Roman sword fighting techniques

Discover the many uses of Roman training sword

The Roman sword fighting techniques were famed as indestructible and invincible in their time. It has been said that the infantrymen and the cavalrymen were made of stern stuff, able to fight in all kinds of terrains and under the harshest conditions. The might of their weaponry and the scale of their bravery were summed up by Julius Caesar’s words, “Veni, vidi, vici --- I came, I saw, I conquered.”

The Armed Force

In the history of Roman swords, the army started with the drafting of middle-class families to join the Legion, the smallest military unit composed of about 5,000-strong infantry and 300-strong cavalry. Such practice was influenced from Greek sword fighting, as well as from Celtic sword fighting.
The legion being a heavy infantry, it was costly for a soldier to buy his own shield, Roman short sword, and other war weaponries. This would be worth it, as distinguished soldiers were awarded through bounty, promotion of rank, and appointment to political posts. Later on, as the empire evolved, the Legion was professionalized, soldiers were paid, and anyone could be drafted regardless of their financial position.

Roman training

A legionnaire had to go through intense physical, mental, and military drills before being admitted to the unit. The daily regimen of a soldier was grueling: they started their morning with a march to build up endurance; they carried weights in running, walking, or swimming drills to build up strength and stamina; and they needed to endure hunger and thirst to prepare them in times when supplies were cut off.

Roman sword fighting techniques

The Roman army was considered the best of its days, and it heavily used military science to defeat enemies. Compared to the armies of the barbarians, it is an army that knew exactly what to do at any point of the fight. Its complex range of army formations, attack stances, and use of siege weapons made it succeed in many military campaigns and colonize tribes in ancient Europe. (see What is a Roman sword for details of the armor and weapons)

The use of Roman swords was well coordinated. Weapons training required soldiers to get accustomed to the heavy shield, to know how to use the weapon, to predict timing, and to deliver blows without exposing oneself to danger.

The use of Roman swords was limited for the legionnaires. The generals put more importance for shielding; a legionnaire must knock off his opponent to the ground while protecting his body with the shield. He can then finish the opponent off with a stab by Roman short sword. (To know more about short swords, see Roman sword replicas).

The Legionnaires in Training

Legionnaires have had to undergo rigorous trainings to get used to the complicated army formations and maneuvers. They also had to maintain contact from the chain of command, as formations change quickly in the progress of the battle.

Roman wood swords were employed as a combat weapon for training. Its use was necessitated for two reasons. One, it was expensive to buy steel or iron swords at a time when mining and metallurgy were not fully developed and commoditized yet. Saving a personally owned blade from rust, chips, and deterioration from constant practice would make a good advice.

Two, Roman wood swords would not harm anyone in practice. A real blade for regular training and friendly duel would not only be costly, it would pose a danger to legionnaires and compromise their morale. History reveals that they were closely knitted comrades, with cultish loyalty and friendship shared among them.

Roman practice swords were called rudis, which in the modern-day training is called waster. Poets from that time, like Horace and Juvenal, have written extensively about the use of rudis in developing the martial skills of the army. Soldiers trained their rudis against each other, before moving to real sharpened steel.

Gladiators were reportedly using rudis, too. They practiced days before their duel on wooden or straw man called palus. This would not only make them bolder, stronger, and braver on the actual fight, it would also save their necks at the end of the day.

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