Roman Millitary banner.svg
This article is part of the series on:
Military of ancient Rome (portal)
753 BC – AD 476
Structural history
Roman army (unit types and ranks, legions, auxiliaries, generals)
Roman navy (fleets, admirals)
Campaign history
Lists of wars and battles
Decorations and punishments
Technological history
Military engineering (castra, siege engines, arches, roads)
Political history
Strategy and tactics
Infantry tactics
Frontiers and fortifications (limes, Hadrian's Wall)
This box: view · talk · edit

Plumbatae or martiobarbuli were lead-weighted darts carried by infantrymen in Antiquity and the Middle Ages.



The first examples seem to have been carried by the Ancient Greeks from about 500 B.C. onwards, but the best-known users were the late Roman and Byzantine armies. The best written source for these tactical weapons is Vegetius' De Re Militari (1.17):

The exercise of the loaded javelins, called martiobarbuli, must not be omitted. We formerly had two legions in Illyricum, consisting of six thousand men each, which from their extraordinary dexterity and skill in the use of these weapons were distinguished by the same appellation. They supported for a long time the weight of all the wars and distinguished themselves so remarkably that the Emperors Diocletian and Maximian on their accession honored them with the titles of Jovian and Herculean and preferred them before all the other legions. Every soldier carries five of these javelins in the hollow of his shield. And thus the legionary soldiers seem to supply the place of archers, for they wound both the men and horses of the enemy before they come within reach of the common missile weapons.[1]

A second source, also from the late 4th century, is an anonymous treatise titled De Rebus Bellicis, which briefly discusses (so far archaeologically unattested) spiked plumbatae (plumbata tribolata), but which is also the only source that shows an image of what a plumbata looked like. The image shows what looks like a short arrow with a weight attached to the shaft. Although only later copies of the original manuscript exist, this is confirmed by the remains which have so far turned up in the archaeological record.

A third source is the late 6th century Strategicon, written by the Byzantine emperor Maurice, who wrote about the martzobarboulon, a corruption of its Latin name martiobarbulum.

Plumbatae etymologically contain plumbum, or lead, and can be translated "lead-weighted (darts)". Martiobarbuli in this translation is mattiobarbuli in the Latin, which is most likely an assimilation of Martio-barbuli, "little barbs of Mars." The barb implied a barbed head, and Mars was the god of war (among other things).

Archaeology gives us a clearer picture of martiobarbuli. The reference listed has an illustration of a find from Wroxeter identified as the head of a plumbata and a reconstruction of the complete weapon: a fletched dart with an iron head weighted with lead. The reconstruction seems entirely consistent with Vegetius' description.

See also


  1. ^ De Re Militari Book I: The Selection and Training of New Levies


Primary sources

  • Anonymous, De Rebus Bellicis: On matters of war.
  • Maurice, Strategikon: On Strategy.
  • Vegetius, Epitome Rei Militari: Epitome of Military science.

Secondary sources

  • Barker, P., The plumbatae from Wroxeter, in: Hassall and Ireland 1979, De Rebus Bellicis, BAR Int. Ser., vol. 63 (Oxford), part 1, pp. 97–9.
  • Connolly, Peter, Greece and Rome at War, Greenhill Books, 1998, ISBN 1-85367-303-X
  • Degen, R., Plumbatae: Wurfgeschosse der Spätantike, in: Helvetia Archaeologica 1992, vol. 23, pp. 139–147.
  • Ireland, Robert, De Rebus Bellicis (anon.), in: BAR International Series 63 (Oxford), part 2.
  • Dennis, George T., Maurice's Strategikon. Handbook of Byzantine military strategy, University of Philadelphia Press 1984, ISBN 978-0-8122-1772-8.
  • Milner, N.P., Vegetius: epitome of military science, Liverpool University Press 1993, ISBN 0-85323-288-8.
  • Völling, T. (1991): Plumbata - Mattiobarbulus - Martzobarboulon? Bemerkungen zu einem Waffenfund aus Olympia in: Archäologischer Anzeiger, pp. 287–98.

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Plumbata — Angaben Waffenart: Speer Verwendung …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • PLUMBATA — apud Gauterium Cancellarium de Bellis Antiochenis, p. 453. Telis, sagittis, plumbatis ferratis et crebris gladiorum ictibus reinuadendo acerrime percusserunt: Brissonio iaculi genus est, in modum sagittae pennis instructum, quod Veteres Sipontinô …   Hofmann J. Lexicon universale

  • Plumbata — La plumbata fut une arme de jet utilisée par les légionnaires romains du Bas Empire. Histoire Il semble que cette arme citée par Modestus dans un ouvrage dédié à l empereur Tacite (275 276)[1] entra en fonction durant le troisième siècle de l ère …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Plumbata (dart) — Plumbatae or martiobarbuli were lead weighted darts carried by infantrymen in Antiquity and the Middle Ages. History The first examples seem to have been carried by the Ancient Greeks from about 500 B.C. onwards, but the best known user were the… …   Wikipedia

  • Shotgun slug — A shotgun slug is a heavy lead projectile, that may have pre cut rifling, intended for use in a shotgun and often used for hunting large game. The first effective shotgun slug was introduced by Wilhelm Brenneke in 1898, and his design remains in… …   Wikipedia

  • Javelin — For the athletic event, see Javelin throw. For other uses see Javelin (disambiguation) A javelin is a light spear designed primarily for casting as a ranged weapon. The javelin is almost always thrown by hand unlike the arrow and slingshot which… …   Wikipedia

  • Darts — Steeldart im Bullseye Elektronische Dart …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Equipo personal en el ejército romano — Saltar a navegación, búsqueda El equipo personal en el ejército romano se caracterizó por haber sido producido en grandes cantidades y en serie, conforme a diseños ya establecidos y para que fuese utilizado de una forma concreta. Estos diseños y… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Dart (missile) — Peltast with javelins Darts are missile weapons, designed to fly such that a sharp, often weighted point will strike first. They can be distinguished from javelins by fletching (i.e., feathers on the tail) and a shaft that is shorter and/or more… …   Wikipedia

  • Roman military personal equipment — was produced in large numbers to established patterns and used in an established way. These standard patterns and uses were called the res militaris or disciplina . Its regular practice during the Roman Republic and Roman Empire led to military… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.