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5 Famous Historical Swords

There is no definitive method to rank the effectiveness and importance of historical swords. There are hundreds that have shaped medieval and world history, so to pick a select few would be a disservice to those not mentioned. Thus, the following are five historic swords that may or may not have been the ultimate blade of their respective periods but which have, without any doubt, significantly influenced many a battle of years gone by. Read on...

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1. Gladius


The gladius was a weapon initially used by the Spaniards. They were so good with it that they won the respect of the all-conquering Romans who integrated the sword into their military. Its V-shaped tip indicates that the weapon was primarily used for stabbing or thrusting. However, the gladius was a versatile tool that was effective with slashing techniques as well. The Romans drew this sword with the right hand from the right hip; though unconventional, this technique helped the Legionnaires avoid accidentally cutting their comrades when used in formation. The smallish nature of the gladius rendered it a perfect companion for the huge scutum shield and allowed the soldier to quickly draw the sword and defend himself. The gladius was around 24–33 inches in length and weighed about 2 lbs.

2. Ulfberht


Most swords of the Viking Age were made of low-carbon steel. However, the Ulfberht was different. It was as close to a true “mystical” sword as any. Several of these swords that were discovered in Europe were so ahead of their time that it is a mystery how smiths of that period (9th–11th century AD) could have fashioned them. The Ulfberht was crafted of metal that lost nothing in comparison to the strength of modern steel. The sword was around 36 inches long and weighed about 2.5 lbs.

3. Longsword


With the arrival of longbows, crossbows, and polearms in the medieval period, knights on horseback became attractive targets. Thus, at times it was necessary for them to do some dirty work on the ground. They needed a sword short enough to fight on foot and at the same time long enough to attack enemies from horseback. This conundrum gave birth to the longsword, which was just a longer, stouter version of the regular swords used by knights. The longsword was a versatile weapon, effective against plate armored foes as well as lightly armored enemies. It could also be wielded with two hands which generated greater power. Longswords weighed 2.5 –4 lbs and were up to 51 inches in length.

4. The Two-handed Sword


Contrary to popular belief, the two-handed sword did not belong to the Middle Ages. Rather, it was one of early Renaissance’s most formidable weapons. Very popular among German and Swiss soldiers, these weapons, at over 72 inches, were taller than the average soldier, even if they were relatively quite light at 4 –6 lbs. The German Zweihander and the English Slaughter-sword were two such swords. Powerful with good balance and highly effective with sweeping blows, two-handed swords were mainly used to fight long weapons such as halberds and pikes. One had to be of more than average strength to wield these monsters. Only the most robust of men were given this honor and they were sometimes paid double the regular soldier’s wages.

5. Rapier


The slender, sharp-pointed rapier is believed to have its origins in the Spanish term espada ropera, which means “sword of the robes.” These swords were popular with the higher class during the end of the medieval period before it gained quite a following among the masses, especially the merchant class, during the Renaissance. The rapier was a faster and lighter blade than almost any other sword even if not quite as sleek as celluloid would have us believe. The truth is, it resembled other medieval swords in many ways – a narrow body, a blade width of more than an inch, and a hilt that featured a heavy quillon. The rapier was not a military success though. Soldiers felt comfortable with a heavier blade in battle and the armor was not totally consigned to history. However, it was a good self-defense tool and owning a rapier meant an individual was a person of status. The rapier was around 40 inches in length and weighed about 2.2 lbs.

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