Different types of swords include the longsword, broadsword, short sword, bastard sword, two-handed sword, claymore, rapier, scimitar, sabre, and smallsword. Swords are generally made of a sturdy metal; they were first made of bronze, which was so soft that you could only make a short sword out of it. Later they were made of iron and then steel. Today, you can buy modern-made swords, which are made of both stainless steel and high carbon steel. If you ever want to be able to use a sword, don't buy a stainless one.

Often used as a phallic image... eh?

Not just used, but even named after. The roman word for penis and sword were the same word.


Imagine what Gladiators (people who were associated with erect penises, if I remember this documentary I was watching correctly) had running through their minds when someone was running at them.

"I'm going to stab your head of!"

"With what?"

"With my penis!"
or alternately
"With my sword!"

Things are a little different... out here.

SWORD: The Secret World Order for Retribution and Destruction.

A fictional organization which frequently appears in Assassins' Guild games, SWORD is devoted to ruling the world. Failing that, some elements of SWORD are perfectly happy destroying the world. SWORD is nominally led by Warlock, although the cell organization often leads to confusion in the ranks.

SWORD is opposed in its efforts by SHIELD, a United Nations agency headed by Gauntlet.

There are 2 standard "genres" of sword with notable differences:- The Japanese, like the Katana (sometimes called a Tanto, though this is actually a much shorter knife) and the European, like Broadswords.

Oriental swords are superior to the European swords in many ways- notably edge and weight. The Katana is sharp and very light, about half of the weight of a European sword- and in some ways, more deadly.

While the Broadsword relies on weight and strength for damage, the Katana uses a razor edge. Case in point: Katanas have very sharp edges while broadswords tend toward bread-knife sharpness.

However, the Katana's edge would not penatrate armour as well, as the edge is thin, while the armour's hard and normally curved face will rebound it. The force needed to heft the broadsword in the first place and the momentum and weight of a broadsword will rip the above armour apart.

This is not to say that it (the katana) won't penatrate armour; It still cuts through most armour like butter. But the armour that it won't penetrate will be like tough card to the broadsword.

Also of note is momentum; The edge and lightness of the katana made momentum, basically, pathetic. They did around the same damage from an overhead cut as a light swing. The broadsword, when hefted above the head, (and assuming the wielder had enough strength to bring it back over) could happily cut through an armoured horse and rider.

Katana were easier to use, by far, due to the lightness and sharpness. Though they lack weight for killing heavily armoured targets, those who wore anything lighter than samurai plate were slaughtered. They were also used with about the same strength as a broadsword, thereby making them so much faster- hence the art of Iaijutsu, or fast draw. The sword was used to draw and strike simultaniously, and the opponent wouldn't even get a chance to blink.

Broadswords were heavy, sluggish, and slow. But they were deadly in the hands of a strong man, and lighter swords like the short sword could happily kill in even a weak mans hands. They were slow and took time to recover from the blow, but the attack could deal so much damage.

The lack of speed created the art of Fencing, using lighter than normal swords for parrying at speed; Oriental swords were more difficult to parry (they moved faster), but the slower european swords were parriable. Fencing was used to stop blows and to disarm the opponent or use his momentum against him.

European swords tended to be longer and more likely to hit at range, the Japanese swords a bit shorter and easier to use. Both could stab; The point on a Japanese weapon was worse, as the swords were cutters, not stabbers. Sharpened tips were common on European swords, particularly fencing swords.

The Japanese sword was made from 2 types of metal- a a hard and a soft steel folded many times to give the bent "banana" shape. It was strong enough to resist a blow against soft stone in many cases. The european sword was made out of one type of metal, and could deal similair blows to stone without much damage. However, such a blow would dull the softer but thicker blade.

A Japanese sword parrying another Katana would normally cause the blade to bounce; A heavy Broadsword against a light Orient very occasionally would cause one to be damaged- either the weight of the European to heavily nock the edge of the Japanese sword or occasionally cause it to break, or the Katana to slice the end of the softer weapon clean off* or the katana to cause a bit of cutting damage to the blade of the Broadsword. A Broadsword against another Euro would cause a proper parry, a breakage (less often than in films) or at least a nock or a slight dulling.

