Ancient Roman swords were a fundamental element of Ancient Roman weapons and in many ways a fundamental element of their success in war. The short Gladius which they borrowed from the Etruscans and Spaniards was integral to their close-quarter battle tactics. Longer sword types were more useful for the cavalry.
Ancient Roman swords were a fundamental element of Ancient Roman weapons and Roman armor. They varied in type and application according to the type of war/engagement and specific age of ancient Rome. We mustn’t forget the Roman empire’s western side lasted approximately a 1000 years, whilst the Eastern half lasted a further 1000 through to the Renaissance!
There were 3 basic types of Roman swords:
- dagger called “Pugio”
- short sword of the earlier period called “Gladius”
- long sword more popular in the later period called “Spatha”
Perhaps the most famous of Roman swords is the Gladius Hispaniensis. It is thought this type of sword was actually learned from the Iberian mercenaries hired by the Carthaginians during the Punic wars. It could be used both as a cutting as well as stabbing weapon because it was short. It was particularly effective as a stabbing weapon and was popular with the infantry – the Hastati, the Principes and Triarii. Its short length made it ideal for close hand-to-hand combat, particularly when used in combination with the large heavy ‘scutum’ shield.
The Roman cavalry likely used a longer version of the gladius, the Spatha. This was more effective with swinging actions from above. An alternative long sword had a scimitar shape, which afforded greater weight at the tip of the sword. The light infantry troops known as “Velites” are also thought to have employed the Iberian styled curved sword.