The pugio (Plural: Pugiones) was a dagger used by Roman soldiers as a sidearm. It seems likely that the pugio was intended as an auxiliary weapon, but its exact purpose to the soldier remains unknown for sure. Attempts to clasify the pugio as a utility knife are misguided, as the form of the pugio is not suited to this purpose. In any case, utility knives in a variety of sizes are common finds at Roman military sites, meaning there would be no need for a pugio to be used in this way.
Officials of the empire took to wearing ornate daggers in the performance of their offices, and some would wear concealed daggers as a defense against contingencies.
The pugio was a common weapon of assassination and suicide; for example, the conspirators who stabbed Julius Caesar used pugiones.
Like the gladius, the pugio was more a stabbing weapon, the type said to have been preferred by the Romans. Of them, late Roman writer Vegetius, says:
A stroke with the edges, though made with ever so much force, seldom kills, .... On the contrary, a stab, though it penetrates but two inches, is generally fatal. ... the body is covered while a thrust is given, and the adversary receives the point before he sees the sword. This was the method of fighting principally used by the Romans .....
Vegetius may be overstating this point however, as there are a number of surviving Roman depictions of soldiers slashing with their weapons, as well as stabbing with them.
The pugio (dagger) was ornate even by Roman standards. It was worn on the left side of the body, attached to the balteus, the soldier wore around his waist. The handle was shaped to fit snugly in the hand, and the blade was fashioned from either iron or bronze and pear shaped. This unusual shape to the blade did not fit with the traditional Roman trait of making weapons to be functional rather than decorative.
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All photographs were taken by the author, Victius Maximus
My thanks to Optio Gaius Allius of Legion XIV and Verulamium Museum for their assistance