Full Version: Roman arms and armor through the ages
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I have noticed that Roman arms and armor have drastically changed through the ages. From the infantry based curved shield, segmenta and short gladius to the flatter narrower shield, scale mail and long spatha. What are your thoughts on the reasons why?

The different tactics used by the army, and the people who made up the army and what their traditions were. Like we should all know, in the 4th century AD the Roman army was losing completely it's rectangular shields and their short gladius swords.

I'm sure people have different opinions, but this is surely correct. Now I also think that the Montefortino helmet ( spelling?) was adopted from the Gallic tribes, the sword gladius originated from the Spanish, and our shield developed in the republican era, from who I don't know. I'd like to know if anyone knows...

(Topic should be in 'military history' forum - could somebody move it?)

This is one of those huge subjects that comes up here quite regularly! There are a few previous threads that debate it:

The Abandonment of the Gladius for the Spatha


Why Change to the Spatha?

Curved Shields and Spatha

The most convincing theories involve changes in tactics by the Roman army, probably in response to the changing tactics or military cultures of their enemies. Segmentata seems to fall out of use around the beginning of the third century, but evidence of it exists dating to the late third century. The last examples of rectangular curved scuta date from AD260, and appear alongside flat oval shields. Similarly, the longer spatha appears some time around the end of the second century. This all seems to suggest a major, but perhaps gradual, shift in tactics during the period c180-280.

Could it be that the spear and longer sword were adopted to counter a more commonly mounted enemy? Could the oval shield be better adapted to fighting with a spear and a longer blade?

It might be significant that the spear, mail and oval shield, increasingly used by the legions in the third century, were previously considered the preserve of the auxiliaries (although this could be a modern misconception!). Auxiliaries all gained Roman citizenship under Caracalla; perhaps many of them were drafted into depleted legions, and brought their equipment with them?

Alternatively, one of the better suggestions for the decline of segmentata is that it was very difficult to maintain. With increasingly mobile armies sending vexillations far from base, the more durable mail might have just been more practical.

- Nathan
If change in battle tactics were the primary reason I guess the change from open battlefields in southern Europe to the more wooded northern Europe might be the reason why. Because of the terrain the original formations would have needed to change to. However I have always felt that the republican style armor offered more protection than the later style. The lorica segmentas plates I feel could protect you from sword stabbing while almost any straight sword can pierce chainmail.

I don't think so Joe. The battlefields of the 3rd and 4th centuries were quite the same as those of the centuries before that.