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History of the Sword Throughout Antiquity

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The sword is a kind of bladed weapon with a straight blade intended for a chopping or a piercing blow. In the broadest sense, “sword” is the collective name of all long bladed weapons with a straight blade.

The early stages of the evolution of this type of weapon aren’t quite known and are traced from archeological evidence. Apparently, the precursor of the sword was a club made of solid wood or stone with sharp cutting edges or plug-in blades- microliths, such as used until recently by the inhabitants of Oceania or Aztec macuahuitl. However, the creation of a real sword in the full sense of the word became possible only after man mastered the use of metals.

Bronze Age

Before the wide distribution of iron and steel, swords were made of copper, and then of alloys of copper with tin or arsenic – bronze. Bronze is very resistant to corrosion and is a fairly strong material. Bronze is a dispersion-hardening alloy and can not be hardened like steel, but it can be significantly strengthened by cold forging of the cutting edges. It is not capable of “springing” like hardened steel, but the blade made of it can bend in considerable limits, without breaking and losing its properties, it can be used again. Since the main method of bronze processing was casting, it was relatively easy to make a more effective composite curved blade from it, so the bronze weapons of ancient civilizations often had a curved shape with one-side sharpened. The ancient Egyptian khopesh, and the ancient Greek mahayra borrowed from the Persians kopis.

Very long bronze swords, dating back to around 1700 B.C. were found in the area of ​​the Minoan civilization – the so-called “Type A” swords, which had a total length of about 1 meter and sometimes even more. These were predominantly thrusting swords with a tapering blade, apparently designed to defeat a well-armored target or for ritual purposes. Many ancient swords were discovered during excavations of monuments of the Harrap Indian civilization, dating from some data up to 2300 B.C. In the area of ​​the culture of ocher painted ceramics, many swords dating from 1700-1400 were discovered. Bronze swords were used in China at least since the time of the Shang state, the earliest finds date back to around 1200 B.C.


Iron swords are known at least from the VIII century B.C. and were actively used since the VI century B.C. The production of steel with a given content of carbon and its quenching for metallurgy at that time was a very difficult task, therefore, as a rule, the blades were made of soft iron and hardened by forging, like the bronze ones.

A sword from the Israeli town of Vered-Jericho, dated about 600 B/C. claims the title of the most ancient famous steel sword. It’s wide blade of about 90 cm long was obtained by welding of iron and steel billets. Nevertheless, the massive proliferation of steel weapons in the Mediterranean region occurred much later, beginning about 300 B.C.

Some idea of ​​the methodology of blade production in early antiquity is given in the Etruscan Vetulonia of the 7th c. B.C. According to another method, a Romano- etorussian sword of the type gladius Hispaniensis IV c. was made with a length of 40 cm, found in Chius.

In China, steel swords, significantly superior in their qualities, both bronze and iron, appeared according to some data at the end of the period of Western Zhou, although not widespread up to the Qin era or even the Han, that is the end of the III century B.C. Approximately at the same time began the use of weapons from steel, including – like a welded Damascus, by the inhabitants of India.

Persians began to make iron variants of sword- akinak about the 6th century B.C. and to the era of classical antiquity iron swords were used in this region everywhere. Later, Sarmatians began the use of cutting swords of a similar type. They used swords in equestrian combat, and their length could reach up to 130 cm.

In the era of the Proto-Celtic Gallstadt culture, bronze and iron weapons still co-existed with each other, beginning with the period of Hallstatt C , 800 … 650 years B.C.

The swords of the Celtic Latenic culture, well-known for their placement in the funeral inventory of military graves, were already exclusively iron, in most cases they had a stabbing-piercing (sometimes purely chopping, blunt-ended) blade up to 70 … 75 cm. Because of ritual purposes many of them were bent into a ring, “eight” shape, or even a spiral, which indicates a great softness of the material and lack of hardening. Polybius mentions that the Gallic iron swords of the III century B.C. often bent in battle, forcing owners to straighten them. It is believed that it was the Celtic swords of this period that served as a prototype for the Mediterranean swords of antiquity, as well as the German swords of the Iron Age.

Hellenism and Roman

In the Mediterranean era of Hellenism and the Roman Republic, iron and steel weapons already quite confidently dominated. Since the relatively new material apparently did not initially arouse much confidence, the swords made from it were relatively short with a blade no longer than 50 … 60 cm, but at the same time more wide. The sword of the Greek hoplite of the classical epoch – xiphos – also had a blade about 50 cm long. In part, the use of short swords was also facilitated by the orientation to fight in a dense infantry formation, in which a long sword would be a burden. Nevertheless, the late Roman gladiuses had a slightly longer blade. Curiously, the longest and massive type of gladius is gladius Hispaniensis with a leaf-shaped blade up to 60 … 70 cm long, very effective as a chopping knife. After almost two centuries of popularity, it practically disappeared from the beginning of the A.D. being superseded by shorter varieties, oriented primarily to the prick. Since the gladius, like almost all ancient swords, was used almost exclusively as a pair with a shield, on which the whole function of protecting the sword-holding hand was, the crosshair on it remained undeveloped.

At the end of antiquity appears, and eventually supplants the former types of swords, the spata, apparently having a Celtic origin. This sword was used by both foot soldiers and horsemen. The total length of the spats was up to 90 cm, the cross was practically absent, the pommel was massive, usually spherical.


Sword, Encyclopedic Dictionary of Brockhaus and Efron

Burton Richard Fr. The book of swords. Cold arms through the millennium

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