Category Archives: Ancient Roman Weapons

Crossbows

Ancient Roman CrossbowThe crossbow has long been a weapon of war as well as a hunting tool and ancient Roman crossbows were used during Roman times. It's most popular use was as a weapon used in times of war. It was in use by the ancient Greeks, the ancient Romans, as well as in other areas of Europe and Asia.

The crossbow is composed of a bow that is built onto a stock that will shoot missiles. The barbed or pointed missiles are essentially small arrows, but are often called a quarrel or a bolt.

In ancient Rome the title of the crossbow is still a subject of debate among those who study the period. The medieval crossbow, of course later in time, was similar to the weapons which are described by Roman writers such as Vegetius who tells of a weapon that fired smaller arrows. Depending on who you're reading the name of the items differs.

They are called arcuballista and manuballista,and sometimes cheiroballistra.Most students of Roman history do agree that they are speaking of bows, no one really knows which name was given to the manually drawn bow and which to the crossbow weaponry of the time.

Arrian--or Arian-- has records of cavalry training where the crossbow, or a mechanical bow weapon was being used by soldiers from the backs of horses, while there are sculptures in Roman Gaul which show the use of the crossbow for hunting as well as fighting.

These Roman crossbows are nearly identical to the medieval crossbow so it must be assumed that they are by and large the same weapon.

The medieval-and of course later-- crossbow was generally referred to as a ballista which came from an engine that looked very much like it.Historically, crossbows have played a vastly important part in warfare down through the centuries. Ancient Greeks and Romans used a crossbow that was essentially a bow fitted onto a stick and did look a great deal like the medieval variety..

The most early type of crossbow seen had a slot in them, and the string was put down into the slot. To fire the crossbow the hole had a vertical type rod that was set through it that forced the string to come out.

Later, as the design became more advanced, a cylinder was added which was called a nut. The nut may have been made of bone, antler, or brass. Plates of the same materials helped to hold the nut into place. What it did was act as a roller for the crossbow.

Crossbow strings were generally made of the toughest sinew that could be found They had to be able to withstand the shot pull and not fray when in constant use.

The trigger system was built of metal, generally also brass from medieval times upward.

The earlier bows of Roman and Greek times were built of just a single piece of wood. Usually it was made of yew or ash wood and were bound together with animal sinew, although some composite types were found made of several types of materials at the same time. The trigger mechanisms even from the days of ancient China were quite complex systems of bronze that also contained a safety catch or notch to avoid accidents. They made the crossbow able to be released by those who had far less strength and so, although the longbow actually shot further and faster, the crossbow could be used by those who lacked the strength to deal with the pull of a regular bow.

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Shields

 

A shield is part of protective armor which has been used for many centuries and ancient Roman shields were used in Roman times. The shield was the first piece of equipment that was used during times of battle, and it is even older than body armor. The first shields were made of animal hides, which were laced together using sticks; as the hide hardened it made a good defense against enemy weapons. It wasn't long before all male warriors and hunters began making their own shield.

Shields have become so valuable at helping to protect the body, that we can even see them in use today. The Iron Age brought about the Battersea shield, which was used very effectively by the Greek soldiers. Throughout history shields have been made with every kind of metal that can be thought of. Each shield had its own unique shape and design. During the Middle Ages shields showed the emblem of the owner of the shield. The emblems depicted whether a man was a king, or a knight, or a common soldier. These emblems from the shields were eventually written down in a book by scribes from the ruler's castle, and were later used to give a person a surname. The shields of today however, are made with mostly very hard plastic, such as riot control shields. However, there are even newer bullet proof shields that are used now.

It wasn't until man learned to forge metal that shields became more valuable as body protectors, for armies all around the known world. During the Bronze Age, shields took on a very particular meaning and purpose. Some armies designed shields that could protect a person's entire body, while other armies used a more circular type of shield which was used more for brushing away or blocking oncoming blows from the enemy. The size and weight of the shield varied from country to country. As each age of metal came and went; shields went through a great deal of changes for offering better protection, and lighter weights. New ways of fighting also brought about some dramatic changes in shields.

The Roman Legions carried a large shield called a Scuta, which provided the most protection of all. It originally had an oval shape; however, as time passed improvements were made. It soon became the square roman shield that we know of today.  The Romans used these new fighting techniques which involved using their shields to completely enclose an entire group of solders inside of an armored box. This technique worked great whenever there was an onslaught of arrows descending from overhead, or an army with charging horses was coming toward them.

