Edged weapons, such as swords, daggers, and bayonets, are the oldest and most basic instruments of warfare in continuous use since prehistoric times.
Edged weapons, such as swords, daggers, and bayonets, are the oldest and most basic instruments of warfare in continuous use since prehistoric times. The use of edged weapons, such as the combat knife, is still taught in basic military training, and the sword, though rendered a military anachronism after the introduction of the repeating rifle, retains a place of honor in formal military dress and ceremony. Both Western and Eastern sword-fighting techniques continue to be studied as martial art forms.
The dagger is arguably the oldest form of edged weapon, being simply a utilitarian knife adapted for service in combat. In its most basic form the dagger consists of a pointed blade, most often of forged metal, although stone, antler, bone, and hardwood have also been used, usually measuring between 6 and 20 inches in length, set into a handle and sharpened to a cutting edge along one or both sides. From this elemental form evolved, by simple extension of the blade length, the various forms of short sword and, later, the long sword. After the introduction of practical firearms in the late seventeenth century, an adaptation of the dagger resulted in the creation of the bayonet, which allowed an empty or fouled musket to be quickly and easily transformed into a serviceable pike by the simple expedient of ramming the dagger’s round handle into the muzzle.
Among the most familiar forms of dagger is the bowie
Distinctive non-Western dagger forms include the Malay
The earliest forms of sword are virtually indistinguishable from long daggers, a case in point being the ancient Roman
In the pattern-welding process, slender rods of iron are twisted together, heated, and hammer-welded into flat bars of harder carburized iron, which are then sharpened to form the cutting edge. The pattern-welded blade reveals a characteristic serpentine effect upon its surface that persists even in the polished blade. Pattern welding was known to Roman sword makers of the Pax Romana, or Roman Peace (c. 27
Weapons of superior quality bore recognized trademarks, such as that of a running wolf for the arms makers of Solingen (in the Ruhr Valley), which were sometimes fraudulently copied by lesser craftsmen. The legendary Spanish blades of Toledo especially inspired many German and Italian emulations.
Until the mid-1400’s, most swords were straight-bladed, double-edged weapons, widely thought to have been too heavy and poorly balanced to allow for the development of elaborate fencing techniques. However, it has been noted that many of these older swords are surprisingly well balanced and of sufficiently light weight–most averaging around 3 pounds–to allow a well-conditioned hand to wield them with surprising dexterity. During the period from 1450 to 1700 blades gradually became lighter, narrower, and longer, developing into the familiar rapier design associated with the musketeers of Louis
The shape of the sword’s blade dictates the type of attack for which it is used. The curved Persian
In its most general form the sixteenth century sword was cruciform in shape and consisted of a straight or curved steel blade, designed principally for cutting and sharpened along one or both edges. Along the length o f the blade might be a narrow groove, technically called a fuller but more popularly known as a “blood
Bayonets enabled firearms to be quickly and easily transformed into serviceable pikes and could be attached by (a) plugging into the muzzle, (b) fitting as a sleeve over the muzzle, (c) locking into a slot on the muzzle, or (d) attaching permanently to the muzzle and folding down when not in use.
It is a historical irony that the golden age of the sword, the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, was also the period during which gunpowder came into widespread use. As the military popularity of the sword began to wane, the fashion of carrying a sword became increasingly common among male civilians, inspired in no small measure by the rise of dueling among the nobility. Lighter weapons, such as the rapier, became especially popular. The épée, with its slender, three-edged blade pointed only at the tip, and the dueling saber, sharpened along one of its three edges, evolved as various schools of
Among the principal developments of this period was the introduction of the
The cavalry saber used decisively as late as the Mexican War (1846-1848) in the Battle of Palo Alto.
The seventeenth century dueling
By the end of the eighteenth century, the military sword had entered into its period of decline. The cutlass-like infantry short sword used by Napoleon’s Grande Armée, which evolved from the huntsman’s sword, was more useful as a bivouac tool than as a weapon. The
Burton, Richard Francis. The Book of the Sword. 1884. Reprint. New York: Dover, 1987. Childs, John. Warfare in the Seventeenth Century. London: Cassell, 2001. Diagram Group. The New Weapons of the World Encyclopedia: An International Encyclopedia from 5000 B.C. to the Twenty-first Century. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2007. Evangelista, Nick, and William M. Gaugler. The Encyclopedia of the Sword. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995. Jörgensen, Christer, et al. Fighting Techniques of the Early Modern World, A.D. 1500-A.D. 1763: Equipment, Combat Skills, and Tactics. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2006. Talhoffer, Hans. Medieval Combat. Translated by Mark Rector. London: Greenhill, 2000. Thompson, Leroy. Combat Knives. London: Greenhill, 2004. Thompson, Logan. Daggers and Bayonets: A History. Staplehurst, England: Spellmount, 1999. Warner, Gordon, and Donn F. Draeger. Japanese Swordsmanship. New York: Weatherhill, 1993. Yumoto, John M. The Samurai Sword. 1958. Reprint. Rutland, Vt.: Charles E. Tuttle, 1991. Modern Marvels: Axes, Swords, and Knives. Documentary. History Channel, 2002. Reclaiming the Blade. Documentary. Galatia Films, 2008.
Knives, Swords, and Daggers
Gunpowder and Explosives
Small Arms and Machine Guns
Tanks and Armored Vehicles
Aircraft, Bombs, and Guidance Systems
Rockets, Missiles, and Nuclear Weapons
Chemical and Biological Weapons