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A FORAY INTO THE THRACIAN CURVED WEAPONRY. ROMPHAEA, THE SPEAR-SICKLE OR THE FIGHTING SCYTHE

Cătălin Borangic
Bibliotheca Musei Porolissensis, XIII, volumul colectiv
Identităţi culturale locale si regionale în context european –
Studii de Arheologie şi Antropologie istorică - In memoriam Alexandri V. Matei,
Editura Mega, Editura Porolissum, Cluj-Napoca, 2009
(translation by Elena Tudorache)

Full text (in romanian) and pictures HERE


- Abstract -

One of the most interesting and, at the same time, little known Thracian curved weapons is represented by a long sword, used with both hands, with a blade of wide dimensions and with the cutting edge only on one side, called rhomphaea. It first appeared on Thracian territory beginning with the 4th century B.C., a period in which most discoveries are dated. Its use can be traced forward on to the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C., when it seems that its usage by the Thracians is no longer visible, as a consequence of the fact that Thracians lost their independence following the Roman invasion and because of the weakening of their military power. In different shapes though, the concept of a weapon with a long blade and a cutting edge only on one side, used with both hands, was either taken over or “reinvented” in later historic periods and different geographical areas, its usage remaining in the South-Thracian area, as well as its extremely elaborated and original morphology.
The origin of the weapon seems to be Thraco-Ilirain, a result of adapting swords and curved daggers by attaching them to a long wooden tail extending their blade, a necessity of the inhabitants of the rocky slopes in the Balkan Peninsula during the conflicts with their neighbours. Because of the intense shocks, due to the extensive strokes given by these weapons, the wooden tail was replaced by an extension of the blade towards the handle and by applying some wooden pieces fixed with rivets.
Without any doubt associated with the Thracian world, especially feared among enemies, the romphaea combined not only the cleverness and the inventiveness of the Thracian mountain men, but also the martial ferocity that made them one of the most appreciated mercenaries of the ancient world. Perfectly adapted for the mentality of the Thracian warrior, himself strongly motivated from a military and psychological point of view, rhomphaea met a set of needs, which allowed it to continue on after its creators had ceased to be, to evolve in different shapes as a fighting scythe and to disappear from history only when the reason for which it was created - the cavalry - stopped in its turn to exist. The characteristic features of the rhomphaea sword are unique and make it a personal contribution of the Thracians to the weaponry of the ancient world.