Gladius – Short sword of the Roman legionnaire
Gladius is a Roman short sword widely used by Roman light infantry from the beginning of the 1st until the end of the 2nd century. It was mostly made from steel. A fully equipped Roman legionnaire was armed with a shield (scutum), javelin (pilum), a sword (gladius), often a dagger (pugio), and, perhaps in the later Empire period, darts (plumbatae). Conventionally, soldiers threw javelins to disable the enemy’s shields and disrupt enemy formations before engaging in close combat, for which they drew the the sword.
Gladius – types and development
Early Roman swords were similar to Greek. Later they adopted styles of swords of nations they conquered, especially Hispania. It was known as gladius hispaniensis. There were several other types of gladius such as Mainz and Pompeii. Mainz type is named after the city and it was manufactured around the local camp. It was extensively sold at North of the empire. Its size was 70 cm long and weight 0.7 kg. Pompeii type sword was the shortest of the gladii. It was just 60 cm long, but very effective and lethal weapon if used correctly.
Main purpose of gladius was stabbing, not slicing how it’s incorrectly shown in Hollywood movies. Although main purpose was stabbing, legionnaires hadn’t always play fair. They would try to slash underneath enemy shield for their kneecaps. For better grip, hilt was knobbed, sometimes even with finger ridges. The blade was double-edged and it had rhomboidal cross-section. Often, for purpose of personalization, it was engraved with owner’s name. In the time of peace it was holstered in scabbard tied to belt that was worn over the left shoulder and on the right side. By that way, legionnaires didn’t have to reach across the body to pull out their sword. Only the centurion wore it on the other side as a mark of distinction from other, lower ranked, soldiers.
Eventually, towards the end of the 2nd century AD and during the 3rd century the spatha gradually took the place of the gladius in the Roman legions.