Gladius (literally means “sword”) was a Roman sword used in legions and in arenas by gladiators. The name of this weapon was probably born from gladiators who often used it for fighting.
In the early period of the Republic, Romans used Greek swords. Then they started using the Celtic swords from Iberia. The full name of the Roman sword is Gladius Hispaniensis.
It was a sword commonly used by Roman legionaries in the period of the Republic and the Empire, from the third century BCE until the 3rd century CE. Later, the gladius was replaced by its elongated form, spatae, which was also part of the horsemen weaponry.
Gladius was most probably taken over from the Celtic and Iberian peoples during the Punic wars. Until the Second Punic War, the so-called Gallic-type sword was used, which in the later period, was supplanted by a shorter, Spanish type sword. During the Empire, longer swords were introduced (spatae). In addition, every legionary wore a short dagger at the belt (pugio).
The sword was used both for cuts and thrusts, with the latter being used more often. Its small length and well-developed blade allowed not only for efficient and quite loose maneuvering with the sword, but also for very high accuracy of thrusts.
As the technique and martial art developed, gladius underwent structural changes, primarily in terms of the blade (blade), which initially amounted from 75 to 85 cm, and eventually reached a length from 80 to 100 cm. The blade made of iron had bones going through the center and a sharp peak. The handle, on the other hand, had a spherical head made of wood or a horn, whose stem was ribbed or enclosed in round rings, with a little prominent box-shaped hind. The hilt of the sword was richly decorated, often silver or gold was used for this purpose, especially among high officers.
Gladius was worn by the left arm on the right side of the scabbard (vagina) with a metal shod. The belt used to carry the sword was called balteus.
As mentioned above, these swords were mainly used for stabbing. It was determined by the way of combat used by the Roman infantry. The legionaries fought in close formation at close range, which did not allow the use of long weapons. The soldiers, while walking on the enemy, kept their swords in their right hands, and the shields in the left, thus creating a wall littered with blades. When they clashed with the opponent, they displayed their swords and stabbed blows.
The Celts were convinced of the ineffectiveness of the long swords in close contact with the Roman infantry, who could not wrestle with their long swords in the crush.
With the development and improvement of weapons, four types of gladius have been created:
- Gladius Hispaniensis – sword, used since 200 BCE to around 20 BCE; it was 74 cm to 81 cm long, with a 64 to 69 cm blade.
- Mainz – the blade was 66 to 70 cm long. The sword weight around 1 kg. The sword was mainly exported to the north.
- Fulham – a transitional form between the Mainz and Pompeian types. Used practically immediately after the invasion of Aulus Plautius on Britain in 43 CE. The blade was 70 cm long. The shape of the handguard was similar to the form of a flat pyramid. The knob at the end of the handle had various cross-sections, from hexagon to circle. It was used as a centurion personal weapon.
- Pompeianus – used during the reign of emperors Claudius and Nero. The blade was 60 cm long.