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A question for Greek/Latin scholars regarding Gaulish javeli
#1
Hi All,
Didorus Siculus, quoting from the Celtic Ethnography of Posidonius:

" Some of their javelins are forged with a straight head, while some are spiral with breaks throughout their
entire length, so the blow not only cuts but also tears the flesh, and the recovery of the spear tears open the
wound."

My question is this; What ist the word translated as "spiral", and is this the best translation?
I have seen this passage with the word "twisted" used in place of "spiral". Spiral is a very distinct description, indicating something that might be construed as a bladed corkscrew or spearhead twisted along its long axis. Nothing like this has been found so far.
If the word is better rendered as "twisted", then this might conceivably be applied to some of the spear heads found at La Tene and other findsites like the Marne Valley, where flame-shaped ( Somewhat like a Malaysian Kris ), gapped and even corrugated-edged ( like a Ruffles Potato chip ) blades have been found.
If however, the translation "spiral" stands, then there was a very odd type of Celtic javelin. Spiral points are found from later contexts; Viking age Scandinavia and Ireland, but none from the 1st. century BCE. ( that i know of ).

Thank you in advance.

Steven
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#2
I have found some interesting discrepancies that may shed some light on this.

So it appears the quote is derived from Diodorus' Libray of History, 5.30. The quote you cited is the same text that can be found in the 1939 Loeb Classical Library translation of "Libray of History" that can be found at Lacus Curtius:

"Some of these javelins come from the forge straight, others twist in and out in spiral shapes for their entire length, the purpose being that the thrust may not only cut the flesh, but mangle it as well, and that the withdrawal of the spear may lacerate the wound."

Now, in another edition of "Libray of History", namely 1814 by George Booth published by W. McDowall for J. Davis, we find this translation of the same passage in Google Books pg. 316:

"some of them are strait, others bowed and bending backwards, so that they not only cut, but break the flesh; and when the dart is drawn out, it tears and rents the wound most miserably."

So, we have "spiral" vs "bowed and bending backwards", which is quite a difference I think.

In order to help resolve it, I went a little further back in each text. Here is the 1939 edition with a few extra sentences included before the text you originally cited:

"The spears they brandish, which they call lanciae, have iron heads a cubit in length and even more, and a little under two palms in breadth; for their swords are not shorter than the javelins of other peoples, and the heads of their javelins are larger than the swords of others. Some of these javelins come from the forge straight, others twist in and out in spiral shapes for their entire length, the purpose being that the thrust may not only cut the flesh, but mangle it as well, and that the withdrawal of the spear may lacerate the wound."

Now, the same longer passage from the 1814 Booth edition:

"For darts they cast those they call Lances, whose iron shafts are a cubit or more in length, and almost two hands in breadth. For their swords are as big as the saunians of other people, but the points of their saunians are larger than those of their swords; some of them are strait, others bowed and bending backwards, so that they not only cut, but break the flesh; and when the dart is drawn out, it tears and rents the wound most miserably."

It appears (to me at least) that in the 1814 Booth edition Diodorus is comparing the points of their javelins to the size of their swords, but, when describing the shape and damage inflicted, he is actually describing properties of their swords, not their javelins.

So, perhaps in the 1939 Loeb edition, the subtle transition from javelin to sword was missed and they assumed Diodorus was describing properties of their javelins when he was actually describing properties of their swords. Of course, this assumes that "bowed and bending backwards" is the correct translation since I assume there were no spiral shaped sword blades (I have almost no knowledge of swords so I could be easily mistaken) . Unfortunately, I have not yet found an online version of "Libray of History" in the original Greek or latin translation to see what the original text says.

I hope this is a start at least...

FIRST EDIT:

I suppose it is possible he was describing javelins if there actually were "bowed and bending backwards" variants. Before the extended passages above Diodorus does describe their swords, so it is possible that passage is indeed talking about javelins. In either case, as you originally noted, this is most likely a translation issue. I am still looking for other editions to hope to clarify.

SECOND EDIT:

I did find a Greek version with Latin comments from 1829 also a Google Books. Unfotunately my Greek is too weak to make a real go of it and there is no OCR / Plaintext version, only scanned images.

-Peter
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#3
Sorry for the consecutive posts but I have made significant progress since my first reply and edits so I wanted to make sure the update was highlighted. I have found a latin version of the passage that has shed some new light.

First, ignore my idea above that there was confusion between swords and javelins. The latin version would seem to confirm that Diodorus is exclusively describing javelins/spears/lances in this passage.

I found the latin version in Google Books as well: 1798 edition of Diodori Siculi Bibliothecae historicae libri qui supersunt, Volume 3 translated by Petrus Wesseling and published by ex typographia Societatis. Here is the latin version of the original passage (not my extended cite):

"Pars horum in directum fabricata est; pars incuruos per omnia habet reflexus, ut in ictu non tantum fecent, verum etiam frangant carnes, hastilique que reducto vulnus convellant and dilamcinent."

The key phrase is "pars incuruos per omnia habet reflexus" and keywords for the issue at hand are incuruos and reflexus. incuruos means "crooked" or "curved" and reflexus means "bend back". Seeing these words pushes me to think that the correct translation is from the 1814 Booth edition of "others bowed and bending backwards" rather than "spiral" from the 1939 Loeb edition.

So, in my opinion, Diodorus is not describing spiral-like javelins rather javelin points that curve out and back in again (at least going by the latin edition at least). The 1798 edition in this post has both Greek and Latin one above the other so if anyone has Greek they might be able to put the issue to rest.
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#4
Here’s the critical part of the text, in which Diodorus discusses the javelins.

