Compared to swords of much later periods, the gladius is an unassuming short sword. It is straight and double-edged with a plain guard that typically lacks any protrusions, acting merely as a stop between the blade and the grip. A Roman sword rewarded to the French Assassin Arno Dorian dubbed a "gladius" during the French Revolution was an exception in this regard, bearing instead a plain, circular guard that did extend further out between the blade and the hilt. Unlike other swords intended for one-handed use, the gladius offers no flexibility to this style because its hilt is too short to accommodate more than one hand. Reinforcing its overall simplicity, the pommel is a mere, un-decorated lobe and the blade is sleek, straight, and symmetrical.
Throughout the history of ancient Rome, the gladius was the primary military sword of their infantry, serving as the standard sidearm for those enlisted in a Roman legion.
By the 18th century, the gladius had long been superseded by more advanced weapons, and where it appeared, it was regarded as an artifact. In spite of this, a gladius was placed alongside other specialty weapons in the armory of Police Minister Charles Cochon de Lapparent during the French Revolution. As part of his deal with the Assassin Arno Dorian of the Parisian Brotherhood, at some point between April 1796 and July 1797,, he bestowed the sword to him as a reward for solving the murder of Warden Leroux of the Salpêtrière Hospital and apprehending the culprit, Deputy Warden Hugo Soulière.
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- In Latin, gladius is the general word for "sword" and can refer to any type of sword.
- The Gladius in Assassin's Creed: Unity is actually modeled after the Migration Period sword which was a derivative of another Roman sword, the spatha.