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Sica Sword Unveiled: Usage, Characteristics, and History

Written By: David Mickov
Published On: December 19, 2022
Edited by: Juliana Cummings

Sica Sword is a very unorthodox-looking double or single-edged curved sword used in the Roman Empire, initially by the Illyrians, Dacians, and Thracians. It was a popular weapon between gladiators of ancient Rome and criminals alike.

In this article, we will explore the curved Sica Sword. We shall start off by going over its very unusual and unique characteristics. Then we shall explain the many uses this sword has and whether it is really as deadly as it looks. Finally, we will discuss its very interesting history and some famous people who used it.

Characteristics of the Sica Sword

Details of Sica Sword
The Sica Sword with details – Credits: WikiMedia

The Sica sword is a very short sword that could have been considered a dagger or knife by the ancient Romans. It is slightly shorter than the Roman Gladius and is nearly perfectly straight for the first two-thirds. After that, it curves very strongly, giving it a unique and unusual characteristic.

Blade

The blade of the Sica sword is easily its most distinguishing characteristic. It’s a single or double-edge blade that curves gradually or sharply, depending on the design, in the last third of the blade. The blade of the Sica is full tang, meaning that it goes inside the handle as well.

The blade length for the Sica sword is usually around 13 to 15 inches (33 to 38 cm), making it a fairly short blade. The curve of it starts at around the 10-inch mark (25 cm). This angled tip gave the Sica sword many uses and was heavily used by the famous gladiator Spartacus.

Guard

Sica Sword
A Sica sword with a gradual curve – Credits: National Museum Slovenia

Since it is a very short sword and was primarily used as either a concealed or backup weapon, it does not have a very large guard. It typically featured a small metal crossbar that was more for comfort and handling than any sort of protection.

Handle

The handle of the Sica sword is somewhat large, considering that the sword itself is not that big. It was usually made out of wood and could have been wrapped in leather or another material. It was often made smooth or with divots for the user’s fingers to offer a much firmer grip.

It has a very large pommel that was usually round with a little piece of metal, or the blade, sticking out from the end of it. This large pommel offers very good back support on the wielder’s hand so that the blade cannot be stuck on something and lost.

The usual length for the handle of the Sica sword was around 5 to 7 inches long (12 to 17 cm). This was the ideal length of a handle for a sword that is meant to be used with very swift slashing and chopping attacks.

Scabbard

The most common scabbard for the Sica sword was made out of leather since it was lighter to carry and could easily be hidden along your body. Today, some scabbards are made out of wood or even metal. The scabbard will always be curved to match the angled tip of the Sica sword.

Length & Size

Sica Sword Replica
A Sica shortsword, commonly used in combination with deadly and fast strikes – Credits: Supreme Replicas

The overall length of the Sica sword, including the handle, is around 16 to 20 inches long (40 to 50 cm). This puts the Sica in the shortsword category, which was a very common type of weapon in ancient times. Not everyone was walking around wielding greatswords. The widest part of the Sica is around 1.2 inches (3 cm); usually, the widest part is where the blade starts curving.

Weight

The standard weight of the Sica sword was anywhere from 0.9 to 1.6 lbs (400 to 750 grams). This means that this shortsword was a very light weapon to use compared to other weapons at the time. The low weight combined with the deadly curved blade makes it a fast weapon that can easily cut or pierce flesh.

Uses of the Sica Sword

Sica Sword Slashing Usage
A Sica being used to behead a ballistic gelatin dummy- Credits: Forged in Fire

The Sica was a sword that was a very deadly tool when used with slashing attacks. Its forward-tipped blade rendered it useless for thrusting but boosted its ability for slashing, chopping, and, mainly – beheading.

It was often used as a one-handed sword, but sometimes it could be held with both hands, thanks to its abnormally long handle, for extra power and a stronger grip. 

Fighting & Warfare

The biggest thing this word was used for was, of course, fighting. It is a very light sword that is easy to operate, even for novices. When combined with a shield, it can easily become a very deadly tool. Sometimes it was dual-wielded with a larger sword or even a long spear.

Today, it’s most famously associated with gladiators and the arena. Combined with the excitement of a Roman colosseum, this sword was a joy for ancient Romans to watch and certainly put fear in some enemies. Gladiators loved using it since it was easy to swing and almost effortless to strike opponents. 

Shield Destroyer

Sica Sword Shield Use
The Sica pulling away an enemy shield – Credits: Forged in Fire

Because it had a recurved tip, it could easily cut the commonly used Roman wooden shields often wielded by gladiators in the arena. It could also be used to pull the shield away from the opponent, only to follow up with a deadly strike from the Sica or another weapon.

