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Xiphos, an ancient Greek weapon, was carried by the powerful Spartans for use during close combat. The sword is double-edged and measures approximately 50-60 cm long. Later in history the Spartans opted for shorter blades, as the xiphos was used only after the spear or javelin was cast aside.
Few examples of the xiphos survived antiquity. We know that they were used in conjunction with the Spartan war helmet because of artistic representations on vases and the like. Homer also made mention of the xiphos in one of his writings.
When I was young, I loved playing swords with my buddies. Like most kids, many of my childhood idols were sword-wielding heroes from movies and video games All summer long we would chase each other around in our various back yards with swords made of wood or just long sticks. I am still in touch with many of my pals from the old neighborhood today.
We can’t-at least with any dignity-chase each other around in our yards anymore, but we can still indulge in our childhood passion. Today, I’ve amassed an impressive cache of Roman Swords which I now keep on display in my den. I can’t wait until my son is old enough to appreciate the weapons so I can begin to impart some of the knowledge I’ve accrued over the years.
On a recent trip to Rome I took the obligatory tour of the Coliseum. The building has become so iconic that many people forget it was actually the stage for brutal combat and the deaths of countless gladiators and wild animals. Most people assume that the events in the Coliseum were held for the grandeur of the Emperor, or Caesar, but the truth is that they were actually for the common people.
The Emperors would dole out the money for these extravagant, daylong events as a means of entertainment to keep the masses complacent and prevent revolt. These leaders funded everything from the Roman armor to the wild animals, which were shipped in from Africa and exotic locales. Admission was free, with the seating divided by classes; the wealthiest and most influential received preferential treatment, sitting the closest, while the commoners were confined to the “nosebleeds.”
When many of us think of Roman gladiators, we immediately revert to the glorified role these figures play in Hollywood movies. The truth of the matter, however, is that the life of a gladiator was not as glamorous as the films depict, and most of the warriors met an early death. In a recent NPR podcast there was a story highlighting a new archeological discovery: a massive burial site for Roman gladiators in Northern England. (Gladiators used to go on tour).
Although they can’t be certain the burial site was exclusively for Rancient roman swordsoman gladiators, several signs seem point to that conclusion. One arm on each of the skeletons had much more muscle than the other, which is probably due to the constant swinging and training with ancient Roman swords. There is evidence of a lion or tiger bite on one of the soldiers, both of which are foreign to the area and were used in gladiator battles. Finally, a hammer had damaged many of the skulls, a tactic used to disorient the gladiators.
The Middle Ages were one of the darkest periods in world history – rife with disease, poverty and human cruelty. The previously enlightened civilizations of Rome and Constantinople—and their legendary armies of soldiers in Roman armor—had fallen victim to the bubonic plague, rampaging barbarian hordes and dangerous superstition. Few people could be said to enjoy life during this era: kings and land barons had it pretty good, but what about all the illiterate peasants forced to grind out a subsistence lifestyle?
Monks and other members of the clergy were often the only ones afforded a chance to learn. Of all the people alive in Europe between 700 and 1100 AD, most were unable to read and write. Monks and some enlightened kings were the rare exception, and they kept the light of logic and reason burning for future generations.
In our oft-romanticized visions of ancient cultures, we tend to reduce the civilizations down to a few iconic characters and tendencies. Often these are great artists, authors and thinkers whose works have transcended time and are still in publication. We also tend to remember great warriors and leaders that spearheaded epic battles that are emblematic of the times.
While Roman swords and armor were cutting edge weapons of the era, these items seem primitive to us thanks to our nuclear weapons and unmanned drones. As history books are written about the current state of the world, it will be interesting to see how people reflect on our legacy of battle. Will it be romanticized as many of the civilizations that we now consider ancient are, or will today’s societies be looked at as ruthless and bloodthirsty?
For more than 500 years, the Roman Empire served as an example of what Western civilization could be. The poets, politicians, artists and merchants were the absolute best at their respective occupations, unmatched elsewhere in the world. Soon after the Empire was founded, Rome ushered in an era of piece and prosperity that allowed its citizens to enjoy tremendous wealth and privilege.
None of that would have been possible without Rome’s military prowess, of course. As early as the Punic Wars, which were fought against Hannibal and the Carthaginian Empire around 200 BCE, Rome set itself apart as a well-disciplined and technologically advanced war machine. Roman armor was distinctive for mixing protective capability with lightness and maneuverability.
The legend prevails that Rome ascended with the fall of Troy. Aenas, the famed Trojan, escaped the destruction of Troy and made his way to Italy where he married a princess. They bore two sons, Romulus and Remus; the boys were left to die by the Tiber river. A she-wolf saved them. They decided to consecrate a city by the river where the miraculous she-wolf saved them. They fought over the name of the city and Romulus son and thus began the powerful city-state of Rome.
Many historical events and persons of the ancient past are often shrouded in legend and they make great stories. Whatever the origins of Rome, it became one of the most powerful states that ever existed under the sun.
The Legionnaire was the foundation of the Roman army. The Legions of the early Roman army were an outstanding group, formidable in battle and in all areas of seige warfare. They were also excellent engineers; they built roads, bridges, and water systems for the empire.
They were professional soldiers who served with each other often for twenty years. They fought very hard for the empire, but they were more dedicated to their legion than to the state. The system worked well for Rome, because each Legionnaire fought his heart out for his comrades They were prohibited from marrying, so their loyalty was to their fellow soldiers After service of twenty years, they were allowed to retire with a pension and an allotment of land. Perhaps they married at this late stage of life.
They had the finest weapons of the day. They often made changes to make them more efficient. They wore a breast plate armor called lorica segmentata. It was made of iron strips that were held in place by leather strips. This replaced the solid breastplate which restricted movement. They wore an iron helmet with a peak to prevent blows to the head. They carried a colorful shield made of wood and metal. The Roman foot soldier carried three weapons. They carried a 7 foot javelin which is now referred to as a pilium. By their side was also a pugio ( small dagger) and a two foot short sword (gladius). On their feet they wore sandals with hobnails on the bottom. With this equipment they conquered most of the ancient world.
The Roman Legionnaire was powerful, dedicated to his legion, and a very effective fighting machine. The colorful Roman soldier is a popular character for reenactors or even with the individual that desires a unique Halloween costume.