Gladius vs. Spatha : What Is The Main Difference

Both Gladius and Spatha are Roman swords and both of them are used to save vast Roman property. Before talking about the dissimilarities of these swords, one has to admit that there are a lot of similarities as well. Both these swords have shorter handles, double-edged blades, and tapered points.

However, Spatha was more popular among the Romans and the reason had a better reach. Gladius is known mostly for close combats and used for stabbing. On the contrary, Spatha was used for slashing by cavalry units. Now let’s break into the details of these two Roman swords and also the differences to one another.

Differences between Gladius and Spatha

Even though Gladius and Spatha have a bit of similarity, they have a lot of differences as well. The way of using them, structure, length, etc. factors shows the differences between these two ancient Roman swords.




Length of blade

18 to 27 inches

24 to 36 inches

Purpose of use




Shorter handle, shorter blade, sharpened pointed tip

Longer handle, longer blade, and pointed tip

Battlefield usage

Used by infantries

Used by cavalry units and infantries

Better reach

Spatha is a longer sword compared to Gladius anyone would get a better reach from it. The blade of Spatha is almost 1.5 times longer than the one of the Gladius.

Purpose of use

The lengthy and shorter structure of these two Roman swords defines their purpose of use. Gladius is used for stabbing or thrusting into the opponent’s body, whereas Spatha is used for slashing the opponent.

Different design

There are similarities noticeable in the design of these swords. But a shorter handle, shorter blade, and sharpened pointed tip make Gladius different from Spatha.

Usage on the battlefield

Spatha provides more versatile usage on the battlefield compared to a gladius. Gladius is only allowed to use for hand-to-hand and close combats because of the shorter lengths. So they are used by infantries. However, Spatha is mainly used by the cavalry units but can also be used by foot soldiers.

What is Gladius

Gladius is a one-handed Roman sword used by the Roman foot soldiers in the battle. They are specially used for stabbing into the opponent’s body. So they were mostly used for closer hand-to-hand combats. Until the Spatha came into the scene, Romans relied on the Gladius for battles.

How long a gladius is

Gladius is basically shorter in length but doesn't fall in the short swords category completely. The length of gladius’ blade ranges from 18 to 27 inches. However, the overall dimension remains around 24 to 33 inches. Meanwhile, the blade is 2 to 2.8 inches wide of this sword.

The shorter length doesn’t make it a suitable one for longer reach. So as long as the opponent is closer to you, Gladius is a nice choice. And due to this, it lost popularity on the battlefields gradually.

What about the weight of Gladius

Gladius isn't among the heaviest swords in history because of the compact design and also the materials used to build it. The blade of the sword is made from iron. Again, the makers used wood, bronze, or ivory to build the hilt of this sword.

The weight of Gladius ranges from 1.5 to 2.2 pounds or 0.7 to 1 kg. The lightweight construction also makes this small sword suitable for one-handed use.

Design of Gladius

This short-length sword is designed with a double-edged, pointed-tapered blade and a short handle. The sword has a great impact on the Roman Empire in those days. The sword was designed with seven crucial parts, the hilt, the pommel, the grip, the guard, blade, edge, and pointed tip.

The hilt sometimes came ornate for the high Roman officials. The pommel keeps a balance while swinging it and ensures it doesn't slip from the fighter's grip. As I already said, the hilt was made of bronze, wood, or ivory, so the same saying goes for the grip as well.

The guard is the differentiating part between the blade and the grip. The design of the blades is different depending on the type of Gladius. There are two sharp edges designed in a gladius. The pointed tip is used for stabbing or thrusting.

History of Gladius

The gladiators of the Roman Empire would carry gladius swords. This ancient Roman sword was introduced during the 3rd BC and continued its journey till the 3rd century AD. It is admitted by most historians that the Romans designed the sword inspired by the weapons of Celtiberians in Hispania.

What is Gladius used for

The main task of Gladius is to thrust it into the opponent’s body. The pointed tip at the end of the blade was designed for efficient stabbing. Also, one properly trained soldier can outclass his opponent by slashing at the kneecaps under the shield wall.

Different types

According to most historians, there are four different types of the Gladius. They are gladius hispaniensis, Mainz gladius, fulham gladius, and Pompeii gladius. Gladius hisaniensis is the largest and the heaviest gladius. The pointed tip of Mainz gladius was more triangular than gladius hispaniensis and had wasp-waisted curves.

Pompeii gladius is the shorter gladius sword and it has parallel cutting edges. However, the length increased gradually of the sword and it is now well known as semi-spatha as well.

What is Spatha

Spatha is another Roman sword, but a longer one compared to Gladius. The longer design provides a better reach with the sword and it is a suitable one to use during cavalry charges rather than foot soldiers. It became more popular with the Roman armies gradually because of the length.

How long a spatha is

Spatha indeed is a long sword measuring around 20 to 40 inches. It also had a larger handle, which ranges from 7 to 8 inches. The longer handle provides inexperienced swordsmen a better grip. However, Spatha is a single-handed sword.

Heavier or lighter sword

Spatha is also a lightweight sword, which is easy enough to handle single-handedly. The weight of this Roman sword ranges from 1.1 to 1.6 pounds or 0.5 to 0.7 kg. In cavalry charges, Spatha is easy to hold for the lighter weight. So the blade of Spatha was strong but lightweight at the same time.

What about the design of Spatha

The design of Spatha is pretty similar to a gladius. It has a double-edged blade with a tapered point. But the difference is in the length of the blade. Spatha has comparatively a longer blade than Gladius. The blade itself measured around 24 to 36 inches. The handle used here is shorter like Gladius for single-handed use.

History of Spatha

Spatha was used by the Romans as a replacement for Gladius. The Romans got first introduced to this sword by Celtic Mercenaries during the Second Punic War. It was used in the Roman Empire from the 1st to 6th centuries AD. But it replaced Gladius during the late 2nd to 3rd century.

Usage of Spatha

The riders on horseback mostly loved using Spatha in Roman Empire. So this sword was mostly used in cavalry charges. However, later on, foot soldiers also used Spatha with a shield. And for its longer reach, it is regarded as a great weapon against lightly armored opponents.

Why did Spatha replace Gladius 

After the introduction of Spatha, gradually the Romans started relying on this weapon over Gladius on the battlefields. Soon Spatha completely replaced Gladius. Of course, there are some reasons behind this replacement.

  • Extra length and extra reach: Spatha is a longer weapon than Gladius and this extra length provides extra reach to the user. In Roman Empire, it is supposed to be the main reason behind the replacement.
  • Versatile use: Spatha is mainly used by the cavalry officers riding on horseback. But in some circumstances, the foot soldiers can also find fancy for themselves. However, Gladius isn’t made for leading cavalry charges.
  • The rising importance of cavalry in wars: Cavalry charges become more important than close combats in the wars. It consequently increased the importance of Spatha and influenced a lot in the replacement.

Final words

Both swords existed in Roman Empire with their specialties. But ultimately Spatha with the improved features replaced Gladius on the battlefields.

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