A sword is a bladed weapon intended for slashing or thrusting that is
longer than a knife or dagger. The precise definition of the term
varies with the historical epoch or the geographical region under
consideration. A sword consists of a long blade attached to a hilt.
The blade can be straight or curved. Thrusting swords have a pointed
tip on the blade, and tend to be straighter; slashing swords have a
sharpened cutting edge on one or both sides of the blade, and are more
likely to be curved. Many swords are designed for both thrusting and
Historically, the sword developed in the
Bronze Age, evolving from the
dagger; the earliest specimens date to about 1600 BC. The later Iron
Age sword remained fairly short and without a crossguard. The spatha,
as it developed in the Late Roman army, became the predecessor of the
European sword of the Middle Ages, at first adopted as the Migration
Period sword, and only in the High Middle Ages, developed into the
classical arming sword with crossguard. The word sword continues the
Old English, sweord.
The use of a sword is known as swordsmanship or, in a modern context,
as fencing. In the Early Modern period, western sword design diverged
into roughly two forms, the thrusting swords and the sabers.
The thrusting swords such as the rapier and eventually the smallsword
were designed to impale their targets quickly and inflict deep stab
wounds. Their long and straight yet light and well balanced design
made them highly maneuverable and deadly in a duel but fairly
ineffective when used in a slashing or chopping motion. A well aimed
lunge and thrust could end a fight in seconds with just the sword's
point, leading to the development of a fighting style which closely
resembles modern fencing.
The saber (sabre) and similar blades such as the cutlass were built
more heavily and were more typically used in warfare. Built for
slashing and chopping at multiple enemies, often from horseback, the
saber's long curved blade and slightly forward weight balance gave it
a deadly character all its own on the battlefield. Most sabers also
had sharp points and double edged blades, making them capable of
piercing soldier after soldier in a cavalry charge. Sabers continued
to see battlefield use until the early 20th century. The US Navy kept
tens of thousands of sturdy cutlasses in their armory well into World
War II and many were issued to marines in the Pacific as jungle
Non-European weapons called "sword" include single-edged weapons such
as the Middle Eastern scimitar, the Chinese dao and the related
Japanese katana. The Chinese jian is an example of a non-European
double-edged sword, like the European models derived from the
Iron Age sword.
1.1 Prehistoric and ancient history
1.1.3 Greco-Roman antiquity
1.1.4 Persian antiquity
1.1.5 Chinese antiquity
1.2 Early post-classical history
1.2.2 West Asia
1.2.3 East Asia
1.2.4 South Asia
1.2.5 Southeast Asia
1.3 Late post-classical history
1.4 Early modern history
1.4.1 Military sword
1.4.2 Duelling sword
1.5 Late modern history
1.5.1 Military sidearm
1.5.2 Ceremonial use
Sword scabbards and suspension
3.1 Single and double-edged
Backsword and falchion
3.2 Single vs two-handed use
3.2.2 Hand and a half sword
4 Fictional types
5 See also
7 External links
See also: Chronology of bladed weapons
Prehistoric and ancient history
The first weapons that can be described as "swords" date to around
3300 BC. They have been found in Arslantepe, Turkey, are made from
arsenical bronze, and are about 60 cm (24 in) long.
Some of them are inlaid with silver.
Bronze Age sword
Apa-type swords, 17th-century BC.
The swords found together with the Nebra skydisk, ca. 1600 BC.
The sword developed from the knife or dagger. A knife is unlike a
dagger in that a knife has only one cutting surface, while a dagger
has two cutting surfaces. When the construction of longer blades
became possible, from the late 3rd millennium BC in the Middle East,
first in arsenic copper, then in tin-bronze.
Blades longer than 60 cm (24 in) were rare and not practical
until the late
Bronze Age because the
Young's modulus of bronze is
relatively low, and consequently longer blades would bend easily. The
development of the sword out of the dagger was gradual; the first
weapons that can be classified as swords without any ambiguity are
those found in Minoan Crete, dated to about 1700 BC, reaching a total
length of more than 100 cm. These are the "type A" swords of the
One of the most important, and longest-lasting, types swords of the
Bronze Age was the Naue II type (named for
Julius Naue who
first described them), also known as Griffzungenschwert (lit.
"grip-tongue sword"). This type first appears in c. the 13th century
BC in Northern Italy (or a general Urnfield background), and survives
well into the
Iron Age, with a life-span of about seven centuries.
During its lifetime, metallurgy changed from bronze to iron, but not
its basic design.
