Ancient weapon choices: why swords?

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by phx1138, May 10, 2019.

  1. DougM Well-Known Member

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    The reason swords were more commonly used jthen say a mace or axe by professional /semi professional/trained fighters (as opposed to temporary militia) is that it is more versatile. It is also easier to carry and any weapon you can get your hands on is ALWAYS superior to a weapon you don’t have.
    Add in that the sword is (in general) a faster more maneuverable weapon then pole arms and maces and axes and such. And this maneuverability is a huge help if you are indoors. So as a general side arm the sword was easier to work with in most non combat situations and also in personal combat vs general battles. And any given person spent more time out of combat and going about Thier business and or indoors then they did outside in a big battle. It is the same basic logic for why pistols are uses for concealed carry personal defense and by police officers as thiere standard carry side arm vs a long gun/shotgun/rifle. The long guns are better weapons but they are not as useful/versatile/easy to carry.
    And a sword is more able to be used defensively as well as offensively. let’s see you parry with a battle axe, yes it can be done but not as well as with a sword.
     
  2. The Merovingian To whom the Capets aspire.

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    Hi, i'd like to take a serious stab at this question. After extensive research I believe people as far back as far back can be, knew, that swords were in fact cooler than other weapons weeeell before the modern age. It may even be that BLEACH was not what made swords trendy. Though i'm sceptical on the plausability.
     
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  3. alexmilman Well-Known Member

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    Beware of the sweeping statements. During the Early MA knights were quite expensive and usually affordable to the rich so at the time of Charlemagne this was formulated differently: a sword was mandatory only for the cavalrymen (who could afford it) while infantry was allowed to use cheaper weapons (if they could not afford swords). During the High Middle Ages the improved technology made swords much cheaper and easily available to the rank soldiers.

    Taking into an account that the term "knight" did not really exist outside Catholic Europe, claim that only knights did have swords, if taken literally, means that the two-edged swords did not exist in the Medieval Rus or Byzantine Empire contrary to all available evidence.

    Well, of course it also means that landsknecht's Zweihänder was just a very big knife :winkytongue:

    [​IMG]

    and that their Katzbalger had a single edge, even if it was double-edged.
    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: May 12, 2019
  4. Fabius Maximus Unus qui nobis cunctando restituit rem

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    The hastati may have originally fought as spearmen, although AFAIK there's no direct evidence for this and it's mostly just an inference based on the name (which may not be entirely sound, since IIRC there's some evidence that the term hasta was originally used to refer to both spears and javelins). By the time of the Pyrrhic War, however, they had switched to using javelins and swords.

    Technically, but not really. The specific type of sword which modern scholars call the gladius only came in during the Second Punic War, but the Romans had been using swords long before that (and it's also worth pointing out that in Latin "gladius" was often used to mean "a sword" in general, rather than a specific type).
     
  5. Stephanus Meteu Well-Known Member

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    That is a rather time and place specific argument. Germanic in point of fact. Other places and times certainly looked at all of that a bit differently. The Germanic or HRE view is certainly valuable, but not entirely universal.
    Eh, the reach advantages of the spear cover many sins of the user.

    Lindybiege has a rather interesting video where trained modern swordsmen at a HEMA camp were randomly issued spears with no prior training. Mostly the spear armed fighters won the spars against the sword armed fighters. So the reach (and tip speed) advantages of the spear were more valuable than being familiar with the weapon in that particular unscientific test.

     
  6. dandan_noodles Well-Known Member

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    IIRC, the spear users didn't do nearly as well when they had to wield it one handed with a shield in the other hand.

    Regarding training generally, I don't think you can make a blanket claim one way or the other; Xenophon seems to have thought there wasn't much skill to sword use, thinking it was more a matter of courage than skill, and the Euboeans in Archaic/Classical times (when weapons training was essentially nonexistent) were famed for their use of swords.
     
  7. Višeslav Well-Known Member

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    A sword, first of all, can slice, hack, and stab, vey useful. Less strength is required to hurt someone with a sword than with a mace. A sword is heavy to lift, but it takes little strength to cut an opponent (assuming they have unarmored areas). If they do have more armour, you can stab through smaller gaps in it (with a mace you might break bone underneath or you might just dent the armour and bruise the enemy). There is the problem of range, when comparing a sword to a polearm. you might think "why not a sword on a stick, like a Naginata? Wouldn't that have the same benefits?" Yes and no, polearms are a little more unwieldy than swords and require two hands. It's not that other weapons are bad or anything, a sword is just a good, relatively light, one-handed jack of all trades kind of weapon.
     
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  8. wcv215 Well-Known Member

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    Bullcrap.

    All of those are swords. And “cold steel” is about the least technical term you could use for weapons.
     
  9. wtw Well-Known Member

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    Even into the 20th century in Europe spears aka lances and swords were seen as primary weapons due to a code of honor that was around at that time. Firearms for a long time were not seen as reliable. Only in the US were the revolver proven itself to be effective in the close quarter combat that typically occurred in the civil war, and how terrible lances showed themselves to both sides of that war did firearms become dominate.
     
  10. wtw Well-Known Member

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    Give me a battle axe, a tomahawk and a pair of knives and I will be happy in most eras before the invention of firearms
     
  11. Stephanus Meteu Well-Known Member

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    Yes, for one on one.
    Spear alone dominated sword alone.
    Spear alone narrowly beat sword+shield.
    Spear+shield tended to lose to sword. The spears lost too much reach, speed, control, and power when used one handed, at least by inexperienced users.

