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Full Version: Spathae tangs... long vs short
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Hi guys, I have another question about Roman hilts that I would love some help with, that is, if some of you more knowledgable folks around here willing to indulge me.

For quite some time I've been interested in the swords found at Illerup Adal, and it seems to me that there were two basic types. One with the "classic" style of globular pommel and semi-globular guard, and another with flattened pommel and guard, which are of roughly the same size and shape. Now we are not so lucky with every site as to have so many surviving hilts, but even when no hilt material has survived, the two types can be distinguished by the length of their tangs (long = "classic", short =flattened).

My questions are this;

Throughout the empire how did the flattened type compare in popularity to the classic type? Has anyone every made such a comparison?

AFAIK spathae from Illerup Adal date to the third century, is their any evidence for the flattened hilt type before then, and if so when does it date back to?

I've been looking for a bit now but I've not been able to find out much about Roman spathae from the 4th or 5th centuries, but did the "classic" hilt style continue on into these? If not, what style replaced it, the flattened style?

As always I'd be very grateful for any assistance with these questions, and thanks for looking.
I believe tha flattened type you refer to was one of many popular types used in the later period, but if you look at iconographic evidence, there seems to be a variety of types portrayed.
What the prevalent type was, someone with better knowledge would probably be able to answer.
Good question though, as someone in a later group has me looking at one of these, where as before, I did not even consider it a Roman sword type!
Late Roman/Migration period sword types is a huge subject, with many regional variations on hilt furniture. The archaeology is skewed towards weapons from the pagan 'barbarian' North west where you have culture of weapons deposits (either en masse or in inidividual graves), where imported Imperial blades were fitted with local style hilts. Best work to date on this aspect of sword hilt furniture is Behmer's "Das Zweischneidige Schwert der Germanischen Völkerwanderungszeit". Kirk Spencer (from 'MhyArmoury') produced this chronological chart based on Behmer's work which gives you an idea of the types of hilts in the North West from the 4th century onwards.
http://www.myarmoury.com/talk/download.php?id=31147
'Roman' hilt fittings of the period is a much more difficult study, as there is a paucity of weapons with intact hilt furniture to study. Iconography can help, but the vast majority of reconstructions I've seen have been based on Behmer-style fittings.
Greetings, A good overview of swords etc from the 5-7th century is W.Menghins "Das Schwert im Frühen Mittelalter" Hilts are somewhat different though even by the 5th century...


Ivor
Thanks for the replies gents.

Quote:Late Roman/Migration period sword types is a huge subject, with many regional variations on hilt furniture. The archaeology is skewed towards weapons from the pagan 'barbarian' North west where you have culture of weapons deposits (either en masse or in inidividual graves), where imported Imperial blades were fitted with local style hilts. Best work to date on this aspect of sword hilt furniture is Behmer's "Das Zweischneidige Schwert der Germanischen Völkerwanderungszeit". Kirk Spencer (from 'MhyArmoury') produced this chronological chart based on Behmer's work which gives you an idea of the types of hilts in the North West from the 4th century onwards.
http://www.myarmoury.com/talk/download.php?id=31147
'Roman' hilt fittings of the period is a much more difficult study, as there is a paucity of weapons with intact hilt furniture to study. Iconography can help, but the vast majority of reconstructions I've seen have been based on Behmer-style fittings.

Hi Medicus, yes this paucity of later Roman hilt finds has be a bit of a stumbling block. I am aware of Behmer's work and that very useful chart that Kirk made, it's one of many he has done over the years. It's a real pity that we dont have as many good hilt finds from further south during this time period. As to the iconography you speak of I've been searching the forums for these for a while now, but have not come up with much. If possible, I'd be very grateful if you could direct me to some 4th and 5th century stuff where roman swords, and, especially hilts, are visible, and thanks again for you'r replies.
Stephen, sorry, just seen your name on that MyArmoury thread. Smile

If you haven't seen them already, search for the Probus diptych and Stilicho diptych.

There's also the Ravenna mosaic depicting the arrest of Jesus. Peter can be seen drawing a sword which looks very much like a 5th century sword, very similar to the first one in Group 4 of Kirk's Behmer chart.
Also from Ravenna, a mosaic showing the sacrifice of Isaac. Abraham is holding up what looks like a flattened diamond section spatha with a type 1 hilt.
Hi Medicus, thanks for the tips, yes I had already seen the two diptyches which you mentioned (and its seems their is a bit of debate as to their origin and exact appearance), as for the mosaics, are these from the San Vitale Basilica? If I'm right, these were made in the 6th century, right? Thought I was looking for 4th and 5th century, I'm still glad that you showed them to me.
I was just thinking that the easiest way to determine whether or not the "classic" style of Roman hilt continued on into the 4th and 5th century (apart from iconography), is to see if the tangs on surviving swords of this period had tangs long enough to accomodate the "classic" hilt? So can anyone here tell me what the average tang length on 4th and 5th century swords?
Ah, I see what you're getting at Stephen. It'd be worth doing a comparison between the Illerup blades and the ones from Ejsbøl I, where the deposits are 4th/5th century and the majority of the spatha blades still look like the blades of Roman manufacture of a century before. I don't know if it's been established that the Ejsbøl blades were imported from the fabricae, but they certainly look it when comparted to the known blades from Illerup. Other Roman material has been found in the site. No 'classic' hilt fittings were found at the site, but quite a few of the Behmer type 2s and 5s survive. A quick pass over the find report indicates that the vast majority of tangs are obviously too short to accomodate the spherical/hemi-spherical hilt furniture but I'll have to get a ruler out and measure them (although when I measured one that caught my eye, it turned out to be at least 2cm shorter than the shortest classic Illerup tang). None of them exhibit the small nipple- shaped cap on the top of the pommel that seems to be a feature of most of the Illerup classic pommels.
I'm afraid all my literature focuses on North Western Europe; England, Germany and Scandinavia (with some Crimean) , so any evidence I have to hand is going to be skewed towards them, although given the lack of grave goods in Christian burials, I don't think you're going to find much evidence for the 'Romance' provinces.
Thanks again Medicus you've been very helpful
Hi guys,

There seems to be a great gap in the knowledge of spatha hilts for the second century. I am plowing through Miks, as I want to make a few sec. cent. Straubing spatha, but I would love it if someone could point me towards a study on gripshapes for that period, as very few spatha have survived with (partialy) compleet grips. Any info or pictures from musea showing second century spatha hilts would be much appreciated.