Sword, a weapon used in hand encounters, commonly made like a large knife, and sometimes pointed like a dagger. The ancient Egyptians possessed the art of imparting to bronze extraordinary hardness and elasticity, and employed this material for swords and daggers. Wilkinson describes the former as straight and short, from 2½ to 3 ft. in length, having generally a double edge and tapering to a sharp point. The Greeks had several varieties of swords of bronze, and at a later period of iron; and as seen upon coins, vases, etc, they appear to have been short cut-and-thrust blades, leaf-shaped or tapering from hilt to point, and provided with a scabbard, which was attached on the left side to a belt suspended from the shoulder or round the waist. The Lacedte-monian sword was curved on the sharp side, while the back was blunt, and the end was pointed obliquely toward the back. The Romans first used the Gallic sword, which had no point and was sharp on one side only; but after the battle of Cannae they adopted the Spanish sword, which was short and straight, made for cutting and thrusting. The Gallic sword was worn on the left side, the Spanish always on the right.
The swords used by barbarian soldiers and by gladiators were curved.
1. Greek Sword, from a Monument. 2. Greek Sword in the Royal Antiquarium, Berlin. 3. Lacedaemonian Sword, from a Vase. 4. Greek Sword in Scabbard, from a Vase. 5. Barbarian Sword, from the Column of Antoninus. 6 and 7. Roman Swords, in the Museo Nazionale, Naples.
The most famous swords were the Damascus blades of the middle ages, made probably of East Indian wootz, on the shores of the Mediterranean. (See Damascus Blades.) Next to these the swords of Toledo in Spain attained celebrity. Milan also was famous for its excellent swords during the middle ages. A manuscript psalter of the time of King Stephen gives a representation of two men grinding a sword blade, and there is no doubt of the early manufacture of swords in England. In the 17th century those made by the Germans were in good repute, and about the year 1689 unsuccessful efforts were made to establish the manufacture in Cumberland, England. In 1786 Mr. Gill of Birmingham, competing with German and English makers for supplying the East India company, produced a large number which bore the required test of bending till the length of the blade was reduced from 36 to 29½ in. Swords are still made at Toledo of as good quality as ever, but the manufacture employs only 70 or 80 hands. - The best of cast steel is required for good swords. The bars are hammered down by two men striking alternately; and if the blade is to have concave sides or other peculiarities of shape, these are obtained from the dies in which it is swaged.
When shaped, it is hardened by heating in the fire to dull red and dipping point downward in a tub of cold water. It is tempered by drawing it through the fire until it acquires a blue color, and is then set or straightened by springing it with the tongs in any required direction as it is hold in a sort of fork standing in the anvil. After this it is ground upon a stone with a face adapted to that of the sword, flat or otherwise; is slightly heated to restore the temper impaired by grinding; and is finally polished with emery and crocus. - The small sword used in fencing is a slender weapon for the thrust only, and is the court dress sword. The broad sword, called sometimes the back sword, has but one edge.