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Full Version: Pila range and how?
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I reviewed the thread I recall from a year ago or so that discussed various ranges after making a comment the other day. But I don't know if any re-enactors or experimental-archaeology tests could help?

What is the effective range for a volley of pila? I threw javelin competitively at school for over 6 years and even using a sport-javelin and with a practised run up and spikes to help stop and maximise the impetus (let alone the shortened right leg, damaged left shoulder and curved spine that went with all the practice :oops: ) I could get out to ~40m when still a teenager - of course Olympic athletes can double that now with ease.

Assuming, however, that Roman soldiers volleyed from a standing start (otherwise messing up their formations entirely), what would be the likely range? I would have assumed some 50ft or so. Would only the front rank throw? How easy is it to volley pila over other ranks? If deployed 10x6 how would a group of 60 throw pila?

I've even been more puzzled that the early (Polybian-era) legionaries were supposed to have two pila, one thick and one thin. They could hold on to the thick one and throw the thin 'further' before a second, heavier, volley? All before making sure the formation is re-made and swords drawn? Or would they have used them for different things and had them on the ground next to them to choose between them?

Stems from the thought that we don't have a drill manual for such to tell us........
Mark.
I have for some time been of the opinion that where Roman soldiers performed as Maniples they would line up for battle in two rows with a two yard gap between each man, the rear rank would be at a staggered position so that there would be room for also the rear rank to throw at the same time as the front.

They would not look at the oncoming enemy but watch the Pilus Prior to their right then when he judged the enemy at about 30 yards he would throw and they would all follow his lead, this way you have everyone throwing at exactly the same time with the enemy at about 25 yards then they pick up their shields the rear rank step into the gaps of the front rank and lock shields and let battle commence.
Was this the thread you meant?

Missile Range Comparison

From all that I can determine, 25-30m or so is the maximum effective range of a pilum, but I would expect a much shorter range was preferred. The classic pilum of the republic-principiate era* was not intended, I think, as a long distance missile weapon - the idea was to throw in a mass volley against an advancing enemy, disrupting their ranks, and then follow immediately afterwards with a charge with the sword (Tacitus's description of the Roman attack against Boudica's rebels springs to mind, naturally!). The greater the range of the pilum volley, the more time the enemy have to recover and regroup before the charging swordsmen reach them. So the shorter the range the better, in fact - legionaries that could hold their nerve and wait until the enemy reached something like point blank range could attack all the more effectively.

The lighter pila may been intended to give a slightly longer range option - the first thrown at c.20 metres, the second at 10 or less, perhaps, thus doubling the disruptive force against an enemy advancing at a steady pace. Or perhaps, as you imply, to allow those in the rear ranks to add their own weapons to a short-range volley.

* I'm distinguishing the 'classic' pilum from later Roman weapons like the spiculum etc, or even the plumbata, which seem more designed for ranged attack, from a defensive 'shieldwall' position, perhaps, or for use by lighter infantry in open formation.
One that has puzzled me for a while is, where is this second pilum when you are throwing the first one? With a horizontal grip on the shield you can't hold it in your left hand while throwing with the right.
I have wondered the same thing. Consider how that compounds when the velite/light infantry/javelineer has 5 or 6 in the shield hand. I have tried several ways, and I can't figure it out, either. A pilum is fairly heavy, and would require a good grip.
From our experiments, around 10 meters for a "flavian" pilum. You must had the difficulty of your armour, heavy and confining your movements.

A shorter trajectory had the advantage to be more difficult to avoid for the ennemy also.

Could the lighter pila be in a scabbard?
Nathan,

Again, many thanks - having reviewed that thread again earlier I didn't concentrate on the fact that you started it! Personally I would think 25-30m to be rather a long way, but it's certainly ball-park and I thank Jori for that comment which seems perfectly sensible.

Interesting point about the spiculum, is there any reason to suspect that it's not simply the pilum by another name (cf Vegetius)?

Adam, David
'
Yes indeed. I don't believe we're told anywhere exactly how many of the finger-thick '3ft + blade' light javelins' (lancea?) the velites (cf Polybius) were supposed to carry, but it must have been at least 3 - so at least 2 in the same hand holding the shield (3ft round one this time). Josephus mentions a 'quiver' for the cavalry holding 3 or more, but the description would seem to imply they are larger (let alone Arrian's cavalry exercises that seem to imply many more (15-20+). No such thing mentioned for infantry anywhere, but slung across the back? Pila are even more unwieldy to carry.

Brian,

Having been considering centuries and maniples recently, your point is exactly what I have been wondering. With such a staggered formation (the individual soldier-level quincunx) I believe that's perfectly viable, although 2 yards is quite a long way, but you mention only 2 rows/ranks - what about the other 4? Do they save their pila for another time, or are you suggesting they have sufficient room to throw overhead?
I don't think that I have seen any of the soldiers of the Trajan Column marching with two pilae so this idea of two might just belong to earlier times, for let us be realistic as a short distance weapon there is no room or time to use a second one it's just throw shield lock sword drawn and stand your ground.

Then also this idea of throw it then charge is not the way for the Roman general would choose the high ground at the start of any battle and would force his enemy to run up hill so why would he throw away such an advantage. ?
Mark.
Where you mention the other rows maybe yes they could throw over the top of the others which in a way hits further into the enemy so that the enemy forward troops get cut up and weakens them more before these other Roman soldiers move into the front and use the tactic of forward stepping to releave the front two ranks or allow one of their own ranks to step back for rest. Could this be what we call manipulation, of the enemy that is.
Quote:Interesting point about the spiculum, is there any reason to suspect that it's not simply the pilum by another name (cf Vegetius)?

Could be - I think there's archaeological evidence for the old-style pilum from the later third century. But Vegetius is odd about so many points of terminology, I tend to suspect he's applying the word for the javelin-weapon he's familiar with to those mentioned in the much earlier sources he draws upon. I'm assuming that the change in javelin is part of the slow overall change in weaponry - longer sword, oval shield - and tactics, from an open-order offensive to closed-order defensive style. But that could be an enormous generalisation!


Quote:Josephus mentions a 'quiver' for the cavalry... No such thing mentioned for infantry anywhere, but slung across the back? Pila are even more unwieldy to carry.?

There's a sort of quiver for very light javelins shown on a 3rd-c tombstone, if I remember correctly - one of the II Parthica lanciarii I think. So perhaps something similar was not unknown for the earlier velites too.


Quote:this idea of throw it then charge is not the way for the Roman general would choose the high ground at the start of any battle and would force his enemy to run up hill so why would he throw away such an advantage. ?

But the advantage of charging downhill would be even greater, surely, once the enemy had toiled all the way up to meet you? Roman tactics in this era seem to have been largely offensive: I doubt it was a hard and fast thing, but there a few descriptions of Roman troops doing just this pila-then-charge thing, e.g.:

Tacitus, Annals XIV.37: (Paulinus v Boudica) "At first, the legionaries stood motionless... then, when the closer advance of the enemy had enabled them to exhaust their missiles with certitude of aim, they dashed forward in a wedge-like formation."

And the downhill charge too:

Cassius Dio, XXXVIII.39: (Ventidius v Parthians) "...the Parthians, because of their numbers and because they had been victorious once before, despised their opponents and rode up to the hill at dawn... and when nobody came out to meet them, they actually charged straight up the incline. When they were at length on the slope, the Romans rushed down upon them and easily hurled them down-hill.
Nathan,

I couldn't agree more about Vegetius - having just recently written something similar. And, yes, a change to lighter missiles and indeed martiobarbuli (sp?) certainly goes hand in hand with a necessary change in tactics.

Thank you for that really valuable comment on the 3rd Century tombstone of the lanciarius - for it does seem a most sensible way to carry the smaller javelins (the '3ft plus' ones being not much longer than arrows really); in fact I am minded to recall that the martiobarbuli have been possibly thought to have had longer shafts, although that would mitigate against being able to carry 5 in the 'hollow of the shield'). It is for a whole separate discussion (I suspect it's been done before methinks), but I have been minded to consider as an adjunct to my recent research that the velite to the antesignanii of Caesar to the hasta-armed guards of Josephus to the lanciarii may be a straight line evolution.

On 'charging' - it would seem most sensible to be to be that a volley before charging or a volley before standing still in close formation, or even dropping the pila before doing either would simply (not that simple) be a choice dependant on the best tactical advantage to be gained.

In both of Nathan's examples there is the advantage of compressing the enemy and restricting their movements.
Quote:One that has puzzled me for a while is, where is this second pilum when you are throwing the first one? With a horizontal grip on the shield you can't hold it in your left hand while throwing with the right.

Many depictions of Roman soldiers in combat situations show that they carry only one pilum. It is most likely that soldiers had two pila for an entire campaign (if a lengthy campaign, the legions could make more). Carrying two pila into combat would be most impractical. Given the limited range of the pilim, it would be near impossible to throw two pila and then countercharge in an effective manner. A battle would be like this: march into pilum range (30 meters [90ft], give or take), stop, (step-step), throw, draw gladius, counter charge, mele the rest of the day. You can't manage a 20 pound shield and a pilum in one hand while trying to throw another. I just do not believe that it could work.

If someone disagrees, I most respectfully request that they post a video demonstrating this action. I would like to learn how they did this, and I believe everyone would be most interested in seeing this as well.

Respectfully,
Tyler


[attachment=7570]adamclisi_15.jpg[/attachment]

[attachment=7571]adamclisi_19.jpg[/attachment]

[attachment=7572]manica6.jpg[/attachment]
Quote:One that has puzzled me for a while is, where is this second pilum when you are throwing the first one? With a horizontal grip on the shield you can't hold it in your left hand while throwing with the right.

Many depictions of Roman soldiers in combat situations show that they carry only one pilum. It is most likely that soldiers had two pila for an entire campaign (if a lengthy campaign, the legions could make more). Carrying two pila into combat would be most impractical. Given the limited range of the pilim, it would be near impossible to throw two pila and then countercharge in an effective manner. A battle would be like this: march into pilum range (30 meters [90ft], give or take), stop, (step-step), throw, draw gladius, counter charge, mele the rest of the day. You can't manage a 20 pound shield and a pilum in one hand while trying to throw another. I just do not believe that it could work.

If someone disagrees, I most respectfully request that they post a video demonstrating this action. I would like to learn how they did this, and I believe everyone would be most interested in seeing this as well.

Respectfully,
Tyler


[attachment=7573]adamclisi_15_2013-07-11.jpg[/attachment]

[attachment=7574]adamclisi_19_2013-07-11.jpg[/attachment]

[attachment=7575]manica6_2013-07-11.jpg[/attachment]
Ancient sources tell us.
Roman troops would lay aside Pila and not throw them when the tactical situation demanded.
Pila could be thrown on the move.
Pila were more effective thrown downhill.


I don't think you can limit the number of Pila thrown by a Roman Legionary to just one per battle and we should be thinking of Pila more as expendable ammunition rather than in terms of a weapon.

Two (or more) Pila into combat possibilities:
One stuck into the ground.
One put on the Ground.
One held in the shield hand.
Extra Pila in the cart with the Ballista
Extra Pila carried into battle by servants and resupplied to the Centuries as the situation allowed.
How to carry multiple pila:
Per the instructions someone else offered to me when I asked this question a while back, to grip a pilum while holding the shield means pinching the shaft with the thumb of the hand holding the shield grip, while holding the pilum vertical.
Look at Bottom Illustration

The curved shape of the Roman scutum would limit you to a holding the spare pilum vertically instead of a more efficient method of grasping the javelin/throwing spear horizontally in a fist along with the shield grip. In the case of the velites, since they used a flat parma shield , they could grasp multiple finger thick shafts in their fist along with their shield grip. Imagine having to hold multiple shafts of wood in your hand, the skinnier the shafts, the more you can fit in your fist.

As for whether Romans carried one or two pilum, per Zhmodikov 's Roman Republic Infantrymen in Battle, many Roman battles contained extended periods of missile action vice close combat. Though a pila barrage followed by an infantry assault was the Roman bread and butter tactic, I don't it was always possible or done. Additionally, having two pila would allow a Roman soldier to defend himself against enemy skirmishers, horsemen and still have a pilum left over for the enemy infantry.

To throw a pilum effectively, you just need space behind you and in front of you, as well as side space for shield movement caused by the throw. The way I picture it is that the Roman or Latin soldier would be grasping both pila in his right hand during the approach march, maybe even resting them on his shoulder. Once the order to advance was given and the soldier closed with the enemy, he would pinch the heavy pilum with his left thumb and hold only the light pilum in his right. If stationary, he could just use the iron/bronze butt spike and simply stick the heavy pilum in the ground next to him to make it easier. Once in range, probably at a signal given by the centurion, the soldier would throw the light pilum at the enemy. Once that was thrown, the soldier reaches to his shield and grabs the heavy pilum while he continues advancing toward the enemy, never needing to stop. Once at close range, to maximize the damage of the volley, say from 5-10 meters away, the front rank of the Romans, maybe even the second rank by throwing through the gaps of the men in front of them, throw their heavy pila as hard as they can directly at the men opposing them. The rest of the men hold onto their own heavy pilum, in case they end up on the front rank or if they need to hand them off later on. As the enemy infantry react to the confusion of the last direct heavy pila volley, the Roman infantry charge at the run while drawing swords and attempt to kill the enemy front rankers by battering the enemy with shield blows, sword thrusts and cuts.

Additionally, the use of missile carrying infantry was not unique to the Italians. The Romans themselves would have probably also been facing missile fire themselves, since pretty much every enemy Romans faced had skirmishers of their own (archers, slingers, javelineers) or armed their own line infantry with throwing spears or javelins (Gauls and Germans).

Maximum range of a pilum throw according to this video is 41 meters. It looks like it could have done some damage
Pilum throw
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