A Great Handicap
In 58 BC, the great Roman general Caius Julius Caesar fought a major action against a large Gallic army at Bibracte, composed of a conglomeration of tribes seeking new land to settle on. After a time of maneuver and clashes, the tribes fought Caesar's Legions in battle, positioned on a hill. In this engagement, the Roman army made a classic demonstration of it's superiority over it's tribal enemies - a particularly great advantage they had was the famous Pilum, the Roman javelin made from a long iron shank fitted into a wooden shaft. In his commentaries, Caesar describes the battle and the deadly effect of the Pilum:
"I had all the officers' horses, beginning with my own, taken out of sight so that the danger would be the same for everyone, and no one would have any hope of escape. I encouraged my troops, then joined battle. Because they were hurling their javelins down from the higher ground, they easily broke through the enemy's phalanx, and when that disintegrated, they charged down with drawn swords. It was a great handicap for the Gauls as they fought that several of their shields could be pierced and pinned together by a single javelin, which they could not wrench out because the iron head would bend; and with the left arm encumbered it was not possible for them to fight properly, so that many, after tugging frequently on their shield arms, preferred to let go their shields and fight unprotected. At last, exhausted by their wounds, they began to retreat, withdrawing towards a hill that was about a mile away."
Pictured above is an illustration by Peter Dennis depicting the Battle of Bibracte. The Gauls have been badly crippled by the Legionaries' volleys of Pila, with some of the tribesmen falling dead. One of them is in vain trying to get the Pilum out of his shield. Their battleline disrupted and inferior in disclipine and drill, the Gauls are ill-prepared for the charge to come.
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