What Is A Gladius Sword? | Jonas Blade

What Is A Gladius Sword?

The Roman Empire is such an icon of human history that it hardly requires any introduction. And among its deep and rich imagery, two warriors stand out as icons of ancient Rome, the legionnaire, and the gladiator. And of these iconic warriors, nothing is perhaps more symbolic than their sword, the Roman gladius.

What is a gladius sword? Most will envision the sword carried by Russell Crowe’s Maximus in the film ‘Gladiator’ from the year 2000. In actual fact, this sword represents a variant, and there are many more to choose from.

During the Punic Wars in the 3rd and 2nd Centuries BCE, the fearsome Roman army fought tenacious Celts on the battlefields of the Iberian Peninsula. The Romans were impressed by the swords the Celts carried. The Roman sword of the day was actually Greek, the xiphos, a lightweight double-edged sword used primarily for thrusting. By comparison, the Celtiberian swords were much more robust and durable, being useful both for thrusting and for cutting and slashing. 

So it was that the Roman armorers of the western front forged the first iteration of the gladius sword, the gladius hispaniensis. While reliable archeological examples of these swords are few, we have a general sense of their morphology. Their double-edged blades were not typically very long, often around the 24” mark. The blade shape was wider at the base, then “waisted” inward before flaring subtly out to a bit of a corner roughly 2/3 of the length down the blade, and then tapering to a lethal point. 

Here is my own take on the Gladius sword.

One of the most notable changes from the xiphos to the gladius sword was the way the weapon was hilted. The xiphos was based on much earlier bronze swords and featured a sandwiched construction (which would be called “full tang” in modern parlance). This type of sword adapted the Celtiberian style of hilt, which was a stacked construction (more closely related to what we would call a “hidden tang” or “through tang” construction today). 

The gladius sword is so iconic both because of its distinctive shapes and construction, and because it remained popular with Roman warriors for more than 500 years. Its morphology evolved and diverged into several different categories, but all of them are recognizable as the iconic weapon of the Roman Empire. 

About The Author

Zack Jonas was born and raised in Massachusetts in the 1980’s and is still a New Englander today. With his growing love for art over the years, he took an introductory bladesmithing class at MASSart. It was there that he learned one of his most valuable lessons, which is that everyone has some insight worth learning. Today, he is a full-time bladesmith and feels incredibly fortunate to have found his calling.