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Livy and the Gladius vs Macedonians
#1
A great many people have referenced this line from Livy's account of the Roman-Macedonian Wars as evidence that the gladius was used as a chopping weapon:

"those who, being always accustomed to fight with Greeks and Illyrians, had only seen wounds made with javelins and arrows, seldom even by lances, came to behold bodies dismembered by the Spanish sword, some with their arms lopped off, with the shoulder or the neck entirely cut through, heads severed from the trunk, and the bowels laid open, with other frightful exhibitions of wounds: they therefore perceived, with horror, against what weapons and what men they were to fight."

This may have been brought up before, but I searched and did not find much. Why does Livy suggest the Macedonians were horrified by the fighting they took part in? There are many textual and archaeological references to all Greeks being perfectly used to chopping each other to bits. At the Battle of the Granicus River, Cleitus the Black took the arm off the Persian knight Spithritades, who was poised to in turn attack the Macedonian king. Macedonian soldiers are recorded as using their swords to slash at elephants' trunks at the Hydaspes River. Pyrrhus of Epirus seems to have been something of a duelist; in single combat in 276 BC, he slew a Mamertine champion straight through the chest. Theban dead at the monument of Chaeronea also suggests slashing weapons - possibly delivered from Macedonian cavalry troopers, possible from infantrymen - was involved in many of their ultimate demises.

Furthermore, the Macedonians, and many Greeks, were likely all very familiar with a weapon arguably more suited to chopping than the gladius: the kopis. It was probably the preferred cavalry sword of more than just Greeks, but also barbarian tribes, and the very similar falcata was held in respect when Romans had to face it.

Is it possible Livy might be wrong?
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#2
According to Livy, Macedonians were used to seeing nice neat puncture wounds, not body parts strewn all over the battlefield. It seems to be part of the prejudice that the Romans had towards the Greeks - i.e. that they were girly sissies who can't fight like "real men".
Author: Bronze Age Military Equipment, Pen & Sword Books
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#3
Didn't Philip have to conscript old men and boys in order to fill the ranks of his phalanx? If so, I can see the gesture to harden his men by parading mutilated bodies backfiring when a bunch of tyro boys seeing something new and horrifying were filled with fear and trepidation, instead of the anger and vengeance Philip was attempting to plant in them.
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#4
(02-12-2017, 07:19 AM)Dan Howard Wrote: According to Livy, Macedonians were used to seeing nice neat puncture wounds, not body parts strewn all over the battlefield. It seems to be part of the prejudice that the Romans had towards the Greeks - i.e. that they were girly sissies who can't fight like "real men".

Interesting. So Livy may not have been as even-handed as Thucydides? I couldn't imagine the levels of gore being that different from spear wounds and sword wounds.
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#5
Livy wrote his work during the reign of Augustus. When you determine who Livy's target audience was you get a better idea of why he wrote the way he did. He was also hampered because he never served as a senator or magistrate so he didn't have access to many official records. He was never a soldier either and makes many rudimentary mistakes when describing military matters. It didn't matter for his work because he was more interested in morality and people's motivations than accurately recording history. He tells us this right at the start in his preface.
Author: Bronze Age Military Equipment, Pen & Sword Books
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#6
(02-14-2017, 10:46 PM)Rizzio Wrote:
(02-12-2017, 07:19 AM)Dan Howard Wrote: According to Livy, Macedonians were used to seeing nice neat puncture wounds, not body parts strewn all over the battlefield. It seems to be part of the prejudice that the Romans had towards the Greeks - i.e. that they were girly sissies who can't fight like "real men".

Interesting. So Livy may not have been as even-handed as Thucydides? I couldn't imagine the levels of gore being that different from spear wounds and sword wounds.

Its not spear vs sword. Its thrust vs cut. A deadly thrust can actually produce a little bit of blood oozing from a small slit in the skin (with more blood pooling inside the body). With a cut though, it can mean severing a large amount of flesh, to the bone or beyond. Lots and lots of blood, exposed flesh and innards. Bones visible. It really looks worst than it is, in many ways. Then there are decapitations, which are pretty brutal, amputations of limbs, and disembowelment. Cutting weapons produce nastier looking deaths than thrusting wounds. 

Livy's story is that Philip decided to parade the bodies of those killed in the skirmish with Roman cavalry in front of the rest of his army to harden them and get them fired up for vengeance. Instead, according to Livy, because the wounds were so severe looking they were frightened instead.
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#7
Rizzio's argument is that the Greeks were already used to the wounds caused by cutting swords and that spears and arrows leave a lot more gore than Livy seems to believe. He is right. It is likely that Livy never saw a battlefield in his life. He is just playing upon the Roman "sissy Greek" meme.
Author: Bronze Age Military Equipment, Pen & Sword Books
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#8
Rizzio might be right. But he might not be. 

Livy says to fill out his army Philip V conscripted large numbers of boys. How would those Macedonian boys in 199 BC know what it looked like when someone lopped off an arm of an enemy centuries early during Alexander's campaigns? They wouldn't. And unless they grew up in a place where animals were routinely beheaded during sacrfice, they wouldn't know what it looked like until they saw it in war. A lot of Philip's army, that war was their first war, and that skirmish would have been the first time they saw large amounts of dead human beings killed by military weapons.  

