The Spatha: The Roman Long Sword

Published: January 31st, 2020     
Product Image
Front Cover
Author: M.C. Bishop
Reviewed by: Frank Landrus - IPMS# 35035
ISBN #: 978-1472832399
E-Book ISBN #: 1472832396
Other Publication Information: Illustrator: Peter Dennis; Soft Bound ; 7.3” x 9.8”, 80 pages
Price: $22.00
Product / Stock #: WPN 72
Product provided by: Osprey Publishing

The Spatha by M. C. Bishop is his third book for Osprey Publishing and probably not his last. Mike has been writing since 1983 primarily on archaeology. As part of his interest in archaeology, he has become a prolific artist in black and white illustrations, some of which are found in this book. Many of his works are available or referenced on his web site. He spends his free time doing freelance work in publishing (editing, typesetting, proofreading, etc.) and runs a considerable number of websites primarily devoted to the Roman military. Interestingly, in additions to being a model builder (Airfix), Mike Bishop has been flying gliders since 2004.

The cover painting by Peter Dennis is a clip of the painting that appears on pages 38-39 in the book. It illustrates Constantius' army, here led by the Praetorian Prefect Asciepiodoyus, confronting the British army in the Hamble estuary. Born in 1950, Peter Dennis is an accomplished illustrator having contributed hundreds of books, including many Osprey Publishing titles. Peter studied at the Liverpool Art College and has been working as a professional artist and illustrator since 1991. Peter Dennis is also afflicted with the modeling bug and is a keen war-gamer terrorizing other war-gaming aficionados near Snowdonia Nation Park in North Wales. Check out his website.

Osprey's 72nd book in the Weapon series is a square back soft cover includes 80 gloss paper pages. The top of the front cover features a photograph of a Spatha featuring the later Imperial Roman hilt style. I counted 43 color photographs, six color illustrations, and 122 black and white drawings. Peter Dennis contributes the three battle scene color paintings, including two that are two-page spreads.

M.C. Bishop covers the development and use of the Roman Long Sword, the Spatha, in this latest Weapon Series tome from Osprey. The origins of the Spatha came with the arrival of Gaelic warriors that would serve with the Roman army. Initially derided by the Gladius armed Roman infantry, the Spatha integrated and was adopted by the Roman cavalry due to its longer reach. Archaeology wise, the Spatha appears in Roman literature in the 1st century AD. M.C. Bishop does a stellar job of discussing the development and improvements to the Spatha in its blade, hilt, and scabbard. The 3rd century AD saw the Spatha dominant as the sidearm of the Roman cavalry and infantry. The Spatha's ease of maintenance and ability to be quickly be repaired kept its influence strong into the Dark Ages. You can easily see the Spatha's heritage in the Viking swords. The sections include:

  • Acknowledgements
  • Author's Note
  • Editor's Note
  • Artist's Note
  • Introduction
  • Development - Changing Function
    • Gallic/Celtic Origins [Page 09]
    • Late Republican
    • Early Principate
    • Later Principate
    • Dominate
    • Spatha Sizes (Table)
    • Manufacture
    • Anatomy of a Spatha (Illustration)
  • Use - The Cut and Thrust
    • Interpreting the Evidence
    • The Cavalry Spatha to AD 100
    • The Battle For Gelduba c.69AD (2-page Painting)
    • The Spatha in the Later Principate [Page 32]
    • Retaking of Britannia by Constantius (2-page Painting)
    • Dominate
    • Ownership
    • Carriage
    • Decoration and Display [Page 49]
    • Care and Maintenance
    • Training
    • Into Battle
    • Legionaries Breaking into the City of Dura-Europos (1 page Painting) [Page 55]
    • Distribution
    • Conclusions
  • Impact - The Sword That Defended an Empire
    • Using the Spatha
    • Psychological and Physical Impact
    • Words and Weaponry
    • Politics and the Spatha
    • Derivatives
    • Modern Reconstructions
  • Conclusion
  • Glossary
  • Bibliography
  • Index

I really appreciated the way that M. C. Bishop was able to weave the historical accounts in literature with excavated artifacts to show the origin and development of the Spatha. It's quite interesting to see how the Spatha development continued using evidence through detailed research of surviving swords. M.C. provides a lot of detail weaving historical accounts in with the latest interpretation of events. I found the section on 'Manufacture' quite enlightening as M. C. Bishop utilizes scientific analysis of the blades to further understanding the evolution of the Spatha. This interest may come from the History.com cable series "Forged in Fire" where each episode challenges blacksmiths with a steel-bladed weapon made from some new source of scrap steel. I find it amazing to see the metallurgical analysis done to determine how (and perhaps, why) Roman black smiths came up with new ideas on Spatha improvements.

M.C. Bishop provides a very readable text that is appropriately supplemented with photographs and illustrations from Peter Dennis. I was able to read the book easily over a few nights. If you own one of the previous releases in the Weapon Series, you know what you are getting. If this is your initial entry into this series, you will be quite pleased.

My thanks to Osprey Publishing and IPMS/USA for the chance to review this great book.

Highly recommended!

  • Rear cover
    Rear cover
  • Page 9
    Page 9
  • Page 32
    Page 32
  • Page 49
    Page 49
  • Page 55
    Page 55

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