Naue II swords were exported from
Europe to the Aegean, and as far
afield as Ugarit, beginning about 1200 BC, i.e. just a few decades
before the final collapse of the palace cultures in the
collapse. Naue II swords could be as long as 85 cm, but most
specimens fall into the 60 to 70 cm range.
Robert Drews linked
the Naue Type II Swords, which spread from Southern
Europe into the
Mediterranean, with the
Bronze Age collapse. Naue II swords, along
with Nordic full-hilted swords, were made with functionality and
aesthetics in mind. The hilts of these swords were beautifully
crafted and often contained false rivets in order to make the sword
more visually appealing. Swords coming from northern Denmark and
Germany usually contained three or more fake rivets in the
Sword production in
China is attested from the
Bronze Age Shang
Dynasty. The technology for bronze swords reached its high point
during the Warring States period and Qin Dynasty. Amongst the Warring
States period swords, some unique technologies were used, such as
casting high tin edges over softer, lower tin cores, or the
application of diamond shaped patterns on the blade (see sword of
Goujian). Also unique for Chinese bronzes is the consistent use of
high tin bronze (17–21% tin) which is very hard and breaks if
stressed too far, whereas other cultures preferred lower tin bronze
(usually 10%), which bends if stressed too far. Although iron swords
were made alongside bronze, it was not until the early
Han period that
iron completely replaced bronze.
In South Asia earliest available
Bronze age swords of copper were
discovered in the Harappan sites, in present-day Pakistan, and date
back to 2300 BC. Swords have been recovered in
archaeological findings throughout the Ganges-Jamuna
Doab region of
India, consisting of bronze but more commonly copper. Diverse
specimens have been discovered in Fatehgarh, where there are several
varieties of hilt. These swords have been variously dated to times
between 1700–1400 BC, but were probably used more in the opening
centuries of the 1st millennium BC.
Iron Age sword
Iron became increasingly common from the 13th century B.C. Before that
the use of swords was less frequent. The iron was not quench-hardened
although often containing sufficient carbon, but work-hardened like
bronze by hammering. This made them comparable or only slightly better
in terms of strength and hardness to bronze swords. They could still
bend during use rather than spring back into shape. But the easier
production, and the better availability of the raw material for the
first time permitted the equipment of entire armies with metal
Bronze Age Egyptian armies were sometimes fully
equipped with bronze weapons.
Ancient swords are often found at burial sites. The sword was often
placed on the right side of the corpse. However, there are exceptions
to this. A lot of times the sword was kept over the corpse. In many
Iron Age graves, the sword and the scabbard were bent at 180
degrees. It was known as killing the sword. Thus they might have
considered swords as the most potent and powerful object.
Migration period sword
By the time of
Classical Antiquity and the Parthian and Sassanid
Empires in Iran, iron swords were common. The Greek xiphos and the
Roman gladius are typical examples of the type, measuring some 60 to
70 cm (24 to 28 in). The late Roman Empire
introduced the longer spatha (the term for its wielder,
spatharius, became a court rank in Constantinople), and from this
time, the term longsword is applied to swords comparatively long for
their respective periods.
Swords from the Parthian and Sassanian Empires were quite long, the
blades on some late Sassanian swords being just under a metre long.
Swords were also used to administer various physical punishments, such
as non-surgical amputation or capital punishment by decapitation. The
use of a sword, an honourable weapon, was regarded in
Roman times as a privilege reserved for the nobility and the upper
Periplus of the Erythraean Sea
Periplus of the Erythraean Sea mentions swords of Indian iron and
steel being exported from
India to Greece. Sri Lankan and Indian
Blades made of
Damascus steel also found their way into Persia.
In the first millennium BC the Persian armies used a sword that was
originally of Scythian design called the akinaka (acinaces). However,
the great conquests of the Persians made the sword more famous as a
Persian weapon, to the extent that the true nature of the weapon has
been lost somewhat as the name Akinaka has been used to refer to
whichever form of sword the Persian army favoured at the time.
Darius I of
Persia holding an acinaces in his lap
It is widely believed that the original akinaka was a 14 to 18 inch
double-edged sword. The design was not uniform and in fact
identification is made more on the nature of the scabbard than the
weapon itself; the scabbard usually has a large, decorative mount
allowing it to be suspended from a belt on the wearer’s right side.
Because of this, it is assumed that the sword was intended to be drawn
with the blade pointing downwards ready for surprise stabbing attacks.
