Brief History of Swords
The Different Types of Swords according to History
A sword is a bladed weapon used for cutting, thrusting, slashing, or stabbing. Several types of swords had been used by people from different civilizations all over the world and for different ages.
The word “sword” was derived from an Old English word sweord which means “to wound”, “to pierce”, or “piercing thing”. The main parts of the swords are the blade, grip, hand guard, and pommel. It has a protective cover for the blade called a scabbard.
Bronze Age sword
First known ancient swords were made of bronze and appeared during the 17th century BC. They were about 50 to 90 cm that, technically, they could be categorized as daggers. Swords from the Bronze Age were short because bronze easily bends in longer lengths. Prior to this era, cutting weapons and tools were made from stone and animal bones.
• Bronze Age in China – Shang Dynasty
Sword production first became an industry in China during the Shang Dynasty from 1766 BC. It was also during this period that the earliest Dao (Chinese broadsword) appeared. Sword making in China only became popular during Qin Dynasty – late Iron Age, 3rd century BC.
Iron Age swords
Iron Age swords are said to have better quality than the swords from the Bronze Age in terms of hardness although there is no significant difference. Like bronze, iron as material for the sword blade could also bend when the sword is used.
The Hallstatt Culture during the European Early Iron Age (8th to 6th centuries BC) were the first users of iron swords. Iron Age swords include:
• Celtic swords
A Celtic sword can be categorized in two types: heavy, long-bladed swords and one handed short swords. Generally, this type of swords had unique human-shaped hilts.
Many Celtic swords had well decorated hilts inlaid with ivory or gold leaf. Scabbards, shields, and helmets were adorned with a European venomous snake (adder) which was believed to have magical powers.
• Greek swords
Greek swords were leaf-shaped swords used as secondary weapon when a hoplite’s (Greek soldier) spear is broken. Types of Greek swords were a single handed doubled-edged sword (xiphos), a slightly curved single-edged blade (makhaira, and a forward-curving blade used for cutting meat (kopis).
• Roman swords
Glaudius is a latin word that means sword. This was also the general term used in Roman swords. The Roman swords were two edged swords with a tapered point that makes it ideal for stabbing. The designs and patterns of the swords of Roman soldiers, however, varied through time. Ancient Roman swords are said to be of Celtic, Greek, and Hispanic origin and influence.
• Persian dagger swords
Iron dagger swords called the acinaces were made popular by the Persians. Such short sword had a Scythian (a branch of ancient Iranian people) origin. This type of sword was also used by the Greeks in a later period. Still during the Iron Age, Damascus steel swords which were originally from India and Sri Lanka made their way to Persia. Damascus steel is a type of steel heated and forged using traditional Middle Eastern sword making process.
Middle Age Swords
The middle ages, also known as Medieval Period, started from the 5th century (fall of the Western Roman Empire) to 16th century (Early Modern Period) AD. Medieval swords in Europe were long swords usually made of strong steel alloy. Aside from being weapons, swords from the middle ages were also a symbol of societal status. On the other hand, as the technology of steel developed, sword making also became widespread in Asia.
• Medieval swords in Europe:
1) Viking swords
Viking swords were swords used by the Scandinavian explorers, merchants, and pirates called the Vikings. A Viking sword was about 37 inches in length and had a deep fuller which increased its strength and flexibility and decreased the sword’s weight at the same time. Though this weapon was very famous during the Viking age, the Vikings often preferred an axe for battle.
2) Knights swords
The Knight swords are the long, steel-blade weapons of soldiers in the middle ages. Apart from being useful weaponry in battlefields, the knight swords were also a representation of a knight’s prestige.
Knights Templar swords were a type of knight sword used by the templar knights who fought in the religious wars (crusades) during the Middle Ages. These swords were single-handed, double-edged swords that had a length of more than 40 inches.
• Medieval swords in Asia
1) Korean Sword
Hwandudaedo is an ancient sword with a folded blade and a ring pommel. They come from the Three Kingdoms of Korea era (200-100 BC). This sword was more of a symbol of political rule and military power that it was not often used as a weapon.
2) Japanese long sword
Sword making was also becoming an industry in Japan during the middle ages. In the Heian Era, a Japanese long sword, tachi was developed. The oldest recorded tachi was made in 1159 by Namihira Yukimasa.
3) Samurai Katana
In the Muromachi Period (1392-1573), the katana was created. It was a long, curved sword, with the sharp edge facing upwards. This type of sword was derived from the earlier sword tachi. The katana is also popularly referred to as the Samurai sword. Learn more about what is a katana sword.
4) Ninja swords
What is a ninja sword? According to Japanese sword history, the ninja swords were called ninjato. This was one of the weapons used by the ninjas who were masters in guerilla warfare, assassination, and stealth. They existed in 15th century feudal Japan.
The modern era came after the Middle Age in the 16th century. It was a time of great development in terms of government, politics, and technology. Modern age is divided into: early modern period, Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution, and the contemporary era in the 19th century when World War I, World War II, and the Cold War happened.
The rapier sword was developed at around late 15th century. The word “rapier” is said to come from the Spanish term, espada ropera which literally means “sword of the robes”. A rapier is a long-bladed sword and is used more often for thrusting. It has a hilt that has rings extended forward from the crosspiece to protect the hand once the sword is used. Read about what is a rapier.
A backsword is an early modern European, single-edged, bladed weapon. The thickest part of this sword is the back portion designed to support and to strengthen the sword.
• Saber sword
Although a type of saber sword is said to first appear during the 10th century, a saber can also be categorized as belonging to the modern era. It was widely used during the Napoleonic Wars (sabers are also called Napoleonic swords) in early 19th century. A sabre was a backsword which had a curved, single-edged blade with a big hand guard. Sabers are also one of the types of civil war swords in the 18th century.
As said, the modern age was a time of great development. Eventually, with the invention of firearms, swords were not anymore used as weapons during wars. European swords may be used as ceremonial swords while Japanese swords are still used for modern and traditional Japanese sword cutting techniques training and other martial arts.