It is from the third century AD that Roman sword disappeared in favor of spatha. In the fifth century, this long sword has been democratized in the armed forces, both in the infantry than in cavalry. Blade length can vary from 70 to 90 cm, and 120 cm for Sarmatian swords. Their width is 5 to 6.5 cm at their base.
Like Roman swords carried by the soldiers of the Byzantine Empire, the long spatha is a formidable weapon. A number of skulls from the Merovingian period were found partially decapped. Some experts agree that modern technologies, such as lasers, would not get a sharper edge.
Eastern movement: Inspired by Asian and Caucasian peoples, it is characterized by a long and narrow blade. The handle has a guard, usually small, and the fine handle ends with a small disc-shaped pommel. On the scabbard, decorated with gold plates for the richests, a deck plate allows to tie the blade to a baldric.
Danubian and Romano-Germanic movement: If the spathas are well-known for a very long time by the Germans, germanic swords follow three evolution stages. From the beginning of the fifth century to 480, we talk about Krefeld-type swords, from the eponym German town. The scabbard has a chiselled throat and a drag representing a human face. The second stage is represented by gold sheet swords, from the danubian movement between 460 and 530. It consists in a 70 to 90 cm long and 5 to 6.5 cm wide spatha, with a handle made of fluted gold sheet. The scabbard has twin deck plates, often garnished with glass jewellery or garnets. The thrid stage consists of swords dated from 570 to 580. They are characterized by the triangular pommels at the end of the blade assembly. These pieces, among which some include a ring tied to the pommel (symbolizing the link between a man and his warlord), become the standard merovingian swords.
The term scramasax first appeared in the writings of Gregory of Tours. This is one of the most iconic weapons of the German equipment, which will continue until the Middle Ages in different shapes and sizes.
The first fighting knives were discovered in the celts tombs in the end of the iron age period called "La Tène culture" These knives are medium sized, single-edged and have a straight or slightly curved back. However, this kind of knife is rare in Europe and its use is still unclear.
These knives are becoming widespread in male German graves in the third century, they stay small knives, the blades do not exceed 20 cm. At the same time, larger models are emerging in northern Europe. These pieces, inspired by the weapons carried by the Iberians-Celts, were found in the peat bogs of Denmark, measuring forty inches long and 5-6 cm wide. These persist in northern Europe until the fourth century. Their large size and shape suggest a martial use.
From the fourth century, a series of knife are also emerging in the rest of Europe, especially with the arrival of the Huns, who disseminate double-edged daggers finely decorated At the same time, large knives (around 60 centimeters) are adopted in the upper classes of the Danube region. Topped with garnets and gold plates, but these weapons are uncommon in this form and disappear by early sixth century.
Smaller populations also have good quality knife The study of a sixth century scramasax demonstrated exceptional intrinsic qualities. For comparison, we will not find such good quality steel in Japan until the eleventh century. Most scramasaxes found by archaeologists show significant signs of wear on the edges, and thus demonstrates intensive use. This leads us to believe that these weapons were used as tools, like our modern machetes.
Resulting from different cultural influences, Eastern and Western, the scramasax born as such in the sixth century of our era, then widely distributed throughout the war outfits. The cutting edge 40 to 60 cm, usually solid and welded to the forge, giving it a unique power cut. In the hands of the less fortunate warriors, it must be seen as piece of great importance, both weapon and tool, which effectively replaces the spatha. In the wealthier classes, the scramasax proves to be an extra weapon, but also a ceremonial weapon. The blade is decorated, and the sheath receiving rivets and inlaid appliques.
The mail armor: This is one of the most popular and reliable protection of antiquity. It appears in the Balkans in the third century, in the region of Ciumesti, Romania. From the fifth century, soldiers wear a more massive mail. It has more or less long sleeves and falls to mid-thigh. This is the most appreciated armor by the Roman and Germanic armies, thanks to its ease of repair and its high performance over time. Its high manufacturing cost could explain its low presence in Germanic graves. Indeed, this type of armor were for wealthy or aristocratic warriors.
The lamellar armor: Used since the Bronze Age, this kind of armor was mainly developed in the Middle East. It seems to have had its democratisation with the Central Asian peoples. It is an armor with a fairly simple design. The iron or bronze plates are pierced and held together with leather ties. Although the discoveries of these cuirasses are rare, Germans seems to be interested in it. Two copies have been found in Frankish-Alemannic graves from Krefeld-Gellep and later, from Niedertzotzinger. The ancient Roman fort in Newsteed, England gave us over 300 plates from lamellar armor.
