Folk dance by men, with swords or two-handled blades, expressing themes such as human and animal sacrifice for fertility, battle mime, and defense against evil spirits. It originated in Greek and Roman times. A sword dance appeared in Germany in 1350 and later was part of the court ballet when mock battles were staged. The Scottish sword dance is a descendant of the early crossed-sword dances, and the Morris dance retains remnants of the sword dance. Outside of Europe, such dances are found in India, Borneo, and the Balkans.
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Hand weapon consisting of a long metal blade fitted with a handle or hilt. Roman swords had a short, flat blade and a hilt distinct from the blade. Medieval European swords were heavy and equipped with a large hilt and a protective guard, or pommel. The blade was straight, double-edged, and pointed. The introduction of firearms did not eliminate the sword but led to new designs; the discarding of body armour required the swordsman to be able to parry, and the rapier, a double-edged sword with a narrow, pointed blade, came into use. Swords with curved blades were used in India and Persia and were introduced into Europe by the Turks, whose scimitar, with its curved, single-edged blade, was modified in the West to the cavalry sabre. Japanese swords are renowned for their hardness and extreme sharpness; they were the weapon of the samurai. Repeating firearms ended the value of the sword as a military weapon, though its continued use in duels led to the modern sport of fencing. Seealso kendo.
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Humans have manufactured and used metal bladed weapons from the Bronze Age onwards. The sword developed from the dagger when the construction of longer blades became possible, from the late 3rd millennium BCE in the middle-east, first in arsenic copper, then in tin-bronze. The oldest sword-like weapons are found at Arslantepe, Turkey, and date to around 3300 BCE. It's however believed that these are longer daggers, and not the first ancestors of swords. Swords longer than 90 cm were rare and not practical during the Bronze Age as this length exceeds the tensile strength of bronze, which means such long swords would bend easily. It was not until the development of stronger alloys such as steel that longswords became practical for combat.
The hilt, either from organic materials or bronze (the latter often highly decorated with spiral patterns, for example), at first simply allowed a firm grip and prevented the hand from slipping onto the blade when executing a thrust or the blade flying out of the hand in a cut. The early swords typically had long and slender shaped blades intended for thrusting (rapiers). Later swords were broader and were both cutting and thrusting weapons. A typical variant for European swords is the leaf-shaped blade, which was most common in North-West Europe at the end of the Bronze Age, in the UK and Ireland in particular. The Naue Type II Swords which spread from Southern Europe into the Mediterranean, have been linked by Robert Drews with the Late Bronze Age collapse.
Sword production in China is attested from the Bronze Age Shang Dynasty. The technology for bronze swords reached its high point during the Warring States period and Qin Dynasty. Amongst the Warring States period swords, some unique technologies were used, such as casting high tin edges over softer, lower tin cores, or the application of diamond shaped patterns on the blade (see the sword of Gou Jian). Also unique for Chinese bronzes is the consistent use of high tin bronze (17-21% tin) which is very hard and breaks if stressed too far, whereas other cultures preferred lower tin bronze (usually 10%), which bends if stressed too far. Although iron swords were made alongside bronze, it wasn't until the early Han period that iron completely replaced bronze.
The earliest available Bronze age swords of copper discovered from the Harappan sites date back to 2300 BCE. Swords have been recovered in archaeological findings throughout the Ganges-Jamuna Doab region of India, consisting of bronze but more commonly copper. Diverse specimens have been discovered in Fatehgarh, where there are several varieties of hilt. These swords have been variously dated to periods between 1700-1400 BCE, but were probably used more extensively during the opening centuries of the 1st millennium BCE.
Not every culture that used bronze also developed swords. For example, the steppe tribes preferred short daggers (the akinakes). In South America, bronze was used by the Incas, and although the concept of the sword was known in the form of wooden swords with stone edges (the macahuitl), they did not develop bronze swords.
By the time of Classical Antiquity and the Parthian and Sassanid Empires in Iran, iron swords were common. The Greek xiphos and the Roman gladius are typical examples of the type, measuring some 60 to 70 cm. The late Roman Empire introduced the longer spatha (the term for its wielder, spatharius, became a court rank in Constantinople), and from this time, the term longsword is applied to swords comparatively long for their respective periods.
Chinese steel swords made their appearance from the 3rd century BCE Qin Dynasty. The Chinese Dao (刀 pinyin dāo) is single-edged, sometimes translated as sabre or broadsword, and the Jian (劍 pinyin jiàn) double-edged.
Around the 10th century, the use of properly quench hardened and tempered steel started to become much more common than in previous periods. The Frankish Ulfberht blades (the name of the maker inlaid in the blade) were of particularly consistent high quality. Charles the Bald tried to prohibit the export of these swords, as they were used by Vikings in raids against the Franks.
It is only from the 11th century that Norman swords begin to develop the quillons or crossguard. During the Crusades of the 12th to 13th century, this cruciform type of arming sword remained essentially stable, with variations mainly concerning the shape of the pommel. These swords were designed as cutting weapons, although effective points were becoming common to counter improvements in armour.
As steel technology improved, single-edged weapons became popular throughout Asia. Derived from the Chinese Jian or dao, the Korean hwandudaedo are known from the early medieval Three Kingdoms. Production of the Japanese tachi, a precursor to the katana, is recorded from ca. 900 CE (see Japanese sword).
The swords manufactured in Indian workshops find mention in the writing of Muhammad al-Idrisi.
Wootz steel which is also known as Damascus steel was a unique and highly prized steel developed on the Indian subcontinent as early as the 5th century BCE. Its properties were unique due to the special smelting and reworking of the steel creating networks of iron carbides described as a globular cementite in a matrix of pearlite. This gave the blade a very hard cutting edge and beautiful patterns. For obvious reasons it became a very popular trading material. The use of Damascus steel in swords became extremely popular in the 16th and 17th centuries.
In the 16th century, the large Doppelhänder (called the Zweihänder today; both German names refer to the use of both hands) concluded the trend of ever-increasing sword sizes (mostly due to the beginning of the decline of plate armor and the advent of firearms), and the early Modern Age saw the return to lighter, one-handed weapons.
The Japanese katana reached the height of its development at about this time. In the 15th and 16th centuries, samurai increasingly found a need for a sword to use in closer quarters, leading to the creation of the modern katana.
The sword in this time period was the most personal weapon, the most prestigious, and the most versatile for close combat, but it came to decline in military use as technology changed warfare. However, it maintained a key role in civilian self-defense.
As the wearing of swords fell out of fashion, canes took their place in a gentleman's wardrobe. Some examples of canes—those known as sword canes or swordsticks—incorporate a concealed blade. The French martial art la canne developed to fight with canes and swordsticks and has now evolved into a sport.
Towards the end of its useful life, the sword served more as a weapon of self-defense than for use on the battlefield, and the military importance of swords steadily decreased during the Modern Age. Even as a personal sidearm, the sword began to lose its preeminence in the early 19th century, paralleling the development of reliable handguns.
Swords continued in use, but were increasingly limited to military commissioned officers' and non-commissioned officers' ceremonial uniforms, although most armies retained heavy cavalry until well after World War I. For example, the British Army formally adopted a completely new design of cavalry sword in 1908, almost the last change in British Army weapons before the outbreak of the war. The last units of British heavy cavalry switched to using armoured vehicles as late as 1938. Swords and other dedicated melee weapons were used occasionally by various countries during World War II, but typically as a secondary weapon as they were outclassed by contemporaneous firearms.
The production of replicas of historical swords originates with 19th century historicism. Contemporary replicas can range from cheap factory produced look-alikes to exact recreations of individual artifacts, including an approximation of the historical production methods.
