Full Version: Quenching fire arrows on shields
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Hi Guys,

First time posting here, most often because I usually get lost in some of the past discussions. Smile Anyway, I was wondering if anyone had any solid evidence that the fire arrows were "quenched" or extinguished on a Roman soldier's scutum that may have been covered by a wet leather shield cover. I'm doing an Armour of God presentation and most of the commentaries I have come across refer to such, but rarely do I see images of all the soldiers with leather covered scutum, and that had to be pretty heavy, but again, not sure what primary sources would have referred to this idea or if there was some other method those fire arrows would have been extinguished on the shield. I liked Hector Cole's discussion on the fire arrows, but everything I've read was more about lighting or shooting, rather than the defense (other than "put your shield up" or "get behind your shields all together"). Thoughts?
I don't think that a wet cover would be practical, only heavy and unbalancing a shield. I think that a shield is just not flammable enough to catch fire from a fire arrow. It's not napalm, after all. Has anyone tested this recently?
Two things:

First, I think that the idea comes from a combination of the roman leather shield-covers that are found and the (medieval?) use of wet leather on siege-machines that would in deed have been done back then.

Second, about Roman Leather shield-covers: Roman shields where made of layers of thin strips of wood covered with felt, leather or linen to give the structure extra strength.
All this -the wood and the covering- was I belief glued together with hide-glue. Hide glue however is-even when dry- solvable with water... So that's where the leather shield covers come in: because these where designed to prevent the shields from being exposed to the elements (like rain) as long as possible...

So if you where a Roman soldier, the last thing you wanted to do, is get your shield wet, one way or the other. Other wise the thing would fall apart on you.... Confusedhock:
Moved it here from Rules&Announcements.
A possible first thought.....

Siege engines (both rams and towers particularly) were covered with 'hides' or similar to protect the soldiers inside from normal missiles and thus fire was attempted to lodge in and set fire to the actual covering materials (as opposed to the physical, often wooden, structure which would take longer); either aided by use of oils/fats, or protected against by use of wetting, uncured materials or things like fresh seaweed.

A fire-arrow, however, is still an otherwise normal arrow with a sharp point and with the flammable wrapping normally behind the point around the shaft itself. In most cases of classical arrows, therefore, they would probably tend to simply embed themselves in the shield or, given their lower velocity when used as fire-arrows (both because you could not draw as far without getting burned and they aren't as aerodynamic), they may simply fall off after striking.

If stuck in the shield and still burning, then it would have been possible to extinguish them if water were available, but that sees unlikely. Certainly they could probably be simply swept off with a sharp downward slash of a sword and stepped on to extinguish them. A couple of lit fire-arrows in a shield certainly doesn't seem very worrisome if you're behind the shield; less so than a petrol bomb certainly and they aren't that bad as long as an extinguisher and a wet blanket are handy Smile .

Overall, however, I would suggest that formed infantry were unlikely targets for fire-arrows (Hollywood notwithstanding), unless there was lots of flammable material around them, and they would probably be limited to attempts to frighten animals if desirable, but most often in sieges as above.
Typically, and ancient incendiary round would have been a cage fire style arrow head. This is an arrow head that has a point that seperates into four bars to form a sort of basket or cage behind the point, the four individual bars are then joined by a forge welded collar that goes around the arrow shaft.

The cage is so that the flammable materials have a nice nest to hole them in place and give them some protection during flight. (we wouldn't want the incendiary falling off or extinguishing during flight) but because of the cage, a cage fire arrow head would have a hard penetrating a scutum far enough to pose any real danger of setting the shield on fire.