In the 12th century, the
Seljuq dynasty had introduced the curved
shamshir to Persia, and this was in extensive use by the early 16th
Chinese steel swords made their first appearance in the later part of
the Western Zhou Dynasty, but were not widely used until the 3rd
century BC Han Dynasty. The Chinese Dao (刀 pinyin dāo) is
single-edged, sometimes translated as sabre or broadsword, and the
Jian (劍 or 剑 pinyin jiàn) is double-edged. The zhanmadao
(literally "horse chopping sword"), an extremely long, anti-cavalry
sword from the
Song dynasty era.
Early post-classical history
Battle scene from the
Morgan Bible of Louis IX
Morgan Bible of Louis IX showing 13th-century
Further information: Carolingian sword, Romanesque sword, and
Further information: Oakeshott typology
Middle Ages sword technology improved, and the sword became
a very advanced weapon. It was frequently used by men in battle,
particularly during an attack. The spatha type remained popular
Migration period and well into the Middle Ages. Vendel
Age spathas were decorated with Germanic artwork (not unlike the
Germanic bracteates fashioned after Roman coins). The
Viking Age saw
again a more standardized production, but the basic design remained
indebted to the spatha.
Around the 10th century, the use of properly quenched hardened and
tempered steel started to become much more common than in previous
periods. The Frankish 'Ulfberht' blades (the name of the maker inlaid
in the blade) were of particularly consistent high quality.
Charles the Bald
Charles the Bald tried to prohibit the export of these swords, as they
were used by
Vikings in raids against the Franks.
Wootz steel which is also known as
Damascus steel was a unique and
highly prized steel developed on the
Indian subcontinent as early as
the 5th century BC. Its properties were unique due to the special
smelting and reworking of the steel creating networks of iron carbides
described as a globular cementite in a matrix of pearlite. The use of
Damascus steel in swords became extremely popular in the 16th and 17th
It was only from the 11th century that Norman swords began to develop
the crossguard (quillons). During the
Crusades of the 12th to 13th
century, this cruciform type of arming sword remained essentially
stable, with variations mainly concerning the shape of the pommel.
These swords were designed as cutting weapons, although effective
points were becoming common to counter improvements in armour,
especially the 14th-century change from mail to plate armour.
It was during the 14th century, with the growing use of more advanced
armour, that the hand and a half sword, also known as a "bastard
sword", came into being. It had an extended grip that meant it could
be used with either one or two hands. Though these swords did not
provide a full two-hand grip they allowed their wielders to hold a
shield or parrying dagger in their off hand, or to use it as a
two-handed sword for a more powerful blow.
In the Middle Ages, the sword was often used as a symbol of the word
of God. The names given to many swords in mythology, literature, and
history reflected the high prestige of the weapon and the wealth of
The earliest evidence of curved swords, or scimitars (and other
regional variants as the Arabian saif, the Persian shamshir and the
Turkic kilij) is from the 9th century, when it was used among soldiers
in the Khurasan region of Persia.
A Japanese wakizashi of the 17th century, with its koshirae and
Chinese dao and scabbard of the 17th–18th century
As steel technology improved, single-edged weapons became popular
throughout Asia. Derived from the Chinese
Jian or dao, the Korean
hwandudaedo are known from the early medieval Three Kingdoms.
Production of the Japanese tachi, a precursor to the katana, is
recorded from ca. 900 AD (see Japanese sword).
Japan was famous for the swords it forged in the early 13th century
for the class of warrior-nobility known as the Samurai. The types of
swords used by the
Samurai included the ōdachi (extra long field
sword), tachi (long cavalry sword), katana (long sword), and wakizashi
(shorter companion sword for katana).
Japanese swords that pre-date
the rise of the samurai caste include the tsurugi (straight
double-edged blade) and chokutō (straight one-edged blade).
Japanese swordmaking reached the height of its development in the 15th
and 16th centuries, when samurai increasingly found a need for a sword
to use in closer quarters, leading to the creation of the modern
Western historians have said that Japanese katana were among the
finest cutting weapons in world military history.
The Khanda is a double-edge straight sword. It is often featured in
religious iconography, theatre and art depicting the ancient history
of India. Some communities venerate the weapon as a symbol of Shiva.
It is a common weapon in the martial arts in the Indian
subcontinent. Khanda often appears in Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh
scriptures and art. In Sri Lanka, a unique wind furnace was used
to produce the high quality steel. This gave the blade a very hard
cutting edge and beautiful patterns. For these reasons it became a
very popular trading material.
A Khanda sword from India.
