Gladius (Roman short sword)

Few weapons in world history have had such great tactical importance as the Roman gladius. To understand the importance this short sword had on the battlefields of antiquity, it is best to start with the Roman historian Livy. In describing the war between the Romans and the Macedonians in 200 BC, Livy wrote of the devastating practical and psychological impact the gladius had on the military forces of King Philip V of Macedon, who were accustomed to fighting with spears, javelins, and arrows. “When they had seen bodies chopped to pieces by the gladius Hispaniensis, arms torn away, shoulders and all, or heads separated from the bodies, with the necks completely severed, or vitals laid open, and other fearful wounds, realized in a general panic with what weapons and what men they had to fight,” wrote Livy in the History of Rome.

The Macedonians for the first time were facing the Roman military machine and its awesome military technology. The Greek and Macedonian armies’ primary tactical formation was the phalanx, whereas the Romans were organized in legions divided into units called centuries. Unlike the Macedonians, the Romans did not use long lances, such as the Macedonian sarissa. The short and sturdy Romans preferred to fight hand to hand to maximize the effect of their general superiority in training and weaponry. The Roman legion was a large formation of heavy infantry. Each of its components was equipped with extremely efficient but flexible defensive equipment, including a helmet, a lorica hamata (mail cuirass), and scutum (large shield) however, the real strength of the Roman army lay in the offensive weapons used by its soldiers. These weapons were the pilum, gladius, and pugio (dagger).

A legionnaire stabbing with his gladius.

The first weapon the Romans used in a battle was the pilum, a javelin specifically designed to kill enemies from long distances or to limit them in the use of their shields. The pilum was extremely difficult to remove after hitting the external part of a shield or of a cuirass. Once the enemy ranks had been shattered by the initial shower of javelins, the legionaries drew their short swords and charged their opponents. According to Roman tactical doctrine, emphasis was on using the scutum to provide maximum body coverage, while the gladius was used to attack with devastating thrusts and short cuts. Using these tactics, the Romans were able to defeat different types of enemy infantry. The Roman soldiers became efficient with their weapons through intensive and continuous training.

The Roman method of fighting limited the number of casualties suffered by their troops. Using their swords to thrust in the few spaces created between the shields of their close for- mations, the legionaries were rarely exposed to the offensive weapons of their enemies, who had few chances to manuever. The pugio also was a short stabbing weapon. It was used as a secondary arm during intense hand-to-hand fighting, especially when space for movement became extremely limited or when the gladius could not be used for somr reason.

Stabbing wounds produced by the gladius almost always were fatal, especially when the enemy was struck in the abdomen, the main target for thrusts. But the gladius also proved to be effective when used for cutting or slashing. Each Roman infantryman was trained to adapt to any combat situation that might develop. Each one of his weapons could be used in different ways, and he had to be ready to exploit at full any enemy mistake or any favorable momentum. For example, Roman legionaries advancing in close formation were trained to slash kneecaps beneath the shield wall or to cut the throat of the enemies while charging in the testudo (tortoise) formation. The legionaries carried the gladius in a scabbard mounted on a belt or on a shoulder strap. It was worn on the left side of the soldier’s body, and the legionary had to reach across his body to draw it. Centurions, to differentiate themselves from their soldiers, wore the gladius on the right side of the body.

The majority of the weapons used by the Romans did not originate with them. Roman superiority on the battlefield was derived from their ability to adopt foreign military technologies and employ them in the most effective way. The pilum and the lorica hamata were invented and employed for the first time by warrior peoples such as the Celts and Etruscans, who had fought against the Romans. After defeating their enemies, the Romans adopted the best elements of their enemies’ weapon systems.

The Mainz gladius of the 1st century AD is representative of the swords of the early Imperial period.

The gladius, which in some respects is the most iconic and important weapon of the Roman Army, was not Roman at all. The origin of the gladius is much clearer if we call it by its complete and proper name, which was the gladius Hispaniensis. The gladius originated in Iberia, in the territories of modern Spain and Portugal.

The Souda, a 10th-century Byzantine encyclopedia, offers interesting insight into the geographical and historical origins of the Roman short sword. The Souda confirms the traditional view of the Romans about the history of their favorite weapon. The gladius was invented by the Celtiberians, one of the many warrior peoples who inhabited Iberia during the Iron Age, according to the Souda. Unlike other Iberian tribes, the Celtiberians were of mixed descent. They were the product of Celtic migrations across the Iberian Peninsula. Because of their Celtic heritage, the Celtiberians had a completely different array of weapons from neighboring tribes and constructed weapons with innovative techniques. Their swords were short and had extremely sharp points. In addition, they could deliver powerful downward strokes from both hands.

The Romans abandoned their traditional swords in the Greek fashion after the Second Punic War as a result of their many encounters on the battlefield with Hannibal’s Celtiberian allies. This chronological reconstruction is confirmed by archaeological evidence and by the Greek historian Polybius. It is estimated that the Roman legions adopted the gladius as their main weapon around 200 BC. The Romans adopted this weapon quickly. Until the appearance of the gladius Hispaniensis, the Romans had been equipped with the Greek xiphos, a double-edged, single-handed blade employed by the hoplites. This weapon was archaic when compared to the gladius but had many basic features in common with the new short sword. The same could be said of the seax, a weapon employed by the Germanic tribes of northern Europe. But none of these similar weapons was employed to the same degree of efficiency as the Roman short sword. After a few years of use, the Romans realized the superior potential of their weapon. They assimilated it into their arsenal and established a new tactical doctrine designed to fully exploit the gladius Hispaniensis.

A Roman stabs while using his scutum.

By the time of the Roman Republic, the classical world was well acquainted with steel and the steel-making process. Weapons technology had developed to the point that it was a good technological environment for the rapid development of an innovative steel weapon like the gladius. Recent metallurgical studies conducted on surviving Roman short swords reveal that the gladius could be forged either from a single piece of steel or as a composite blade. Swords produced with the first process were created from a single bloom of 1,237 degrees Centigrade, whereas those created from the second process required five blooms each at 1,163 degrees Centigrade. Five strips of varying carbon content were created. The central core of the sword contained the highest concentration of carbon, ranging from 0.15 to 0.25 percent. On its edges were placed four strips of low-carbon steel with a concentration of 0.05 to 0. 07 percent. At that point, the strips were welded together by hammer blows. Each blow increased the temperature enough to create a friction weld at that spot.

The forging operation, the most important part of the process, continued until the steel was cold. When produced by welding different strips together, the gladius had a channel down the center of the blade, and when produced from a single piece of steel, the blade had a rhomboidal cross-section. The blades of the gladius, as anticipated by the description of their tactical uses, were double-edged for cutting and had tapered points for stabbing during thrusting.

Craftsmen gave the gladius a solid grip by adding a knobbed wooden hilt to the blade, which usually came with ridges for the user’s fingers. Despite its nature as a standardized weapon, the gladius might be decorated according to the owner’s personal taste. The hilt, known as the capulus, could be made ornate in many different ways. For example, the swords of high officers and the Praetorian guards usually had hilts sculpted to resemble the head of an eagle. This shape was popular also because it created an additional grip when using the weapon. Indeed, the blade might even have the owner’s name engraved or punched on it.

The Romans produced several different designs. According to the traditional categorization used by military historians and archaeologists, the various kinds of gladii can be grouped into three main types. In chronological order these types were Mainz, Fulham, and Pompeii. They derive their respective names from where the canonical prototype of each group was found.

The differences between the three categories and the original gladius Hispaniensis are not significant from a practical point of view but are quite important to understanding the evolution of this weapon across many decades of combat use. The original Iberian sword, used from approximately 200 BC until 20 BC, had a slight wasp-waist, or leaf-blade, curvature. This made it stand out from the subsequent models. It was the largest and the heaviest model of gladius ever produced, with a blade length of 60 to 68 centimeters and a sword length of 75 to 85 centimeters. The blade was five centimeters wide, with the overall weight of the weapon being 900 grams. This earliest form of short sword, still heavily influenced by the original Iberian weapon, was used for a long period of time if compared with its successors.

The Roman city of Mainz was founded as a permanent military camp named Moguntiacum in approximately 13 BC. The original military camp soon became an important center for the production of swords and other military equipment. With the transformation of the camp into a proper city, the manufacture of swords became even more significant, leading to the creation of a new kind of gladius, commonly known as the Mainz gladius. The Mainz gladius retained the curvature of the previous model but shortened and widened the blade. In addition, it modified the original point into a triangular one specifically designed to thrust.

The geographical diffusion of the Mainz model was limited to the border garrisons serv- ing on the northern frontiers in contrast to the less effective Pompeii version that came into use in other areas of the empire. The short swords produced at Mainz during the early imperial period were employed by legions serving in the north. Large numbers of these weapons were exported and sold extensively outside the boundaries of the Roman Empire. Various ex-legionaries who had served on the frontier used their discharge bonus to set up businesses as manufacturers and dealers of arms. The Mainz variety of the gladius was characterized by a slight waist running the length of the blade. The average Mainz gladius had a blade length of 50 to 55 centimeters and a sword length of 65 to 70 centimeters. The blade was seven centimeters wide, with an overall weight of 800 grams.

The Fulham gladius derived its name from a gladius that was dredged from the River Thames around Fulham. The model dates back to the years following the Roman invasion of Britain. Experts in Roman history have varying opinions about the effectiveness of the Fulham model. Some consider it as the conjunction point between the Mainz and Pompeii models, while others consider it a later type evolving from the Mainz gladius and being exported to Britain. The Fulham gladius generally has a slightly narrower blade than the Mainz variety, but the main distinction of this type is its triangular tip. The Fulham gladius had a blade length of 50 to 55 centimeters and a sword length of 65 to 70 centimeters. The blade was six centimeters wide, with an overall weight of 700 grams.

A Praetorian guard wears his glades.

The Pompeii gladius was the most popular among the three kinds that the Romans began to produce after the Hispaniensis. It had parallel cutting edges and a triangular tip. From a structural point of view, the Pompeii model, which was the shortest model used by the Romans, eliminated the curvature, lengthened the blade, and diminished the point. The Romans shortened the gladius based on their experience in the Roman civil wars of the Late Republic. Because Romans fought each other during this period, the traditional Roman military superiority had lost its advantage. Having to fight against enemies equipped exactly like themselves, with heavy cuirasses and shields, the Romans had to develop a lighter and shorter version of their sword. They needed one designed to thrust with the point and in very strict spaces. The average Pompeii gladius had a blade length of 45 to 50 centimeters and a sword length of 60 to 65 centimeters. The blade was five centimeters wide, with an overall weight of 700 grams.

By the end of the Roman civil wars, the Romans introduced a longer model of the Pompeii gladius, which was known as the semispatha. The Romans used the term spatha to indicate a completely different kind of weapon. The Romans essentially designed a long sword for use by their cavalry. The spatha gradually took the place of the gladius as the standard weapon of the heavy infantry, thus continuing the general trend toward increasing the gladius’s dimensions.

In addition to the legionaries, the Roman gladius was also used by gladiators in the arena. Gladiators used many different sets of weapons. The pairing of gladiators for duels was important to the Romans, who desired to see gladiatorial combats conducted with precise rules and a balanced confrontation between opponents. A matched pair of gladiators typically consisted of one fighter having heavy armor and the other having little or no armor. For example, the former might have heavy armor and a large shield, which hampered his freedom of movement. His opponent, lacking heavy armor, had greater mobility, although if his more heavily armored opponent landed a blow it might prove fatal.

The Romans established approximately 30 different types of gladiators. Each type had a different type of offensive weapon, armor, and shield. Generally speaking, the gladius was given as the main weapon to the heavily armored gladiators, who carried shields similar to those of the legionaries.

Between the end of the 2nd century AD and the beginning of the 3rd century, the gladius gradually disappeared from the weaponry of the Roman infantryman. Roman tactics were slowly changing as a result of the new military threats they faced. Toward the end of the empire, the Roman Army gradually transformed into an elite cavalry force composed of heavily armored cavalrymen and mounted archers. The heavily armored cavalry was copied from the Sarmatians of the steppes, and the mounted archers were the product of the wars against the Parthians and Sassanids in the Middle East.

As a result of the new cavalry’s predominance on the battlefield, the Romans abandoned infantry formations that fought at close quarters and began using the long slashing swords of the cavalry. This marked the end of the invincible Roman legionary and his deadly gladius.

Ancient Finances

Roman Legionnaire re-enactor wearing chain mail armor, carrying a scutum, holding a hidden Pompeii style gladius at the ready. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

The gladius is a short sword, about 2 feet long, used by soldiers in the Roman army. In the hands of trained legionnaires, the gladius was a potent offensive weapon.

Roman soldiers would advance side-by-side with their shield, called a scutum, held in their left hand and a gladius in their right hand. In this position, the sharp tip of the gladius was best used as a thrusting weapon to stab the enemy, aiming for the torso. In ancient times, an abdomen wound was usually fatal.

With a two foot length and sharp double edges, the gladius could also be used as for slashing or cutting. From comments I’ve read, the main use was for thrusting.

While the main use was thrusting, preferable for the abdomen, legionnaires were trained to take slashes of opportunity, say an exposed knee within reach below the opponents shield. In the other direction, if a shield was lowered, a slash at arm or neck could also end the fight in a moment.

(Note: This post has been updated and expanded several times. For ease of reading, the revisions will not be identified as such.)

Wikipedia describes the various sizes of gladii (plural of gladius – yeah, I had to look it up):

  • weight – ranged from 1.5 up to 2.2 pounds
  • blade length – from 18 to 27 inches
  • total length – between 24 and 33 inches
  • blade width – from 2 to 2.8 inches.

Romans were skilled at working with steel, thus a gladius was made of strong steel, although impurities would undercut the blade’s strength.

Wikipedia reports four variations of gladii are known. They are:

  • Gladius Hispaniesnisis
  • Mainz gladius
  • Fulham gladius
  • Pompeii gladius

Wikipedia says the Mainz and Pompeii were the main categories.

Following are the closest illustrations I could find to match the descriptions:

Gladius Hispaniesnisis

Gladius Hispaniensis. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Roman Soldier Operations Manual: Daily Life * Fighting Tactics * Weapons * Equipment * Kit by Simon Forty says these were from 24″ to 32″ long, around 2″ wide, weighing around 35 ounces. Design was picked up from either Celto-Iberian mercenaries or the Celts. Produced from around 216 BC until 20 BC.

Mainz gladius

Gladius Mainz. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Operations manual mentioned above suggests these were from 19″ to 27″ long, about 3″ wide, weighing in at around 28 ounces. Production started somewhere in the hundred years after 100 BC.

Fulham gladius

Gladius Fulham with scabbard. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Operations manual mentioned above suggests these were same size as Gladius Mainz at 19″ to 27″ long, bu narrower at 2.5″ wide, weighing in a slightly lighter 25 ounces. Produced probably the same time as the Mainz. Book says both the Mainz and Fulham might tend to snapping due to the narrow waist of the blade, which probably made it weaker than the Pompeii gladius.

Pompeii gladius

Reenactor holding Gladius Pompeii. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Roman Soldier Operations Manual says the pompeii model ranged from 18? to 24?, width about 2?, weight about 25 ounces. with its straight edges would have had more cutting and slashing power. Production started sometime in 1st century AD. The shorter point would have made it stronger, thus less likely to break. Being a simpler design, it was probably cheaper to produce.

Legionary: The Roman Soldier’s (Unofficial) Manual by Philip Matyszak takes a tour of the Roman army from the fictional perspective of a soldier planning to enlist as a Legionnaire. After explaining terms of enlistment and training, the book provides a description of life in the army, both in camp and on campaign. One chapter describes the legacy of many Legions. Various items in a soldier’s kit are described.

The book describes the most important factor for a sword is balance. A soldier can instinctively know the “sense of point” of a balanced sword and thus can tell where the point is and move it accordingly without even seeing the sword. That would be handy in a battle where fractions of a second determine who goes home and who gets buried that day. Also, when well-balanced, a gladius is easier to handle.

Illustration of Gladius Maintz with scabbard. Notice the runnel. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Roman swords usually did not contain blood runnels. Suffice it to say that after stabbing your opponent, you would need to sharply twist the sword to withdraw it, thus making it available for the next enemy who just stepped into line.

Legionary explains the best grip is bone, which is better than rawhide, which is better than wood.

Before buying a sword, the book recommends making sure the part of the blade going into the handle, or tang, is well attached to the pommel, which is the round part at the back of the sword. The pommel is large to help balance the sword and round for ease of grip when extracting the sword.

The book also says the scabbard should be built specifically for the sword to get the best fit. Too loose a fit may make noise when you want to be silent and too tight means it might be difficult to draw the sword.

Most comments I’ve read say the sword was carried on the right side for ease of draw when holding a scutum (shield) in front of the body. Would be difficult to clear the arm and shield in a cross draw. Centurions (commanders of a century, or company of men) did not carry a scutum so they wore the gladius on the left side.

A long belt draped over the left shoulder held the scabbard. Only a few of the comments I’ve read suggest it would have been worn on a belt.

Near the end of the 2nd century, the Roman army started transitioning to a long sword, called spatha.

Roman era reenactor holding a replica late Roman spatha by MatthiasKabel is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

The blades were between 2 and 2.5 feet long (24″ to 30″) per Wikipedia. Roman Soldier Operations Manual: Daily Life * Fighting Tactics * Weapons * Equipment * Kit by Simon Forty says the spatha was between 2.5 and 3.25 feet long (30″ to 39″).

Whether 24, 30, or 39 inches long, the spatha had a longer reach than the 18 inch to 24 inch Pompeii sword. That would give a Legionnaire the ability to reach out and touch someone an extra 10 or 15 inches away.

The blade was straight with a longer hilt (handle).

For visual of the longer spatha compare the the scabbard on this illustration with the previous photo. Keep in mind the 4″ or 6″ difference in where scabbard is carried. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

The Operations Manual book says a transition to a long sword was needed because heavy infantry wasn’t always the determinative factor on the battlefield. As a result, a looser battle strategy was needed. Thus the longer sword.

Both the Wikipedia article and Roman Soldier Operations Manual say the spatha evolved into the long sword of the medieval knights fame.

But first, Wikipedia says the spatha carried over into the Byzantine Empire and was used by the Varigians. Those were the Scandinavian Vikings who served as mercenaries in the Empire.

One of the more famous Varingians was Harald Hardrada. After leaving service of the Emperor at the lofty rank of captain in 1042 AD, he took his wisdom & skill, the massive wealth he had accumulated, and his followers. He returned to Norway to claim the kingship, which he did in around 1046. He invaded England (again) but was defeated & killed at the battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066.

So, the Vikings, and all the other Europeans, made extensive use of the derivatives of the spatha.

Thus we can connect a line from the Roman legion using the gladius, then the spatha, to the Byzantine Empire, to the Vikings, to the end of the Viking Age. Now you can jump to the 60 posts on my blog discussing the Vikings.

length length width weight (oz)
Gladius Hispaniesnisis 24″ to 32″ 2.0″ 35
Gladiu Mainz 19″ to 27″ 3.0″ 28
Gladius Fulham 19″ to 27″ 2.5″ 25
Gladius Pompeii 18″ to 24″ 2.0″ 25
Spatha (Wikipedia) 24″ to 30″
Spatha (Operations Manual) 30″ to 39″

Roman pugio (dagger) with coins. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

On the opposite side of the body from the gladius, a soldier would carry a dagger, called a puglio pugio. (Yeah, yeah, I had it misspelled. Three times. Update to the update: The book Legionary: The Roman Soldier’s (Unofficial) Manual uses puglio.) That would be used in many day-to-day activities whenever a cutting blade was needed.

One writer said there are lots of utility knives found in excavations of Roman camps. So, the pugio may have been expensive enough that other knives were used for day-to-day chores with the pugio used as last ditch defense weapon, decoration, or if daily knife wasn’t otherwise available.

Take your pick of stories.

Image of Roman centurion wearing a Lorica Squamata armor and pugio (dagger). Notice gladius is worn on left side since centurions didn’t carry a scutum. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

The Roman Army, The Greatest War Machine in the Ancient World edited by Chris McNab provides a timeline of when different styles of gladii were introduced (yeah, yeah, I had to look up the plural form of gladius again to make sure it was correct):

  • Gladius Hispaniesnisis used until around 20 B.C. That is longer one, wider toward the tip and narrower toward the tang (hand grip).
  • Mainz / Fulham gladius rapidly adopted somewhere around 20 B.C. These ranged from 16″ to 22″ in length. Discovered examples weigh in at between 2.6# and 3.5#.
  • Pompeii gladius introduced sometime in mid 1st-century. This design had straight edges and a short triangular tip. Book says these ranged from 18″ to 22″ and were around 2.2 pounds.

If you want to overlay this with biblical times, the Mainz and Fulham designs would have been the common weapon during the time of the Gospels, when Jesus was residing on earth. The Pompeii design would have been coming into common use during the early events describe in Acts of the Apostles. By the time of most of Paul’s writings, such as Ephesians, the Pompeii design would have been in widespread use. I can only guess whether it would be most common by then. Swords last a long time and would probably be used until they broke.

Why did the Greeks and Romans favour short swords?

Why would the Ancient Greco-Roman militaries utilise short swords to the extent that they did when centuries later most medieval armies employed long swords? Were there metallurgical reasons? Social (i.e. you had to be X amount of rich and trained enough to wield a bigger sword)? This has always puzzled me, anyone know?

Spears were the main "preferred" weapon, or pole-arms. Then, when you get into close combat, shield to shield, a short sword is much more useful. Long swords are more of a cavalry weapon, or one that came into adoption with cavalry.

Long swords are more of a cavalry weapon, or one that came into adoption with cavalry.

And Greek and Roman cavalrymen did use longer swords. For example, in On Horsemanship, Xenophon discusses the advantages of a longer slashing blade (kopis) over the more common infantry short sword (xiphos).

But our image of a "classical Greco-Roman soldier" is generally an infantryman, so we don't think of that.

Spear is also a short S-word

The answer to this questions is somewhat complex.

For the Greeks, the spear was always the primary weapon. A spear was actually more useful than a sword as it could keep the enemy at a distance and could be used in close-order formations, providing protection from cavalry and infantry combined.

The Romans did use spears as they originally fought as hoplites in a manner identical to the Greeks, but changed their fighting style (some academics consider the cause to be their wars with the Samnites) to a more flexible formation which could fight on rougher terrain and could respond quicker to the flow of battle. Even then they did not switch to swords right away, as their are still refers to Hastati and Princeps (the first two lines of the three-line legion) using spears at first, and the Triarii (the third and final line) never abandoned spears at all.

Last of all, it is a mistake to consider Greek and Roman swords "short" I own several replica Gladii and I can tell you there is nothing short about them. They are can be up to 70-80 cm in length which is almost as long as a Medieval arming sword. The same is true of the Greek Xiphos. They are also comparatively weighty and pack a hell of punch.

How the Gladius was Used

The Roman Gladius was most effective used in formation behind the protection of a Roman shield wall. The soldiers would interlock their shields (scutum) giving their opponents virtually no target to strike. They would thrust beside or over the shields cutting down their enemies while the formation advanced. They were trained to take every opportunity and attack every exposed target even if that meant cutting the legs of their opponents from underneath their own shields.

The Roman Gladius was known for its powerful thrust but they also held an exceptional edge and were also used for slashing and cutting.

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The History of Roman Gladius Swords

The Roman army held no qualms of adopting weapons and techniques that they found useful, even from their enemies. The famous gladiator sword itself was thought to come from the Iberian peninsula, which is today Spain and Portugal. The sword was then used by the Roman legion and gladiators in ancient Rome from around the 3rd century BC to the 3rd century AD. The full name of the sword, gladius Hispaniensis (Latin for “Hispanic sword”) points to this origin. Previous to the adoption of the gladiator sword the Roman Legion used a sword design based on the ancient Greek Xiphos blades. These blades were long and clunky when used in the close hand to hand style combat that the Roman army favored. It is believed Roman was introduced to these style of short and sturdy blades weapons during the Second Punic War when Roman soldiers fought the Celtiberians that had allied themselves with Carthage, they came against these An officer by the name of Scipio Africanus watched the destructive power of these blades at the battle of Cannae and recognized the efficiency of the sword. After the eventual conquering of Carthage, Africanus hired hundreds of sword makers to reproduce this weapon. The Roman Republic quickly adopted the use of the superior gladius swords and abandoned their bronze blades, and even went so far as to completely redesign their tactical offense to use the full potential of this new iron bladed weapon. This led to Rome becoming the first documented army that was sword centered in combat, not spear centered.

The Gladius sword is thought to have originally developed among the Celtiberian tribes that formed when the Celts from northern Europe migrated to the Iberian peninsula. The mixed ethnic tribes that they created brought with them a completely different set of weapons and forging techniques that were previously unknown to this region. The gladius blade was traditionally forged from iron, with a double edge for slashing and a tapered point for stabbing. The hilt was crafted with wood into a knobbed pommel with finger ridges etched into the handle for optimum grip and balance during combat.

As it spread throughout the empire and each soldier got his hands on the new gladius sword, the hilt could become more personalized by decorating it in bronze sheeting or silver plating if the soldier desired so. The gladius sword was normally hung from a waist belt by some soldiers, with others preferring to hang it from a shoulder belt instead. Centurions wore their gladius sword belt on the opposite side of the regular soldier to denote their rank in battle. Customization was common, so although it was a standard weapon each soldier often had designs denoting rank and title sculpted onto the scabbard or etched onto the blade itself. Some officers with higher rank and more experience could even get a custom sculpted pommel. This said there was great variance in specific styles of blades and gladius sword hilting, as every individual soldier was in charge of the maintenance of care of his weapons and there was no time for the army to inspect every sword, and ensure all such swords were perfectly uniform and identical.

The design of the gladius swords did differ depending on the location and era it was created in. While the use and function of the sword remained the same through all of its incarnations the difference in blade styles shows the gradual evolution of the weapon over the lifespan of the Roman Republic and Empire. The traditional blade style, the Hispaniensis sword, was used from 200 BC until 20 BC. It featured a slight wasp waist curvature to the blade, giving the sword an almost leaf-like shape in appearance. It was also the heaviest and the longest of all the Roman gladius swords. Later evolution of the blade style sword can be grouped into 3 distinct designs The Pompeii sword, the Mainz sword, and the Fulham sword. Each has been named from the locality the sword was unearthed in by modern researchers and believed to be centrally used in.

The Pompeii sword type was one of the most popular versions of the Gladius sword and widely found around the whole of the empire in the republics later years. This design all but eliminated the curvature of the blade and prioritized a straight and short sword with a triangular tip ideal for thrusting. The shape change was due in part to the era it was made in. Gone were the days of the legion fighting epic battles in other countries, now in the late republic era most fighting was done in local civil wars. The larger Hispaniensis swords had no place in the tight combat and warfare primarily conducted in cities and towns. There was no longer a tactical or military advantage because everyone was trained the same and had the same gear. It is believed that the gladius swords needed to become smaller and lighter, with an increased ability to stab and mortally wound your opponent in a very narrow areas such as streets.

The Mainz sword style is named for the city of Mainz. Mainz was originally a military camp called Moguntiacum and it became important in the making and distributing of gladius swords and other military equipment to the northern border garrisons. This is also where a lot of gladius swords were exported from outside of Roman territories This is thought to be the reasoning for the Fulham blade discovery in Northern Europe and Britain, as this would have been the most likely export locations for such a weapon. As the original military camp turned into the city of Mainz, sword making increased as more sword craftsmen flocked to the city in search of acquiring wealth from their trade. The Mainz blade design kept the curvature of the original blade, only making it shorter and wider, with a long pointed tip better for a piercing when used to thrust or stab.

Example of Mainz style gladius sword blades (source)

The Fulham blade style is believed to date back to the era following Rome’s invasion of Britain. It is so named for the area of the river Thames this style of blade was discovered in, close to Fulham. It is thought that these gladius swords are a bridge between the Pompeii style and the Mainz style blades, but other researchers believe it could be an evolution of the Mainz blade due to how widely distributed this type of sword was based on archaeological dig recoveries of these types. The Fulham blade style was slightly more narrow than the Mainz, and it had a triangular tip on the end that the Mainz did not have.

The Gladius (Sword) | Tools of War | The Roman Military

For hand to hand combat, the weapon of choice was the gladius hispaniensis, a short stabbing sword. As the name suggest, the sword originally came from Spain. It is suggested that it was introduced by Spanish mercenaries fighting for Carthage in the first Punic war. They had a short, 50 cm two-edged blade, with a long point. The blade was slightly waisted. It had a scabbard made of wood, leather and tin, that hung from the right side.

Later swords used by the Empire were still referred to as the gladius, but only superficially resembled them. These new swords had parallel sides and a shorter point. It probably weighed around a kilogram. They had a wooden handle, and were very well weighted. While the swords were designed for use as a stabbing weapon, they could still dismember opponents with their sharp sides. However, in training the stabbing approach was stressed, as a slashing blow had much less chance of fatally wounding an opponent, since he had bone and armor to protect him, but a stabbing thrust could punch through armor and kill.

What were the shortcomings in the production of offensive weapons?

In the blacksmithing of the Roman Empire was absentsystematic. This is because the masters did not possess the necessary knowledge and were guided mainly by empirical observations. The forging process at the beginning of our era did not include elements of engineering.

And yet, despite the large numberrejected goods, blacksmiths of ancient Rome made very high-quality sword patterns. After the fall of the empire, the technology used to create the Roman sword was borrowed by other nations and used for a long time.

Design, Fit and Finish

The Blade

At 22.25 inches, the blade is slightly longer than the normal 20-21 inches for a Pompeii Gladius. However, it is very well balanced and combines both a bit of blade presence with good point control in the thrust. The tip seems to be kind of a hybrid between a true Pompeii type and the more pointy and tapered Maintz type. I would say it falls just about halfway between the two types.

This makes it a very attractive blade in my opinion. I have never been a fan of the true late Pompeii type, considering that the tip was not tapered to a graceful point. This sword is more to my liking as far as the tip goes. The blade is of flattened diamond cross section which makes for a very rigid thrusting sword.

The polish on the blade was very slightly uneven near the hilt, but was nice. And it was not the usual mirror polish I have seen on most other Generation 2 swords. The finish is polished, just not so brightly as my previous swords from Gen2. And I like this finish much better.

The edge was plenty sharp. I would rate it at almost paper cutting sharp, and a few places would actually cut paper. In my opinion, this is the edge that should come on most swords. A good working edge.

The Grip

The grip is where I have a little trouble with this sword. The profile is true to form for a Gladius. But the handle is completely round and seems to have been made by turning a grooved profile into a stain-grade dowel rod. It is completely round and predictably caused some significant problems when cutting anything more than very light targets.

Otherwise, the grip is very attractive and reasonably comfortable. The finish is nice and the color contrasts well with the otherwise black hilt finish. If the sword is used primarily as a thrusting short sword, this grip works very well. And it is certainly quite attractive.

The Pommel

The pommel is correctly made of hardwood and nicely fitted and stained. However, it is made in a flattened semi-egg shape that looks a bit different than the ball shape of a historic Gladius. While this makes it less historically accurate, it is very comfortable and somehow seems quite appealing to me. Historical purists will probably rate the sword down significantly because of this inconsistency. But the more I use it the more I like it.

The Guard

The guard is constructed of hardwood and a steel face plate in the typical fashion of the Roman short sword. This is probably the most historically accurate part of the sword.

”With the exception of the "G2" stamped into the front of the guard plate, this guard would be at home on any high-end reproduction of the form. ”

The Scabbard

All the newer Generation 2 swords seem to be sold with the same type of scabbard. While it doesn't look historically accurate for a Roman sword, it is still a good quality wood core scabbard, covered in pigskin, dyed black and fitted with a polished steel chape at the mouth and a nice looking finial on the tip end.

Photos: Ancient Roman Cavalry Sword Still Cuts

Jamesan Stuckey, director of the Thomaston-Upson Archives, examines the Roman short sword relic. (Lewis Hales image)

A rare Roman cavalry short sword made before the time of Christ that has been preserved in its entirety and still cuts is one of several recent highlights of the Celtic Collection Program in Milner, Georgia.

The ancient short sword is from the La Tène III (circa 2nd to the 1st century B.C.) timeline. It was in the H. Liebert private collection, Cologne, Germany, and was acquired during the 1960s and ’70s.

The iron sword is completely intact and is 20.5 inches long. Over time it has become permanently attached to its iron scabbard, and the buckle remains from where it once hung from a belt. Its thin hilt, which terminates in a small pommel, would have once been encased in wood.

According to a spokesperson, the sword has a double-edged blade still sharp enough to cut.
Though the ancient sword is believed to be from Gaul (modern France), Peter Connolly reports comparable swords in his book, Greece and Rome at War.

Similar swords reportedly have been recovered from Switzerland, France, the Thames in London, and Embleton, England.

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The sword belonged to either a male or female warrior specializing in close combat tactics, a spokesperson stated.

Jamesan Stuckey, director of the Thomaston-Upson Archives, examines the Roman short sword relic. (Lewis
Hales image) The sword’s thin hilt, which terminates in a small pommel, would have once been encased in wood. Part of the sword’s edge, which has remained sharp all these centuries, is exposed above the guard. (Lewis Hale image) The buckle remains from where it once hung from a belt. (Lewis Hales image) The sword relic as contained in the Prehistoric European Collection at the Thomaston-Upson
Archives. (Lewis Hales image)

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