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Fencing and History Nut Extraordinaire. While I am tending toward 16th century at the moment, I am and have been interested in history for a long time. Hence the fencing focuses more on the Renaissance period than the modern. This explains two out of three of my blogs. The third is a more personal one focusing on fibromyalgia. What I write in these blogs, I hope will be of use to people.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Book Review: Henry V as Warlord


The following will be a review of the book Henry V as Warlord by Desmond Seward. This will be a less formal review than most are accustomed to but it will be striking most of the same points which will be found in reviews of a similar nature. While not exactly related to swordplay, it is related to medieval history and is thus of interest.

Seward, D. (2001) Henry V as Warlord, Penguin Books Ltd, London.

Seward opens his discussion of Henry V with a discussion of how the Lancasters attained the throne of England, claiming them to be "usurpers" to the throne. In this it can be claimed that they attained the throne of England in much the same way as many rulers did. Indeed one of the most famous families in English history, the Tudors, claimed the English throne in the same way.

The discussion of Henry V's invasions of France are made very much as single-sided accounts, with barely passing references to the Norman invasion of England, which in effect was the same in reverse, but with longer-lasting effects. Thus he focusses on the ways in which Henry V had an impact upon the French and the actions of the army of Henry V.  Many of the same actions which were committed by Henry V were the same as those which were committed by William the Conqueror when he invaded England.

In the way of many historians of the modern period he compares actions of the past with modern ideas of normality, making references to actions made by modern armies in World War II on both sides, but particularly the German army. This sort of revisionist angle of history is foolish as it does not take into account the mind-set of the day and thus the normalities which were experienced in the period. One aspect in particular which seems prevalent is the use of terror in war.

Terror was often used as a weapon in war in the medieval period. This was designed for a purpose. A city which held out against a besieging force for an extended period of time could expect a much harsher response once it finally fell than one which capitulated earlier. It is an element which can be seen as "normal" for this kind of warfare throughout the period and beforehand.

Further in certain cases commanders of armies would allow atrocities to be committed in the earlier parts of their campaigns to reduce the later body cound and civilian deaths in later sieges and battles. Henry V was not the only one who used this particular aspect of terror in warfare. Charles VIII of France in his invasion of Italy used the same method in his campaign. A city early in the campaign would be sacked to let all the others know what would happen if they resisted, and it would result in many others afterward capitulating early or not resisting at all thus reducing the body count. Such actions need to be examined from the overall point of view.

Seward also vociferously complains about Henry V's army "living off the population". Again this was normal practice during the period, and it was a practice which was continued, and was previously used. Again it can be cited that Charles VIII's army also used the same tact when travelling through Italy, expecting the various cities to pay for his campaign, feed and billet his soldiers as he passed through. These aspects were normal for this period. Thus the historian needs to understand and look at it from their perspective.

While Seward seems to be on a purposeful aim to reduce the status of one of England's favourite heroes, and present him rather as a warlord than a great king, his book does present a great deal of useful information. The detail which is supplied of his campaigns and how he managed to pay for them along with the alliances made, and plots he managed to avoid against his life are truly interesting. This makes the book well worth the read even for these elements.

The book is a most interesting discussion of the life of Henry V and covers many different aspects of his rise to the throne and also his life as king. It uses many different sources which have often not been heard from before, which are in themselves most useful. The only detraction in the whole situation is that the author seems to have had an aim from the beginning to cut down this famed figure by presenting as much information to the contrary of what has been presented before. Read from the point of view of an pure interest in both sides of the story, it is a good read and supplies very good detail, but tends to compare too much of what was normal then with what is considered normal now. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in early fifteenth-century English and French history and particularly in Henry V and his campaigns, even for a different point of view.



Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Rapier to Civilian Sword - Editorial



The rapier has to be one of the most argued about weapons. Every time there is a discussion about the rapier there is an assumption made about this weapon. There is an assumption made by the writer that the reader is going to conjure in their mind the same weapon that they are writing about. Unfortunately this is sometimes not necessarily the case. The result of this is that arguments ensue. The problem is the word and the connotations associated with it. Maybe it is time for a change in thinking.

Earlier Discussion

There has already been a post made with regards to the origins and identification of the weapon known as the rapier entitled, "What is a Rapier?" (https://afencersramblings.blogspot.com.au/2015/02/what-is-rapier.html). It attempted to identify and pin down this ever elusive weapon. It discussed that there were several different forms of weapon which were identified as being rapiers. This post also stated that there was a very limited presence of the word "rapier" in the period in which it was used. It indicated that there were several etymological claimants for the word, most of which were from fencing historians as they were not actually called those things in the period in which they were used. In essence it took the weapon apart and shredded many of the common "known" so-called "facts" about the origins of the weapon. It resulted in that, for the most part, the author has to identify the weapon and hope that the reader has a common opinion.

Curatorial Issues

With all of the infomation presented above alone, it can clearly be stated that there is a lot of confusion about what a rapier is and is not. For years museum curators and collectors have identified weapons primarily by their hilts rather than the entire weapons, and had only a passing interest in their blades. It is thanks to this group of individuals that you have the term "sword rapier", a ridiculous term that was supposed to indicate a rapier with a broader blade. More to the point they have also gotten confused about where the rapier stops and the smallsword begins, which is understandable considering this line is very blurry.


Added to the confusion of how to identify the rapier itself, there is a lot of "baggage" associated with the weapon. Some of this comes from the curatorial mistakes made by museum curators in the earlier periods when the weapons were mis-identified. Some of this comes from fencing historians who were desperately trying to claim the rapier as the sword of the Renaissance, the beginning of brighter times, but not so nimble as the smallsword which led to the truer art. The last of the baggage comes from more modern times in which reproductions have been used for test cutting to prove that the rapier was could or could not cut, depending on their particular bias.

Where to Go?

With all of these issues with regard to this weapon and the word "rapier" a person has to ask, what are we to do about it? How can a person have a discussion about such a weapon in a relatively intellectual atmosphere when there is so much emotion and confusion about it?

Solution: replace it with "civilian sword".

Civilan Weapon

The primary purpose of the rapier, whatever its form, was for civilian self-defense and duelling. Sure, we occasionally see them on the battlefield, but this was not their primary purpose. Thus to call it a "civilian sword" be it a "rapier" or a "sidesword" is more associated with what it was primarily used for.


"Civilian sword" also more closely associates the weapon with its context. Especially in the Elizabethan treatise His True Art of Defense of Giacomo di Grassi of 1594 he discusses a sword, indeed he uses the word "spada" in the 1570, which was translated sometimes as "rapier" and sometimes as "sword" depending on the context of the weapon and its companion. Thus in the context of thus treatise it is actually more accurate to discuss a "civilian sword" rather than a "rapier" anyway. The same could be said of Saviolo's His Practice in Two Books of 1595, even though it does say "rapier" all the way through. In the case of both this weapon is mentioned all the way through as it was fashionable in England at the time.

Less Prejudgement

Using this newer term moves away from preconceived notions of the weapon, thus the reader will read about the weapon and understand its capabilities by what has been written by the author without pre-judging the actions of the weapon due to what it has been called. Also there will be less chance of bias for or against the weapon due to a lack of pre-judgement based on what the weapon is called. Further to this, the term "sidesword" is for the most part anachronistic in nature, determining a term for a weapon which would have simply been called a sword. Added to this, it has been noted the actions of the one, a sidesword have been noted to work quite well with the other the rapier, and in some instances, especially with earlier manuals, vice versa.