The scale armor: Used in the Middle East since 1700 B.C., the scale armor has been widespread in the Roman army, especially among officers. From the third century, it has been generalised with the cataphract riders. This cuirass was probably worn by Germanic and Roman officers, because of its shining side.
It is difficult to determine the proportion of Germanic warriors who used a helmet in the armies. Scattered archaeological discoveries and Latin literature suggests that the Germans commonly went to war without a helmet. The majority of the helmets worn by the Germans came from diverse places: looting, salvages on the battlefield, black market and diplomatic gifts should be the main sources of supply.
The most important figures of the Germanic formations wore Roman-Byzantine helmets. They were very decorated pieces manufactured in goldsmith workshops and are reserved for aristocrats. Devoid of nasal protection, these helmets are equipped with cheek flaps, and sometimes a neck protection made of mail. These pieces stand alongside Roman helmets and local productions such as Trevieres' one.
Hereabove a reconstitution by us of the helmet of Saint-Bernard, one of the few helmets dated from the fifth century AD. It consists of brackets in gilded bronze and the inside part in iron, all riveted.
If the spear, "hasta" in Latin or "framée" in germanic, is a common feature for armies of antiquity, it is of particular importance for Germanic peoples. Indeed, the spear is the symbol of the "free man" in Germanic society. It assists warriors in gatherings, councils, trials and on the battlefield.
One of the most common weapons in Europe among the Germanic populations is the angon, massively used by the Franks, the Alemanni and the Burgundians... Derived from the Roman pilum used by Caesar's soldiers, this long iron rod was ended with a barbed tip in Germanic's ones. Thit highly sharped tip fit easily into opponent's body or into a shield. The barbs that are larger than the tip prevents the weapon from being removed once it has penetrated its target.
It is difficult to determine in which proportion the archers were used in the Germanic army. Although the weapon is known and widespread, especially for hunting, writings mention generaly Germans as bad archers. Moreover, many of them considered that the use of bows at war was degrading. However, we know that the Vandals, Ostrogoths and Germanic peoples close to Sarmato-Alans and Huns had horsemen archers. Two types of bows exist:
The Germanic longbow, ancestor of the English longbow used in the Middle Ages, was used both for hunting and for war. The ancient writings frequently mention it, and archeological traces attest it, including a longbow perfectly preserved in a tomb discovered in Oberflacht near Frankfurt. The two meters high weapon was carved from yew wood. Arrow depots abound in Merovingian graves, some for ritual purposes, others more abundant suggesting a martial use.
The recurve bow or composite comes from Middle East and Central Asia. It is a high-tech piece made of wood, animal sinew, horn and bone for its ends. If the bow called "reflex" was already known to the Romans, it was a novelty tu the Huns. Its range was about 150 to 170 meters in "from above" and thirty or fifty meters in direct shoot. It had large iron arrowheads with three fins, extremely sharp.
The name of francisca has been given lately, and probably improperly to the throwing axes, because of their presence in profusion in Frankish grave goods, in the north east of Gaul and Germania. This weapon can have various shape and size, and has been widely popularized throughout Europe.
This highly shaped axe was thrown by Frankish warriors before the impact to rough-hew opposing lines. According to recent trials, it could violently reach a target away from about twelve meters when a fast rotation has been put. This small weapon (the handle rarely exceeds 40 cm long, and the blade 20 cm) fitted the aristocracy as well as basic warriors.
The shield is the defensive basis af all soldier of antiquity. In the fifth century, Germans mainly used round shields, of flat or lenticular section. These pieces were between 80 cm and 100 cm diameter for the biggests.
Like the models made for the Roman army at the same time, it is a series of wood laths glued together on 2 or 3 levels, hoopped with thick leather, sewn or studded. For many people, these shields were hoopped with metallic elements, but only few discoveries attest it, which makes us think that they were funeral or ceremonial equipments. The center of the shield consists of a round, convex or conical piece of material, called "shield boss" or "umbo". The shield boss is proving to be a formidable weapon in combat: in formation-based combat, the impact can break the shield of the enemy, while in individual duels, it can be used to strike an opponent directly in the face.
As the Germans didn't write, the Roman remains are our only source of documentation about the use of shields by the Germans, and especially during formation-based combats.
Some tactical formations emerge from these information:
- the boar's head, akin to "cuneus" (corner) of the Roman army, which the trapezoidal form allowed them to charge in a compact mass and create a high pressure on the enemy lines.
- the shield wall, a defensive formation which protected them from enemy's projectiles. This formation is similar to the Roman "testudo", although it is not sure that this formation can be done on the go by the Germans.
It requires a lot of practice, a good organization of the soldiers, and the use of similar shields for a consistent good performance of the formation.