… ?? ?? ?????? ??? ????? ???? ??? ????? ???????. ?????? ?? ?? ??? ??’ ??????? ???????????, ?? ?? ?????????? ??’ ???? ????????? ???? ???? ?? ??? ???? ??? ?????? ?? ????? ???????, ???? ??? ???????…

Roughly translated,

…their javelins have points that are bigger than the swords [of other people]. Some of these [javelin points] have been forged straight, but others have, along their whole length, a bent-back piece of spiral shape, in order not only to cut in the strike, but also to wound…

The key words are the noun ?????????, “a bending back”, and the adjective ??????????, “of winding or spiralling form” (related to ????, from which we get helix). So maybe we’re to imagine a head composed of twisted barbs?

(Edit - included [javelin points] to make clear the probable subject of the second sentence.)

(Another edit / afterthought -- ????????? can also mean something like "curve". I don't know whether or not that helps...)
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#5
Very interesting, Ariobarzanes, thank you for the translation. In the Greek passage does it mention pulling the javelin back out again like in the English and Latin?
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#6
Yes, it does. Including the rest of the passage, it runs something like this:

…their javelins have points that are bigger than the swords [of other people]. Some of these [javelin points] have been forged straight, but others have, along their whole length, a bent-back piece of spiral shape, in order not only to cut in the strike, but also to wound the flesh, and to mangle the wound with the withdrawal of the spear.
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#7
Well, i post on Friday, checking occaisionally with no results until i stop checking. Leave for the weekend....and the thread *explodes* with information Smile
Thank you, everyone. Everything mentioned has been very helpful as well as interesting. And best of all it bears out pretty much what i thought.
This has to do with precision of language, and ongoing translation into other languages farther from the source language. Here are some thoughts.
Say you are an explorer, but you can't get funding here in the USA. So, become a Professor abroad in Germany. Now you finally get funding for an expedition to New Guinea or some other remote place for something related to your field of research, say Shamanistic Practices of Indiginous Cultures.
Your paper when published will in all likelyhood be published in Germany and in that language.
But your original field notes will probably be in your own language, ie. American English.
So Posidonius almost certainly took his notes and first wrote his account of Celtic Gaul in Greek first, and later if he undertook the task, in Latin for that audience. It could just as likely been translated at some remove to his life, which ended around 51 BCE.
Everything contributed here answers/mirrors most of the speculation regarding this specific type of javelin. I have noticed in alot of reading of commentary on this specific passage that those more given to a conservative view ( favoring a description that matches best to the physical archaeology of items found at La Tene ) usually seem to favor the Latin Translation; a wording that seems to indicate a sort of undulating, or flame-shaped blade.
However, i have often wondered at the word "spiral" here. It is a very specific word, about the only word that might be more specific might be "helix" or "helical".
And this is what seems to be indicated by the Greek wording. First person observation ( by Posidonius ) in the birth language of the observer might take precedence over translation into another language as possibly being more accurate, more precise in description. This assuming of course that said observer is intelligent and literate with a facility in their birth language.
I designed, and have had made several helical or spiral pointed javelins with barbs. Matt Amt and other members of Legio XX have seen these.
There are some interesting reasons for twisting a javelin point. If you stab something with a blade ( this does not account for movement of the target or changing direction of the weapon ) the wound will be a cross section of the blade up to the point of penetration, basically a simple slit. If you twist the same blade ( and this would probably only be of use in a missle weapon ) the edges now cut opposing arcs, and if the spin is great enough these arcs meet and what results is a hole. The gaps, breaks or barbs just make it worse.
Also, to be considered is the spin of the javelin in flight along its long axis. Think of a javelin as a long, thin football. You want the javelin to spin for the same reasons as a well-thrown pass. I am right-handed, so from my point of view, the javelin spins clockwise as it leaves my hand and travels down range. I designed these points with a 180 degree right-hand twist. if the direction of twist and direction of spin are the same you have...a drill bit. Something that will have a tendency to core its way into, or through, a target.
I offer the following quote for comparison to the Posidonius quote:

"The Gae Bolga had to be made ready for use on a stream; it was cast fom the fork of the toes. It made a single wound, like a javelin but it had thirty barbs when one tried to remove it. Only by cutting away the flesh could it be removed from that mans body."

from the Book of Leinster version of the Tain Bo Cualgne ( Cattle Raid of Cooley )

Can't say anything about trying to hurl a javelin with the foot ( though i have tried enough to thoroughly embarass my self Tongue ), with some of the things trained martial artists do i wouldn't want to discount it out of hand. But the description of the wound whereas it is not a one-for-one match, does sort of invoke comparison with the description from Posidonius.
"Gae Bolga" is Irish Gaelic for "gapped ( or notched ) spear"
Further commentary is welcome, but Thank You All Very Much for answering my initial question
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#8
I don't know that there's any evidence of Posidonius producing literature in Latin; as far as I know his stuff was all in Greek. So, if we follow the common assumption that Diodorus was heavily reliant on Posidonius for Book V of his history, then ?????????? may in fact be a word Posidonius himself used to describe the javelins he had seen.

The Latin translation of Diodorus that we've been referring to is from the late 18th century, so all it really tells us is how an 18th century author interpreted the terminology that Diodorus was using.

Anyway, your experiments with helix-shaped javelin heads sound very interesting!
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