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 A nerdy history/archaeology/anth question 
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Post A nerdy history/archaeology/anth question
The Romans, through the rise of the Republic and founding of the Empire, did not recruit bow-using archers. They recruited archers from other areas, as native auxiliaries, but not any "Roman" archers.

However, they did use artillery like the ballista and scorpion.

I am working out a theory on this, but was looking for other thoughts...

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Sat Nov 15, 2008 2:32 pm
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Off the top of my head, my first answer would be that the Romans wouldn't want to fight as lightly armored and exposed as the Sagittarii were. The Roman's armor was at least a partial factor in their huge military success.

Also, Roman battle formations were standard for centuries, and with good reason: They were carefully tweaked to perfection over time, they were highly adaptable to changing scenarios, and, of course, they were devastatingly effective.

A legion was surprisingly similar to a football team -- including the "flying wedge" formation, or more interestingly, the "saw" formation which inverted the wedge to creep up on the flanks. They also, of course, borrowed the Greek "tortoise" phalanx to defeat archers. If there's one thing the Roman armies wanted, it was to close range as soon as possible and bring the fight so close that their short Gladii cut the enemy to ribbons, while the enemies' weapons were often too long to be fully effective.

Also, this was all before the English longbow -- the weapon capable of piercing all that heavy armor and shields from a distance.

Finally, there was the Roman concept of "Vir." Where we get "virile" from. A real man. Very important concept for male Roman citizens. A lot of people understand "ecce homo" to have meant "behold the man," but it really meant something more like "behold the creature." A man of respect was always "vir." I can easily see fighting from a distance as being regarded as something less than vir to the legionnaires.

Trivia: I studied Latin in college with Ernie Batson from the Mofos. Heh.


Sat Nov 15, 2008 4:13 pm
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a) Greeks used archers with longbows. The technology was there.

b) early on, they had contact with eastern peoples using recurve bows, even more powerful and effective than the longbow. So it's not an issue of tech, although the tech was definitely not in that part of europe at the foundation of the Republic.

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Sat Nov 15, 2008 4:17 pm
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Why did I get the feeling I was actually going to have to look some stuff up? Heh.

Anyway, the medieval English longbow, as in a single yew stave (still round or D-shaped -- flatbows are a pretty recent invention) with a draw of up to 200 lbs at 32 cm, capable of piercing heavy plate armor at up to 300 freakin' yards was distinct from earlier longbows in power, although, not so much in accuracy. I know this isn't the meat of the matter at hand, but I feel pretty safe in asserting that the English longbow was, literally, the last word in war bows. It was the long bow, not gunpowder, that led to the abandonment of heavy armor.

Yes, the Romans had access to recurve and composite bows -- but recurve bows were most effective from horseback. They packed a hefty punch comparable to contemporary longbows, were quicker than longbows, and took less strength and training to use -- but they lacked range, in an era when the idea was to thin out the enemy with a literal shower of arrows before closing in for the kill. (Geek confession: by the time I quit Everquest for good, my Ranger was level 73. I was really into bows for a while there.) Frankly, the recurve was not that revolutionary -- it's also what the Japanese, Chinese and Native Americans came up with, independently of the Greeks.

So yes, the Romans had access to some decent tech, but still not close to approaching the bow that nearly wiped out the entire species of yew trees in England a thousand years later.


Sat Nov 15, 2008 8:22 pm
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Bow and arrow was not the only projectile weapon back then. Slings and anything from specially made bullets to plain rocks were also fairly common.

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Sat Nov 15, 2008 8:24 pm
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No, the bow and arrow weren't the only, or even preferred missile weapon of the time (Alexander-aboutt he end of the Western Empire). Sling and javelins were far more common around the Mediterranean, but around the black sea, the recurve and composite bows remained supreme. The English longbow, monster that it was, was most effective because of the training of the user, and the huge friggin' arrows they fired. Bigger, heavier, with a poinard, they flew further and ate up armor better than anything else.

But the Romans adapted the technology for ballista... something awkward, heavy, lacking mobililty, and then the scorpion.

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