The Romans in Britain site main banner

The Romans in Britain site main banner

Check out some great books and help the site! I have chosen these books as among the best to illustrate this subject.

The Roman Soldier's Sword - Gladius

The gladius

On the right side of the soldier's body was a short and relatively lightweight instrument that was his main fighting weapon. The sword gladius

Roman soldier's sword` (Gladius)When first examining the gladius, it is difficult to see how such a small weapon, just 18 inches long, was capable of being so effective. But as we shall see the gladius was ingenious in design and implementation.

The soldier wore his gladius on the right side of his body regardless of whether he was left or right handed. As soldiers fought battles not individually, but as a single unit, standing shoulder to shoulder. There would be up to 500 men in a line all touching the one either side, so making it impossible for the enemy top get through the ranks.

GladiusIt was imperative that they all used the same hand for fighting with the gladius. So in training, any left handed soldiers would have their left arm strapped to their body and made to practice using his sword with his right hand until it was second nature.

When using the gladius, the legionaries did not hack at the opponent as this would have made the soldier vulnerable to attack on the exposed parts of his body. Instead he was trained to stab at the enemy in a very fast back and forth motion. This was most effective as it meant a much faster rate of attack, probably as much as four stabs per second, as opposed to the one slice every two seconds if the gladius was used in a swinging motion.

Wearing it on the right side meant the legionaries could draw his gladius in a very compact manner without interfering with the soldiers on either side of him. Considering the close formation of the Roman battle unit this was a distinct advantage. Having the gladius on the right side meant that it could be drawn without the risk it could be caught up in his shield (Scutum).

Drawing the gladius

Roman soldier drawing swordRoman soldier drawing sword
Roman soldier drawing swordRoman soldier drawing sword

Using the gladius in battle

Roman soldier in battle stance
Up to 500 soldiers would be deployed in a line, shoulder to shoulder facing the enemy. The shield (scutum) is held slightly away from the body so the soldier can move it up and down to block incoming missiles

Roman soldier ithrusting shield
They would wait for the enemy to come close, then as one they would take a step forward and thrust their scuta into the bodies of faces of the enemy, causing them to lose balance and so randier them vulnerable.

Roman soldier ithrusting sword
The scutum is then withdrawn and the sword (gladius) is thrust into the body of the opponent. Note the way in which the gladius is deployed horizontally to pass between the enemy's ribs into his vital organs.

The legionaries would advance in a line towards the enemy thrusting scutum, then gladius. It was this action: scutum, gladius, scutum, gladius... that would disorientate the enemy and take their front warriors out of the battle.

Roman soldier and his equipment Roman Military Sandal (Caligae)The helmet (Galea)The sword (Gladius)The daggerThe shield (Scutum)Roman Military Sandal (Caligae)The Curiass (Lorica Segmentata)The belt (Cinglium)Mouse-over an area on this photo to the left to see a description of that item

All photographs were taken by the original author, Victius Maximus
Our thanks to Optio Gaius Allius of Legion XIV and Verulamium Museum for their assistance

Visit our friends at:

Romans in Britain


Romans in Britain testudo footer art
Please just ASK before using anything on this site -- like we'd say "no"...

This page last updated:

Layout and Design:
Sturmkatze Produktions AG banner

Copyright © 2016 Pace Computing, All Rights Reserved
Powered by Pace Computing