Roman sword

Roman sword

mosaic  spqrThe Roman state since its very beginning had a militant attitude, being constantly in conflict with its neighbours. Hence, a solid army was essential for this purpose. The basis of its successes was the ability to skillfully use the methods and weapons characteristic for their enemies in combat. The basis of the army of the kingdom period was the mass mobilization of citizens who had such armament which was available for them and who fought in a matter based mostly on all-out attack on your opponent.

After the Romans overthrew the Etruscans rule in 509 BC, the royal period ended and then came the Republic. At the beginning, the Republican army was a kind of citizen militia. It consisted of the infantry created by citizens of a particular city. During the first 100 years of the Republic, the army system was based on a phalanx. However, in the case of a clash with an enemy who was not familiar with a method of fighting based on the hoplites, the military quadrangle failed. When in 390 BC the Gauls reached the Italian land, the Roman phalanx, which was smaller in number and not so relentless and furious in battle as their Celtic invaders, did not manage to beat the open Barbarian formations that used attacks carried out at an angle and suffered a miserable defeat.

After this failure, the Roman commanders decided to introduce significant changes in the tactical formations used by the legions. The main initiator of the military reforms from the beginning of the 4th century BC was Marcus Furius Camillus.

As the Roman army wanted to have the ability to adjust to every enemy tactics they encounter, they started to use a maniple instead of a phalanx. It was a flexible, linear formation created by three ranks of soldiers, determined on the basis of age, experience and wealth status of a given warrior. A quadrangle adapted from Greece was abandoned on the behalf of three rows of heavy infantry. The soldiers from the first two rows were equipped with javelins, the gladius swords and the oval scutum shields.

The mentioned weapons used massively by the Romans (pilum, gladius and scutum) were incredibly important innovations, which contributed to the future successes of the Roman army.


roman  gladiusA short Roman sword named gladius is one of the most famous ancient weapons. It had an iron two-edged blade with a sharp point. Its hilt was equipped with a round pommel, made usually of wood or bone, and a small boxy guard.

This sword was carried by regular legionaries on the right side and by officers on the left. It was protected by a vagina, which was a sheath covered with metal and strapped to the special belt called balteus.

It was adapted from the Hispanic tribes and constituted the basis of the Roman legionaries' weaponry between the 3rd century BC and the 3rd century AD. Its construction was modified along with the innovations applied in technology and warfare. The oldest discovered models (the Mainz type) measured 40-55 cm length in their blades. Their width was around 4.8-7.4 cm. They were used for stabbing and cutting. The subsequent Pompeii gladius was about 70 cm long (as a whole) and 4.2-4.5 cm wide (equal at the whole blade) and was used to inflict similar damage.

Various balance was characteristic for the gladius swords. The antique rulers were highly impressed by this weapon. It is said that the Macedonian king, Phillip V, was extremely terrified when he saw people killed with these swords.


roman pilumPilum was a perfectly constructed javelin equipped with a long iron shank, which was adapted from the Etruscans most probably. Every legionary had usually two types of a pilum – a heavy and a light one. The bigger javelin was 2.1 m long, in which around 70 cm was the iron part and the rest of it was wooden. At the long shank, a small blade in a shape of a pyramid or a cone was placed.

The main advantage of a pilum was the method of joining the metal part to the wooden one. The iron elements were attached by ramming a spike or a tube which cracked in case of a hit, in order to prevent the enemy from re-using a pilum. What is more, when the long shank of a javelin hit a shield or another target, it was easily bent or broken, what restricted the enemy's ability to move or even made him abandon his shield completely. The pyramid shape of a blade, which was sometimes additionally equipped with burrs, made pilum very hard to come off after hitting a target. In order to throw a pilum correctly, 20-30 m distance was enough, thanks to the additional ballast being applied. It was made of cast bronze or lead and remarkably expanded the range and the depth of penetration. The smaller pilum was up to 2 m long and not heavier than 1.5 kg. It made the range a bit bigger and for this reason, it was first to be thrown by a legionary during a battle.


roman pugioPugio, was included in an offensive armament of every legionary and it was used in a close combat. It was a kind of a handy short dagger with a small, but relatively wide blade, which was about 25 cm long and 5 cm wide. Its shape was similar to a shorter so-called Spanish sword, what points out to its most probably roots. Pugio reached the Italian land at the end of the 3rd century BC, but it was not until the end of the 2nd century that it became an element of the basic weaponry. Thanks to its incredibly solid construction based on the wide and massive blade, enriched with the longitudinal reinforcement, it was most probably used not only to finish the defeated enemy off, but also to block the blows after losing a shield or a sword.

It was usually carried in an iron or bronze sheath, which was often highly decorated. At the imperial times, the way the ornaments of a hilt and a sheath were made, constituted a soldier's tag. It was always put at the left side, first at the one of the belts crossing on hips, and after the 1st century AD – on a single belt enhanced with a so-called apron. When it comes to the officers, they carried a pugio on special sword belts.

This kind of dagger is often mistaken with a parazonium. It should be distinguished from the other similar weapons though, such as lingula and clunaculum. However, nowadays the differences between them are not easy to notice and precise.

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