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If you're a history buff, love to talk about history and watch the History Channel, this is the board for that.
15 posts • Page 1 of 1
Just a question for weapons history buffs - why were swords ever invented? They cost a lot to make, require a lot of skill to use properly and have no purpose other than killing people, but are almost always secondary weapons. Why are they worth the trouble?
You could only carry so many projectile weapons like spears. After you used them you were defenceless. To use a projectiIe you are exposed. With a shield you can use a sword while protected and advance on an enemy with projectiles.
Until projectiles became lighter and you could carry many (firearms) and you could penetrate armour and shields, the sword and armour held sway. You were protected, could advance in formation and had no need for constant supply.
Generally even in close combat, swords were secondary weapons. For example, Greek hoplites used overhand spears as their primary weapon and only drew their swords when their spear broke or something. It was the same in medieval times. Men at arms used pole axes, halberds etc. OK, the Romans often used the gladius in conjunction with a shield as a primary.
Of course you would want some sort of last ditch weapon, but why not axes or some such that were much easier to manufacture and use?
The answer to that is metal technology. Greek hop lites were bronze age. Bronze is soft and doesn't hold an edge well. So wooden spears with a tip were a preferred weapon. With the ability to forge steel swords became a weapon of choice and the short Roman stabbing sword was harder than any spear.
In the middle ages the serfs had poles and spears. Knights had swords, a better weapon. It has longer range than an axe, can be used to parry stab and slash. An axe is limited and you must remove it again.
Actually hoplites were Iron Age. There are advantages to swords over other weapons in some circumstances, but you can say that about anything. The point is cost effectiveness, and swords just don't seem to cut the mustard. Like I say, if you look into the Middle Ages, although swords are prized, they seem to be used as a secondary weapon if the primary fails. Good they have it, but is it worth it for the years of training and expense. Why not a warhammer or something?
If you use a sword, you'd have a line where you could contact your enemy instead of a point. But the spear can hit the enemy from a longer distance. I believe in the middle ages, they used pikemen to counter calvary attacks. Pikes are long spears.
Last edited by MrMan on March 26th, 2017, 9:05 am, edited 1 time in total.
Right, mostly pole weapons were used as the primary, and swords were used when that failed.
That makes sense considering spears could reach at a longer distance, and swords were for a shorter distance. But if they had a shield in one hand, and were fighting in a phallanx, how would they have time to switch weapons? I also saw on the History channel that one line would rush at the other and clang into them. That doesn't sound like a situation where you could change weapons easily. I wonder if they could manage to keep tall guys with spears on the second row poking down at the shorter guys on the front line. But if someone died, the tall guy would probably have to move forward, so that might not be something that could be continued beyond the first few minutes of battle.
Well of course the answer is likely to be that often they couldn't and they died. But this goes to my point. Why did so much money and training go to using a weapon that you would probably never get to effectively use in battle anyway?
Who says they all had both weapons? Peasants may have only had spears. But it depends on the time and the nation.
Yeah, but if we talk about Greek hoplites in the fifth century BC or European men at arms in the Middle Ages then they were by definition not peasants and were required to properly equip themselves. Strangely they spent a disproportionate amount of time and money on their swords. In the Dark Ages when swords were scarce, you had swords passed down in families for generations and they were said to have magical powers, hence the tales of magical swords in books like The Lord Of The Rings. There seems to be something about swords that has some atavistic appeal for some reason.
Swords seemed to actually develop as time went on from something that gave the benefits of a knife but longer to the sword of later ages. The sword COULD be something very serious, but it was frequently either big (ex: claymore, zweihander), used off the back of a horse (ex: various sabers), or for dueling (ex: rapier). The sword also wound up becoming a status symbol, which would add to demand (ex: diamonds).
The spear was basically what a rifle would be to a soldier today. A knife was something for in-close situations like now (actually seems it was more feared than the sword, mace, etc...). The sword was sort of like a pistol, but I suppose that was part of the background for a lot of stories & imagery- that it was down to the wire, but believable, unlike if it was just with a knife. Sure, someone could use the knife to make a club or a makeshift spear, but that wouldn't necessarily have the same mystique to it.
Personally, I don't understand why forward-swept swords (ex: falcatta, kopis) went out of fashion. Like the khukuri, they can be used for more powerful stabs, hooking with or without damage, cutting/chopping deeply & without the need for much subtlety, and be carried & used in close quarters (ex: ship, woods, fortress, close press of people, etc...).
It doesn't come out of the sheath by accident very easily, it can be used with shields or off the back of a horse, as well as against people with either (it kind of slopes around shields & can be used for deep cuts or powerful stabs against the horse, particularly against the legs). It doesn't need as much metal, presumably it's easier to make than a straight sword (it has a tendency to bend when being cooled).
The benefits don't stop there! It could even have a basket hilt, maybe with the front flat & solid to support a shield (like how the Viking sword had the guard & pommel extend to the same distance so they'd line up). It could be used for cutting straps (ex: horse/ox harnesses, captive lines, etc...), brush (ex: getting around, camouflage, making smoke for whatever reason, etc...), wood (ex: making camp, spears, traps, etc...) & to butcher large animals (ex: captured horses/oxen, maybe game). Seems people "slept" on a serious weapon.