The Urumi: (Tamil: சுருள்
பட்டாக்கத்தி surul pattai, lit. curling blade;
Sinhalese: එතුණු කඩුව ethunu kaduwa; Hindi: aara) is
a longsword with a flexible whip-like blade from India. Originating in
the country's southern states, it is thought to have existed as far
back as the
Maurya dynasty (322–185 BC). The urumi is considered one
of the most difficult weapons to master due to the risk of injuring
oneself. It is treated as a steel whip, and therefore requires
prior knowledge of that weapon.
The Firangi: (/fəˈrɪŋɡiː/) derived from the Arabic term for a
Western European a "Frank") was a sword type which used blades
manufactured in Western
Europe and imported by the Portuguese, or made
locally in imitation of European blades. Because of its length the
firangi is usually regarded as primarily a cavalry weapon. The sword
has been especially associated with the Marathas, who were famed for
their cavalry. However, the firangi was also widely used by Sikhs and
The Talwar: (Hindi: तलवार) is a type of curved sword from
India and other countries of the Indian subcontinent, it was adopted
by communities such as Rajputs, Sikhs and Marathas, who favored the
sword as their main weapon. It became more widespread in the medieval
In Indonesia, the images of Indian style swords can be found in Hindu
gods statues from ancient Java circa 8th to 10th century. However the
native types of blade known as kris, parang, klewang and golok were
more popular as weapons. These daggers are shorter than sword but
longer than common dagger.
Kampilan from the Philippines.
In The Philippines, traditional large swords known as the
Panabas were used in combat by the natives. A notable wielder of
the kampilan was Lapu-Lapu, the king of
Mactan and his warriors who
defeated the Spaniards and killed Portuguese explorer Ferdinand
Magellan at the
Mactan on 27 April 1521. Traditional
swords in the Philippines were immediately banned, but the training in
swordsmanship was later hidden from the occupying Spaniards by
practices in dances. But because of the banning, Filipinos were forced
to use swords that were disguised as farm tools. Bolos and baliswords
were used during the revolutions against the colonialists not only
because ammunition for guns was scarce, but also for concealability
while walking in crowded streets and homes. Bolos were also used by
young boys who joined their parents in the revolution and by young
girls and their mothers in defending the town while the men were on
the battlefields. During the
Philippine–American War in events such
as the Balangiga Massacre, most of an American company was hacked to
death or seriously injured by bolo-wielding guerillas in Balangiga,
Samar. When the Japanese took control of the country, several
American special operations groups stationed in the Philippines were
introduced to the
Filipino Martial Arts
Filipino Martial Arts and swordsmanship, leading to
this style reaching America despite the fact that natives were
reluctant to allow outsiders in on their fighting secrets.
Late post-classical history
Longsword and Zweihänder
From around 1300 to 1500, in concert with improved armour, innovative
sword designs evolved more and more rapidly. The main transition was
the lengthening of the grip, allowing two-handed use, and a longer
blade. By 1400, this type of sword, at the time called langes Schwert
(longsword) or spadone, was common, and a number of 15th- and
16th-century Fechtbücher offering instructions on their use survive.
Another variant was the specialized armour-piercing swords of the
estoc type. The longsword became popular due to its extreme reach and
its cutting and thrusting abilities.
1548 depiction of a
Zweihänder used against pikes in the
Ceremonial sword of the Rector of the
Republic of Dubrovnik
Republic of Dubrovnik (15th
The estoc became popular because of its ability to thrust into the
gaps between plates of armour. The grip was sometimes wrapped in
wire or coarse animal hide to provide a better grip and to make it
harder to knock a sword out of the user's hand.
A number of manuscripts covering longsword combat and techniques
dating from the 13th–16th centuries exist in German, Italian,
and English, providing extensive information on longsword
combatives as used throughout this period. Many of these are now
readily available online.
In the 16th century, the large zweihänder was used by the elite
German and Swiss mercenaries known as doppelsöldners.
Zweihänder, literally translated, means two-hander. The zweihänder
possesses a long blade, as well as a huge guard for protection. It is
estimated that some zweihänder swords were over 6 feet (1.8 m)
long, with the one ascribed to Frisian warrior Pier Gerlofs Donia
being 7 feet (2.13 m) long. The gigantic blade length was
perfectly designed for manipulating and pushing away enemy pole-arms,
which were major weapons around this time, in both
Germany and Eastern
Europe. Doppelsöldners also used katzbalgers, which means
'cat-gutter'. The katzbalger's S-shaped guard and 2-foot-long
(0.61 m) blade made it perfect for bringing in when the fighting
became too close to use a zweihänder.