 Ancient Roman solders which were experienced in spears, soon began cutting slots in their shields which allowed the solder to stick his spear through the slot while he continued to protect the rest of his body. They learned that they could create a wall of armed shields for oncoming attacks by enemy soldiers.

The Romans valued their shields so much that if a soldier died their bodies were placed on their shield and brought back to camp. You can see why ancient roman shields have made a very big impact on how certain armies won wars. Also how shields, along with new fighting techniques has saved many lives over the centuries.

The tunics that were worn by members of the Roman military units could also be considered as part of their weaponry arsenal. These were created from metal and leather. The breastplates were made of metal plating so that the most vulnerable areas of the body could be protected. There were also some coverings that could be used as covering for the arms and legs.

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Helmets

Ancient Roman helmets in particular are some of the most interesting pieces of military hardware in existence.

Every piece was made by a blacksmith and most ancient Roman helmets weren't all made by the same man. There were thousands of blacksmiths making these helmets and each one had their own unique style. This variety is made even more immense by the different types of helmets associated with rank and purpose.

Some helmets were made for parade demonstrations and would be worn by everyone from rank and file soldiers to generals along with their parade uniforms. These were often variations on the actual military models but had carvings, insignias, head ornaments, and other symbols of position and power. The design and construction of helmets was even further differentiated by local culture and available materials.

The majority of ancient Roman helmets that the average foot soldier would wear were made from either bronze or iron. These ranged from simple to complicated designs and were the staple of the Roman infantry. Ranking officers wore modified versions of these which stood out more and showed their rank amongst their men. Certain areas of the Roman Empire had steel helmets but they were mostly issued to high ranking officers.

Though steel was the strongest material at the time it was also the most costly and therefore not very economical to equip the entire army with. But that isn't saying that the weapons and armor made from iron and bronze were no good. They did conquer and rule over a large portion of the ancient world during their best years. Many of the modern concepts that we take credit for in our headgear developments were originally developed by the Romans.

The concept of a helmet that covers the back, top, forehead, and sides of the head was something that was lacking during WW1. We finally patted ourselves on the back when we reached the design of the units our soldiers use today. Yet the Romans understood the need of a helmet that protected as much as possible centuries ago and even the basic infantryman's helmet afforded this protection.

Now guaranteed it wouldn't do much good if someone stabbed said infantryman in the face or shot an arrow from a high powered bow. However for glancing blows, small weapons, and even some light ranged weapons they afforded immense protection. Even during the fall of the Roman Empire the armies of Rome still held some of the most advanced armor and weapons designs in the world.

Though the Romans eventually fell ancient Roman helmets continue to entice and astound scholars and archeologists. Their attention to detail, functionality, and effectiveness is far greater than most civilizations of the time. These were made from bronze, iron, steel, had ornate decorations, and some are still in excellent condition today. They were worn by soldiers from many ranks and most surviving models have survived events that would ruin other helmets.

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Iron Arrows

Ancient Roman arrows were a powerful weapon and archers were an important part of the Roman army. Many arrowheads were made from iron. While there were various tactics for using Roman arrows one can be seen in the move Gladiator about the Roman general who became a slave. In the opening battle archers play a very strategic role.

Rome and its history is steeped in tradition and rich with the lore that its historians have bequeathed to those who were there during Rome's greatness, and to all of us who have come after and enjoy many of the benefits we have today thanks to Roman ingenuity civilization, law, and medicine. However, there is no mistaking the fact that Roman Empire like any other nation in the world both then and now was built on war and conquest. Just like many generals of great renown and other weapons of the age ancient Roman arrows have played a large role in the growth of Rome and its empire.

Ancient roman arrows have been found wherever the great hand of Roman expansion has reached out to and ultimately ruled. From the Isle of Britannia and Western Europe to Egypt, Syria, and all of the Mediterranean and Aegean the roman archer and his arrows have been there to enforce Roman rule and to project power. The Roman Sagittarii or archer were trained soldiers within the legions or else made up of Auxiliary units. It is believed that many Roman unites of archers or bowmen were originally recruited in the Danubian provinces and the Middle East.

