Full Version: From Gladius to Spatha
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A work chum of mine asked me why the Roman Army gradually deserted the Gladius for the Spartha? I had to be honest and admit I was not too sure. My take was that the cavalry used the Spartha and the Auxiliaries favoured it for it's longer reach. I recall reading some where that it held it's edge much better and was generally stronger than the Gladius.

Does anyone know if there was a conscious reason to change from one to the other or was it something that just happened as a soldier's preference?
Thanks all
(AKA Guy Aston)

There have been a few threads on this general topic, and while I don't recall the specifics it probably comes down to gradual changes in fashion or tactical needs. It certainly isn't anything metallurgical--all kinds of swords could vary wildly in quality! There were very good gladii and bad spathae, and vice versa. Also note that auxiliary *infantry* in the first and second centuries AD used the gladius, just like legionaries, while the spatha was a cavalry weapon. Also note that even in later centuries, short swords still existed, even though longer blades seem to have become the rule.

Maybe you can dig up something with the search function, or maybe someone else has one of those older discussions bookmarked?


Quote:Maybe you can dig up something with the search function, or maybe someone else has one of those older discussions bookmarked?
Maybe this one?
I'm asking here because I don't know the answer. But does this move have nothing to do with the adoption of pattern welding?
early legionaries were almost exclusively used for close quarter fighting,where using a spatha would be difficult.
early auxillaries were trained for both open and close order fighting.

later legionaries were trained for both close and open order fighting (the spatha being more useful in open order).
One might think so, but there are too many cases of early legionaries fighting in open order, and auxillaries carrying short swords.

And of course the later legionaries were fighting in close order with the spatha.

So it has little to do with the role.
One thing I have to say, but the spatha really isn't that much longer than a I would agree with john that it makes little difference to th fighting can get into close order with both, just you can stab an opponent sooner with the spatha! Smile (IMHO)
I think we have to stop thinking so much about the sword but start looking at the soldiers of later period, what we begin to find is that armour begins to phase out, I know of course there is still a certain amount of mail and scale around in some situations but generally we see soldiers in long woolen tunics and helmets with a nose ridge.

Infact what we also do see is not just the beginning of the dark ages but the move towards the Medieval, for indeed what ever was Roman is not around any more only the Vatican City that sold out to anyone who wanted to stamp all over the Italian Penninsular.

The old fashioned classical shoulder to shoulder fighting had long gone and everyone wanted to keep his enemy at a distance of around one to two meters. indeed we also have to think about the economical grunch that they were going thro' where armour was not just being churned out the way it used to be.

In short it was all to do with the new fighting style that had emerged.
Hi Brian,

It was good chatting at Vindolanda.

I think we can see a move to the longer sword from the late 2nd century. Certainly the highly disciplined legionaries of the 4th century were still on occassion fighting at close order. The only thing that seems to change is the move to pattern welding.
Hi John. It was good to see you again was a pity about the Horses on that particular day.

Where of course you mention Pattern Welding I don't know if you ever met the late John Ansty he was an expert at that, infact I have an article he did on that subject so when I get it into a PDF I shall post it out some time.

Infact as I remember there was a documetary on TV many years ago of him making a sword by that method, can't remember now if it was ITV or BBC some one must have a copy of it I'm sure might chase that up as well.