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Andy Ternay




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PostPosted: Fri 03 May, 2013 10:28 am    Post subject: What makes a sword a spatha?         Reply with quote

What specific criteria make a sword a spatha? I'm wondering because in academic literature the Celtic longsword is referred to as a long sword. So spathas are not simply "long iron swords". Swords that are called spathas or spathae have sharp tips, spatulate tips and everything in between, so that is not a defining characteristic. Some spathas have single fullers, some have multiple fullers, some are lenticular and have no fuller at all. The Romans forged (or ground) some spathas. But others were made by Germanic tribes. Point of manufacture does not appear to be a criteria.

The only things that seems to be consistent in the definition are:

Length - spathas are long - how long? I don't know, but they are long.

Time - Wikipedia (I know, I know but it was the place I found actual dates) says: "in use throughout first millennium AD Europe, and in the territory of the Roman Empire until about 600 AD." What happened between 600 and 700 CE that caused the change?

Straight edged - I'm not aware of any curved swords being called a spatha

Double-edged - I'm not aware of any single edged swords being called a spatha.

So why aren't Viking swords called spathas? What changed that the terminology is altered? Are Behmer blade types automatically spathas? What about the Oakeshott Type X?

I'm confused; any clarification would be appreciated.

Thanks!

"Precious swords...since there for a thousand winters they had rested in the earth's embrace." ~ Beowulf 3048 - 50
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P. Schontzler




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PostPosted: Fri 03 May, 2013 11:00 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

My understanding is that the Spatha is a one-handed sword that is significantly longer than the short Gladius that was the standard for Roman soldiers. Migration era swords would probably be called a Spatha by the Romans, but there is enough difference in style, hilt, era, etc. for people to classify it differently. I'm sure someone with more authoritative sources can comment.

myArmoury: Forms of European Edged Weaponry wrote:

After 150 A.D., the gladius began to be replaced by the spatha, a cavalry sword that had been introduced by the Celts in the late first century. The rise of the spatha as an infantry weapon reflects a dawning realization that the longer sword has an advantage while fighting, plus a new emphasis on the role of cavalry in warfare. After the fall of Rome, the spatha evolved into the cruciform sword of the Middle Ages.

http://www.myArmoury.com/feature_euroedge.html#spatha
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Matthew Bunker




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PostPosted: Fri 03 May, 2013 11:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A spatha is a type of sword, whereas a sword is not a type of spatha. Wink

I don't think that there's any hard and fast rule about when to stop classfying a late Roman or early medieval long, double edged straight sword as a 'spatha'.

I supose it might depend on whether your native language is descended from a Germanic language (from whence 'sword' is derived) or a romance language (in Italian you'd still say 'spada' and in Spanish 'espada').

"If a Greek can do it, two Englishman certainly can !"
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Artis Aboltins




PostPosted: Fri 03 May, 2013 1:46 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I tend to agree with Mathew Bunker there - it seems to be simply a terminology matter that some people call them spathas.
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Fri 03 May, 2013 1:47 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gladius and spatha both mean "sword", and I'm not sure if it's clear that the Romans always meant that one was for "short" and the other "long". Probably swords were called "spatha" until Latin was no longer the primary language! I really don't think we should try to come up with a strict typology, though I wouldn't be surprised if the Romans generally used some other word for any curved sword.

Matthew
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Benjamin Floyd II





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PostPosted: Fri 03 May, 2013 3:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Language wasn't always as specific as it is now. During later periods, vastly different swords are only called 'swords' within texts from the same period and location.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Fri 03 May, 2013 5:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Yep. These days people call any Roman sword a "spatha" if it is longer than a gladius. The Romans probably made no distinction themselves.
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Mark Moore




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PostPosted: Fri 03 May, 2013 7:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I was alwatys under the impression that a 'spatha' was a mounted cavalry weapon. Am I mistaken? Perhaps I need education also. WTF?! ....McM
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Ralph Grinly





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PostPosted: Fri 03 May, 2013 11:51 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I also was under the view that "spatha" was the term the Roman's tended to use for the longer cavalry , 'slashing" style of sword..as opposed the the term Gladius whicj they used for the close quarter, 'stabbing" sword used by the massed legions ? As time went on, the romans recruited and used more cavalry and hence the 'spatha" came into more prominence. I suspect the differing terms refered more to the style of use, "slashing" as opposed to 'stabbing", rather than simple length ?
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Lewis Ballard




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PostPosted: Sat 04 May, 2013 6:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

What makes a sword a spatha?

As others have suggested, I think it's the people talking about it. I came to the sword world with a "classifying eye." If a sword was this, then it was not that. Finally, after reading a lot of Glen's posts, I began to realize that the same blade could be a saber, a short saber, a cutlass, a cuttoe, a hanger, or just "a sword."
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Andy Ternay




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PostPosted: Tue 07 May, 2013 10:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you everyone for the replies. I too have a "classifying eye" and get very frustrated that our predecessors did not share that characteristic! Wink
"Precious swords...since there for a thousand winters they had rested in the earth's embrace." ~ Beowulf 3048 - 50
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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Tue 07 May, 2013 11:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

note the typical hilt materials
-Sean

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Steve Milberger




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PostPosted: Thu 16 May, 2013 2:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Having studied Latin in high school, my first thought was to look up the words. Gladius means "sword" in Latin. The first definition for spatha is "spatula," the wooden stirring instrument. The second definition is "a broad two-edged sword without a point."

I would guess (although I could be wrong) gladius is the generic term for sword and spatha is a special type of sword. All spathae are gladii, but not all gladii are spathae.
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Fri 17 May, 2013 5:27 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Steve Milberger wrote:
Having studied Latin in high school, my first thought was to look up the words. Gladius means "sword" in Latin. The first definition for spatha is "spatula," the wooden stirring instrument. The second definition is "a broad two-edged sword without a point."

I would guess (although I could be wrong) gladius is the generic term for sword and spatha is a special type of sword. All spathae are gladii, but not all gladii are spathae.


Hmm, I suspect the author/editor of that dictionary was not well versed in military equipment. That just sounds like a layman making a broad generalization. Particularly since a sword of that exact description was a pretty rare thing in Roman times! Sure, some Celtic swords had rounded points, but I would hesitate to describe that as "without a point".

Matthew
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Alex Cerioli




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PostPosted: Wed 28 Aug, 2013 2:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Just found this old thread.

It's sort of fun: what makes a tanto a tanto and a uchigatana an uchigatana?

Of course the Romans knew the difference between a gladius and a spatha, and ironically spatha is a greek word, not latin, and doesn't have anything to deal with spatulae.

Spathas started to appear at the end of the II century and they were mostly meant to be used by the cavarly but not just by them, probably they were the Roman answer to Celtic longswords, it was used along with gladii for a while, then it became predominant because warfare (and enemies) changed through the years.

From the III BC the Roman army started to enroll more and more Germanics in their line, they were called foederati and being skilled horsemen they were mostly destined to cavarly units, so the Germanic tribes came in contact with the spatha and they adopted it.

At the end of the Roman Empire the Germanic tribes took over and always used the latin word for indicating that type of sword: schwert-swerdan-sword-spatha, there's no much difference.

"Their pacts are their swords, their favour a punishment"
Pope Gregory on the Longobards.
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Shahril Dzulkifli




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PostPosted: Thu 29 Aug, 2013 7:50 am    Post subject: What makes a sword a spatha?         Reply with quote


Roman spatha replica

Many among us don't even know how do real Roman spathae look like due to lack of evidence other than carvings and reliefs.
We can only figure out a spatha as a 'long, straight blade joined to a gladius hilt'.
But I also realized that the Greek name for sword, Σπαθί (Spathi), is derived from spatha.

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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Thu 29 Aug, 2013 2:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Alex Cerioli wrote:

Of course the Romans knew the difference between a gladius and a spatha, and ironically spatha is a greek word, not latin, and doesn't have anything to deal with spatulae.

Spathas started to appear at the end of the II century and they were mostly meant to be used by the cavarly but not just by them, probably they were the Roman answer to Celtic longswords, it was used along with gladii for a while, then it became predominant because warfare (and enemies) changed through the years.

From the III BC the Roman army started to enroll more and more Germanics in their line, they were called foederati and being skilled horsemen they were mostly destined to cavarly units, so the Germanic tribes came in contact with the spatha and they adopted it.

At the end of the Roman Empire the Germanic tribes took over and always used the latin word for indicating that type of sword: schwert-swerdan-sword-spatha, there's no much difference.


As far as I can tell, all of the above is a modern attempt to justify the different typologies. There is nothing to suggest that the Romans themselves made any such distinction between spatha and gladius. All we know is that, at some point, the Romans started using a Greek term instead of a Latin term to denote their swords.
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Alex Cerioli




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PostPosted: Thu 29 Aug, 2013 2:45 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:

As far as I can tell, all of the above is a modern attempt to justify the different typologies. There is nothing to suggest that the Romans themselves made any such distinction between spatha and gladius. All we know is that, at some point, the Romans started using a Greek term instead of a Latin term to denote their swords.


Then you're saying that the Romans didn't make any distinction between the lorica segmentata, lorica squamata and the musculata?

"Their pacts are their swords, their favour a punishment"
Pope Gregory on the Longobards.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Thu 29 Aug, 2013 3:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Alex Cerioli wrote:
Then you're saying that the Romans didn't make any distinction between the lorica segmentata, lorica squamata and the musculata?
No they didn't. Show me one single mention in any Roman text of a segmentata or musculata.

In the entire corpus of Roman texts there is one (very late) mention of hamata, one mention of plumata, and three or four squamata references. No mention at all of segmentata or musculata. In the vast majority of texts the only word that is used is lorica, which is just a general term for "armour"; just as gladius and spatha are general terms for "sword", one is a native term, the other is borrowed from Greek.
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Alex Cerioli




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PostPosted: Thu 29 Aug, 2013 3:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Then you're telling me that the sword used by these guys:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons..._01%29.jpg

Is the same sword used by those other guys:

http://www.roma-victrix.com/armamentarium/img...ata01b.jpg

And a Roman soldier of the 2nd century would have used the same word to indicate these two weapons? And that a certain time the Romans for no reason whatsoever started to call the gladii spathae?

Regarding the "hamata", Varro wrote something about it:

"Lorica, quod e loris de corio crudo pectoralia faciebant; postea subcidit gallica e ferro sub id vocabulum, ex anulis ferrea tunica"

Prabably the original term was "ferrea tunica", but the musculata wasn't (usually) made of iron, so I doubt they would have called it (or the segmentata) something like "ex anulis ferra tunica". Nevertheless these armours existed in Roman times, and it would have been foolish to think that they were using the same word for all of them, the Romans knew perfectly the difference between the hasta and the pilum, or the parma and the scutum, why should it be different for swords?

"Their pacts are their swords, their favour a punishment"
Pope Gregory on the Longobards.
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