Today I want to touch briefly on a part of blacksmithing history that would fill several books if addressed properly; blacksmithing during the Greek and Roman periods.
For the major portion of Greek history, bronze was the main metal used to drive society forward. There is a long history of metalsmithing supported by archaeological evidence in the Aegean. These encompassed beautifully crafted items from weaponry and household goods to intricate mechanical devices such as the antikethera device which could calculate solar eclipses for millennia,
Iron became known and widely used toward the end of Greece’s prominence. But the successor of the Greek empire, Rome, used iron to control the world. The “Iron Heel” of Rome was a reference not only to the tendency of Rome to be overbearing and totalitarian, but also to the actual use of iron heel caps to make the Caligula (the Roman sandals) worn by the foot soldiers last longer.
The Romans were geniuses of organization and standardization. Every soldier in the Roman army, whether he was a native born Roman or a mercenary from occupied Gual, carried the same regulation weapons and armor. This allowed for standardized training so that the troops did not need to speak the same language as long as they knew the drill. This grim, quiet precision was quite unnerving to the less disciplined barbarian armies who fought with the ideal of individual prowess and glory. The Roman army, with their gladius’ and shield, moved like a machine to conquer everyone who opposed them.
Of course the unsung hero behind this behemoth was the blacksmith who had to forge the swords, lances, and helmets to specific dimensions. Apart from the large smithys in large cities that employed large forces of free craftsmen and slave labor, there were the smiths that had to travel with each army to affect repairs in the field as weapons and armor were damaged. Everything from the weapons of the common foot soldier to the huge machineries, catapults, and ballistas were the province of the smith to keep everything in working order.
As you look at any period in history, take a step back and look through a slightly different lens, and you will see the common working smith quietly plying his trade to make the accomplishments of heros and politicians possible.