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Rim Andries




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PostPosted: Mon 29 Dec, 2014 4:26 am    Post subject: Most popular sword in history?         Reply with quote

I am on a quest for answers. One specific answer I am looking for is whether or not it is possible to determine if there ever was a type of sword that could hold the title of the most popular sword in history and if so, which one would it be? I know this might be impossible to find out, but I want to try anyway Wink

I think it would be fair to establish some criteria in order to narrow down the field. I am thinking something along the lines of length of time the sword was used as well as a widespread nature of usage. Other criteria could be application in the context of war as well as a civilian/duelling context. Bonus points for swords featured heavily in manuscripts and artwork?

Perhaps for now we should stick to general terms like longsword, arming sword, katana, jian, dao, sabre, smallsword, rapier etc. etc. instead specific types? Unless there is a subtype that would be a clear-cut winner of course.

Anything goes. From ancient to early modern times. From east to west.

Any suggestions concerning criteria or possible candidates are very welcome. If you feel like telling me I should give up on my impossible and childish quest, because there is simply no way we can ever know for sure or because you think this is an apples and oranges debacle waiting to happen, then please feel free to do so as well.

Under these conditions I would like to say let the games begin?!?

Are you with me?!?

Edit: I feel that my inability to fully express myself in the english language might have turned this into a discussion about semantics rather then blades. Words rather then swords.
I feel the term popular applies because IMO it represents what a sword used over a great length of time by many different people actually is/was. I added martial use to rule out any modern day wall hangers Wink
People have also mentioned that we should restrict ourselves to certain places and/or times and they maybe right, but if we did... wouldn't we be able to take those specific winners and play them out against each other to see who wins in the long run? Maybe it will be the sword that came in third multiple times?
People have also stated that we should take in account that the size in population and size in production have changed over the years. This is true and it should have its effect on the outcome. How exactly... I don't know.
Please know that I appreciate any and all input. Also know that though I may sound very serious, this is above all the sort of thought experiment that is meant to stimulate the mind and offer a chance at exchanging knowledge while having some good old fashioned fun. Cheers!

Sir Dreamin'


Last edited by Rim Andries on Mon 05 Jan, 2015 1:27 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Lin Robinson




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PostPosted: Mon 29 Dec, 2014 5:51 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Afraid I am not. I think you are looking at an impossibly large range of types and time frames until anything approaching a definitive answer is not going to be possible and if any kind of consensus was ever reached, it would be immediately challenged. In short this thread could become hundreds of posts long and never reach a conclusion satisfactory to you or anyone who made input. It would also wind up wandering all over the place.

I think you are going to have to narrow your focus.

Lin Robinson

"The best thing in life is to crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women." Conan the Barbarian, 1982
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Mon 29 Dec, 2014 6:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The first thing that popped into my head was the Roman gladius, of course. But that went through some significant changes over time, and I don't think any one style was in use for more than about 200 years or so.

On the other hand, the Greek xiphos first shows up around 550 BC and seems to still be in use in the mid-2nd century BC. There was a wide range of blade lengths over time, and some minor stylistic features that have not been well documented, but it does seem to be recognizable at both ends of that span. Four hundred years, not bad!



Before that you get the Naue Type II, which actually begins as a bronze sword in the Late Bronze Age, used in a number of places. In Greece it survives into the Iron Age (made of iron, that is!) and becomes the direct ancestor of the xiphos. It disappears just before 500 BC. The problem is the dating system, because all the Bronze Age dates are inflated by about 300 years, so it's very hard to establish the actual date the sword first appears. By the old system, it's 1200 BC or earlier, but I'd call that 1000 to 900 AD. That still gives the sword a span of at least 400 to 500 years.



It should be pointed out that "Naue II" is a pretty broad category! Blades in bronze or iron, ranging from 10 inches to 40 inches, narrow or wide, straight or leaf-shaped, midrib or lenticular or diamond cross-section, etc.

It should also be said that while the Greek swords were quite popular outside of Greece, especially in the Hellenistic era, it's hard to match the spread and sheer impact that the Roman gladius had!

Just thought I'd start with a plug for the Ancients!

Matthew

PS: Yeah, Lin's probably right, too!
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Rim Andries




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PostPosted: Mon 29 Dec, 2014 6:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lin Robinson wrote:
Afraid I am not. I think you are looking at an impossibly large range of types and time frames until anything approaching a definitive answer is not going to be possible and if any kind of consensus was ever reached, it would be immediately challenged. In short this thread could become hundreds of posts long and never reach a conclusion satisfactory to you or anyone who made input. It would also wind up wandering all over the place.

I think you are going to have to narrow your focus.


And I am afraid you are absolutely right. However I will wait for others to respond as well. I will not give up this easily Wink. Especially considering the knowledge this forum and its members have to offer. If they feel the same, we can always start to create boundaries and limitations, working with a focus on a certain area or time frame. Or not Wink.

Thanks for posting though!

Sir Dreamin'
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Rim Andries




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PostPosted: Mon 29 Dec, 2014 6:22 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew,

The gladius is a great candidate indeed. It was one of those swords that made me ask the question in the first place.
It is definitely a nominee worthy of mentioning. Thanks for doing so. Who knows... it might even take the price.

For the rest of you who are thinking about the competition... please keep em coming!

Thanks in advance!

Sir Dreamin'
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Mon 29 Dec, 2014 6:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well, one could look at longevity of a basic design type as a criteria and I would suggest the Chinese Jian since most of the variants have a lot in common from maybe the bronze age to the 19th century as a fighting weapon, and still in use for martial arts.

I'm not an expert on the Jian but the blade types seem very similar even with period stylistic variations in hilt decoration: Basically a medium width blade of medium to medium / long length, with generally parallel edges, terminating into point in the last couple of inches of the blade.

http://www.arms-n-armor.com/sword222.html

http://www.kultofathena.com/swords-chinese.asp

Now, this is a regional or cultural type, so I'm not sure if we can call it "The most popular " kind of sword.

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!
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Bartek Strojek




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PostPosted: Mon 29 Dec, 2014 7:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew Amt wrote:




It should be pointed out that "Naue II" is a pretty broad category! Blades in bronze or iron, ranging from 10 inches to 40 inches, narrow or wide, straight or leaf-shaped, midrib or lenticular or diamond cross-section, etc.
!


40 inches Eek!

Is there a way to watch such a specimen via the Internet?
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Luka Borscak




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PostPosted: Mon 29 Dec, 2014 7:06 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Most sword types lasted with some stylistic changes about 200-300 years. "Typical" gladius (mainz, fulham, pompeii) about 200 years, xiphos, as said above, maybe even longer, about 300 or maybe even 400 years, mid La Tene celtic swords lasted for about 200 years, various scottish baskethilts lasted about 300 years, knightly cruciform sword with cutting double edged blade with long fuller and brazil nut or disc pommel lasted also at least 200 years, it's similar with longswords etc...
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Luka Borscak




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PostPosted: Mon 29 Dec, 2014 7:08 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bartek Strojek wrote:
Matthew Amt wrote:




It should be pointed out that "Naue II" is a pretty broad category! Blades in bronze or iron, ranging from 10 inches to 40 inches, narrow or wide, straight or leaf-shaped, midrib or lenticular or diamond cross-section, etc.
!


40 inches Eek!

Is there a way to watch such a specimen via the Internet?


Yep, that would be a thing to see! I would like to see different variants of Naue II in all shapes and sizes, I always thought of them as bronze age swords, and I would love to see some iron variants...
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Rim Andries




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PostPosted: Mon 29 Dec, 2014 7:13 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Thibodeau wrote:
Well, one could look at longevity of a basic design type as a criteria and I would suggest the Chinese Jian since most of the variants have a lot in common from maybe the bronze age to the 19th century as a fighting weapon, and still in use for martial arts.

I'm not an expert on the Jian but the blade types seem very similar even with period stylistic variations in hilt decoration: Basically a medium width blade of medium to medium / long length, with generally parallel edges, terminating into point in the last couple of inches of the blade.

http://www.arms-n-armor.com/sword222.html

http://www.kultofathena.com/swords-chinese.asp

Now, this is a regional or cultural type, so I'm not sure if we can call it "The most popular " kind of sword.


Hello Jean,

Thanks for posting. If the Jian is really such a universal design as you say it is, spanning across a large number of centuries and never really changing all that much, then it is a serious contender for the title.

However, I am not so sure about that. To be honest I don't know enough about the Jian either to make a real argument here. Though I must say that lumping a bronze blade, an iron blade and/or a steel blade together in the same catergory feels kinda wrong to me. Then again if general shape and profile have remained virtually untouched...

Jeez this is hard... I love it already...oh, the struggle Happy

Perhaps we have a Jian expert willing to chime in?

Sir Dreamin'
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Rim Andries




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PostPosted: Mon 29 Dec, 2014 7:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Luka Borscak wrote:
Most sword types lasted with some stylistic changes about 200-300 years. "Typical" gladius (mainz, fulham, pompeii) about 200 years, xiphos, as said above, maybe even longer, about 300 or maybe even 400 years, mid La Tene celtic swords lasted for about 200 years, various scottish baskethilts lasted about 300 years, knightly cruciform sword with cutting double edged blade with long fuller and brazil nut or disc pommel lasted also at least 200 years, it's similar with longswords etc...


Thank you Luka.

In your opinion, is the silhouette of a sword (discarding minor details) enough to say that it belongs to a certain archetype? Or would you discriminate based on the materials involved in manufacture? If the latter is the case, how would you go about it?

Cheers!

Sir Dreamin'
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Luka Borscak




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PostPosted: Mon 29 Dec, 2014 3:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Rim Andries wrote:
Luka Borscak wrote:
Most sword types lasted with some stylistic changes about 200-300 years. "Typical" gladius (mainz, fulham, pompeii) about 200 years, xiphos, as said above, maybe even longer, about 300 or maybe even 400 years, mid La Tene celtic swords lasted for about 200 years, various scottish baskethilts lasted about 300 years, knightly cruciform sword with cutting double edged blade with long fuller and brazil nut or disc pommel lasted also at least 200 years, it's similar with longswords etc...


Thank you Luka.

In your opinion, is the silhouette of a sword (discarding minor details) enough to say that it belongs to a certain archetype? Or would you discriminate based on the materials involved in manufacture? If the latter is the case, how would you go about it?

Cheers!


Well, except bronze swords, most swords are made of steel with varying levels of carbon or some other elements, sometimes because of the exact ore used and sometimes because smiths did something to add these elements to iron (actually it was never a real pure iron, but steel with too small percentage of carbon to harden so it might as well be called iron). Some swords were made with steely iron with not enough carbon or phosphorus so they were unable to either quench or work harden but they were still made to be weapons that would function for their intended purpose. Swordsmiths mostly tried to harden swords with enough carbon with a quench hardening or those with enough phosphorus with work hardening, but sometimes even swords with correct amounts of carbon or phosphorus were not even tried to be hardened. Steels and irons were folded and layered to be refined, piled, forge welded with or without pattern, because smiths either knew or hoped they can achieve desired characteristics of finished material with mixing different, or at least what they thought were bars of steel or iron with different levels of hardness or toughness or flexibility...
Wow, I complicate too much. What I wanted to say is that if we don't take into account bronze swords, all swords of all periods were made with steels and irons with uncountable variations of carbon and other elements contents and different characteristics, with many different forging and forge welding techniques, but all the different materials and all the different techniques were used with an intent to make a weapon with the right balance of hardness to take and hold an edge and flexibility and elasticity to be able to survive impact without breaking into pieces, either by springing true after flexing or by bending, but not breaking so that the blade can be straightened afterwards, because better that than breaking into pieces... So I would not discriminate sword types according to materials and techniques used to make them. Unless that would be the topic of someone's research... 10th century northern or central european broad bladed, double edged and fullered sword with one handed grip and one of the period variants of the hilt shape is a type of its own, doesn't matter if it's pattern welded with bars of iron and steel with different hardness and flexibility or if it is made of iron with phosphorus content, refined with folding and work hardened or if it is of piled steel with a pattern welded iron +VLFBERHT+ or INGELRII inlayed inscription.
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Eric W. Norenberg





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PostPosted: Mon 29 Dec, 2014 3:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

If longevity of design and dedicated martial use are important, then the tachi/katana family, generally the curved "samurai sword", gets my vote. The curved, two-handed japanese sword and schools of use date back to the late 12 century I think (western dating of course) and is in pretty constant, serious martial use throughout WWII.
Plus they can cut through any other material known to man. Right?
Wink
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Mon 29 Dec, 2014 5:35 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

If widespread use and longevity are criteria then I agree with Matt and would submit the Naue II. It saw use from the 13th C BC to the 6th C BC over a huge geographical area - from the Aegean and Middle East to the Balkans - and was made from both bronze and iron.
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Rim Andries




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PostPosted: Tue 30 Dec, 2014 2:53 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks guys for your responses. It is nice to see this topic come to life. And thank you Timo for that elaborate answer, I feel like I'm in college again. Never knew there was such a blurred line between iron blades and steel blades. Then again I'm a complete novice when it comes to metallurgy, so this is hardly a suprise.

Back on topic. I see many people mentioning the criteria I offered by which we can select our most popular type of sword. I think you guys are with me on this one, for the most part at least, but I'm not completely sure. So let me summarize: in order to do this we have to establish what defines a certain type or rather archetype. We seem to agree that design/silhouette is a defining factor. Materials and forging methods seem less relevant and small changes in details will be ignored. We also have to determine what defines popular. Widespread martial use and longevity as others have stated so eloquently are important here.

Am I right in assuming this? Or have you been/should we be looking at other elements as well?

For now, forumites seem to be rooting for the gladius, the katana, the jian and especially the naue II.

Thanks again. I enjoy all the input and I'm already learning new things.

Ps the Naue II gets my vote for now. But I'm still looking at the knightly one handed arming sword featuring a straight or "c-shaped" crossguard turned towards the blade and a wheel pommel. A design that seemingly repeated itself endlessly. Problems arise though when we start to look at the blade that goes with it. The same goes for the katana I guess with its gentle evolution in curvature.

Sir Dreamin'
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Tue 30 Dec, 2014 9:40 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew Amt wrote:
It should be pointed out that "Naue II" is a pretty broad category! Blades in bronze or iron, ranging from 10 inches to 40 inches, narrow or wide, straight or leaf-shaped, midrib or lenticular or diamond cross-section, etc.


"Pretty" broad is probably a huge understatement. If I remember correctly (and I might not since I read about the subject such a long time ago), Naue's classification only distinguished between Type I swords that had no tang (the blades stopped at the shoulders and were riveted to an entirely organic grip) and Type II swords that had a tang (basically, any sword where the metal extends into the grip). By this criterion even medieval European swords might count as Naue Type IIs too....
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Tue 30 Dec, 2014 9:50 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lafayette C Curtis wrote:
Matthew Amt wrote:
It should be pointed out that "Naue II" is a pretty broad category! Blades in bronze or iron, ranging from 10 inches to 40 inches, narrow or wide, straight or leaf-shaped, midrib or lenticular or diamond cross-section, etc.


"Pretty" broad is probably a huge understatement. If I remember correctly (and I might not since I read about the subject such a long time ago), Naue's classification only distinguished between Type I swords that had no tang (the blades stopped at the shoulders and were riveted to an entirely organic grip) and Type II swords that had a tang (basically, any sword where the metal extends into the grip). By this criterion even medieval European swords might count as Naue Type IIs too....


Ooooo--I haven't read Naue's actual work, only the subsequent ones whose classifications include his Type II. They tend to be at least a little more specific! Looks like they've given a not-entirel-accurate impression of what he meant. Hmmm...

The dandy part is that leaves us with almost less than nothing for a classification of Iron Age Greek swords!

Well, I do appreciate the clarification! Gonna have to change my own terminology.

Matthew
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Tue 30 Dec, 2014 10:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I haven't either -- I have titles of his works but none of the actual text. Summaries or references in other works, though, use "Naue Type II" or "Griffzungenschwert" to draw a contrast against earlier swords whose blades only had shoulders but no tang (and mention the tendency for the riveted joint between blade and grip to shear off when these earlier swords were used to cut with). It's particularly obvious in German-language works where a huge variety of blades gets easily lumped under the term as long as they had a tang.
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Tue 30 Dec, 2014 11:02 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Huh! Sanders and Kilian-Dirlmeier have their own typologies for Aegean swords, in which most of the types (C through G, for instance) have full grip tangs, but are distinct from the Naue II. In British sword typologies, there are Ewart Park and Mortlake, etc., again with full tangs, but I believe they are also distinguished from Naue II. (Not as certain about that!)

Curiouser and curiouser!

Matthew
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Dennis Courneyea





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PostPosted: Thu 01 Jan, 2015 2:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here are some more to consider:

  • The Western European Sabre, in it many variations. Thanks to industrialization the sabre must be a strong contender for the sword type produced in the greatest numbers. Sabres were popular from the late 18th century into the early 20th centuries, spread world wide by colonial conquest, and are still used today as a dress/parade sword in many militaries world wide. Though inspired by Eastern European Sabres, the Western European sabres evolved into a distinct sword type. The blades became straighter and more thrust oriented over time, evolving into slightly curved backsword like blades then into spadroon like blades. At the same time western sabre hilts became far larger and more protective than their eastern ancestors.

  • The Eastern European Sabre and the Asian Tulwar, Shamsir, etc.. Highly curved swords with similar hilts used through much of Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle East from the at least the early Crusade era through to modern times. Initially these regions were far more powerful than the agrarian backwater of Europe, and when Europe rose to global dominance the Europeans adopted rather similar swords (the sabres discussed above).

  • The Roman Spatha. First used by (Celtic?) tribes who fought against Rome, then after being conquored fought as Roman auxillary troops. By the end of the Empire the Spatha had replaced the Gladius as the Legionaries side arm. After the collapse of Rome the Spatha remained popular with the Germanic tribes until the late Dark Ages, eventually evolving into the distinctive Viking and Anglo Saxon swords.


The Jian, Dao, Tachi/Katana, and single handed European sword were all used for a long time and had many variants; however, all were popular in a single region and never saw anything approaching world wide martial use.
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