Roman cavalry swords


Two Roman cavalry swords are part of evidence that point to a probable double murder.

Excavating in Canterbury during the 1970s, archaeologists found a grave with skeletons of two young men, aged about twenty and thirty. Their bodies appeared to have been thrown hurriedly into the grave. Romans usually buried their dead outside the city walls but this grave was inside the walls. There were also decayed hobnail boots in the grave, like those worn by soldiers, and two Roman military long swords, still in their scabbards and with fittings from belts. The Roman army was very strict about the return of such valuable weapons and it would be unheard of for ordinary soldiers to be buried with their swords. Given these details it is highly likely that the two soldiers were murdered and hastily buried.

The swords are iron long swords or ‘spatha’, used in particular by auxiliary cavalrymen. The long hilts suggest they were used with both hands. The swords date from the second or early third century AD and are rare survivals.

Scientific analysis shows that the decayed sword scabbards, grips and cross-pieces were made of wood (maple and poplar or willow). X-rays show that the shorter sword was made from four strips of iron forged together by hammer-welding. The longer sword has a central twisted bar, forged with a backing of plain strip iron.


Roman cavalry swords on display at Canterbury Roman Museum

Roman cavalry swords

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Canterbury Roman Museum
Butchery Lane, CT1 2JR

The impressive pillared entrance is in Butchery Lane and very close to the cathedral. Access to the Roman level via lift, then level access throughout museum.

Phone: 01227 785575