What Is The Roman Empire And Its Swords? | Jonas Blade

What Is The Roman Empire And Its Swords?

Throughout the history of our species, we have formed ourselves into societies large and small. The largest of these societies is the empire, with few empires as iconic as the Roman Empire. Founded in the 7th Century BC, this Empire was a dominating force on the world stage for nearly a thousand years until its fall in the 5th Century AD.

When we conjure imagery of the Roman Empire, what often comes to mind is its legionnaires and its gladiators, and we can scarcely consider either without thinking of their weapons. Chief among the swords of the Roman Empire is the gladius, followed by the spatha. 

The Roman Empire is known for its far-reaching military conquests and its distant borders. As its legions pushed outward into other cultures, they often encountered new ideas and technologies. Rather than squashing these and forcing their conquered enemies—now subjects—to convert to existing Roman ways, they often chose to adopt or incorporate these influences into the Roman Empire. The sword we know as the gladius is a perfect example of this. 

The Romans who first encountered the Celtiberians (in what we now call Spain) marveled at the swords their enemies used. At the time, the Roman Empire used broad, short swords in conjunction with their shields, but the Celtiberian swords were much more versatile, offering comparatively excellent functionality in both cutting and thrusting. Their armorers quickly began to adopt this style of sword, and soon it was in broad use by its legions.

Over time, this iconic sword of the Roman Empire grew longer and leaner (and sometimes broader and shorter), diverging into several types and sub-types, such as the Mainz and Pompeii swords, and eventually, into what we now call the spatha. In truth, “spatha” just means “sword,” but in practice the distinction between spatha and gladius is largely down to blade length; a gladius longer than 75cm is generally considered a spatha.

The Roman Empire’s spatha sword gained prominence as cavalry gained favor in military tactics. A longer blade gave the soldier greater reach from horseback, making him a much more potent weapons system. And it is from the back of the horse that the influence of their spatha spread far and wide, perhaps most notably into the hands of the Vikings from the northernmost fringes of the Empire, and thence, over the span of centuries, into the heart of Europe.

The Roman Empire and its swords are icons of history with a legacy so pervasive in more modern swords that it is almost difficult to see. There have been few swords with as much influence as these. 

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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.