The Enduring Power of Bronze Age Swords
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The very first Bronze Age swords saw the light of day during the early parts of this historical period and it wasn’t until the late Bronze Age when the use and effectiveness of swords really took off, around 1800 BCE. This historical period that stretched from 3300-1200 BCE represents a shift in weapons because it introduced swords, shields, and spearheads to the battlefield.
In this article, you will learn about the swords that were invented and developed during the Bronze Age and its characteristics.
The First Swords: Mesopotamia and Beyond
The first bronze bladed swords were discovered in the Aegean and Anatolia regions, both located in modern day Turkey. The bronze blades would later spread into the Mediterranean region and far beyond.
The archeological evidence of Anatolian swords are few and far between, indicating that swords weren’t yet dominating the battlefields in the early Bronze Age. This would all change just a few centuries later.
Around the 18th century BCE, societies in the Near East started mass-producing swords as they began to realize their full potential. More specifically, the first batch of mass-produced swords can be traced back to the regions we know today as Greece and Crete.
Characteristics of the Earliest Bronze Age Swords
These early swords were still a bit long and unhandy. A normal sized sword ranged between 55 and 100 cm for each double-edged blade. They also had a high central midrib, making them almost impossible to handle with just one hand.
Slashing your opponent was close to impossible with the first bronze swords. Because of their design, the swords weren’t deadly at all. Rather, they were somewhat of a last resort after the axes and daggers couldn’t do the job.
The length of the swords didn’t change for some centuries. Only the width would change quite significantly in the early Bronze Age, eventually leading to more rapier-like swords with narrow blades.
Development of Swords in Mesopotamia
Swords that originated in the Aegean became deadlier from 1400 BCE onwards. At this point, the short swords were introduced to the battlefield. The sword was increasingly used and eventually became the weapon of choice for any soldier.
One of the most popular short swords is known as the Khopesh. However, some might say that calling it a sword might be a bit of a reach as the heavy curve in the blade makes it look more like a sickle. In combination with the 50 cm long blades, they were perfect for soldiers who wanted to trap and pull the limbs off their opponents.
The swords that originated in modern day Turkey are generally organized in seven categories. Each category is given a different letter, ranging from A to G. Mostly, the classifications are based on the tapering of the swords, the width of the blade, and the size of the pommel.
This method of classification is known as the Sandars Typology, named after the researcher that first introduced it. Almost the same classification system is used today for the classification of ancient swords.
Bronze Swords in Europe
During the late Bronze Age, societies in North and Central Europe were inspired by the societies in Mesopotamia. They joined the extraction of metals for the production of weapons, a process known as metallurgy. With this, they diversified the inventory of Bronze Age weapons immensely.
The Europeans were by no means late to the party. The first European swords appeared only a century after the first Aegean swords were developed. Archeologists determined that the first swords of Europe had a leaf-shaped blade of about 30 to 45 cm in length.
From 1700 BCE onwards, a multitude of short, leaf-shaped swords were developed. Each region had its own version, but they were all similarly functioning short swords in their essence.
Nordic Bronze Age Swords
At one point, an estimated 15 to 35 percent of all Nordic and Germanic men carried a sword. The diversity of swords is indicative of this growing demand, since everybody wanted to distinguish themselves from the other cultures.
The swords that were used by the Nordic people during the Bronze Age were shorter than the average European sword. They were decorated with different spiral patterns and carried by nearly all men of status.
Germanic Bronze Age Swords
The Germanic swords are generally known as the Naue II. It first appeared in the Mycenaean civilization, a society that inhabited the northern part of modern day Italy. Four Naue II swords are distinguished, mostly based on their rivets and its attachment to the blade.
Although a large sum of Naue II swords have been found in Crete, archeologists can be certain that the sword originated in Italy. The diffusion of the Naue II is simply a result of the many interactions that took place between the different regions.
The Celts, too, had their own distinct type of sword. At one point, their influence spread from the United Kingdom all the way to Ukraine. Their contact with cultures in Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean led them to designing their own type of swords.
One of the most well known Celtic swords goes by the name of the Carp’s Tongue sword which is a bronze sword that was characterized by a broad blade. Furthermore, its tip is very narrow, allowing combatants to use the sword for both slashing and stabbing.
Bronze Swords in China
In the late Bronze Age, the Zhou Dynasty of China became involved with the production of bronze swords. It eventually became an important part of the empire and its production continued well into the Iron Age.
The Chinese were able to perfect the craft of bronze swords. To this day, the swords of the Chinese empire are admired for their craftsmanship and mysterious metalwork patterns.
One of the most widely praised swords is the one made by Gou Jian, measuring just under 56 cm long and beautifully decorated with all types of inscriptions. When it was uncovered, it looked new, nearly untouched by centuries of erosion. The sharpness of the blade has led to researchers being accidentally cut while working on the sword.
What started as a last resort to axes and daggers eventually became the most important weapon on the battlefield. After centuries of perfection by different cultures, the development of Bronze Age Swords is now seen as one of the most significant events in history.