The sword is an almost universal weapon for every warrior culture around the world, rising to prominence on almost every continent except for the America's, but were particularly used in Europe and Asia. The sword evolved from early knives. Early swords were made of bronze and were relatively short. As iron and steel become prominent swords were able to be made stronger and hence longer. In most cultures the sword is highly revered and considered a symbol of status.
There are many types of swords double edge, single edge, straight, curved, single and two-handed. However all swords sword have two of four major characteristics, straight or curved and one handed or two-handed.
Curved swords are generally slashing weapons, with the curve in the blade being able to be drawn across the target easier than a straight sword. If the end of the sword it weighed, like with the Kilij, it can make the cut even more effective. These swords tend to be single edged as the curve makes it hard to use both side of the blade for cutting. However because the curve makes the tip of the blade away for the hilt, they are not especially effective in thrusts and stabs.
Curved swords offer more flexibility compared to straight swords and are more suitable for mounted combat. Curved swords like the Cutlass were preferred by sailors and were widely used in naval combat until modern age. One of the main advantages of curved swords is that these swords require less training to use compared to most straight swords.
Straight swords tended to be more versatile compared to curved swords, but less effective in slashing. The straight blade meant it was harder to slice targets, but it was much easier to thrust and stab. Generally double edged due to the ability to use both sides of the sword equally well. The second edge also made stabs do through soft tissue easier than a single bladed sword.
Straight swords are more versatile compared to curved swords but are less suitable for mounted combat. Straight swords from Renaissance and later ages, like the Rapier or the Colichemarde sword, were optimized for thrusting, dismounted and anti-sabre combat. However these swords were primarily dueling weapons and never saw widespread use on the battlefield.
A sword being used in one hand has several advantages over a sword being used in two hands. The sword being used in one hand is generally capable of hitting faster than a two handed sword, and gives the user more of a reach than their opponent, given the two swords are equal length. Another big advantage is that the other hand can be left open allowing it to hold something else, it could be a shield, another sword, a hand axe, a dagger or even a a small fire arm. However this technique has a major weakness, a single handed sword is much easier to deflect than a two-handed sword and doesn't carry much strength. One handed swords are ideal for mounted combat.
Two handed swords have several advantages over the one handed. Because they are designed to be used with both hands, they can be made longer and heavier. This allowed for a the weapon to hit with greater force and weight. Even if the sword isn't very long, a two handed technique still allows the user to put more strength into an attack than a single handed sword. Because both hands are used, the weapon allows the user to to exert more leverage on the opponents weapon than a single handed sword. Large two handed swords, like the Claymore, effectively increases the reach of the wielder in a sword fight. However when using both hands, the user can't use another weapon or shield, like with an one handed sword. Another disadvantage is that two handed swords can not be used from horseback.
The biggest advantage of the any sword is it's versatility compared to other weapons. Most swords can stab, slash and, hack the enemy, giving cutting damage, piercing damage and blunt force trauma all in one weapon. As opposed to a spear, club or ax, which are only capable of a few options. Additionally, a sword is generally more capable of parrying incoming attacks on it's own.
Swords are generally more expensive than other weapons, taking a skilled hand to make them well. Additionally in order to use properly most swords require a great deal of training. In some cultures only nobles or warriors were allowed to carry these weapons. Also generally speaking most swords don't work well against any form of armor, especially Plate armor. It should be noted that one of the reasons the sword evolved into a narrow thrust oriented blade is believed to be the fact that such a thrusting style was indeed very effective against most armor.
In the show many warriors use swords. In the final fight, if both warriors have swords, the fight almost always comes down to a sword duel.
History of European SwordsEdit
The European Bronzeage, as seen with the Greeks, preferred spear combat over swordsmanship. Bronze was not strong enough to reliably make longswords, and so swords like the Xiphos were more dagger-like and designed as a side-arm.
Celtic Long Swords were the first European swords using iron; which allowed the swords to be much larger and stronger than previous Bronze swords. Celtic swords had a simple long blade; making it relatively easy to mass produce. Celts and other Barbarian tribes would maintain similar sword designs until the Medieval Age.
As Mediterranean civilizations began to reemerge from the Bronze Age Collapse, they evolved the design of iron and steel swords. Since spears were still a dominant primary weapon, sword designs focused on hacking rather than thrusting (as spears could thrust anyways). Before the rise of the Roman Empire; the dominant sword designs were the Falcata (originating from the Iberian Peninsula) and the Kopis (originating from Greece).
As the Roman Empire expanded into Spain the Romans obtained high quality Spanish Steel. Inspired by the Celtic and Spanish Longswords (which Romans fought against frequently) the rising empire would introduce their iconic Gladius. While thick enough to hack, this sword was designed to stab unlike the Falcata. Romans did use spears; but primarily focused on the Gladius. Barbarian spearmen struggled to get around a Scutum shield; thus negating the spear's range advantage. A heavy Roman line of Scutums could easily withstand enemy assaults while getting close enough to use their swords. Some historians also argued that the Gladius and Scutums could break spears as well.
After the Roman Empire fell, many military technologies were lost with it. The Gladius and Scutum was replaced by Celtic and Barbarian spears and round-shields. The Viking Long Sword was most likely inspired by northern Celts and reintroduced swordsmanship during the Viking or Dark Age. The Norman Broadsword and French Broadsword became the dominant sword designs as England and France grew into military superpowers. The Broadsword design was similar to the appearance of a crucifix and so was seen as a religious icon to contrast the sabers of the Islamic empires. Medieval metallurgy eventually returned to producing relatively high quality steel; with some historians comparing the steel quality to that of the Japanese Katana. This also led to the creation of two-handed swords like the Scottish Claymore, famously used by Highlanders.
As Plate Armor became more advanced in the late Medieval Era, the more difficult it was to harm enemy Knights. Plate Armor could be overpowered by heavy blunt weapons like Mauls, Maces or Morningstars; however these weapons were relatively slow and clumsy due to their weight and were not designed to parry or block enemy attacks. The Arming Sword was designed to be more maneuverable and aggressive than the longer broadsword. This was to better exploit the joints and gaps within plate armor. The Half-Sword technique was developed to complement the tactic; it involved the Knight grabbing the blade of the sword with his gauntlet (although this technique can sometimes be used with an unarmored hand) and using this added strength to perform more fluid parries and to thrust the sword more aggressively.
As Musket technology evolved, the use of armor began to diminish. As seen with the iconic image of Conquistadors; plate armor was reduced to a Steel Cuirass (and initially a Morion helmet); meaning most warriors had no protection on their limbs or face. However this limited armor was still effective against slashing weapons and so precision was still preferred by most armies. Sword designs became thinner and longer as fencing became the preferred fighting style; allowing the swordsmen to better distance and defend themselves while also being able to aim at the opening in armor. The Side-Swords of the 1500s (like the Espada Ropera) was a transition away from the relatively heavier Broadsword into fencing swords. The sword would quickly evolve into the Rapier, which was specifically designed for thrusting and length.
Early Renaissance Arquebuses were relatively slow to reload, so close combat weapons were still used alongside the new gunpowder weapons: which is refereed to 'Pike and Shoot'. The Claymore style two-handed sword saw a rebirth during the Renaissance in the German Zweihänder; arguably the largest mass produced sword in history. Halberds and Bardiches were similar weapons that shared this mentality of overpowering foes with a massive blade. However as Muskets continued to evolve, their rate of fire increased to the point where these heavy weapons were a liability.
As Pike and Shot was being replaced by Napoleonic Tactics; the sword was rarely used by common foot soldiers thanks to the Bayonet; which was cheaper to mass produce yet offered better range due to its longer length compared to the sword. Swordsmen still existed; but primarily in situations where the Bayonet was less relevant. Sailors (including the iconic Pirate) had access to spears but preferred swords like the Cutlass and the Spadroon which were relatively short in order to maneuver on the cramp ship; both above and below deck.
Both Strait Swords and Sabres were still used for Cavalry, as horsemen were fast enough to charge within range of enemy musketeers before they could fully reload and fire back. Napoleonic Tactics made most forms of armor irrelevant, meaning that heavy weapons like longspears or maces were replaced by the swifter swords. Even when Cavalry began using guns; the sword was still relevant throughout the 1800s.
However by WWI; machinegun technology made Napoleonic Tactics obsolete. The British Pattern 1908 (and its variants) was the last sword designed for conventional Western warfare. WWI generals, oblivious to the rapid advances in military technology, insisted on using cavalry and melee weapons only to have their forces massacred by machine guns, tanks, artillery and poison gas. Soldiers jumping into enemy trenches were able to fight close enough to engage in close combat; but since swords were expensive to make, most of these weapons were improvised clubs or knives.
WWII saw traditional East Asian armies still use swords in combat; but like before, they were easily overwhelmed by modern weapons. There are true stories of individual European soldiers attempting to use swords, like Mad Jack Churchhill famous for his broadsword. However after WWII ended the sword was universally discarded from military service in almost every nation.