Friday, October 13, 2017

The Gladius: A Curatorial Discussion



            In the investigation of the curatorial evidence of the weapon in question, there will be three sections presented. The first will be a discussion of the excavation of the gladius and those artefacts actually found on archaeological digs. This evidence forms much of the information we have about the actual weapons that were used in the period. The second part will be an examination of the construction of the gladius, how it was built and some of its hilt and form of the weapon. Much more of the form of the weapon will be found in the third part of this curatorial investigation where an examination of the various types of gladii will be discussed. 


            With the amount of gladii made, especially in the Roman Empire, a person would think that there would be plenty of excavations with examples of these swords in them. Surprisingly there are actually few of them, they simply have not been found (Burton, 1987:258). What is even more interesting about this is that examples of complete weapons, meaning unbroken or complete blades are also quite rare. To compound this perplexing problem, aside from the excavations at Pompeii, most gladius finds have been made outside Italy (Coe, 1996:25). This makes it difficult to find out exactly what a “native” gladius from the actual Roman people was like in the earlier periods. The lack of archaeological evidence for the actual gladii also results in estimates of their measurements based on the examples which have been found.
            What information we have about the gladius comes from weapons which have been excavated and some extrapolation based upon these examples. Even with these few examples much information can be found. The next step in the investigation is to examine the construction of the weapon, how it was built.


            The construction of the gladius would seem relatively simple however it is something which needs some investigation to discover some of the arguments and revolutions which happened in its manufacture. This section is designed to lay the foundation for the construction of the gladius as more of this will be dealt with in the typology. There are three parts which will be discussed, metallurgy, mounting and decoration. The metallurgy will deal with the blade manufacture, mounting will discuss the hilt or furniture of the weapon and how it was worn, and finally the decoration of the weapon will dealing with the social impact of this.


“And the cudgel was certainly no match for the Roman gladius forged of iron.” (Wise, 2014:21)
          Wise’ (2014) comment above is a little obvious as a wooden weapon would clearly not stand up to a metal one, however it is not this which is most interesting it is the aspect of forging which is most interesting. The weapons previous to the gladius used by the Romans and their predecessors were not forged they were moulded and sharpened. These weapons were stronger and sharper than their previous ones because they were created from smelting iron from oxides then forged to blade shape (Lewis and Matthews, 2011:72). The complexity of the Roman gladius is often underestimated, as are most European weapons.
“It’s interesting to look at the metallurgy of Gladii found in Europe. They are mostly wrought iron with carbon content at .03%. The edges were sharpened by forging (hammering) or sharpening on a wheel. Most were fabricated by placing strips of iron together in a sandwich. The quality is variable probably due to the skill of European smiths of the time.” (Anderson, 2011)
            Clearly the more skilful smiths of the Empire especially would have produced higher grades of blade, indeed not just iron blades but also steel blades. Once the secrets of forging good steel was discovered at the same time as the gladius hispaniensis the Romans placed themselves ahead of the curve with regard to the quality of their blades. This is something that will be noted later on in the study.


Maximus' Gladius from "Gladiator"
             What are presented here are a gladius and its scabbard. This is what is considered when the discussion of mounting is thought of with regard to the sword. Often how the sword was worn on the person is forgotten. This is an element which needs to be discussed, and some of these elements will be brought to light below. To begin with there will be an examination of the hilt of the weapon


            To begin with the handle is recommended to be a little rough for a better grip (Matyszak, 2011:63). This would be of importance so that the wielder of the weapon does not lose the weapon while he is using it in battle. These handles were often shaped to give groves where the fingers where to be placed for even better grip on the handle. As for the rest of the hilt, Burton (1987) describes it in very simple fashion stating that it was usually without a guard-plate, and only simple cross-bar or small oval (Burton, 1987:257). This fits the images which he presents in his book however it does not reflect the common image of the gladius.
What is most interesting is that later on, even on the same page, he goes into more detail about the hilt. He states that a bronze hilt was used even after steel blade taken, the common grip was wood with metal knobs or rivets, but richer sorts bone, ivory, alabaster, silver and gold; capulus: metal pommel, plain mound or stepped pyramid, little apple became decoration (Burton, 1987:257). The little apple is the classic bulging pommel shape which is commonly seen on the “classic” gladius as it is known today, and was often made of wood.
            For officers of higher ranks to distinguish them from the others their weapons were made differently. Their weapons had different pommels, they had their weapons often capped at pommel with head of animal in Assyrian fashion, and the eagle was a reserved favourite (Burton, 1987:257). What can be seen here are some examples of weapon decoration previously mentioned.


            The scabbard, sheath, or vagina was made of leather or wood, and had multiple rings on the sheath but archaeologists are uncertain as to all of uses, some for mounting on belt others for sling; some examples are highly decorated (Burton, 1987:257). So even in a simple piece of equipment such as the scabbard there are questions which are asked and answers are not forthcoming. What are most interesting with regard to the scabbard, beside the rings which cannot be determined as to their use are the metal plates found on them. These plates are often decorative and embossed plates (Quesada Sanz, 1997:259), but they appear on many examples of the scabbards so it could be implied that something functional was made decoration, or even that the decoration was added later as military honours, something that the Romans were proud of showing.


            In the case of many weapons there is no need to go into much detail about how they were carried. Often they were carried in the hand, or over the shoulder on a sling, or some other way which was universal to every person who used them. There are some weapons which need some attention paid to them as to how they were carried as there is some differentiation as to how they were carried over time and by different people. The gladius is one of these weapons.
Rank Differentiation
“The gladius of whatever pattern was invariably worn on the right side, save by centurions, and perhaps other senior officers, who wore their swords on the left.” (Goldsworthy, 2011:134)
          For most swords they would be carried on the opposite side to that hand which they were to be drawn, a right-hander would carry his sword on the left and a left-hander would carry his sword on the right. This is to make drawing the sword easier for the swordsman. In the case of the legionary and the gladius this was not the case. The sword was carried on the right side, the same side as the drawing hand. The legionary theory behind this was to ensure that the drawing of the sword would not be encumbered by the shield, and contrary to some expectations it is actually quite accessible.
“Legionnaires carried the gladius in a scabbard on their right side and they carried a dagger (pugio) in their left side. Some have argued that drawing the sword with the right hand would be too cumbersome while holding the shield in the left hand, but tests have proven that a right side gladius is quite accessible with the right hand.” (Anderson, 2011)
         Practical tests have shown that due to the short nature of the gladius drawing the sword with the right hand and presenting the point while the sword is carried in its scabbard on the right side is not an issue for a person who has had practice. Arguments could be had about the last point, but one of the things that can be said is that the Roman army was trained and drilled well. The evidence left behind in the form of sculpture also prevents primary evidence of the sword being worn on the right side by legionaries.

Roman legionaries with gladius worn on right side.
(Goldsworthy, 2000:128)
            While the television series Rome made the names Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus relatively famous to the common man in the modern world, their story is actually documented in Caesar’s Conquest of Gaul. The part of their actual story which is documented by Caesar demonstrates why it was actually not such a good idea to have the sword and shield on the same side.
“His shield [Pullo] was pierced by a javelin, which stuck in his sword belt; and as the blow knocked the scabbard out of place, he could not get his hand quickly to his sword when he tried to draw it,” (Caesar, 1982:125 [V.44])
            In Caesar’s recollections Vorenus and Pullo were two centurions who were rivals seeking glory. Had the sword been worn on the opposite side to the shield, it would have not been knocked and it would have been less trouble to draw. Vorenus had to come and save Pullo from this situation. This idea of wearing the sword on a different side due to rank also worked for a different weapon also.
Weapon Differentiation
            When we look even deeper there is also differentiation as to the weapon. The gladius was a short weapon, primarily used for the infantry. The spatha, and its predecessor the ensis, was the weapon of the cavalry. Both were worn on belts, and also on baldrics, however the ensis, was also worn on the left due to its length (Burton, 1987:258). Thus it can be clearly claimed that there was differentiation in carriage by weapon and rank.
            The question of belt or baldric is one which has been argued a great deal, especially in light of the rings found on the scabbard, as mentioned previously. Clearly, at some stage the sword was worn on the belt, but it can also be clearly claimed that the sword was also hung from the left shoulder to hang on the right by a baldric (Devries, 2007:121). To be more precise, especially with the documented difficulties encountered by Centurion Pullo, it was slung on a baldric and worn on the right side, pointing slightly forward for easier draw and replacement (Matyszak, 2011:64). Recreations of this system have been presented demonstrating how it could have been done.
Belt and Baldric
            What is most interesting is that there is an argument that the sword was worn one way or the other. The “belt camp” claims that there is no evidence for the baldric. The “baldric camp” claims that the weight of the sword and the dagger would have drawn the belt down too far and caused it to fall. What is most interesting is that there is even a camp which places itself between these two that recommends that there was a system in between the two which utilised both belt and baldric to secure the weapon properly.

Image of Roman legionary with gladius at right hip both belted and slung
(Hamblin, 1996: Plate 2)


“The appearance of the Gladius was different between gladiators of varying popularity. A criminal fighting for his life and freedom would have a simple sword, whereas a trained gladiator who is treasured by the people might have a more elegant and elaborate sword. The hilt of the Gladius occasionally had ridges for the fingers, but more often than not, it was left plain. The blade was generally left plain; however, it was not uncommon for criminal gladiators to have the phrase “Ave Caesar, mortituri te salutamus,” which means “Hail Caesar, we who are about to die salute you” engraved on the blade of their Gladius in order to remind them of their impending demise. Scabbards for the Gladius were generally made of wood and covered in leather and decorated with brass.” (Berdeguer, 2014:21)
            While this description of the decoration of the gladius focuses on the gladiators’ weapon it does indicate some of the weapon of the legionary indicating the decoration of the scabbard, which was mentioned above. Some of this is indicated here, more will be demonstrated when the individual typologies of the gladii will be discussed later on. According to Suetonius (1958), Caesar had his legionaries and centurions weapons decorated for better appearance of his legions an also so that they were less likely to lose their weapons in battle (Suetonius, 1958:37). This made the weapons personal, hence the less likelihood that they were to lose them. The varying degree to which the weapons were decorated reflected their ranks and also the military honours which they had achieved in their service.
            What has been presented, in general, gives a very general overview of the construction of the gladius. What follows examines each of the types of gladii which was developed over the time in which the weapon was the dominant weapon of the Roman Republic and Empire.

Gladius Types

            What follows here is a discussion of the typology of the gladius. These types are sometimes referred to as the different gladius patterns. This typology is generally accepted by most historians and most of the weapons found fall within these types in one way or another. There are four types which will be discussed after a general introduction, Hispaniensis, Mainz, Fulham and Pompeii. Along with these will be introduced a new type, which while similar will re-affirm the idea of individual area-specific creation of the gladius. This will also be demonstrated under the Pompeii type with the presentation of a Pompeii type found in Denmark.


            “Gladius” simply means “sword” to get more specific requires conventions of naming and other considerations. Unfortunately when it comes to the differentiation between different weapons, classical sources are notoriously unreliable when naming types of weapons (Quesada Sanz, 1997:251). With regard to the naming convention, it is typically gladius and then the type, so [type] gladius.

(Berdeguer, 2014:21)

“Though typically differentiated into two categories, Mainz and Pompeii Gladii, there are four main variations of the Gladius: the Hispaniensis gladius, the Mainz Gladius, the Fulham Gladius, and the Pompeii Gladius. Figure 19 shows the main differences in the blade design of these four Gladii.” (Berdeguer, 2014: 21)

            To claim that the weapons, even of a particular typology are all the same would be foolish. There are always variations in their manufacture, even when made in the same place. This is even more so the case when in other places, other swords present in other hands are of less standard manufacture (Hamblin, 1996:343). An example of the Pompeii type will be presented below along with another outstanding example from the Baltic region. The changes in typology of the gladius was a developmental process, it was not static. Weapons changed over time as a new shape became more appropriate to the stage of expansion of the Empire.

Hispaniensis Type

            The first recognised gladius was “the famous ‘Iberian sword’ (gladius Hispaniensis)” (Fields, 2010:6). There is a lot of information about this weapon and it is one of the most famous weapons. In fact this weapon is so famous that all gladii are often claimed to be the “Spanish sword”. This was the first weapon that the Romans liked and claimed for their own.
“The Hispaniensis gladius was the original sword that the Romans liked. This Spanish version was the heaviest and longest of Roman Gladii. Additionally, it had the most prominent leaf shape in the blade. In addition, this version had the longest tip of the main varieties of Gladii.” (Berdeguer, 2014:21)
            What will be shown of this weapon is that it was a developmental weapon based on the original Greek sword adopted from the Greeks earlier on and adopted by the Romans. The similarities in these weapons will demonstrate this developmental process.

General Description

“Sometime in the third century BC the Romans adopted a long-pointed, double edged Iberian weapon, which they called the gladius Hispaniensis (‘Iberian sword’). The earliest Roman specimens date to the turn of the first century BC, but a fourth-century sword of similar shape has been found in Spain at the cemetery of Los Cogotes (Avila), while an earlier Iberian example came from Atienza some 100 kilometres north-east of Madrid. The blade could be as much as 64 to 69 centimetres in length and 4.8 to 6 centimetres wide and waisted in the centre. It was a fine piece of ‘blister steel’ with a triangular point between 9.6 and 20 centimetres long; it had honed down razor-sharp edges and was designed to puncture armour. It had a comfortable bone handgrip grooved to fit the fingers, and a large spherical pommel, usually of wood or ivory, to help with counter-balance. Examples weigh between 1.2 and 1.6 kilograms. This basic design, with various minor modifications, continued as the weapon of choice through to the end of the second century AD. Unusually, a legionary carried his sword on the right-hand side, suspended by a leather belt (cingulum) worn around the waist. As opposed to a scabbard slide, the four-ring suspension system on the scabbard enabled the legionary to draw his weapon quickly with the right hand, an advantage in close-quarter combat. By inverting the hand to grasp the hilt and pushing the pommel forward, the gladius could be drawn with ease.” (Fields, 2010:17)
            The sword from Atienza has been proposed as a predecessor to the Hispaniensis gladius due to its similar shape and also due to its origin. This makes a great deal of sense as the Romans rarely simply took the original weapon but adapted the weapon to their own needs as was found in the Greek weapon previous to it. This idea of a developmental process is one which will be noted as the typology progresses.
What also needs to be noted here is that it was sharp on the edge and the point, thus designed for both cut and thrust. For the most part the thrust of the gladius is highlighted in most cases with the cut being utterly disregarded. It should be noted that the cut was not disregarded, as noted by the effort in sharpening the edge. The carrying of the weapon on the right became a typical situation as was the drawing method which was possible with the short weapon. With a longer weapon this would have been much more difficult.


            As is the case with many technologies, even in the modern world, finding a specific date for when the Hispaniensis was actually adopted is difficult. Much of the evidence for this comes from primary sources, but even here the date is unclear. What is known is that it was the result of contact with Spanish mercenaries in service to the forces of Carthage during the Punic Wars.
“A Byzantine lexicographer, possibly following Polybios’ [Polybius'] lost account of the Numantine War (134–132 BC), says the gladius Hispaniensis was adopted from the Iberians at the time of the war with Hannibal (Second Punic War, 218–201 BC), but it is possible that this formidable weapon, along with the pilum, was adopted from Iberian mercenaries serving Carthage during the First Punic War (264–241 BC). It was certainly in use by 197 BC, when Livy describes the Macedonians’ shock at the terrible wounds it inflicted.” (Fields, 2010:6)
            What needs to be noted here is the rough date of the adoption of the weapon during the Punic Wars, thus during the period of the Republic, and thus in use against the Macedonians as stated by Livy. The terrible wounds that are noted are dismemberments and decapitations, thus the use of the edge of the weapon. This weapon was adopted due to the effectiveness of the weapon like many Roman tools there will be more detail of its use later. It also stands as recognition of an advance in metallurgy as well through the use of steel in weaponry.


            The fame of Toledo steel and steel in general from Spain generally originates from the idea which comes from the weapons which came from those forges during the medieval and Renaissance periods; however, Spanish steel was famous before then. The Romans used Spanish ores and methods,
“Of this material was made the Spatha or Iberian blade, a name adopted under the Empire, especially under Hadrian (A.D. 117 – 138). Long, two-edged, and heavier than the short Xiphos-Gladius, it added fresh force to the impetus gladiorum.” (Burton, 1987:256)
            The Xiphos-Gladius was the weapon which the Romans were using before the Hispaniensis, a design which was modelled on the Greek weapon, hence the name, “Xiphos” being Greek for “sword”. The spatha refers to a slightly longer weapon, which became the standard for cavalry, but the statement is still relevant. The stronger, sharper, heavier blade added more force to the armies simply because the weapons were better and made from material of greater quality. So much so that by 219 BC, some 22 years later, the change to steel weapons was universal (Burton, 1987:256). These are steel weapons, of varying grades to be true but steel not iron. This made them much more effective.
“the famous gladius hispaniensis or Spanish sword. With a blade less than 60 centimetres (2 feet) long, the gladius was well balanced for both cutting and thrusting, and its manufacture from high-quality steel allowed it to preserve a wickedly sharp edge.” (Goldsworthy, 2000:44)
            Once again it is mentioned that the weapon had a sharp edge and was balanced for both cutting and thrusting. Also should be noted that the material noted here is steel and not iron. This is of significance considering the developmental stage of the Romans, and the impact steel weapons would have had as compared to previous weapon manufacture. It is true the gladius was primarily a thrusting weapon, but as has been noted the cut should not be outright discarded as the weapon was obviously designed and suited for it.


“they also carry a sword which is worn on the right thigh and is called a Spanish sword. This has a sharp point and can deal an effective blow with either edge, as the blade is very strong and unbending.” (Polybius, 1980:321)
            The Hispaniensis was stronger than its predecessor due to its manufacture this resulted in it having a sharp edge that was not dulled quickly. The extra weight also allowed it to be more effective at cutting than the previous weapon also. The result of this was a weapon which was effective at both cutting and thrusting as is stated above. It is an important note to make that while the gladius may be primarily designed to thrust the cut was also effective also, especially in the case of this type.
“all [Hispaniensis] are somewhat larger than types used by the later professional army. They are well-balanced blades, primarily designed for thrusting but also capable of delivering an effective slash.” (Goldsworthy, 2011:29)
            A larger sword is often assumed to be more unwieldy but this is not necessarily the case, if the weapon is well-balanced, then there is usually no problem. In the case of the Hispaniensis gladius it was so it could be used for cutting and thrusting even though it was larger than the later types. This was only enhanced by being made out of steel. The advantage of a multi-purpose weapon is clear, and this was noted by Polybius at Cannae in 216 BC, “While the Spanish Xiphos was excellent for both cutting and thrusting, the long and pointless Gallic Machaera could only slash from afar.” (Burton, 1987:268). While the Spanish sword could be used to thrust and cut, the Gallic sword could only cut. This meant than the Spanish weapon could be used at different distances and be more effective. An idea which Burton (1987) continues on with stating that the shorter “Gladius Hispanus” was useful in closed spaces (Burton, 1987:268), essentially due to its ability to use the point. A note should be made of his misspelling of “Hispaniensis”.
“it was not until the advent of the Roman legionaries’ short gladius hispaniesis, designed for an upward stabbing stroke at close quarters, that swordplay in its own right became a part of infantry tactics.” (Holmes, 2010:10)
         The Hispaniensis changed cause a change in tactics. It made the sword the prime weapon of the legionary rather than the spear as it was in the army of the earlier parts. The advantage of the ability to thrust with the weapon was clear but it was not the only driving force present. This particular aspect reflects a modern bias toward a “point bias” in the history of swordplay as it is often told, rather than a presentation of developing circumstances. If the point was the only useful part, why was the sharpened edge kept on later types, and so many references to the use of the edge?

Basis of Next Weapon

“The sword of the legionaries of the late Republic was the gladius Hispaniensis (Spanish sword), adopted from the Iberian steel-cutting sword in the third century B.C. and measuring about thirty inches long and two inches wide. By the early Principate, however, this weapon was replaced by a shorter gladius, a steel, double-edged weapon ranging from sixteen to twenty-two inches long, and from two to three inches wide, designed for either cutting or thrusting. This was the standard Roman legionary sword at the time of Christ.” (Hamblin, 1996:343)
          The weapon that replaced the Hispaniensis was the Mainz gladius. It was developed from the basic shape of the Hispaniensis for better use in the ranks and for the use primarily with the thrust. The important thing is that it still allowed for a cutting edge as well. What will be noted in the discussion of the Mainz, which will follow, is that the blade profile of the Mainz is very similar to that of the previous form in the Hispaniensis, and this demonstrates the developmental process which has been presented here.

Mainz Type

General Description

“In the early 1st century AD the dominant type was the ‘Mainz’ pattern. This has a slightly tapering blade and an exceptionally long point. The length of the blade on surviving examples varies from 400mm (16in) to 550mm (22in), and width from 54 to 74mm (2.1 – 2.9in) at the top to 48 to 60mm (1.8 – 2.3in) before the point. A shaped handgrip of bone was protected by a guard and pommel usually of wood. ... Although especially suited to thrusting, with the long point – sometimes as much as 200mm (7.8in) – intended to penetrate armour, the Mainz pattern sword was also an effective slashing weapon.” (Goldsworthy, 2011:133)
            The description above, from Goldsworthy (2011) gives a good idea of what the Mainz looks like. The form of the weapon, if compared to the previous Hispaniensis will be noted to have some similarities. The point of the weapon and the general shape are very similar this clearly leads to the Mainz being a clear development of the previous toward a weapon more suited to the legionary. While the long point made the Mainz an excellent thrusting weapon, the shape of the weapon also made it suitable for cutting also, much like the previous type.

History of Mainz and Naming

“Mainz was founded as the Roman permanent camp of Moguntiacum probably in 13 BC. This large camp provided a population base for the growing city around it. Sword manufacture probably began in the camp and was continued in the city; for example, Gaius Gentilius Victor, a veteran of Legio XXII, used his discharge bonus on retirement to set up a business as a negotiator gladiarius, a manufacturer and dealer of arms. Swords made at Mainz were sold extensively to the north.” (Wikipedia, 2016)
            The location is what the weapon was named after hence Mainz gladius, this is often the case. What should be noted from the above information is that the particular location of this find was also a production centre for sword so this makes the naming of the sword after this location even more relevant. Not only was the weapon found here it is highly likely it would have actually been manufactured here as well. The actual weapon which is celebrated as the archetypical Mainz type sword is known as the Sword of Tiberius.

Sword of Tiberius - Mainz Type
(Coe, 1996:26)
“Sword of Tiberius: excavated at Mayence in 1848, in British Museum; highly decorated – presentation piece; evidence that it was to be worn on a sling rather than the belt; left mounted sword drawn by passing hand and forearm across the body under shield, grip hilt at back of blade” (Burton, 1987:258)
            This weapon, as noted was highly decorated and therefore likely to be a decoration piece, though may have actually been used. There is an interesting note made by Burton (1987) in that he claims that it was worn on a sling rather than a belt, which tends to contradict some of the evidence, but examples of both have been found. This is the weapon that other weapons are compared to as to whether or not they have the characteristics to qualify as a Mainz type.
            This type is further recognisable as swords of Caesar’s day were no doubt of a Mainz-type (Coe, 1996:25). It places the type in a recognisable historical context and allows for some further dating as to the longevity of its use. This is something which is often missing with weapons, especially the older ones.

Blade Description

            Coe (1996) describes the Mainz type blade as being blade 20-24in/50-60cm long, 2-2.5in/5-6cm wide, similar to hoplite sword as slight increase before taper (Coe, 1996:25). This gives a similar profile to both the Xiphos and the Hispaniensis and thus reveals the origins of the weapon. The measurements, as will be noted as things proceed are much in the general range.
“The Mainz variety is characterized by a slight waist running the length of the blade and a long point. Blade length ~50–55 cm (19.6 to 21.6 inches). Sword length ~65–70 cm (25.6 to 27.6 inches). Blade width ~7 cm (2.75 inches). Sword weight ~800g/1.76 pounds (wooden hilt).” (Wikipedia, 2016)
            The description above gives a similar shape again to the Hispaniensis as noted previous, but is more extended in the point. This shape points something toward the use of the weapon as will be discussed shortly. It will be noted that it is relatively light weapon considering its manufacture. Taking into account all of the measurements given, from all of the sources, the blade ends up being an average of 40-60cm long, 4–7cm wide. All of the sources recognise the extended point, and the sharp edges with a leaf shaped blade as common design feature. This demonstrates a clear development from the Hispaniensis to the Mainz type in shape and function.
“’Mainz’ type Gladius / This is the earlier form of the gladius hispaniensis, ... The blades of surviving examples vary from 40 – 50.5cm in length and have a width of 4.8 – 6cm. The long, tapering point varies in size from 9.6 – 20com and was designed to puncture armour.” (Goldsworthy, 2000:45)
            The point of the weapon is clearly the focus of the description here, focussed on puncturing armour. This was because at that point in time the Romans were facing armoured opponents. It meant that the long point on Mainz was for “mail-busting” (Coe, 1996:27). There is an interesting relationship inferred in the Goldsworthy (2000) point toward the Mainz as an earlier type of the Hispaniensis. This no doubt comes from the general naming of all of the weapons as gladius hispaniensis due to their origin. Indeed it could be claimed that the full name of the Hispaniensis type would be Hispaniensis gladius hispaniensis. It should be noted, however that in no way was the cutting ability of the gladius reduced by this enhancement.

Gladius Hispaniensis - Rheingönheim
(Coe, 1996:25)

Next Type

“The Mainz Gladius is similar to the Hispaniensis Gladius in its prominence of the concavity in the blade; however this first revision of the Spanish version made the sword both wider and shorter. The next evolution turned the blade into the Fulham Gladius.” (Berdeguer, 2014:21)
            The first change was from the Hispaniensis to Mainz in a shortening of the blade and gaining some width, a similar leaf shape was kept, however the point was refined to be more exaggerated. The next stage in development overall, or only regional, was to the Fulham. Further changes were made to the edges, to the length and also to the point of the weapon. Some consider this a sub-type of the Mainz.

Fulham Type

General Description

“Fulham Gladius or Mainz-Fulham Gladius: The sword that gave the name to the type was dredged from the Thames near Fulham and must therefore date to a time after the Roman occupation of Britain began. That would have been after the invasion of Aulus Plautius in 43 AD. It was used until the end of the same century. It is considered the conjunction point between Mainz and Pompei. Some consider it an evolution or the same as the Mainz type. The blade is slightly narrower than the Mainz variety. The main difference is the triangular tip. Blade length ~50–55 cm (19.6 to 21.6 inches). Sword length ~65–70 cm (25.6 to 27.6 inches). Blade width ~6 cm (2.36 inches). Sword weight ~700g/1.5 pounds (wooden hilt).” (Wikipedia, 2016)
          For some the Fulham is merely a modification of the Mainz and not a completely different type of its own; for others it is a different type. To cover both it is best that it is covered as a type of its own as then it is covered to see elements of both present. There are clear lines of investigation for both. The Fulham regardless of its status has a narrower blade, a very triangular tip which is more pointed than the previous type, and it is also shorter. Without much surprise this also results in it being lighter as well. The location of the main finds on the edges of the Empire is the main claims as to it being a sub-type of the Mainz.

Blade Description

“This version [Fulham] had a completely straight blade, a change from the previous two versions that had concave blades. This blade also had a long triangular tip, which became the signature aspect of this version of the Gladius, and was narrower than the Mainz Gladius.” (Berdeguer, 2014:21)
          The Fulham has a completely straight blade which differentiates it from the Mainz which retained the curved edges of the previous Hispaniensis. The point was the same puncturing style however the blade was also shorter. It is also often the lack of information about the Fulham which often places it as a sub-type of the Mainz. What is interesting is that the straight edges are a main characteristic of the Pompeii gladius, the type which followed the Fulham and Mainz, which means it could have been seen merely as a development toward the next type.

Pompeii Type

Naming and Description

Pompeii-type Blade
(Coe, 1996:27)
“Pompeii Gladius (or Pompeianus or Pompei): Named by modern historians after the Roman town of Pompeii, this Gladius was by far the most popular one. Four instances of the sword type were found in Pompeii, with others turning up elsewhere. The sword has parallel cutting edges and a triangular tip. This is the shortest of the gladii. Observe that it is often confused with the spatha which was a longer, slashing weapon used initially by mounted auxilia. Over the years the Pompeii got longer, these later versions are referred to as semi-spathas. Blade length ~45–50 cm (17.7 to 19.7 inches). Sword length ~60–65 cm (23.6 to 25.6 inches). Blade width ~5 cm (1.97 inches). Sword weight ~700g/1.5 pounds (wooden hilt).” (Wikipedia ,2016)
            One of the more important notes is that these weapons were named by modern historians, to the Romans they would just have been gladii. Much like the Mainz, the Pompeii was named after where the first of its kind was found, at Pompeii. This is no doubt the most popular model because it was used historically when the Empire was the largest and thus the army was the largest. It was also the easiest to produce. It is often confused with the spatha due to the similarity in blade- shape, the spatha most often simply being longer, the usage was also much the same, with both point and edge, as will be presented below. Over the years the Pompeii got longer until they became semi-spatha and then were simply replaced by them. This gives a complete description of the weapon. The Pompeii is the one which could be claimed to be the archetypical gladius, as it is the shape which is most represented.

Reference Back to Previous

(Anderson, 2011)
“The Roman gladii extant have lengths between 14.3 and 23.2 inches.  The example shown above represents the Pompeii type which replaced the older Mainz type in the middle of the first century A.D.” (Anderson, 2011)

            The Mainz was replaced by the Pompeii, if the Fulham is not considered to be a type on its own. It was much simpler to make due to its straight edge. The simple shorter point was also less laborious to construct, thus the weapon was much easier to mass produce. This was a gradual replacement which started from the middle of the first century AD (Quesada Sanz, 1997:259). With regard to this discussion it is important to compare it to the Fulham mentioned previously.
“The Pompeii Gladius was very comparable to the Fulham Gladius, as it has parallel cutting edges and the triangular tip; however this version did not have nearly as prominent of a triangular tip at the end of the blade. The Pompeii Gladius was also the shortest of the Gladii.” (Berdeguer, 2014:22)
            When comparing the Pompeii and the Fulham some similarities will be noted in the form. Both have straight edges and a triangular tip, and both are shorter than their predecessors. The thing that sets the Pompeii as different is that the triangular point on it is shorter than that on the Fulham, a less pointed triangle. This also results in the Pompeii being shorter than the Fulham and thus the shortest of the gladii.

Use for Cut and Thrust

            The Romans did not leave their army the same if they felt that something could be improved. This can be seen with regard to every element, and the sword was no different. The Mainz was replaced by the Pompeii because it was not as suitable for both cut-and-thrust (Coe, 1996:27). While the gladius remained a weapon which was still primarily thrust related, the cut was also used and to effect. This was due to a change in circumstance with their opposition. Previously they were armoured and the thrust was the best and only real truly effective option, with the meeting of less armoured opponents, the cut became a more viable option.
“This was a straight-bladed weapon [the Pompeii] with a much shorter point. Blade lengths vary between 420 and 500mm (16.5 – 20in) and widths between 42 and 45mm (1.6 – 2.2in). Even more than the Mainz pattern, the Pompeii-type gladius was a supremely well balanced and effective weapon for both cutting and thrusting.” (Goldsworthy, 2011:133)
            By shortening the point, the weight of the blade was brought back closer to the hilt which made the weapon better balanced and thus more agile. This made it more suitable for the delivery of cuts. The straight blade on the weapon also made cutting with the weapon much more effective also.

New Type

Pompeii-type from Denmark

            There were also variations in shape by the different region in which they were constructed. The example from Denmark which is presented above which is clearly of a Pompeii shape is not the typical type which has been previously presented. This one has a wide fuller, often mislabeled as a “blood-groove”, down the middle of the blade to strengthen it, and not to let the blood out when it is used to thrust. The shape of the blade is classic Pompeii.

“Another completely documented and published find came from the cemetery at Khrustal’noe (formerly Wiekau), on the Sambian Peninsula (Fig. 1: 3), where a Roman gladius alongside a decorative harness was discovered in a rich grave. Its blade was short, with deep fullers running to the point (Bujack 1889, p.281; Heydeck 1909, Pl. XXXVIII; Gaerte 1929, Abb. 159: e)” (Nowakowski, 2007:85)

            The find at Khrustal’noe presents the possibility of an entirely new type which has been found in the Baltic. It has some of the characteristics of the Pompeii but it has some clear differences also. There are arguments about its use as to whether it was a parade sword, a gift, or even whether it was shortened for area-specific use. The image which is presented below is of the find and the differences will be noted. To think that all is known about all of the gladius would be to close a book before it is finished.
Khrustal’noe type


            The gladius is one of the most recognisable swords, indeed one of the most recognisable weapons in the world. It could even be said to be one of the most known weapons in the world, however it could be argued that there are some that do not know as much about the gladius as they would like people to think they know about it. This has been an in-depth discussion of this weapon designed to give a more complete investigation of the weapon rather than the usual glossing that it usually gets.
            The curatorial discussion of this weapon will take up the greatest amount of space with regard to the discussion of the gladius as can be seen here takes up a lot of space here. What can be found here is essentially broken down into three categories; evidence, construction and classification. This is the real discussion of the weapon as an artefact. The excavation discussion tells what has been left in the way of artefacts from the period. The construction tells how they were constructed, and finally the gladius types, describes how they are classified so that they can be discussed more easily.
What the curatorial information really discusses aside from the clear evidence presented above is evidence for the adaption of a weapon to the task required and the environment. The Romans started with one weapon, and then changed and adapted the weapon to suit their changing circumstances. At first they required a weapon which was useful against armoured opponents, and thus we see the long, tapered point of the Hispaniensis and Mainz types, primarily for thrusting but could also cut. Later on as their opponents wore less armour, but still wore some, they required a weapon which could still go through armour but could also cut more efficiently, hence the Pompeii type. This idea of adaptability is also seen in the use of the weapon.
The best way for the mists of confusion which surround the gladius to be cleared are for investigations to be made. Investigations such as this one which seek out many different sources are useful to bring much more information to the light however practical demonstrations and experimentation with the equipment and weapons of the time would also go a long distance to proving or disproving much of what has been stated. What should be noted is that such demonstration and experimentation needs to be based on rigorous research and scientific methodology for an accurate recreation and accurate results to be achieved.


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