The blade may have grooves known as fullers for lightening the blade while allowing it to retain its strength and stiffness, similar to the effect produced by a steel I-beam used in construction. The blade may taper more or less sharply towards a point, used for thrusting. The part of the blade between the Center of Percussion (CoP) and the point is called the foible (weak) of the blade, and that between the Center of Balance (CoB) and the hilt is the forte (strong). The section in between the CoP and the CoB is the middle. The ricasso or shoulder identifies a short section of blade immediately forward of the guard that is left completely unsharpened, and can be gripped with a finger to increase tip control. Many swords have no ricasso. On some large weapons, such as the German Zweihänder, a metal cover surrounded the ricasso, and a swordsman might grip it in one hand to wield the weapon more easily in close-quarter combat. The ricasso normally bears the maker's mark. On Japanese blades this mark appears on the tang (part of the blade that extends into the hilt) under the grip.
At the base of the blade, a flap of leather could be attached to a sword's crossguard, the Chappe which serves to protect the mouth of the scabbard and prevent water from entering. It is also called a Rain Guard.
From the 18th century onwards, swords intended for slashing, i.e., with blades ground to a sharpened edge, have been curved with the radius of curvature equal to the distance from the swordman's body at which it was to be used. This allowed the blade to have a sawing effect rather than simply delivering a heavy cut. European swords, intended for use at arm's length, had a radius of curvature of around a meter. Middle Eastern swords, intended for use with the arm bent, had a smaller radius.
The tang consists of the extension of the blade structure through the hilt.
Swords can fall into categories of varying scope. The main distinguishing characteristics include blade shape (cross-section, taper, and length), shape and size of hilt and pommel, age, and place of origin.
For any other type than listed below, and even for uses other than as a weapon, see the article Sword-like object.
One strict definition of a sword restricts it to a straight, double-edged bladed weapon designed for both slashing and thrusting. However, general usage of the term remains inconsistent and it has important cultural overtones, so that commentators almost universally recognize the single-edged swords such as Asian weapons (dāo 刀, katana 刀) as "swords", simply because they have a prestige akin to their European counterparts.
In most of Asian countries, sword (jian 劍, ken, pedang) is double-edged straight bladed weapon, while knife or saber (dāo 刀, do, pisau, golok) refer to single-edged one. Thus, a katana should not be translate to samurai sword.
Europeans also frequently refer to their own single-edged weapons as swords — generically backswords, including sabres. Other terms include falchion, scimitar, cutlass, dussack, Messer or mortuary sword. Many of these refer to essentially identical weapons, and the different names may relate to their use in different countries at different times. A machete as a tool resembles such a single-edged sword and serves to cut through thick vegetation, and indeed many of the terms listed above describe weapons that originated as farmers' tools used on the battlefield.
Jesus' statement "for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword." (παντες γαρ οι λαβοντες μαχαιραν εν μαχαιρα αποθανουνται; ) is made in a literal context (Simon Peter drawing his sword against the soldiers in Gethsemane), but gives it an allegorical twist. "For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword (υπερ πασαν μαχαιραν διστομον), piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart", the sword is an allegory for "keen" or "piercing" discernment.
In Arabic, saif "sword" also stands for warfare in general. Another example of this metaphorical significance comes in the adage The pen is mightier than the sword, attributed to Edward Bulwer-Lytton. In the moral anecdote about the tyrant Damocles, the sword suspended above a leader is a metaphor for the ever present danger that accompanies power.
Swords form a suit in Latin suited playing cards which include the Italian suited tarot decks (replaced by spades in the French deck of modern playing cards and in modern French suited Tarot or Tarock decks.) In divinatory tarot, the sword is often interpreted as representing air, as well as intelligence. In the Tarot deck the uninverted swords represent ill fortune with the Ten of Swords being the worst.
Swords are also used as emblem or insignia (in or on formal dress such as uniforms, badges, various objects, even coats of arms), especially:
Its symbolic meaning is also reflected in the existence of prestigious titles, linking people of valor to it, such as:
It is also not unusual for swords to represent reason - as in "cutting through" a series of elements in a problem in order to leave only those with proven relevance, most famously of Alexander the Great cutting the Gordian Knot.
Apart from the aforementioned types of symbolic swords, the following individually named swords are noteworthy:
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