History of Greek swords
Discover Greek warfare and civilization with the history of Greek swords
The history of Greek swords is the history of the Greek civilization. The life of a Greek citizen is considered incomplete without his participation to a war, either against fellow citizens from another city-state or foreign colonizers like the Persians and Romans.
One can’t help but notice that these poets and philosophers, who could create lyrical verses and speculate the beginnings of the universe only in times of peace, were seasoned war veterans.
Indeed, the Greeks invented irony.
The Greek civilization is divided into three eras: Archaic, Classic, and Hellenistic Age. The Archaic Age starts with arrival of the Greeks to the settlements of Corinth, Thebes, and Athens in 8th century B.C. Ballooning population and limited agricultural land forced city-states to engage small battles against one another. The defeated city would be enslaved by the victors.
Ancient Greek swords then were made of copper and bronze. It was at this time that the Homeric epics, such as the Odyssey and Trojan war, took place. Homer reported types of weapons popular at the time.
• Aor is the dreadful bronze sword of Apollo. It is described as a strong sword with broad blade. It was also the same sword used by Odysseus, the Trojan hero who is the protagonist of the Homer’s epic The Odyssey.
• Chalos is the only copper sword mentioned by Homer. It is used by foot soldiers.
• Phasganon is a straight two-edged, leaf-shaped sword, used by foot soldiers and nobles.
• Xiphos is the generic name for a sword.
The history of Greek swords took an abrupt turn as Greece entered to the Classic Age. The Archaic Age may be littered with battles between city-states, but these did not surpass the scale of war the Greeks witnessed in Classic Age. Athens and Sparta, two strong states that were really not on speaking terms, allied with other city-states to fight the Persians in 500B.C.
Because of the war, all citizens were required to be drafted to the army for two years. They were also on call, if war broke out, until they reach the age of sixty. After their first year of training, they were given a sword and a shield.
Ancient Greek swords were given their much-needed development. Iron was mined, and iron swords were mass-produced. Phasganon, a Homeric name for the straight leaf-edged sword, was now called xiphos. The slightly curved single-edged makhiara and the polearm (see complete details in What is a Greek Sword) appeared.
Ancient Greek sword history would not be complete without the hoplites. A hoplite is a foot soldier heavily armored with two javelins, one polearm or spear, a xiphos and a shield. The most effective formation of the hoplites is the phalanx, a group of infantrymen lined up in close ranks with their spears poking forward. This massive wall of men and shield fended off, drove away, and defeated the Persians in the famous Battle of Marathon.
The Hellenistic Age is best remembered with the birth of the world’s greatest general, Alexander the Great of Macedonia. Ancient Greek sword history tells us that Alexander carried a makhiara, and his men numbered to almost a hundred thousand infantrymen carrying polearms, spears, shields, and xiphos.
Around 180 B.C., the Greeks were considered superpower war machine as they have mastered the art of hoplite warfare as defense. They have conducted successful sieges with the use of catapults. Greek sword fighting was further innovated with the introduction of offense from the Peltast, light infantrymen with javelins.
Greek mythology swords
The Greeks believe that their life is intertwined with the lives of the gods. Their war is but a reflection of the greater battles fought in the court of Zeus. Thus, it is not surprising that Greek god swords exist, at least in oral tradition and myths. The Sword of Death is owned by Thanatos, the God of non-violent death. It is used to cut a lock of hair of a dying person, and Thanatos sends it to the Underworld.
The swords of Greek gods have magical, healing, and superhuman powers. There are instances that they give their swords to humans especially during the time of peril or when a mortal is fighting against a deity. For example, Perseus was given one of the Greek god swords to kill the monster Medusa, a monster with a hair of snakes and whose scales were invincible to human-made weapons.
It is not only in myths that the gods intervened in the affairs of mortals. The kings, or the rulers, of the city-states sometimes receive the swords of the Greek gods. King Peleus, the father of Trojan war hero Achilles, was given a sword made by Hephaestus, the god of metalworking.