Albion Triumvirate of Gladii
A hands-on review by Patrick Kelly
There are a few weapons that are familiar and well recognized even to those with no interest in the subject. Weapons such as the Nepalese Kuhkri, the English Longbow, the Kentucky Rifle, and the Colt Peacemaker receive almost instant signs of recognition throughout the world. Another weapon to be included in this pantheon of well-known designs is undoubtedly the Roman Gladius.
At one point in history Rome ruled, or at least had significant influence over, most of the known world. As such it comes as no surprise that the Gladius is so widely known. Even today one of the most popular areas of military recreation, worldwide, is that of the Roman Legions. Consequently there are many sources of equipment for the would-be Legionary. Much of this equipment, particularly in regards to weaponry, is somewhat lacking. While suitable sources of clothing and armor may be found many of the replica arms available are rather shoddy in construction or need a bit of modification to make them historically acceptable.
Happily, one of the newest, and best, sources for Roman replica arms is Albion Armorers of New Glarus, Wisconsin. Albion supplies armor that is manufactured in India and manufactures their Roman arms in-house. In the early days of Albion Armorers the company was run from the basement of the home of Howard and Amy Wadell. At that time I purchased a Pompeii pattern Gladius from them and was very impressed with the quality evident in that sword. Now, several years have elapsed and Albion has grown into a company with numerous employees, each working from their large facility in New Glarus. There have been many changes at Albion in this short time span, and their Gladius is an excellent example of this.
I recently received three Gladii from Albion for reviewing and I must say that I was very impressed with the quality evident therein. Albion manufactures three models of Gladii: the Mainz, Fulham, and the Pompeii. These are widely recognized by experts as the three most prevalent designs of Gladii, so it is only natural that they would choose to replicate them.
All three types share the same basic construction characteristics of a steel blade mounted with hilt components made from the natural materials of wood and bone. In its early form, Albion's Gladius was manufactured using a blade from an outside vendor. As with most of their products, the Gladius now uses a blade made in their own shop. The team at Albion has continued to research and develop its product line, and the Gladius is an outstanding example of this commitment to improvement.
All three swords exhibit a very nice level of fit and finish. The blades feature a pleasing burnished finish, which is evenly applied and very attractive. The blade's central ridge is even and well defined. The edges of all types feature excellent geometry and are very sharp. As the blade meets the hilt it is reinforced by a bronze plate that has been cleanly set into the sword's lower guard. The upper and lower guards are fashioned from walnut that is very pleasing in both color and grain structure. A grip made from real bone completes the assembly. The cross-section of the grip differs in all three models, which makes for a nice variety of shape and configuration. The entire assembly is secured by a bronze pommel nut through which the tangs runs, and is peened in place. All components are well fitted and I could find no signs of overlapping, or any gaps, in the assemblies of any of the three examples.
Measurements and Specifications:
The Mainz pattern has always been my favorite type of Gladius. I have always thought of it as the most aesthetically pleasing of the known patterns. To my mind this is the Roman Gladius. The one thing that immediately struck me about the Mainz is just how large it is. For a supposed short sword this is a rather substantial weapon. The upper and lower guards of the Mainz are incised with straight grooves, which round around the circumference of the components. This adds a nice bit of detail to an otherwise austere sword. The grip is of a circular cross-section with raised ridges that aid in grip retention. Due to its size and heft, the Mainz has a very authoritative feel to it, and handles well in both the cut and the thrust.
Measurements and Specifications:
I have to admit that the Fulham has always been my least favorite of the patterns extant. I've never cared for the overly angular and geometric appearance of the type. I've always felt that it lacked some of the refinement and aesthetic qualities of the Mainz. My estimation of the type has always been that of compromise. Perhaps the Romans were trying to achieve a design that possessed the performance of the Mainz but was easier to manufacture? I had always viewed the Fulham as a shortcut design. This changed when I was finally able to have one in hand. The Fulham does, in fact, possess the best handling characteristics of the three. The hilt components are not quite as bulky and substantial as the Mainz. The grip is of octagonal cross-section rather than round. This aids is control during the cut and can prevent the sword from rotating in your grasp. The blade has a bit more of a point-forward balance to it, which helps the weapon follow the point during a thrust. When taken together these attributes result in a very sleek and fast handling sword. The upper and lower guards are fashioned in a hexagonal design that is cleanly executed and is quite a bit more attractive in person. If I had been able to have these swords in my possession for a longer period of time the Fulham may very well have replaced the Mainz in my favor.
Measurements and Specifications:
The Pompeii represents the later pattern of Gladius, and one that in my opinion shows an attempt at simplification in manufacture and design. Gone are the aesthetically pleasing lines and facets of the waisted shapes of the Mainz and Fulham. The Pompeii features a blade with parallel edges and a clipped point. Overall the Pompeii is the smallest of the three types. This is truly a "short sword". One interesting feature is that, while it is the smallest of the trio, it is by far the most point heavy of the three. This is understandable when the blade's design is taken into account. Due to its design, however, the Pompeii is a very efficient chopper. In spite of its smaller proportions, the Pompeii is no weak sister in the lethality department. It may be of a more simplistic design but the Pompeii does not fall short in its quality. The octagonal grip is a bit larger than that found on the Fulham. The walnut guards are very nicely finished. One change worth noting in this new Pompeii, as opposed to my old one, is the lower guard now tapers towards the blade. This adds a nice visual aspect to the new Pompeii that provides for a rather compact and less blocky appearance.
As I stated in the beginning, Albion has made some significant improvements in the line of Roman weapons. They are now, in my opinion, some of the best of their kind on the market. Even though the Roman age is not my main area of interest, at least one of these swords will eventually grace my collection. It was awfully hard to box these samples up for the return trip to Albion.
About the Author
Patrick is a State Trooper serving with the Kansas Highway Patrol. He has been fascinated with edged weapons, particularly the medieval sword, since early childhood. Not only is Patrick thankful for any opportunity to indulge in his favorite hobby, he is also blessed with a wife who tolerates a house full of sharp pointy things.
Photographer: Nathan Robinson