Late Gladius/ Spatha Chape

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Roman legionary spatha or spemi-spatha chape

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Un-merged Images

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Material  Iron & Silver
Dimensions 6.6 cm  Diameter

10.82mm thick

Opening for scabbard: 34mm x 9.76mm

Silver rivet: 10.86mm diameter


Roman Empire  3rd to early 4th Century AD

Displayed is a rounded Sword Chape for the Longer Spatha or shorter semi-spatha short sword. Basically the end attachment clamping the wooden pieces of the scabbard together at the point of the scabbard as well as providing a popular style to the military sword of the time.

These chapes commonly were decorated with silver gold or possibly bronze inlay's and patterns.  This item has a clear pattern engraved in the corroded iron consisting of a center double line edged feather or angled line patter. There also appears to be a slightly angled pattern protruding out at right angled to the center line. Also in the top corners are two semi-circular patterns.  It is unknown what kind of inlay this piece had, however judging by the solid silver center rivet (the exit point can be see on the reverse), it would likely have been inlaid with gold.  However what is noticeable are small areas, specifically on the reverse where green shows through.  This is possibly the tell tail sign of bronze/copper which has since corroded away, with what little had remained. (see close up below).

What the piece also has is a diamond shaped concentric pattern on the reverse, as is noticeble in the close up image above and the over photo to the left.  Some type of border also appears to be visible, much like examples noted later on.

The difference in this chape compared to the earlier pointed variety are really a function of style than any technological development.  It is believed that as the Roman army changed and incorporated more cultures it also adapted different styles and types of weapons into its ranks. 

In the 3rd Century the Gladius was phased out and a long wider Spatha was introduced to to the Roman army. Along with this came a difference in how the sword was worn on the belt (now attached through a belt over the shoulder called a baldric). A variety of chapes were around during this period, the only consistent thread was that the pointed triangular type was no longer around. Some were rounder and larger than this example and others were rectangular. (1)(2)(3)

Similar Examples, sketches and originals from museums


-painting by Angus McBride

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Close View of Center Rivet

Alternative close View


Reverse close up View


Second underside View

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(1) References to similar items: STEPHENSON, I.P; Roman Cavalry Equipment, page 81 2003.

(2) References to similar items: FEUGERE, Michel; Weapons of the Romans, page 118 & 122 2002.

(3) References to similar items: COWAN, Ross; Imperial Legionary AD 161-284, page 40 2003.

**Note on background. Close up view of the wall of the Colosseum of Pula, Croatia. Picture taken 2014