Civilian use of swords became increasingly common during the late
Renaissance, with duels being a preferred way to honourably settle
disputes. The practice of civilian duelling, with specifically
designed civilian swords such as the Italian
Cinquedea and Swiss
Baselard, became so popular that according to one scholar: "In France
during the reign of Henry IV (1589–1610), more than 4,000 French
aristocrats were killed in duels in an eighteen-year period...During
the reign of Louis XIII (1610–1643)...in a twenty-year period 8,000
pardons were issued for murders associated with duels."
The side-sword was a type of war sword used by infantry during the
Renaissance of Europe. This sword was a direct descendant of the
arming sword. Quite popular between the 16th and 17th centuries, they
were ideal for handling the mix of armoured and unarmoured opponents
of that time. A new technique of placing one's finger on the ricasso
to improve the grip (a practice that would continue in the rapier) led
to the production of hilts with a guard for the finger. This sword
design eventually led to the development of the civilian rapier, but
it was not replaced by it, and the side-sword continued to be used
during the rapier's lifetime. As it could be used for both cutting and
thrusting, the term cut and thrust sword is sometimes used
interchangeably with side-sword. Also of note is that as rapiers
became more popular, attempts were made to hybridize the blade,
sacrificing the effectiveness found in each unique weapon design.
These are still considered side-swords and are sometimes labeled sword
rapier or cutting rapier by modern collectors.
Also of note, side-swords used in conjunction with bucklers became so
popular that it caused the term swashbuckler to be coined. This word
stems from the new fighting style of the side-sword and buckler which
was filled with much "swashing and making a noise on the buckler".
Within the Ottoman Empire, the use of a curved sabre called the
Yatagan started in the mid-16th century. It would become the weapon of
choice for many in
Turkey and the Balkans.
The sword in this time period was the most personal weapon, the most
prestigious, and the most versatile for close combat, but it came to
decline in military use as technology, such as the crossbow and
firearms changed warfare. However, it maintained a key role in
Early modern history
Further information: Basket-hilted sword, Backsword, and Sabre
A single-edged type of sidearm used by the
Hussites was popularized in
Germany under its Czech name Dusack, also known as Säbel
auf Teutsch gefasst ("sabre fitted in the German manner"). A
closely related weapon is the schnepf or
Swiss sabre used in Early
The cut-and-thrust mortuary sword was used after 1625 by cavalry
during the English Civil War. This (usually) two-edged sword sported a
half-basket hilt with a straight blade some 90–105 cm long.
Later in the 17th century, the swords used by cavalry became
predominantly single-edged. The so-called walloon sword (épée
wallone) was common in the
Thirty Years' War
Thirty Years' War and
Its hilt was ambidextrous with shell-guards and knuckle-bow that
inspired 18th century continental hunting hangers. Following their
campaign in the Netherlands in 1672, the French began producing this
weapon as their first regulation sword. Weapons of this design
were also issued to the
Swedish army from the time of Gustavus
Adolphus until as late as the 1850s.
Rapier and Smallsword
The rapier is believed to have evolved either from the Spanish espada
ropera or from the swords of the Italian nobility somewhere in the
later part of the 16th century. The rapier differed from most
earlier swords in that it was not a military weapon but a primarily
civilian sword. Both the rapier and the Italian schiavona developed
the crossguard into a basket-shaped guard for hand protection.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, the shorter smallsword became an
essential fashion accessory in European countries and the New World,
though in some places such as the
Scottish Highlands large swords as
the basket-hilted broadsword were preferred, and most wealthy men and
military officers carried one slung from a belt. Both the smallsword
and the rapier remained popular dueling swords well into the 18th
As the wearing of swords fell out of fashion, canes took their place
in a gentleman's wardrobe. This developed to the gentlemen in the
Victorian era to use the umbrella. Some examples of canes—those
known as sword canes or swordsticks—incorporate a concealed blade.
The French martial art la canne developed to fight with canes and
swordsticks and has now evolved into a sport. The English martial art
singlestick is very similar. With the rise of the pistol duel, the
duelling sword fell out of fashion long before the practice of
duelling itself. By about 1770, English duelists enthusiastically
adopted the pistol, and sword duels dwindled. However, the custom
of duelling with epées persisted well into the 20th century in
France. Such modern duels were not fought to the death, the duellists'
aim was instead merely to draw blood from the opponent's sword
Late modern history
Towards the end of its useful life, the sword served more as a weapon
of self-defence than for use on the battlefield, and the military
importance of swords steadily decreased during the Modern Age. Even as
a personal sidearm, the sword began to lose its preeminence in the
early 19th century, reflecting the development of reliable
However, swords were still used in combat, especially in Colonial Wars
between native populations and Colonial Empires. For example, during
Aceh War the Acehnese Klewangs, a sword similar to the machete,
proved very effective in close quarters combat with Dutch troops,
Royal Netherlands East Indies Army
Royal Netherlands East Indies Army to adopt a heavy
cutlass, also called klewang (very similar in appearance to the US
Navy Model 1917 Cutlass) to counter it. Mobile troops armed with
carbines and klewangs succeeded in suppressing Aceh resistance where
traditional infantry with rifle and bayonet had failed. From that time
on until the 1950s the Royal Dutch East Indies Army, Royal Dutch Army,
Royal Dutch Navy and Dutch police used these cutlasses called
Jack Churchill (far right) leads Commandos during a
training exercise, sword in hand, in World War II.
Swords continued in general peacetime use by cavalry of most armies
during the years prior to World War I. For example, the British Army
formally adopted a completely new design of cavalry sword in 1908,
almost the last change in British Army weapons before the outbreak of
the war. At the outbreak of World War I infantry officers in all
combatant armies still carried swords as part of their field
equipment. On mobilization in August 1914 all serving British Army
officers were required to have their swords sharpened as the only
peacetime use of the weapon had been for saluting on parade. The
high visibility and limited practical use of the sword however led to
it being abandoned within weeks, although most cavalry continued to
carry sabres throughout the War. It was not until the late 1920s and
early 1930s that this historic weapon was finally discarded for all
but ceremonial purposes by most remaining horse mounted regiments of
Europe and the Americas.
China troops used the long anti-cavalry
Miao dao well into the
Second Sino-Japanese War. The last units of British heavy cavalry
switched to using armoured vehicles as late as 1938. Swords and other
dedicated melee weapons were used occasionally by many countries
during World War II, but typically as a secondary weapon as they were
outclassed by coexisting firearms.
Graphical documentation of the Szczerbiec, a sword that was
traditionally used in the coronation ceremony of Polish kings,
Sword of State
Swords are commonly worn as a ceremonial item by officers in many
military and naval services throughout the world. Occasions to wear
swords include any event in dress uniforms where the rank-and-file
carry arms: parades, reviews, courts-martial, tattoos, and changes of
command. They are also commonly worn for officers' weddings, and when
wearing dress uniforms to church—although they are rarely actually
worn in the church itself.
In the British forces they are also worn for any appearance at Court.
In the United States, every Naval officer at or above the rank of
Lieutenant Commander is required to own a sword, which can be
prescribed for any formal outdoor ceremonial occasion; they are
normally worn for changes of command and parades. For some Navy
parades, cutlasses are issued to
Petty Officers and Chief Petty
U.S. Marine Corps
U.S. Marine Corps every officer must own a sword, which is
prescribed for formal parades and other ceremonies where dress
uniforms are worn and the rank-and-file are under arms. On these
occasions depending on their billet, Marine Staff Non-Commissioned
Officers (E-6 and above) may also be required to carry swords, which
have hilts of a pattern similar to U.S. Naval officers' swords but are
actually sabres. The USMC Model 1859 NCO
Sword is the longest
continuously-issued edged weapon in the U.S. inventory
The Marine officer swords are of the Mameluke pattern which was
adopted in 1825 in recognition of the Marines' key role in the capture
of the Tripolitan city of Derna during the First Barbary War.
Taken out of issue for approximately 20 years from 1855 until 1875, it
was restored to service in the year of the Corps' centennial and has
remained in issue since.
The production of replicas of historical swords originates with
19th-century historicism. Contemporary replicas can range from
cheap factory produced look-alikes to exact recreations of individual
artifacts, including an approximation of the historical production
Some kinds of swords are still commonly used today as weapons, often
as a side arm for military infantry. The Japanese katana, wakizashi
and tanto are carried by some infantry and officers in
Japan and other
parts of Asia and the kukri is the official melee weapon for Nepal.
Other swords in use today are the sabre, the scimitar, the shortsword
and the machete.
In the case of a rat-tail tang, the maker welds a thin rod to the end
of the blade at the crossguard; this rod goes through the
In traditional construction, Swordsmiths peened such tangs over the
end of the pommel, or occasionally welded the hilt furniture to the
tang and threaded the end for screwing on a pommel. This style is
often referred to as a "narrow" or "hidden" tang. Modern, less
traditional, replicas often feature a threaded pommel or a pommel nut
which holds the hilt together and allows dismantling.
In a "full" tang (most commonly used in knives and machetes), the tang
has about the same width as the blade, and is generally the same shape
as the grip. In European or Asian swords sold today, many
advertised "full" tangs may actually involve a forged rat-tail tang.
