Falx

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Roman monument commemorating the Battle of Adamclisi clearly shows Dacian warriors wielding a two-handed falx AdamclisiMetope34.jpg
Roman monument commemorating the Battle of Adamclisi clearly shows Dacian warriors wielding a two-handed falx

The falx was a weapon with a curved blade that was sharp on the inside edge used by the Thracians and Dacians and, later, a siege hook used by the Romans.

Contents

Etymology

"Falx" is a Latin word originally meaning sickle but was later used to mean any of a number of tools that had a curved blade that was sharp on the inside edge such as a sickle. Falx was also used to mean a weapon particularly that of the Thracians and Dacians and, later, a siege hook used by the Romans.

Dacian falx

Dacian weaponry including a falx (top) exhibited in Cluj National History Museum Dacian Weapons.jpg
Dacian weaponry including a falx (top) exhibited in Cluj National History Museum

In Latin texts, the weapon was described as an ensis falcatus (whence falcata ) by Ovid in Metamorphose and as a falx supina by Juvenal in Satiriae.

The Dacian falx came in two sizes: one-handed and two-handed. The shorter variant was called sica [2] (sickle) in the Dacian language (Valerius Maximus, III,2.12) with a blade length that varied but was usually around 16 inches (41 cm) long with a handle 1/3 longer than the blade. The two-handed falx was a pole-arm. It consisted of a 3 feet (0.91 m) long wooden shaft with a long curved iron blade of nearly-equal length attached to the end. Archaeological evidence indicates that the one-handed falx was also used two-handed. [3]

The blade was sharpened only on the inside and was reputed to be devastatingly effective. However, it left its user vulnerable because, being a two-handed weapon, the warrior could not also make use of a shield. It may be imagined that the length of the two-handed falx allowed it to be wielded with great force, the point piercing helmets and the blade splitting shields - it was said to be capable of splitting a shield in two at a single blow. Alternatively, it might have been used as a hook, pulling away shields and cutting at vulnerable limbs, or striking the edge of a strong shield. The inward curving point was still able to pierce the armour or flesh of the target behind the shield, rendering even the most reinforced shields much less effective against a falx wielder.

Trajan's column is a monument to the emperor’s conquest of Dacia. The massive base is covered with reliefs of trophies of Dacian weapons and includes several illustrations of the two-handed falx. The column itself has a helical frieze that tells the story of the Dacian wars. On the frieze, almost all the Dacians that are armed have shields and therefore cannot be using two-handed falx. The exact weapon of those few shown without shields cannot be determined with certainty. The frieze of Trajan's column also shows Dacians using smaller, sword-sized falx. However, this column is also largely stylized, with the sculptor believed to have worked from Trajan's now lost commentary and unlikely to have witnessed the events himself. A further problem is that most of the weapons on the monument were made of metal, which have since disappeared. [4]

The Adamclisi monument, built by Trajan to commemorate the Romans who lost their lives in the Dacian counterattack in Moesia, is thought to have been constructed by the soldiers who fought there, so it may be more accurate. This column shows four distinct types of falx, whereas Trajan's shows only one type that does not resemble any on the Adamclisi monument. Because of this, historians disagree on which depiction is correct, but it has been pointed out that if the Trajan's column falx are correct, then there would have been no need to modify Roman armour. [5] Both columns show the Dacians fighting with no armour apart from a shield, although some on the Adamclisi are wearing helmets. Some historians believe that armour was not depicted to differentiate Dacians from Romans, as both used the same style of shield. Other sources indicate that Dacians by this time had undergone Romanisation, used Roman military tactics, and sometimes wore Roman style scale armour. It is likely that the nobles at least wore armour and, combined with the falx, the Dacians would have been a formidable threat. [6]

Effectiveness

Marcus Cornelius Fronto described the large gaping wounds that a falx inflicted, and experiments have shown that a blow from a falx easily penetrated the Romans' lorica segmentata , incapacitating the majority of victims. These experiments also show that the falx was most efficient when targeting the head, shoulders, legs and especially the right (sword) arm, which was generally exposed. A legionary who had lost the use of his right arm became a serious liability to his unit in battle. [3]

