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Евсеенков А.С.

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Pugio is an ancient Roman double-edged dagger. It was used as a reserve weapon for legionnaires, auxiliaries, as well as junior commanders of the Roman army (centurions, optiones, vexillarii, etc.).

Some of the first references to the appearance of pugio among legionnaires date back to the 1st century BC, although it is assumed that they were there before. By the beginning of the principate era , pugio was most widely used among legionnaires and auxiliaries.

Judging by pictorial sources, a similar dagger was used by gladiators, but the question of whether their weapon can be qualified as a pugio remains unresolved.

Part of a stele to Annaius Daverzus with Pugio, an auxiliary from cohors IIII Delmatarum. Early 1st century AD
Tombstone of Centurion Marcus Favonius Facilis of the XX (Valeria Victrix) Valerian Victorious Legion. Colchester. Colchester and Essex Museum. 1st century AD (43-50 AD)
Stele to Legionnaire Firmus, Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bonn, Germany, 1st century AD


In hand-to-hand combat, the legionnaire's main weapon was the gladius. However, in the event of a breakdown/loss of the main weapon or in an excessively dense battle, when it is necessary to deliver a quick and deadly blow without a swing in close quarters, an alternative weapon came to the rescue - pugio. In the tightness of hand-to-hand combat, pugio allowed for effective strikes without a swing. An additional advantage was the ability to hold this dagger not only in a straight grip, but also in a reverse grip, which allowed stabbing blows from above. However, most likely, pugio was more often used for household purposes (cooking, chores in the camp, and so on).

Pugio had a steel double-edged blade 15-35 cm long and was usually leaf-shaped. The design of the handle had an unusual T-shape, which in the section had a layered structure. Often, especially in the 1st century AD, the hilt was richly decorated with gold and / or silver inlay, even for ordinary legionnaires. Sometimes the handles were named. To give strength to the blade, the main stiffener was located in the middle of it.

Pugio structure
"Explosion-scheme" of Pugio

Despite the fact that the pugio had the status of more of a backup weapon, it is a mistake to believe that it had a poor striking ability. Researchers suggest that striking both a direct and reverse grip from above with a further twist of the blade was almost always fatal for the victim. Below is a diagram of how to deal such a blow, which should dispel possible doubts about Pugio's ability to inflict extremely serious wounds.

Strike pattern


According to the classical classification, pugios are usually divided into 3 groups according to periods, which are called I-th, II-th and III-th types, and 4 groups according to the type of blade (A, B, C, D), the sections of which are shown in the figure below.

The first type is the earliest, Republican type and dates back to the 1st century BC. These are the most simple in structure samples, sharpened more for functionality than for excesses. The second type is one of the richest in jewelry and corresponds to the beginning of the principate era - the 1st century AD. Type III is the last existing type of pugio. After the peak of expensive customization of Type II, more "modest" samples are observed among the finds, although still more decorated than the republican ones. By dating, they correspond to the 2-3 century AD.

Timeline for different types of pgios
Typing based on the shape of the blade section
Timeline with different types of blades

Wearing method

In addition to the huge variety in both the pugios themselves and their scabbards, there were also various options for carrying them. Most often, they were clung to two upper or lower rings located on the scabbard (the most common according to finds is the presence of 4 rings at once, apparently for different types of wearing). The scabbard, in turn, was placed on the cingulum with the help of special fasteners. Also, in order to keep the pugio higher relative to the cingulum, it could be attached to the lower rings. If there were two cingulums, then pugio was often attached to one, and gladius to the second. But there were other ways of wearing it, which, apparently, were primarily characteristic of higher military ranks - centurions. An example is wearing the pugio as a gladius-on a separate strap slung over the shoulder, or tying the pugio with separate ropes to the center of the cingulum in a horizontal position. There is also one atypical wearing of the pugio in aquilifer-in a horizontal position on the side. Most likely, the pugio is suspended by 2 rings on one side, but there is a possibility of stylization by ancient artists, and the dagger was worn on one lower and one upper ring.

Fragment of the tombstone with the pugio of Centurion Marcus Favonius Facilis from the XX (Valeria Victrix) Valerian Victorious Legion. Colchester. Colchester and Essex Museum. 1st century AD (43-50 AD)
Part of the bas-relief of the Pugio Centurion from the Museo Civico agli Eremitani, Italy. 25-0 BC.
Part of the tombstone of Gnaeus Musius, aquilifer of the fourteenth Legion with pugio. The tombstone is located in the Mainz Museum, 1st century AD.


All pugios of type II perfectly fit the legionnaire variation or auxiliaries of the second half of the 1st century. Individual pugios of type II-B may be suitable for the very beginning of the 2nd century, but for the image of a legionnaire of the first quarter of the 2nd century, it is still better to use pugios of type III. Titled fighters like centurions or members of the Banner group can also use this type of equipment. Gladiators who are traditionally armed with short edged weapons (provocateurs, dimachers, retiarii) can also use pugio. The photo below shows the stylization of pugio from Karnuntum as an example. Only the scabbard, or rather fragments of it, were found from it. The missing elements were recreated using the closest analogs of pugio of the same date and type. The dagger itself is a pugio from the Princeton Museum of Art, 1st century AD.

Stylization of pugio from carnuntum
Stylization of pugio from carnuntum
Stylization of pugio from carnuntum


PUGIO - GLADIUS BREVIS EST, Marco Saliola, Fabrizio Casprini, 2012

Die Legionen des Augustus, Dr. Marcus Junkelmann, 2015

Die romische Armee: Von Augustus zu Konstantin d. Gr. (German Edition) by Yann Le Bohec, 1993

Related topics

Gladius, Cingulum, Legionnaire, Auxiliaries, Centurion, Vexillary, Option, Principate


Auxilarium with pugio, Esztergom-Balassa Bálint Múzeum, 70-80 AD
Pugio scabbard, Carnuntum fortress, Archaeologisches Museum Carnuntinum-Bad Deutsch-Altenburg-AU), type II, 1st century AD
Pugio, Cortesia Narodni Muzej Slovenije-Ljubljana-SLO, 1st century AD
Pugio, Princeton Museum of Art, 1st century AD
Pugio, Princeton Museum of Art, 1st century AD
Pugio, Princeton Museum of Art, 1st century AD
Пугио, Archäologische Staatssammlung München - München-D, 1 век н.э.
Type I pugio, Necrópolis de Carratiermes. Soria , España. Museo Numantino, 3rd-1st century BC
Set of pugios without handles, Munich History Museum, 1st-3rd century AD.
Catalog of Pugio 1-3 centuries AD.
Scabbard for pugio inlaid with silver. National Roman Legion Museum Caerleon, Newport, mid-1st century AD
X-ray of pugio. Found in the Roman burial ground of Haltern am See. 1st century AD
Pugio before restoration. Found in the Roman burial ground of Haltern am See. 1st century AD
Pugio. Found in the Roman burial ground of Haltern am See. 1st century AD
Belt set with buttons. Found in the Roman burial ground of Haltern am See. 1st century AD