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Did Rome have her own Roman Martial Art?

PostPosted: Wed Mar 19, 2008 10:34 pm
by Valerius Claudius Iohanes
Salvete, Amici -

I wanted to "rescue" two related threads from other spots and combine their discussion here.

Nova Sodalis L. Livia Plauta seems to have started a thread on Roman Martial Arts over in her Introduction:

and Tiberius Dionysius Draco points us back to an older thread under Ludi touching this same topic (this thread, I believe):

The topic or question being, Did Rome have a Roman Martial Art?

It seems to me that the answer is both "yes" and "no":

1) YES: A literal martial art would be combat training for military service. Since this was originally expected of all male citizens, it was the Roman war-art, and might make the need for a special "martial art" activity superfluous; and

2) NO: In the areas of the leisure arts, Rome borrowed a great deal from Greece, and Greece did have its own martial arts - wrestling, boxing, pankration (mentioned by Gnaeus Dionysius Draco), all of which were practiced in gymnasia or in thermae, first in Greece, and later in Rome. So Rome also had these martial arts to hand, but may have defined them as Greek, and not Roman.

Any thoughts, Sodales Sociique?

PostPosted: Thu Mar 20, 2008 7:26 am
by Q Valerius
Wrestling isn't really a "martial" art - i.e. it wasn't for combat. Eastern martial arts were literally martial arts, developed for combat. Roman martial arts were strategics.


PostPosted: Fri Mar 21, 2008 3:17 am
by Valerius Claudius Iohanes
Salve, Quinte Valerii -

I'm not sure I can agree. If wrestling did not come out of fighting, hand to hand, then how on earth did it develop? That it may not compare to asian martial arts, or that it was by Roman times a sport and an exercise, still, I think it certainly counts as both an art and as martial. And then there's the Greek boxing -- would that count as martial, in your estimation?

Moreover, the Eastern martial arts, advanced and amazing as they are (and, presumably, were), would not suffice alone in a number of combat situations - eg, contra pila, contra saggitarios, contra chariots. In other words, they were a martial art, indeed, and useful in kind, but so was wrestling, to my mind, even if comparatively limited in value.

And, in honesty, I have to ask you clarify the statement, that
Roman martial arts were strategics.

Meaning that they belong to a Class of martial arts called "strategics", or that Strategy itself was the Roman martial art?

However, it's also true that I am no martial artist, at any level, so you may have authority in that regard. I'm not seeking to heckle, Quinte Valerii! I'm just not convinced.

Vale bene.

Roman fighting

PostPosted: Sat Mar 22, 2008 1:14 am
by Gaius Iulius Tabernarius
Well lets put it this way, if you jumped a legionary veteran in Rome how would he beat you up?

I mean Romans where taught to fight as a unit, a living killing machine, but they where also given instructions on how to fight should the formation break.

I would like to think a legionary could beat a samurai senselessly if they where ever to fight, but my opinion is far from unbiased, (hearty roman chuckle)

And of course Romans didn't always fight as a unit, I imagine in the early period they fought much like the hero's of the Trojan war, and that would defiantly be a formidable display in one on one combat.

To an extent this was continued by the gladiators which in and of itself is a martial art.

PostPosted: Sat Mar 22, 2008 3:55 am
by L. Livia Plauta
legionaries against samurais? Good idea, I might try to organize that (at least in re-enactment). That is, if I can get the samurais to agree.

In the other thread in the Ludi section I wrote a long post about my conjectures on roman martial arts. To summarize it, I think in palaestrae (the later name of gymnasia, when "gymnasium" came to mean a humanities school) and thermae people would probably practice a greek-roman "crossover". Roman culture was so graecophile in every field that it's reasonable to assume it was in martial arts too. And there's also the fact that roman military gear (at least from the early Empire on) is absolutely not suitable for individual fight.
So I can easily imagine romans in the palaestra practising with greek-like light equipment (also similar to the republican gear), and, for example, re-enacting the duel of Achilles and Hector.


On the Uses of a Lorica Seg.

PostPosted: Sat Mar 22, 2008 8:20 am
by Aldus Marius
Salve iterum, mi Plauta!

> And there's also the fact that roman military gear (at least from the early Empire on) is absolutely not suitable for individual fight.

Ohh, I dunno; I've found my lorica segmentata to be self-cooling, very flexible, not that heavy, and useful in a pinch. The extra mass can help in some kinds of fighting. (In others, of course, it can be used against you.) I've been told that I'd be hell to deal with in a mosh-pit. If nothing else works, I can fall on the other guy sideways and rib him to death...! (I did this once in a wrestling match--not fatally, of course; but the edges of my lames left definite bruises.)

Furthermore, anybody who can punch someone in the face with that huge-ish scutum can definitely shatter a nose or a jawbone with his bare fist.

And let's not forget the hobnails. Those can make things extra-special.

Feeling frisky already!

east vs. west (the west always wins!)

PostPosted: Sat Mar 22, 2008 4:56 pm
by Gaius Iulius Tabernarius
"legionaries against samurais? Good idea, I might try to organize that (at least in re-enactment)."

God I would love to represent Rome in such a match, hook me up with even a Camillus era hastati panoply and there will be unconscious samurai every where!

set me up as a legionary, and it will look like the first day of thermopylae!

its not that I have anything against the samurai but they are... so overrated! and for the Han Chinese, great nation but dam they are arrogant! one of their lot actually called Rome a backwater barbarian village!

"I did this once in a wrestling match--not fatally, of course; but the edges of my lames left definite bruises"

sounds like fun, hey maybe some day we can have a national convention and have a full on battle, (hey the Asian martial art enthusiasts do it and our uniforms are more impressive!)

I like the color red!

Pax mecum!!

PostPosted: Sat Mar 22, 2008 8:40 pm
by Aldus Marius
Pace, amice--spare your poor old Legate! That match was fifteen years ago, when I was still in the Armed Forces and had full use of my lower spine. I'd break myself in half doing that now...if the other fellow didn't dividet me in partes tres first!

Na, nowadays I just spectate, and sometimes referee. I wander around interacting with the natives, posing for pictures, dandling babies. I'm about as tame as anyone can be with a gladius at his hip, and I rather like it that way. Sorta helps defuse the stereotype.

But I *did* figure out how to sneak up on someone while wearing a lorica. That defuses a few stereotypes too. >({|;-)

In amicitia et fide,


PostPosted: Sat Mar 22, 2008 10:21 pm
by Gaius Iulius Tabernarius
Yeah I am still in my prime, I may not be a pagan but I am definitely a son of mars.

I only wish there was reenactment stuff where I live. Not very many Romans in MA, a ton of Celts though. Hey when in Hibernia, have a few beers and fight naked!

I will say that when I get my toga made I will make a grand Socratic voyage to the heart of fluffy neo-paganism, Salem Massachusetts! Don't worry, I'll be gentle.

PostPosted: Sat Mar 22, 2008 11:01 pm
by L. Livia Plauta
Ok. I'll express myself more precisely. Concretely I find the big square scutum not suited to individual fight. It's very good when you're in line, or when doing a testudo, but it's too heavy to do anything much with in a duel. Of course that didn't prevent me from winning duels against Germani and other Romans as well, the one time I had the chance to wear legionary equipment, but I'm sure that for a non-military context (palaestra of thermae) it would have made much more sense to use a smaller, round shield.
Remember, here we are conjecturing what people did as sports, or martial arts. Also, metal loricae are quite expensive, so I doubt they would have been used for training. Probably they used leather armour and wooden swords, just as I would do if I were to set up a reconstructed roman martial art.

As for samurais against Romans, I guess the difficulty would be convincing the samurais. Japanese martial arts pratictioners usually don't wear armour, so they wouldn't be so stupid as to accept a match against a legion with loricae segmentatae and scuta.
The iaido group I used to belong to won a lot of battles against ninjas, kung-fu pratictioners, etc., but those have no armour either.
Real samurais were cavalry, so it would only make sense to match them against other cavalry, but nowadays no re-enacting group can really manage a battle on horseback.
One of my aims in life is once to get to an indonesian island where once a year they have a real battle on hosreback, but until then I doubt I'll ever see anything realistic.

armored samurai pike men

PostPosted: Sun Mar 23, 2008 6:13 am
by Gaius Iulius Tabernarius
Correct me if I am mistaken but didn't samurai warriors wear ornate leather armor with strips of metal and carry pikes called yari?

