A”sword” is a general term for an edged weapon longer than a”dagger”. The distinction between a sword and a dagger is usually arbitrary, but it is normally understood that the sword originated from the dagger after technological improvements allowed the blade to extend more. The term”sword” encompasses many types of blades like the sabre, rapier, scimitar and cutlass. The next article is a (very) short history of swords in the Western World.
The earliest swords are reportedly made of stone during the Neolithic period. These primitive weapons gave way to the first flint daggers made from copper. Primitive swords were first assembled in two parts: the blade and the handle, which were held together with rivets.
Among the greatest advances in the construction of swords and daggers alike came after the length of the blade was extended to the core of the handle (full-tang), thereby creating a sword from 1 piece of metal. The full-tang construction thus prevented the blade and hilt from separating during conflict. Instead, if you’re planning on purchasing a replica sword for a re-enactment or play, ensure that the sword has a”full-tang structure” to avoid embarrassing accidents during a sword fight.
During the classical period, swords were usually short, straight and broad – this kind of sword is often referred to as the Imperial Gladiator Sword. The sword of choice by Roman warriors, the”gladius”, clearly exhibited such attributes. A longer Roman sword existed (called the”spatha”) but it wasn’t as common as the gladius. Other styles of swords away from the Roman Empire were known as”ensis”.
The Franks, who would later rule over modern-day France, preferred longer swords like the Roman spatha. Contrary to the Roman spatha, however, the Frankish sword was constructed from soft-iron that made it unreliable in battle situations.
By the end of the 6th century (following the fall of the Roman Empire), Viking raiders were quickly becoming the trend-setters from the sword department. The sword styles that Viking raiders brought with them were quickly assimilated and refurbished in continental Europe. In actuality, the quintessential”knight sword” style is directly derived from the Viking swords.
From the 6th century, European swords had evolved from the broad Roman design to something heavier and more lethal. By now, we can distinguish 4 discernible elements in mainstream European swords:
(1) The pommel – usually a round piece of metal placed beyond the end of the hilt. The pommel served as a counterpoise to the blade for greater maneuverability.
(2) The grip/handle – this is where you would grab the sword from. The tendency during the Early Period and into the Middle Ages was to increase the length of the handle to allow a double-handed grip. Later on during the Renaissance and the Modern period, handle length became increasing unimportant.
(3) The crossbar – the crossbar (sometimes referred to as”guard”) was added between the grip and the blade for balance as well as for protection to the hand. Later on, as medieval armor and metal gauntlets became increasingly unpopular, the guard became more and more elaborate and protective to protect the vulnerable hand.
Something else the Scandinavian Vikings brought with them was the innovation of carbon steel. Whether by accident or not, Vikings started using carbon steel through a technique called”strip welding” in their making of swords. With strip welding, you take several packages of metal, hammer them together, cut them, bend them, and hammer them again – thereby carbonizing the blade material and making it several times stronger.
Overall, medieval swords were swinging weapons to be used with tremendous force. The medieval swords used during the Middle Ages were an entirely offensive weapons, relying upon their medieval shields and body armor to protect warriors. This is an important contrast with the Renaissance rapier which will come some centuries later, with which finesse and tactic predominate over brute force.
As civilization began anew, medieval knights were beginning to understand that their long, heavy swords were not any good for close combat. At exactly the same time, improvements in commerce and trade also gave rise to high-quality sword craftsmanship. Much like Germany now sells us BMWs and Mercedes’, back then Germany exported their swords all over the known world.
During the first half of the 16th century, swords experienced rapid changes across Europe. The rapier, a long, narrow blade with an intricate shield layout, soon grew in popularity. It became customary for gentlemen around Europe to wear a rapier at all times, which necessarily increased the amount of duels everywhere. The civilian sword of the 16th century, together with a higher incidence of dueling completely revolutionized the art of sword fighting through the Renaissance.
In medieval times you could probably live by glancing and hacking with your enormous sword, but if your opponent is a skilled swordsman, swinging your sword could leave you open to attack. Consequently, sword fighting evolved from brute force to strategic thrusts, parries and feints. From the 17th century, the civilian rapier had decreased in size even further and was now known as the”smallsword”. Surprisingly, among the most prominent purposes of the smallsword was. . .fashion. Civilians would decorate their smallswords based on their taste, current fads, family tradition, etc.. .
Elsewhere, technical swords had not disappeared. The broadsword was still widely utilized in German and Swiss armies, and the famed Scottish claymore was used up until the 17th century. In most other militaries, the medieval sword had been substituted with the sword rapier, a milder version of the civilian rapier. Around the time of the English Civil War, the sword rapier was subsequently replaced by the”cavalry broadsword”, which better protected the swordsman’s knuckles by employing a basket guard design.
Since the mid 1700’s, the predominant kind of sword was the sabre – a straightforward single-edge blade used primarily for cutting. By 1800, civilian smallswords had all but disappeared.
In the military world, the sword still held its rightful location. Specifically, the naval cutlass (short, slightly curved blade with heavy guard) gained in notoriety because of its usefulness in close quarters and while climbing. For as long as guns were still single-shot weapons, armies throughout the world still relied upon their loyal swords – even during the US civil war, the cavalry would still bill with their sabres. However, the creation of repeating firearms, for obvious reasons, put a quick end to the sword’s jurisdiction. There were several (very) brave European cavalrymen used sabres in WWI and WWII, but their efforts turned out to be unsuccessful anachronisms.
Nowadays, swords are primarily used for ceremonial purposes and as a sign of esteem or honor. Swords are still utilised at the militaries for the sake of tradition, but for the purpose of battle, swords are virtually extinct.
THE END OF SWORDS?
The word”end” used above has two unique interpretations. On one hand,”end” means conclusion or termination. In that sense, yes – for all purposes and means swords are something of the past.
However, the alternate meaning of the word”finish” provides us with additional insight. As you probably figured out already,”end” can also mean purpose. What’s the purpose of swords if they belong in a museum, you ask? Collecting swords for fun isn’t only a hobby, it’s also a portal to yesteryear! Swords were around for thousands of years, and their usage altered the course of history countless times.