Construction of a Roman Sword

Making a virtual Roman Sword

Building a computer model of something is a great way of learning about its construction and material composition.

My knowledge of the roman gladius ( the classic roman sword) was previously limited to watching actors swing swords around on hollywood movie sets. However, a friend’s request for a picture of a roman sword set me on a path learning some facts about basic Roman military equipment.

helmet and sword

The picture of the roman sword and helmet (above) are the result of about 10 hours playing with a 3d graphics program (truespace 3 – given away for free on the front of a computer magazine) over a ten week period. The picture above might be considered a photograph of the model I created. The gladius has a long history and there were as many subtle variations as swordmakers, in a time before mass production techniques. However, the Romans did like uniformity and all in all, one gladius was pretty much like the next.

The basic roman sword blade would have been between 18 and 20 inches in length.

The handle and pommel of the gladius added another 6 to 8 inches.

gladius flat

The blade of the roman sword was about two inches wide and remained the same width all along its length.

3D models are much more interesting than just the end photo. A 3D representation of the sword now sits on my computer and I can take a ‘photograph’ of it from any angle. For instance, I could open the software and take a close-up shot of the grip and pommel in no time at all… in fact…

gladius grip

Six minutes later, there it is. Not a brilliant shot, but you can clearly see the carved bone grip made of four sections, each on about three quarters of an inch wide. (I have left half the image as wire-frame so you can see the bits that make up the model).

In researching this model of a roman sword it was necessary to read lots of information on armour and roman history. Source material included a trip to the British museum to view the copy of Trajan’s column which features carvings of hundreds of Roman Soldiers. This researched highlighted the many syles and designs of the gladius in different parts of the empire.


There is still a lot to do before this is a finished model gladius (the blade looks like it is made of dull gold rather than iron) but the beauty is I can come back to it whenever I like. At present the sword looks quite new, but it wouldn’t be too difficult to make it look a bit old an battered.

The helmet is also far from finished, but as you can see, the possibilities of modeling as a tool to learning should not be underestimated. What next? Scabbard, body armour? Centurion, Entire Roman grarrison?

As a technique, I don’t think this can replace forging a blade in the heat of a furnace and carving a wooden pommel by hand (that’s next year’s project), but nonetheless, the exercise of building a computer model of a roman sword or an thing you are investigating is a great way to learn more about it.

Six months later, I have replaced the blade of my roman sword following a bit of research and started work on a scabbard (thanks for the suggestion Vincent!)