Better Coverage

A weapon which has a blade which is 45" (114.3cm) long and is 0.6" (1.5cm) wide and a 3-ring swept hilt is a rapier, but so is a weapon which has a blade which is 36" (91.4cm) long and 1" (2.5cm) wide and simple two port rings. Both are considered to be rapiers. Both are quite different weapons, the former being a weapon more found in the earlier seventeenth-century, and the later being from the mid-sixteenth-century. One only needs to look at a book or image search for "rapier" to see the many different variations. "Civilian sword" covers these and other weapons which fit into the same usage category much better.


For the most part we find a word and we tend to stick to it, even if it is not the best word. This is because we are lazy and because we get to used to using the word. With regard to the word "rapier" it is about time it had a change for a term which was much better aligned to the weapon which was actually used with the manuals, also better aligned with the weapons which were actually carried.

There is just simply too much baggage associated with the word "rapier". Too much assumption goes along with it when it is used and often those assumptions do not match up between authors and readers and this creates arguments which otherwise need not happen. Examples of these arguments can be found all over the internet. For some reason when the word "rapier" is brought up it brings out the most fervent idealists and the most passionate arguments as well.

The use of this new term "civilian sword" takes away all of the emotion which is associated with the old term and presents a clearer idea. It also presents a clean slate for an author to present their ideas about how to use the weapon without any pre-judgement on the part of the audience. The arguments associated with this new term can be transferred to more intellectual arguments of presenting sides until some sort of consensus is made about what a weapon is able to do, not with the idea of settling it once and for all but just for that weapon.

Using this new term "civilian sword" will enable a much fuller and better understanding of the Elizabethan texts also as it is more suitable to the forms of fence which are presented in these treatises. These treatises are on the cusp of change between a more cutting sword to a more thrusting sword, thus they are perfect for this term. They pin-point a position in time where the action of the cut was almost as effective in combat in a civilian combat with swords as was the thrust. With this new term a greater understanding of the art of the sword is the hope and goal.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Some Curatorial Discussions


There have been some statements made which I have overheard that need correction. The reason that these are being presented here are that they seem to be present in more than one situation by more than one person. There are three elements of the sword which are going to be discussed here, fullers, piercings and cross-guards or quillons. The reasons for these discussions will become clear as the discussions proceed.

1. The Fuller

The fuller is a shallow channel which you will find present on some swords. It is most likely found on swords with a wide blade. It has been referred to some as a "blood groove" with the explanation that it allows the easy withdrawal of the sword when thrust into a person. It is not a "blood groove" at all.

The purpose of the fuller is to lighten the weapon while strengthening it at the same time. This feature of the blade is added during the construction of the blade. Attempting to add a fuller or fullers post-manufacture will weaken the blade, possibly in two ways. The first way is that by taking metal away from the blade it weakens it, and the second method is by heating the blade, especially by grinding or other modern methods, this can affect the temper of the blade.

2. Piercings

The piercings which are being spoken about in this case are through the blade. The purpose of these piercings are both to lighten the weapon and they were also added as decoration. There are examples of this being performed on rapiers from the approximately 1590s onward. This feature was, again, added during the manufacture of the blade, not as a post-manufacture modification of the weapon.

Just as with the addition of a fuller or fullers, above, the post-manufacture addition of piercings to a blade will weaken the blade and shorten its potential life and for similar reasons to the addition of post-manufacture fullers. The removal of metal from the blade creates an inherent weakness in the blade, also the creation of any piercing by modern means will, again, create heat which can affect the temper of the blade around the area in which the piercings are made, thus creating weakness.

3. Cross-guard and Quillons

The final discussion to be made is a matter of lexical accuracy when discussing weapons. People will randomly switch between the use of "cross-guard" and "quillons" for various weapons and with free abandon. What should be noted, and to be more accurate when discussing the terms, is that the term "cross-guard" should be used to refer to weapons up to the seventeenth-century, after which the term quillions should be used. This is especially the case with regard to single-handed weapons.

Interestingly, the term being Middle French in origin, was not picked up by the English until the 19th century (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossguard) so should not be used at all when referring to English weapons at all until the 19th century.

These are three curatorial points which people should keep in mind when discussing swords, examining swords, and thinking of modifying their own weapons. Care needs to be taken so that a perfectly good weapon is not destroyed by a rash decision to make a sword "faster", where some more training and application will have much longer lasting effects. The modification of the sword to take a couple of grams off the sword will not effect the speed all that much, but may shorten the life of a sword considerably.



Saturday, January 13, 2018

Dalai Lama's Rules for the New Millennium


The title is going to be a bit of a bother for some people, but you are just going to have to read on and see the relevance for fencing (talking to HEMA people too) in general. I have these rules posted on my kitchen wall and I decided that it would be useful to do a post about how they can be related to fencing. Being that there are 17 of them here, so this is going to be a long one.

1. Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.

When you become a lover of fencing and you want to do well with it you are going to have to throw yourself wholy into it. This means that you will be putting yourself at risk. Physically obviously there is a risk, but for some there will also be an emotional one as well.

2. When you lose, don't lose the lesson.

I have made posts about the learning process before, and losing is not a bad thing when looked at from the right direction. This rule points out why. If you lost there is a reason why, and it is not because the referee was bad, or the rules were bad, it was because you got hit. Figure out the reason why and work on that.

3. Follow the three Rs: Respect for self, respect for others and responsibility for all your actions.

Where to start with this one? Respect for yourself does not mean having a big ego, it means not doing stuff which would reduce the level of respect you have for yourself. Respect for others means examining what they are doing and seeing where they are at before making comment. It also means treating people as you would want to be treated. Responsibility for all your actions is simple, if you did it you own up to it. It also means not blaming others for stuff which put you in the place where you are.

4. Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.

Sometimes we wish for short-cuts, it is better to work our way to our goals. Sometimes we want a particular piece of gear and we get another, and it turns out it works better, the list goes on.

5. Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.

Knowing how to use the rules to your advantage is one of the keys to survival. In most cases it is not "breaking" them that is the best, but "bending" them. Just remember to look at the rules properly before you do this to know exactly what rules you are bending and what the result will be.

6. Don't let a little dispute injure a great friendship.

So you like a different master, is this a big enough difference to break a friendship? So you prefer different weapons, is this a big enough difference to break a friendship? Most of the time we can negotiate and find common ground between people. Do this and you will find more friends.

7. When you realize you've made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.

This one goes back to rule 3 about responsibility for actions. Don't wait around to be discovered, admit you have made a mistake and fix it before it gets blown out of proportion. It is better to be up-front about a mistake than be hiding and discovered.

8. Spend some time alone every day.

Solo training is important, and so is training every day. Both of these apply here.

9. Open your arms to change, but don't let go of your values.

So you have found something new that you like, don't let it change your values. A change of pace with another school should not mean that you change the reason why you fence. A change of method should not change the foundation principles of fencing upon which you fence either.

10. Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.

Sometimes it is better to be silent than to make a comment. These are often the cases where someone is looking for an argument and making a response gives them what they want. Walking away is often the best response in some situations. 

11. Live a good, honourable life. Then when you get older and think back, you'll be able to enjoy it a second time.

When you sit back and remember tournaments which you have fought in, you know whether you were struck or not. If you fought honourably and gave your opponent blows when you were struck and acted with honourable methods you can sit back and enjoy those tournaments again. The same goes for all encounters. Make good memories that you want to keep.

12. A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.

In this case we talk about your school. "Loving" may not be the most appropriate word, "welcoming" would suit, so would "supportive". Students need to be supported by all members of the school not just trainers but also fellow members, this will keep them coming back.

13. In disagreements ..., deal only with the current situation. Don't bring up the past.

In this case use only the information which is current. Reputations of individuals can stick for a long time, even when they have far out-grown them. Deal only with the current issue at hand with the information present, there is no need to dredge up old situations.

14. Share your knowledge. It's a way to achieve immortality.

Ah, the reason why I write. Sharing knowledge is important for us all. The more we share the better we all get in our fencing, it is a knock-on effect. Put it on paper even and spread it far and wide so more people can see it.

15. Be gentle with the earth.

The SCA prides itself on leaving a site cleaner than it was when it arrived. All fencing communities should do the same.

16. Once a year, go some place you've never been before.

Travel. It widens your experience. Go some place and fence with people that you haven't fenced before and you will find that you will learn from the interaction with them.

Yes, I can count, 17 and 19 are missing. 17 was more related to personal relationships so I left it out. 19 was not really useful to the current discussion.

18. Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.

It is better when you judge your success to look back at what you have sacrificed to get where you are than to look at your achievements along the way. Tournament prizes are nice but they do not really last in memory, they are pretty and shiny and they sit nicely on the wall as reminders of a good day. They do not remind you of the hard work and training that you put in to get to the tournament, or the training that you did with your students, or the research that you did on a particular manual to get your technique correct. They also do not remind you of the nights out that you didn't go on because you were training, or the extra things that you could have bought that you didn't because you had to pay for training or new gear. These are the things that you should be looking at.

There are points all the way through which will resonate with some and others which will not resonate at all. That is fine. Find a copy of the original, which you can find all over the internet, and post it up on a wall and look at it occasionally. Have a think and see if there is something that you could be doing, or not doing to improve your fencing, or even out-of-fencing, life.



Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Heavy and Fence: Two Gauntlets of the SCA - More Adventures in Cross-Training


The following is primarily aimed at my SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) readership, but the tenets upon which it is based apply just as much to all forms of martial arts. Sometimes we are a little closed-minded about what some other method can offer us and thus it is dismissed as irrelevant or simply unrelated to what we are doing. It is simply not the case. There are elements in all sword movement arts which can be used to your benefit to improve what you do.


First I will deal with a little bit of nomenclature for those who are not members of the SCA. "Heavy Combat" or "heavy" refers to the fully armoured combatants who engage in combat with rattan weapons. "Fencing" or "Rapier" refers to those who engage in unarmoured combat, thus using rapiers, primarily, and wearing attire more attuned to civilian wear. I have given the most common terms here for reference just to make sure that people know what I am referring to as this discussion proceeds.


From my own particular perspective I have trained in both and would have continued in both except that my body just was not going to continue playing the game in heavy. This gave me a unique perspective from the point of view that I could understand what was going on from each point of view and thus learn from each perspective. It is perspective which makes a hell of a lot of difference.

For many people in the SCA they see heavy and they see fencing and they think that there can be no connection between the two. Indeed there are even practitioners of both who think that there is no connection between the two. The important thing to note is that there are connections between the two and that these connections can be an asset to any person who can grasp these connections and use them to their advantage. There are a lot of skills which can cross over from one to the other and thus gain the user a great advantage, not only doing one, but both.

When an "outsider", SCA or not, sees heavy they often see two people in armour attempting to simply beat the snot out of one another. From this perspective it is difficult to see what is actually happening. It looks like a lot of swinging and thumping with little skill.

When an "outsider", SCA or not, sees fencing they often see two people with long thing swords attempting to skewer one another. Often the actions are so quick that it is difficult to see what's happening. It looks like they just are stabbing at one another randomly until one hits.

Needless to say, sometimes it is, but in most cases it is not the case in either case.

Trained Actions

In both cases the offensive blows are not just thrown wildly or randomly. They are targeted to locations. They are practiced so that the actions are performed with skill so that the blow will land at the target at the appropriate time. The body is also taught how to move properly so it is efficient in motion. All of these things take training, and both styles of combat have them within them, it is just a matter of finding them and using the training to your advantage.

For the Fencer: 

1. Cutting

Heavy will teach cutting actions and their most efficient method. Most fencers are point-orientated, thus cutting actions from heavy are a great asset to them as it will teach them alternate ways to move the sword around and to their targets.

2. Body Movement

Heavy will teach body movement which is essential for movement in armour. While this is not necessary for fencers as they wear clothing rather than armour, it teaches the fencer to be grounded in their movements, thus teaching them where their centre of mass is and how to move their body around to stay balanced while executing actions.

3. Power Generation

Heavy will teach power generation as related to body movement. This is not necessary at the point of a rapier, or for the purposes of throwing a cut, but it is useful for the movement of the body in an efficient manner. Such power generation can be translated to the movement of the feet and the movement of other parts of the body for the purposes of speed rather than power.

For the Heavy:

1. Footwork

Fencing will teach footwork and efficient control of distance. This is one of the primary elements of all forms of combat. The footwork taught in fencing is efficient and controlled, thus will teach how to move from one position to another in the most efficient manner possible. Even the principles of fencing footwork applied to heavy will improve movement.

2. Point Control

Fencing will teach point control. Fencers are well-known to be artists with the point and this can be translated not only to the use of the sword in heavy but also pike, glaive and other arms. Additionally, extensions of the thrust such as the lunge can be effective with the use of the point, especially with the use of low-profile thrusting tips.

3. Technical Use of Weapons

Fencing will teach the technical use of weapons. Fencing has a long, documented history with period documentation to back up the actions which are performed. These techniques in many situations can be transferred, along with their technical reasoning, to weapons used in heavy combat. Experienced fencers especially will have already had access to the treatises and would be more than willing to discuss them and how they may be applied.

Just the Beginning...

You will find that the more that you open your eyes to different perspectives the more that you will find. Do not be closed to different opportunities which may be so close that you cannot see them. Just because someone is doing something which is different to you, because they are doing things with a sword and you are as well, you should pay attention. You might find something useful in what they are saying.

Three different skills have been presented for each heavy and fencing, but there are more which I have not presented here. These are the primary three which will strike you as soon as your learning process begins. There is no need to even complete the training and engage in the form of combat, merely to attend training and see what is said and investigate to see what you can use. Talk to those who do the other form of combat and see what they are up to. Give your point of view and see what they think. Hopefully you will get some useful feedback that you can use. The worst thing that can happen is that by taking up another method of sword-use is that you learn another method of using a sword, and that can never be a bad thing.

Monday, November 13, 2017

On Gorgets



The following post, as is indicated by the heading is about gorgets. This will be a discussion about some of the assumptions made about them, their actual purpose, what they should actually cover, and the requirements for a good gorget. No products in particular will be spoken about directly to keep this away from any sort of opinions of one brand or another. The discussion will be directed toward construction and coverage and physical aspects of the gorgets in general.


The assumption often made about throat protection is that we are attempting to prevent penetration of the opponent's blade through to the neck, as has been the case with sport fencing weapons. This is not actually the case. In the case of Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) it is actually crushing damage which is more likely to occur from a tip striking the combatant's throat and thus causing damage. Thus gorgets, or other protection of a non-rigid nature, which may protect against similar penetrative damage will not serve to protect against crushing or impact damage.

This is a serious issue as if this were to strike the larynx it could cause permanent injury if not death. A similar case could be that a similar blow striking the neck to the side may strike the cartaroid artery and cause bruising or a clot which would quickly travel to the brain, or strike one of the many nerve bundles and cause other issues, and this is just from the front of the neck. To the rear of the neck there are vertebrae, which are sometimes left exposed, except for back-of-head protection which does not always protect it. A strike to this area can cause paralysis and even death.


The purpose of the gorget is to protect the entire neck from penetrative, crushing and impact damage caused by the weapon of the opponent striking the combatant. To a point it also aids in reducing concussion by reducing the movement of the head due to supporting the neck. To achieve this the gorget needs to cover all of the correct areas and also needs to be fitted properly to the combatant.


The gorget should cover the entire neck including the cervical vertebrae, and should also extend down past the hole of the throat, where the collar bones meet the sternum on the chest. This covers all of the areas which would likely be damaged by a weapon striking them and also causing catastrophic injury from them being struck. For the more point-orientated weapons, it is advised that the front of the gorget extend down past and sit at least on the top of the sternum to prevent a point coming up and underneath the gorget.

At an absolute minimum, it should have solid plates protecting the larynx and extending down the front as indicated, and should also have the rear protection covering the cervical vertebrae. It is strongly advised, however that the sides of the neck are also protected by rigid material as well due to the more off-line nature of HEMA activities, and also blows which come in at a side-ways angle. This would be the minimum gorget which would give sufficient protection against the threats which have been mentioned.

Requirements for a Good Gorget

With regards to the requirements of a good gorget, many of the points which have been raised previously in coverage will be re-visited, but with a little more detail as this is required.

A good gorget will fit you comfortably. One of the first things that needs to be noted is that rarely will an "off the shelf" bought gorget fit as well as a gorget which has been either built specifically for a person or modified to suit the individual. This is simply the case because rarely do people have the same sort of neck shape. (From a personal point of view, mine is so comfortable I forget I am wearing it.)

A good gorget will be made out of some kind of rigid material. This will mean that it will be made out of some sort of steel, hard plastic or hardened leather. This material will not bend except under a great deal of force. If the material can be bent in the hands then it will be hard to qualify the gorget as rigid. The rigid material is necessary as has been discussed previously to protect against the force of impact and crushing type blows.

A good gorget will have good coverage. This subject has already been discussed previously, but a good gorget will cover all of the required areas and leave very little, if any, gaps. Thus the entire neck will be covered with rigid material, as will the cervical vertebrae, and it will extend down the front at least to the sternum if not further. In this particular case more is better.
requirements for good

A good gorget will include some sort of padding on the inside of it. This may have to be glued in after you buy it. This is to prevent the rigid material from directly impacting upon your neck. Other areas which are advised to add extra comfort are the front and back edges of the gorget where something like sheepskin is advised for comfort and to prevent the edges of the rigid material rubbing on you.

A good gorget will have a securing system which will allow you to put it on and take it off. It is important that you are able to put your own gorget on and take it off without assistance. This means that you can put it on to ensure that it feels comfortable and is fitting properly. It also means that you can take it off quickly should you require to.


Finding a good gorget may take some time and some experimentation, but it will be worth it in the end. Have a look at what other people are using in the way of gorgets. Have a look at their construction. Ask about any modifications that they might have made for comfort. Ask how they feel about wearing their gorget. Examine other gorgets and see what advantages and disadvantages each one has. Some will be quite bulky, but will give excellent coverage, while others are much more slimline but will only cover to the barest minimum. Finding a gorget which will fit you comfortably and gives you all of the coverage you need is a task well worth setting yourself. This is a piece of equipment that can save you a lot of grief, and indeed may save your life.



Friday, October 13, 2017

The Gladius: A Curatorial Discussion



            In the investigation of the curatorial evidence of the weapon in question, there will be three sections presented. The first will be a discussion of the excavation of the gladius and those artefacts actually found on archaeological digs. This evidence forms much of the information we have about the actual weapons that were used in the period. The second part will be an examination of the construction of the gladius, how it was built and some of its hilt and form of the weapon. Much more of the form of the weapon will be found in the third part of this curatorial investigation where an examination of the various types of gladii will be discussed. 


            With the amount of gladii made, especially in the Roman Empire, a person would think that there would be plenty of excavations with examples of these swords in them. Surprisingly there are actually few of them, they simply have not been found (Burton, 1987:258). What is even more interesting about this is that examples of complete weapons, meaning unbroken or complete blades are also quite rare. To compound this perplexing problem, aside from the excavations at Pompeii, most gladius finds have been made outside Italy (Coe, 1996:25). This makes it difficult to find out exactly what a “native” gladius from the actual Roman people was like in the earlier periods. The lack of archaeological evidence for the actual gladii also results in estimates of their measurements based on the examples which have been found.
            What information we have about the gladius comes from weapons which have been excavated and some extrapolation based upon these examples. Even with these few examples much information can be found. The next step in the investigation is to examine the construction of the weapon, how it was built.


            The construction of the gladius would seem relatively simple however it is something which needs some investigation to discover some of the arguments and revolutions which happened in its manufacture. This section is designed to lay the foundation for the construction of the gladius as more of this will be dealt with in the typology. There are three parts which will be discussed, metallurgy, mounting and decoration. The metallurgy will deal with the blade manufacture, mounting will discuss the hilt or furniture of the weapon and how it was worn, and finally the decoration of the weapon will dealing with the social impact of this.


“And the cudgel was certainly no match for the Roman gladius forged of iron.” (Wise, 2014:21)
          Wise’ (2014) comment above is a little obvious as a wooden weapon would clearly not stand up to a metal one, however it is not this which is most interesting it is the aspect of forging which is most interesting. The weapons previous to the gladius used by the Romans and their predecessors were not forged they were moulded and sharpened. These weapons were stronger and sharper than their previous ones because they were created from smelting iron from oxides then forged to blade shape (Lewis and Matthews, 2011:72). The complexity of the Roman gladius is often underestimated, as are most European weapons.
“It’s interesting to look at the metallurgy of Gladii found in Europe. They are mostly wrought iron with carbon content at .03%. The edges were sharpened by forging (hammering) or sharpening on a wheel. Most were fabricated by placing strips of iron together in a sandwich. The quality is variable probably due to the skill of European smiths of the time.” (Anderson, 2011)
            Clearly the more skilful smiths of the Empire especially would have produced higher grades of blade, indeed not just iron blades but also steel blades. Once the secrets of forging good steel was discovered at the same time as the gladius hispaniensis the Romans placed themselves ahead of the curve with regard to the quality of their blades. This is something that will be noted later on in the study.


Maximus' Gladius from "Gladiator"
             What are presented here are a gladius and its scabbard. This is what is considered when the discussion of mounting is thought of with regard to the sword. Often how the sword was worn on the person is forgotten. This is an element which needs to be discussed, and some of these elements will be brought to light below. To begin with there will be an examination of the hilt of the weapon


            To begin with the handle is recommended to be a little rough for a better grip (Matyszak, 2011:63). This would be of importance so that the wielder of the weapon does not lose the weapon while he is using it in battle. These handles were often shaped to give groves where the fingers where to be placed for even better grip on the handle. As for the rest of the hilt, Burton (1987) describes it in very simple fashion stating that it was usually without a guard-plate, and only simple cross-bar or small oval (Burton, 1987:257). This fits the images which he presents in his book however it does not reflect the common image of the gladius.
What is most interesting is that later on, even on the same page, he goes into more detail about the hilt. He states that a bronze hilt was used even after steel blade taken, the common grip was wood with metal knobs or rivets, but richer sorts bone, ivory, alabaster, silver and gold; capulus: metal pommel, plain mound or stepped pyramid, little apple became decoration (Burton, 1987:257). The little apple is the classic bulging pommel shape which is commonly seen on the “classic” gladius as it is known today, and was often made of wood.
            For officers of higher ranks to distinguish them from the others their weapons were made differently. Their weapons had different pommels, they had their weapons often capped at pommel with head of animal in Assyrian fashion, and the eagle was a reserved favourite (Burton, 1987:257). What can be seen here are some examples of weapon decoration previously mentioned.


