Did The Pilum Bend?
Pictured above is an illustration by Peter Connolly depicting Roman Legionaries from the Principate hurling a volley of Pila into the enemy. The Pilum (Plural: Pila) is one of the defining weapons of a Roman Legionary. It is perhaps famed most of all for its feature to bend upon impact, which would mean an enemy couldn't throw it back. But did this actually happen? Or is this merely another of the many myths of the Roman army?
The was Pilum was known to bend, one way or another. In his "Commentaries on the Gallic War", Caesar records how "the iron head would bend". Plutarch, in his "Roman Lives: Marius", records how Marius modified the Pilum by replacing one of its iron nails holding the long tip to the wooden shaft with a wooden pin. This pin would in turn break easier when thrown, causing the iron head to "twist sideways and trail down", but not literally bend the metal.
So was the Pilum designed specifically to bend? No. The purpose of the Pilum was to penetrate enemy shields and armor, possibly wounding or killing the man behind them. The Pilum did this very well thanks to its design, since the weight of the weapon was concentrated at its head, giving it great armor-piercing power, while its pyramidical tip made its removal from a shield very difficult, and some Pila were modified to be even more effective at it. The long iron head also gave it enough reach to pierce enemy armor and shields and hit the man behind them.
Pila weren't made from flimsy metal that was easy to bend. Indeed it was normal for Pila to be used as spears in close quarters as well, as the Adamklissi metopes show for one. It is well known how the Romans built their Pila, and modern reconstructions of the javelin have not corroborated the myth of the weapon being designed to bend. The Pilum was first and foremost an armor-piercing weapon, with it being possible for it to bend, but this might well refer to the head just loosening and trailing down and not literally bending.
USS Missouri (BB-63) ("Mighty Mo" or "Big Mo") is an Iowa-class battleship and was the third ship of the United States Navy to be named after the U.S. state of Missouri. Missouri was the last battleship commissioned by the United States and is best remembered as the site of the surrender of the Empire of Japan which ended World War II.
Missouri was ordered in 1940 and commissioned in June 1944. In the Pacific Theater of World War II she fought in the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa and shelled the Japanese home islands, and she fought in the Korean War from 1950 to 1953. She was decommissioned in 1955 into the United States Navy reserve fleets (the "Mothball Fleet"), but reactivated and modernized in 1984 as part of the 600-ship Navy plan, and provided fire support during Operation Desert Storm in January/February 1991.
Missouri received a total of 11 battle stars for service in World War II, Korea, and the Persian Gulf, and was finally decommissioned on 31 March 1992 after serving a total of 16 years of active service, but remained on the Naval Vessel Register until her name was struck in January 1995. In 1998, she was donated to the USS Missouri Memorial Association and became a museum ship at Pearl Harbor.
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