Additionally, you have to think about the use of incendiary ammunition in the classical sense., We're always given images of ancient using flaming arrows against the enemies, but there;s just not any proof of this. In my experience, incendiary arrows are heavy, which decreases range, and hard to shoot accurately. I find it hard to believe that you would shoot these at people, I think it's far more likely to use these in a siege scenario, where you are trying to set buildings and siege equipment on fire.
Agreed, M. Val. A thatched roof village would not appreciate a volley of fire arrows. An infantry unit would be able to see those more easily than regular arrows, so they wouldn't be much of a threat. More of in aggravation.
Yes, I concur on the caged fire arrow. That's what we found as well, and have a gorgeous sample purchased from Hector Cole as seen in the image below
He states:
The head of this fire arrow is packed tight with "Tow‟ that has been soaked in tallow (mutton fat).
Tow is fine strands of Hemp that look like brown sheep's wool after it has been combed ready for
spinning. It was used by plumbers along with Boss White paste when making water tight joints
using threaded components. The Tow is lit just before firing making sure that it is well alight or it
will go out when the arrow leaves the bow. It glows incandescent as it flies through the air and
when it hits it creates a fire ball of exploding burning tallow.
2) Barbed fire arrow:-
Receipt 1:- This is from a friend in Germany. It is in two parts and is very similar to the Alnwick
fire arrow receipt.
Outer layer:-
88%S, 10.4%KaN03, 1.6%C
Inner powder:-
73.7%S, 83.5%KaN03, 2.8%C
Make a small line bag that is tied onto the arrowhead at one end and fill it with the inner powder.
Then tie the other end onto the head also. Next put the Outer layer mix in an old can and heat it
until it melts. Warning?? do this outside as it smells something shocking. This mix is then applied
to the line bag and allowed to dry.
To use, light the outer layer and wait until the inner layer starts to burn and then shoot the arrow.
Receipt 2:-
Inner layer is the same as No. 1
Outer layer:-
Pitch four parts, linseed oil one part, turpentine half part, sulphur one part, tar one
third part, tallow one part. This mix is melted and the bag coated as before remembering the
smell. When cold bore two holes in the bag, fill with fine gun powder and put a small peg in each
hole. When ready for shooting the pegs are taken out before lighting.
This is the receipt for the Alnwick fire arrow. This mixture comes from “The Complete Soldier” by
Thomas Smith 1628.
Powder bruised, two parts.
(Salt) peter (petre) in Roche (rock, or crystalline form) one part.
Peter (petre) in Meele (?) one part.
Sulpher in meele two parts.
Rozin roche (chrystals), three parts.
Turpentine, one part.
Linseed oyle, one part.
Verdegrease, 1/3rd part.
Bole armoniacke 1/3rd part. (an astringent earth from Armenia)
Bay (salt),1/3rd part. (Evaporated salt from the Bay of Biscay).
Colophonia 1/6th part. (Greek pitch formed from distillation of Turpentine in water).
“And if you think good, you may put thereto of Arsnick 1/8th part; then coate the same over with
this liquid mixture molten in a pan or coating pot (to wit)
Pitch, foure parts.
Linseed oyle one part.
Turpentine ½ part.
Sulphur one part.
Tarre 1/3rd part.
Tallow one part.
And as soone as this is cold, bore two holes in each of the same an inch deepe, with a sharpe iron
or bodkin, filling the same with fine bruised powder, putting in everie hole a little sticke of two or
three inches length, which are to be taken out when you would fire the same. This composition
will burn furiously.”
The words in brackets are the modern interpretations."

So we got that far in the research and acquisition. I've also read the discussions you have on here on arrows as a whole, but again, and I totally see them being used in siege warfare on the war equipment, but there's no evidence of them being shot toward a group of soldiers at all from a fort top or anything? (probably some Hollywood imagery stuck in my brain), but how would that imagery be stuck in the mind of the Apostle Paul when Hollywood wasn't around then and he's addressing the individual soldier's armor?
I don't think infantry had to be concerned with incendiary weapons until the invention of Hand Grenades and the Cheirosiphon (flamethrower) in the late 7th and 8th centuries.
Sometimes uncombed linen (flax) is called "tow", also.
All the uses of fire arrows which I can recall are in sieges or sea fights. If Paul (or whoever wrote Ephesians 6:16) refers to quenching arrows on a shield, I suspect that he is being metaphorical.
I agree with you, Sean, as the enemy Paul talks about is the devil, not the Gauls. And the shield is the shield of faith, not wood.