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Full Version: Spears and Javelins c. 250 - 400 AD
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I am hoping someone can help me out with this: about when did the legions stop using the traditional pilum? Most depicts I have seen of 3rd/4th Century legionaries show them with thrusting spears, but I also understand that pila were used at least until the 3rd Century, and the similar weapon known as the spiculum was used in the 4th and 5th.

Basically speaking, for the period between c. 250 - 400 AD, what kind of spear/javelin would the typical legionary carry?
I'm no expert, but I think after the turmoil of the 3rd Century, Diocletian made a lot of reforms (starting in the 4th Century), including the army, which resulted in a Roman soldier that no longer looked like the Hollywood solider (segmentata armor, Pilum, Imperial Gallic style helmet). A new Roman fabrica built helmets of the later Roman style (two halves etc.) The new army fought differently, and relied on the plumbata as a throwing weapon, with the spear as the standard defensive weapon.
Quote:I'm no expert, but I think after the turmoil of the 3rd Century, Diocletian made a lot of reforms (starting in the 4th Century), including the army, which resulted in a Roman soldier that no longer looked like the Hollywood solider (segmentata armor, Pilum, Imperial Gallic style helmet). A new Roman fabrica built helmets of the later Roman style (two halves etc.)

I believe the evidence we have from Dura, etc. shows that the Roman soldier had stopped looking like the "Hollywood" image quite some time before Diocletians time.
Quote:for the period between c. 250 - 400 AD, what kind of spear/javelin would the typical legionary carry?

That's a pretty long time period, and for the third century at least I don't know if it's possible to define what a 'typical' legionary would have looked like - if such a person existed! Different types of soldier would have carried different types of weapon, and there seem to have been wide variations in arms and equipment across the empire during this period. You're right that pilum heads have been found in a late third century context (at Krefeld-Gellep on the Rhine and Caerleon in Wales - there may be others) - but finds from Spain indicate that the legion garrison there may still have been using lorica segmentata in the last decades of the century! Grave stelae dating to the 200s show soldiers armed with a pair of light javelins, or even (in the case of Aurelius Mucianus) what looks like a sack or quiver full of them ( [url:3k1sbv88]http://www.romanarmy.com/cms/component/option,com_imagebase/task,view/cid,243/Itemid,94/[/url]) - these 'lanciari' must have coexisted with more regular pilum-armed troops throughout the earlier third century.

Vegetius (Epitoma rei militaris: II ) claims that the earlier pilum was renamed the spiculum at some point, and carried together with a lighter javelin called a verutum, but it's not certain what period he's describing. There's also the plumbata or weighted throwing dart - a couple of tetrarchic legions are noted for their skill in using plumbatae (or 'martiobarbuli'), but presumably it was not their sole weapon.

A hypothetical development for infantry weapons over the third century - perhaps explained by the conventional theory that tactics and weaponry changed in response to more commonly mounted adversaries - might have specialist troops armed with light javelins introduced in the late second/early third century alongside more 'regular' pilum or spear-armed men. Later in the century the introduction of the plumbata provided a lightweight missile that could be carried in numbers as a secondary weapon, thus finally making the old-style pilum unnecessary - the spear and sword therefore became the principal legionary weapons into the fourth century. Once again, though, we don't have firm evidence for exactly when or how these changes happened.

Ross Cowan's Imperial Roman Legionary AD 161-284 provides a good overview of current thinking on third century military developments.

Quote:I believe the evidence we have from Dura, etc. shows that the Roman soldier had stopped looking like the "Hollywood" image quite some time before Diocletians time.

When did Hollywood ever present a realistic image of a Roman legionary from any era? :wink:

Regards - Nathan
I probably used a bad and over simplified analogy in reference to Hollywood. I meant more the shift from one piece helmets and the late newstead plate armor, to the spangenhelm, balderic with wide spatha etc. Again this shift didn't happen over Night. However I think the Roman soldier in 400Ad would not even be recognizable compared to the one from 200 AD.....
I guess I sort of had the period between Diocletian and Julian the Apostate in mind, specifically, not that this narrows it down much...

But thank you all for your helpful responses :mrgreen: