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The History and Evolution of the Roman Gladius Swords

Gladius swords, the pride of the Roman Empire, became a sensation during the wars of Punic. It was first the fighting symbol of the Iberian tribes during the 2nd century BCE. Later, the Spaniards, who were also good at defeating the Romans, conquered the Iberian Peninsula and prospered history with their two primary weapons, the hook-handled Falcata, and Gladius. One was a lethal slashing weapon, while the other was a minimized length sword, which proved to be more effective than spades and lances because of its close-quarter combat.

Origin of the Gladius Sword

Gladius is a Latin word that literally means a sword. In historical context, it relates to the Romans who mainly carried Pilum (spears), Pugio (daggers), and Gladius (swords) as their attacking weapons and Lorica (steel armor), Galea (Helmet), and Scutum (large shield) for defense. Roman Gladius was originally Gladius Hispaniensis, held by the Celts belonging from the Iberian Peninsula at the time of clashes during the first and second Punic wars.

The ideal weapon of that time it faced opposing soldiers with its short length menacingly and gave them no time to swing around the long sword they were carrying. Romans identified the gap in powers and adapted theirweaponry for their soldiers. The Romans tactically classified half a million soldiers into legions, comprising 4,000 to 6,000 men further divided into 80 to a 100 men, centurions, the centurion was the principal commander of a centuria, or “century” the smallest unit of a Roman legion. After the Marian reforms six such centuries formed a legionary cohort.During the Mid Republic these centuries were grouped in pairs to make up a “maniple”, each century consisting of 30 – 60 men. The legionaries got trained to cover them with shields and attack the opponent with the little Roman sword effectively. The success of this adaptation came into effect during the conquest of Gaul (58 BC to 51 BC).

Soldiers fighting withtheGladius were gladiators. They wore it on their right side of the body for better effectiveness. In this method the soldiers to stab four times in a second. There were some left-handed masses who got special training to collide with other legionaries during the battle.

The Lethal Design

When the Romans adapted theScimitar Sword, the Iron Age and steel manufacturing processes were common in the classical world. Blacksmiths had access to bloomery furnaces that made iron smelting more convenient. The refined and better-crafted gladius had a pointed blade and cutting edges on each side with up to 25 inches (65cm) length. The small-holding area was firm and made out of wood. It was sometimes covered with four grooves with sheeted or plated silver or bronze for a good balance and grip. Even in modern times, you can find the gladius on many online stores that use the same refining methods but advanced.

The structure of these Roman swords mainly had the following parts:

  • Capulus is the whole area of the handle of the small swords that had designs and patterns on them.
  • Obviabis is the top-most part of the Capulus. The upward projected portion of the pommel provides grip, weight, and balance to the wielder’s hand.
  • Guard is the small section that divides the blade and capulus.
  • Tenaci is the part that lies between the obviabis and the guard. It is mainly made up of wood and often covered with silver or bronze with some patterns.
  • Gladius lamina is the whole blade part that varied in size over time and with the evolution of the Roman sword.
  • Ferro is the pointed edge that tears the splash of the enemy.
  • Ore Gladii is the edges of the entire blade with sharp ends best suitable for slashes, scrapes, and cuts.

Effectiveness of the Sword

The Romans kept thegladius in their leather sheaths attached to their belts all the time. These small swords were lighter than a typical cavalry sword, weighing in at mostly of around 1.5 lbs. The small Capulus was made of wood which is less weighty and could easily be held one-handed. Where gladius sword could stab four times in a second, cavalry could do only two with extra time to take a full swing. With this, soldiers could conveniently defend themselves with their shields called scutum and attack simultaneously.

The Evolution and Types of Roman Swords

Initially, gladius swords had a relatively larger and narrower blade. By 1st BCE, it changed into a shorter, wider, and sharper version of the original. Then, in 1st CE, the blades got even shorter. Since that era was all about wars, it was nearly impossible for the soldiers to maintain the same weapon over different war times. From leaf-blade shape blade to a pointed triangular, the manufacturing evolved, and in today’s time, we can find the following main types of Roman swords:

1. Gladius Hispaniensis

The original form used by the Spaniards and then adapted by the Romans was the Gladius Hispaniensis that was used on battlefields from 216 BC to 20 BC. Out of all other evolved swords, it was the heaviest with the largest leaf-like blade. The entire sword’s length was from 29.5 to 33.5 inches weighing 1.9 lbs.

2. Mainz

Mainz transformed the edges of the original gladius sword into a triangular shape with a shorter overall length of 25.6 to 27 inches, with a weight of 1.76 lbs. It was given to soldiers on duty at the Northern side on the border of Garrisons in 13 BC. Manufacturing started at the campsite and later was taken to the city. Many veterans even started selling their personal swords off in the North after their retirements.

3. Mainz-Fulham

This type was similar to the mains type and got its name derived Fulham (around river Thames). It had a minor difference of six centimeters extra blade length than Mainz. The sword type was mainly used when Romans invaded the British. Fulham Mainz had the same length of 25.6 to 27.6 inches and Mainz’weight of 1.5lbs.

4. Pompeii

During the Roman civil wars of the late republic, Romans realized that their enemies had started using the same short weapons and needed an even better version. Then, the Pompeii, also called Pompeianus or Pompei, came into the battlefield with parallel edges, the same triangular tip, and a shorter length of 23.6 to 25.6 inches.

How Soldiers used the Gladius

The sputum of the Roman Empire was big enough to shield the whole body and protect against all attacks. With the help of the gladius, the group of soldiers would interlock their protected shields and slash the opponent’s body at the smallest of opportunities. They were trained to attack the abdominal area or even the legs or knees from beneath the scutum.

Conclusion

Gladius swords originated amongst the Iberian tribes and became a crucial part of Roman history. These tiny blades had a sharp triangular edge, best made for stabbing enemies and leaving a lethal impact. In time, Romans started realizing how the rest of the world was adopting their Roman sword, and they proactively began evolving their weapons. The final version, the Pompeii or Pompeianus that was the lightest and smallest among all. Romans set history with their conquering and attacking powers. Till today, in 2021 history-lovers remember the Roman glory, their heroes with their lethal weapons with awe. You too can find the Arabian Sword online and explore more about the shape and blade of each type.

Washim

Washim is an Bangladeshi tech based web blogger. Right now he writes for techshim.com excellent content Android Apps, Games and much more.

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