The European sword hilt and pommel were normally made out of the same piece of metal. Not all of them were a bit of steel with a golden hand-guard. Those that were were made to fit inside the pommel and hilt, or were welded on/over afterwards.

The Japanese hand guard was an entirely different piece of metal, normally incredibly ornate. The hilt and sword were the same piece of metal, covered heavily with wood and such to prevent the wielder dropping his sword (read: losing his fingers.)The length of the hilt varied on the area and Political situation. In times of war, it was longer and easier to draw.

* Peregrine's writeup, below, says that they were not this sharp; indeed, he's right, but I'm not sure of anything that's got about the same edge as a Katana except another Katana.

KANJI: TOU katana sori ki chi to waki (sword, knife)

ASCII Art Representation:

                    %%%%                %%%%
                    %%%%                %%%%
                    %%%%                %%%%
                    %%%%                %%%%
                    %%%%                %%%%
                    %%%%                %%%%
                    %%%%                %%%%
                    %%%%                %%%%
                    %%%%                %%%%
                   %%%%                 %%%%
                   %%%%                 %%%%
                  %%%%                  %%%%
                  %%%%                  %%%%
                 %%%%                  ,%%%"
                %%%%                   %%%%
              ,%%%"                    %%%%
            ,%%%"                     ,%%%%
          ,%%%"                      ,%%%%"
        ,%%%"                     ,,%%%%%%
      ,%%"                   """%%%%%%%%"
  ,,%%""                         "%%%%"

Character Etymology:

A pictograph of a knife.

A Listing of All On-Yomi and Kun-Yomi Readings:

on-yomi: TOU
kun-yomi: katana sori ki chi to waki

Nanori Readings:

Nanori: none

English Definitions:

  1. TOU, katana: sword, knife

Character Index Numbers:

New Nelson: 448
Henshall: 181

Unicode Encoded Version:

Unicode Encoded Compound Examples:

(toukei): doctor
(toushou): swordsmith
(touji): lady, matron, mistress, housekeeper

Previous: electricity | Japanese Kanji | Next: winter

There are a great many different types of swords, having been produced by just about every culture with metal smelting technology. Some would even say that the Aztecs has a sort of a sword with shards of obsidian up the edge of a wooden spine, though I would class it as a specialist club.

The earliest discovered swords are short, broad stabbing blades made of bronze which were found in Turkey in 2003. With the spread of steel technology, the additional strength offered by the material offered more options for the smith and the combatant.

The paths of development followed by the sword in different cultures was determined by available resources, technological ability and social forces.


In Europe, there were two main ancient thrusts (forgive the pun) of sword develoment, the "classical" and northern. The Romans adopted some ideas from the Greeks but modified them very quickly to their own system of warfare. The standared military gladius was a short thrusting and cutting weapon designed for formation fighting and made by government contract. The shape of this weapon shifted over time but can still be considered a distinct type. Their cavalry used a longer cutting sword. This thread of development died with the fall of the Empire and the northern thread dominated Western and Central Eurpoe for the next 1600 years, though in unrecognisably modified form.

While this may be too much of a generalisation, the northern tradition was far more individualistic. Swords were a weapon of the wealthy (it takes far more steel and work to make a sword and a spear) and were intended for single combat and as a backup in battle. There were made individually and in Germanic cultures there was a distinctly mystical tradition attached to smithcraft. These weapons were longer typically it seems used in a more cut oriented system, though primary evidence is thin on the ground.

These weapons would devlop into the so-called migration era swords. These were straight double edged swords with wide fullers (grooves made to lighten the weapon while leaving strength, an engineering principle still used in the construction I-beam, nothing to do with blood flow), short guards and trilobed pommels. They were not particularly sharp pointed at this stage.

This would grow into the cruciform "arming sword" the single handed weapon erroneously termed a "broadsword" by Victorian museum curators, a flaw that exists to this day. These were not the heavy crude instruments of popular imagination but rather often weighed less that one pound per foot blade length used in a number of highly advanced martial arts systems. the only art whose instructional texts survive from this period is one for arming sword and buckler from about 1300.

With advanced in armour technology over this period, plate came to the fore and swordsmiths made the next jump in the armour/weapon arms race. This was the longsword/bastard sword/hand and a half sword. Typically these weighed the same or fractionally less than the katana (per unit blade length), no matter what anyone may tell you because the fuller and back edge took some metal off the blade thus lightening it.

To gain the control necessary for finding gaps in armour two hand began to be used on the weapon and the shield was used with decreasing frequency. These weapons were either used with two hands on the hilt, with one had on the weapon and the other used in controling the opponent with the integrated unarmed combat system taught with weapon combat or with one hand halfway up the weapon, turning it into a short spear (when the hands were armoured).

The single handed sword continued as a weapon in the civilian environment and here the next major developments would happen in Spain and Italy. Here the arming sword developend into the 'espada robera' (sword of the robe, Sapin) and 'spada di lato' (sidesword, Italy) as a civilian duelling weapon and these show the beginning of the comound hilts that would grow into the ornate hilts of the rapier. The rapier developed from these weapons as a weapon optimised for the duel and not particularly well suited for street defence or battle, for which reason it was roundly slagged off by masters teaching older, more broadly applicable systems and weapons. Simultaneous with this was the development of the renaissance two handed sword, a vast weapon of 60 to 70 inches in length most famously carried by German Landknecht mercenaries to destroy pike formations. These were the heaviest combat swords to come out of europe, some weighing as much as eight or nine pounds. (Some ceremonial bearing swords were heavier)

Single handed swords for military used were following a different path of development with cages being placed around the hand to protect it, creating the broadsword proper. This was used from the 1500s to the end of the 19th century.

The rapier would eventually become so cumbersome (Joseph Swetnam taught the use of one some four feet long) that the pendulum would swing the other way, towards a shorter, lighter sword and neglecting the cut completely. This was the smallsword, a French development in. This sword had no place ouside of the duelling field.

This would eventually lighten even further to the duelling sword (epee du combat) and then the modern sport epee.

Over this period a variety of military swords were used. The saber was developed from Hungarian traditional swords and central European messer (basically machetes). The broadsword was used in some units, particularly Scottish regiments. Other weapons such as the spadroon and palache were also in use.


The development of the sword in Japan was guided by the realive paucity of resources there, particularly steel. when compared to the high volume, high quality iron mines of Northern Europe, Japan was in a problematic situation. Tha vast majority of iron available to colonists from China and Korea was alluvial ore with high sulphur content. This requires a great deal of work to become a useable sword and the swordsmiths of Japan thus developed there art to the highest level to do so.

The first swords used in Japan seem to have been straight, double edged weapons as used by the Chinese and Koreans. Development of cavalry as the most high profile component of their forces (early samurai prized skill with horse and bow well above skill with the sword) led to the development of a cavalry oriented sword, the tachi.This was a long heavy sword slung edge down from the waist. During the sengoku jidai however a significant change occurred. It has been thorised that horse casualties were greater than breeders could keep up with, but no matter what the cause, infantry became more important. This may be connected with the develoment of the katana over about 1450 to 1550 if I recall correctly. This was a shorter, straighter infantry sword used with two hands. Optimised for the cut it could also thrust, though not as well.

The katana does not have a "scalpel" or "razor" edge as some would claim (this would be far too fragile for combat) but rather is fractionaly convex, something like a smooth clamshell intended for cutting though soft and semi soft targets. The lack of high grade steel made the development of plate armour impossible without foreign trade (and eventually imported breastplates were incorporated after trade with the Portugese).

These were very sharp weapon but suffered from a certain brittleness despite the best efforts of the smiths and edge on edge contact was avoided where possible by combatants to avoid the possibility of breakage.

A great deal of nonsense has been written about these swords they could not cut though other swords or gun barrells but were simply an exceptional example of the smith's art to make an effective weapon suited to the environment with the resources at hand, like any weapon.

I'm not as familiar with the weapons of China, Central Asia, India and the Middle East/Africa.

The make of a sword:

Oriental Sword:

Blade - The metal from the top of the sword to the tsuba. Oriental swords are usually single-edged, and extremely sharp. The blade can be either straight, or slightly curved, or even moderately curved.

