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The Collaborative International Dictionary

Spatha \Spa"tha\, n.; pl. Spath[ae]. [L.] (Bot.) A spathe.


n. A type of straight sword originating from the 1st-century Roman Empire. It was worn typically by calvary officers and is a long version of the left shaped gladius.


The spatha was a type of straight and long sword, measuring between , in use in the territory of the Roman Empire during c. the 1st to 6th centuries AD. Later swords from the 7th to 10th centuries, like the Viking swords, are recognizable derivatives, and sometimes subsumed under the term spatha.

The Roman spatha was used in war and in gladiatorial fights. The spatha of literature appears in the Roman Empire in the first century AD as a weapon used by presumably Germanic auxiliaries and gradually became a standard heavy infantry weapon, relegating the gladius to use as a light infantry weapon. The spatha apparently replaced the gladius in the front ranks, giving the infantry more reach when thrusting. While the infantry version had a long point, versions carried by the cavalry had a rounded tip that prevented accidental stabbing of the cavalryman's foot.

Archaeologically many instances of the spatha have been found in Britain and Germany. It was used extensively by Germanic warriors. It is unclear whether it came from the Pompeii gladius or the longer Celtic swords, or whether it served as a model for the various arming swords and Viking swords of Europe. The spatha remained popular throughout the Migration Period. It evolved into the knightly sword of the High Middle Ages by the 12th century.

Usage examples of "spatha".

Chatti warrior advanced on him, grinning savagely, eager to use the deadly spatha in his hand.

Old, ingrained habit made him check the spatha in its scabbard, to see that it was loose and would come out easily.

His grip on the spatha was tight, much tighter than he would have held it in an actual fight.

At the lower door Hugi set aside his sack and his Roman spatha slipped from its oiled sheath without a sound.

Still, in his light half-armor and with a spatha scabbarded to his waist, he seemed no less deadly.

But the Mongoose was already out of the wagon and plunging into the open door of the gatehouse, spatha in hand.

With their hasta spear, three light throwing javelins, and long spatha sword, the cavalry could alternately break the barbarian line, harass it, or cut and chop in a general melee.

Galba drew his sword, the spatha rasping as it came out of its scabbard, and put its point under her chin.

Another had his unprotected skull cleaved by a spatha, the bearded face exploding in a spray of blood.

The young Roman had crept behind them, his spatha unsheathed, his cloak bunched around his left arm as makeshift shield.

His chain of blood-won rings jangled at his waist, his gloved fist seized the reins, and his other hand pulled out his wicked spatha, its hilt carved, rumor held, from the bone of an enemy.

Celtic infantry met, the screams of skewered men and disemboweled horses, and then a melee of combat, the senior tribune slashing with his spatha as he kicked his horse toward Arden.

He marched with a tramp as steady as a galley drum to the sleeping chamber where she was confined, the blood rings of his waist chain jangling of victory, his sheathed spatha rocking in rhythm.

The Thracian walked in with unsheathed spatha and without fear, his forearms roped with muscle, his eyes dark and wary, his torso erect, his manner deliberate.

The horse gave the Roman army the mobility to meet fast-moving barbarian raiding parties, and the height of a horse meant that the short stabbing gladius sword was gradually eclipsed by longer slashing swords, eventually evolving from the cavalry spatha of Galba to Excalibur-type weapons.