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Bronze Age Weapons

New technologies to refine, smelt and cast metal ores were first used during the Bronze Age (c.3500—700BC). Early civilizations in the Middle East began to combine bronze or copper alloys to produce spears, daggers, swords and axes. Later, swordsmiths started producing finely detailed swords with stronger iron blades. These techniques spread to China, India, South-east Asia and Europe, where they would have a profound influence on future warfare.

This short sword was made between 3200 and 1150BC.
The decorated hilt and round pommel were later replacements.

 

Early Metal Weapons

With the introduction of copper alloys (90 percent copper and 10 percent tin), the bronzesmith was able to produce a much harder metal. Its hardness and consequent durability were wholly dependent on the temperature that could be achieved during smelting. The higher the temperature, the harder the metal would become. Iron ore was also discovered and soon became the material of choice for the production of bladed weapons. Iron ore was abundant and, like copper alloys, it could be heated to high temperatures by using charcoal. Immersion of the blade in water and continuous hammering to form a well-tempered blade developed a consistent surface that was less prone to fracture and breakage than bronze or copper. Most blades would have been cast in stone, metal or clay moulds.

 

The sword in Europe from c.2000BC

Although it is difficult to date precisely when the sword was first introduced into Europe, there is general agreement that long-bladed swords were being manufactured around 2000BC. Their appearance in Europe was probably independent of earlier developments in metalworking seen in the Near East and the Aegean. Distinctive flint swords have been found from this date in Denmark and northern Europe, including riveted bronze swords with triangular blades from the early Bronze Age.

In the later Bronze Age, swords were cast in one piece, including the grip and pommel (the knob at the top of the handle or hilt). Many differing pommel shapes also emerged. One of the most common swords is the antenna (or voluted) sword. This had a two- pronged or scrolled, inwardly curving pommel, said to represent the outstretched hands of a human figure. Sword shapes also varied, from broad-leaf shapes to straight forms that featured grooves, sometimes erroneously described as “blood channels”, but more likely to have been designed to provide a lighter and more easily wielded sword.

 

The Carp’s Tongue Sword

Common in western and eastern Europe around 1000BC were a group of bronze swords known as “carp’s tongue” swords. A significant number of this distinct sword type were discovered at excavations in the Thames Valley and Kent during the mid-20th century. The most notable find was at the Isleham Hoard, in Cambridgeshire, England. It comprised more than 6,500 objects made of bronze, including many swords of carp’s tongue design. They had wide, tapering blades which were useful for slashing, with a thinner, elongated end suitable for stabbing. This style of sword is thought to have originated in northwestern France.

 

The Socketed Axe

Another important military innovation of the Bronze Age Mesopotamian armies in the Middle East, and one that would have an enormous impact on future battlefield warfare, was the introduction of the socketed axe. Previously, ancient axe makers had struggled to keep the axehead firmly attached to the haft (the handle), especially when handling the axe with considerable force. The Sumerians devised a cast bronze socket that slipped over the haft and was secured with rivets. Its development was probably a consequence of the introduction of primitive forms of body armour and the need to penetrate this armour with sufficient force. Later axes would have narrower points that could be used to penetrate bronze plate armour. The axe would remain an integral battle weapon for the next 2,000 years.

A complete Bronze Age sword (top) with hilt and leaf-shaped blade (c.1100BC),
and a large bronze spearhead (bottom) from 700BC.

 

 

These Bronze Age socketed axes were used as both domestic tools and
close-quarter combat weapons.

 

 

The Sickle Sword of Mesopotamia

One of the earliest societies in which organized warfare was waged was the Sumerian culture of southern Mesopotamia (c.3000BC). Even at this early stage of human civilization, professional standing armies were being used to defend communities. Although the most common weapons used by the Sumerians, and later the Assyrians (c.1100—600BC), included the spear and bow, warriors also carried a sharply curved sickle sword.

Introduced around 2500BC, this all-metal sword had a single-handed grip and a blade of around three grip lengths. A stunning example in the British Museum, London, England, has the following inscription on the blade: Palace of Adad-nirar, king of the universe, son of Arik-den-ili, king of Assyria, son of Enlil-nirari, king of Assyria. It is believed that this sword was owned by the Assyrian king Adad-nirari I, who conquered northern Mesopotamia (c.1307—1275BC). Mesopotamian art frequently depicts the sickle sword as a symbol of authority, and it is often seen placed in the hands of gods and kings.

An illustration of a sickle sword, 13071275BC,
from the Middle Assyrian period (the reign of Adad-nirari I).

 

 

 
 
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