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Swords & Daggers

Swords and Daggers - An Introduction

Swords and daggers have a unique place in history. More than just personal weapons, they have served as fashion accessories, status symbols, coveted treasures, and precious gifts. But there is still something about them that cannot be explained – and must be experienced.

When you grasp a sword for the first time, remember that you actually have a piece of history in the palm of your hand. For a quick moment you are experiencing the exact same feelings of excitement, awe and reverence people had thousands of years ago. As you reflect on your feelings, you might find yourself gently nod and think, Now I understand why people love swords and daggers so much.

Each historical time period has its own unique story to tell about the famous swords of their era. The victorious conquests of the Roman Empire and their Roman short swords are well known, as are adventures of chivalrous knights with Medieval swords. Many wonderful tales of passion include Renaissance swords in perilous duels to reclaim honor and true love. Relive moments in time as you travel through this gateway to the past.

A History of the Sword and Dagger

Since the beginning, swords and daggers have existed as personal weapons. Man first developed daggers and knives made of bone or stone for use as cutting tools to separate game and prepare food. When the art of metal–working surfaced in Mesopotamia (between 3500–3000 B.C.E.), copper became the prized material for daggers and knives.

Centuries later bronze was developed which allowed blades to become longer, stronger and more resistant to damage and corrosion. This lead to the dawn of the Bronze Age and the birth of swords. These improved weapons increased man’s desire for great conquests, and lead to the customization of blades for warfare.

Soon countries were diligently producing special blade designs in hopes of new riches and victory over neighboring lands they would occupy. To ensure success, sword characteristics were modified based upon changes in combat techniques or information from spies regarding the armament of enemies.

In each historical time period, significant differences between swords often determined victory in war. This became especially true as iron and steel replaced previous metals. When you compare Roman swords to Medieval swords and the Japanese Samurai Katana, it's easy to see the unique characteristics of each sword. But it was how these swords performed in battle that forever labeled them as master weapons.

Basic Sword Parts and Blade Terminology

Basic sword parts and blade terminology is somewhat universal for Western swords, however a comparative review of Japanese sword diagrams reveals the master craftsmanship possessed by the Japanese Samurai.

All sword materials aside, the significant advancements in sword design include (in sequence of discovery):

  • The Central Rib (or Central Ridge) down the center of the blade provided greater sword strength and stability.
  • The Hand Guard (or Cross Guard) kept your hand from slipping onto the blade and being injured and allowed for better gripping of the sword.
  • The Pommel functioned as a counterbalance making swords extremely balanced and maneuverable.
  • The Tang was created to provide an extended portion of the blade which could be covered by a handle (or hilt) thereby improving overall sword strength during slashing movements.
  • The Fuller was created by very slightly carving out the center of the sword blade which created a ‘valley–like’ groove. This reduced the weight of the sword and provided reinforced strength to the blade. The fuller also eliminated the suction (resistance) caused by removing the sword from an impaled victim.

See Basic sword parts and blade terminology for part definitions. See What's the difference in Sword Materials? to learn about stainless steel versus high–carbon steel.

Many cultures created elaborate and ornate swords for people in high political positions like kings, emperors and noblemen, as well as military leaders and extraordinary warriors. These would have sword handles and scabbards made of precious metals like gold and elegantly bejeweled.

Interestingly enough, the Bible describes the sword as one of the critical weapons comprising the Full Armor of God (Ephesians 6:10–18).

Historical Era Swords and Daggers

Greek Era Swords and Daggers
Greek Swords & Greek Daggers were such powerful and effective weapons that other cultures quickly adopted ancient Greek designs. Taking metalworking techniques from the Mesopotamians and Egyptians, the Greek sword (hopllite) soon become the preferred sword of the Bronze Era. To maintain a warrior's strength, fighting skills and endurance, all Greek warriors practiced ‘peaceful war games’ (which actually became the Olympics).

Celtic Era Swords and Daggers
Celtic Swords and Daggers are most noted for their magical history or enormous size. Celtic one–handed short swords are recognized by their human–shaped hilts. Celtic two–handed Scottish Claymores were some of the largest swords in history (over 5 feet long). Celtic mystic culture thrived in most of Central and Western Europe for many years, and the Scots, Welsh and Irish have preserved their Celtic heritage over the years. King Arthur is thought to be from Wales, and the returning of Excalibur to The Lady of the Lake is consistent with Welsh and Celtic traditions of deposing of swords, weaponry and other valuables into sacred lakes and rivers when important people died. As well, the naming of Celtic swords is a historic Celtic tradition which has become popular in other cultures.

