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History of Swords and Their Usage

SwordsA sword is a weapon that has been used in many different cultures in various parts of the world. It usually consists of a long blade, guard, handle and pommel. The sword is used as a cutting/slashing and a piercing/thrusting weapon. The sword design and sword fighting techniques varied depending on historical periods and also varied among cultures. The sword evolved from dagger when new techniques were found to construct stronger alloys and thus stronger blades. During the Bronze Age, swords longer than 90cm were rare as the alloys were too soft and such swords would bend easily. Long swords became practical and went in wider use with the introduction of iron alloys such as steel.

In 13 Century BC iron swords became more and more common. Iron ore was easy to obtain and allowed steel to be produced in larger quantities. Early iron swords were much harder and tougher than bronze swords but still not comparable to later steel swords as early manufacturing techniques were not perfected. The early swords were not heat-treated but rather hardened by repetitive hammering.

The iron swords were in wide use by the time of Classical Antiquity. The first examples were the Roman Gladius sword and the Greek Xiphos sword. Each of them measured around 60-70 cm. Later the Romans introduced much longer swords called Spatha. This type of sword was considered longsword compared with other swords in that period. The Spatha sword remained popular into the Middle Ages. The Vikings “borrowed” their sword designed from the Roman Spatha sword. As the manufacturing techniques progressed, the swords became stronger and durable. Techniques such as steel quenching and tempering were common around 10th Century. In 11th Century Normans started developing quillions and crossguards. During the 12th and 13th Centuries, the sword had a classic “cross” shape with only pommel changing its shape. In later years the basic sword designed has changed to accommodate changes in plate armor designs. Swords became longer with longer grips to allow a sword wielding knight to penetrate gaps in enemy’s armor. The handle of the sword was often wrapped in rough animal hide or wire to provide a better grip. The culmination of the longsword designed started in 16th Century with the two-hander sword. Later period sword designs reverted back to light and single-handed forms.


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History of Arms and Armor | Arms and Armor Glossary

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