I am pretty sure the guys wearing robes and caring two swords were a product of the end of the Japanese feudal era.

no war = no need for practical panoplies

then again leather armor compared to segmented armor is a serious disadvantage, (unless we are talking about some really nimble samurai) although in one on one it might equal out.

good luck finding samurai who actually are trained like the real deal.

We Romans have one thing going for us, realistic weapons. Not from Kong fu movies, (I laugh hysterically ever time I see nunchaku, do people even realize they where never used by any army?)


PostPosted: Sun Mar 23, 2008 6:37 am
by Aldus Marius
Salve iterum, amica!

> Ok. I'll express myself more precisely. Concretely I find the big square scutum not suited to individual fight.

Ooops...I did kind of let that thought run away with me, didn't I? I wasn't actually saying anybody should work out in Roman army kit. I *was* saying that any Legionary, or anybody who knows their gear like it was their brother, can put it to good use in a brawl. And when I mentioned shield-punching with a scutum, it was to illustrate the force a Roman soldier could put behind a bare-fisted blow without the shield.

All that weren't talking about fending off thugs in a Suburan alley, were you? Your question is about stylised fighting as a sport or a fitness exercise, the genteel sort of thing people do at a dojo or in a fencing match. I was flashing back to Vegas. My attention to detail suffers when I get excited. Sorry 'bout that... >({(:-)

Silly ol'...

PostPosted: Sun Mar 23, 2008 5:41 pm
by L. Livia Plauta
Naahh, if I was alone and met thugs in a suburan alley my martial arts experience teaches me that the safest thing to do would be to put to use one part of the training only: running.

I was indeed talking about a fitness exercise.

PostPosted: Sun Mar 23, 2008 9:34 pm
by Cleopatra Aelia
L. Livia Plauta wrote:Ok. I'll express myself more precisely. Concretely I find the big square scutum not suited to individual fight. It's very good when you're in line, or when doing a testudo, but it's too heavy to do anything much with in a duel.

I fight as a provocatrix and therefore am equipped with gladius and scutum. Since we are very few in our group so far I don't fight only against our murmillo (as substitute to another provocator) who's also equipped with gladius and scutum but also our hoplomachus and retiarius. The interesting thing about gladiatorial fight is that both oponents have equal chances to win even if they are equipped very differently. Of course the heavy scutum slows me down and I'm not able to chase e.g. the retiarius around the arena. But the scutum gives me very good protection and I can "hide" behind it. But I could also try to hit the oponent with the rim of the scutum (for security reasons when doing reenactment only when the other one wears a helmet, too) or try to hit him in another way with the scutum. It can very well be used as an offensive weapon as well. In our training fights I noticed that chances are very equal to win, sometimes I win the bout sometimes my training partner does.

PostPosted: Mon Mar 24, 2008 2:55 am
by L. Livia Plauta
Salve Cleopatra,
I think your scutum is smaller than a legionary one. And of course it would be, because gladiatorial equipment was made to favour spectacularity.
The legionary scutum I tried would go from my ankles to my chin. Definitely good to hide behind, and being in a lorica segmentata with a scutum like that is more or less as safe as being in a tank, but still it's not very mobile.
Actually I've been looking at the reliefs of the columns of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius (link from another thread:, and one of the things I realized is that their scuta seem smaller and lighter than the ones used for re-enactments over here.
I'm not an experton the matter, though, so I can't really judge if the reconstruction is accurate.


Pictorial Evidence

PostPosted: Mon Mar 24, 2008 5:49 am
by Aldus Marius
Salvete, amici amicaeque!

