GLADIUS                           4/30/09

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      There were several types of infantry sword in use in the mid-first century AD.  The older "Mainz" pattern (far left with plain and fancy scabbards) had a blade 20" to 22" long by about 2-1/2" to 3" wide.  It was slightly wasp-waisted, with a long point.  A variation called the Fulham pattern (second from left) also had a long point, but was only 2" wide with straight edges that flaired slightly at the hilt.  The newer "Pompeii" type (right and second from right) had parallel edges and a short point, and was c. 2" wide by 18" to 22" long.  Click here for a drawing of blade shapes.
      Blades were double-edged with a flat diamond or lens cross-section, without grooves or fullers.  Some had low-carbon steel cores with high-carbon edges, some had high-carbon exteriors with lower carbon interiors, and some were low-carbon throughout. 
       The tang is an extension of the blade which projects though the hilt.  The tip is peened flat over a washer or small stud.
       Click here for more Gladius Hints
Click on the image above for a larger version.
Left, Mainz blade by Jeff Hedgecock, hilt by Mike Cope, scabbards by Tom Kolb with embossed plates by Joe Piela.
Second from left, Fulham gladius made from quama blade and scratch-built scabbard by Greg Fabic.
Third from left, Museum Replicas Pompeii gladius with replacement hilt and scabbard decoration by Mike Cope.
Right, Del Tin Pompeii gladius with bone grip and minor hilt modifications by Matthew Amt.
Click on the image at right for more Legio XX gladii.  From the left, gladius hispaniensis, c. 170 BC, blade by Mark Morrow, hilt and scabbard by Matthew Amt.  Mainz blade by Dave Stone, hilt and scabbard by Matthew Amt.  Deepeeka Mainz gladius with scabbard (much too wide!) by Matthew Amt.  Fulham gladius from quama by Vince Thomas.  Museum Replicas Pompeii gladius with hilt modifications by Sean Kuhl, scabbard by Allan Head of Legio X Gemina, Holland.  Museum Replicas Pompeii gladius with replacement hilt and scabbard decoration by Mike Cope (Oh, yeah, same as above!).  Pompeii gladius with Valkenberg scabbard by Godfrey Knight, UK.

       Two excellent Pompeii gladii by David Hare in the UK (see below).  Blades are about 1-3/4" wide, and the brasswork is tinned.  While it is common for reproduction gladii to be larger than most originals, these are much more typical in size.

       Del Tin Pompeii gladius modified by Matthew Amt, with a close-up of the scabbard throat at right.  The pommel and guard were sanded and oiled, and a brass plate set into the bottom of the guard.  The grip was replaced with bone, and the scabbard leather with calfskin dyed blue.  The blade still has a slight triangular "ricasso" at the top which is not correct.  The decorated tinned brass plate is copied from an example found at Mainz.  I enlarged a photocopy of the drawing to the appropriate size, and traced through it with a knife.  The open parts were done with punch, drill, jeweler's saw, and small files.  The etching was then traced through the paper and enhanced with various pointed steel tools.  The terminal on the chape is a brass knob from an old porch lamp!  Note that the baldric ends are not stitched, but simply laced with a short thong.

       For some photos of original gladius and scabbard parts, see the Legio VI Victrix page on "Real Gear", http://www.legionsix.org/Real%20Gear.htm,  and the Roman Numismatics site, http://www.romancoins.info/MilitaryEquipment-Attack.html.

     The gladius hilt was made of wood, bone, or ivory, and a thin brass plate was usually set into the bottom of the guard (though it could simply be set flat against the guard, or be lacking altogether).  Pommels were generally spherical, a flattened "spheroid" shape, or even egg-shaped, though some were flat discs (standing on edge).  The guards were similarly round or oval in plan (seen from the bottom).  The pommel and guard on some Pompeii style swords were very small.  Maple was definitely used for a couple hilt parts (Bishop and Coulston), but otherwise the types of wood used are not mentioned.   Walnut is popular for its attractive contrast with the bone grip, and is certainly permitted, but lighter woods should NOT be stained.  The wood parts should be oiled with boiled linseed oil (can be mixed 50/50 with turpentine).  The grooved bone grip was usually hexagonal or octagonal in section.  (Click here for more info on making hilts and grips.)

