The Kopis Sword refers to either a sword with a heavy curved blade or a single edged short sword of the same design. A sword that has influenced many cultures, the Kopis sword is popularized by the famous Assassins Creed game. This article aims to bring to light its historical origins, purposes, and characteristics that have made it one of the most significant swords in history.
Characteristics of the Kopis Sword
The characteristics of the Kopis sword are largely the same as the Egyptian Khopesh from which it evolved. The most notable identifiers of a Kopis sword are in the blade, while the hilt was dependent on its region of origin.
The Kopis sword was a military staple in the tail end of the Bronze Age and early Iron Age. Hand forged, the first Kopis Swords were probably made of bronze, but the blade material eventually changed to high carbon steel. Ancient Europeans imported this steel from Central Asia where much of Europe’s early steel was sourced. The hilt was often made of wood, bone, and horn, which does not usually survive intact in historical examples. The leather sheath or leather scabbard survives even less often.
Blade Shape & Appearance
The Kopis Sword and Falcata Sword are similar but can be differentiated based on the blade length. A Kopis Sword’s overall length should be about three feet long while the Falcata sword is much shorter. Early examples of the Kopis sword had a blade length up to 65 cm, making it almost equal to the spatha, the Spartan sword. Later examples of the sword from Macedonia are generally shorter with a blade length about 48 cm. Due to its blade length, the Kopis sword is sometimes called a Greek dagger.
Although the Kopis sword features a curved blade, the curve is gentle with a belly near the tip. This is in contrast with the Falcata which is a more drastically curved sword. It has a single slashing edge, and a belly near the hilt on the slashing side. The shape of the Kopis sword distributes the weight in a way to make the sword capable of delivering a blow using the momentum while maintaining the long cutting edge which can execute a thrust.
Since the Kopis sword has a single edge that requires it to be held in a specific direction, one side of the hilt is curved to cradle the fingers. Silver or gold is inlaid into the flat side for decoration. Popular motifs include fighting soldiers, animals, or religious symbology. It is also rare to see a family crest since most families were not wealthy enough to order a custom sword.
Facts About The Kopis Sword
The name of the sword comes from the Greek word κοπίς (kopis), or kopides (plural), a term that English translators render simply as “sword”, “to cut”, or “to strike”. It is also believed that it could be a derivation from the Ancient Egyptian term “khopesh”.
Scholars dispute the origin of the Kopis sword.
While Ancient Greeks popularized the Kopis Swords, some scholars believe that it originated in Etruria (a region in modern day northern Italy). This disagreement is due to the dating uncertainty and slight differences in artisanship. The scholars are divided with those believing that the sword is of Greek origin saying that the first Kopis swords date back to around the fifth century BCE. Meanwhile, some scholars think it came from Etruria as such swords have been found as early as the 7th century BC in Etruria.
The Kopis sword was adopted by Greece’s neighboring regions.
Since Ancient Greece successfully colonized and conquered many neighboring regions using the Kopis sword, the weapon was adopted by Persian, Roman, Macedonian, and Indian soldiers after they saw how effective the sword was. While decorative motifs and forging techniques varied slightly by location, the basic shape and associated fighting style stayed the same.
Famous groups and people thought to have used a Kopis include Spartan infantry, the Ten Thousand Army of the Achaemenid Empire, and The Companions – the cavalry of Alexander the Great.
The Kopis sword had several uses.
While the Kopis Sword played a role as a secondary weapon for foot soldiers, it was a primary weapon for cavalry troops because of the leverage the curved blade gave them. Greek pottery accounts for much of the early evidence of the weapon as they were found to depict soldiers wielding Kopis Swords. In Ancient Greece, it was also believed to be used as a tool for slaughter, animal sacrifice, and cutting meat.
The Kopis sword inspired the design of other swords.
Due to its effectiveness, the Kopis sword has inspired the designs of other swords such as the kukri from Nepal, the Yatagan used in the Balkans and Anatolia during the Ottoman period, as well as other modern knives today such as utility and combat knives. It is also often compared to the contemporary Iberian falcata.
The Kopis may have been mentioned in the Bible.
The Koine (common Greek) version of the New Testament used the word makhaira to refer to a sword in general. Since this term was often used without distinction with Kopis, it is possible to have referred to the same sword. In the text, there was no distinction between native blades and the gladius swords of Roman soldiers. While the Kopis and Makhaira sword have curved blades, the gladius sword has a straight blade.
Makhaira Vs Kopis
Makhaira or makhairai (plural) is another type of Ancient Greek sword with a single cutting edge. With a name that means “dagger” or “short sword”, the name of this sword is often used interchangeably with Kopis and the distinction is not entirely clear based on ancient texts.
Even Xenophon of Athens, a Greek military leader, historian, and philosopher did not make the distinction. The elected commander of one of the biggest Greek mercenary armies of the Achaemenid Empire, also known as the Ten Thousand, they marched and came close to capturing Babylon in 401 BC. In one of his works titled “On Horsemanship”, Xenophon recommended the use of single edged Kopis swords which he did not distinguish from the makhaira for cavalry troops. He said, “I recommend a Kopis rather than a Xiphos, because from the height of a horse’s back, the cut of a Makhaira will serve you better than the thrust of a Xiphos”.
Today, some modern specialists discriminate between the two. While both are single edged cutting swords, those with a forward curve are being classed as Kopides while those without the curve are categorized as makhairai.
Amory Museums and private collectors often seek modern replicas for their collection. Choosing a replica style will depend on your personal preference as well as the intended function of the replica. Although many are sold unsharpened, you can choose to have them sharpened to be battle ready.
Historically Accurate Replicas
Historically accurate replicas are typically less durable than their modernized counterparts as it means using materials that were originally available back in the ancient days. Decorations vary based on the civilization the replica is meant to match. Greek Kopis typically featured Hoplite soldiers and spears while Indian and Persian Kopis were more likely to feature natural or religious imagery like animals and holy symbols.
Modernized replicas of the Kopis Swords involve modern forging techniques and materials such as taking advantage of newer steels for their aesthetics as seen in Damascus Steel or plain steel (like stainless steel) which requires less maintenance. Inlays can follow traditional patterns or more modern interpretations. Some modern versions also feature an exaggerated curved blade as it is more aesthetically pleasing.
Although known by many names and have taken many forms, the Kopis sword is a much-feared weapon especially in the hands of cavalry troops. Known for their effectiveness, the Kopis sword has influenced the design of many types of swords in later times, even today.
Jolene has been writing and editing for almost a decade and concentrates on medical and technical writing. Currently working with a good friend to make Sword Encyclopedia a success, she has a newfound interest in history. Identifying as an introverted couch potato, she enjoys geeking out with anime, gacha games, and books from authors like Diana Wynne Jones, JRR Tolkien, JK Rowling, and more. Her other interests include art, music, food, travel, and different cultures.
Juliana has been writing for nearly thirty years and concentrates on Tudor and Medieval history. She has written for Tudor Dynasty, Tudor Writing Circle, Historian Matt Lewis, and others. Juliana currently writes for Pen and Sword Publishers and is the author of several books, including Medicine in the Middle Ages and A History of Insanity and the Asylum.