What is a Greek sword?

Greek Swords Collecting Guide: All the things you need to know about swords of Greek kings and gods

The Greeks did not invent war, much as they did not invent the wheel. But they invented pretty much everything, from philosophy to stage drama to astronomy to tactical battle positions. And those that they did not create from scratch, they perfected.

Like the ancient Greek swords.

The Greeks were poets, pursuing the Muse in leisure. But they were fierce warriors and seasoned metalworkers as well. In the history of Greek swords and Greek sword fighting, the Greeks were acquainted with warfare through the constant bickering of city-states, who fought hard for land ownership brought about by ballooning population. The deadly swords of the Greeks have fended them from the onslaughts of Persians, Spartans, and later on, Romans.

They have also been employed for territorial conquests of Alexander the Great, acquiring huge swaths of land that stretched from Europe to Africa to Asia. They have also been an effective tool to infiltrate and absorb the cultures from nations that they conquered, like the Jews of ancient Israel and Palestine. In fact, if you open your New Testament, you will find out that Peter used the Greek short sword malchus to cut the ear of a slave on the night Jesus was arrested.

What is a Greek sword?

The Greeks used different kinds of swords, depending on their role in battle. The following is a Greek swords collecting guide, with examples of the weapons from Greece at around 8th century B.C.:

• The Xiphos

Considered the gentleman of all weapons, the xiphos is a straight, double-edged, single-handed sword wielded by common soldiers. The warrior-class Spartan used a shorter version, called the hoplite xiphos, which was matched with menacing helmet, chain mails, and armors. Later, the Greeks copied the weapon for its leaf-shape make was fit for cutting and stabbing in duels. The use of the longer xiphos however remained, although of dwindling significance in the battlefield and among the infantry.

• The Makhaira or Machaera

Peter’s malchus was actually a makhaira, although a short version of it. A makhaira was recommended by soldier and writer Xenophon to be used by horsemen. Indeed it was a sound advice. The makhaira was a broad single-edged sword, with a curved back. If swung by a mounted cavalry, its cut and blow would be fatal. It was the Greek’s weapon to match the Persian’s kopis, a weapon almost of the same design except that it is forward-curved.

• Rhomphaia

This Greek swords collecting guide is not complete without rhomphaia. A rhomphaia, sometimes called a polearm, is a long weapon made by slightly curved iron blade attached to a wooden or metal pole. The blade measures about 80 cm in length; the pole could be made of the same length or longer than the blade. It was very powerful in thrusting and stabbing and was used primarily to strengthen human wall defense positions.

The Romans, stung by this new weapon, were documented to have changed their armors to better protect their soldiers. The gospel of Luke once mentioned the weapon with the passage, “so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword (rhomphaia) will pierce your own soul too."

Use in combat

What is a Greek sword and what is its use in combat? The sword is used by foot soldiers when their bows, pikes, spears, and javelins are broken, lost, or useless in the change of tide of war (such as close combat duels).

A baldric, an ancient belt, is swung across the right arm. The sword is sheathed horizontally, not sideways, on the strap of the baldric. When the Persians came and posed a threat, the fractious society of Greeks designed their scabbards with battle scenes. The move was to unite into a singular war machine all armies from the cities. The hilts of their swords are also decorated, with inlaying of gold and silver.

Famous Ancient Greek swords

Makhaira seems to be the most popular sword, with historical accounts of Alexander the Great having carried it to campaigns. Greek god swords are also said to be makhaira, including that of Artemis (the goddess of Wisdom and Animals). The god of war Ares, on the other hand, carries the long xiphos. Poseidon, the great god of water and sea, carries the terrible trident.

Some Greek god swords were given to humans. The Trojan war hero Achilles was given a rhomphaia by Hephaestus, the god of the smiths and metalworking. The father of Achilles was said to be given a magic sword that could never be defeated, whether in hunt or in battle.

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