What Rome Learned from Hispania

Rome picked up all kinds of tricks and useful knowledge from the peoples it conquered.

While fighting the native Spaniards, for instance, the Roman officers saw the virtues of the short sword they carried. Both its edges were sharp and it came to a point, so it could be used for hacking, like a saber, and for thrusts. So within a few years they made the gladius hispaniensis standard issue with the Roman infantry.

The gladius hispaniensis or Roman sword (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license photo)

It was carried in a sheathe on the right side and drawn with the right hand too, which took some practice. A soldier’s left hand was for his shield.

Another thing that caught their attention was the coat or cloak the Celtiberians wore. When Roman soldiers first came to the Iberian peninsula they suffered terribly from the cold. While they shivered they watched the enemy—the Celtiberian troops—walking around in the depth of winter, snug in long wool cloaks with hoods. The sleeves were open to give them free play for their swords.

What did those Roman officers ask for as “damages” as soon as they had won a victory? Those good cloaks, of course—the famous sagum. The two Celtiberian towns of Numancia and Tiermes paid 9000 saga as taxes to Rome before their destruction.

Roman soldier wearing a sagum (public domain photo)

Here is a picture of a sagum worn as late as 1900 by a Spanish shepherd of the region.

From the guidebook of Numancia (Numancia, Guía del yacimiento) by Alfredo Jimeno Martínez et al., published by la Asociación de Amigos del Museo Numantino

Read about Numantia and its heroic revolt.


This entry was posted in 1, archaeology, Numancia, Romans, Spain, sword, warfare and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to What Rome Learned from Hispania

  1. James says:


    Roman gladius was born as a mix of the Italic short sword ..learning from other Italic civilisations such as Sannits and Etruscans
    After conquering the Hispanic peninsula was re-modelled again (Carthago Nova) with new traits from the short Hispanic sword..
    and then again and again and again thousands times in a continuous evolution
    but the better gladius was not the Hispanic one, but was the Pompei type.. the better balanced and efficient

    lo siento..


  2. Hans says:

    Rome conquered an CIVILIZED all the know world.. so all of us… And there are still people saying that romans copied here and stoled there and they were not intelligent and.. you know.. all the same post-modern retoric anti-italian (anti-conquerors) tipical of english – french – germans folks.. sure, what should they say?? Romans have teached us how to build temples, aquedots, modern army, all about arquitectures, giuridic systems etc.. etc.. etc..
    come on, just be realistic ! when romans crossed the Alpes, all of us europeans were still living on the trees!
    I’m german, and I do recognise Rome as the best civilization ever existed in the past.
    forget the rest.

  3. 100swallows says:

    Thanks, Clarissa: You’re right. As you know, there are still some people living in this contemporary category of Spain that don’t want to be considered Spaniards.

  4. Clarissa says:

    A great post, but one small objection: there were no “Spaniards” in the times of the Roman Empire. There were inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula who will take centuries to identify as Spaniards. It is a mistake to impose our contemporary categories retroactively on historic realities.

  5. 100swallows says:

    I always wondered how those Roman soldiers survived the hard winters of central Europe in their skirts and sandals. I guess they were very tough. What are your winters like there in Dacia, Danu?

  6. iondanu says:

    I think the sagum qualities came from shape, no doubt, but especially from the material; I,ve read in 2 or 3 Survival manuals (in the Big North) that wool still is, at date, the best material to counter both cold AND humidity, the best there is! Hard to find now, I,m afraid…

    A lot of good things replaced by our industrial era crap…cheaper and more easier to procure…

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