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Full Version: The Abandonment of the Pilum for the Hasta - Why ?
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This thread is obviously intended to complement the thread on reasons why the spatha superseded the gladius as the traditional sword of choice.

The pilum seems to have begun disappearing around the time of the gladius, I think. This doesn't seem to be a coincidence, IMO.

This begs two questions :

1.) Why did the Hasta supersede the Pilum ?

2.) Are the disappearances of the Pilum and gladius symptoms of something larger taking place in the 2nd century ?


One obvious adavantage the Hasta has over the Pilum is that the former was easier and therefore quicker construct and disperse among the troops.

Maybe the legions in the 2nd century experienced a new type of warfare that demanded "newer" weaponry necessary to compete with their enemies. For example, the Alans and their heavy cavalry charges was something new to contend with and so the legions adopted the Hasta in order to repel them.

Any other theories or problems with mine ? Smile
Quote:1.) Why did the Hasta supersede the Pilum ?
2.) Are the disappearances of the Pilum and gladius symptoms of something larger taking place in the 2nd century

According what I'm now reading from Everett Wheeler;

1.) Because the hast a was longer than the pilum, which turned out to be better with regards to anti-cavalry warfare. The pilum was no longer needed because as a missile weapon it was releived by many other missiles such as javelins which were part of the drive towards increased fire power during the whole battle (not just the initial stages).
2.) Yes and no. No, because the Romans had experienced such warfare before, and had not responded effectually enough. Apparently, from the 2nd c. onwards (but much more in the 3rd) this type of warfare became more common, hence the replacement.

NB, are you referring to Arrian when you speak about the hasta replacing the pilum. I happen to agree with those (incl. Wheeler) who say that the word 'hasta' referred to a pilum there.
Would it not be fruitful to ask "why did legionary arms and armour begin to resemble the arms and armour of the auxiliaries?"

THat's where this discussion seems headed to me. Oval shields and spears. Spatha used in connection with oval shields.

Perhaps its the package deal that's important, not spatha or spear or shield. I don't have answers of my own, but it does seem to make sense that the legionaries took on all those jobs the auxiliaries were doing, scouting, town patrols, village raids, customs checks, river assaults, foraging etc. And that the spear/spatha/oval shield combination provided that flexibility. That seems like a good argument, though I cannot say why a pilum is worse than a spear in this regard.

In connection with auxiliaries - the franchise for non- citizens was granted in 212 (??) by Caracalla. Did that have an impact on troop types and troop equipment? Perhaps not - Oval shields for legionaries are attested earlier, as are spatha.

It is one of the most common questions I got asked at events last year. But I have no satisfactory answer.
Re-reading the initial post, one thing does spring to mind. You would stop your soldiers throwing away their spears (if you consider the pilum an efficient spear as well) if they did not have another weapon with which to fight effectively. In the first century throwing away spears (pila) was OK, because the gladius was being used as the major weapon.

If the spear is superceding the pilum (I say if because I don't know what evidence there is for that, I thought pila were found at forts throughout the 3rdC too) then does that mean the unit commanders could not rely on their troops to fight effectively with their sword?
Quote:Would it not be fruitful to ask "why did legionary arms and armour begin to resemble the arms and armour of the auxiliaries?"
My man! Big Grin I have asked myself that same question before (but I did not answer). I have been asking around here on RAT if the auxilia did have spathae earlier, but no one could give me a satisfying answer, so I dropped the matter.

I think you are onto something - if the regular army began to carry out the tasks that had in the past been assigned to the auxilia, could this be the reason for the demise of typically legionary arms & armour?

Mind you, I still think that the hard times and economics played a big part, but this development must also have played some part.
Of course, the role of the old auxilia (the new being elite regiments) was gradually taken up by temporary units; mercenaries and federates.
Quote:Would it not be fruitful to ask "why did legionary arms and armour begin to resemble the arms and armour of the auxiliaries?"

THat's where this discussion seems headed to me. Oval shields and spears. Spatha used in connection with oval shields.

