The Evolution of the Sword

  1. Roman Gladius (400 B.C)

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The Roman Gladius was a single-handed, double-bladed sword and the primary weapon of any Ancient Roman foot soldier. The Gladius sword coupled with a highly skilled and disciplined Roman soldier meant they were undefeatable, creating both a deadly weapon and a successful military reign. The sword was used amongst the Roman armies from the 4th Century BC to the 3rd Century AD!

The secret behind the Roman armies’ success was their ability to adapt the gladius to any military situation, for example, they created the Spatha Sword which had a longer reach, meaning it would be perfect for battle on horseback. Another design includes the Pompeii Gladius which was developed to allow for a better slashing and stabbing technique. The Roman Gladius had a shorter blade than the cavalry Spartha, this is because it was mostly carried by foot soldiers. The length of the sword meant it would not restrict their marching and also was perfectly designed for close combat. It later gained the name ‘the sword that conquered the world’.

  1. Viking Sword (800 A.D)

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The Viking Sword was developed from the Roman Gladius and was created to be cutting-centric. The Viking Sword itself is longer in average length than the Roman Gladius but is also a single-handed sword. The sword was used until the end of the Viking era around 1000 AD and would most commonly be owned be a Jarl or Viking chief or wealthy Vikings. The only way a lower class Viking could get his hands on a sword was to loot, this led to Vikings fighting for the reward of a possible sword. The name Viking sword is often misleading as the sword was not exclusively limited to Vikings as it appeared all over Europe during the Viking age.

The great advantage the Viking sword had over its competitors was the fuller – the fuller was a rounded or bevelled groove running down the length of the blade, the function of this fuller was to remove metal from the blade in order to make it lighter while not compromising its strength as it would allow the sword to bend but not break when it hit the bone.

  1. Medieval Longsword (1200 A.D)

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Throughout the history of sword manufacture and use there have been a number of instances where the wielder desired more power in their strokes, and so designers looked to build swords that could be wielded using both hands. These blades could also be longer and heavier than single-handed swords, increasing the power of the strike furthermore.

The European longsword had a simple cruciform guard and a straight, double-edged blade often more than a metre long. It was popular among European knights from the 1200s to the 1500s. Longswords were social symbols as only men who were knights or could afford good armour would hold a longsword at their side, thus showing their rank. As armour was introduced, the need for a shield became obsolete. This meant that someone could yield a larger weapon such as the Longsword, as their other hand or arm was not being used to hold a shield.

  1. Renaissance Rapier (1600 A.D)

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Rapiers are long, thin, pointed, single-handed swords designed for thrusting more than cutting. They were first developed in the 1500s in Spain as a dress sword and became very popular as a civilian weapon for self-defence and duelling. Rapiers were the most effective sword for one on one combat due to its length and protective guard at the hilt, which protected the fighters hand in battle. Despite their appearance, the rapier was no lighter in weight than any other sword. The design of a rapier was a lot more ornate than any other sword before it, the intricate detail on the handguard made it a desirable object for the wealthier classes.

The sword was designed as a thrusting weapon but it has been known for some to sharpen one side of the blade but never both. The Rapier has become synonymous with the sport of fencing due to its design, made perfect for stabbing and thrusting forward. By the year 1715, the rapier had been largely replaced by the lighter small sword throughout most of Europe, however, the rapier is still carried by the officers of the Swiss Guard protecting the Pope.

  1. Military Sabre (1700 A.D)

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A sabre is a type of curved, one-handed sword, usually with a single cutting edge, that was traditionally associated with cavalry soldiers. The modern sabre is used predominantly as a weapon in dress uniforms and owes its origins to a Middle Eastern scimitar known as the Mameluke Sword, itself derived from the Turkish Kilij.

The sabre was used extensively during the Napoleonic Wars, where Napoleon’s heavy cavalry charges won him great victories. The single-handed blade was ideal for riders, and the curved blade optimised the sword for downward slashing strikes against infantry from horseback. The hilt incorporated a hand guard and a simple cross guard which, when the sword was used from horseback, would not have seen much use.

The sabre was also used as a sidearm by dismounted units, though these were phased out in favour of fascine knives and sword bayonets. Indeed, the popularity of the sabre dwindled by the mid-19th Century as improvements in projectile weapons led to the development of the accurate, long-range rifle and thus made cavalry charges, and the associated weaponry of the cavalryman, obsolete.