PUGIO                                        1/31/13

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       Like other items of legionary equipment, the dagger was undergoing some changes in the 1st century AD.  Generally, it had a large, leaf-shaped blade 7" to 10" long and 2" or more in width.  A raised midrib ran the length of each side, either simply standing out from the face, or defined by grooves on either side.  The tang was wide and flat initially, and the grip was riveted through it, as well as through the shoulders of the blade.
       About 50 AD a rod tang was introduced, and the hilt was no longer riveted through the shoulders of the blade.  Many of these later blades were narower (under 1-3/4" wide), and/or had little or no waisting, and/or had reduced or vestigial midribs, or a series of fullers.
       Throughout the period the outline of the hilt remained basically the same.  It was made with 2 layers of horn or wood sanwiching the tang, each overlaid with a thin metal plate.  The hilt plates were almost always iron, often thin sheet but sometimes solid--see cross sections at far right.  There is apparently no evidence that the hilt plates were ever cast out of brass or bronze, as on many reproductions.  Occasionally the hilt was decorated with engraving or inlay.  Note that the hilt is 3-1/2" to under 5" long overall and that the grip is quite narrow--it will always seem to be too small, and even the solid iron ones will not be very heavy.

       It is possible that some rod-tang daggers had hilts which were entirely organic, with no iron plates, but only one ivory grip has survived (compare to numerous gladius hilt parts!).

       Also note the distinctive "hour-glass" shape of the center swell--it is the natural result of the slightly domed or conical swell being intersected by "gabled" grip.  A similar effect is seen at the pommel and guard.

       Photos of original pugiones are at http://www.romancoins.info/MilitaryEquipment-pugio.html.

       Pugio blade by Mark Morrow, showing the flat tang that matches the outline of the hilt.  One hilt plate is shown nearly finished--the wide-jawed plyers (made for gutter and siding work) are perfect for forming the ridge through the grip and one across the guard.  A cold chisel was used to make the short "valleys" where the central ridge meets the pommel, guard, and center swell.  The pommel and center swell were slightly dished with a small ball-peen hammer.

       The completed pugio, with tinned hilt plates over wood.  The scabbard is by Matthew Amt, based on a mid-first century AD iron example from Exeter.  The gutters and plates are c. 26-gauge steel, and the loops are 18 gauge.  The terminal is a solid steel disc 3/4" in diameter and 1/4" thick, soldered to the junction of the side gutters (which are longer in back than in front).  The small triangular chape plate is also soldered into place.   The rectangular plates (front and back) on the original are said to be secured by "welding" and the nails that hold the loops, but I decided just to use the nails.  The core is wood covered with leather.


       Hilt of the typical Deepeeka pugio #AH3264E.  #3264Bwill be just the same except that it's brass instead of steel.  The backplate is wrapped around the end of the guards and overlaps the front plate (there does not seem to be any evidence that this was done on originals), and the whole hilt is a little too wide and large overall.  Nice rivets, but we weren't able to save them.
       The rivets have been ground and drilled out and removed.  The inside of the rear plate is visible--note the blobs of epoxy and the strip of leather used as filler.  The flat plates of black "horn" turned out to be plastic (no big surprise).

       Plates and tang trimmed narrower through the grip and the upper edge of the guard.  The pommel was left as is.  New wood inserts have been rough-cut--be sure to make them wider than necessary.  Excess wood is simply trimmed away after assembly.  Two separate pieces are used for grip/pommel and guard.

       Temporarily assembled using bronze boat nails to check the fit.  I lined up all the layers and clamped them while carefully drilling through the wood.  The wood sticks out all around.

       The hilt is finished by clipping and peening the nails as rivets, and trimming and filing the wood.  In a few spots, the metal plates and/or the tang also needed a little more filing or grinding, which is pretty simple to do.  The wood edges were coated with linseed oil.

       The finished pugio.  Nothing was done to the blade itself in this case, though many need to have their edges ground (being VERY blunt!).  The midrib is rather large, but reducing it would be a tricky job.

       Another Exeter-style scabbard, and modified hilt, by Matthew Amt.  In this case the scabbard terminal was made from two keyhole-shaped pieces of thin steel sheet with a narrow strip between them around the edge, all soldered together.  This is placed between the side gutters and secured with a small nail going from side to side.


       In the 1st century BC pubio scabbards were constructed much like sword scabbards: wood covered with leather, in a metal frame with decorated metal panels.  Early in the 1st century AD, 2 new types of scabbard came into use, known for convenience as type A and type B.
       Type A had a metal shell consisting of a front and back plate with the edges worked over and soldered together.  Inside was a wood or leather liner.  Four suspension loops were held on by driving small nails through the shell and the liner, and clenching them over in back.
       Type B scabbards were leather-covered wood, with a metal plate fastened to the front by the same nails which secured the suspension loops.
 Presumably there were leather thongs or tabs on the suspension rings which tied or "buttoned" to the frogs on the balteus.
       The type A scabbard disappeared after c. 50 AD, but the type B continued in use.

       Most type A and B scabbards were made with iron plates, and most of those which have been published are inlaid, type A with enamel and either brass or silver (or tin), type B with just silver or tin.  The scabbard of the Leeuwen dagger is brass, decorated with lines of raised dots.  These are usually reconstructed as repousse (punched from the back), but are acually cast in thin strips and soldered to the scabbard plate, according to Sebastiaan Berntsen of the Gemina Project, who has examined the original closely.  There is also a brass sheath decorated with groups of engraved parallel lines.  It is possible that many dagger scabbards were not decorated at all, but few plain scabbards have been published.

       Plain Type A scabbard based on a plain example from Mainz, made by Matthew Amt.  It is c. 26-gauge steel.  The edges of the front plate have been bent back and soldered to the flat back plate.  There is also a narrow trim strip soldered around the mouth.  At right are the suspension loops, one shown upside-down and bent to shape.  This scabbard was made as a replacement for the Deepeeka pugio shown above.

       Detail of the suspension loops and rings, front and back.  The brass nails go all the way through and are peened (or clenched) at the back.  The center nail goes through the back end of the loop to secure it.  It is very important to plan the shape of the scabbard and place the loops so that the nails do not interfere with the blade!   The rings are soldered shut.

       Simple leather thongs are used to tie the upper suspension rings to the frogs on the balteus.  The lower rings do not seem to have been used during the Empire.  Alternatively, a strip of thin leather c. 3/8" wide can be stitched to each upper ring, and a slit cut in the free end to button over the stud or disc on the frog (as shown above).  Or a longer strip with a slit at both ends can be put through the ring and both ends buttoned over the same frog.  

       Making a pugio can be difficult, since the blade must have the proper shape, with either a simple or grooved midrib.
       The flat tang matches the outline of the hilt, and is sanwiched between 2 "organic" layers: wood, horn, bone, or ivory.  Each layer can be several pieces (for guard, grip, and pommel), often pinned or riveted through the tang.  On some examples the tang ends at the pommel, so there is a solid organic block in that space instead of 2 layers.  Finally the thin iron (steel) plates are laid over the organic layers and riveted in place, with 2 or 4 rivets through the guard, 2 or 3 through the pommel, and occasionally one through the center swell.  The rivet heads can be decorative (even inlaid), and some have small dished washers under them.
       The contours of the hilt plates--approximately matched by the organic layers--are often quite pronounced, but reproductions can be more conservative.  The effect can be achieved by a shallow ridge down the middle of the grip and another along the guard, plus chiselled accents and some slight dishing out of the pommel and center swell.
       For rod-tanged blades, the handle is assembled separately (with a solid organic piece or several), and the tang inserted into a hole through the length of the handle.  It is either held simply by friction, or by allowing the tang to project beyond the pommel and peening it flat.

       Manning Imperial in Australia makes a good pugio, just be sure to specify steel instead of brass for the hilt and scabbard.

       Mark Morrow also makes an excellent pugio blade, as shown above.

       Deepeeka makes the only acceptable "off the shelf" dagger, though it has minor problems: #3264B Brass Beaded Pugio.  It is a reasonable copy of the Leeuwen dagger, though the scabbard is simply embossed (like most repros), whereas on the original the dots are cast in strips and soldered on.  The scabbard may need an insert of wood or leather to keep the blade from rattling.  The grip is a little too wide, and the way the hilt plates at the ends of the guard wrap around and overlap is badly done (and may not be correct anyway).  The blade is often VERY blunt, and the midrib is too large.  Overall, we rate this pugio as acceptable, though it can be improved with relatively simple modifications (as shown above).

       Also see the Suppliers page.


       Deepeeka's #3264E Pugio Embossed is no longer on the "acceptable" list, unfortunately.  The method of decorating the scabbard by riveting 4 incised brass plates to the front is not found on any known original.   There are other minor problems (like the Brass Beaded version), but that is the fatal flaw.
       Deepeeka's #3264R "Royal" pugio is definitely unacceptable--colored enamel was not used in that way, certainly not on a first century dagger.  Their older pugio, #3264, is also unusable, as is anything Museum Replicas/Windlass calls a pugio.  See page of Things to Avoid.

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