Late Roman Legionarii

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ValentinianVictor
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Late Roman Legionarii

Post by ValentinianVictor » Fri Mar 27, 2009 4:52 pm

Should Late Roman Legionarii not be classed as Spear armed rather than as swordsmen?
Ammianus description of the Battle of Adrianopolis has the two Legiones, the Lanciarii and the Mattarii, retaining their spears for so long that 'they shattered through repeated blows'. This is not the behaviour of the earlier Roman's who throw pilum etc before charging in with the sword.

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Post by ars_belli » Fri Mar 27, 2009 5:44 pm

The Dominate Roman list already includes the option of rating legionaries as Light Spear rather than Impact Foot. :)

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Post by nikgaukroger » Fri Mar 27, 2009 6:59 pm

Adrianople isn't the only description by Ammianus of infantry of the time and his descriptions vary in what they say.

Adrian, your dedication to a single battle is creditable, however, you really need to look at the evidence in the round unless just modelling Adrianople 8)

Oh, and retaining spears in the hand rather than throwing doesn't preclude Impact Foot classification anyway :D
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Post by ValentinianVictor » Sun Mar 29, 2009 2:19 pm

nikgaukroger wrote:Adrianople isn't the only description by Ammianus of infantry of the time and his descriptions vary in what they say.

Adrian, your dedication to a single battle is creditable, however, you really need to look at the evidence in the round unless just modelling Adrianople 8)

Oh, and retaining spears in the hand rather than throwing doesn't preclude Impact Foot classification anyway :D
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I'm not the only one out there who feels Late Roman Legionarii should be classed more as spearmen than the more traditional heavy throwing weapon and swordsmen type. Nicasie and others felt that the Legionarii fought more in a 'shield wall' type formation during the 4th and 5th Centuries, and this is supported by statements made by Ammianus and others. I believe this is more fully explored in the article 'The Legion as Phalanx'
However, I do note that Ammianus speaks of troops throwing 'pilis' and that Vegetius states that pilum was seldom used by troops in his day, not that they were never used, so I am probably both right and wrong on this thorny question.

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Post by marioslaz » Sun Mar 29, 2009 2:28 pm

ValentinianVictor wrote:However, I do note that Ammianus speaks of troops throwing 'pilis' and that Vegetius states that pilum was seldom used by troops in his day, not that they were never used, so I am probably both right and wrong on this thorny question.
PILIS??? :) Singular: pilum, Plural: pila ;)
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Post by nikgaukroger » Sun Mar 29, 2009 2:43 pm

ValentinianVictor wrote: I'm not the only one out there who feels Late Roman Legionarii should be classed more as spearmen than the more traditional heavy throwing weapon and swordsmen type. Nicasie and others felt that the Legionarii fought more in a 'shield wall' type formation during the 4th and 5th Centuries, and this is supported by statements made by Ammianus and others. I believe this is more fully explored in the article 'The Legion as Phalanx'
Hence the Light Spear, Swordsmen option for the legionarii as laready mentioned.

However, I do note that Ammianus speaks of troops throwing 'pilis' and that Vegetius states that pilum was seldom used by troops in his day, not that they were never used, so I am probably both right and wrong on this thorny question.
IIRC he actually says that the weapon used to be called a pilum and is now called a spiculum.
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Post by ValentinianVictor » Sun Mar 29, 2009 3:24 pm

nikgaukroger wrote:
ValentinianVictor wrote: I'm not the only one out there who feels Late Roman Legionarii should be classed more as spearmen than the more traditional heavy throwing weapon and swordsmen type. Nicasie and others felt that the Legionarii fought more in a 'shield wall' type formation during the 4th and 5th Centuries, and this is supported by statements made by Ammianus and others. I believe this is more fully explored in the article 'The Legion as Phalanx'
Hence the Light Spear, Swordsmen option for the legionarii as laready mentioned.

However, I do note that Ammianus speaks of troops throwing 'pilis' and that Vegetius states that pilum was seldom used by troops in his day, not that they were never used, so I am probably both right and wrong on this thorny question.
IIRC he actually says that the weapon used to be called a pilum and is now called a spiculum.
The word 'pilis' appears several times in the Loeb Latin/English translation of Ammianus by Rolfe, translated as 'missiles' or 'javelins' by Rolfe.

'The missile weapons of the infantry were javelins headed with triangular sharp iron, eleven inches or a foot long, and were called piles. When once fixed in the shiled it was impossible to draw them out and when thrown with force and skill they penetrated the cuirass without difficulty. At present they are seldom used by us, but are the principle weapon of the barbarian heavy-armed foot. They are called bebrae and every man carries two or thee of them to battle.' Bk 1, Vegetius.

I think that makes it clear that use of the Pilum was still in force, although seldom so, during Vegetius age. I find the comment about 'Barbarian heavy-armed foot' quite interesting. This is almost if he is referring to troops in Roman employ, the auxilia perhaps?

