In the movies, we often see a Roman soldier standing alone, dueling it out with some large fur-draped barbarian. The Roman eventually fells with a single telling thrust or slash. For example, see the opening combat scenes of the movie Gladiator. Actually, Romans fought more as a unit, a team, unless their ranks were broken. They battled with shields close together, maintaining a three-foot fighting space on each side of them — and they often the fought even closer together, especially when a shield wall was needed to repel a frontal attack! And the dramatic full fatal thrust was rarely done (e.g. the blade emerging from the back of the opponent.) Such an “overreach” could put the legionary in harm’s way. Public domain image via WikiMedia Commons. Ernst Wallis author. For the Romans, a series of short stabs was the key to felling enemies. The Romans knew that several stabs to the abdomen (a preferred target because it was easier to
“Never, with them on guard need you fear for your stalls a midnight thief, or onslaught of wolves, or Iberian brigands at your back.” Virgil “The Molossus dog of the Molossia region of Epirus was the strongest known to the Romans, and was specifically trained for battle.” Wikipedia.org/wiki/Dogs_in_warfare I have been asked several times about the Molossus dog featured in my Scipio Africanus novels. People have wanted to know if such a breed existed, because they couldn’t find any record of it today. Rest assured, dear readers, the Molossus dog was real. Though the breed is extinct today, and it has a lot of contemporary grandchildren breeds in the large working dog category! The Molossus was used by the Romans as early as 300 BC, following the war dog traditions of the Egyptians, Greeks, and Persians. The Romans used the molossus as one of their primary military breeds, possibly equipping them with a spike-studded leather collar similar to those still in vogue today.
Iberian falcata image via Wikimedia Commons, courtesy of Luis Garcia During Scipio’s time, many of Rome’s enemies (think Gauls) were slashers, slashing down with their long swords, beating through helmet and shield. But then Scipio encountered the staunch Celtiberians, who fought with their cleaver-like falcatas. The Celtiberians used their double edged blades to stab and thrust as well as slash, making them a fearsome combatant. Scipio so admired the falcata that he developed a new falcata-based Roman sword, the famed Gladius Hispaniesis (see The Three Generals by Martin Tessmer). Roman gladius image via Wikimedia Commons, courtesy of Pumont. This wasp-waisted, double edged sword meant his men could stab and chop (shudder!) as well as slash, if necessary. The design facilitated the fearsome shove-and-stab fighting tactics of his legions: …the Roman soldier was trained not to use it as a slashing weapon … The shield parry followed by a sharp underthrust to the chest or belly became the killing trademark of the Roman infantry. Richard
Scipio’s introduction of the gladius hispaniensis changes Roman battle tactics.