The Roman archers were shown in Trajan's column to have used very distinctive native garb and gear such as chain mail, long tunics, conical helmets, and strong composite bows made of laminated horn and wood. The average Roman archer carried approximately 30 to 40 arrows within their quiver and the tip of their arrows were generally tri-lobed and heavy allowing the leaf-shaped projectile to penetrate armor and other soft targets. Most arrows of the time were made of wood and the tip affixed with a tang. Roman archers also used a Solinarion to fire smaller arrows and darts at an enemy.     

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Spears

The Roman soldiers would use a variety of ancient Roman spears including 2 handed lances, Javelins, and Thrusting spears.

The poles were made from ash, oak or hazel wood and the pointed heads of the spears were made of iron, or an iron alloy. The points could be secured to the end of the pole by lashing them tightly with leather ties.

Pilums bore a strong similarity to the javelins. These weapons were much heavier and created more short-range damage because both the head and shaft were made of iron.

The phalanx was often used by the Roman armies. This was a way the Romans could advance on the enemy while protecting their own ranks of soldiers with a strategic placement of shields and spears. The shields of ancient Rome were often made of heavy wood and then this was trimmed with iron and copper alloys. There were many different shapes used for these shields including rectangular, hexagonal, and oval.

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Daggers

Ancient roman daggers were one of the smaller ancient Roman weapons. These were designed with a combination of stiff metal and a lightweight heft. Most Romans kept their daggers attached to their bodies with leather sheaths that were often decorated with jewels and fanciful designs.

If ever there was a civilization steeped in espionage, deceit and counterintelligence it was the Roman Empire. These people were masters of modifying swords and daggers to overcome any disadvantages they might encounter in battle. While Romans were well known for their swords, particularly the Gladius, the Roman dagger did and still does inspire wide-eyed awe. There were five basic types of ancient Roman dagger, Cinquedea, Pugio, Diamond Pugio, Two Edge Roman Stiletto and the Parazonium. Most daggers were composed of either a copper or iron alloy.

Cinquedea- Considered either a long dagger or a short sword the Cinquedea was mainly used by civilians and carried over the backside. The name of this dagger actually means five fingers, which is the width of the blade next to the guard. Sizes would vary being anywhere from 10-28 inches in length.

Pugio- a secondary weapon for Roman soldier the Pugio's exact purpose is unclear. One unique feature of this ancient Roman dagger is the hourglass shape, which made it useful for chopping as well as thrusting. These were very popular with noblemen as well who would wear ornate pugios during special ceremonies, and less ornate versions hidden in their cloaks. Some speculate that this was the favored assassination dagger, it was the type used on Julius Caesar.

Diamond Pugio- This dagger had a distinct diamond shape and were apparently a weapon made from broken Egyptian spearheads.

Parazonium- A slender version of the Cinquedea this blade originated in Greece. The Roman version was narrower, only about three fingers at the guard and triangular in shape.

Two Edge Roman Stiletto- Perhaps the most delicate of the ancient Roman daggers was the two edged stiletto. Beautifully crafted and slender they were perfect for piercing armor. The design of these blades was very popular even into the middle ages, which is why they are confused often with a short sword.

Ancient Rome has given the world stories of intrigue and brutality, enough to fascinate the imagination for many decades to come. A part of the intrigue and interest will always be piqued by daggers sheathed in beautiful gem encrusted cases.

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Swords

ancient roman sword

Many various weapons were used by ancient roman soldiers but ancient roman swords were arguably the most important weapon carried by a Roman soldier.

Soldiers wore a short sword, also know as the gladius. The Gladius was a smaller sword that was distinguished by its curved blade. This was the style of sword that Julius Caesar carried into battle. If you watch just about any movie on ancient Rome you will see the Gladius used by soldiers.

The short sword was made of iron and measured around 24 inches in length. It was a weapon that was used for closed combat and it is rightly considered to be a “thrusting swordâ€.  Soldiers would keep these short bladed weapons in sheaths that hung from the left side of their bodies.

Sharp and carefully honed edges made the sword one of the fiercest weapons of ancient Rome. This weapon was jabbed into the enemy and deadly in the correct hands. There were two chief types of short sword that existed, the Pompeii and Mainz. Later the sword was adjusted and made greater in length so that it could be used riding horses.

In addition to the Gladius there was another popular sword that was used. This was called the Spanish sword, and it originated in Iberia. The powerful blade was long, sharply pointed and had a double edged design.

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