Tsuba - Can be either round or square, and comes in many different designs. This is what keeps your hand from slipping up onto the blade when you thrust, and can offer protection to your hand when parrying with another weapon.

Handle/Grip - This can be either metal or wooden, or in my case, tape, and this is what houses the tang. Naturally, this is what you hold the sword by. Handles can be long enough for only one hand, or have really long handles. Some swords, like the odachi, have handles long enough to fit five of your fists around. Most standard katanas have hand-and-a-half handles. That is, you can use them effectively with one hand or two. Note that Tai Chi swords, while still oriental, are generally double edged and single-handed.

Tang - This is a continuing of the blade, but it gets more narrow so as to fit into the handle. This is the heart of the sword. If the tang breaks, the sword is screwed! A good "full" tang will extend the entire length of the handle and be as close to the width of the blade as possible and still have the handle sturdy. A sturdy tang is how swords can withstand clashing against other weapons. A good sword can withstand clashing against a mace or even an axe (although this has a lot to do with the quality of the blade steel, also), but don't go bashing your sword against a tree to see how tough it is; for a samurai to have hit a tree with his sword would have been a travesty!

Endcap - This is at the very bottom end of the sword, and functions for decoration, and to help hold the sword together.

European Sword:

Blade - Usually heavier and thicker than an oriental blade, unless it is a rapier or something. (By the way, why don't we call people who use rapiers "rapists?") European swords typically have two cutting edges.

Guard - Again, this is the part that stops your hand from slipping up the blade when you stab. Broadswords and such usually only have a cross guard, that is, two pieces of metal that simply serve to stop your hand. But sabers and rapiers can have elaborate hand guards that cover the front of your fist and can be used for blocking without losing a hand.

Handle/Grip - Same as with oriental swords, metal or wood, and holds the tang.

Tang - same as with oriental swords, the blade smalling down and continuing through the handle.

Pommel - this is the endcap of a European sword. It can be round, and have a jewel in it. It is also used for decoration, primarily.

Do note that today, if you want a quality sword you can really use, it is possible to get swords made from high carbon steel with full tangs that are welded to the guard/tsuba and pommel/endcap. These swords are fairly high quality. Also, carbon steel will hold an edge better than stainless steel, to my knowledge, although I have a stainless steel sword that had a pathetic tang and broke. So I took the good stuff and electrical tape and made a tape handle. Naturally, my sword is full tang now, and while the blade is stainless steel, it has held up against big axes and heavy maces, not to mention other swords. It is a Tai Chi sword, for your information.

A sword is a weapon about 18+ inches long, with a single or double edged blade. They were likely first invented in the bronze age as a sidearm, a purpose they filled well up to the point when revolvers became widely available. They weren't primary weapons of war in any culture, as pole-arms, bows, and other weapons were better on the battlefield. Of course some specialized units such as dragoons, forlorn hope brigades, and sword and buckler men would use them. Most fighting swords only weigh about 2-4lbs. While Victorian England made "bearing swords" for display, no culture ever used heavy and clumsy swords for war.

Contrary to popular belief, the nihon-to (Japanese sword) is not superior to Western swords. The forge-folding technique was required for Japanese swords, as the domestic iron (tamahagane) was very low quality. Indian, Celtic, and Chinese swords are considered to be the best, as they combine good iron/steel with master smithing techniques. There are also examples from these cultures of swords with harder edges and a softer spine, much like the katana.

As with the development of other weapons, swords closely parelleled the development of armor. Early in the middle ages one would expect to fight mostly unarmored men. Therefore the blades of this era were usually flat, wide, and sharp. As chainmaille became more common the profile became more tapered, and the ridge stronger for better thrusting. With the development of plate armor some made swords such as the tuck, which was a little like a long ice pick. Swords were never intended to directly attack the plates, but instead thrust through the gaps.

A recent conversation has revealed that a few people cannot tell one sword from another. While this may not be vital information I would like to take the opportunity to spread a bit of knowledge on that which I am passionate about. what follows is a brief description of five similar swords, the saber, the scimitar, the smallsword, the falchion, and the cutlass.

