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How would Roman Warfare have changed if they actually had legendary 'flexible glass', and it was cost-effective?

Flexible Glass (vitrum flexile)

It's an unbreakable, and I mean literally unbreakable, glass. Assume that it looks and acts like normal Roman glass, so an enemy could melt a hole through it, if they wanted, and can be made at about the same price, but it just can't shatter, and instead dents like brass. If you can make glass, you can make vitrum flexile, with just the addition of some additive, which Rome won't run out of.

Could you make city walls out of the stuff?

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    $\begingroup$ I don't know if they'd have made armor of that stuff. I mean, how exactly is flexible glass better suited for armor than plain old iron/steel? It would easily become the Roman's equivalent of PET bottles, though. $\endgroup$ – Nolonar Oct 30 '15 at 21:02
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    $\begingroup$ Isn't that just plastic? $\endgroup$ – Samuel Oct 30 '15 at 21:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Samuel - I guess, yeah. ... Has there been a question like "What if Romans had plastic?" to say this as a duplicate of? Or are there any other objections I should iron out? $\endgroup$ – Malady Oct 30 '15 at 21:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Malandy I think that's an excellent question. It's not a duplicate, I just hadn't heard of "flexible glass". I would only recommend that you narrow your scope, ask about one faucet of roman society that has this material. $\endgroup$ – Samuel Oct 30 '15 at 21:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Samuel - Alright! Now it's focused on Warfare! $\endgroup$ – Malady Oct 30 '15 at 21:41
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As has been said, it's just armor. Why would you bother with making something like city walls out of it?

Now, there's one thing worth making out of it--helmets. Back then you could choose protection or visibility, not both--and even if you chose protection you could die of something through the eye slit. A helmet of this material would have no eye slit.

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Riot shield

Since one of the Romans preferred fighting techniques were the shieldwall, a large improvement would be to have a shield that you could see through. Giving the opportunity grab the opponent and stab him, so on and so forth.

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  • $\begingroup$ The Romans did not use a phalanx. They were in a formation with short swords and shields $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Nov 6 '15 at 0:59
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    $\begingroup$ The roman name was Testudo the principles was the same, your shield covers your own left side and your partners right side you use the right hand to attack with spear or short sword, and pull enemies in to the third row that would stab the person pulled, the second row would support the shield wall against breaches and hold the shield at top to cover against head blows and arrow rains. $\endgroup$ – Magic-Mouse Nov 6 '15 at 7:33
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    $\begingroup$ The testudo is a special assault formation versus forts, not for combat with other infantry - the shields are overhead, for one thing. The phalanx is a deep, square formation, with the soldiers armed with 15-20 foot spears so that many ranks can extend the spearpoints out the front of the formation. The Legion's arrangement and armament is diffferent. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Nov 6 '15 at 21:36
  • $\begingroup$ The shieldwall is not a roman formation either - it is used by dark ages army, notably the Anglo Saxon ones. You could look over the wall normally, as the sheld was below your face except when blocking. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Nov 6 '15 at 21:39
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It might make a reasonable material for armor. It would presumably not rust, so it would be easier to maintain than iron or steel armor. It would also presumably be lighter and less likely to break.

So, "more armor"?

It might also be useful for creating armoured warships with lower drag than with wood, but I doubt it would have occurred to the Romans. While their naval technology was probably decent, they had several centuries of minimal need for improving their warships. Maybe if somebody had realized that making the entire ship of the glass would make it have much longer lifetime and possibly make up for the higher initial cost.

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  • $\begingroup$ The glass is literally unbreakable. You can bend and melt it though... $\endgroup$ – Malady Oct 31 '15 at 12:33
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They could pound it into various useful forms such as magnifying lenses, then assemble them into telescopes to see the enemy at a distance.

Glass is nearly invisible underwater, so sharpened spikes of flexible glass mounted in all of the shallow points on a river would effectively block and possibly maim anyone trying to ford across. The same thing could be done along any ocean or lake shorelines.

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  • $\begingroup$ Would the literal unbreakability impact the sharpening of the vitrum flexile spikes? $\endgroup$ – Malady Oct 31 '15 at 12:38
  • $\begingroup$ If you can melt it or mold it you can sharpen it that way. It doesn't need to have a razor edge to be dangerous. $\endgroup$ – NadjaCS Oct 31 '15 at 14:55
  • $\begingroup$ And they couldn't find their way across by probing with sticks? $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Nov 1 '15 at 0:14
  • $\begingroup$ Glass is invisible underwater only if it has the same refractive index as the water - which is typically not the case. Hard to see, maybe, but not invisible. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Nov 2 '15 at 2:34
  • $\begingroup$ Good point. I have edited my answer $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Nov 2 '15 at 16:46
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Walls

As a wall it would be decently strong if you put a barrier of some kind behind it you could easily make it similar to a normal wall. Although unbreakable doesn't mean it cannot be either dug under or scaled so it wouldn't make much of a difference.

Armor

As armor there are a few interesting thing you could do with this. As someone mentioned before, a see through helm would be a great tool. Honestly though why stop there? a see through shield would be a great tool as well. The main problem would be that the user of the armor could still be killed. there would have to be breaks in the armor to allow for mobility and the fact that it dents means that a blunt weapon could be an effective means of countering this armor to some degree. having unbreakable armor like this could mean that certain tactics like the phalanx (basically a wall of spears to counter cavalry and charging armies.) would be much less effective.

weapons

Having see through spike in shallow water is a good idea but to expand further on that idea previously mentioned by Henry it might be an effective means of guarding coastal cities from naval invasions. Weapons made from this materiel would probably be as good as any other metal they had at their time considering how it bends. It may be a better option to stick with steel swords.

All in all it is a strong defensive choice but not necessarily a strong offensive choice.

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  • $\begingroup$ A glass wall can have a opaque barrier behind it... $\endgroup$ – Malady Nov 2 '15 at 20:02
  • $\begingroup$ You could double layer the walls I suppose. $\endgroup$ – Sunspear25 Nov 4 '15 at 15:50
  • $\begingroup$ Edit that in, then? $\endgroup$ – Malady Nov 4 '15 at 19:18

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