Perhaps its the package deal that's important, not spatha or spear or shield. I don't have answers of my own, but it does seem to make sense that the legionaries took on all those jobs the auxiliaries were doing, scouting, town patrols, village raids, customs checks, river assaults, foraging etc. And that the spear/spatha/oval shield combination provided that flexibility. That seems like a good argument, though I cannot say why a pilum is worse than a spear in this regard.

In connection with auxiliaries - the franchise for non- citizens was granted in 212 (??) by Caracalla. Did that have an impact on troop types and troop equipment? Perhaps not - Oval shields for legionaries are attested earlier, as are spatha.

It is one of the most common questions I got asked at events last year. But I have no satisfactory answer.

I think you are really on to something here. Just how effective is the heavy infantery that the Legions traditionally is thought to be in other types of battle than large open field endevours? The thoughts go to the Varus Catastrophy and might the concequence of that have been a more flexible attitude on the behalf of the legions who where as I understand it defeted by a coalision of Germanic tribal warriors and Auxiliary troops trained in a roman way!

As I wrote in another post there is a sugestion by Dr Boris Rankov in The Praetorian Guard from Osprey, that the conformity of the legion is somewhat overrated and that the difference in equipment between Aux. and L. where not evident as much as formerly belived.

I dont´t want to be a "revisionist" here but it´s always healthy to question earlier belives and put theorys to the test.

I love the openminded discussions on this forum, and the politness of the partisipants. That´s something you are not spoiled with on forums on historical subjects, generaly!

Have a nice day everybody!
Quote:If the spear is superceding the pilum (I say if because I don't know what evidence there is for that, I thought pila were found at forts throughout the 3rdC too) then does that mean the unit commanders could not rely on their troops to fight effectively with their sword?
The hasta superceded the pilum at some point- that much we know.
But could soldiers no longer fight effectively with a gladius anymore? Was it too short, maybe, to fight all the nemies that could encountered. maybe here, too, a rise in cavalry among the enemy could mean that a spatha was needed for the infantryman to defend himself. The hasta became the primary weapon but it could break or be thrown, after which the spatha was next in line.
And, a hast was cheaper to make than a pilum.
But, a spatha was not cheaper than a gladius, I assume.
perhaps plumbatae just replaced pila as volley weapons?

Although you may be right in regards to the wrod 'Hasta' in arrian, there are two other possibilities:

1.) arrian originally wrote in greek, so it may be a translation error

2.) it may well refer to a hasta, it is a *fairly* specific word in latin meaning a specific type of spear. They could have been easily equipped with hastae prior to the campaign.
Quote:I think you are really on to something here. Just how effective is the heavy infantery that the Legions traditionally is thought to be in other types of battle than large open field endevours? The thoughts go to the Varus Catastrophy and might the concequence of that have been a more flexible attitude on the behalf of the legions who where as I understand it defeted by a coalision of Germanic tribal warriors and Auxiliary troops trained in a roman way!
It is my understanding that later units became more flexible, more capable of tasks which differed from heavy infantry to special forces actions. The elite units, of course. But then, the ancient legions were also much more versatile then commonly thought. A manupular legion could, as Arrian described, also function as a phalanx-like single formation.

Quote:As I wrote in another post there is a sugestion by Dr Boris Rankov in The Praetorian Guard from Osprey, that the conformity of the legion is somewhat overrated and that the difference in equipment between Aux. and L. where not evident as much as formerly belived.
Well, I read in other articles that sometimes equipment is known under different names, and that therefore a sword in the hands of a legionary becomes a gladius, and that a hasta with another writer may just be a pilum..

Quote:I love the openminded discussions on this forum, and the politness of the partisipants. That´s something you are not spoiled with on forums on historical subjects, generaly!
That's very nice to hear! Big Grin Let's hear it for historical anarchy! 8)
Quote:perhaps plumbatae just replaced pila as volley weapons?
Pila, as it may seem, were indeed being replaced with other missiles, such as javelins and (later) plumbatae. The need for more fire power is a very old lesson, one hard to learn for the Roman army. of course, the pilum is also a shock weapon, whereas verruta, plumbatae, etc. are more for a constant rate of fire (I think).