This is what a thrusting puncture wound looks like (its less impressive when clothing covers it):

[Image: cutting-and-stabbing-wounds-criminal-doc...1430087512]

This is a very shallow but slashing wound:

[Image: slashy-chest.jpg]

This is a smaller but deeper slashing wound:
[Image: c4579304d593_sf_1.jpg]

And both of those are nothing at all compared to what it looks like when amputation, decapitation, or eviseration occurs.  

And the sight isn't only the bad part. Have scores of bodies paraded in front of you by the wagon load, then there is the sitting blood pouring off the wagons, the smell of already rotting and bloating corpses, the large amount of flies buzzing around enough to obscure the white skin of the flesh, bodies turning a nasty waxy yellow, the smell of pierced and voided bowels. When someone who has never encountered something like that before, they usually don't respond stoically. 
 
To me, that's what Livy anecdote is trying to say. That Philip's ploy to steel his soldier's hearts by showing them the horror of war backfired.
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#9
(02-15-2017, 09:19 PM)Bryan Wrote: Philip decided to parade the bodies of those killed in the skirmish with Roman cavalry

That's interesting - I've often seen this same quote (or what I think is this same quote) used to counter Vegetius's suggestion that Roman soldiers were trained to thrust with the sword and not cut. But the Romans here are cavalry, so even if they're using the same or a similar weapon to that carried by the infantry ('gladius hispaniensis'), their use of it would surely be different when fighting from horseback. Is that right, or is there another Livy quote more specifically about infantry?
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#10
I think Vegetius was copying from a Late Republic treatise when he said that infantry didn't cut, only thrust. But Vegetius also mentions them training to cut the hamstrings. Polybius describes the gladius hispaniensis as a quality cut and thrust sword.  Its point of balance was definitely suited to cutting. Thrusts work well against targets like the face, neck, torso, groin. But cuts are better for going after the side of head and extremities/limbs. The very standardized sword training that started when gladiator lannista began training Roman soldiers, that probably saw the big shift in style, where they focused more on killing blows with quick and accurate thrusts, taught to be used in conjuntion with scutum attacks, like a boxing convocation, but surely cuts were still used. Just not for delivering mortal blows. 

But that's all infantry focused. For cavalry, cutting is going to be the primary method to use a sword. Thrusting works well when the mount is still, but when riding past the victim the blade can catch on bone and the rider might have to either let go of his sword or else lose his seat as he holds on tight to the grip willing riding past his victim. At this time, its very unlikely Roman had access to horned saddles (a hundred years off), so the only thing keeping them in their seat is leg power gripping the horse's barrel. 

Xenophon describes the kopis as the preferred cavalry sword, as it was better for cutting. La Tene III swords were long bladed and some had no sharpened points, in the Gallic tribes the nobleman and warrior (primary sword user) were first and foremost horsemen. No doubt it wasn't different with Roman Equites, they got their Glad. Hisp. during service in the 2nd Punic War, and then used them to great effect cutting at targets in that small skirmish with the Macedonians during the 2nd Macedonian War.
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#11
I'd believe that some Macedonian troops, being young, untested soldiers, were unstrung by the bloody sight of death, but I dispute that all Macedonians were used to some 'cleaner' kind of warfare. War is war. Horses run over each other, spearheads go through faces, and swords lop off arms and carve through bodies. I really don't think the wounds produced by your average sarissa spearhead was 'just a small slit with some blood oozing out'; stab someone in the chest, and you'll break apart ribs. Stab in the abdomen, and you hit the stomach and GI tract.

Plus, like I mentioned before, Macedonians were plenty used to swords. The Decree of Amphipolis mentions that all Macedonian soldiers must carry a sword in addition to their normal arms and armor; cavalry troopers generally used the lance as their main weapon, but only a fool would go into battle without some sort of backup weapon. No, I think the simple fact that the Macedonians were an inexperienced army, going up against an experienced one, made the difference. Had untested Romans fought against grizzled Macedonians, the opposite might have happened.
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#12
Agreed. The Romans of this conflict were nearly all veterans of the 2nd Punic War. They fought tooth and nail to get to join Galba's legions destined for Macedonia. Fighting there meant wealth, since all knew the Hellenic monarchs were super rich. Booty, plunder, slaves, all could help the veterans because the entire Roman society was hurting very badly economically after Hannibal's War.

The Macedonians weren't all inexperienced, Philip had been fighting some wars previously, but a large enough part of his army (likely the infantry) were missing that necessitated the large conscription of old men (likely veterans) and boys (tiros, no experience at all). I think Livy's anecdote, if even partly true, largely deals with the latter, plus whatever other softies Philip had in his army who didn't know how viciously Romans fought.

There was a major cultural difference in comparison with the Romans. It surprised the Hellenics during the Pyrrhic War, as the Romans threw themselves into the Sarissa heads, and it popped up against when the Romans showed no mercy at Cynoscephalae and Magnesia when they slaughtered entire phalanxes who'd lifted up their sarissa in surrender, not understanding the gesture, or just not caring.
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