A History of Swords, B.C to A.D

The sword throughout history has been a symbol of power, courage and skill; able to capture the imagination of all us in the modern world. The sword is a weapon that has served warriors of all nations for thousands of years. Even today the military elite are still given an officers sabre as a sign of power and authority.

The first swords

The first historical record of swords is within the Greek legends. These first swords were from around 1000 BC, the late bronze age. The metal of the blade ran all the way through the handle; this allowed the user to put the force in the actual blade rather than just the handle. If the handle and blade are made separately the weapon would often break at the joining point. It was both a thrusting and a chopping weapon.

The Roman/Greek swords

These swords were first developed by the Romans in around 600-700 BC, they were adopted by the Greeks in 500 BC. It had a single edge and was weighted at the top so it could gain its own momentum as it was slung; this made it primarily a chopping weapon. Earlier versions were even weightier at the top; this made the swords more like meat cleavers.

Roman/Greek sword looked something like this
Roman/Greek sword looked something like this

The Gladius Hispaniensis

This sword was a hybrid of the Spanish swords and the roman swords of around 200 BC. The blade had two very effective cutting edges and a pong point. It was best suited for thrusting but could be used to slash. It was used until the fall of the Roman Empire in 400 AD.

Gladius Hispaniensis
Gladius Hispaniensis

The swords of the barbarians

The barbarians who followed preferred longer slashing swords. They viewed their swords with a sort of spiritual or religious significance. They often named their swords.

‘Any Viking worth his salt had a sword’

Viking blades were definitely more for cutting that stabbing, in fact many were not even sharp but relied on the force of the blow to rip flesh and break bone.

barbarian sword
barbarian sword

Medieval swords

But not all sword crafts died out with ancient civilisations. The medieval knights also lived and died by the world. To the medieval knight the sword showed status, honour and skill.

By the 15th century most swords were made with sharp points to thrust and cut. Many were made for use with two hands.

Two handed swords

These swords were dangerous weapons. They weighed around 5 pounds and some were up to four and a half feet long. These swords, in the right hands, were both fast and powerful. Cleverly designed so the long blade was balanced with a long grip with a counter weight at the end of the handle.

two handed sword
two handed sword
English Broadsword
English Broadsword

The broad sword/rapier development

In the late 16th century England the broad bladed sword was still in fashion and young gentlemen trained in their use, both cuts and thrusts.

The new sword, know as the rapier was long and ‘stylish’. This new style of sword combat relied entirely on thrusts with the point of the weapon; an Italian technique. Criticised as only attacking and no defending.

a Rapier
a Rapier
an 18th/19th century Cavalry sword
an 18th/19th century Cavalry sword

Cavalry swords

Even in the early 20th century swords were still used. In the military the Cavalry still believed that the most effect weapon was cold steel.  The earlier curved cavalry swords were excellent for both cutting and stabbing. By the time of the Crimean war straight swords were in use, a stabbing sword.

By 1908 the new cavalry swords were long, narrow and stiff; excellent for thrusting.

1908 model
1908 model

The Japanese samurai sword

 

The sword making craft is considered one of the highest arts by the Japanese people. For over a thousand years the sword has held a deep spiritual place in the Japanese culture. Swordplay, as it is know in the western world, is virtually unheard of in the east. Often the killing blow was made from the draw. The cutting edge of a Japanese sword is to too weak to use to block so the back to face or the sword has to be used.

The sword and the sword making craft has been passed down for a thousand years and has remained the same.

It is a cutting not a thrusting one; it is the single most deadly close quarters killing machine ever created.

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Comments 6 comments

ruffridyer 5 years ago from Dayton, ohio

It is facinanting to see the evolution of swords, from the clumsy bronze age to the elegaint rapier. The purpose remains the same, to kill.

I wonder is the rapier where we get the word rape from? Just a thought.


jaskar profile image

jaskar 5 years ago from England Author

thanks ruffridyer.

Rapier comes from the european (french, spanish or italian im not really sure) word for small sword. but when the british adopted they started using it for the classification instead of the name.

my friend seems to think the word rape comes from a latin word that means to take. but don't quote me on that.


uddin 4 years ago

what's your opinion on early middle eastern swords from Babylon Assyria Egypt.


jaskar profile image

jaskar 4 years ago from England Author

hi uddin, interesting question but that's a very limited area of my knowledge.

pretty much all i know is the Egyptian sickle sword. an interesting weapon, although wasn't heavy enough. proved useful in small melee on 1v1 engagements because of its disarming and close quarter ability. however, rank n file armed with it were not as effective as say the Gladius Hispaniensis.

hope that was at least interesting for you, if no totally irrelevant.


EJ Lambert profile image

EJ Lambert 3 years ago from Chicago, IL

Everyone will usually reference the katana or the broadsword and the most recognizable in history, but to me there was no better weapon than the gladius. Short, compact, light weight and deadly in close quarters. In the hands of a proper soldier it was irreplaceable. There is a reason they call it the "sword that won an Empire."


Devin 14 months ago

Is no one gonna call this guy out for claiming that the sword from 300 is a historical sword? Or any other of this articles gross inaccuracies?

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