Swords are a recurring feature of Talbot Mundy’s stories, as we will see as we continue our look at his work. This is especially true of his tales set in central and southern Asia, but before we begin discussing yataghans and chooras, let’s take a look at four of the blades that would have been used the armies of Rome and her enemies in Tros’s time. Keep in mind that swords that were used on the battlefield were quite different from the swords that are commonly seen in anime, comics and cover art. For one thing, they must obey the laws of Physics.
If you have an interest in swords or just in pre-gunpowder weapons in general, I recommend that you watch Forged in Fire on the History Channel. The hosts of that show are not only knowledgeable and experienced, they are also some of the most sarcastic people on television today and put on a good show. Each episode is a competition to make knife blades into knives and finally to forge a particular weapon out of history, often (but not always) a specific type of sword. The hosts are judges who inspect and test each blade and finished weapon for strength and sharpness but also for these characteristics, vital for any sword:
Balance – the distribution of weight in a weapon determines how difficult it is to control in combat and affects not only the speed of attack but also of recovery, when a fighter would be open to an opponent’s counterattack. A well-balanced weapon is more easily controlled by the wielder and can allow for harder blows aimed at an opponent’s weak points.
Indexing – This refers to the alignment of the blade to the hilt and whether the wielder can tell if the edge of his sword is aimed at his target without needing to look at his weapon.
Fit – Melee weapons must be able to withstand the shock of repeated impacts without coming apart.
Comfort – A weapon should not hurt the wielder when used and the impact of a solid blow should not cause the hilt or haft of the weapon to roll in the wielder’s hand.
Edge Geometry – This will vary according to the weapon, but too thick an edge will not cut enough and too thin an edge will curl or chip when it hits something solid, like bone or a shield.
The judges on Forged in Fire put their weapons through some grueling tests that illustrate the importance of these five characteristics better than I can explain here. I recommend you view a few episodes and see for yourself.
The four swords that we will examine in this post are the gladius, the spatha, the falcata and the long sword used by the Celts.
The Gladius – The sword that enabled Rome to conquer most of the known world, the gladius is deadly as a thrusting weapon but also effective for cutting/chopping attacks because of the width of the blade. Although there were multiple patterns used for forging these weapons over a period of five centuries, all gladii had the same characteristics in common: a wide, double-edged short sword with a hilt that ended in a rounded wooden knob that helped balance the sturdy blade.
Dimensions - Blade Length: about 20 inches, Blade Width: 2.2 inches, Sword Length: about 28 inches.
The gladius was the chosen weapon of the Roman infantry but it was such a lethal tool of war that it found its way into the hands of barbarians, rebels, outlaws, pirates and even escaped slaves such as Spartacus. It was one of the most influential weapons in human history and has become a symbol of the might of ancient Rome.
The Spatha – Where the gladius was the weapon of the infantry, the spatha was primarily the weapon of the cavalry, the mounted auxiliaries who served Rome. It was a long straight sword with a double-edged blade between 30 and 40 inches in length; although most replicas are based on spathas from the First Century AD, swords of this type have been found that date back as far as the Third and Fourth Centuries BC and it was likely that swords like this were common among mounted armies.
Dimensions - Blade Length: between 30 and 40 inches, Blade Width: about 1.5 inches, Sword Length: between 38 and 50 inches.
Tros’s long sword is most likely a type of spatha rather than a Celtic long sword as he is Greek and was trained by his father in the use of his sword long before he ever saw Britain.
The Celtic Longsword - This type of sword was much more variable than the gladius and the spatha, which were standardized for use in the Roman armies of the Republic and Empire. Celtic longswords were more individualized and were often distinguished by the famous anthropomorphic design of their hilts but had blades that might range from 25 to 40 inches in length and from 1.6 to 2.0 inches or more in width. These are the type of swords that were used by Orwic and King Casswallon in their battles with Caesar’s legions.
The Falcata – The initial pattern of the gladius (Gladius Hispaniensis) was based on a sword used by the Celtiberian tribes in what is now Spain. Another weapon used by those ferocious warriors was the falcata, which may have been based on a Greek or Etruscan design. It was a single-edged weapon that had a curved blade that distributed the weight such that a blow with a falcata had the momentum of an axe combined with the longer cutting edge of a sword. A strike with a falcata in the hand of a veteran warrior could easily split either shield or helmet!
Dimensions – Blade length: about 20 inches, Blade Width: 2.25 inches, Sword Length: 25-26 inches
The brawling Basque tribesmen who served as Tros’s marines aboard the Liafail would likely have been quite familiar with the falcata.
*NOTE: In the Tros books, Mundy refers to a “scimitar” on at least two occasions. This is a problem because scimitars were not introduced into the Mediterranean until almost a thousand years after the time of these stories. At this point, I don’t know if he was mistaken or was just using “scimitar” as a sort of shorthand to indicate a sword with a curved blade to his audience. He may have meant falcata, as that type of sword had a fairly wide distribution at the time in question. We’ll keep this in mind as we continue our look at his stories.
These are the types of swords you would find among the soldiers, sailors and warriors that populate the pages of the Tros of Samothrace books by Talbot Mundy. If you have not read all three of them yet, you’re missing some of the best adventure fiction in the English language!
Previous posts on Tros: