Book Review: Gladius the Roman Short Sword: M.C. Bishop.


Paperback: 80 pages
Publisher: Osprey Publishing (17 Nov. 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1472815858

One of the most famous weapons in history and certainly one of the most famous swords is the Roman Gladius. Author M.C. Bishop sets out to use the Osprey weapon series to its best effect and gives a comprehensive overview of sword types, manufacture, historical use, it’s practical impact and legacy.

The book is replete with reconstruction illustrations and photographs, highlighting the effectiveness of the sword that conquered and empire. Peter Dennis provides some excellent action scenes and adds in an interesting reconstruction of cupellarii gladiators. Nevertheless writing such a book is not without its challenges. In terms of description of the main forms the Roman sword took from the Republic to the late empire it can depend on solid archeological, scholarly and etymological foundations. In the realms of experimental archeology we enter the realms of informed opinion, and what could be possible based on tests, all of which the author freely admits.

Except for classical historians explaining the sword’s effectiveness in battle, there are no surviving drill manuals, or exercises that can help us understand how the Roman army trained its men. That being said all that is available to us is examined, such as the classic cut and thrust discussion alongside its wider legacy and highlighting common misconceptions. The Gladius Hispanensis, is the specific name for the sword, but in itself is quite a general name as there were many Spanish swords, gladius is just the Latin generic name for any sword, etc.

Weakensess are also examined, such as the reduced effectivness against armoured opponents, this despite the Macedonians being horrified by its effectivness during the republican era. Legionaries facing the gladiators in the AD 21 revolt had to leave their swords sheathed and resort to fighting with entrenching tools. Fighting stances again can only be ascertained from carvings and classical historians, some logical explanations for the typical crouched posture are put forward.

A useful book about a legendary weapon. Bound to sit well alongside its companion volume about the Pilium, for as the author points out the Gladius is only one of an effective weapons and defence micro system that made the Roman soldier such a powerful opponent.