What is a Roman sword?

Roman swords guide: All the things you need to know by the swords of the Romans

If legends are true historical accounts, the origin of Rome is bathed in blood. It is said that Romulus and Remus founded Rome along the banks of river Tiber, Italy, in 8th century.

What was supposed to be a peaceful settlement for the siblings went to a murderous turn. The brothers argued who should rule Rome as king and consequently, who should serve whom.

At the height of the quarrel Romulus drew a sword, slew his brother, and reigned as King. One thousand years later and with their mighty swords, the Romans were recognized as bloodthirsty conquerors of the ancient world.

What is a Roman sword

Romans did not invent swords from scratch. As the city grew in the riverbanks of Tiber, so was trade and agriculture. The settlement grew in power and influence, and went on further in subduing other tribes around Italy.

The Romans, as a warrior class, absorbed cultures from the nations they colonized. This has been reflected in the designs of many ancient Roman swords identified, which bore semblances to artifacts belonging to older civilizations such as the Celtics, Greeks, and Germanic tribes. As the Empire grew, designs and ornate decorations on swords grew as well in variety and distinctions.

This Roman swords guide lists down basic characteristics of swords used from the time Rome was established to its downfall in 500BC.

• A gladius is the general word for swords used by the infantrymen. In the history of Roman swords, it has been around since the early years of the Roman Empire. Distinct designs came about when the Romans have successfully waged military campaigns and absorbed metalworking from disparate ancient European societies. Today, historians and collectors have identified the major types of gladius:

- Gladius Graecus or Greek swords were the first of the Roman short swords. Used between 8th century and 3rd century BC, its design came from the swords used by the fierce Greek warriors called the Hoplites. It is a leaf-shaped sword measuring 65cm in length.

- Gladius Hispaniensis or Hispanic sword is purportedly based upon swords from Iberia (the modern day Spain). This was one of the Roman short swords employed by most infantrymen around 200BC, measuring around 65 to 80cm in length. It sharply tapers to the point, and is broad towards the hilt.

- Mainz is the name of gladius produced by the Roman permanent camp north of Rome in 13th BC. This was set up by a soldier, who engaged in the business of swordmaking. Mainz swords have slight waist and have longer points than Hispaniensis type.

- This Roman swords guide is not complete without the Pompei gladius. This refers to the sword found in ancient land of Pompei near Naples, Italy. It measures to 75 cm, has parallel cutting edges, and shorter point than other gladii. Like all gladii, it is used as a primary weapon in Roman sword fighting.

- The question, what is a Roman sword, was given another answer when archeological finds were dug up in in Thames River, England near a place called Fulham. The blade at 70 cm is longer than both gladius hispaniensis and Mainz, and has shorter point. Its use was prevalent at around 43AD.

The gladius has become popular today as the sword used by the gladiators, slaves who were fighting for their life as an entertainment to the Roman crowd.

• Spatha, as one of the ancient Roman swords, replaced gladius by the time the Roman Empire entered the first millennium and by the time the city of Rome was sacked around 500AD. Its design was derived from the long Celtic swords used by the Anglo-Saxons (of old England) at around 480 BC. It measures about one meter in length and has a broad blade. The Viking swords were direct descendants of the spatha, as well as the Knight swords.

• Pugio is an ancient Roman dagger considered as a backup weapon to spatha or. It has also found some use as a household knife. It measures about 20 to 30cm in length, and is 2 inch or more in width. Perhaps it is best remembered as the weapon of choice for traitors, such as Brutus, in killing Roman heroes, such as Julius Caesar. Some of the conspirators against Julius Caesar was said to have killed themselves with it when they repented their crime and committed suicide.

How to make a Roman sword

Roman sword replicas are produced in our modern times through the Paul Chen swords from Hanwei Inc. and other manufacturing companies for fantasy swords. These businesses forge the swords in accordance to the ancient art of sword-making and metallurgy.

Or, they forge the swords in accordance to the materials being mined and used at that time. All of the ancient Roman swords were forged from iron. The spatha is technologically more advanced than gladius. Spatha was forged from steel and benefited the hardening effects of pattern welding.

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