Gladius (weapon)

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Gladius (weapon)
Weapon type: sword
Designations: Roman short sword
Use: roman army weapon
Creation time: circa 3rd century BC Chr.
Working time: circa 3rd century BC BC - 3rd century AD
Region of origin /
Roman Empire / Roman Army
Distribution: Roman Empire
Blade length: about 55 cm
Blade width: about 8 cm
Weight: 1000 to 1600 gr.
Handle: Wood, horn, ivory
Particularities: three important types: Mainz type, Hispanicum type, Pompeii type
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The gladius (plural: gladii) is a Roman sword . He is said to be in the later 3rd century BC. It was developed from a type of sword of the Iberian Celtiberians and was in variations the standard weapon of the infantry of the Roman army until the 3rd century AD .

The ancient written sources do not differentiate sharply between gladius and spathe , since gladius simply means "sword" and this term was not used exclusively for the short sword of the legionnaires of the imperial era.

Description and use

Replica of the " Sword of Tiberius " in the Carnuntinum Museum

The iron blade of an imperial gladius is about 50–58 cm long, about 8 cm wide and sharpened on both sides. The stability of the blade was very high, also due to its shortness, which is why the weapon was mainly used as a thrust and stabbing weapon. A distinction is mainly made between the “ Mainz type ”, the “Hispanicum type” and a later “ Pompeji type ”, which has been in use since the 1st century. Other variants, albeit without an eponymous location, are known. Up until the time of the emperor Augustus , the gladius was up to 70 cm long.

With the "Mainz type", the blade first tapers in order to become wider again in front of the point, the weight is between 1200 and 1600 grams. With the "Pompeii type" the blade is straight, which is easier to manufacture, the weight is approx. 1000 grams. This sword is probably a simplified form that is cheaper to manufacture, but was significantly inferior to the traditional gladius in terms of penetration power and stability and was possibly mainly given out to auxiliary soldiers. Finally, the “Hispanic type” is only getting wider, but the edge itself is straight. In the end there is a tip like the "Pompeji type" and the "Mainz type". Weapons made from ferrum noricum , the Noric steel, were in demand . Due to the special hardness and edge retention, Gladii made from this material were far superior to many contemporary swords.

The gladius was carried by the crews on the right; this required more practice when drawing the sword, but there was no risk of collision with the heavy shield of the teams. Centurions usually wore the gladius on the left. The handle was provided with a protection, but this should not act like a crossguard , but only prevent the sword hand from sliding on the blade when a strong blow is performed with the gladius. The scabbard was made of leather-covered wood with metal fittings.

Since the time of the Severans (193 to 235), the short gladius was slowly replaced by a long sword, the spathe . This development accelerated under Diocletian (284-305) and came to an end in the early 4th century.

Use and mode of action

Two blades of the "Mainz type", above Fulham, below Sisak.

The gladius was a suitable weapon for close combat in close infantry formations, such as the Romans used during the Republic and the Principate . In the dense turmoil of battle of the infantry, which worked both through their close cohesion and the mass pressure of the advancing members and was protected forwards by the large shields ( scuta ), the short length of the sword had a positive effect and gave the legionnaires despite the crowded narrowness an advantage. He could still use his weapon even in the thick of battle (especially stabbing) without dropping his cover, while owners of longer swords could hardly use them effectively in these cramped conditions. Mostly one aimed the gladius at the abdomen of the opponent. The gun made terrible wounds. The Macedonian King Philip V is said to have been deeply shocked when he first saw the corpses of men who had been killed with Gladii ( Liv. 31,34,1-5).

The gladius was suitable for both a cut and a stab: the blade-shaped blade of the Mainz type possessed considerable weight and caused devastating damage to unprotected opponents. Finds of victims of Roman legionaries who fell during the storming of Maiden Castle in Britain illustrate this quite clearly - several skulls found are visibly damaged by gladly blows. This fighting technique contributed significantly to the superiority of the Roman legions in large regular battles; however, the short sword was less advantageous in individual hand-to-hand combat outside of the closed formation, which is probably one reason why the longer spathe (which had already been used by the Roman cavalry) gained importance over the course of the 3rd century as traditional field battles had become rare and a guerrilla war at the borders increased in importance. In contrast to the gladius, the spathe was usually worn on the left.


Web links

Commons : Gladii  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: gladius  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations