a weapon (Hasta/Dory) at this time.(1st or 2nd centuries A.D.) ….Worse still, the name 'Hasta' in Latin and 'Dory' in Greek to describe such weapons generically was widely known ( and used elsewhere by Arrian), so once again there would have been no need to invent a new Greek word for the legionary weapon, nor to apply the nickname of a two-handed cavalry spear…..
These spears were between 7 and 9 ft. long and could be used for underarm thrusting as well as over arm stabbing, which would make them fit Arrian’s description. Uummm…, as we have seen, probably not…we cannot dismiss the ‘thrown’ part so easily….
No single name for this weapon is known to us. Greek authors used the generic ‘dory’ for this weapon, and the equally generic Latin translation ‘hasta’ seems fitting enough. But by Late Roman times, …but not at this time… this weapon seems to become universally known (again?) as the kontos/contus. It’s even possible that the slender tips of the spearhead (which can bend when thrust into an object, or bend when wrenched out)
…who ever heard of a spearhead, narrow or not, which bent on being pulled out? Such a weapon would be all but useless, indeed all spearheads are designed, often with reinforcing ribs, not to bend…
are what Arrian had in mind when he wrote acies 17. …As we have seen, “epilepton” cannot mean ‘slender’ or ‘narrow’ ( see LSJ), but thin or light, so spearheads are most unlikely to be what Arrian had in mind…
With that, this weapon ticks all the boxes of our original question. …but as we have seen, it doesn’t! To do so, one must decry what Arrian wrote, distort the meaning of various Greek words, and introduce a weapon for legionaries for which there is no evidence of large scale use at this time…..
Concluding, it can be held that Arrian’s ‘kontos’ was a one-handed long infantry spear.
On the evidence presented here by Robert, and commented on by me, I don’t think we can draw this conclusion. Let us summarise the evidence:-

*Arrian has invented a new Greek noun/word, not used before, to describe a weapon carried by Roman Legionaries –‘kontois’ ( not to be confused with ‘kontos/pole’, a slang word used of two-handed cavalry lances, this confusion has in the past only served to ‘muddy the waters’)….and Robert and I agree that Arrian’s weapon is not this.
*Without considering whether emendments/insertions are correct or not, the weapon has ‘makra kai epilepto’ soft and thin – parts.(Acies 16), but epilepto cannot mean ‘narrow’ or ‘slender’, so is most unlikely to be used of a spearhead.
*The weapon is used for throwing/striking- ‘akontis’ - by the front four ranks (Acies 17 and Acies 26)
*The weapon has a ‘soft/flexible iron point which bends'/ 'malakateta tou siderou epikampthentos’ (Acies 17)
* The new word, ‘kontois’ is likely to derive from the verb-root ‘akontis’, meaning throw/hurl and secondarily, strike/hit, and so means (almost literally) ‘throwing weapon which can be used to strike/hit’
* Since there is a new word (kontois)for the weapon, and the weapon is ‘akontis’/thrown/hurled , secondarily strikes/hits; it is not a two-handed pike(sarissa), or a single handed spear/Hasta(Dory) or javelin(Hyssos), since if it was any of these Arrian would have used those words.

We may conclude therefore, on the evidence Robert presents, that whilst it is just about possible, if unlikely, that the legionary ‘kontois’ might be a species of spear ( but if so, not a Hasta/Dory), the evidence points heavily to it being a word Arrian made up to mean‘pilum’.

Quote: So Arrian took the verb-root ‘akontis’,/to throw/hurl( of a weapon) and secondarily to strike/hit; and made up a new noun/name for ‘pilum’, ‘kontois’/ a’thrown weapon’(which can also be used to ‘strike/hit’)! QED!
...
We may conclude therefore, on the evidence Robert presents, that whilst it is just about possible, if unlikely, that the legionary ‘kontois’ might be a species of spear ( but if so, not a Hasta/Dory), the evidence points heavily to it being a word Arrian made up to mean‘pilum’, and this must be it's meaning, on balance of probability.

tois kontois is Acc. pl. of hoi kontoi (i.e. object rather than subject of sentence). Same weapon.
...Sorry, Duncan, was there a point to that other than correcting the greek ( singular/plural)?
.....like Robert, and as you will have seen from my post, I don't claim any great knowledge of ancient greek... :oops: :oops: ....it was all done the hard way...word-by-word slogging through the lexicon, which was nevertheless instructive and revealing ! Smile D
...I am postulating here that Arrian has introduced a new noun, kontoi/kontois, derived from the verb, ( Arrian does not seem to use the singular) and that he does not mean 'kontos'/pole, used as slang for the two-handed cavalry lance.
I'm not sure of the meaning of the word "topos", but I might be inclined to agree with the supposition.

I was made aware of the "classicizing" by Michael Kulikowski in Rome's Gothic Wars. He explains how the historians who were writing in Greek tended towards classical terms. In this he mentions how the histories written in Greek, referred to the people whom we call Goths as Scythians, because they were a foreign people who came from the area which had been Scythian in the ancient texts.

for example, Claudius successfully fended off two invasions by the "Scythians" for which he earned "Gothicus" as a victory title.

Since the originals in this case were written in Greek, It would not surprise me.
Quote:...Sorry, Duncan, was there a point to that other than correcting the greek ( singular/plural)?
.....like Robert, and as you will have seen from my post, I don't claim any great knowledge of ancient greek... Embarassed Embarassed ....it was all done the hard way...word-by-word slogging through the lexicon, which was nevertheless instructive and revealing ! Smile Very Happy
...I am postulating here that Arrian has introduced a new noun, kontoi/kontois, derived from the verb, ( Arrian does not seem to use the singular) and that he does not mean 'kontos'/pole, used as slang for the two-handed cavalry lance.
What Duncan means is, your posited word "tois kontois" is simply "ho kontos" in the dative (not accusative!) plural case. It's the same word, only in the case that means "with/by kontoi" rather than "the kontos."


To fend off future such misunderstandings (bear with the transliterated Greek):

Singular:
Nominative ho kontos
Genitive tou kontou
Dative tw kontw
Accusative ton konton

Plural:
nom. hoi kontoi
gen. twn kontwn
dat. tois kontois
acc. tous kontous
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