The time of the conquest of Dacia by Trajan is the only known instance of the Roman army adapting personal equipment while on campaign, and it seems likely that this was a response to this deadly weapon. Roman legionaries had transverse reinforcing iron straps applied to their helmets - it is clear that these are late modifications because they are roughly applied across existing embossed decoration. The legions also reintroduced the wearing of lorica hamata and lorica squamata for the Dacia campaign as both were more flexible than the newer segmentata armour which was able to distribute damage more widely. In addition, both these older armour styles had unique modifications, a row of pteruges was added to the sleeves, a double row of pteruges was added to the skirt and a heavily padded vestment was worn underneath them. Roman armour of the time left limbs unprotected; Trajan introduced the use of greaves and an arm protector ( manica ) for the right arm, which had previously been used only by gladiators, and which was never used again by soldiers once the Dacia campaign concluded. [7] [ contradictory ]

Thracian falx

The Thracians also made use of the falx. They also used the rhomphaia , a weapon very similar to the two-handed falx but much less drastically curved.

Development

Falx, drawing based on the Adamclisi monument Falx.png
Falx, drawing based on the Adamclisi monument

The two-handed falx is clearly related to the Thracian rhomphaia. It is a derivative of both the sword and the spear, having evolved from a spear to a polearm before becoming more dramatically curved to facilitate a superior cutting action. This drastic curve rendered the falx a purely offensive weapon to be used against a broken or routing force. Typically, an enemy would be broken by a sustained hail of missile fire from javelin, dart, bow, sling, and stone throwing troops before being chased down and cut to pieces by the falx wielders.

The ancestor of the two-handed falx may have been a farming implement used as an improvised weapon, in a manner analogous to the bill-guisarme. The single-handed falx might have been inspired by the sickle, although agricultural sickles of the time were typically quite small no more than 30 cm or so in length.

At the time of the Dacian wars, producing a long, sharp blade was technically challenging. As such, it might be that the larger two-handed falx was a high-status weapon and used only by the best warriors.

See also

Related Research Articles

<i>Lorica segmentata</i>

The lorica segmentata, also called lorica lamminata, is a type of personal armour that was used by soldiers of the Roman Empire, consisting of metal strips fashioned into circular bands, fastened to internal leather straps. The lorica segmentata has come to be viewed as iconic of the Roman legions in popular culture. The tendency to portray Roman legionaries clad in this type of armour often extends to periods of time that are too early or too late in history.

Moesia Historical region of the Balkans

Moesia was an ancient region and later Roman province situated in the Balkans south of the Danube River. It included most of the territory of modern-day Central Serbia, Kosovo and the northern parts of North Macedonia, the whole of Northern Bulgaria, Romanian Dobruja and small parts of Southern Ukraine.

Sarmizegetusa Regia

Sarmizegetusa Regia, also Sarmisegetusa, Sarmisegethusa, Sarmisegethuza, Ζαρμιζεγεθούσα (Zarmizegethoúsa) or Ζερμιζεγεθούση (Zermizegethoúsē), was the capital and the most important military, religious and political centre of the Dacians before the wars with the Roman Empire. Erected on top of a 1200 m high mountain, the fortress, comprising six citadels, was the core of a strategic defensive system in the Orăştie Mountains.

Dacians Indo-European people

The Dacians were a Thracian people who were the ancient inhabitants of the cultural region of Dacia, located in the area near the Carpathian Mountains and west of the Black Sea. This area includes mainly the present-day countries of Romania and Moldova, as well as parts of Ukraine, Eastern Serbia, Northern Bulgaria, Slovakia, Hungary and Southern Poland. The Dacians spoke the Dacian language, a sub-group of Thracian, but were somewhat culturally influenced by the neighbouring Scythians and by the Celtic invaders of the 4th century BC.