    However, they did try a formation of spear+shield, a rough shield wall, and in formation it appears the shield and spear combination is the way to go.

    On the skill vs. courage for swords, the Roman fascination with martial virtue and ideals may play into that, and both explain their heavy use of swords and success with them. They seemed to try to be trained and disciplined soldiers and mad berserk warriors all at once in a way. Psychology of that must have been interesting... with rather a lot of inner tension that they seem to have then externalized in various violent ways...

    My memory on this is vague, but I had in mind the attempts at lance use by the USA and CSA was distinctly unprofessional by European standards. Union cavalry once it finally got sorted tended more towards a mounted infantry or dragoon model, while the CSA did some of the same plus tended toward something more like light cavalry with particular skill in scouting, raiding, and ranging.

    US cavalry spent a lot of thought on fighting against lance armed cavalry (Indians, Mexicans, Europeans) but seems never to have made much effort on sorting how best to fight as lance armed cavalry itself. Poor showing with lance is thus rather expected I should think.

    The biggest drawback of the lance is that it is long, bulky, heavy, awkward, etc. It is a pain to carry and it has to be discarded to use other weapons. Saber and pistol were more versatile side arms, and convenient to carry. Even a carbine could be holstered or hung from a saddle easily compared to a lance.
     
  12. bernardz Kicked Donor

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    Jun 10, 2018
    One interesting note on this is that women could be used successfully by the Japanese as a spearman.

    https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Onna-bugeisha

    Note the comments that "The most popular weapon-of-choice of onna-bugeisha is the naginata, which is a versatile, conventional polearm with a curved blade at the tip. The weapon is mainly favored for its length, which can compensate for the strength and body size advantage of male opponents." {emphassis added}
     
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  13. Richard V Well-Known Member

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    Swords of the ancient Greeks were one and a half foot long. Longer swords take considerably more skill. By contrast daggers require almost no skill.

    A well trained man with an arming sword and large shield is more effective than a spear man of comparable skill. But a poorly trained man would not be able to exploit the tricky combination of shield and sword while anyone can be reasonably effective with a spear with minimal training. Which was why peasant armies tend to favor spears, it was cheap and less demanding.

    Of course highly trained spearmen can also be effective, but this assumes willingness to invest on expensive head-to-toe armor to protect them from missiles.
     
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  14. bernardz Kicked Donor

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    It is not just honor, for hundreds of years, generals have debated the military merits of cold steel, not just lances and swords but also pikes and bayonets vs guns. the answer was not clear cut.
     
  15. DougM Well-Known Member

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    Feb 18, 2015
    You have to remember it is not just on the battle field that you need to carry weapons.
    Yes a battle axe is a great weapon and shields are wonderful for defense, but you are not going to want to carry either much less both around with you on a day in day out basis in “peace” time. A sword in a scabbard is much more practical. I can much more easily carry it and it will be readily available.
    And it CAN be used to defend much more readily then an axe can.
    Same kind of argument in pistol vs long gun.
     
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  16. stevej713 Well-Known Member

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    A critical aspect of battle until very recently is that most armies fought in tight formations. It's much easier to move with thrusts and stabs than with hacks and slashes. After all, you don't want to hit your comrades standing next to you, nor do you want to expose yourself. Axes and maces aren't really meant for stabbing.

    Also, as someone who has regularly used an axe, I can tell you that an axe is much more dangerous to the user than a knife, because when you stab with a knife, the energy of the attack is moving away from you, while swinging an axe or a mace has the potential to come back towards you. A self-inflicted axe wound is a very grievous injury.

    And yes, as others have mentioned, a long knife is an excellent multi-purpose tool that can be used alone or in battle.
     
    Last edited: May 13, 2019
  17. alexmilman Well-Known Member

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    Well, there is also probably a linguistic factor to keep in mind: while in English almost "everything" can be defined as "sword" in some languages the weapons like saber or estoque are not defined as "sword". To add to the confusion, in Russian sword as a weapon does not have to be straight and 2-edged so katana is defined as a "sword" while formally it is a two-handed saber but "rapier" (from "espada ropera", "dress sword") is usually applicable to the strictly piercing version of espada while a two-edged version has a special name, "шпага" (from Italian "Spada").
     
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  18. dandan_noodles Well-Known Member

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    Not that tight; even with the Hellenistic pike formations, six feet per man was considered the natural spacing if we can believe the tactical literature of people like Aelian and Arrian. There were tighter deployments, sometimes with as little as 1.5 feet, but this was the exception. Three feet per man is generally enough to use slashing swords pretty effectively, and this was probably the most common tight formation for ancient armies.
     
  19. Lenwe Well-Known Member

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    no, not really you could more easily train a mediocre lancer than a mediocre swordman, but is easier to train a superb Swordman than is to train a great lancer, so if you need to rapidly arm an army you use lances with the "elite" units using swords, as is clear that they will have time to practices the use of the sword.
     
  20. Lenwe Well-Known Member

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    I will do with a spear/lance( maybe is because my native is spanish, but i can´t really see the diference betwen one and the other), a barbed axe and utility knife, of course I wil build a sling if I need a ranged weapon, because i suck with bows
     
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