       It has long been believed that the Mainz pattern sword was what the Romans called "gladius Hispaniensis", since it was supposedly copied from a Spanish sword in the Punic War era.  Recent studies have shown, however, that the Mainz type was not in use that early, and apparently has no direct connection to the Spanish weapon (and fewer similarities than it may seem at first glance).  Instead, a growing number of excavated blades shows that the gladius Hispaniensis was about 24" to almost 27" long (not including tang), and 1-3/4" to 2-1/4" wide.  Some blades are very subtly waisted, others have parallel edges.  The points vary from about 4 to 10 inches, and the shoulders of the blade are rounded or sloped.  Unfortunately no hilts have survived, which at least indicates that they were probably wood.  Volume 8 of the Journal of Roman Military Equipment Studies has the fullest information on the subject (see the Bibliography).
Click on the image at left for a larger view of this reproduction of a gladius hispaniensis by Mark Morrow.  It is copied from one of the blades from Smihel, Slovenia, dating to c. 175 BC.  The blade is 26" long and 2" wide, and weighs about 1 pound 10 ounces.  See a close-up of the hilt and scabbard here.

       Scabbards were made of wood covered with thin leather.  Those for Mainz and Fulham pattern blades were either enclosed in a frame of brass or iron "gutters", with decorated plates on the front, or were completely sheathed in metal.  Pompeii type scabbards had chapes and throats of similar construction, but the edge gutters generally did not extend top to bottom.  The decoration could be embossed, stamped, punched, or pierced, and frequently the brass parts were tinned or silvered.
       Start with two 4"x24" pieces of wood (basswood from a hobby shop is fine) 1/4" thick.  Cut it with straight parallel edges only a little wider than the blade is at its widest above the point--at the hilt the blade may be as  wide as the wood.  Make the wood 3/4" to 1" longer than the blade.  Now trace the shape of the blade on both pieces (centered), and rout out the cavity.  A drill with a rotary rasp is perfect for this, and it does not have to be a neat job.  As both hollows progress, clamp the halves together and see if the blade fits.  It should move in and out freely but not rattle too much.  Glue the halves together, then rasp and sand the faces to taper the edges as shown.  All the wood will be covered with leather and/or metal, so a couple thin spots or holes will not matter.

       The leather should be top grain, no thicker than 3 ounce (click here for Leather Tips).  A single piece can be wrapped around and a neat joint made up the center of the back--assuming the leather is glued to the wood, the seam does not have to be stitched.  On a Mainz type scabbard, there can be a seam along one or both edges, covered by the side gutters.  Any necessary horizontal seams can be covered by the crossbands.  The leather can simply be oiled to make it brown, or dyed red or any other reasonable color.  There does not have to be leather underneath a plain or embossed brass plate, but of course you'll want something underneath an openwork design since it will show through.

       The bands comprising the frame were often ribbed, though not always.  The crossbands that form loops to hold the suspension rings can end just inside the edge at the back, or go completely across the back; some were ribbed at the front and flat at the back.  Many had a different ribbing pattern for the parts that were bent to form the loops than for the front.
      The sides of the frame are made of .015" brass strip about 3/4" wide.  Work it into a gutter shape by bending it over a rod or the edge of a piece of wood c. 3/8" thick.  If the brass is long enough, the entire side guttering for a Mainz scabbard can be made in one piece, with the sides of the gutter clipped where it needs to bend.  Otherwise several pieces can be used, with overlapped joints covered by the crossbands.  The side pieces of a Pompeii type frame can project beyond the crossbands and be trimmed into "palmette" shapes.  Gladius Hispaniensis scabbards originally had only two crossbands over the wood and leather, then they developed a very simple iron frame with little or no decoration.
      The crossbands are about 1/2" wide, and those that hold the suspension rings are best made from .032" brass, for strength.  The band at the very top can be wider than the others, or the same width.  One example from Hod Hill is stamped with a row of ovals as simple decoration.  A flat plate may be soldered to the top band, and a slot cut through it for the blade.  Occasionally this plate was wider than the rest of the frame, forming a sort of overhang, but you will probably not want it to be wider than your sword guard.  Soldered to the tip of the scabbard is a small brass finial, such as the decorative knobs used on some large brass door hinge pins, or possibly a short lamp finial (most cabinet knobs or drawer pulls are too large).  Some are very simple, like a small ribbed strip of brass wrapped around the tip of the frame.
       Place a metal ring (1/2" to 1" in diameter) through each suspension loop, soldering them shut for extra strength.  Many original scabbard rings are flat in section as if made from brass strip or cut from a tube; in the latter case they would be very strong.
      Frame parts can be soldered, riveted, or nailed together (don't forget to put the rings in place first!).  For a Mainz type scabbard the frame can be built entirely self-supporting and the leather-covered wood simply slid into it.  The frame parts of a Pompeii scabbard, however, must be secured to the wood with small nails (brass escutcheon pins) placed near the edge of the wood so that they do not interfere with the blade.   The nails can go completely through from front to back and be peened flat like a rivet, or they can be driven from the back into the wood and not project through the fronts of the bands.