Quote:Although you may be right in regards to the wrod 'Hasta' in arrian, there are two other possibilities:
1.) arrian originally wrote in greek, so it may be a translation error
2.) it may well refer to a hasta, it is a *fairly* specific word in latin meaning a specific type of spear. They could have been easily equipped with hastae prior to the campaign.
That could be the case. I don't like to think of textual errors (scribal or translation) at first, but there is no need to look for out-of-place hasta for the legionaries in this 2nd-c. setting. Today we are much more bent on word-purity than ancient writers. I mean, in Late Roman times an emperor could be adressed as Rex (king), with nobody thinking that a mistake.
Of course, the legions could have been issued hastae, but without proper training that would not have strengthened their defence, I say, it would have been some gamble for Arrian.
I like to think that the commentators who see pila described as hastae here, are right. Just my opinion. 8)
Since the legions fought in so many different terrains/climates against so many varied troops (cataphracts, naked swordsmen, light cavalry, other legionaries) I never really consider that the enemies of Rome (or the new enemies of Rome) could affect total procurement policy for the empire. Enough to affect gravestone carvings from Britain to Egypt. But I am probably wrong :?

I suppose that spears are more sensible in the face of a concerted cavalry force, though, thinking that throwing away pila leaves you with one option (fight close and personal). I'm sure that spears and horses don't mix).
Quote:
Mithras:3j3pzt4s Wrote:Would it not be fruitful to ask "why did legionary arms and armour begin to resemble the arms and armour of the auxiliaries?"
My man! Big Grin I have asked myself that same question before (but I did not answer). Mind you, I still think that the hard times and economics played a big part, but this development must also have played some part.

Big Grin D

If it is true ... why? Maybe economics played its part and drove the legions toward auxiliary tasks. Maybe there were big problems recruiting hardcore fighting-type non-citizens into the auxiliary units...

I wish we could get to the bottom of it. A really good theory (even unproven!) would be good!!
That the gladius was intrinsically too short cann't be the answer as the romans fought against long sword gauls for centuries! More in general the short gladius was happily and vert effectively used against all types of peoples fighting with long reach blades and spears.

Is it a "fact" that the gladius and pilum went out together along with old the old cylindrical scutum? I am not an expert enough, but I do believe that by the end of the 2nd century things had evolved and the traditional legionary equipment may have been slowly phased out. By the end of the 3rd century even the legion was phased out.

Everyone realized, germanics especially, that set battles against a well balanced roman army was in rome's favor. Even when roman's resumed aggressive campaigning against germanics beyond limes they did not fight large set battles as the enemy did not offer such occasions. (Think twice of Arminius). Think of long wars during Marcus' reign where vexillations were normal practice. Evidently over 150 years a pattern had slowly but surely been set and by Marcus' time wars in the north were quite different than they were during Ceasar's time and Trajan.

As you guys are saying the legions worked more and more like their auxilliaries. The gladius, pilum and large cylindrical scutum were optimized for a type of battle that the romans excelled in. This excellence actually changed the nature of fighting battles as those types of battles became more and more rare, EXCEPT when there were battles against other roman forces. But even in these battles mobility was more important that brute force (roman armies did not need to annihilate the other roman army!). The romans inside the empire could make use of excellent roads and hence cavalry became important. Of course cavalry was already important in eastern theater, but the real impetus for cavalry came from fighting other roman armies. So by the end of the 2nd century the heavy infantry legion was rarely deployed whole, instead detachments were expected to be sufficient for almost all types of operations. Commanders and junior one especially became more and more experienced in using these small forces while knowledge of large set battles became more and more theoretical. On the other hand cavalry officiers became more and more important and indeed some of the most significant and important barracks-century emperors were cavalry officers! By the end of the 3rd century the infantry army was quite different.
I think the most interesting thing about this change is that once in place it remained the standard gear for the European fighting man for about a thousand years - clear through the Dark Ages and well into the early Middle Ages. Everywhere you look you see the same thing - soldiers wearing a simple helmet, a large round or oval shield, a simple spear and a longish sword. If body armor is worn, it is usually a short-sleeved mail shirt of about mid-thigh length. A 4th century Roman army could have enlisted 10th century Vikings or Saxons without a change of equipment. Granted the balance and handling of Viking-style swords was superior to that of the spatha, but that was a very gradual development.
Quote:That the gladius was intrinsically too short cann't be the answer as the romans fought against long sword gauls for centuries!
I wrote short in relation to cavalry opponents. Since more and more enemies of the Empire had cavalry (and more of it), I suggested that maybe (just maybe) this could have been a factor in the need for a longer sword, next to the need for a longer spear.