Daily Activities

This sword has a recurved-shaped blade and, just like the Kukri or Machetes that are curved in a similar style, can be used in many types of daily activities. The Sica has been known to be used for cutting rope, clearing tall grass for roads, farming, and more. A basic farmer in the ancient Balkans could tend to their farms easily and also use them to protect themselves from bandits.

Modern

Today, the Sica sword is primarily used for LARPing (live-action roleplaying) and reenactments. If you manage to find an event that has Roman soldiers or gladiators, you will almost definitely see the Sica sword. Sica replicas are also commonly used as decorations in someone’s home to represent freedom – something that the gladiators yearned for.

The Sica sword is an extremely popular weapon, almost on par with the Katana or a Scimitar. You can easily find replicas made today from high-carbon steel ready for purchase.

History of the Sica Sword

Ancient Sica Sword 1
Ancient Iron age Sica sword from the 2nd century BC – Credits: LotSearch

The Sica sword is a weapon that was widely used in ancient times. It began to be used in what is now the modern-day Balkans as a daily tool for the Thracians and Illyrians. It was also commonly used by soldiers in the Thracian armies. It is believed that these swords originated sometime in the 5th century BC in the Halstatt culture.

Even ancient Greek writings from the father of history, Herodotus himself, talked about the Thracians and Illyrians and their very unique swords.

The Sica sword was widely influenced by other Hellenic swordsmiths and swords like the Kopis and other Celtic swords from the north. These swords were widely adopted because they were light and fit perfectly with peltasts. Peltasts were Thracian warriors who were lightly armored and fought in very loose formations.

Ancient Rome

History of the Sica Sword
A Thraex gladiator with a Sica sword in his hand – Credits: Roman Mosaic: House of the Gladiators

As the Romans spread their influence and territorial control over the Illyrians and Thracians, the Sica sword quickly became a widely adopted weapon. It was a weapon that was sometimes used by Roman troops and even emperors like Emperor Trajan.

It was very popular among the Romans but usually signified a bad background. This is because it was commonly used by gladiators and criminals around ancient Rome.

Gladiators

Modern HEMA gladiator fight with a Sica Sword – Credits: Chris Vernel

The Sica is one of the many weapons that gladiators used, often by Thraex, gladiators from Thracia. These gladiators were often heavily geared with a small rectangular shield and a curved Sica sword. The Sica proved to be a lifesaver just as often as a lifetaker.

Fights with the Sica were a joy to watch because of their very deadly capabilities. The curve made it possible for gladiators to commit very brutal and gory kills. Also, this gladiator sword could go against any of the roman swords and still emerge the victor.

Criminals

In ancient Rome, the Sica was usually called the criminal’s weapon. This was most likely due to the fact that this sword was directly linked to bandits that used it as a hidden dagger for deadly and quick strikes. 

The most famous gang that used the Sica throughout Rome was the Sicarii. They were one of the first assassination organizations that worked with the Sica and cloaks and quickly made their kills, only to fade into the crowd unnoticed.

Did Spartacus use a Sica Sword?

Gladiator with a Sica Sword
A gladiator holding a Sica sword and a wooden shield in the other hand – Credits: Museum Replicas Limited

Spartacus was a Thracian warrior and gladiator who was famous for his slave rebellion and eventual escape from Roman enslavement. He was a fighter and leader that started the Third Servile War, which was a major slave uprising against the Roman Empire.

Spartacus used a Sica sword as he was part of the Thraex, the ferocious gladiators that originated from Thracia. It is said that as soon as Spartacus entered gladiator school, he immediately made sure to get a Sica sword. He was well-skilled with it and made himself a fan favorite with his very deadly slashes and bloody fights.

Conclusion

The Sica is one of the most popular gladiator swords in modern culture. It can be seen in a lot of historical fiction films and series like the popular Game of Thrones and also in almost every Roman LARP event. If you want to own a piece of gladiator weaponry, you should definitely have it on your wishlist.

Sources Cited
  1. Frew, K. (2005, March 1). Gladiators. In Battling in the Arena. Children’s Press.
  2. Dunkle, R. (2008, December 22). Gladiators. In Violence and Spectacle in Ancient Rome.
  3. Stewart, A. (2013, August 1). Gladiators.
  4. Caper, W. (2011, September 1). Gladiators. In A Guide to the Deadly Warriors.
  5. Park, L., & Love, T. (2010, January 30). The Roman Gladiators.
  6. Charles River Editors, C. R. (2018, February 21). The Roman Gladiators and the Colosseum: the History and Legacy of Ancient Rome’s Most Famous Arena and Fighters.
  7. Mackay, C. S. (2005, January 24). Ancient Rome. In A Military and Political History.
  8. A. (2018, December 31). Spartacus, History and Tradition.
  9. Strauss, B. S. (2009, March 1). The Spartacus War.
  10. Fowler, W. (2001, July 1). Ancient Weapons. In The Story of Weaponry and Warfare Through the Ages.
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