I, Claudius, Confirm That Bows Are Useless In A Downpour

Claudius is discovered behind the curtain and proclaimed emperor by the German bodyguard. Detail from the painting ''A Roman Emperor 41AD'' by Lawrence Alma-Tadema. PD-Art

I am currently reading Claudius The God, by Robert Graves. I finished reading I, Claudius last week. At the same time I have been watching the 1970s BBC television series, I, Claudius (which I missed the first time around) with Derek Jacobi in the lead role.

The reading of these novels has also taken me back to Tacitus, The Annals of Imperial Rome and I hope to return to Robert Graves‘ translation of SuetoniusThe Twelve Caesars and then read Michael Grant‘s biography of Nero before essaying a long intended perusal of Plutarch‘s Lives.

The twelfth chapter of I, Claudius covers the death of Varus and the destruction of three legions in the Tuetoburg forest. One detail jumped out at me as I read it:

The weather suddenly broke, a downpour of rain lasting for twenty-four hours or more soaked the men’s leather shields, making them too heavy for fighting, and putting the archers’ bows out of commission. (p. 123)

It seems, then, that in our Lego minifig tabletop scenario, “A Prudent Defence” which Ardle and I played out back in July we were on the right track when we agreed that one of our “event cards” would be a severe weather event, putting bows, crossbows and catapults out of commission. We had in mind poor visibility as much as the effect of rain on the performance of the weapons, and if Graves’ research is accurate, it confirms our hunch.