History of daggers

Learn more about dagger history & be an expert on collectible daggers

If you think only swords are important in the history of our world, think again. Daggers may be shorter in length, but they have many tall tales to tell too. For instance, Peter used a Roman dagger to cut an ear of a soldier on the night Jesus was arrested (John 18:10).

Famous Roman senator Julius Caesar was stabbed more than twenty times by the daggers of his trusted friends and allies. William Shakespeare put these words to his famous character Macbeth, “Is this a dagger which I see before me, The handle toward my hand?”

The above examples only point out that daggers have been with us since time immemorial. But what is a dagger and what is its place in our history?

Prehistoric Daggers

Pre-historic humans relied on their tools to survive. Their household knives, other kitchen elements, and hunting swords were made from certain types of stones, bones, and woods that were chipped into blunt objects. These primeval knives, created around 2.5million years ago, were the forerunners of daggers. Few dagger artifacts survived to modern time, and what have been found through archeological explorations are scarce, since most of these materials were highly perishable.

Copper and Bronze Age Daggers

The creation of daggers started with the discovery and mining of pliable, but sturdy metals. Around 5,000 years ago, knives and blades were forged from heating metal ores in furnaces and striking them to blunt objects. Copper was the first raw material used, and then tin was mixed to produce bronze. The first metal daggers, patterned after the double-edged stone knives, were produced.

The early copper and bronze daggers of this period were used as backups to the longer maces, axes, and javelins. Such secondary role in warfare is necessitated by two reasons: smiths found out that the longer the blades were, the weaker they became; and ancient daggers lack in length, reach, and force.

Iron Age Daggers

It was not until iron was mined and smelted around 2,000 years ago that ancient daggers benefited from breakthroughs in metallurgy. They were stronger, flexible, and able to survive through damages brought by ageing, war, and use. They were also rich in design details, with improved craftmanship on the blade and ornate decorations on the hilt.

The discovery of steel further improved the metalworking of the period and the quality of daggers. The Iron Age marks the beginning of a whole new warfare with the introduction of swords, which were practically recognized as oversized daggers. Swords replaced the functions of the maces and axes.

The Athenaian Hoplites were known to use daggers called acinaces alongaside with Greek swords. Legionnaires were also known to put daggers (called pugio) as sidearms as a backup to the Roman swords.

Medieval Age Daggers

The crude bladesmithing from the Iron Age continued to pervade through the opening decades of Middle Ages. It was innovated with the introduction of techniques in laying different strands of steel together to produce ancient medieval daggers of stronger built. The folded process employed in Japanese sword making and the pattern welding popular in Medieval Europe were the two most important metalworking technqiues that flourished in this period.

When the knight sword and knight Templar swords came into vogue in 13th century, the knights copied the Romans; they carried sidearms like long daggers called arming sword at their side. Samurai warlords and soldiers were also doing the same thing. They were considered naked if they appeared in public without a Japanese katana sword and a dagger (called tanto) slinging from their belts.

Early Renaissance Daggers

Metalworking greatly improved in the Rennasiance. In 15th century, bladesmith experimented and succeeded in lengthening medieval swords. Forged with simple lines and basic ornaments, they boasted of towering lenght that they were called longswords. Artifacts from the period testified the lingering use of daggers as backups. An example of this was the single-handed parrying dagger, a popular choice for defense. Fencing schools were put up, and they standardized swordsmanship using these two swords across Europe.

The Renaissance sword, knives, and daggers were considered to be the most elegant. They bear the traces of artistic movements that swept the Western World at that time. For example, decorative hilts guards called quillons evolved into intricate basket hilts. The daggers were decorated with rococo (18th century art period in France characterized by ornate decorations) and baroque (17th century art movement characterized by awe-inspiring oppulence) designs.

Late Renaissance Daggers

Firearm was introduced to the battlefield in 17th century, signalling the end of dependence on swords as the main tool for war. In spite of this, the survival of the dagger was secured by the use of bayonets. Bayonets were daggers, knives, and spikes fitted on the muzzle of longarms such as muskets and rifles. Bayonets transform ordinary firearms into fatal, close-combat spears. Films on American civil wars were famous for their bayonet-wielding soldiers charging through enemy lines.

World War I daggers

Napoleonic wars, American Civil war, and The First World War saw the massive use of trench warfare, a battle scene where two opposing camps dredge up trenches to rally the infantrymen. As it were, surprise attacks in the form of brutal raids were often practiced: an elite small group of soldiers would cross the battlefield at the dead of the night and attacked the enemies. Aside from bayonets, grenades and guns, the small group carrying out the raid used the following:

• Trench knives and daggers were originally made from cut-down bayonets. Later on, American, British, and German factories supplied the army with standard double-edged, full tang daggers, long “ice-pick” daggers, and knives to be used for small scale, close quarters fighting.

