Swords, archaeology, Bible stories and times

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Use of helmets, different types, archaeology: helmets in the Bible

Helmets

Different types of armour in the ancient lands of the Bible: archaeology

Armor

Horses in warfare: chariot horse in the ancient world

Chariot horses

Different types of shields used in ancient warfare: Bible archaeology

Shields 

Development of the bow and arrow are weapons of war in ancient Bible lands

Bow & arrow

Slings in ancient warfare: David and Goliath: what archaeology tells us about the Bible story

Slings in warfare

War chariots: different types in different countries of the ancient Bible lands

War Chariots


 


 


 

 

Swords

Bible Study Resource

There were two types of sword: a sharp-pointed one for stabbing and a sharp-bladed sword for slashing downwards into the body of the enemy. Both had a handle or hilt and a metal blade. 

  • The stabbing sword had a long straight blade. It was thickest along its center and tapered toward the edges, sharp at the edges and at the point, and could both cut and stab.

  •  The slashing sword had only one sharp edge, and the thickest part of the blade was not along the center but along the opposite or blunt edge. This type of sword could be curved, with the sharp edge on the outer edge. Ivory plaque from palace of Ugarit with long-bladed sword thrust into the eye of a defeated warrior

The curved sword underwent changes during the different periods in history. At times, the hilt was long and the blade short; at other times the short hilt and long blade were preferred. These changes reflected the effots of weapon-makers to design a sword light enough to be wielded easily, but long enough to reach the enemy's body. 

The sword was a late-comer to ancient warfare. It needed a long metal blade, and until armorers learned to produce hard metal, an effective sword could not be produced. The mace and the axe had a comparatively small head or blad and so were easier to make, and they held sway for thousands of years.

When they finally did appear, swords were usually straight, double-edged, sharp, and very short, more like daggers designed mainly for stabbing. Since they were not made of hard metal, there was the constant fear that they would break or be blunted by a heavy blow. This problem was partly solved by making the centre of the blade thicker (see images below). The hilt was usually made of  wood or bone, fastened to the blade by nails.

 gold sword and gold-decorated sheath from the royal cemetery at Ur. Circa 2500BC

Above: gold sword and gold-decorated sheath from the royal cemetery at Ur. Circa 2500BC. 
Below: copper sword with gold crescent hilt, royal cemetery at Ur, 
with a gold sword similar to the one above, circa 2500BC. 
Above and below: note that the center of the blades are slightly thicker, making the blade stronger.

opper sword with gold crescent hilt, royal cemetery at Ur, with a gold sword similar to the one above, circa 2500BC

 

The Sickle Sword

In the second half of the third millennium, the sickle sword made its first appearance. These were curved swords used for striking. See the object held in the right hand of the warrior at the left of the relief from Telloh, in the right hand of King Eannatum, and by the soldier from Mari (pictures below). 

Eannatum, King of Lagash, leads charging troops; he holds a long spear in his left hand and

 Eannatum, King of Lagash, leads charging troops; he holds a long spear in his left hand and 
a sickle sword in his right, in the lower register of picture above.

 

The Stele of Vultures. See the object held in the right hand of the warrior at the left of this stone relief from Telloh.

(Above) The Stele of Vultures. See the object held in the right hand of the warrior 
at the left of this stone relief from Telloh.

Conch plaque from the temple of Ishtar at Mari. Note the sickle sword held in the soldier's left hand.

What distinguishes the sickle sword from earlier weapons is that it fashioned both hilt and blade from the same bar of metal. It was a striking, as distinct from a thrusting, weapon. It was particularly suited to charioteers who could wield it at the height of a charge. See examples below.

The distinctive feature of all these swords during the first half of the second millennium is the shortness of the blade in relation to its hilt. The hilt was roughly twice the length of the blade, giving the weapon an axe-like quality. This relationship undergoes a change in the sickle swords of the second half of this millennium, when the blade is as long as its hilt, and at times even longer. It was during this period that this weapon can be said to have become a proper sword. 

The long-bladed sword

Things changed when helmets and armor came into general use. The blade of a sword became longer than the hilt. The 13th century rock carving from Yazilikaya near Boghazkoy in Anatolia depicts warrior-gods marching in column bearing the curved sword with the long blade on their shoulder. This apparently was how the sword was carried on the march. 

13th century rock carving from Yazilikaya near Boghazkoy in Anatolia depicts warrior-gods marching in column bearing the curved sword with the long blade on their shoulder

13th century rock carving from Yazilikaya near Boghazkoy in Anatolia depicts warrior-gods 
marching in column bearing the curved sword with the long blade on their shoulder

 

The four swords above complete our knowledge of its detailed form and shape. The first specimen was found at Gezer in Palestine in the tomb of a nobleman, belonging to the first half of the 14th century. The sickle sword at far right in the image above bears the name of the Assyrian king, Adad-Nirari (1307-1275BC). 

In the period of the New Kingdom this type of sword became popular in Egypt. The Egyptians called this sword khopesh after their term for the foreleg of an animal, which it resembled. In their swords, the blade was somewhat longer than the hilt and was quite wide. Not only was the khopesh sword in common use with the Egyptian army of this period, as is shown by such monuments as the relief at the temple of Karnak (below) but it became the symbol of Pharaonic authority. The relief below shows Rameses III smiting his Canaanite enemies with a sword. In images from earlier periods, the Pharaoh would have been wielding a mace. 

Rameses III smiting his Canaanite enemies with a sword, relief at Medinet Habu, 20th dynasty, Ramesis III

Rameses III kills his enemies with a sickle sword, Medinet Habu, 20th dynasty

This is the type of sword Joshua must have used when when he invaded Canaan: 'he smote with the edge of the sword'. 

Bronze bladed dagger with gold-covered hilt, Egypt, early 18th dynasty

Bronze bladed dagger with gold-covered hilt, Egypt, early 18th dynasty

The straight sword

The straight sword was also undergoing change. While previously it had been a kind of dagger with a narrow blade (see above), it now became the long straight blade made popular by the Sea Peoples. Many of them served in the Egyptian army in the XIXth dynasty where they were armed with long swords. 

A sword from the end of the 13th century BC, bearing the name of Pharaoh Merneptah, discovered at Ugarit

A sword of this type belonging to the end of the 13th century BC, bearing the name of Pharaoh Merneptah, was discovered at Ugarit (see above). Its blade was 60 centimeters, and its hilt added another 14 centimeters to the length of the sword. Over the centuries, the sword had changed from a short stabbing weapon to a much deadlier one, long, elegant and efficient.


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Bible Study Resource for Archaeology: Different type of swords, sickle, long-bladed, straight.

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