Chinese Han Dynasty Swords: Peak of Ancient Chinese Blades
What’s in this article?
The Han Dynasty is a period in Chinese history that spanned from 206 BC to 220 AD and is renowned for its heavily armored troops and the technological advancements made in steel swordsmithing. This new innovative metallurgy would bring into play high-quality blades never seen before.
A Han sword is any type of single or double-edged bladed weapon from this era and is often classified as unique due to the exceptional sword-making skills of the time. In this article, we are going to be taking a look at the Chinese Han Dynasty swords. We will show you what they are, how they were used, and their history.
Han Dynasty Dao
The Han Dao, created in 100 BC and considered the parent of all Chinese Dao, set the tone for the next eight hundred years regarding the form and content of Chinese swords. The finest steel blade of its day, the Han Dao was no match for anything else on the battlefield. The skilled horsemen of the Northern China tribes prompted the creation of this brutal slashing sword.
It was not only cheaper to produce and easier to master, but it could be used as effectively as a Jian sword. That is why it became the sword of choice for both soldiers and commanders.
The Long or Cavalry Han Dao has a single-edged blade with a soft curve like a Miao Dao saber going inward and a ring pommel. This is not a trend we see later in Chinese history like the Tang Dao. This curve might be in place because of the use of hit-and-run mounted battles without stirrups, which started during the Tang dynasty (4 centuries later). Its most usual length is around 41 inches (105 cm).
Short Han Dao
The shorter or infantry version is the smaller and more compact type of high-quality Han Dao sword. These swords didn’t have the slight curve that the cavalry ones had and were primarily used one-handed combined with a shield in the other hand.
These short swords were straight, with a single edge for slashing and a sharp tip for thrusting. They would be worn in their scabbards as secondary weapons if using the popular halberd. They could also be used as primary weapons since their length is around 30 inches (75 cm), which is ideal for any battle.
Han Dynasty Jian
China’s previous main double-edged sword was also upgraded and made into a much finer piece resulting in the powerful Han Jian. Its stronger high carbon steel core with the lower carbon side plates meant it was capable of both slashing and thrusting attacks.
It looked similar to a regular Jian sword, with a double-edged blade that tapered into a sharp point but much larger than before. There were instances of two-handed Jians being used during this period.
It was used in warfare and battles, but because it needed more time to master, as well as time to manufacture and maintain, it was eventually phased out. Although this did not happen entirely during the Han Dynasty, it slowly became a standard symbol sword for the elite.
Thanks to superior steel, larger two-handed long swords like the Shuangshou Jian were devised and could be used in swinging motions for attacking incoming cavalry or heavily armored troops that were in high use during this period. The blade length for some of these large Jians could reach 51 inches (130 cm).
Use of the Han Swords
Something to note about these early Han swords that could be mistaken is that the Dao isn’t used only for slashing because it’s a single-edged blade. It was also effective at delivering stab wounds. The Jian is a sword that could be emphasized in very powerful slashing strikes as well.
They both had full-tang hand-forged blades that could pack quite a punch even through heavy armor. The big difference between the Dao and Jian is that the Dao was easier and cheaper to create and maintain, and it was also easier to master. That is why the Han Dao and Jian were intended for different uses, as indicated below.
- Dao – the main warfare weapon accepted by every type of swordsman that would grow into the Chinese sabre, used for centuries to come
- Jian – a power symbol of the nobility and mostly used for fencing, kung fu, and wushu martial arts
History of Han Dynasty Swords
Chinese effective swords used in battle came about during the Autumn period with the Longquan sword made by the legendary Ou Yezi, which was improved upon across the Warring States period and the Qin conquests.
During the Han Dynasty, there were many different wars, both offensive and defensive, resulting in both triumph and defeat. As noted previously, the economy and the need for new revenues were constant problems that Han rulers had to deal with regularly. That is why they had to take some of these into their own hands, such as alcoholic beverages, salt, and, most importantly, iron.
With the means of cutting down on costs and maintenance, it was during the Han Dynasty that the biggest sword technological advancements were made. Weapons with both slashing and thrusting power and durability, effectively wielded in the hands of a novice and unstoppable in those of an expert were manufactured. The single-edged, straight-ring pommel Dao was deadly on foot with a shield or when used in mounted battles.
These high-quality steel swords would continue long after the Han Dynasty. In the Song and Tang dynasties, they were upgraded and used more by the entire population. In this period, the Jian would surely become a training swordsmanship weapon, and the Dao would become the sword most often used.
The Han steel swords inspired the creation of the samurai swords, the Japanese Katana being the most recognized in media, anime, and many martial arts.