            The scabbard, sheath, or vagina was made of leather or wood, and had multiple rings on the sheath but archaeologists are uncertain as to all of uses, some for mounting on belt others for sling; some examples are highly decorated (Burton, 1987:257). So even in a simple piece of equipment such as the scabbard there are questions which are asked and answers are not forthcoming. What are most interesting with regard to the scabbard, beside the rings which cannot be determined as to their use are the metal plates found on them. These plates are often decorative and embossed plates (Quesada Sanz, 1997:259), but they appear on many examples of the scabbards so it could be implied that something functional was made decoration, or even that the decoration was added later as military honours, something that the Romans were proud of showing.


            In the case of many weapons there is no need to go into much detail about how they were carried. Often they were carried in the hand, or over the shoulder on a sling, or some other way which was universal to every person who used them. There are some weapons which need some attention paid to them as to how they were carried as there is some differentiation as to how they were carried over time and by different people. The gladius is one of these weapons.
Rank Differentiation
“The gladius of whatever pattern was invariably worn on the right side, save by centurions, and perhaps other senior officers, who wore their swords on the left.” (Goldsworthy, 2011:134)
          For most swords they would be carried on the opposite side to that hand which they were to be drawn, a right-hander would carry his sword on the left and a left-hander would carry his sword on the right. This is to make drawing the sword easier for the swordsman. In the case of the legionary and the gladius this was not the case. The sword was carried on the right side, the same side as the drawing hand. The legionary theory behind this was to ensure that the drawing of the sword would not be encumbered by the shield, and contrary to some expectations it is actually quite accessible.
“Legionnaires carried the gladius in a scabbard on their right side and they carried a dagger (pugio) in their left side. Some have argued that drawing the sword with the right hand would be too cumbersome while holding the shield in the left hand, but tests have proven that a right side gladius is quite accessible with the right hand.” (Anderson, 2011)
         Practical tests have shown that due to the short nature of the gladius drawing the sword with the right hand and presenting the point while the sword is carried in its scabbard on the right side is not an issue for a person who has had practice. Arguments could be had about the last point, but one of the things that can be said is that the Roman army was trained and drilled well. The evidence left behind in the form of sculpture also prevents primary evidence of the sword being worn on the right side by legionaries.

Roman legionaries with gladius worn on right side.
(Goldsworthy, 2000:128)
            While the television series Rome made the names Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus relatively famous to the common man in the modern world, their story is actually documented in Caesar’s Conquest of Gaul. The part of their actual story which is documented by Caesar demonstrates why it was actually not such a good idea to have the sword and shield on the same side.
“His shield [Pullo] was pierced by a javelin, which stuck in his sword belt; and as the blow knocked the scabbard out of place, he could not get his hand quickly to his sword when he tried to draw it,” (Caesar, 1982:125 [V.44])
            In Caesar’s recollections Vorenus and Pullo were two centurions who were rivals seeking glory. Had the sword been worn on the opposite side to the shield, it would have not been knocked and it would have been less trouble to draw. Vorenus had to come and save Pullo from this situation. This idea of wearing the sword on a different side due to rank also worked for a different weapon also.
Weapon Differentiation
            When we look even deeper there is also differentiation as to the weapon. The gladius was a short weapon, primarily used for the infantry. The spatha, and its predecessor the ensis, was the weapon of the cavalry. Both were worn on belts, and also on baldrics, however the ensis, was also worn on the left due to its length (Burton, 1987:258). Thus it can be clearly claimed that there was differentiation in carriage by weapon and rank.
            The question of belt or baldric is one which has been argued a great deal, especially in light of the rings found on the scabbard, as mentioned previously. Clearly, at some stage the sword was worn on the belt, but it can also be clearly claimed that the sword was also hung from the left shoulder to hang on the right by a baldric (Devries, 2007:121). To be more precise, especially with the documented difficulties encountered by Centurion Pullo, it was slung on a baldric and worn on the right side, pointing slightly forward for easier draw and replacement (Matyszak, 2011:64). Recreations of this system have been presented demonstrating how it could have been done.
Belt and Baldric
            What is most interesting is that there is an argument that the sword was worn one way or the other. The “belt camp” claims that there is no evidence for the baldric. The “baldric camp” claims that the weight of the sword and the dagger would have drawn the belt down too far and caused it to fall. What is most interesting is that there is even a camp which places itself between these two that recommends that there was a system in between the two which utilised both belt and baldric to secure the weapon properly.

Image of Roman legionary with gladius at right hip both belted and slung
(Hamblin, 1996: Plate 2)


“The appearance of the Gladius was different between gladiators of varying popularity. A criminal fighting for his life and freedom would have a simple sword, whereas a trained gladiator who is treasured by the people might have a more elegant and elaborate sword. The hilt of the Gladius occasionally had ridges for the fingers, but more often than not, it was left plain. The blade was generally left plain; however, it was not uncommon for criminal gladiators to have the phrase “Ave Caesar, mortituri te salutamus,” which means “Hail Caesar, we who are about to die salute you” engraved on the blade of their Gladius in order to remind them of their impending demise. Scabbards for the Gladius were generally made of wood and covered in leather and decorated with brass.” (Berdeguer, 2014:21)
            While this description of the decoration of the gladius focuses on the gladiators’ weapon it does indicate some of the weapon of the legionary indicating the decoration of the scabbard, which was mentioned above. Some of this is indicated here, more will be demonstrated when the individual typologies of the gladii will be discussed later on. According to Suetonius (1958), Caesar had his legionaries and centurions weapons decorated for better appearance of his legions an also so that they were less likely to lose their weapons in battle (Suetonius, 1958:37). This made the weapons personal, hence the less likelihood that they were to lose them. The varying degree to which the weapons were decorated reflected their ranks and also the military honours which they had achieved in their service.
            What has been presented, in general, gives a very general overview of the construction of the gladius. What follows examines each of the types of gladii which was developed over the time in which the weapon was the dominant weapon of the Roman Republic and Empire.

Gladius Types

            What follows here is a discussion of the typology of the gladius. These types are sometimes referred to as the different gladius patterns. This typology is generally accepted by most historians and most of the weapons found fall within these types in one way or another. There are four types which will be discussed after a general introduction, Hispaniensis, Mainz, Fulham and Pompeii. Along with these will be introduced a new type, which while similar will re-affirm the idea of individual area-specific creation of the gladius. This will also be demonstrated under the Pompeii type with the presentation of a Pompeii type found in Denmark.


            “Gladius” simply means “sword” to get more specific requires conventions of naming and other considerations. Unfortunately when it comes to the differentiation between different weapons, classical sources are notoriously unreliable when naming types of weapons (Quesada Sanz, 1997:251). With regard to the naming convention, it is typically gladius and then the type, so [type] gladius.

(Berdeguer, 2014:21)

“Though typically differentiated into two categories, Mainz and Pompeii Gladii, there are four main variations of the Gladius: the Hispaniensis gladius, the Mainz Gladius, the Fulham Gladius, and the Pompeii Gladius. Figure 19 shows the main differences in the blade design of these four Gladii.” (Berdeguer, 2014: 21)

            To claim that the weapons, even of a particular typology are all the same would be foolish. There are always variations in their manufacture, even when made in the same place. This is even more so the case when in other places, other swords present in other hands are of less standard manufacture (Hamblin, 1996:343). An example of the Pompeii type will be presented below along with another outstanding example from the Baltic region. The changes in typology of the gladius was a developmental process, it was not static. Weapons changed over time as a new shape became more appropriate to the stage of expansion of the Empire.

