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GLA´DIUS (ξίφος, poet. ἄορ, φάσγανον), a sword or glaive, by the Latin poets called ensis.

The oldest Greek swords were of course of bronze, the one allusion to an iron sword in Homer (Hom. Il. 18.34) being regarded as an interpolation; later they were mostly of iron, though the older metal did not entirely go out of use. Bronze swords of a pre-historic age have been found at Mycenae (Schliemann, Mycenae, pp. 283, 304, &c.); some of these have hilts inlaid with gold; they are long and thin in the blade, and resemble the long light swords invented by Iphicrates for his peltasts; they run to 88 centimetres in length, whereas the longest Greek swords now preserved in collections vary between a minimum of 34 and a maximum of 75 centimetres (about 13 and 30 inches respectively). The ancient swords in the British Museum all, without exception, look much shorter than the regulation sword of the British army at the present day. The Homeric sword was cut-and-thrust, with a straight two-edged blade (ἄμφηκες, Hom. Il. 10.256), rather long and tapering very slightly towards the point. The σπάθη, used in early times (Alcae. fr. 15), must have had a broad blade, as the name implies, and, according to Droysen, was a cutting sword with blunt point; the word is philologically interesting as having, through the Latin spathu, superseded every other word for a sword in the Romance languages (Fr. épée, It. spada, Sp. espada). The hilt of most of the ancient swords is protected by a cross-bar, though sometimes by a very slight one (see cut), and is usually of one piece with the blade; but the ornamented hilts, which are sometimes very tasteful, are of wood inlaid with gold or silver. The scabbard (κολεός, Hom. κουλεόν, Lat. vagina) was either of metal or of leather with metal mountings. The type of the primitive Greek sword does not seem to have greatly altered until the 4th century B.C., when Iphicrates, among his other improvements in arms and armour, greatly increased, or, according to Diodorus (15.44), doubled the length of the blade for his peltasts or light infantry, while [p. 1.920]the hoplites retained the shorter sword of earlier times: the sword thus lengthened does not, however, appear to have exceeded 78 centimetres, or about 31 inches for the blade exclusive of the hilt. The Greeks hung the sword on the left side by a belt passing over the right shoulder, and drew it with the right hand across the body; hence the ACINACES of the Persians, worn on the right side, was noticed by them as exceptional. For the μάχαιρα or dagger, sometimes scarcely distinguished from the ξίφος, see also PUGIO (Droysen, Kriegsalterth. in Hermann-Blümner, p. 15 f.; Guhl and Koner, ed. 5, p. 319 f.) The ῥομφαία, rhomphaea or rumpia, was a Thracian sword of great length. (L. and S. s. v.; V. Fl. 6.98; Gel. 10.25; Claudian, Epigr. 22 (27).) In Livy (31.39) it has been taken for a spear: but the consistent usage of the Greek writers proves this to be a mistake.

Greek Swords and Scabbard. (Guhl and Koner.)

Of the sword used by the Romans before the Second Punic War little is known, and of course nothing from monuments; they then, according to a notice in Suidas (s. v. μάχαιρα) which apparently comes from Polybius, discarded the native pattern (τὰς πατρίους ἀποθέμενοι μαχαίρας in favour of the Spanish, though (he adds) they could not equal the Spanish workmanship and fineness of the iron. They had learnt, it seems, to appreciate the superiority of the Spanish sword over the Gallic when both were employed against them at the battle of Cannae: Livy describes the two ( “Gallis Hispanisque scuta ejusdem formae fere erant, dispares ac dissimiles gladii: Gallis praelongi ac sine mucronibus, Hispano, punctim magis quam caesim assueto petere hostem, brevitate habiles et cum mucronibus,” 22.46). It has been inferred that the Romans had themselves used the Gallic sword hitherto (Guhl and Koner, p. 776); but in the combat of Torquatus and the Gaul, a century and a half earlier, the Gallic broadsword, so large as to be unwieldy, is already contrasted with the short thrust sword of the Roman (Liv. 7.10; Claud. Quadrig. ap. Gel. 9.13). The anachronism of these writers, pointed out by Marquardt, consists only in applying the word “Spanish” to the Roman sword then in use; we agree with Rich (s. v. Gladius) that the early Roman sword in all probability did not differ much from the contemporary Greek. The Spanish type now introduced was, therefore, larger and heavier than that previously in use, yet still handy, as Livy tells us in the words quoted above. In the Macedonian war the greater size and weight of the Roman sword struck terror into the Greeks (Florus, 2.7 == 1.23 Jeep). The Romans ever afterwards used the point of their cut-and-thrust sword much more than the edge: Vegetius remarks (1.12) that the blow of the latter was easily parried by the defensive armour, while with the former (in this resembling the modern bayonet) “two inches of cold steel” often inflicted a fatal wound. That the Roman sword could not have been short is implied in the joke of Cicero upon Lentulus (i. e. Dolabella), a man of very low stature, “Who tied my son-in-law to his sword?” (Macr. 2.3.3.) The British glaive was still larger than the Roman, and sine mucrone (Tac. Agric. 36); it may thus have been identical, or nearly so, with the old Gallic broadsword. From time immemorial, as in the East down to the present day, gold and jewels have been freely lavished upon the adornment of hilts [CAPULUS] and scabbards. Either will suit the stellatus ïaspide fulva Ensis of Aeneas (Verg. A. 4.261); but Juvenal interprets it of the sheath (5.44). The golden acinaces of Mardonius was a trophy at Athens (Dem. c. Timocr. p. 741.129; Paus. 1.27.1). The Gauls adorned their swords with pearls (Plin. Nat. 32.23), probably not Oriental but “British” pearls from their own seas (id. 12.116).

The Romans, at least from the time that they adopted the Spanish sword, wore it as a general rule on the right side; the dagger, when carried, hung on the left by a separate belt. Polybius--who, it is noteworthy, throughout his description

  • 1. Monument of an Illyrian soldier, found at Bingen.
  • 2. Scabbard (Mainz) and swords (various parts of Germany).

of the Roman arms and armour (6.22, 23) uses only the word μάχαιρα, not ξίφος---says expressly (23.6), ταύτην δὲ περὶ τὸν δεξιὸν φέρει μηρόν, καλοῦσι δ᾽αὐτὴν Ἰβηρικήν: and [p. 1.921]mentions no dagger as worn on the other side. The columns of Trajan and Antoninus, and the Roman monuments in Germany collected by Lindenschmidt (Alterth. unserer heidnischen Vorzeit), show the sword to the right, and the dagger (which may have been introduced after the time of Polybius) to the left, alike in the case of legionaries, auxiliaries, and cavalry. Curiously enough, Josephus reverses this arrangement (καὶ μαχαιροφοροῦντες ἀμφοτέρωθεν: μακρότερον δὲ αὐτῶν τὸ λαιὸν ξίφος πολλῷ, τὸ γὰρ κατὰ δεξιὸν σπιθαμῆς οὐ πλέον ἔχει μῆκος, B. J. 3.5.5): as do also some exceptional cases on the monuments; a signifer cohortis V. Asturum (Lindenschmidt, pt. xi. pl. 6); an eques of a praetorian cohort (Fabretti, Col. Traj. p. 226). The problem has been satisfactorily solved by Rich (s. vv. “Gladius” and “Cinctorium” ), who figures a sword to the left from a bas-relief in the Capitol: the common soldiers wear their swords in the manner described by Polybius, on the right side, suspended by a shoulder-band [BALTEUS]; the officers wear their swords on the left, attached to a belt round the waist; and the swords of the cavalry are longer than those of the infantry. (Cf. Marquardt, Staatsverw. 2.327 f.; Guhl and Koner, ed. 5, p. 775 ff.)


hide References (11 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (11):
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 15.44
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.27.1
    • Homer, Iliad, 10.256
    • Homer, Iliad, 18.34
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 10
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 4.261
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 32.23
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 31, 39
    • C. Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica, 6.98
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 10.25
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 9.13
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