The Gladius: The Roman Short Sword

Published on
December 10, 2016
Review Author(s)
Book Author(s)
M.C. Bishop
Other Publication Information
Illustrator: Peter Dennis; Soft Cover, 7.2” x 9.8”, 80 pages
Product / Stock #
WPN 51
Company: Osprey Publishing - Website: Visit Site
Provided by: Osprey Publishing - Website: Visit Site
Book cover

The Gladius by M. C. Bishop is his first book for Osprey Publishing and probably not his last (indeed his next book on the Roman heavy javelin is due to be released in May 2017). Mike has been writing since 1983 primarily on archaeology. As part of his interest in archaeology, he has become a prolific artist in black and white illustrations, some of which are found in this book. Many of his works are available or referenced on his web site, He spends his free time doing freelance work in publishing (editing, typesetting, proofreading, etc.) and runs a considerable number of websites primarily devoted to the Roman military. Interestingly, in additions to being a model builder (Airfix), Mike Bishop has been flying in gliders since 2004.

The cover painting by Peter Dennis is a clip of the painting that appears on pages 34 and 35 in the book. It illustrates the legionnaires of Pompey in battle with the Sertorius loyalists in the town of Valencia in 75 BC. Born in 1950, Peter Dennis is an accomplished illustrator having contributed hundreds of books, including many Osprey Publishing titles. Peter studied at the Liverpool Art College and has been working as a professional artist and illustrator since 1991. Peter Dennis is also afflicted with the modeling bug and is a keen wargamer terrorizing other wargaming aficionados near Snowdonia Nation Park in North Wales. Check out his website at .

This 80 page book contains 3 color paintings by Peter Dennis along with a paragraph description. I counted 35 color photos and one black and white picture. M.C. Bishop provides nineteen detailed drawings (see Page 47). The Roman short sword was one of the most feared weapons for nearly three centuries. The word gladius is actually the generic Roman word for sword and was actually applied to all swords. The double edged short sword that became famous in this period was adopted from Spanish battles, picking up the specific name of Gladius Hispaniensis. The interesting part is that the warriors in Spain at the time the Romans fought were probably closer to Celtic heritage than Spanish background. The gladius was used for both military purposes and entertainment. Arena entertainers, gladiators, were literally swordsmen. The Roman short sword evolved with progress in technology as did the battle tactics that utilized it.

The sections include:

  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Development: Adopt and Adapt
    • Spanish Origins
    • Mid-Republican
    • Late Republican [Page 12]
    • Mainz [Page 13]
    • Anatomy of a Short Sword
    • Pompeii [Page 23]
    • Eagle-Headed
    • Manufacture
    • Ring-Pommel
    • Semispatha
    • Table: Gladius Sizes
  • Use: Cut and Thrust
    • Interpreting the Evidence
      • The Republican Period: Gladius Hispaniensis
      • The Early Imperial Period: The Mainz Type
      • The High Imperial Period: The Pompeii Type
      • The Swords of Pompeii
    • The Gladius in Service
      • Ownership
      • Carriage [Page 47]
      • Care and Maintenance
      • Decoration and Display
      • Training
      • The Gladius in the Arena
      • Into Battle [Page 59]
      • Battle Reportage
    • Conclusions
  • Impact: The Sword That Conquered an Empire
    • Using the Gladius
    • Psychological and Physical Impact
    • Words and Weaponry
    • Politics and the Sword
    • Derivatives
    • The Sincerest Form of Flattery
    • Modern Reconstructions
  • Conclusion
    • Successors
    • Survivors [Page 75]
    • Glossary
  • Bibliography
  • Index

M. C. Bishop starts out with the origin and development of the gladius citing period literature and art as well as surviving relics. It’s quite interesting to see how the gladius developed through research of surviving swords. Mike provides a lot of detail weaving historical accounts in with the latest interpretation of events. I found the section on ‘Manufacture’ quite enlightening as M. C. Bishop utilizes scientific analysis of the blades to further understanding the evolution of the gladius.

If you own one the previous releases in the Weapon series, you know what you are getting. If this is your initial entry into this series, you will be quite pleased.

My thanks to Osprey Publishing and IPMS/USA for the chance to review this great book.

Highly recommended!


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