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Gladius or gladius (Lat. gladius) - a Roman short sword, designed for stabbing blows.

There is a version that the Romans adopted the gladius as the main melee weapon from the inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula (presumably the Celts), modifying it to suit their battle tactics. Such a sword was called Gladius Hispaniensis (from Latin. - "Spanish sword"). The very same word "gladius". probably. It comes from the Celtic" kladyos "("sword"), although some historians believe that this term may also come from the Latin clades ("damage, wound") or gladii ("stalk").

The piercing form of the gladius and its short length was due to the inability to deliver effective chopping blows in a closed legionary formation. Outside of a tight infantry formation, Gladius was inferior to Celtic swords in many ways . It was used by the Romans as the main type of weapon until the 3rd century among infantry, after which it was replaced by the spata, which was an intermediate version between the gladius and barbarian longswords. This change was also influenced by more global processes taking place in the Roman Empire, for example, "barbarization" and a change in the military tactics of using infantry. As a result, the spata became the main sword of the Great Migration of Peoples and was transformed into swords of the Vendelian and Carolingian types.

Gladiuses were used mainly by representatives of the Roman army: legions, auxilia, and gladiators.

Types of gladiuses

For a long time, the gladius did not remain unchanged: it was constantly modified in a certain way. To date, there are several types of ancient Roman swords:

"Spanish" gladius :

The earliest type of this weapon and at the same time the most common among the finds. The total length is about 75-85 cm, the blade length is 60-65 cm, the blade width is 5 cm, the weight is about 900-1000 g. The blade has a characteristic leaf-shaped shape with a bend. Period of use: 216 BC-20 BC The heaviest and longest gladius.

Gladius Mainz :

A sword with an elongated tip and a small" waist " of the blade; the total length is about 65-70 cm, the length of the blade is 50-55 cm, the width of the blade is 7 cm, the weight is about 800 g. This type of gladius is named after the place of its first discovery-the vicinity of the German city of Mainz. Period of use: 13 BC-early 2nd century AD

Fulham Gladius :

Similar to the Mainz type, the main difference is a triangular tip and a narrower blade. The total length is about 65-70 cm, the blade length is 50-55 cm, the blade width is 6 cm, the weight is about 700 g. The first samples were found in the UK in the city of Fulham. The shape of the blade is an intermediate option between "Mainz" and "Pompeii". Often this type of gladius is not singled out as a separate one, and is considered a variation of the "Mainz" type. Period of use: 43 AD – 100 AD.

Gladius "Pompeii" :

A blade with parallel blades and a triangular tip, very similar to another type of Roman sword-spata, but inferior to it in length. The total length is about 60-65 cm, the length of the blade is 45-50 cm, the width of the blade is 5 cm, the weight is about 700 g. The period of use: I – V century AD. The blade received this name due to the fact that its first samples were found during excavations at the site of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, covered with a layer of ash. In comparison with the previous types of gladius "Pompeii" is the lightest and thinnest.

Diagram of gladius types


The following components can be distinguished in the device of gladiuses::

Gladius Device

The functional purpose of the gladius elements is obvious and does not have any difficulties in understanding. Nevertheless, let's go through its design.

The function of the guard, as in any other sword, is to partially protect the hand, strengthen the design of the sword, and also - stop when stabbing an opponent (which was the main one), so that the gladius can be quickly pulled out for a second blow. The hilt itself was used to hold the sword.

It was assumed that the main function of the apple is to shift the center of gravity to the handle due to the increased spherical pommel (counterweight). This is generally accepted, but the remaining pommels are made of wood or bone - relatively light materials - and are not able to significantly change the position of the center of gravity; if such a task were really set, the pommel would have to be, for example, metal. However, archaeological findings do not confirm this. So most likely the main function is to hold the gladius comfortably so that the hand does not slide down when it is hit.

On the blade, the tip had a fairly wide cutting edge to give the blade a greater piercing ability. It was used for combat in the ranks. It was possible to cut with a gladius, but chopping blows were considered preliminary: it was believed that you can only kill the enemy with a strong stabbing blow, for which the gladius was intended.

The scabbard is a permanent attribute of any gladius. It was used for storage and rapid withdrawal in a tight formation, and therefore it was worn on the right shoulder of legionnaires. The scabbard was fastened through the belt with stitched straps passed through the rings on the scabbard. Sometimes buckles were placed on the straps for more convenient dressing and removing the scabbard.

Gladius Hilt, Alen Museum
Wooden and Bone Sword Handles, British National Museum
Gladius hilt, Vindonissa, 1st century AD

Gladiuses were most often made of iron, but you can also find mention of bronze swords. As the extant examples of Roman swords show, from the end of the II century AD and especially in the III century AD, gladiuses were already made of forged steel. Gladius was popular with the legionnaires, the heavy Roman infantry. The Velites (light infantry of the Romans) used gladiuses only as auxiliary weapons. In the hands of skilled warriors, this sword dealt quick and deadly blows, but its length allowed you to fight with the enemy only close. The most experienced legionnaires could use it to fence with the same skill as they could hack, cut, or stab.

Gladius scabbard decoration, brass, Leiden Museum
Gladius from Windisch-Switzerland. This sword was found in Switzerland and is now kept in the Vindonissa Museum (Vindonissa - Miks A790).
Pompeii-type gladiuses. Found in Pompeii (Italy). 1-2 century AD


This type of weapon is perfect for legionnaires, Praetorians and auxiliaries. For more advanced warriors, such as Optionus or Centurion, it is also the primary one. But if we take into account senior officers, such as legates, then it is more appropriate to use parasonium. It should also be noted that gladius is not suitable for riders - they used longer weapons - spats. From images that are not related to the Roman army, gladius is also perfect for the reconstruction of gladiators. For safety reasons, it is allowed to blunt the edge of the weapon and its tip during reconstruction.

Related topics

Legionnaire, Full name, Cingulum, Spata, Centurion, Gladiators


M. C. Bishop (2016). The Gladius: The Roman Short Sword (in Spanish). Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-14-728158-6-6.

Flavius Vegetius Renatus (1996). Vegetius: Epitome of Military Science (in Spanish). Liverpool University Press. ISBN 978-08-532391-0-9.

Livius, Titus. "The History of Rome, Vol. II". 7.10. Archived from the original on August 30, 2002. Retrieved 25 November 2010.

Nicodemi, Walter; Mapelli, Carlo; Venturini, Roberto; Riva, Riccardo (2005). "Metallurgical Investigations on Two Sword Blades of 7th and 3rd Century B.C. Found in Central Italy". ISIJ International. 45 (9): 1358–1367. doi:10.2355/isijinternational.45.1358


Gladius hilt, Vindonissa, 1st century AD
Gladius pommels from the Republic to the early Empire. On the left are the handles from the Spanish type, and on the right are the Pompeian ones.
Gladius type "Mainz". It was found in the River Rhine, early first century. Also called the sword of Tiberius. The British Museum in London
1st century AD, Rhenish Museum of Local Lore
Mainz-type gladius with silver handle, 1st century AD, Museum Speyer
Gladius Scabbard, 1st century AD, Rhenish Museum of Local Lore
Gladius Hilt, Alen Museum
Pompeian Gladius scabbard decoration, 1st-2nd century AD
1st century AD, Arles Museum of Antiquity
Gladius scabbard decoration, brass. 1st century AD, Vindonissa Museum
1-2 century AD, Leiden Museum
Legionnaire's equipment from Herculaneum, 1st century AD
Gladius and cingulum. Second half of the 1st century AD, Catalog of finds of the Croatian part of the Danube Limes
Gladiuses. 1-2 century AD, Nijmegen museum
Gladius Scabbard Decoration, Vindonissa Museum
Fulham-type Gladius (found in Felham, Britain), 1st century AD, National British Museum, London
Jewelry for gladius scabbards of the Mainz type, 1st century AD, Carnuntinum (Austria, Bad Deutsch-Altenburg), private collection, Published: Exhibition catalog "Legionsadler und Druidenstab, F. Humer, 2006," ISBN 3854602294 "
Tombstone bas-relief with cingulum and pugio. 3rd quarter of the 1st century AD, AMI Pula, inv. no. A-301
Scabbard decoration, 1st century AD, Currently on display at the Carnuntinum Museum (Austria, Bad Deutsch-Altenburg), private collection, Published: Exhibition catalog "Legionsadler und Druidenstab, F. Humer, 2006," ISBN 3854602294 "
Pompeian Gladius scabbard decoration, 1st-2nd century AD