The Saber:

A saber possesses a slender, curved blade in the area of about 35 inches long. Sabers are most often used by mounted soldiers and thus are made with a hilt just long enough to be held in one hand which sports a brass knuckle or "D" guard. Though it may sound cliché, the saber is indeed an elegant weapon which boasts a repertoire of graceful slashes, chops, and thrusts.

The Scimitar:

A scimitar (pronounced Sem-ih-tar) is another curved sword used in the middle east and some parts of north africa. The scimitar has a broad blade with a small "tooth" along the spine. Its been speculated that this tooth is present to add a bit more strength to the part of the blade that receives the force of a blow. Scimitars can be used either to delivers wide sweeping cuts, or can be held close to the body to deliver shorter slashes better suited for close quarters.

The Falchion:

A little known sword that was widely popular in its time was the falchion (fall-shen) which was a favored side weapon of the famous English Longbow men. The falchion features a straight, single-edged blade ideal for cutting and chopping. Other than this, there is little else to be known.

The Cutlass:

A friend of sailors and pirates alike is the cutlass. The cutlass is a varied weapon sporting everything from a scimitar-like blade favored by the Corsairs, to the more slender hanger sword used by Caribbean pirates. Whether curved or straight the blade is most often of a stouter and broader design, this was key since a longer blade was impractical aboard an 18th century ship due to all the rigging. The blade was typical fixed to a short hilt with a basket or cup guard which was often solid enough to be used as a blunt weapon. The cutlass was used in an odd mix of stylized fencing and direct, brutal attack.

The Smallsword:

An evolution of the rapier, the smallsword is still with it today, though often as an ornamental piece carried by an military officer during formal occasions. The smallsword retained the rapier's straight, slim blade, but was considerably shorter in length. In it's time the smallsword was a civilian weapon and was carried for as long as a sword was an integral part of fashionable dress and as such was made to be pretty, though far less ornate than its rapier predecessor.

Sword (?), n. [OE. swerd, AS. sweord; akin to OFries. swerd, swird, D. zwaard, OS. swerd, OHG. swert, G. schwert, Icel. sver, Sw. svard, Dan. svaerd; of uncertain origin.]


An offensive weapon, having a long and usually sharppointed blade with a cutting edge or edges. It is the general term, including the small sword, rapier, saber, scimiter, and many other varieties.


Hence, the emblem of judicial vengeance or punishment, or of authority and power.

He [the ruler] beareth not the sword in vain. Rom. xiii. 4.

She quits the balance, and resigns the sword. Dryden.


Destruction by the sword, or in battle; war; dissension.

I came not to send peace, but a sword. Matt. x. 34.


The military power of a country.

He hath no more authority over the sword than over the law. Milton.

5. Weaving

One of the end bars by which the lay of a hand loom is suspended.

Sword arm, the right arm. -- Sword bayonet, a bayonet shaped somewhat like a sword, and which can be used as a sword. -- Sword bearer, one who carries his master's sword; an officer in London who carries a sword before the lord mayor when he goes abroad. -- Sword belt, a belt by which a sword is suspended, and borne at the side. -- Sword blade, the blade, or cutting part, of a sword. -- Sword cane, a cane which conceals the blade of a sword or dagger, as in a sheath. -- Sword dance. (a) A dance in which swords are brandished and clashed together by the male dancers. Sir W. Scott. (b) A dance performed over swords laid on the ground, but without touching them. -- Sword fight, fencing; a combat or trial of skill with swords; swordplay. -- Sword grass. Bot. See Gladen. -- Sword knot, a ribbon tied to the hilt of a sword. -- Sword law, government by the sword, or by force; violence. Milton. -- Sword lily. Bot. See Gladiolus. -- Sword mat Naut., a mat closely woven of yarns; -- so called from a wooden implement used in its manufacture. -- Sword shrimp Zool., a European shrimp (Pasiphaea sivado) having a very thin, compressed body. -- Sword stick, a sword cane. -- To measure swords with one. See under Measure, v. t. -- To put to the sword. See under Put.


© Webster 1913.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.