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Five of the World's Greatest Sword Designs.
Young Boys and Toy Swords.
From the youngest age, the majority of young males pretend to be either Pirates, Knights, Gladiators, Vikings or anything else with a hint of violence. Maybe the male of the species is geared to make war or perhaps the society we live in programs us from a very young age to do this. Every culture has a variation on the basic sword design and the cultural impact on the sword is often very pronounced.
The swords we see used in the modern age, are mainly ceremonial but they were once influenced by successive innovations through blood-soaked warfare. The Christian nations of the world from the Norman period on-wards incorporated the sign of the Holy Cross into its design and this was mirrored by the Muslim nations who used the crescent-shaped Scimitar.
After the Crusades and the Feudal Age came to an end, the sword in Europe became more of a Sabre style weapon. This was due to the advancement of musket firearms and the rising use of cavalry. A curved blade was easier to wield from a mounted and elevated position, whereas a straight blade offered less fluid motions. A curved blade also helped increase the lethality of the weapon, when a straighter sword often encountered obstructions at a gallop.
The following five weapons are among my favourite designs from different periods of human history.
(1) Samurai Katana
The culture of Japan was protected and nurtured by the Samurai, the Samurai owed their inner power and strength to their noble blade. The sword of the Samurai was the Katana, and the sword was graded by their cutting power. To make a true Samurai blade, the swordsmith acted with the spiritual, physical and mental discipline of a Buddhist monk. The Japanese swordsmith would pray to Buddha to make a perfect sword and would abstain from sex, to make the sword as pure in spirit as they were themselves.
The Katana was made by fusing soft steel in the centre of the blade to give it flexibility and hard steel at the blade edges to give strength. The steel was also mixed with charcoal, this added carbon to the steel to help prevent the blade from shattering on impact. It also allowed the steel to be folded several times to give the blade additional strength.
The production of Katana blades started in 900 AD and went through to the end of World War Two. Since the 1950s the production of the blades has become heavily regulated in Japan. Other countries do produce the blades but they are usually mass-produced for the martial art market and often lack the attention to detail that these weapons were known for.
(2) The Falcata.
The Falcata was used by the Celtic tribespeople of the Iberian peninsula, in their battles with the invading Roman Legions. The blades design harks back to the historic Iron Age knives that appeared around 1000 B.C, the weapon was used initially for ceremonial work rather than open warfare. The Falcata was not a common blade as the sword is made from iron, in a time when iron was a scarce material. The blade was often heavily decorated and was often buried with leaders who deserved such status and honour.
The weapon we call a Falcata would not have been called a Falcata as it is a 19th-century term. The Romans referred to the weapon as "Machaera Hispana". What the original users called the weapon has been confined to the abyss of history. The weapon was quickly replaced by the Roman produced weapons, as the Celt tribes became part of the Roman Empire. Although it was inferior to the more advanced Roman weapons, it was a feared and respected weapon of war which showed the skill of the ancient weapon smiths.
The Falcata was used by Iberian mercenaries and had the power and quickness to defeat opponents. The single edge blade meant that those using the blade against a Roman formation had to open themselves up to slash down and across the Legionnaire. This left the user open to a quick thrust into the gut by the smaller and quicker Roman blade.
(3) Cavalry Sabre
The Cavalry Sabre was used extensively by Officers and other elite mounted troops in the battle against enemy infantry, scout units or partisan forces. The sword was a great psychological weapon to use when on horseback. It came into its own when attacking ill-trained and scared soldiers within an open space. The forerunner of the Sabres used by the Imperial powers from 1600 on-wards and it has its origins in the weapons used by the Mongol Warriors of the ancient world. The sword is designed to slash down upon an opponent and is a single edged weapon that carves up enemies at speed.
Some of the most highly prized Sabres originate from the time of the American Civil War. The Confederate blades are worth more than their Union counterparts. This is due to several reasons, firstly not many Confederate blades survived their defeat and most Confederate blades were purchased from foreign countries such as Britain and France. This meant that a lot of the weapons were sold back to merchants after the war. The Union forces were more uniformed and issued the swords to their troops. In modern day America, the weapon has become a ceremonial weapon used alongside dress uniforms for those special occasions such as parades and dedications.
A Gentleman's Weapon
(4) The Viking Broadsword
The Viking Broadsword was a weapon designed to hack and slash in a single-arm, while the weaker hand was used to hold a defensive shield or another offensive weapon. The steel blades were lethal and expensive, they cost a small fortune by modern-day standards. Before the Vikings adopted the twin edged Broadsword from the Germanic peoples below their southern borders. The Vikings used single-edged weapons which were originally used in agricultural work.
This Viking blade is thought to have evolved from the Roman Cavalry sword known as the Spatha. Most high-status Viking blades would have been forged in the Germanic areas of Europe. The quality of the Viking's native raw iron was inferior to the ore available elsewhere in Continental Europe.
The Viking swords were made to be strong and hardy, a Viking weapon was often passed down family lines and many had a legend attached to them. The Vikings also carved their language into their blades using runes, they believed this gave their swords magical abilities and their own personality. The damage a veteran Viking warrior standing over six foot tall with the sword in his hand could do was brutal. Apart from the obvious chops, slashes and stabs, the blunt force trauma from the blow could break bones and incapacitate opponents.
The legacy of Viking swords was carried on after their warriors became less aggressive, they became Christian and more settled. The swords of the Normans evolved into the Crusader swords, and they had many variations over the years.
Geographic Locations of These Swords
South Europe/ N Africa
(5) The Scottish Claymore
The Scottish Claymore was a huge sword which would intimidate an opponent on the battlefield, its blade measured around four foot long. The Claymore had to be used in both hands due to its size and weight. The blade was sharp on both sides and was ideal for cutting down multiple enemies due to its arc of death, it was used much like a Viking or Saxon War Axe. Its size meant that it was not a close combat weapon like the Spartan Xiphos, and it would have rarely been used as a thrusting blade. A Scottish Claymore blade would have been effective against a mounted opponent and would have butchered rider and horse with just one blow.
The Claymore came into general use in 1400 AD until 1700 AD and was a deviation from the European broadsword brought over by the Vikings many centuries previous. It was made of steel and would have caused a great deal of damage to the link mail armour of the time and would have blunt force trauma to the early suits of armour. It was often used by the Scottish Clans in various small scale battles among the tribal factions.
The Highlander's Weapon
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2013 Andrew Stewart