Decebalus King of Dacia (ruled 87-106)

Decebalus and sometimes referred to as Diurpaneus was the last king of Dacia. He is famous for fighting three wars, with varying success, against the Roman Empire under two emperors. After raiding south across the Danube, he defeated a Roman invasion in the reign of Domitian, securing a period of independence during which Decebalus consolidated his rule.

Burebista Thracian king of Getae and Dacians

Burebista was a Thracian king of the Getae and Dacian tribes from 82/61 BC to 45/44 BC. He was the first king who successfully unified the tribes of the Dacian Kingdom, which comprised the area located between the Danube, Tisza, and Dniester rivers, and modern day Romania and Moldova. In the 7th and 6th centuries BC it became home to the Thracian peoples, including the Getae and the Dacians. From the 4th century to the middle of the 2nd century BC the Dacian peoples were influenced by La Tène Celts who brought new technologies with them into Dacia. Sometime in the 2nd century BC the Dacians expelled the Celts from their lands. Dacians often warred with neighbouring tribes, but the relative isolation of the Dacian peoples in the Carpathian Mountains allowed them to survive and even to thrive. By the 1st century BC the Dacians had become the dominant tribe.

Dacian, Geto-Dacian, Daco-Getic or Daco-Getian often refers to something of or relating to:

Tropaeum Traiani monument in Roman Civitas Tropaensium commemorating Emperor Trajans victory over the Dacians

The Tropaeum Traiani is a monument in Roman Civitas Tropaensium, built in 109 AD in then Moesia Inferior, to commemorate Roman Emperor Trajan's victory over the Dacians, in the winter of 101-102, in the Battle of Adamclisi. Before Trajan's construction, an altar existed there, on the walls of which were inscribed the names of the 3,000 legionaries and auxilia (servicemen) who had died "fighting for the Republic"..

Rhomphaia Ancient Thracian bladed weapon

The rhomphaia was a close-combat bladed weapon used by the Thracians as early as 350-400 BC. Rhomphaias were weapons with a straight or slightly curved single-edged blade attached to a pole, which in most cases was considerably shorter than the blade. Although the rhomphaia was similar to the falx, most archaeological evidence suggests that rhomphaias were forged with straight or slightly curved blades, presumably to enable their use as both a thrusting and slashing weapon. The blade was constructed of iron and used a triangular cross section to accommodate the single cutting edge with a tang of rectangular cross section. Length varied, but a typical rhomphaia would have a blade of approximately 60–80 cm and a tang of approximately 50 cm. From the length of the tang, it can be presumed that, when attached to the hilt, this portion of the weapon would be of similar length to the blade.

Manica (armguard)

A manica was a type of iron or bronze arm guard, with curved and overlapping metal segments or plates, fastened to leather straps, worn by Roman gladiators called crupellarii, and later optionally by soldiers.

<i>Lorica squamata</i>

The lorica squamata is a type of scale armour used by the ancient Roman military during the Roman Republic and at later periods. It was made from small metal scales sewn to a fabric backing. No examples of an entire lorica squamata have been found, but there have been several archaeological finds of fragments of such shirts and individual scales are quite common finds—even in non-military contexts.

Roman military personal equipment

Roman military personal equipment was produced in small numbers to established patterns, and it was used in an established manner. These standard patterns and uses were called the res militaris or disciplina. Its regular practice during the Roman Republic and Roman Empire led to military excellence and victory. The equipment gave the Romans a very distinct advantage over their barbarian enemies, especially so in the case of armour. This does not mean that every Roman soldier had better equipment than the richer men among his opponents. According to Edward Luttwak, Roman equipment was not of a better quality than that used by the majority of Rome's adversaries. Other historians and writers have stated that the Roman army's need for large quantities of "mass produced" equipment after the Marian Reforms and subsequent civil wars led to a decline in the quality of Roman equipment compared to the earlier Republican era:

"The production of these kinds of helmets of Italic tradition decreased in quality because of the demands of equipping huge armies, especially during civil wars...The bad quality of these helmets is recorded by the sources describing how sometimes they were covered by wicker protections, like those of Pompeius' soldiers during the siege of Dyrrachium in 48 BC, which were seriously damaged by the missiles of Caesar's slingers and archers."

