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Full Version: Advantage of the Pilum over Bows and Arrows?
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Was there an inherent advantage of chucking javelins rather than shooting arrows? As advanced as the romans were, it seems they would have adopted the best missile weapons available.

Was it just easier to train the troops in on the pilum, or was it a penetration issue?

Thanks.
How far can you shoot an arrow? How far can you toss a pilum?

This is apples to oranges, I think. Each weapon was used entirely differently, not to mention that archers generally trained thier entire lives to shoot war bows effectively in combat.

Lots more can be said, but I think it is safe to not bother comparing the two.

Hope that helps.

Dane
Quote:Was there an inherent advantage of chucking javelins rather than shooting arrows? As advanced as the romans were, it seems they would have adopted the best missile weapons available.

Was it just easier to train the troops in on the pilum, or was it a penetration issue?

Thanks.

They didn't chose one over the other, they used both. They had (or hired) dedicated archers, but they also armed the infantry with pila.
Apart from the fact that the Romans employed both in their respective roles the following comes to mind:

The pila makes every Infantryman a missle soldier.
Pila encumber the enemies shields while arrows generally would not be effective in that role

Archers do have more ammunition but are less effective than pila armed Infantry on the field when all are expended.
(Additional pila may have been held in reserve close by on the Century's ballista cart.)
Arrows outrange Pila
Ancients accounts have soldiers fighting on with multiple arrow hits but I don't recall any similiar accounts regarding Pila wounds.
Yes, very different purposes. Pila allowed a Roman legion to break up an opponent's charge, disrupting and tripping men even more than wounding or killing them. This took place 2 or 3 seconds before the Romans arrived with shields and swords. Archers can't easily carry a large shield, so they are less well protected from enemy missiles and close-action troops. Pila were probably cheaper than arrows, and certainly cheaper than bows, and not as much skill was needed to throw them (though the soldiers certainly got lots of practice!).

Doesn't Vegetius say that legionaries were often trained to use bows anyway, in case more archery was needed? Or was it slings? They wouldn't be as practiced as regular missile-men, but still handy in sieges and such.

In any case, the Romans DID have the best weapons available: trained professional soldiers! And a well-balanced army of armored infantry, long-range missile troops, cavalry, and artillery.

Valete,

Matthew
Quote:Doesn't Vegetius say that legionaries were often trained to use bows anyway, in case more archery was needed? Or was it slings?
Both, Matt, as well as horseback riding, fighting with sword and hasta, throwing fist-sized rocks, etc., whatever might be needed in a battle, all the soldiers had at least a moderate understanding of how to use all the weapons available to them. If we can believe Vegetius, that is....
I agree with AuxArcher and others

Romans utilized what they believed were the best, and both weapons have their advantages.

Tactically speaking, it makes sense to have a good balance of several types of weapons and abilities with them, rather than hyper-focused on one or two things and weak on others. I think Romans had a good sense of finding who was successful at a particular tactic/weapon, and incorporating for Roman success.

In this case I think it's safe to believe Vegetius, in that successful soldiers *should* be well versed in several types of weapons, as regular training will also become a huge asset. Flexibility in what your force can do is key, alongside with that balance of different weapons.

I think a good comparison today would be a Police or Fire person - a (police officer) has to be well versed not only in Law Enforcement, but also be able to administer First Aid, Traffic/Crowd control, et cetera, and yet still be able to be approachable and trustworthy. It is not an easy task, but if it was easy for everyone, we wouldn't need police or fire, right? ;D
Quite right. And a 60 gram arrow hitting on a .5 sq. mm point has quite a bit of hitting/penetrating power and can kill if it pierces a large blood vessel or vital organ, but a 1.5 kg weighted pilum hitting with the same sized tip will knock the person down, and possibly pin them to the ground.

In other words, an ice pick and a sledge hammer both can kill or give serious injury, but the sledge doesn't have to be quite so specific. Imagine having your right bicep totally pinned down to the ground by a pilum whose point is stuck in the dirt a foot deep. You're pretty helpless and utterly vulnerable to the next guy who comes your way carrying a pointy thing in his (or her) hand.
I even remember Caesar in De Bello Gallico speaking about an ex-primus pilus, whose both thighs were penetrated by 1 pilum... Much more than hopping around wasn't left for the poor man... Tongue

And another thing, I thougt that the pilum was also used to make it impossible for the enemy to use his shield when it was penetrated?
Archeological evidence suggests that massed sling fire was used to repel a concerted attack by Frisians against the naval base at Velsen, possibly in 28 AD. I'm really not sure what troop type, legionaries or auxiliaries, would have manned a naval fort, but from what I understand the first wave of the attack was driven off, at least partially by slingshot fire, while a second wave of attack actually broke into the fort and was fought off, I assume, with hand-to-hand combat. The retreating Frisians were harassed with continued sling fire. It's tempting to suggest that whoever was manning the fort at Velsen was well trained in the use of the sling and armed for close combat at well.

Gregg
I would go along with Dane to say it's a bit like Chalk and Cheese, there is no advantage of one weapon over another for it depends upon the type of battle situation. It is a case where both weapons are of specialist use with the Pilum being used by infantry as a shock tactic just prior to contact with the enemy, infact it is a weapon that is better used in a static situation where all soldiers can thro' at precisely the exact second even without a command by watching their Centurian ( When he thro's they thro' )
That way a Maniple can release 160 spears in one go giving a tremendous shock in the last 25 yds, then present a wall of shields with swords drawn and ready.
The Archers of course can take out any flanking tactics that an enemy might want to try with a rain of arrows, however with a more commanded and timely use.
Quote:And another thing, I thougt that the pilum was also used to make it impossible for the enemy to use his shield when it was penetrated?

Certainly, but one school of thought is this was a 'secondary' function of the pila, whereas the 'primary' function was to kill, maim and totally disrupt the enemy's formation and break their confidence and stride...litterally...if they charged at the Romans

but if the pila didn't go through the shield (and kill the holder of said shield), it sticking into the shield with it's long length would certainly become very obnoxious and difficult to remove - worse still, it's possible the butt spike on the pilum would lodge into the ground as either the shaft bent while in the shield, or angled downwards as it's very difficult to hold a shield up with a pilum stuck in it - Once the butt lodges into the ground, I can only image the shield twisting suddenly and breaking the holder's wrist, or, the point pushing through and injuring/killing the person, or throwing them off balance. All are not a good place to be versus Romans Tongue
I thought I had heard/ read that every 8th legionary was trained with a bow or something like that, for hunting and battle?
I suspect that javelins simply hit harder. The absolute maximum kinetic you could expect from arrow would be around 200 J. Modern Olympic javelin throwers, on the other hand, impart 360 J to their missiles. Atlatl darts can get up to an astonishing 771 J.
Isn't there a big difference between the types of bow? The Parthians, who used composite bows, were first superior to Roman legionaries, until the adapted themselves and added archers to their units. That would suggest that at least composite bows are superior. The same happened in the fifth century: if I understand it correctly, with all their missiles, the Roman cavalry forces were unable to deal with the Huns, and the Byzantines had to adapt to their opponent. By doing this,they overcame the Avars.
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