       As always, it is best to copy an original motif when decorating your scabbard.  Pompeii scabbards tended to have etched and openwork depictions of gods or geometric designs, while Mainz scabbards had either geometric openwork panels or stamped/embossed scenes.  Remember, a plain scabbard can look perfectly attractive, and (depending on how it is put together) more decoration can be added in the future as your skills or resources improve.

       Making a Gladius Scabbard: Christian Fletcher Photo Show, http://www.christianfletcher.com/Site/Gladius%20Scabbard%20Construction.html 

       Click here for metalworking hints

       The sword hangs high on the right side on a leather baldric 1/2" to 1" wide.  The "baldric clasps" shown in some modern reconstructions are horse harness fittings, and should NOT be used.  The scabbard has 4 suspension rings:  at the back the baldric forks and is stitched to both rings (left), but at the front only the top ring is used, the baldric being either sewn to it or fixed with a small buckle.  The baldric may be dyed.  An older method of wearing the sword, perhaps more common with Mainz types, is to hang it from the belt, though exactly how this was done is not certain.  It must have involved short leather straps or thongs attached to the rings, perhaps simply forming "belt loops" or an X pattern (right). 
       If two belts are worn, one is always for the sword and the other for the dagger--the baldric is only seen with a single belt.  However, a single belt may hold both dagger and sword with no baldric.

        The gladius Hispaniensis at first had only 2 rings, both at the rear edge of the scabbard, so that it hung at an angle.  Some have been found with a pair of small small buckles, suggesting that short straps were attached to the belt which buckled to the scabbard, or vice versa (as in this photo).  The use of four rings probably came into use by the late first century BC.
Modified Del Tin Pompeii gladius by Tom Kolb.  The steel guard plate has been removed, and the grip replaced with bone.  Decorated brass plates have been added to the scabbard. Deepeeka Pompeii gladius with pommel and guard replaced by Gregg Van Vranken.  The pommel may look small, but the pommels and guards of most modern reconstructions are actually too large.  Gregg says this is his first attempt at woodworking!
The "palmette" decoration above a plain chape plate.  The palmette was cut from .032" brass.  The tendrils were a straight tab which was cut into 4 narrow strips, bent and curled into shape.  The grooves on the leaf were done with a chisel. Hilt of a gorgeous copy of the Hod Hill sword made by Manning Imperial for Nate Bell.  This ornate hilt is of native British style, though it may show Roman influence as well and was found in a Roman fort.  It is a good illustration that soldiers were still supplying their own gear in the first century AD.  The original blade is broken off near the point but seems too long for a gladius, so it has been reconstructed here as a cavalry spatha.
Greg Fabic's scabbard, stamped and openwork brass strips over silver plates.  He used leather stamping tools with a vine motif for the embossed bands.
Detail of three pommels showing washers or nuts.  At left, a brass cap nut filed to remove the hex portion.  (This is probably not entirely correct, since the tang should project all the way through the finial to be peened.)  At center, a regular steel hex nut has been ground into a round shape.  At right, a square nut is used, with any galvanization sanded off and (in this case) a heat-blackened finish, over a brass washer.
       At left is the the remains of the scabbard and blade of the Fulham Sword in the British Museum.  Note the Wolf-and-Twins motif stamped into the brass plate.  The pommel, guard, and grip are NOT from this sword but were found elsewhere.  The pommel has a flattened cross-section, and the bone grip appears to be round.   Photo by Orton Begner.

       At right is Jeff Crean's simple but beautiful scabbard.  He started with a Museum Replicas scabbard, keeping the wood, leather, and cross bands, then added side gutters and a throat band copied from one found at Hod Hill.

       For a photo of a reconstruction of the so-called Sword of Tiberius, see the Armamentarium website.

       Roman sword blades were made of steel, but their carbon content and construction methods varied.  Many were a homogenous low-carbon steel, sometimes hardened on the outside.  Better-made ones had a low-carbon steel core with higher-quality cutting edges.  The quality of the average blade was not necessarily very high (besides questionable metal content, edges are often slightly asymmetrical), but was presumably quite adequate to the task.  It is also clear that the fit and finish of the hilt pieces was often less than perfect.  As with other items of Roman equipment, modern reproduction gladii are generally made of better steel than their ancient counterparts, and finished to a much more exacting degree. 

       Photos of original gladius and scabbard parts are at the Online Collection of Roman Artifacts, http://www.roman-artifacts.com/ 

       Mark Morrow does the best hand-forged blades we've seen, and may be able to do hilts as well.  His prices and delivery times are also quite reasonable.

       David Hare in the UK (pompeiiswords AT btinternet DOT com) makes Pompeii gladii with several varieties of scabbards, £250-£300.  Some of the best work available.  Unfortunately, he is not currently able to ship to the US, due to Customs restrictions.

       Matt Lukes in Canada (panzerknacker AT shaw DOT ca) does excellent custom work including sword scabbards, belts, etc.

       Albion Swords is now producing their "Next Generation" swords, which are excellent though not cheap.  

       Christian Fletcher does excellent scabbards for Albion's gladii, and he also sells the swords.  He may do scabbards for swords by other manufacturers as well.

       The Mainz and Pompeii swords by Deepeeka in India (#4209 and #4211) are the most common inexpensive "off the shelf" gladii that are acceptable.  The blades are correctly shaped though they may not be strong enough for actual use.  The hilts are good, though they are secured with sunken hex nuts which should be replaced.  The scabbards are also decent, though they can be improved.  That for the Mainz gladius has decorated brass plates taken from Fulham scabbard (see above), but the embossing is rather cheap and cheesy--the motifs are thin and vague, with too much empty space in and around them.  On the Pompeii scabbard, the etched design on the plate is very good in shape, but lacks the cut-out parts of original.  The palmette at the bottom and the curly decoration inside chape are both cut from thick brass stock, and need to be replaced or simply removed.  You may also need to secure the cross-bands with small brass nails to keep the frame parts from slipping.  The sides of the chape are curved instead of straight, and the finial is too small.

NOTE:  Deepeeka is modifying their gladii, and the much-improved versions should be available shortly.

       Another even cheaper Pompeii gladius, also Indian-made, is available from Find-It Armory, #SDK1171.  (Other vendors also carry it, just be sure to check the catalog number.)  The blade is rather heavy, but properly shaped.  Decent wood pommel and guard, though the bone grip needs a little filing to deepen the finger grooves.  The brass cap nut securing the hilt is easily replaced or modified.  The scabbard is better than Deepeeka's, with simple but well-done brasswork and reddish-brown leather.  It comes with a baldric which is rather thin and smelly, and with a buckle from a large wristwatch band!  It is also mounted backwards, to be worn on the left side, and may be a little short overall.  Overall a very acceptable sword.  Hilt detail photo, &  Chape detail.  (SDK1172 is NOT acceptable!)

       Deepeeka's #3311 "Roman Sword II" or "Early gladius" is not acceptable.  It is very difficult even to modify into anything useful.  The swords by Museum Replicas/Windlass Steelcrafts should also be avoided, as should all their various spin-offs.  See the page of Things to Avoid.

Click here for more gladius hints
Click here for Armoring Hints
Click here for a drawing of blade shapes

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