Author Archives: hadrian73

Roman Archers

Archers and their tools in ancient Rome were a crucial part of their tactics. Though not until the battle of Carrhae in which the Parthians archers defeated the Romans, did Rome began to increase the number of bowmen from 500-700 in a Legion to 11,000.

Some of the tactics used was “a line of auxiliary pikemen backed by bowmen stood before [the] legion” (p.97, Archer), and they were “mingled with slingers to provide a protective screen against cavalry attacking flanks, [or] spaced out among heavy infantry chiefly on the wings” (p.91, Peddie).

The bow they used was adopted from the Turk’s it was “3 ft 9 in in length when measured along its outer curve and 3 ft 2 in when fitted with a bowstring of 2 ft 11 in. The war arrow it discharged measured 2 ft 4 ½ in in length and required a draw weight of 118 lb to pull the bowstring back to its full capacity” (p.89, Peddie).


The arrows that were used could have various aides to help their lethality. The best known was flaming arrows, “the Roman philosopher Lucretius had written that fire became a weapon as soon as men learned to kindle sparks” (p.208, Mayor) this holds true today. The “arrows [were] wrapped with flammable plant fibers (flax, hemp, or straw) and set afire” (p.209, Mayor), “Later, incendiary mixtures were packed inside the wooden shafts” (p.213, Mayor).

There were poison arrows but they seem to be used by the “enemies” of Rome not by Romans, this I think stems from the idea that to poison a weapon would be an act of cowardice.  The general Licinius Lucullus, who’s Asian campaigns were less than ideal, faced a revolt thanks in part to the “double arrow-points of iron, [that were] poisoned” (p.246, Mayor).

The Romans, being good at using others for their army did not falter on the archers, as Josephus wrote about the use of “Arab bowmen” by “Vespasian, at Jotapata” (p.91, Peddie).



1: Adrienne Mayor, Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World (Woodstock: Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc. 2003), 208-209, 213, 246.

2: Christon Archer, John Ferris, Holger Herwig, and Timothy Travers, World History of Warfare (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002), 97.

3: John Peddie, The Roman War Machine (United Kingdom: Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd. 1996), 89, 91.

4: Josephus, op. cit., III, p.220.

5: Roman Archer Mosaic:



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Roman Theatre

The Roman Theatre was influenced by three different things these were “Greek Drama, Etruscan (circus-like elements) and Fabula Atellana (Atellan farces: Atella was near Naples)” (p.2, Trumbull). The “actors/performers were called histriones” (p.2, Trumbull). The plays were performed during the day, around lunch. “The characters wore Greek dress, with or without masks. Paint and wigs were employed, a gray wig for an old man, black for a young man, and red for a slave” (p.1, Bellinger).

The slave was a staple in most plays; both Terence and Plautus used them extensively. In Plautus’s play “Pseudolus,” the slave owner Ballio shows how slaves were treated, as noted in this seen “Ballio: You who’s got the ax, look after chopping the wood. Slave: But the ax’s edge is blunted. Ballio: Well; be it so! And so are you blunted with stripes, but is that any reason why you shouldn’t work for me?” (p.1, Davis).

The early Roman theaters “were built of wood at the foot of a grass-covered slope, the stage was a narrow platform, elevated, and backed by a simple architectural design. There was no curtain, no scenery that could be changed, no sounding board to carry the voice. An altar was placed on the stage, in front of the set. The audience [would] either reclined, stood, or sat on stools brought from home” (p.1, Bellinger). As time went on theaters started to refine, Pompey the Great “erected the first permanent theater in Rome. It was of stone, seated perhaps seventeen thousand people [it] was situated on the Campus Martius on level ground, and had separate sections for knights and senators” (p.2, Bellinger).

Though there have been advancements in the comfortably of where one sees plays, we still enjoy the same basics that the ancient world did, from actors and costumes to “good” written shows.   


1: Bellinger, Martha. “What the Roman Play was like” A Short History of Drama (1927): 1-2.

2: Davis, William. “Pseudolus, Act. I, Sc. 2” Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources, 2 Vols. (1912-13): 1.

3: Trumbull, Eric. “Introduction to Theatre” Roman Theatre (2007): 2.


“Ancient Roman theatre in Merida”

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Elephant, Romans and Horses.

In 280 BC King Pyrrhus attacked Rome “the Romans had never seen elephants before, [and] the elephants wrecked havoc” (p. 81, Ward) on the Roman phalanx. Though Rome would eventually defeat Pyrrhus, this first taste pf pachyderm warfare was to be a good lesson for the future.

When the Punic Wars kicked off Rome was somewhat accustomed to elephants, yet the shock of Hannibal crossing the Alps with them did unhinge the first combat group to face him in Northern Italy. Hannibal’s folly at the Battle of Zama, using under trained elephants as “the battle began with the elephant charge at the center of the Roman line. Hannibal ordered the drivers of his elephants to charge the enemy but when the sound of trumpets and bugles pierced the air all around them, some of the animals panicked, turned tail and stampeded to the rear. Then finally all the beasts took fright: some of them escaped by way of gaps between the maniples through which the Romans allowed them to pass, in the end [the elephants] stampeded clean off the battlefield.” (p. 133, Kistler). After this Scipio leveled terms against Carthage to include that they could not “keep or train war elephants” (p. 134, Kistler).

Livy in History of Rome notes how Roman “legions gave [some of] the beasts to an ally in Western Turkey. [And] the elephants were immediately useful in repelling a Gallic invasion only a year later” (p. 107, Livy)(p. 146, Kistler). Other than the elephants initial training there was no indication that the peoples of Western Turkey knew how to utilize them. Good weapons to have on your side.

From 171 BC to 168 BC the Romans would use elephants to their advantage in the Macedonian Wars, in which King Persus of Greece would battle it out with Rome. The first battle Persus witnessed in horror as his cavalry horses lost their minds when faced with the opportunity to go too the horse-promise land via a ton of angry elephant,

the battle was lost, in his (Persus’) retreat he came up with a plan to “train” his horses so as not to have a repeat performance. So “in order to make sure that the beasts should not prove a source of terror to the horses, he constructed images of elephants and smeared them with some kind of ointment to give them a dreadful odor. They were terrible both to see and to hear, since they were skillfully arranged to emit a roar resembling thunder; and he would repeatedly lead the horses up to these figures until they gained courage.” (p. 147, Kistler). This was to no avail for when he crossed again in battle with the Roman elephants his cavalry failed again to Persus’ undoing.

We should now turn to some common terms one sees with trained war elephants. First is the Howdah this is the wooden box that is put on the back of the elephant for men to ride in. Second is the Mahouts these are the men who control the elephants normally riding on the neck. Third is the Archers who were the most common warrior in the howdah shown in this picture.

1. John M. Kistler, War Elephants (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007), 133-134, 146- 147.

2. Livy, Livy. History of Rome: in 14 volumes (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1961), Vol. 9, 107.

3. Allen M Ward, Fritz M. Heichelheim, and Cedric A. Yeo, A History of the Roman People: Fifth Edition (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2010),81.

4. J. G. Wood, Sketches and Anecdotes of Animal Life, second series (London: G. Routledge, 1858), 27. As seen in War Elephants, 63.

5. T. H. McAllister, Armored Elephants (George Eastman House, 1890’s). As seen in War Elephants, 91.


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The Gladius

The gladius got its start in the Punic Wars, it was an amalgamation of two Iberian swords, the falcata and the espasa. Though Sprague writes, “the espasa was adopted by the Romans and resembled their double-edged straight short sword, also called the gladius hispanicus, or Spanish sword” (p.230, Sprague) Sprague shows the espasa is what influenced the Romans more than the falcata.  These blades were the best the Romans had come across in their travels. Polybius said of these swords (both the falcata and espasa) that they had “a point that was as effective for wounding an enemy combatatant as was the edge.” (p.229, Sprague). By the end of the second Punic War, the Roman in effect used the Spanish sword to defeat the Carthaginians and push them out of Spain and put down the Iberians (the Spanish).

The most common gladius used during the Second and Third Punic Wars was arround twenty inches. Its main purpose was as a thrusting weapon, yet like all blades slashing was not out of the question. In combat “when the legionary had thrown his pila he drew his second weapon, the gladius. This was a short, broad-bladed, acutely pointed weapon intended purely for stabbing.” (p.34, Wilkinson). This is expanded on in Roman Military Equipment: “the gladius Hispaniensis, as it has come to be known (the term gladius could refer to any sword), is often thought of as quite straightforward: the Romans encountered the weapon in Spain for the first time, were so impressed they adopted it” (p.54, Bishop).

As we look back on the Romans we should understand that “the gladius became a trademark of the Roman troops not because of the design, but because of the discipline of the Roman legions.” (p.248, Sprague). Meaning even if the Romans had adopted the khopesh, their ability to adapt and use troops would have triumphed over any drawbacks of design.

M.C. Bishop and J.C.N. Coulston, Roman Military Equipment: From the Punic Wars to the Fall of Rome (Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2009), 54.

Martina Sprague, A History of Edged Weapon Warfare (Yardley: Westholme Publishing,LLC, 2009), 229 (both quote and image), 238, 248.

Frederick Wilkinson, Arms and Armour (London: Chancellor Press, 1996), 34.


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