To address Domina Livia's question directly, the scuta and other gear shown on the narrative columns have likely been downsized to better show the faces of the troops. Other military monuments in the Provinces, like the reliefs at Adamklissi, show the scutum at more nearly the proportions of the ones you've worked with. (Somewhere on this Board is a photo of Domina Aelia in her gladiator rig; you'll see what I mean.)

The intro to the book Roman Military Equipment by Michael Bishop and J.C.N. Coulston goes into some detail about the limitations of pictorial evidence for archaeology and re-creation in any field. I am not about to tell you that Trajan's Column is a pillar of B.S.; it is actually one of the better references we have for Roman gear of the High Empire, and the interesting ways it can be used. When I see Legionaries and Auxiliaries doing everything from combat to construction to fording streams with their gear piled onto their shields overhead, I begin to get some idea of what my kit is capable of. Next experiment: wear it while doing the yard-work.

But for the longest time, pictorial sources were almost the *only* reference we had. Now that the paint has worn off, it's hard to tell what materials anything was actually made of. (Hence Hollywood's obsession with leather loricas.) We've had to wait until somebody finds and publishes actual examples. And on things like the visibility of the faces, aesthetic adjustments have almost certainly been made. I've heard it said that every face on the Column is a portrait of an actual soldier, to honor each one's contribution to the war effort. If that's the case, I'm sure every miles gregarius who made it home for the Triumph expected to see more of himself than just a pair of eyebrows between the shield and the helmet.

Some stuff you can't learn just by looking. I'm actually a footnote in a study by one of Dr Bishop's colleagues; he heard me say on ArmaList that I was having my caligae resoled, and he wired back wanting to know how much I'd worn them and how long the original soles had lasted. Between myself and a number of other reenactors he surveyed, he was able to come up with a reasonable estimate of how long a pair of boots would have lasted in regular use. Hei, I was happy to help! >({|;-)

Yours under the Eagles,

PostPosted: Mon Mar 24, 2008 8:21 pm
by Cleopatra Aelia
L. Livia Plauta wrote:Salve Cleopatra,
I think your scutum is smaller than a legionary one. And of course it would be, because gladiatorial equipment was made to favour spectacularity.

Salve Livia,

Here's the link Marius was talking about where you can find a picture of me in gladiator gear. ... 5799be7f25

The scuta on the Halicarnassos relief look indeed rather small (as you could see on my avatar here) maybe for reasons Marius mentioned that you can better see the people. Here it was important to see that it was two women depicted. If you look at reliefs or frescoes or mosaics showing murmillones/secutores or provocatores you will see that the size of the scuta vary due to maybe really a different in size or that the artist simply did not depict them in actual size. Anyhow, I have a cheap Indian legionary scutum which looks pretty battered by now because I simply have no scutum press to build my own one. But also I feel very content with the size of that thing.

PostPosted: Tue Mar 25, 2008 3:03 am
by L. Livia Plauta
Salve Cleopatra,
nice gear!
Here in Hungary gladiators wear stuff they made themselves. Very few can afford to buy those expensive replicas over here. The result, however, is usually acceptable.
Well, I see your point that depictions of scuta might not always be attendible.


Japan vs. West [Re: Did Rome have her own Roman Martial Art?

PostPosted: Tue Jan 13, 2009 12:31 am
by C.AeliusEricius

Years ago I saw a match between SCA champion (Duke Paul Bellatrix, ca. 1978) and a Japanese gentleman. The Japanese was the uncle of one of the SCA ladies, visiting her from the old country. He watched with some amusement and allittle scorn at the kights fighting. It wasn't the armor, armor is worn in kendo [sp?] but the shields he looked down on. His niece was doing the translating, he was speaking no English, so the words are second mouth, as it were. To cut it shrot, Bellatrix got the gentleman to don armor {for needed protection against the heavy rattan "swords"} and go a round. Western boradsword and heater type shield against a rattan sword that was accepted as being equivalent to a katana. Bellatrix won. The niece laughed when her uncle commented to her after the match. She said he had said, "Sneaky Occidentals."

Valete bene,

[and my apologies for bad typing]