By Caius Man, Centurio Princeps Prior Cohors I Legio VI Victrix Pia Fidelis
When the North American Roman community first started discussing Needlefelt (NFS) swords as a technique for properly simulating ancient combat, I'll admit I was excited. This was a way to get the adrenaline rush of combat and put our theories about tactics to practice without having to sacrifice the accuracy and look of the gear. While my group and I have been doing this for a while with wooden weapons and occasionally with live steel, opening up the field to more sane people will allow it to become a common part of reenactments and public displays all over the continent and build the hobby as a whole.
Taking Europe by Storm
Battles using NFS weaponry have been common in Europe for some time at large events, thanks to the efforts of Dan Peterson of the XIIII GMV. While Dan was a museum curator over there he went to a lot of events and described "Needlefelt" and brought examples from his possession. Local groups made their own weapons and battle ensued. Alas, this is a different continent. When Dan came back to the States, he was unable to find the thin felt carpet common in Germany that was commonly used to make the swords and said so to the web communities here.
That is where I came in. I'm a special effects technician professionally and I'm used to making all manner of props and devices to look painful but be safe for stuntmen. I'm also experienced in making things on all sorts of budgets and with various materials. So, I started building and searching out materials to make a weapon that could be easily made by nearly anyone using standardized and available materials and that would be safe enough to satisfy our unusually litigation crazy culture. I then posted the results of my various attempts on the web and received commentary from other reenactors to steer my efforts. It has now come to the point where most of the commentary is along the lines of "tell me how to make one for myself," so I'm writing this.
Why NFS Will Work So Well
I believe that this technique and these materials fulfill all of the intended requirements for safe, accurate looking combat amongst gentlemen. To engage in mock ancient battles, only a few other things are required. The first and most important thing is good sportsmanship among honorable participants. If the foe refuses to go down to a solid hit, the result will be increased swinging strength and eventual injuries. Make no mistake; even these weapons can pack quite a punch if the wielder has a mind to do so.;
If everyone is battling for the sport, rather than ego tripping, then the only other concession to safety would be eye protection, or perhaps athletic cups for men. We, at Legion Six, require eye protection and like to use ANSI spec safety glasses. We found replacement lenses for a wrap-around style that can be held to the head by a leather thong under Legionary helmets quite nicely. Barbarians could wear the same lenses by incorporating a headband into their suspension. The lenses are available through our favorite supplier, McMaster-Carr, on their website. Item #9741T51, $3.67 each. Order some while ordering the felt for the project.
Things to Come
In order to really capture the full experience of ancient combat, weapons other than swords need to be developed. Roman tactics cannot be fully realized without the inclusion of the Pilum, for example, and we all want to know how a falx works in combat. To this end, research and testing is ongoing into the creation of non-sword weapons and will be published as soon as there is something relatively conclusive to report. For now, enjoy close-pitched battles with your Celtic swordsmen foes as you make a NFS Gladius.
Strength and Honor, Magnus
The first NFS article is: