Two Out of Place Roman Swords Dug Up By Cotswolds Detectorist
A treasure hunter participating in a metal detectorist rally in England’s Cotswolds District unearthed not one, but two ancient Roman swords. These two weapons are unlike most Roman swords discovered in England, as they are of the spatha design, rather than the shorter gladius sword.
The Cotswolds District in southwest England brings together gently rolling limestone hills, highly-fertile fields, with picturesque villages constructed in honey-colored stone architecture. Being a region abundant with natural resources, during the Roman period, the Cotswolds served as a strategic center and many farming, mining and trading settlements were established.
The Romans in the Cotswolds created roads like the Fosse Way, which at 370 kilometers (229 mi) long, connected the cities of Exeter in the southwest with Lincoln in the northeast, and they also built grand villas throughout the region. Now, during a metal detectorist rally near the town of Cirencester, on the Fosse Way, “two Roman cavalry swords along with remnants of their wooden scabbards and fitments” have been discovered.
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Weapons From England’s Second Largest Roman Town
A report on the official Cotswold District website says Glenn Manning, an experienced metal detectorist, recently attended the rally in the north of the Cotswolds. Before Manning discovered the two Roman swords and their smashed scabbards, he first found “a broken iron alloy bowl.” Councilor Paul Hodgkinson, from the Cotswold District Council cabinet member for leisure, culture and health, said the swords "show what an incredibly deep history the Cotswolds has”.
The two swords were appraised by Professor Simon James from Leicester University, who said they were used between the 160s and the third century AD, at which time Cirencester was the second largest town in Britain. Furthermore, Prof. James defined the pair of weapons as “middle imperial Roman swords,” that were commonly referred to as a ‘spatha’.
Defense in a Land “Plagued With Banditry”
Roman ‘spatha’ swords featured long and straight double-edged blades with tapered points, and they generally measured between 75 to 100 centimeters (29.5 to 39.4 in) in length. Roman infantry used this style of weapon between the 1st and 3rd centuries AD, when they had a requirement for both slashing and thrusting maneuvers.
Their substantial length indicates that they were designed as cavalry weapons, specifically for use on horseback. Possession and carrying these weapons was permitted during Roman times due to the prevalent issue of banditry in the Roman provinces. Screenshot from Cotswold Council video (Cotswold district Council)
The spatha design replaced the earlier, and shorter, gladius sword, which was favored during the Roman Republic and Roman Empire eras. This double-edged blade typically measured between 60 to 85 centimeters (24 to 33 in) in length, and was used primarily for thrusting and slashing in close combat. The spatha were better-balanced weapons, and they offered soldiers a far greater reach on the battlefield.
Prof. James added that spatha swords were popular cavalry weapons used by soldiers on horseback, and that because Roman provinces “were plagued with banditry” it was not illegal for civilians to own such weapons and to carry them while travelling.
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What Might Lie Beneath the Two Roman Swords?
Prof James said:
"In terms of parallels,” the closest discovery to this pair of swords were two similar weapons unearthed in Canterbury, another historic city in England. James added that in this instance, the sword’s owners were found face down in a pit within the city walls, which clearly represents “a clandestine burial, almost certainly a double murder."
Currently, it is unknown why the pair of Roman swords came to be buried in the Cotswolds, but to help answer this question Historic England will now assist the Corinium Museum in conducting a deeper-analysis of the weapons. Once the analysis is complete, a full archaeological appraisal of the north Cotswolds excavation site might follow, in the hope that more Roman artifacts are discovered.
Top image: Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, Cotswold District Council Cabinet Member for Leisure, Culture and Health and Emma Stuart, Corinium Museum Director. Proudly exhibiting the Roman swords recently found during a detectorist rally. Source: Cotswold district Council
By Ashley Cowie