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I was reading the topic on the Short Sword and Shield Overrated but the topic is locked. I remember seeing a History Channel program on the weaponry of Rome and the designers of the computer game Rome Total War were giving their opinions on the weapons of the era and I was surprised to see how highly the Celtic longsword was rated.

It seems to be the current opinion that there was a lot of pushing and shoving by the rear ranks on the front ranks in these ancient battles (which does not occur much in Total War). Though I have my doubts about that I'm open to the possibility that there was. If so the handier shortsword would seem to me to be much more effective in a close melee battle. Jammed shoulder to shoulder (or at least shield to shield) and pressed from behind long weapons like the Celtic longsword must have put their users at a disadvantage fighting enemies with shortswords. Stabbing would also cause more lethal wounds.
Yes Jeff, in my opinion you are spot on. Even in modern combat with firearms, when in a confined space such as house-to-house, long weapons like rifles etc. are awkward compared with sub machinguns or assault weapons.

Also, Gladii can be made much more sturdily with a thicker blade which would give the weapon far more strength than a long blade which must be thinner and narrower or the amount of metal would make it very heavy to use without two hands (and no shield!). I remember reading a contemporary writer (can't remember who just now) saying that celtic warriors sometimes had to pull out of the fighting line to straighten their swords on the ground with their feet. I know that this was probably because the weapons were bronze, but where bronze bends, would iron shatter? A short stocky bronze\\iron weapon would not suffer this problem as much as a long thin bronze\\iron weapon.

Don't forget, the fact that Roman infantry favoured the short sword for a long time shows that they agreed with you...(practical people the Romans!)
The reference to Celts' having to straighten their swords mid-fight seems to originally come from Polybius; said swords would have been iron or steel at the time, and it's conceivable for iron to behave that way. I don't think bronze is more likely to stay bent than iron, but it could be harder or softer than iron depending on several factors.

Polybius, Histories, book 2, Tactics Against the Gaul
myArmoury.com - View topic - Celtic swords...bendy?
Durablility of Bronze Weapons - Sword Forum International
I think bronze could be bent and straightened less times, though, as it might develop stress fractures sooner than iron. If iron/steel, what that means is that heat treating of steel was not well understood at that time, which we already knew.
No, not bronze, Polybius was describing iron swords. I've always been a little suspicious of that passage, though. I know the quality of swords varied quite a bit, it just seems weird to me that such obviously crappy blades would remain in production, especially when other perfectly functional weapons were available. I have also heard that this passage may have been based on an exaggeration of an earlier writing which said something about putting a line of Roman spearmen in the front rank *to blunt the Gallic swordsmen* (something like that!), meaning to add some reach to keep those big howling wackos from simply running over the legion like a human tidal wave. A simple misinterpretation of this led to an imagined scenario of Celts bending their blades by wacking at spear shafts, which is just silly when you think about it.

Mind you, I always try to take sources at face value if possible! I'm not one of those who dismisses them all as liars or kooks. But this bit--sorry, I'm just not swallowing it whole...

Actually, any decent bronze sword would perform better than what Polybius describes! It's a surprisingly tough metal. But we're centuries into the Iron Age, long past any remaining bronze swords.

We also already covered the crunch of combat in that previous thread. We know the Romans (and probably most other folks) prefered to have some elbow room in combat. And while reenactors find that most weapons can still be used when things get tight, I would agree that a shorter blade tends to retain its effectiveness at least a little better than a longer one.

Valete,

Matthew
I just dont understand why the short sword went out of style. Close combat with infantry using shield walls was evidently still taking place ( Julian v Alamanni at Strasbourg) and in this situation a short sword might have given its user an advantage yet it is my understanding that soldiers were using the spatha.
Quote:I just dont understand why the short sword went out of style. Close combat with infantry using shield walls was evidently still taking place ( Julian v Alamanni at Strasbourg) and in this situation a short sword might have given its user an advantage yet it is my understanding that soldiers were using the spatha.
...except the short sword didn't go out of favour entirely - even to the point that some Late Roman short examples had been deliberately shortened from longer swords. The locked thread mentioned the 'semi-spatha' referred to by the late Roman writer Vegetius, and late Roman short swords are referred to in 'The Bible' of Roman swords, Miks....

For an earlier discussion of this subject, search for the thread 'semispathae' ( there are also others)....... 'semi-spatha' may have been the late Roman term for the traditional 'gladius' length sword, just as the earlier 'pilum' was called 'spiculum later, according to Vegetius ( terminology changed!)

One factor in favour of a short sword combined with a shield is distance - a man armed with a long sword fights at a greater distance from his opponent, and hence can really only use his shield defensively. A man with a short sword can bang the 'boss' of his shield ofensively into your face, and slide his sword unseen into your belly - 'fighting distance' for both offensive shield and short sword are the same - whereas a 'long' swordsman would have to take a step back to use his weapon effectively, and so tends to use his shield at his own 'fighting distance' purely defensively.
Hi Paul,
Quote:One factor in favour of a short sword combined with a shield is distance - a man armed with a long sword fights at a greater distance from his opponent, and hence can really only use his shield defensively. A man with a short sword can bang the 'boss' of his shield ofensively into your face, and slide his sword unseen into your belly - 'fighting distance' for both offensive shield and short sword are the same - whereas a 'long' swordsman would have to take a step back to use his weapon effectively, and so tends to use his shield at his own 'fighting distance' purely defensively.
LR fighting was indeed more defensive, we agree there, but I don't think that the spatha caused the soldier to fight purely defensive.
Not saying that you're wrong, but 'banging the boss' is also possible with a longer sword. Of course we don't know the exact reason why the gladius was phased out as the main sword (the semispatha was carried as a secondary sword), but it's possible that this process could have been influenced by a confrontation of denser ranks (shield-walls) on the battlefield. When you are shield-to-shield with your opponent, it's not possible to go for the belly or the side, but with a longer blade your can reach over the shield to either the man's back or the man (face) behind him. But when you are still at an arm's lenght away from your opponent, it's still possible to hit him with your umbo!