Further information: Classification of swords
The sword consists of the blade and the hilt. The term scabbard
applies to the cover for the sword blade when not in use.
Sword blade and Oakeshott typology
There is considerable variation in the detailed design of sword
blades. The diagram opposite shows a typical Medieval European sword.
Early iron blades have rounded points due to the limited metallurgy of
the time. These were still effective for thrusting against lightly
armoured opponents. As armour advanced, blades were made narrower,
stiffer and sharply pointed to defeat the armour by thrusting.
Dedicated cutting blades are wide and thin, and often have grooves
known as fullers which lighten the blade at the cost of some of the
blade's stiffness. The edges of a cutting sword are almost parallel.
Blades oriented for the thrust have thicker blades, sometimes with a
distinct midrib for increased stiffness, with a strong taper and an
acute point. The geometry of a cutting sword blade allows for acute
edge angles. It should be noted, however, that an edge with an acuter
angle is more inclined to degrade quickly in combat situations than an
edge with a more obtuse angle. Also, an acute edge angle is not the
primary factor of a blade's sharpness.
The part of the blade between the center of percussion (CoP) and the
point is called the foible (weak) of the blade, and that between the
center of balance (CoB) and the hilt is the forte (strong). The
section in between the CoP and the CoB is the middle.
The ricasso or shoulder identifies a short section of blade
immediately below the guard that is left completely unsharpened. Many
swords have no ricasso. On some large weapons, such as the German
Zweihänder, a metal cover surrounded the ricasso, and a swordsman
might grip it in one hand to wield the weapon more easily in
close-quarter combat. The ricasso normally bears the maker's mark.
The tang is the extension of the blade to which the hilt is fitted.
On Japanese blades, the maker's mark appears on the tang under the
Main article: Hilt
Hilt of a rapier. In this case, with a swept hilt
Sword of Caliph Umar, with later hilt.
The hilt is the collective term for the parts allowing for the
handling and control of the blade; these consist of the grip, the
pommel, and a simple or elaborate guard, which in post-Viking Age
swords could consist of only a crossguard (called a cruciform hilt or
quillons). The pommel was originally designed as a stop to prevent the
sword slipping from the hand. From around the 11th century onward it
became a counterbalance to the blade, allowing a more fluid style of
fighting.[dubious – discuss] It can also be used as a blunt
instrument at close range, and its weight affects the centre of
percussion. In later times a sword knot or tassel was sometimes added.
By the 17th century, with the growing use of firearms and the
accompanying decline in the use of armour, many rapiers and dueling
swords had developed elaborate basket hilts, which protect the palm of
the wielder and rendered the gauntlet obsolete.
In late medieval and
Renaissance era European swords, a flap of
leather called the chappe or rain guard was attached to a sword's
crossguard at the base of the hilt to protect the mouth of the
scabbard and prevent water from entering.
Sword scabbards and suspension
Main article: Scabbard
Common accessories to the sword include the scabbard, as well as the
Scabbard: The scabbard, also known as the sheath, is a protective
cover often provided for the sword blade. Over the millennia,
scabbards have been made of many materials, including leather, wood,
and metals such as brass or steel. The metal fitting where the blade
enters the leather or metal scabbard is called the throat, which is
often part of a larger scabbard mount, or locket, that bears a
carrying ring or stud to facilitate wearing the sword. The blade's
point in leather scabbards is usually protected by a metal tip, or
chape, which on both leather and metal scabbards is often given
further protection from wear by an extension called a drag, or
Sword belt: A sword belt is a belt with an attachment for the sword's
scabbard, used to carry it when not in use. It is usually fixed to the
scabbard of the sword, providing a fast means of drawing the sword in
battle. Examples of sword belts include the Balteus used by the Roman
Types of swords and Classification of swords
Sword typology is based on morphological criteria on one hand (blade
shape (cross-section, taper, and length), shape and size of the hilt
and pommel) and age and place of origin on the other (
Bronze Age, Iron
Age, European (medieval, early modern, modern), Asian).
The relatively comprehensive
Oakeshott typology was created by
historian and illustrator
Ewart Oakeshott as a way to define and
catalogue European swords of the medieval period based on physical
form, including blade shape and hilt configuration. The typology also
focuses on the smaller, and in some cases contemporary, single-handed
swords such as the arming sword.
Single and double-edged
As noted above, the terms longsword, broad sword, great sword, and
Gaelic claymore are used relative to the era under consideration, and
each term designates a particular type of sword.
