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Caius Maxentius

Wearing The Gladius On The Right

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It seems to me that a right-handed soldier would find it easier to draw his sword from the left across his body. Why did Roman legionnaries (at least till the third century AD) wear their scabbards on the right? Was there any advantage?

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It seems to me that a right-handed soldier would find it easier to draw his sword from the left across his body. Why did Roman legionnaries (at least till the third century AD) wear their scabbards on the right? Was there any advantage?

 

There could be several possibilities I suppose. While I understand that (I don't have any personal practical experience) drawing a short sword from the left side may seem easier, reenactors seem to indicate that drawing from the right is quite easy with a gladius (a spatha being a completely different matter, hence its move to the left). I think it may have more to do with interference with the scutum than the draw. I don't mean to say that the scutum would prevent a left side draw, but on the march with both gladius and scutum on the left side the 2 would probably clash and bang against one another while also distributing all the weight on one side of the body. (not that a gladius on the right would severely offset the weight of a scutum on the left, but I suppose it could be a factor)

 

Another possibilty might be simple fashion and tradition. Officers were allowed to wear scabbards on the left (as they were also not carrying a scutum) while the rank and file was not. It may have been a statement of rank and position.

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I personally would have prefered to wear it in the Iberian fashion from whence the Gladius came from... Across the sternum or abdomen where drawing it was a quick motion out to the ready instead of up & out to the ready...

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Watching the LEG III re-enactors recently I couldnt see any problem drawing from the right, the motion was fluid and uninterupted.Either drawing or sheathing, the Gladius was repeatedly drawn and returned within a moment.I think the length of the blade is critical , the Gladius is really quite a short weapon and if made even to a reasonable standard should balance in the hand easily. The Spatha is an entirely different creature, with a different purpose , (neatly cleaving a head from the back of a horse), and a different set of physics.

 

The abdominal draw is nice and "snug" , if I can use such a term in this context, but I suggest it depends what other clutter you have about your person -the Legionary was truly heavy with offensive and defensive gear.

 

I personally like the oriental "over the right shoulder" draw from a weapon sheathed to the rear of the wearer, the blade moves out with the flow of the arm-if you are a cutting specialist that is. This would of course be a problem to the chap behind you if you were exuberant.

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The bottom of scabbard seems to have been 'free floating' so that all that was required to draw was to grasp the hilt and pull downwards. Fast and easy (watch a re-enactor). Also it does not interfere with the shield, neither does it require much elbow room.

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The bottom of scabbard seems to have been 'free floating' so that all that was required to draw was to grasp the hilt and pull downwards. Fast and easy (watch a re-enactor). Also it does not interfere with the shield, neither does it require much elbow room.

 

Good point FV -the "lack of effort" was what struck me , and it seems to require very little space.

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I'd have to actually try it in order to tell you how well it works. Lol from my unexperienced POV, the right side draw seems like a disaster waiting to happen. But maybe not. I personally prefer the "over the shoulder" draw too. Wearing the sword on you back would just be more convenient: it wouldn't hit your legs/get tangled between them and you would have better balance.

 

I suspect that the right-side wearing of the gladius started out as practicality, and became a "symbol of rank" so to speak.

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I personally like the oriental "over the right shoulder" draw from a weapon sheathed to the rear of the wearer,

 

As I have mused elsewhere before, there is evidece (if I'm not mistaken) that Iberians would sheath their Falcatas that way... Considering what a Falcata was good for, that would ahve been a very scary unsheathing motion.

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I personally like the oriental "over the right shoulder" draw from a weapon sheathed to the rear of the wearer,

 

As I have mused elsewhere before, there is evidece (if I'm not mistaken) that Iberians would sheath their Falcatas that way... Considering what a Falcata was good for, that would ahve been a very scary unsheathing motion.

 

Yes indeed , head and shoulder protection would be de rigeur. I suppose the secondary consideration after first contact would be the time required to repeat the cutting motion whilst a surviving opponent sought to stab .

Reach alone versus the Naginata is an incredibly difficult proposition, using a falcata to cut high (vertically) or low (horizontal across shins) would I think tend to break an infantry group's stride-unless light infantry/slingers could be of avail.

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The Roman legionary wore his sword high also so that it wouldn't impede him. The right side high position really is very effective for a shortsword and is easily used in close formation.

 

Given that the centurion wore his sword on the left, perhaps that is a sign that he stood forward of his men until the time for close combat came thus having more elbow room to draw his sword with a cross body action.

Edited by Furius Venator

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The Roman legionary wore his sword high also so that it wouldn't impede him. The right side high position really is very effective for a shortsword and is easily used in close formation.

 

Given that the centurion wore his sword on the left, perhaps that is a sign that he stood forward of his men until the time for close combat came thus having more elbow room to draw his sword with a cross body action.

 

again from re-enactment, id say also, that he was fairly busy pointing and ordering with a pilum/staff so he needed to be uncluttered on his right hand side.

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Another small item to consider:

 

A cross body draw requires either hunching the shoulders or moving the shield. A same side draw down is done without either...no change in stance necessary if you have the shield forward like the Romans did not toward the side like the Greeks.

 

Of course it was mainly just tradition, most likely.

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Of course it was mainly just tradition, most likely.

 

Agreed, I am leaning more toward tradition, including the customary display of social rank even above more practical reasons.

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I'd disagree. It would be a bizarre tradition indeed that decreed only officers should wear their swords on the most convenient side of their body. The Romans were keen on tradition, there's no doubt of that but in military affairs they were also keen on practicality.

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I'd disagree. It would be a bizarre tradition indeed that decreed only officers should wear their swords on the most convenient side of their body. The Romans were keen on tradition, there's no doubt of that but in military affairs they were also keen on practicality.

 

And since my own claim is based on nothing much other than sheer speculation, I'm afraid that I can't quite make a very good case for it. :(

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