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Post by zocco » Mon Apr 13, 2009 12:14 pm

nikgaukroger wrote:
ValentinianVictor wrote:

I'm not the only one out there who feels Late Roman Legionarii should be classed more as spearmen than the more traditional heavy throwing weapon and swordsmen type. Nicasie and others felt that the Legionarii fought more in a 'shield wall' type formation during the 4th and 5th Centuries, and this is supported by statements made by Ammianus and others. I believe this is more fully explored in the article 'The Legion as Phalanx'




Hence the Light Spear, Swordsmen option for the legionarii as laready mentioned.

I have to agree with VV. Late roman infantry are a shoe in for offensive spear. Just finished Alessandro' Barbero's 'Day of the Barbarians'. He refers to Nicasie and how roman tactics were akin to Greek hoplites. Similar conclusions can be drawn from Philip Rance’s article ‘The Fulcrum. The Late Roman and Byzantine Tsetudo: the Germanization of Roman infantry tactics.’ etc.

Regarding the light spear classification – it doesn’t cut the mustard - note the comment on pg 129 of the rules – light spear is a classification given to units that cannot form ‘any sort of concerted spear phalanx’. As Roman infantry can and did the light spear option is as dead as Dinian’s cat.

To my mind there’s very little evidence to support the impact foot/ light spear view and quite a lot for offensive spear so the sooner this is reflected in the army lists the better.

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Post by lawrenceg » Tue May 05, 2009 6:31 am

ValentinianVictor wrote:The word 'pilis' appears several times in the Loeb Latin/English translation of Ammianus by Rolfe, translated as 'missiles' or 'javelins' by Rolfe.
"pilis" would be a dative or ablative plural of "pilum", used in certain grammatical situations in Latin.
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Post by paulburton » Fri Jul 24, 2009 9:00 am

One thing to beware of is the habit of authors to use archaic terms. Historians of the Roman period were often Greeks and used, sometime archaic, Greek terms such as 'Phalanx', 'Peltasts' as well as Greeks words for 'Spear'. This is apparently true into a much later period where Anna Komnena talks of 'Hoplites', 'Peltasts' and 'Skythians'.

Not having studied Greek I am relaint on articles which point these things out as the translations into English often substitute different English terms (less common now as modern scholars often use the technical terms directly fromt the original). Plus these works have all been transcribed many times to get to us so scribes may have substituted terms from their own period as well.

In short, unless something is carved in stone then we can't accept it is absolute confirmation of a particular interpretation.

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Post by marioslaz » Sun Jul 26, 2009 7:35 am

lawrenceg wrote:
ValentinianVictor wrote:The word 'pilis' appears several times in the Loeb Latin/English translation of Ammianus by Rolfe, translated as 'missiles' or 'javelins' by Rolfe.
"pilis" would be a dative or ablative plural of "pilum", used in certain grammatical situations in Latin.
Pilis is plurale both of dativo and ablativo for pilum (I look on a dictionary because I studied Latin over 30 years ago). Anyway, since you are not using old latin construction, you should use only pilum for singular and pila for plural.
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Post by ValentinianVictor » Mon Jul 27, 2009 1:15 pm

marioslaz wrote:
lawrenceg wrote:
ValentinianVictor wrote:The word 'pilis' appears several times in the Loeb Latin/English translation of Ammianus by Rolfe, translated as 'missiles' or 'javelins' by Rolfe.
"pilis" would be a dative or ablative plural of "pilum", used in certain grammatical situations in Latin.
Pilis is plurale both of dativo and ablativo for pilum (I look on a dictionary because I studied Latin over 30 years ago). Anyway, since you are not using old latin construction, you should use only pilum for singular and pila for plural.
I quoted directly from the latin text in the Loeb translation of Ammianus, where there are at least two occasions where Ammianus mentions 'pilis' in the context of an exchange of missiles. He uses a wide range of terms for weapons that appear to have been used in missile exchanges, from 'veruta' to 'tela'. This would appear to indicate to me that his use of 'pilis' applies to real weapons rather than 'classissing' ones.

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Post by tadamson » Tue Jul 28, 2009 10:54 am

ValentinianVictor wrote:
marioslaz wrote:
lawrenceg wrote: "pilis" would be a dative or ablative plural of "pilum", used in certain grammatical situations in Latin.
Pilis is plurale both of dativo and ablativo for pilum (I look on a dictionary because I studied Latin over 30 years ago). Anyway, since you are not using old latin construction, you should use only pilum for singular and pila for plural.
I quoted directly from the latin text in the Loeb translation of Ammianus, where there are at least two occasions where Ammianus mentions 'pilis' in the context of an exchange of missiles. He uses a wide range of terms for weapons that appear to have been used in missile exchanges, from 'veruta' to 'tela'. This would appear to indicate to me that his use of 'pilis' applies to real weapons rather than 'classissing' ones.
Ammianus wrote in the Latin of his time. 'pilis' is a plural of 'pila', here used in it's classical sense of 'missiles' (most of which would have been hand thrown spear/javelin style weapons). The restrictive use of 'pila' to mean the heavy, barbed, javelin used by many Roman troops is largely a modern affectation.