Viking Era Swords and Daggers
Viking Swords & Daggers were prized possessions of the fearless Viking men and marked a warrior’s status. Swords in this era were rare, hard to make and expensive. It could easily cost as much as 16 cows to buy a sword (in a fair trade). Since war for profit was the primary means of support for these people, the Viking sword was critical to a warrior’s success and survival. Vikings founded and settled Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Whether attacking on foot or in their battleships with terrifying dragon figureheads, the image of the charging warrior with his Viking sword raised high struck fear in the hearts of the opposition.

Roman Era Swords and Daggers
Roman swords and daggers have created a unique fascination among enthusiasts. The feared Legionnaire’s double–edged sword has been labeled the sword that conquered the world and enabled the Legions of Rome to slaughter opposing forces for centuries. Although thousands of these swords were created during this era, true Roman sword relics are extremely rare and acquired only by the most prestigious of museums around the world.

Damascus Era Swords and Daggers
Damascus Steel Swords are known by some as the strongest swords in history. Initially developed by the Syrians between 1100C.E.–1700C.E., these swords relied on ‘wootz steel’ for its great hardness and degree of super elasticity (unequaled by any others). Easily recognized by the distinguishing “water markings” in the blade, they became prized possessions for their beauty and ability to cut other swords in half without dulling the blade! Although the secret art of making wootz steel died about 1750, a few techniques remain that can produce Damascus Steel Swords in several historical period designs for you.

Moorish Era Swords and Daggers
Moorish Scimitar Swords were originally hunting swords of a slender design (neither Turkish or Arabic). Its popularity increased as it evolved into the awesome wide–blade curved sword with a crescent shaped tip – which is so well know today. This massive sword was initially called a “shamshir” (thought to mean ‘lion's tail’), and when the Persian cavalry adopted it for use as a fearsome slashing weapon, they forever secured a place in history for the scimitar. Hollywood has immortalized the scimitar as a fantasy sword living on through countless portrayals of sword stories like Arabian Nights, Sinbad and Aladdin.

Medieval Era Swords and Daggers
Medieval swords and daggers have been made famous by valiant knights fighting dragons, conquering treacherous foes, and of course rescuing the ‘damsel in distress’. Medieval swords honoring the virtuous Knights Templar, Joan of Arch, fearless Crusaders, and other defenders of the castle can all be found. Regardless of being new or old, swords allow you the unique opportunity to ‘touch’ history

Renaissance Era Swords and Daggers
Renaissance swords and daggers reflect an era of refinement, sophistication and culture. In the Renaissance, swords and daggers became more of a ‘fashion style’ than weapons of warfare. Lighter and shorter sword designs were needed to accommodate changes in personal combat as a new finessed art of swordsmanship surfaced (fencing). These shorter swords and rapiers quickly became in vogue replacing the large knightly swords of medieval times and forever claimed their place in history. Listen to the famed cry “en guard!” and the clashing of steel between gentlemen of standing. Prepare yourself and…select your weapon.

Japanese Samurai Katana
The most elegant of all swords is the Japanese Samurai katana. Sleek and masterfully made, this sword comes alive in the hands of martial arts experts, just as clay is transformed in the hands of an artist. It seems the devotion, skill and intense loyalty of the Japanese Samurai have created an unshakable legacy for the katana. As well, the dedicated craftsmanship of the Japanese guild sword–smiths and their commitment to honor, drove them to create pristine katanas worthy of their signature.

Reenactment Swords and Daggers
Today you have the opportunity to step back in time and witness life as it might have been in eras past. Using special reenactment and stage steel swords, the bravest of souls participate in live combat as seen in plays and local festivals. Whether Roman, Medieval or Renaissance, these high–carbon steel swords include the simple and masterfully made sword to accommodate the needs of every period actor.

Confederate and Union reenactors proudly display their U.S. Civil War swords with their long curved blades, ornate guards and metal scabbards. On a professional level, Japanese Samurai Katana competition swords of the highest quality are used to mesmerize martial arts audiences around the world. Join the fun and become a part of history with your favorite period costume and reenactment sword!

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