antique print to the right shows different types of Roman militia using
different types of "roman" weapon. The word "roman" is in inverted commas
because of the well known habit of adopting their enemy's weapons and adopting
them to their own needs.
A brief list of the principal Roman weapons used by militia is given below.
Gladius - a short sword, initially borrowed
Etruscans. The word eventually came to signify swords in general. Various
different designs evolved.
Spatha - a longer sword used particularly
by cavalry towards the end of the empire
Hasta - basic thrusting spear with wooden
handle a couple of metres long. There was a specific type of militia called the
"hastati" who used this weapon.
Pilum - probably the first armor piercing
weapon. It was essentially a heavy throwing javelin with a thin spearhead held
by a long thin metal shaft. If stopped by a shield the tip would bury itself in
and possibly penetrate through to the body, but in any case the metal shaft
would bend under the impact, rendering it useless should the enemy want to throw
it back. The shield would probably also become useless due to the pilum being
stuck in and bent. The Romans also had lighter types of javelin.
and sagitta (bow and arrow) - Roman bows were generally composite bows,
using the properties of different materials to make the best of their individual
properties in terms of compression, extension and energy transfer (springiness).
The list of roman weapons given above is very much a simplification given the
great deal of development and variety of war situations the Romans found
themselves in. A further section has been added to give greater detail of
ancient Roman weapons, their variety and
development through time.
The effectiveness of the Roman army through time was the result of
many factors amongst which lay their readiness to learn new tactics and
equipment from their enemies and then further adapt them for their own
particular needs and strengths. As a result of this, many of the weapons
and armament which are considered as typically Roman were in fact
adaptations of those learned from neighbouring peoples and successive
generations of enemies. The list below includes a broad variety of the
ancient Roman weapons including their possible provenance and evolution.
- Sword: Gladius (aka "Gladius
- This sword was short, double edged and useful as both a
cutting and jabbing/stabbing weapon. In fact it was probably
at its deadliest as a stab. Its use was likely adopted from
the Spanish/Iberian mercenaries which had been engaged by
the Carthaginians against the Romans in the first Punic War.
It was kept linked to the belt on the right hand side and
could be held in a standard word grip or even as a dagger. A
noteworthy point is the gladius’ relatively short length,
particularly when compared to that of the gaulish tribes
which had a long sword mainly used with a swinging cutting
action. The shortness of this gladius allowed it to be used
in a more agile way when fighting in a more constrained
space, as one would when part of a legion, surround by other
men of your century (who are also fighting the enemy!) and
holding a large shield. Ie it can be said that it was made
for getting up close and stabbing. This approach was
perfectly in line with the intended use of the large and
highly protective scutum shield.
- Dagger: Pugio:
- Many shapes and sizes have been found and it is likely
this was the Roman equivalent of the Swiss army knife: used
for all types of need, including daily use in the fields or
in the army camp.
- Pilum (Spear):
- The pilum was typically used by the "Hastati" and
"Principes" heavily armed foot soldiers which formed the
first two lines of the Roman legion.
- The Pilum was a type of spear with a heavy round or
square pyramid-shaped metal point and a soft thin neck which
attached to the wooden staff. The Pilum had a very
particular construction to it: A metal shaft approximately
1.5m in length with the thin soft metal neck and heavy
pyramidal tip, would be inserted deep into a wooden shaft so
that the total length reached approximately 2m. The
insertion was held fast by way of a strengthened pin.
- They would be used within relatively short range
(15m-30m) with devastating effect in that at the very least
they would stick into enemy shields if not go right through
them. Caesar tells us in his Gallic Wars that he’d seen such
spears go through two Gallic shields. Even when stuck in the
shield the thin neck would bend and hence be rendered
useless in terms of being thrown back against the Romans,
the metal portion of shaft inserted into the wood made it
difficult to simply snap the handle off to regain use of the
shield and the bent tip made it impossible for further use:
Many of the enemy therefore being either wounded, killed or
at least forced to discard their shield before engaging in
- It is unclear when exactly the Pilum entered regular use
within the Ancient Roman legions. The earliest mention Livy
makes of it (book 10) coincides with the third Samnitic war
around 293BC although it is likely that its use goes back
further, possibly copied and refined from a weapon used by
the same Iberian mercenaries used by the Carthaginians in
the First Punic War: the very same ones that taught the
Romans the use of the short gladius.
- Marius introduced some innovation in its construction in
the war against the Cibri: the previous pilum had a
fastening between metal and wood which included two metal
pins. He had one of these replaced by a weak wooden peg
which on breaking made it easier for the spear to bend and
- There were two types of pilum, the difference being in
their weight and means of insertion into the wooden staff.
Each soldier would carry one of each type.
- Hasta (spear):
- With a point of the type we are most used to (in
comparison to the point of the pilum which was relatively
specialized). The wooden staff onto which the metal point
was fixed would be about 2m in length. This Roman weapon is
close to that of the Greeks and was most used in the early
days of the Roman army, obsolete by the time of the civil
war and empire.
- The javelins carried by the cavalry were double pointed
so as to continue to be useful if one point were broken.
|Back to the top | email
us | about Mariamilani | Index
of all Rome history pages | Apartments
in Rome |
rome total war
| ancient rome battle tactics
| Ancient Roman Flag |
roman army: roman legions
| roman soldiers
| praetorians |
ancient roman weapons
| more roman weapons
| Ancient Roman Weapons pictures
| roman armor
| roman shields
| roman swords | siege weapons
us if you feel a correction is required to the Rome information provided. Please
read the disclaimer
"roman weapons" was written by Giovanni Milani-Santarpia for www.mariamilani.com
- Rome apartments