The Steel in the Sword


Image courtesy of Flanker, via Wikimedia CommonsGladius_in_the_grass

Did Scipio introduce steel into the Roman sword? The Roman historian Livy notes that the ancient Iberians used a sword so flexible that you could bend the blade over your head. The Iberians would bury iron in the ground and keep it moist to induce rusting. When they knocked the rust off the iron ingots, they removed many of the impurities.

Martin Tessmer is a retired university professor and military training consultant. He is the author of the best selling Scipio Africanus Saga series, which includes Scipio Rising, The Three Generals, Scipio's Dream, Scipio Risen, Scipio Rules, and Scipio's End. The Noble Brute is the first book in his new series about Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus.

8 thoughts on “The Steel in the Sword

  1. Dear Martin,
    I have read the first four Scipio books and have just begun the fifth. I am enjoying them immensely! Thank you for putting stories of these interesting people and places on paper for us to read in the twenty-first century. Well done!
    Best Wishes,
    Leah Shaver (b. 1948)
    P.S. Happy Birthday to you.


    • Dear Leah:

      Thank you for your kind words, and for the birthday wishes! In case you are interested, I am now copy editing the sixth and final Scipio book, it should be out by the third week of August.


  2. Dr. Tessmer,
    I am currently working on a book titled “Greatest Victories.” It is collection of short stories about the greatest victories of Wellington, Scipio, Napoleon and Caesar that were *off* the battlefield.

    I am an admirer of your Scipio series (even though I find the present tense…esoteric). I have read numerous works regarding Scipio, including Liddel-Hart, Gabriel and Livy. The temptation to venture too close to your interpretations should be taken as a compliment, but I would appreciate it if you could message me in the email attached to this post.

    Kind Regards,

    James S.


      • Dr. Tessmer,

        Thank you for your response! I appreciate your input and time.

        1. My first concern is that I don’t want to infringe upon your IP. I very much enjoy your interpretation of Flaccus, Pomponia and Marcus Silanus , but there is insufficient historical record to justify a similar interpretation. In fact, Livy even mentions that Flaccus was known for his ethics/character (although he might still be in your books, as he keeps his backstabbing secret).

        But contrast this to Cato and Fabius: Livy and other sources speak greatly about them, and in Cato’s case we can interpret his personality from his own works.

        If I were to portray Cato as a Jeffersonian/Jacksonian advocate of Latin and agrarian values, I would not be copying your interpretation so much as staying accurate to the historical record. When it comes to Flaccus, Pomponia and Marcus Silanus, I wouldn’t want to carbon-copy your interpretation, but I would want to maintain the following:

        -Flaccus as a Frank Underwood/Francis Urqhart level schemer. To a lesser extent, Fabius as a moderating influence on Flaccus’ darker plans.

        -Pomponia as a savvy Roman matron. There is good precedent for this: Julius Caesar was spared execution by Sulla was because his mother used her influence on both Sulla and the Vestal Virgins.

        -Marcus Silanus. In him I see a Roman Richard Sharpe. Further, I see Scipio as a Roman Arthur Wellesley (and there are many similarities between Hannibal and Napoleon!). At some point, I plan on hinting that Marcus Silanus saved Scipio’s life and was awarded the equivalent of a field commission. But Silanus is the everyman: like Miles O’Brien, Galen Tyrrol and Patrick Harper, he is the backbone of his civilization.

        2. I would appreciate your input as to what Scipio’s greatest non-battlefield victory was. In addition to being a non-battlefield victory, I aim to show victories of a personal nature:

        -Wellington’s Greatest Victory is when he burns his violin and gives up his lazy, aristocratic dandy-lifestyle and dedicates himself to being a professional soldier. To Arthur Wesley (as he was known at the time) found much comfort in his violin: it helped him escape the unremarkable-ness of his life. Like alcohol or opiates, it was a drug which gave the feeling of accomplishment. When he lost the hand of Kitty Pakenham, he was angry at being judged unworthy her older brother. But then he realized Tom Pakenham was correct: he *was* unworthy of Kitty’s hand in marriage. Arthur subsequently resolved to *make* himself worthy: he burned his violin, stopped drinking/gambling, and concentrated on his military career. The virtue Wellington finds is self-discipline.

        -Napoleon’s Greatest Victory revolves around the Coup of 18 Brumaire. Returning from his Egyptian campaign, he finds that the Directory is doing little better than the Committee of Public Safety. The French Revolution may have removed the criminally incompetent Louis XVI, but Robspierre and Barras are little better (and in many ways, actually worse). Always an admirer of Julius Caesar, Napoleon can’t help but see a similar situation: a corrupt Republic run by dishonest bureaucrats. Years before Austerlitz, Jena or Auderstat, Napoleon summons the courage to seize his destiny and cross the Rubicon.

        -Julius Caesar’s Triumph will be open to much creative license as there is little surviving source material. In 86 BC, the civil war between Marius and Sulla rages. When his Marian-supporting father dies “suddenly” while putting on his shoes, the 16-year old Gaius Julius Caesar finds himself the pater-familias of his family. When Sulla prevails in the civil war, all his family’s wealth is confiscated and Gaius’ finds his own life in grave danger. Reduced to relative destitution and stripped of his priesthood, all Gaius Julius Caesar has left is his talent and his supreme confidence in that talent. Where a lesser man might surrender to misfortune, Gaius Julius Caesar proves that even a patrician can have a “rags-to-riches” story.


      • Dear James:

        Sorry for the delay in replying, I was finishing up my final review of Scipio’s End before I sent it to the proofreader, hoping to publish by August 15.

        What was Scipio’s greatest non-military triumph? It could have been his hand in the election of his brother Lucius and his friend Laelius as coconsuls in 190 BCE. Scipio was one of the most powerful men in Rome at the time, if not the most powerful, and he likely used his influence to ensure they were elected. From what I gather, Lucius was not a highly respected patrician. This forced Scipio to promise he would “accompany” his brother on Lucius’ campaign into Greece, if Lucius was given that plum appointment. That must have been a great victory for Scipio, the family, and the Hellenics (my term for them) in the Senate.

        You are right about Flaccus, what the records indicate about his character. On the other hand, every dramatic novel needs a bad guy, and I was reluctant to stray too far from Cato’s character (as we interpret it) to make him underhanded. Although Cato’s purity changes a bit in the concluding novel in my series.

        Not that you asked, but to me Scipio’s greatest “military” victory may have been that he modeled military innovation in strategy and tactics, at a time when Hannibal was exploiting the armies’ lack of the same.

        Your book promises to be a fascinating peek into history. I hope you publish it soon.




  3. Dr. Tessmer,

    I look forward to Scipio’s End! It is a tragedy that Scipio died with the ingratitude of Rome. Although I respect Cato the Elder as a philosopher, I have difficulty overlooking the fact that he persecuted the man who literally saved Rome at its darkest hour. Not even Winston Churchill’s detractors, who had a *lot* more ammunition to work with (Galipoli, for example) blackened his name in petty revenge.

    I agree about Scipio’s greatest military victory: he innovated logistics and stressed tactical and strategic thinking over a general’s individual courage and combat prowess. He was Moltke and the Prussian General Staff 2,000 years before Clausewitz: Scipio approached warfare with a scientific mind and prioritized a form of realpolitik over foolish sentiment. War is a continuation of politics by other means, and enlightened nations should always remember the words of B.H. Liddel-Hart: The legitimate object of war, as it is in peace, is a more perfect peace.

    I have completed the Scipio portion of “Greatest Victories” and am ready to send it to a proofreader. Can you recommend a reliable one? I would also be more than happy to send you a copy for your review.

    Kind Regards,



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