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This article is about a type of ancient weapon. The word falx is also used in a variety of anatomical contexts to describe scythe-shaped structures, including the falx cerebri, falx cerebelli, falx septi and inguinal aponeurotic falx.
A typical falx.
Falx is a Latin word originally meaning sickle, but was later used to mean any of a number of tools that had a curved blade that was sharp on the inside edge such as a scythe. Falx was also used to mean a weapon, particularly that of the Thracians and Dacians, and later a siege hook used by the Romans themselves.

Dacian falx

The Dacian falx came in two sizes: one-handed and two-handed. The shorter variant was called sica (sickle) in the Dacian language (Valerius Maximus, III,2.12).In Latin texts the weapon was described as an ensis falcatus (whence falcata) by Ovid in Metamorphose or falx supina by Juvenal in Satiriae.The two-handed falx was a pole-arm. It consisted of a three-feet long wooden shaft with a long curved iron blade of nearly-equal length attached to the end. The blade was sharpened only on the inside, and was reputed to be devastatingly effective. However, it left its user vulnerable because, being a two-handed weapon, the warrior could not also make use of a shield. It may be imagined that the length of the two-handed falx allowed it to be wielded with great force, the point piercing helmets and the blade splitting shields - it was said to be capable of splitting a shield in two at a single blow. Alternatively, it might used as a hook, pulling away shields and cutting at vulnerable limbs. Demonstration of a reconstructed falx in use.
The time of the conquest of Dacia by Trajan is the only known instance of the Roman army adapting personal equipment while on campaign, it seems likely that this was a response to this deadly weapon. Roman legionaries had reinforcing iron straps applied to their helmets - it is clear that these are late modifications because they are roughly applied across existing embossed decoration. Roman armour of the time left limbs unprotected; Trajan introduced the use of leg and arm protectors (greaves and manica).

The Roman monument commemorating the Battle of Adamclisi clearly shows Dacian warriors wielding a two-handed falx.
Trajan's columnmarker is a monument to the emperor’s conquest of Dacia. The massive base is covered with reliefs of trophies of Dacian weapons and includes several illustrations of the two-handed falx. The column itself has a helical frieze that tells the story of the Dacian wars. On the frieze, almost all the Dacians that are armed, have shields and therefore cannot be using a two-handed falx. Unfortunately, the exact weapon of those few shown without shields cannot be determined with certainty.

The frieze of Trajan's column also shows Dacians using a smaller, sword sized falx.

Thracian falx

The Thracians also made use of the falx. They also used the rhomphaia, a weapon very similar to the two handed falx but much less drastically curved.

Development

The two handed falx is clearly related to the Thracian rhomphaia. It is a derivative of both the sword and the spear, having evolved from a spear to a polearm before becoming more drastically curved to facilitate a superior cutting action. This drastic curve rendered the falx as a purely offensive weapon to be used against a broken or routing force. Typically, an enemy would be broken by a sustained hail of missile fire from javelin, dart, bow, sling, and stone throwing troops before being chased down and cut to pieces by the falx wielding troops.

It is tempting to imagine that the two-handed falx was somehow developed from the scythe, perhaps starting as an improvised weapon developing in a manner analogous to that of the bill-gisarme. However, this is not possible: the scythe first appeared during the 12th and 13th centuries. It is, perhaps, possible that the single-handed falx developed from the sickle, although agricultural sickles of the time were typically quite small - no more than 30 cm or so in length.

At the time of the Dacian wars, producing a long, sharp blade was technically challenging. As such, it might be that the two-handed falx was a high-status weapon and used only by the best warriors.

Gallery

Image:AdamclisiMetope36.jpg|Tropaeum Traiani depicting a falx/romphaia in battleImage:AdamclisiMetope31.jpg|Tropaeum Traiani depicting a falx/romphaia in battleImage:AdamclisiMetope32.jpg|Tropaeum Traiani depicting a falx/romphaia in battleImage:AdamclisiMetope37.jpg|Tropaeum Traiani depicting a falx/romphaia in battleImage:AdamclisiMetope9.jpg|Tropaeum Traiani depicting a falx/romphaia in battleImage:Falx on Trajan's column.JPG|Falx illustrated on the pedestal of Trajan's Columnmarker.

References

  1. Rome's Enemies (1): Germanics and Dacians (Men at Arms Series, 129) by Peter Wilcox and Gerry Embleton,1982,page 35

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