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Post by nikgaukroger » Tue Jul 28, 2009 11:51 am

You know I can't think of a single classical source where any form of pilum/pila/etc. is used as a generic term for missiles - it is always the specific term used for the legionary weapon. The fact it was distinctive also led Polybios to use an unusual word (hysos?) when describing it in Greek 8)

Now it is certainly possible that Ammianus, aping the classical style, could have used it in a more generic manner ...
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Post by marioslaz » Tue Jul 28, 2009 3:31 pm

tadamson wrote:Ammianus wrote in the Latin of his time. 'pilis' is a plural of 'pila', here used in it's classical sense of 'missiles' (most of which would have been hand thrown spear/javelin style weapons). The restrictive use of 'pila' to mean the heavy, barbed, javelin used by many Roman troops is largely a modern affectation.
I don't know about Latin of Ammianus time, when I was a boy at school we translated Caesar, Livy and similar. Anyway, pila is already plural, so pilis cannot be plural of pila. I write the full declinazione of pilum (hoping not to do some mistaken, otherwise my latin ancestor will turn in their graves)

Code: Select all

             Sing   Plur
Nominativo  pilum   pila
Genitivo    pili    pilorum
Dativo      pilo    pilis
Accusativo  pilum   pila
Vocativo    pilum   pila
Ablativo    pilo    pilis
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Post by ValentinianVictor » Thu Jul 30, 2009 11:51 am

nikgaukroger wrote:You know I can't think of a single classical source where any form of pilum/pila/etc. is used as a generic term for missiles - it is always the specific term used for the legionary weapon. The fact it was distinctive also led Polybios to use an unusual word (hysos?) when describing it in Greek 8)

Now it is certainly possible that Ammianus, aping the classical style, could have used it in a more generic manner ...
I actually think Ammianus was referring specifically to the infantry weapon we have all come to know as 'pilum' when he speaks of 'pilis' in his battle descriptions. This is borne out by his specifically mentioning other missile weapons such as veruta, tela etc in other passages, why not call them all 'pilis' and be done with it?
And from Vegetius we know that whilst they were SELDOM used in his day (400AD?), Pilum were still employed by at least some legionarii during the Late Roman period. I think the suspicion is that perhaps the first one or two ranks of each Legione may have been armed with both pilum and the spear known as the 'spiculum', the rest being armed with spiculum and the javelin called by Ammianus and Vegetius as 'veruta'.

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Post by ShrubMiK » Fri Sep 18, 2009 8:45 am

I was under the impression that the spiculum was although more of a traditional spear design than the pilum still considered to be a heavy throwing spear (in relation to the lighter veruta, lancea), which was also suitable for use as a thrusting weapon if required.

Are you the ValentinianVictor of RTW : IB fame, btw?

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Post by ValentinianVictor » Fri Sep 18, 2009 6:53 pm

Ammianus and Vegetius both mention Pilum or the plural form 'pilis', and Ammianus also mentions spiculum, so I consider this to be evidence that the Late Roman infantry may well have used both heavy weapon types. And, circumstantial evidence could point to a revival of pilum use during the reigns of Valentinian I and Valens.
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Post by rbodleyscott » Sat Sep 19, 2009 10:02 am

ValentinianVictor wrote:Ammianus and Vegetius both mention Pilum or the plural form 'pilis', and Ammianus also mentions spiculum, so I consider this to be evidence that the Late Roman infantry may well have used both heavy weapon types. And, circumstantial evidence could point to a revival of pilum use during the reigns of Valentinian I and Valens.
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Post by ShrubMiK » Sat Sep 19, 2009 11:43 am

I thought it was you VV, I recognised some of the arguments and style :D

Personally I'm happy with the idea that LIR legionaries can be fielded as either Impact Foot (if they have spiculum...or pilum, if it was indeed still in use at all) or Light Spear (if they don't). There seems no need to me to talk about Offensive Spear, not based on anything I've read anyway.

Which is a bit of a turnaround for me...way way back when we were using something like WRG 4th Ed and the only army lists we had were those in the purple Airfix book I concocted a LIR Roman list, based on extensive* research, and yes I had legionaries armed with long thrusting spear instead of pila.

* I think maybe I had just read Robert Graves "Count Belisarius" at the time ;)

I'm more disappointed that darts do not show up as a differentiating feature of LIR foot vs. earlier versions and opponents, but that's another story...

Incidentally, I wonder if accounts of Adrianople can be used to infer "normal" fighting styles. IIRC the Roman foot were initially fighting against Vis foot behind wagon laager, so might not be throwing their spears against an opponent behind good cover. When charged by cavalry to flank/rear they might well retain their spears inhand, both because that could be thought more effective against charging cavalry and because of shortened reaction times. And then they are surrounded and compressed into a confused mass so that (allegedly) those in the middle could not properly deploy their weapons. Just a thought.

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