In most Asian countries, a sword (jian 劍, geom (검), ken/tsurugi
(剣), pedang) is a double-edged straight-bladed weapon, while a knife
or saber (dāo 刀, do (도), to/katana (刀), pisau, golok) refers to
a single-edged object.
Sikh history, the sword is held in very high esteem. A single-edged
sword is called a kirpan, and its double-edged counterpart a khanda or
South Indian churika is a handheld double-edged sword
traditionally used in the
Malabar region of Kerala. It is also
worshipped as the weapon of Vettakkorumakan, the hunter god in
Backsword and falchion
European terminology does give generic names for single-edged and
double-edged blades but refers to specific types with the term 'sword'
covering them all. For example, the backsword may be so called because
it is single-edged but the falchion which is also single-edged is
given its own specific name.
Single vs two-handed use
Two-handed sword, Italy, circa 1623.
A replica of a two-handed sword
See also: Two-handed sword
Two-handed sword may be used to refer to any sword that usually
requires two hands to wield. However, in its proper sense it should be
used only to refer to the very large swords of the 16th century.
Throughout history two-handed swords have generally been less common
than their one-handed counterparts, one exception being their common
use in Japan.
Hand and a half sword
A Hand and a half sword, colloquially known as a "bastard sword", was
a sword with an extended grip and sometimes pommel so that it could be
used with either one or two hands. Although these swords may not
provide a full two-hand grip, they allowed its wielders to hold a
shield or parrying dagger in their off hand, or to use it as a
two-handed sword for a more powerful blow. These should not be
confused with a longsword, two-handed sword, or Zweihänder, which
were always intended to be used with two hands.
In fantasy, magic swords often appear, based on their use in myth and
legend. The science fiction counterpart to these is known as an energy
sword (sometimes also referred to as a "beam sword" or "laser sword"),
a sword whose blade consists of, or is augmented by, concentrated
energy. A well known example of this type of sword is the lightsaber,
primarily shown in the
Star Wars franchise.
Classification of swords
Types of swords
List of swords
List of sword manufacturers
History of the sword
List of blade materials
^ "Pattern-Welding and Damascening of Sword-Blades: Part 1
Pattern-Welding" (Maryon 1960)
A brief review article by the originator of the term "pattern-welding"
accurately details all the salient points of the construction of
pattern-welded blades and of how all the patterns observed result as a
function of the depth of grinding into a twisted rod structure. The
article also includes a brief description of pattern-welding as
encountered in the Malay keris.
Damascus steel is also known as
^ cognate to
Old High German
Old High German swert,
Old Norse sverð, from a
Proto-Indo-European root *swer- "to wound, to cut". Before about 1500,
the spelling swerd(e) was much more common than sword(e). The
irregular loss of /w/ in English pronunciation also dates to about
1500, and is found in a small number of other words, such as answer
(c.f. swear), conquer (c.f. query). Charles Barber, Joan Beal, Philip
Shaw, The English Language, Canto Classics, 2nd revised edition,
Cambridge University Press, 2012, p. 206 Archived 13 March 2017 at the
Wayback Machine.. Latin had ensis, gladius and spatha; as the term for
the sword used by the Late Roman army, spatha became the source of the
words for "sword" in Romance languages, such as Italian spada, Iberian
espada and French epée. Both gladius and spatha are loanwords in
Latin; ensis was the generic term for "sword" in Classical Latin, and
was again widely used in
Renaissance Latin, while Middle Latin mostly
used gladius as the generic term.
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place in 1967, when
Gaston Defferre insulted René Ribière (fr)
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Look up sword in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Media related to Swords at Wikimedia Commons
Sword types and classifications by region and historical era
Thrusting swords (Edgeless)
Curved swords (Single-edge)
Straight swords (Double-edge)
Bronze Age sword
Iron Age sword
Early modern period
Spada da lato
Late modern period
Ming – Qing
Bronze Age – Gojoseon
Liaoning bronze dagger culture
Iron Age – Three Kingdom Era
Goryeo and Joseon era
Four Tiger Sword
Yayoi – Nara periods
Heian – Kamakura periods
Muromachi – Edo periods
Meiji period and beyond
Medieval and modern
Western and Central Asia
Espada y Daga
Mainland Southeast Asia
Sugari no Ontachi
Sword of Goujian
Sword of Osman
Sword of Victory
Curved saber of San Martín
Sword of Saint Peter
Sword of Saint Wenceslas
Sword of Stalingrad
Cura Si Manjakini
Gan Jiang and Mo Ye
Kris Mpu Gandring
Kris Setan Kober
Kris Taming Sari
Sword of Attila
Sword of Damocles
Note: some of the existing swords are named after earlier legendary