Late Legionary Spatha

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Roman Legionary spatha cavalry


Location Discovered Utrecht,  Netherlands
Material  Iron

Total Length = 75 cm

Balde Length = 65cm

Blade Width = 5cm

Length to width ratio = 12.5:1

Roman Empire late 2nd - early 3rd Century AD

A good portion of the Iron remains and the shape of the sword can easily be identified as having parallel sides with a distinct triangular point. The tip being about 1.5 times as tall as it is wide.

The style is consistent with the "Lauriacum/Hromowka type" which had a blade length of 65cm and width of close to 5.2cm. These swords also had parallel edges and a triangular point. A length to width ratio of 8-12:1 was also the norm. This sword would have been carried on a baldric(shoulder belt) and have been attached with a scabbard slide as opposed to the ring suspension and waist belt of the earlier Gladius. The earlier Spatha(1-2nd Century) which the cavalry carried would not have been this wide.

The shift to a longer sword and an alternative way of suspending it marked a significant change in the way the Roman army fought. The traditional Legionary was slowly transforming. By the 4th and 5th Century the Roman army had degraded to a point where they really did not differ in weapons and equipment or training from the Germanic tribes now over running the empire. (1)(2)

Similar examples have been found around 200 AD in Canterbury, the tail end of the golden century of Rome.

Provedance from a private collection originally found at/near Utrecht in the Netherlands. A Roman fort occupied that area along the Rhine river(further north west to Xanten). Latin name of Trajectum, meaning ford by the river.

The Romans built a ‘castellum’ in 48AD so they could defend the northern border of the Roman Empire. In the Netherlands that border was the river Rhine. All the fortresses together were called the ‘Nedergermaanse Limes’. At first, an earthen wall surrounded the castellum. At the beginning of the third century the castellum was enlarged and a wall of tuff replaced the earthen wall. This tuff must have been imported from the Eifel by ship. Within the walls of the castellum, there were huts for the soldiers and the officers. The principia, the most important building in the castellum, was built in the middle of the fortress. It was about five metres high.

The Romans left Utrecht around the year 260 AD after most of the far northern frontier collapsed dating this sword before that time.

The item is being kept in a low moisture environment.

-painting by Agnus McBRIDE

Restoration work:

The item was restored and properly conserved in August of 2006 by a professional conservationist. See Report 

This should hopefully preserve it for another 1000 years! Attempts will also be made to the this item properly published.


Click on Pictures (prior to conservation) for higher resolution





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(1) References: FEUGERE, Michel; Weapons of the Romans, page 117 2002.

(2) References: STEPHENSON, I.P; Roman Military Equipment "The Later Empire", page 61 2001.

(3) Reference to similar items: BISHOP, M.C & COULSTON, J.C.N; Roman Military Equipment "From the Punic wars to the Fall of Rome", page 132 2006.

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