It's been argued that in order to use the spatha properly, the fighting lines would have had to be very open, in order to wield it and not reach the men beside or behind you. But the spatha was not the main battle weapon in LR battles any more, that role had passed (back) to the thrusting spear.
Hi Robert....and Christmas greetings to you and your family!
Quote:....but I don't think that the spatha caused the soldier to fight purely defensive.
Not saying that you're wrong, but 'banging the boss' is also possible with a longer sword....
I think you misunderstand a little. I am not suggesting that a late Roman infantryman necessarily fought defensively overall, but rather because his natural 'fighting distance' when armed with a long sword was further away, he could not use his shield offensively as much ( because at his 'natural' fighting distance, he was out of 'shield punching range'). I did not say that he could not do so, just that it was more difficult than with a short sword ( because if he was close enough to use the shield offensively, he was too close to an opponent to use the long sword effectively, hence had to step back to re-establish correct 'fighting distance' - any boxer or martial artist will know exactly what I mean here).

If you look at the iconography, especially the Adamklissi monument, you can see how the scutum-gladius combination was used. The shield is held close to the body, sword held back, and the opponent closed with to arms-length. The shield is then punched out offensively, either to the face or against the body/enemy shield, looking to knock the opponent off-balance, and followed up with a short punch/stab of the gladius - out of sight of the opponent. Very effective !!!

The long-sword and shield technique is very different; the shield is held close to the body, and attacks, either cut or thrust with the sword, are the offensive technique. The shield cannot be used offensively because the 'fighting distance' is beyond arm's reach. The advantage of this latter technique is that the soldier does not have to come within the 'short sword-and-shield' soldiers's necessarily shorter 'fighting distance'. The 'short sword-and-shield' technique requires more confidence and willingness to close with the enemy...... the 'long-sword-and -shield' man gets first strike because his natural 'fighting distance' is greater......
"Swings and roundabouts" ( meaning each has it's advantages), as the English saying has it.....
Quote: Hi Robert....and Christmas greetings to you and your family!

And my greetings to you and yours as well.
Quote:I am not suggesting that a late Roman infantryman necessarily fought defensively overall, but rather because his natural 'fighting distance' when armed with a long sword was further away, he could not use his shield offensively as much ( because at his 'natural' fighting distance, he was out of 'shield punching range').
I doubt that this is necessarily the case, I think that you make too much of the difference between gladius and spatha blade length and the supposedly resulting battle technique.
I agree that the distance can be longer because the spatha is generally longer, it may even cause the distance to be longer, but I don't think that the difference is that much. Blade lenghts do not differ that much, there are quite long gladius blades that are not that much shorter than some spatha blades. The difference is not the lenght of an arm! Therefore I think that, although the fighting technque would have been different overall, it would by no means be 'normal' for a spatha-wielder to fight at such a disctance that he would be unable to reach his opponent with his shield. A subsequent thrust with the spatha, although perhaps not so effective as that of a gladius, would also be reaching the unbalanced opponent. Or the man behind him.

Summary: although the spatha allowed men to fight at a greater distance of their opponents, I don't think that it caused them to do this as a rule.
Problem in this whole discussion is this:
Quote:Jammed shoulder to shoulder (or at least shield to shield) and pressed from behind
We first should find out whether this is actually the case, before we start using it as a prerequisite for the question of the usefulness of a short sword under such conditions.
And the boss is not the only offensive part of the shield. The bottom edge can reach considerably farther than arm's length, and is a formidable weapon in it's own right. Watch some of the Provocator videos from the various groups, such as Ars Dimicandi, and you can see how well it can work.
Quick question for reenactors, in your experience does armor have a significant influence on longsword vs shortsword fights? Assuming both swords can't pierce the armored torso of their opponent would a longer sword be more adept or quicker at seriously injuring or removing limbs?
We don't generally remove limbs, so that's hard to say. :wink:

But the shorter sword is more easily put on a smaller target, in the same way that a jeweler's hammer is more accurate than a sledge. Defensively, the shorter stroke of a gladius is more difficult to parry than a longer sword, owing partly to the shorter time it takes to move from stance to contact. If I remember what I read, a gladius was quite capable of removing a hand, head, or lower leg from the knee.
A simple slice across the back of the hand, about as forceful as swatting a fly, would be enough to sever tendons with even a small gladius. No need to take the whole hand off. I don't really think armor is going to influence anything one way or the other, as far as the comparison of sword use. You just don't strike at armor, you go around it. It limits your options no matter what sort of weapon you have.

I MUST remember to bookmark the series of videos somewhere on YouTube showing sparring techniques with Viking-style swords and shields. It showed a number of amazing moves using the shield to help trap an opponent's weapon, or to move his shield out of the way. The first interesting thing was that the shield was held edge-on to the opponent, not flat, and extended at arm's length. Not sure how this would work with a Late Roman shield and its horizontal grip, but if it's nearly round, it *ought* to work, eh? But it gets me thinking that the whole shift was not from short sword to longsword, but from short sword and oblong shield to longsword and round shield. And granted that not all tactics used one-on-one are applicable to a mass battle, but the moves are still available for an opportune moment (as Captain Sparrow would say!). And these were very definitely aggressive tactics, not defensive!

I'll see if I can find those videos. Gotta run now!

Matthew
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