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Why swords?

If you're a history buff, love to talk about history and watch the History Channel, this is the board for that.

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Cornfed
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Why swords?

Post by Cornfed » March 26th, 2017, 7:35 am

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?

Kradmelder
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Re: Why swords?

Post by Kradmelder » March 26th, 2017, 7:59 am

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.

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Cornfed
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Re: Why swords?

Post by Cornfed » March 26th, 2017, 8:17 am

Kradmelder wrote: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.
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?

Kradmelder
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Re: Why swords?

Post by Kradmelder » March 26th, 2017, 8:36 am

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.

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Cornfed
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Re: Why swords?

Post by Cornfed » March 26th, 2017, 8:45 am

Kradmelder wrote: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?

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Re: Why swords?

Post by MrMan » March 26th, 2017, 9:00 am

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.

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Cornfed
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Re: Why swords?

Post by Cornfed » March 26th, 2017, 9:03 am

MrMan wrote:If you use a sword, you'd have a line area 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.
Right, mostly pole weapons were used as the primary, and swords were used when that failed.

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Re: Why swords?

Post by MrMan » March 26th, 2017, 9:08 am

Cornfed wrote:
MrMan wrote:If you use a sword, you'd have a line area 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.
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.

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Re: Why swords?

Post by Cornfed » March 26th, 2017, 9:16 am

MrMan wrote:
Cornfed wrote:
MrMan wrote:If you use a sword, you'd have a line area 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.
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.
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?

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Cornfed
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Re: Why swords?

Post by Cornfed » March 26th, 2017, 10:52 am

I think it may have come entirely from the Roman gladius.

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Re: Why swords?

Post by MrMan » March 26th, 2017, 5:41 pm

Cornfed wrote:
MrMan wrote:
Cornfed wrote:
MrMan wrote:If you use a sword, you'd have a line area 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.
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.
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.

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Cornfed
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Re: Why swords?

Post by Cornfed » March 26th, 2017, 10:48 pm

MrMan wrote: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.

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