The History of Swords - Medieval Swords & Renaissance Swords & Replica Swords
By [http://ezinearticles.com/?expert=Pietro_R]Pietro R
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 stemmed from the dagger after technological advances allowed the blade to extend longer. The term "sword" encompasses many types of blades such as the sabre, rapier, scimitar and cutlass. The following article is a (very) brief history of swords in the Western World.
The earliest swords are said to be made of stone during the Neolithic period. These primitive weapons gave way to the first flint daggers made of copper. Primitive swords were first constructed in two parts: the blade and the handle, which were usually held together with rivets.
One of the greatest advances in the construction of swords and daggers alike came when the length of the blade was extended into the core of the handle (full-tang), thereby creating a sword from one piece of metal. The full-tang construction thus prevented the blade and hilt from separating during battle. As an aside, if you plan on buying a replica sword for a re-enactment or play, make sure that the sword has a "full-tang construction" to avoid embarrassing accidents during a sword fight.
During the classical period, swords were usually short, straight and broad - this style of sword is often referred to as the Imperial Gladiator Sword . The sword of choice by Roman warriors, the "gladius", clearly displayed such attributes. A longer Roman sword also existed (called the "spatha") but it wasn't as common as the gladius. Other styles of swords outside the Roman Empire were referred to as "ensis".
The Franks, who would later rule over modern-day France, preferred longer swords similar to the Roman spatha. Unlike the Roman spatha, however, the Frankish sword was constructed out of soft-iron which made it unreliable in combat situations.
By the end of the 6th century (after the fall of the Roman Empire), Viking raiders were quickly becoming the trend-setters in the sword department. The sword styles that Viking raiders brought with them were quickly assimilated and refurbished in continental Europe. In fact, the quintessential "knight sword" style is directly derived from the Viking swords.
By the 6th century, European swords had evolved from the broad Roman style to something heavier and more lethal. By now, we can distinguish 4 discernible components in mainstream European swords:
(1) The pommel - usually a round piece of metal placed past the end of the hilt. The pommel served as a counterpoise to the blade for increased maneuverability.
(2) The grip/handle - this is where you would grab the sword from. The trend 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 handle 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 shield the vulnerable hand.
(4) The blade - straight, pointed, and double edged, the blade sometimes featured a central groove (sometimes called "blood groove") running down the middle for lightness and strength.
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 bundles of metal, hammer them together, cut them, bend them, and hammer them again - thereby carbonizing the blade material and making it many times stronger.
All in all, 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 on their medieval shields and body armor to protect warriors. This is a significant contrast with the Renaissance rapier that will come some centuries later, with which finesse and tactic predominate over brute force.
As civilization started anew, medieval knights were starting to realize that their long, heavy swords were no good for close combat. At the same time, improvements in commerce and trade also gave rise to high-quality sword craftsmanship. Cities such as Toledo, Spain and Solingen, Germany became famous for their high-caliber swords. 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 guard design, soon grew in popularity. It became customary for gentlemen all over Europe to wear a rapier at all times, which inevitably increased the number of duels everywhere. The civilian sword of the 16th century, along with a higher incidence of dueling completely revolutionized the art of sword fighting during the Renaissance.
In medieval times you could probably survive by swinging and hacking with your huge sword, but if your opponent is a skilled swordsman, swinging your sword could leave you open to attack. Therefore, sword fighting evolved from brute force to strategic thrusts, parries and feints. By the 17th century, the civilian rapier had reduced in size even further and was now called the "smallsword". Surprisingly, one of the most prominent purposes of the smallsword was...fashion. Civilians would decorate their smallswords according to their taste, current fads, family tradition, etc...
Elsewhere, specialized swords had not disappeared. The broadsword was still widely used in German and Swiss armies, and the famous Scottish claymore was still used up until the 17th century. In most other militaries, the medieval sword had been replaced by the sword rapier, a heavier version of the civilian rapier. Around the time of the English Civil War, the sword rapier was in turn 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 type of sword was the sabre - a simple single-edge blade used primarily for cutting. By 1800, civilian smallswords had all but disappeared. It was rare to see anyone walking around with a sword by their side.
In the military world, the sword still held its rightful place. In particular, the naval cutlass (short, slightly curved blade with heavy guard) gained in notoriety for its usefulness in close quarters and while climbing. For as long as guns were still single-shot weapons, armies across the world still relied on their loyal swords - even during the US civil war, the cavalry would still charge with their sabres. However, the invention of repeating firearms, for obvious reasons, put a quick end to the sword's authority. There were some (very) brave European cavalrymen used sabres in WWI and WWII, but their efforts turned out to be ineffective anachronisms.
Nowadays, swords are mainly used for ceremonial purposes and as a mark of esteem or honor. Swords are still used in the militaries for the sake of tradition, but for the purpose of combat, swords are virtually extinct.
THE END OF SWORDS?
The word "end" used above has two different interpretations. On one hand, "end" means conclusion or termination. In that sense, yes - for all means and purposes swords are something of the past.
However, the alternative meaning of the word "end" provides us with additional insight. As you probably figured out already, "end" can also mean purpose. What is the purpose of swords if they belong in a museum, you ask? Collecting swords for fun isn't only a hobby, it is also a portal to our past! Swords were around for thousands of years, and their use changed the course of history countless times.
With this in mind, I invite you to check out my store at replicapower.com. You will find all sorts of replica swords, medieval swords, renaissance swords, and even some of the swords from your favorite movies (among other awesome movie props)!
The author of this article owns [http://www.replicapower.com]Replica Power, a store specializing in replica swords, fantasy swords and [http://www.replicapower.com/movie-replicas.html]movie prop replicas. You can e-mail him with questions at info[at]replicapower.com