Gladius

The Gladius Sword

Gladius

Replica pseudo-Pompeii gladius (note: the triangular ricasso (unsharpened portion of the blade just below the hilt) is a historical inaccuracy as no historical gladii have been shown to possess this feature)
Type: Arming sword
Place of origin: Roman
Service history
In service: 0 AD
Used by: legionary
Wars: Roman Republic and Roman Empire
Specifications
Weight: enter
Length: enter
Blade type: enter
Hilt type: enter

Gladius is Latin for "sword" (in general). Today it refers specifically to the short sword, 60 cm (22 inches) long and 3 pounds (1.4 kg) in weight, used by Roman legionaries from the 3rd century BC (based on the swords of the Celtiberians) and designed specifically for making short, powerful thrusts. Several different designs were used; among collectors and historical reenactors, the three primary kinds are known as the Mainz gladius, the Fulham gladius, and the Pompeii gladius (these names refer to where or how the canonical example was found). More recent archaeological finds have uncovered an earlier version, the gladius hispaniensis ("Spanish sword"). Contrary to common belief, the gladius was not used by gladiators, who used a version with a shorter blade (300 mm–350 mm/12 in.–14 in. long).

The gladius was crafted from soft iron and the exterior was carburized using coal dust on the face of the anvil. This was necessary because the soft iron was not hard enough to have taken an edge before the carbon of the coke powder was added to the exterior of the blade.

While each of the different identified types of gladius have distinct features, mostly in blade shape and size, the common Pompeii style gladius was straight and double-edged, with a sharp V-shaped tip, and primarily constructed for thrusting action and use together with a large rectangular shield, the scutum. The cross-section of the gladius is typically a rhombus, providing the blade with good stability for stabbing and handling.

Stabbing was a very efficient technique as stabbing wounds, especially in the abdominal area, were almost always deadly. However, the gladius was also an efficient cutting weapon, and this property is amply demonstrated by Livy's account of the Macedonian Wars wherein the Macedonian soldiers were horrified to see the grievous wounds caused by the Roman blades. A Roman legionary would mount the scabbard holding the gladius on the right side, same as his sword hand, allowing a formation of soldiers to easily draw their swords without accidentally injuring soldiers to either side. An exception to this were centurions who, according to various grave stones, wore their gladii mounted on the left as a mark of distinction. As they often stood outside the regular ranks of the unit, even in combat, this may not have been problematic in regards to drawing the weapon in the battle line.

The gladius is frequently depicted in coats of arms, especially of military corps.

The name is Latin, so its plural is gladii rather than the normal English gladiuses. The diminutive form, gladiolus, is also the name of a flowering plant with sword-shaped leaves.

Some weapons experts and enthusiasts refer to the scabbard of a gladius by the Latin word vagina, which is Latin for "sheath (in general)." It acquired its modern meaning by means of a simple metaphor. The Romans generally did not use this word in its anatomical sense, but it does show up as a joke in Plautus, Pseudolus 4.7.85: "Did the soldier's 'sword' fit well into your 'sheath'?"

The main types are:

  • gladius hispaniensis: Used from 200 B.C. until 20 B.C. Blade length 64 cm - 69 cm. Sword length 74 cm - 81 cm. Sword width 5 cm. Short blade, broad towards the handle.
  • Mainz: Blade width 7-8 cm. Blade length 66 cm - 70 cm. Sword mass: 1.2 Kg - 1.6 Kg.
  • Fulham or Mainz-Fulham: Used from the start of I century A.D. until the end of the same century. The conjunction point betweed Mainz and Pompei. Some consider it an evolution or the same as the Mainz type. Blade length 70 cm. blade width: 6 cm at the base, 4 cm in the middle, 7 cm in the end.
  • Pompei (or Pompeianus or Pompeii): used from circa 50 A.D., with parallel cutting edges and a triangular tip. Original blade length of 60 cm, blade length from circa 75 A.D. of 68 cm - 71 cm. From circa 100 A.D. of 83 cm (semi-spatha). From now the Roman Gladius will be of middle-length.

The Mainz and the Pompeii are the two main classification types and served side by side for many years and it was not uncommon to find 4th century legionaires carrying the earlier model.

Towards the end of the second century A.D. the spatha took the place of the gladius in the roman legions.

Gladius Hispaniensis

Gladius Hispaniensis
300px
The Hispaniensis was the Roman adoption of the Iberian sword (celtic) when they conquered Spain. It was mainly used for thrusting.
Type: Arming sword
Place of origin: Roman
Service history
In service: 200 BC to 20 BC
Used by: legionary
Wars: Roman Republic and Roman Empire
Specifications
Weight: enter
Length: 74-81 cm
Blade type: short blade
Hilt type: enter

 

Gladius Mainz

Gladius Mainz
300px
The Mainz was used both for cut and thrust.
Type: Arming sword
Place of origin: Roman
Service history
In service: 1st century AD
Used by: legionary
Wars: Roman Republic and Roman Empire
Specifications
Weight: 1.2 kg - 1.6 kg
Length: 66-70 cm (blade)
Blade type: short blade
Hilt type: enter


Gladius Pompei

Gladius Pompei
300px
The Pompei was longer and could be used for slashing, developing into the later Spatha.
Type: Arming sword
Place of origin: Roman
Service history
In service: 1st century AD
Used by: legionary
Wars: Roman Republic and Roman Empire
Specifications
Weight: enter
Length: enter
Blade type: medium blade
Hilt type: enter


See also

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