Hispaniensis Type

            The first recognised gladius was “the famous ‘Iberian sword’ (gladius Hispaniensis)” (Fields, 2010:6). There is a lot of information about this weapon and it is one of the most famous weapons. In fact this weapon is so famous that all gladii are often claimed to be the “Spanish sword”. This was the first weapon that the Romans liked and claimed for their own.
“The Hispaniensis gladius was the original sword that the Romans liked. This Spanish version was the heaviest and longest of Roman Gladii. Additionally, it had the most prominent leaf shape in the blade. In addition, this version had the longest tip of the main varieties of Gladii.” (Berdeguer, 2014:21)
            What will be shown of this weapon is that it was a developmental weapon based on the original Greek sword adopted from the Greeks earlier on and adopted by the Romans. The similarities in these weapons will demonstrate this developmental process.

General Description

“Sometime in the third century BC the Romans adopted a long-pointed, double edged Iberian weapon, which they called the gladius Hispaniensis (‘Iberian sword’). The earliest Roman specimens date to the turn of the first century BC, but a fourth-century sword of similar shape has been found in Spain at the cemetery of Los Cogotes (Avila), while an earlier Iberian example came from Atienza some 100 kilometres north-east of Madrid. The blade could be as much as 64 to 69 centimetres in length and 4.8 to 6 centimetres wide and waisted in the centre. It was a fine piece of ‘blister steel’ with a triangular point between 9.6 and 20 centimetres long; it had honed down razor-sharp edges and was designed to puncture armour. It had a comfortable bone handgrip grooved to fit the fingers, and a large spherical pommel, usually of wood or ivory, to help with counter-balance. Examples weigh between 1.2 and 1.6 kilograms. This basic design, with various minor modifications, continued as the weapon of choice through to the end of the second century AD. Unusually, a legionary carried his sword on the right-hand side, suspended by a leather belt (cingulum) worn around the waist. As opposed to a scabbard slide, the four-ring suspension system on the scabbard enabled the legionary to draw his weapon quickly with the right hand, an advantage in close-quarter combat. By inverting the hand to grasp the hilt and pushing the pommel forward, the gladius could be drawn with ease.” (Fields, 2010:17)
            The sword from Atienza has been proposed as a predecessor to the Hispaniensis gladius due to its similar shape and also due to its origin. This makes a great deal of sense as the Romans rarely simply took the original weapon but adapted the weapon to their own needs as was found in the Greek weapon previous to it. This idea of a developmental process is one which will be noted as the typology progresses.
What also needs to be noted here is that it was sharp on the edge and the point, thus designed for both cut and thrust. For the most part the thrust of the gladius is highlighted in most cases with the cut being utterly disregarded. It should be noted that the cut was not disregarded, as noted by the effort in sharpening the edge. The carrying of the weapon on the right became a typical situation as was the drawing method which was possible with the short weapon. With a longer weapon this would have been much more difficult.


            As is the case with many technologies, even in the modern world, finding a specific date for when the Hispaniensis was actually adopted is difficult. Much of the evidence for this comes from primary sources, but even here the date is unclear. What is known is that it was the result of contact with Spanish mercenaries in service to the forces of Carthage during the Punic Wars.
“A Byzantine lexicographer, possibly following Polybios’ [Polybius'] lost account of the Numantine War (134–132 BC), says the gladius Hispaniensis was adopted from the Iberians at the time of the war with Hannibal (Second Punic War, 218–201 BC), but it is possible that this formidable weapon, along with the pilum, was adopted from Iberian mercenaries serving Carthage during the First Punic War (264–241 BC). It was certainly in use by 197 BC, when Livy describes the Macedonians’ shock at the terrible wounds it inflicted.” (Fields, 2010:6)
            What needs to be noted here is the rough date of the adoption of the weapon during the Punic Wars, thus during the period of the Republic, and thus in use against the Macedonians as stated by Livy. The terrible wounds that are noted are dismemberments and decapitations, thus the use of the edge of the weapon. This weapon was adopted due to the effectiveness of the weapon like many Roman tools there will be more detail of its use later. It also stands as recognition of an advance in metallurgy as well through the use of steel in weaponry.


            The fame of Toledo steel and steel in general from Spain generally originates from the idea which comes from the weapons which came from those forges during the medieval and Renaissance periods; however, Spanish steel was famous before then. The Romans used Spanish ores and methods,
“Of this material was made the Spatha or Iberian blade, a name adopted under the Empire, especially under Hadrian (A.D. 117 – 138). Long, two-edged, and heavier than the short Xiphos-Gladius, it added fresh force to the impetus gladiorum.” (Burton, 1987:256)
            The Xiphos-Gladius was the weapon which the Romans were using before the Hispaniensis, a design which was modelled on the Greek weapon, hence the name, “Xiphos” being Greek for “sword”. The spatha refers to a slightly longer weapon, which became the standard for cavalry, but the statement is still relevant. The stronger, sharper, heavier blade added more force to the armies simply because the weapons were better and made from material of greater quality. So much so that by 219 BC, some 22 years later, the change to steel weapons was universal (Burton, 1987:256). These are steel weapons, of varying grades to be true but steel not iron. This made them much more effective.
“the famous gladius hispaniensis or Spanish sword. With a blade less than 60 centimetres (2 feet) long, the gladius was well balanced for both cutting and thrusting, and its manufacture from high-quality steel allowed it to preserve a wickedly sharp edge.” (Goldsworthy, 2000:44)
            Once again it is mentioned that the weapon had a sharp edge and was balanced for both cutting and thrusting. Also should be noted that the material noted here is steel and not iron. This is of significance considering the developmental stage of the Romans, and the impact steel weapons would have had as compared to previous weapon manufacture. It is true the gladius was primarily a thrusting weapon, but as has been noted the cut should not be outright discarded as the weapon was obviously designed and suited for it.


“they also carry a sword which is worn on the right thigh and is called a Spanish sword. This has a sharp point and can deal an effective blow with either edge, as the blade is very strong and unbending.” (Polybius, 1980:321)
            The Hispaniensis was stronger than its predecessor due to its manufacture this resulted in it having a sharp edge that was not dulled quickly. The extra weight also allowed it to be more effective at cutting than the previous weapon also. The result of this was a weapon which was effective at both cutting and thrusting as is stated above. It is an important note to make that while the gladius may be primarily designed to thrust the cut was also effective also, especially in the case of this type.
“all [Hispaniensis] are somewhat larger than types used by the later professional army. They are well-balanced blades, primarily designed for thrusting but also capable of delivering an effective slash.” (Goldsworthy, 2011:29)
            A larger sword is often assumed to be more unwieldy but this is not necessarily the case, if the weapon is well-balanced, then there is usually no problem. In the case of the Hispaniensis gladius it was so it could be used for cutting and thrusting even though it was larger than the later types. This was only enhanced by being made out of steel. The advantage of a multi-purpose weapon is clear, and this was noted by Polybius at Cannae in 216 BC, “While the Spanish Xiphos was excellent for both cutting and thrusting, the long and pointless Gallic Machaera could only slash from afar.” (Burton, 1987:268). While the Spanish sword could be used to thrust and cut, the Gallic sword could only cut. This meant than the Spanish weapon could be used at different distances and be more effective. An idea which Burton (1987) continues on with stating that the shorter “Gladius Hispanus” was useful in closed spaces (Burton, 1987:268), essentially due to its ability to use the point. A note should be made of his misspelling of “Hispaniensis”.
“it was not until the advent of the Roman legionaries’ short gladius hispaniesis, designed for an upward stabbing stroke at close quarters, that swordplay in its own right became a part of infantry tactics.” (Holmes, 2010:10)
         The Hispaniensis changed cause a change in tactics. It made the sword the prime weapon of the legionary rather than the spear as it was in the army of the earlier parts. The advantage of the ability to thrust with the weapon was clear but it was not the only driving force present. This particular aspect reflects a modern bias toward a “point bias” in the history of swordplay as it is often told, rather than a presentation of developing circumstances. If the point was the only useful part, why was the sharpened edge kept on later types, and so many references to the use of the edge?

Basis of Next Weapon

“The sword of the legionaries of the late Republic was the gladius Hispaniensis (Spanish sword), adopted from the Iberian steel-cutting sword in the third century B.C. and measuring about thirty inches long and two inches wide. By the early Principate, however, this weapon was replaced by a shorter gladius, a steel, double-edged weapon ranging from sixteen to twenty-two inches long, and from two to three inches wide, designed for either cutting or thrusting. This was the standard Roman legionary sword at the time of Christ.” (Hamblin, 1996:343)
          The weapon that replaced the Hispaniensis was the Mainz gladius. It was developed from the basic shape of the Hispaniensis for better use in the ranks and for the use primarily with the thrust. The important thing is that it still allowed for a cutting edge as well. What will be noted in the discussion of the Mainz, which will follow, is that the blade profile of the Mainz is very similar to that of the previous form in the Hispaniensis, and this demonstrates the developmental process which has been presented here.

Mainz Type

General Description

“In the early 1st century AD the dominant type was the ‘Mainz’ pattern. This has a slightly tapering blade and an exceptionally long point. The length of the blade on surviving examples varies from 400mm (16in) to 550mm (22in), and width from 54 to 74mm (2.1 – 2.9in) at the top to 48 to 60mm (1.8 – 2.3in) before the point. A shaped handgrip of bone was protected by a guard and pommel usually of wood. ... Although especially suited to thrusting, with the long point – sometimes as much as 200mm (7.8in) – intended to penetrate armour, the Mainz pattern sword was also an effective slashing weapon.” (Goldsworthy, 2011:133)
            The description above, from Goldsworthy (2011) gives a good idea of what the Mainz looks like. The form of the weapon, if compared to the previous Hispaniensis will be noted to have some similarities. The point of the weapon and the general shape are very similar this clearly leads to the Mainz being a clear development of the previous toward a weapon more suited to the legionary. While the long point made the Mainz an excellent thrusting weapon, the shape of the weapon also made it suitable for cutting also, much like the previous type.

History of Mainz and Naming

“Mainz was founded as the Roman permanent camp of Moguntiacum probably in 13 BC. This large camp provided a population base for the growing city around it. Sword manufacture probably began in the camp and was continued in the city; for example, Gaius Gentilius Victor, a veteran of Legio XXII, used his discharge bonus on retirement to set up a business as a negotiator gladiarius, a manufacturer and dealer of arms. Swords made at Mainz were sold extensively to the north.” (Wikipedia, 2016)
            The location is what the weapon was named after hence Mainz gladius, this is often the case. What should be noted from the above information is that the particular location of this find was also a production centre for sword so this makes the naming of the sword after this location even more relevant. Not only was the weapon found here it is highly likely it would have actually been manufactured here as well. The actual weapon which is celebrated as the archetypical Mainz type sword is known as the Sword of Tiberius.

Sword of Tiberius - Mainz Type
(Coe, 1996:26)
“Sword of Tiberius: excavated at Mayence in 1848, in British Museum; highly decorated – presentation piece; evidence that it was to be worn on a sling rather than the belt; left mounted sword drawn by passing hand and forearm across the body under shield, grip hilt at back of blade” (Burton, 1987:258)
            This weapon, as noted was highly decorated and therefore likely to be a decoration piece, though may have actually been used. There is an interesting note made by Burton (1987) in that he claims that it was worn on a sling rather than a belt, which tends to contradict some of the evidence, but examples of both have been found. This is the weapon that other weapons are compared to as to whether or not they have the characteristics to qualify as a Mainz type.
            This type is further recognisable as swords of Caesar’s day were no doubt of a Mainz-type (Coe, 1996:25). It places the type in a recognisable historical context and allows for some further dating as to the longevity of its use. This is something which is often missing with weapons, especially the older ones.

Blade Description

            Coe (1996) describes the Mainz type blade as being blade 20-24in/50-60cm long, 2-2.5in/5-6cm wide, similar to hoplite sword as slight increase before taper (Coe, 1996:25). This gives a similar profile to both the Xiphos and the Hispaniensis and thus reveals the origins of the weapon. The measurements, as will be noted as things proceed are much in the general range.
“The Mainz variety is characterized by a slight waist running the length of the blade and a long point. Blade length ~50–55 cm (19.6 to 21.6 inches). Sword length ~65–70 cm (25.6 to 27.6 inches). Blade width ~7 cm (2.75 inches). Sword weight ~800g/1.76 pounds (wooden hilt).” (Wikipedia, 2016)
            The description above gives a similar shape again to the Hispaniensis as noted previous, but is more extended in the point. This shape points something toward the use of the weapon as will be discussed shortly. It will be noted that it is relatively light weapon considering its manufacture. Taking into account all of the measurements given, from all of the sources, the blade ends up being an average of 40-60cm long, 4–7cm wide. All of the sources recognise the extended point, and the sharp edges with a leaf shaped blade as common design feature. This demonstrates a clear development from the Hispaniensis to the Mainz type in shape and function.
“’Mainz’ type Gladius / This is the earlier form of the gladius hispaniensis, ... The blades of surviving examples vary from 40 – 50.5cm in length and have a width of 4.8 – 6cm. The long, tapering point varies in size from 9.6 – 20com and was designed to puncture armour.” (Goldsworthy, 2000:45)
            The point of the weapon is clearly the focus of the description here, focussed on puncturing armour. This was because at that point in time the Romans were facing armoured opponents. It meant that the long point on Mainz was for “mail-busting” (Coe, 1996:27). There is an interesting relationship inferred in the Goldsworthy (2000) point toward the Mainz as an earlier type of the Hispaniensis. This no doubt comes from the general naming of all of the weapons as gladius hispaniensis due to their origin. Indeed it could be claimed that the full name of the Hispaniensis type would be Hispaniensis gladius hispaniensis. It should be noted, however that in no way was the cutting ability of the gladius reduced by this enhancement.

Gladius Hispaniensis - Rheingönheim
(Coe, 1996:25)

Next Type

“The Mainz Gladius is similar to the Hispaniensis Gladius in its prominence of the concavity in the blade; however this first revision of the Spanish version made the sword both wider and shorter. The next evolution turned the blade into the Fulham Gladius.” (Berdeguer, 2014:21)
            The first change was from the Hispaniensis to Mainz in a shortening of the blade and gaining some width, a similar leaf shape was kept, however the point was refined to be more exaggerated. The next stage in development overall, or only regional, was to the Fulham. Further changes were made to the edges, to the length and also to the point of the weapon. Some consider this a sub-type of the Mainz.

Fulham Type

General Description

“Fulham Gladius or Mainz-Fulham Gladius: The sword that gave the name to the type was dredged from the Thames near Fulham and must therefore date to a time after the Roman occupation of Britain began. That would have been after the invasion of Aulus Plautius in 43 AD. It was used until the end of the same century. It is considered the conjunction point between Mainz and Pompei. Some consider it an evolution or the same as the Mainz type. The blade is slightly narrower than the Mainz variety. The main difference is the triangular tip. Blade length ~50–55 cm (19.6 to 21.6 inches). Sword length ~65–70 cm (25.6 to 27.6 inches). Blade width ~6 cm (2.36 inches). Sword weight ~700g/1.5 pounds (wooden hilt).” (Wikipedia, 2016)
          For some the Fulham is merely a modification of the Mainz and not a completely different type of its own; for others it is a different type. To cover both it is best that it is covered as a type of its own as then it is covered to see elements of both present. There are clear lines of investigation for both. The Fulham regardless of its status has a narrower blade, a very triangular tip which is more pointed than the previous type, and it is also shorter. Without much surprise this also results in it being lighter as well. The location of the main finds on the edges of the Empire is the main claims as to it being a sub-type of the Mainz.

Blade Description

“This version [Fulham] had a completely straight blade, a change from the previous two versions that had concave blades. This blade also had a long triangular tip, which became the signature aspect of this version of the Gladius, and was narrower than the Mainz Gladius.” (Berdeguer, 2014:21)
          The Fulham has a completely straight blade which differentiates it from the Mainz which retained the curved edges of the previous Hispaniensis. The point was the same puncturing style however the blade was also shorter. It is also often the lack of information about the Fulham which often places it as a sub-type of the Mainz. What is interesting is that the straight edges are a main characteristic of the Pompeii gladius, the type which followed the Fulham and Mainz, which means it could have been seen merely as a development toward the next type.

Pompeii Type

Naming and Description

Pompeii-type Blade
(Coe, 1996:27)
“Pompeii Gladius (or Pompeianus or Pompei): Named by modern historians after the Roman town of Pompeii, this Gladius was by far the most popular one. Four instances of the sword type were found in Pompeii, with others turning up elsewhere. The sword has parallel cutting edges and a triangular tip. This is the shortest of the gladii. Observe that it is often confused with the spatha which was a longer, slashing weapon used initially by mounted auxilia. Over the years the Pompeii got longer, these later versions are referred to as semi-spathas. Blade length ~45–50 cm (17.7 to 19.7 inches). Sword length ~60–65 cm (23.6 to 25.6 inches). Blade width ~5 cm (1.97 inches). Sword weight ~700g/1.5 pounds (wooden hilt).” (Wikipedia ,2016)
            One of the more important notes is that these weapons were named by modern historians, to the Romans they would just have been gladii. Much like the Mainz, the Pompeii was named after where the first of its kind was found, at Pompeii. This is no doubt the most popular model because it was used historically when the Empire was the largest and thus the army was the largest. It was also the easiest to produce. It is often confused with the spatha due to the similarity in blade- shape, the spatha most often simply being longer, the usage was also much the same, with both point and edge, as will be presented below. Over the years the Pompeii got longer until they became semi-spatha and then were simply replaced by them. This gives a complete description of the weapon. The Pompeii is the one which could be claimed to be the archetypical gladius, as it is the shape which is most represented.

Reference Back to Previous

(Anderson, 2011)
“The Roman gladii extant have lengths between 14.3 and 23.2 inches.  The example shown above represents the Pompeii type which replaced the older Mainz type in the middle of the first century A.D.” (Anderson, 2011)

            The Mainz was replaced by the Pompeii, if the Fulham is not considered to be a type on its own. It was much simpler to make due to its straight edge. The simple shorter point was also less laborious to construct, thus the weapon was much easier to mass produce. This was a gradual replacement which started from the middle of the first century AD (Quesada Sanz, 1997:259). With regard to this discussion it is important to compare it to the Fulham mentioned previously.
“The Pompeii Gladius was very comparable to the Fulham Gladius, as it has parallel cutting edges and the triangular tip; however this version did not have nearly as prominent of a triangular tip at the end of the blade. The Pompeii Gladius was also the shortest of the Gladii.” (Berdeguer, 2014:22)
            When comparing the Pompeii and the Fulham some similarities will be noted in the form. Both have straight edges and a triangular tip, and both are shorter than their predecessors. The thing that sets the Pompeii as different is that the triangular point on it is shorter than that on the Fulham, a less pointed triangle. This also results in the Pompeii being shorter than the Fulham and thus the shortest of the gladii.

Use for Cut and Thrust

            The Romans did not leave their army the same if they felt that something could be improved. This can be seen with regard to every element, and the sword was no different. The Mainz was replaced by the Pompeii because it was not as suitable for both cut-and-thrust (Coe, 1996:27). While the gladius remained a weapon which was still primarily thrust related, the cut was also used and to effect. This was due to a change in circumstance with their opposition. Previously they were armoured and the thrust was the best and only real truly effective option, with the meeting of less armoured opponents, the cut became a more viable option.
“This was a straight-bladed weapon [the Pompeii] with a much shorter point. Blade lengths vary between 420 and 500mm (16.5 – 20in) and widths between 42 and 45mm (1.6 – 2.2in). Even more than the Mainz pattern, the Pompeii-type gladius was a supremely well balanced and effective weapon for both cutting and thrusting.” (Goldsworthy, 2011:133)
            By shortening the point, the weight of the blade was brought back closer to the hilt which made the weapon better balanced and thus more agile. This made it more suitable for the delivery of cuts. The straight blade on the weapon also made cutting with the weapon much more effective also.

New Type

Pompeii-type from Denmark

            There were also variations in shape by the different region in which they were constructed. The example from Denmark which is presented above which is clearly of a Pompeii shape is not the typical type which has been previously presented. This one has a wide fuller, often mislabeled as a “blood-groove”, down the middle of the blade to strengthen it, and not to let the blood out when it is used to thrust. The shape of the blade is classic Pompeii.

“Another completely documented and published find came from the cemetery at Khrustal’noe (formerly Wiekau), on the Sambian Peninsula (Fig. 1: 3), where a Roman gladius alongside a decorative harness was discovered in a rich grave. Its blade was short, with deep fullers running to the point (Bujack 1889, p.281; Heydeck 1909, Pl. XXXVIII; Gaerte 1929, Abb. 159: e)” (Nowakowski, 2007:85)

            The find at Khrustal’noe presents the possibility of an entirely new type which has been found in the Baltic. It has some of the characteristics of the Pompeii but it has some clear differences also. There are arguments about its use as to whether it was a parade sword, a gift, or even whether it was shortened for area-specific use. The image which is presented below is of the find and the differences will be noted. To think that all is known about all of the gladius would be to close a book before it is finished.
Khrustal’noe type


            The gladius is one of the most recognisable swords, indeed one of the most recognisable weapons in the world. It could even be said to be one of the most known weapons in the world, however it could be argued that there are some that do not know as much about the gladius as they would like people to think they know about it. This has been an in-depth discussion of this weapon designed to give a more complete investigation of the weapon rather than the usual glossing that it usually gets.
            The curatorial discussion of this weapon will take up the greatest amount of space with regard to the discussion of the gladius as can be seen here takes up a lot of space here. What can be found here is essentially broken down into three categories; evidence, construction and classification. This is the real discussion of the weapon as an artefact. The excavation discussion tells what has been left in the way of artefacts from the period. The construction tells how they were constructed, and finally the gladius types, describes how they are classified so that they can be discussed more easily.
What the curatorial information really discusses aside from the clear evidence presented above is evidence for the adaption of a weapon to the task required and the environment. The Romans started with one weapon, and then changed and adapted the weapon to suit their changing circumstances. At first they required a weapon which was useful against armoured opponents, and thus we see the long, tapered point of the Hispaniensis and Mainz types, primarily for thrusting but could also cut. Later on as their opponents wore less armour, but still wore some, they required a weapon which could still go through armour but could also cut more efficiently, hence the Pompeii type. This idea of adaptability is also seen in the use of the weapon.
The best way for the mists of confusion which surround the gladius to be cleared are for investigations to be made. Investigations such as this one which seek out many different sources are useful to bring much more information to the light however practical demonstrations and experimentation with the equipment and weapons of the time would also go a long distance to proving or disproving much of what has been stated. What should be noted is that such demonstration and experimentation needs to be based on rigorous research and scientific methodology for an accurate recreation and accurate results to be achieved.


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