"It would appear that armour quality suffered at times when mass production methods were being used to meet the increased demand ..." and "...the reduced size curiasses would also have been quicker and cheaper to produce, which may have been a deciding factor at times of financial crisis, or where large bodies of men were required to be mobilized at short notice, possibly reflected in the poor-quality, mass produced iron helmets of Imperial Italic type C, as found, for example, in the River Po at Cremona, associated with the Civil Wars of AD 69 AD; Russel-Robinson, 1975, 67"

"Up until then, the quality of helmets had been fairly consistent and the bowls well decorated and finished. However, after the Marian Reforms, with their resultant influx of the poorest citizens into the army, there must inevitably have been a massive demand for cheaper equipment, a situation which can only have been exacerbated by the Civil Wars..."

The Second Battle of Tapae (101) was the decisive battle of the first Dacian War, in which Roman Emperor Trajan defeated the Dacian King Decebalus's army. Other setbacks in the campaign delayed its completion until 102. The battle is most likely the battle-scene depicted on Plate 22 of Trajan's column.

Battle of Adamclisi Battle beyween the Roman Empire and the Dacians (101/102)

The Battle of Adamclisi was a major battle in the Dacian Wars, fought in the winter of 101 to 102 between the Roman Empire and the Dacians near Adamclisi, in modern Romania.

Thraex

The Thraex, or Thracian, was a type of Roman gladiator, armed in the Thracian style with a small rectangular, square or circular shield called a parmula and a very short sword with a slightly curved blade called a sica, intended to maim an opponent's unarmoured back. His other armour included armoured greaves, a protective belt above a loin cloth, and a helmet with a side plume, visor and high crest.

Sica Short sword or large dagger

The sica was a short sword or large dagger of ancient Thracians, Dacians and Illyrians, used in Ancient Rome too, originating in the Halstatt culture. It was originally depicted as a curved sword and many examples have been found in what are today Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Serbia and Romania. It is also depicted on Trajan's Column; notably the Dacian king Decebalus is depicted committing suicide with one.

Tiberius Claudius Maximus late 1st/early 2nd century Roman cavalryman

Tiberius Claudius Maximus was a cavalryman in the Imperial Roman army who served in the Roman legions and Auxilia under the emperors Domitian and Trajan in the period AD 85–117. He is noted for presenting Trajan with the head of Dacian king Decebalus, who had committed suicide after being surrounded by Roman cavalry at the end of Dacian Wars.

Dacian warfare

The history of Dacian warfare spans from c. 10th century BC up to the 2nd century AD in the region defined by Ancient Greek and Latin historians as Dacia, populated by a collection of Thracian, Ionian, and Dorian tribes. It concerns the armed conflicts of the Dacian tribes and their kingdoms in the Balkans. Apart from conflicts between Dacians and neighboring nations and tribes, numerous wars were recorded among Dacians too.

Trajanic art is the artistic production of the Roman Empire during the reign of Emperor Trajan from 98 to 117. In this period, Roman art further developed the innovations of the Flavian era, coming to definitively detach itself from Hellenistic influence.

References

  1. "Getai Gold&Silver Armor". Romanian History and Culture.
  2. Rome's Enemies (1): Germanics and Dacians (Men at Arms Series, 129) by Peter Wilcox and Gerry Embleton, 1982, page 35
  3. 1 2 Michael Schmitz The Dacian threat, 101-106 AD Caeros 2005 Pg 31 ISBN   0-9758445-0-4
  4. Michael Schmitz The Dacian threat, 101-106 AD Pg 4
  5. Michael Schmitz The Dacian threat, 101-106 AD Pg 30
  6. Michael Schmitz The Dacian threat, 101-106 AD Pg 32 - 33
  7. Michael Schmitz The Dacian threat, 101-106 AD Pg 33 - 36