Quote:Is it a "fact" that the gladius and pilum went out together along with old the old cylindrical scutum? I am not an expert enough, but I do believe that by the end of the 2nd century things had evolved and the traditional legionary equipment may have been slowly phased out. By the end of the 3rd century even the legion was phased out.
They were phased out, but we have by no means any solid information which went when. In my book, there was no centralised 're-arming plan' or something like that. I do think that tactics changed and with it, training and armament. But I don't believe in a general order from Rome (or wherever) to the armies that they should discard this or that item.

Scuta, for instance - we see the old rectangular shield in Dura Europos.
The old helmet (Niedermörmter) on the other hand was already in disrepute (because it was too large and encumbering) even before Septimus Severus attacked Persia, which we know from Julius Africanus.
We have no idea when exactly the gladius went, or when the semispatha was dveloped.
We also have no idea when the pilum went, although I would tie that to the advance of the hasta. maybe the plumbata marks the end of the pilum, but them (apart from Georgia) I know of no find of plumbatae in the Middle East. Also remember that whereas the Roman pilum went out, the Germans copied it in the angon - a highly prized weapon!

Quote:Everyone realized, germanics especially, that set battles against a well balanced roman army was in rome's favor. Even when roman's resumed aggressive campaigning against germanics beyond limes they did not fight large set battles as the enemy did not offer such occasions. (Think twice of Arminius).
Not just Arminius. Gregory of Tours quotes Frigeridus' lost works about Late Romans under Arbogast being ambushed in a wintry forest east of the Rhine... Indeed, set battles were in favour of Roman troops, mostly, and hence German forces raided and ambushed more.

Quote: Think of long wars during Marcus' reign where vexillations were normal practice. Evidently over 150 years a pattern had slowly but surely been set and by Marcus' time wars in the north were quite different than they were during Ceasar's time and Trajan.
Vexillations became the norm, I think from the Late 3rd c. onwards. I should read a bit about that, but that seems to have happened during Diocletian's or Constantine's army reforms. We see the classic legions then being split up into smaller units (some early, some later).
NB: these, too, resemble the old independeny auxilia cohorts of 500-1000 men...

Quote: But even in these battles mobility was more important that brute force (roman armies did not need to annihilate the other roman army!).
No, we see indded that Roman armies tended to kill their commanders, usurpers or emperors, when they thought the other candidate was stronger. they then defected and were received by the other usurper or emperor without much of a problem. Big Grin

Quote:the real impetus for cavalry came from fighting other roman armies.
Why would that be so?

Quote:So by the end of the 2nd century the heavy infantry legion was rarely deployed whole, instead detachments were expected to be sufficient for almost all types of operations.
I would not use the word 'sufficient' here. With all the usurpers and counter-usurpers all over the empire (and barbarians running loose inbetween), legions were under an enormous pressure, shoring up one sector after another. I think they were constantly asked to send vexillations to this sector in danger and that emperor fighting another. Most classic legions, once a proud 5000+ strong, must have been way below that strenght, halved or even less. To me, this is the basis for the model of the 4th c. army, the real end of the legion.
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