• Push daggers were issued at the height of the war because of their rugged, unique design. The hand does not grasp the handle but the pommel, which is made up of a metal or wooden bar. The blade of the dagger forms a letter “T” to the hand, and the pommel is situated between the middle and index fingers.

• Bowie knife, daggers, and other combat shortswords were used for such mundane tasks like cooking, first aid, and combat. The Bowie knife and daggers are famous for their sharpness, rigidity, and reliability; they were strong enough to cut through Plexiglas and were therefore used for body and supply retrievals from downed aircrafts.

World War II daggers

Nazi or German daggers gained notoriety as the Second World War raged on from the years 1941-1945. Soldiers and ranked officers began to wear ceremonial or dress daggers on their full regalia. Other such decorative or dress daggers include Italian and Japanese daggers, also called Tanto knife. The dress daggers especially the Nazi daggers became synonymous to tyrants, brutality, and death.

Aside from purely decorative purpose of the Second World War daggers, they were also shortswords and long daggers that were employed for utilitarian use. Most of them were employed for covert – that is secret – operations such as surveillance, sabotage, and subversion.

• Stilleto daggers were very effective for stabbing for its long, narrow blade ending in a very sharp and defined point. First used in ancient times for assassination, it helped stave off the attacks of knight swords and penetrate the hard armors of knights in the Middle Ages. They began to be popular in Second World War when the American armed forces issued them to combatants. Examples of stilleto daggers are Marine Raider Stilleto and V-42 Stilleto.

• Switchblade daggers were a type of dagger that springs outward or forward from a grip through a spring mechanism. Because of their reducible size, they were a standard shortsword in any infantrymen essentials.

• Fairbairn-Sykes fighting daggers were double-edged daggers issued by the British government to its foot soldiers. It was first produced in 1941 and continued to be manufactured to this very day. Such enduring popularity owes so much from its sleek design: ring grip, lacquered leather wound around the handle, and an absent ricasso.

• Sleeve daggers were special and limited type of daggers exclusively used for undercover agents, international spies, and covert operations officers. They were made of a long, slender, oftentimes round, blade bolted snugly on a leather strap, which would then be wrapped around on an arm or below the knee like a wristwatch or an anklet.

• Lapel daggers were Second World War daggers used by special operatives of British intelligence agency. They have grooved centerline on a flat blade that extends fully to the tang. The tang has a hole for a knotted cord, which was used to access the dagger when needed. Lapel daggers were sewn on the suits of the agents just above the chest, like the way lapels are worn.

• Thumb or Button daggers were another variation to the lapel daggers. The difference was that the thumb daggers do not have a hole in their tang for the cord. They were also smaller in terms of blade and tang size. They could be hidden behind and drawn from the belts.

Collecting Daggers

Like sword collecting, collecting daggers and knives offers a brand new experience. It opens a door of fun and excitement, with the opportunity to open the pages of history through ancient artifacts. Daggers are perfect as home decorations, conversation pieces, and good investments. It is no surprise then that market for collectible daggers and knives is on the rise.

To get you started on collecting daggers, here is a 5-step tip that would come in handy:

1) Dagger collection is a very particular field. This means you would have less information to get you by. Instead of looking at this as a problem, you can use this to your advantage. It is a great opportunity to meet people of the same interest; buy daggers that are neglected and underappreciated but have promising value; and train yourself to be an expert in this challenging hobby.

2) Dagger collecting is fulfilling not only in terms of experience, but also of money. Take advantage of the prevailing trend of the antique market by buying ancient, rare daggers.

3) Dagger collecting is riskier than sword collecting. This is because there are many unscrupulous dealers ready to cheat you if you are not careful. Mind your every purchase, research thoroughly, and limit the price tag of potential daggers when you buy them. Do not ever be tempted to put your guards down. You can never be too careful.

4) Be able to appraise daggers by yourself before resorting to professional help. In this way, you can avoid colluding dealers and experts from deceiving you. This is also one of the joys of dagger collecting: by knowing how to evaluate daggers, you become attached to them and learn to value them highly.

5) It is wise to reward yourself once in a while. Therefore, do not be afraid of selling some of your collected daggers if you are preparing a purchase of a more expensive dagger, or if you want to cash in early on.

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