By GraniteSoldier 8 Comments
So I was bored and doing a lot of historical military reading, and decided to put together a list of my top 10 blades in history. Why? Well, I am a blade aficionado and had some free time, so why not?
Now keep in mind: this is MY top 10. If you disagree, that's fine. Feel free to sound off about it. If someone comments and you disagree with another user, engage in respectful debate. This is all opinion based, so by all means speak yours.
Now I am rating these on a few things:
- Effectiveness: How devastating were they for their time?
- Longevity: How long where they in use?
- Influence: Did they inspire descendant weapons still in use?
- Cultural impact: How synonymous is the weapon today?
Rating them in today's context, I am not only looking at them as weapons but as general tools.
Now let's see some honorable mentions who were close, but not quite there:
- Viking Battle Axe
- Kris Dagger
- Tanto Dagger
- Zulu Iklwa Spear
- Katar punching dagger
- Parrying Dagger
I'd like to touch on a few that were very close to making the top 10:
- Iklwa Spear- The flexibility of this tool is truly astounding. The Zulu way of war was speed, mobility, and flexibility...and this spear exemplifies that. Short and light with a long, flat head and medium length handle, the Iklwa was not only capable of the thrust or overhand stab, but could be effectively used as a short sword as well. It was even used to successfully defeat the British at the Battle of Isandlwana, despite the British being technological superior. A tribute to both the Zulu tenacity and the effectiveness of the Iklwa.
- Tanto dagger- You'll see why this didn't quite make the list in a bit...and the reality is despite it's name becoming synonymous with it's tip style (designed to reinforce the spine of the blade to allow it to effectively stab through armor) which is used in many military blades today it is often overshadowed by a more famous partner blade.
- Parrying dagger- Made famous by the Musketeers, the parrying dagger represents the evolution of firearms negating armor and shields as effective tools of war. The parrying dagger was an answer to the rapier as well as bayoneted musket. The thick steel blade and large guard was designed to bade able to block, deflect, and snap enemy blades (especially the thin rapier). It owes some lineage to the Japanese sai, but unlike it's Japanese counterpart was not a tool for anything other than battle, which means it narrowly misses the top 10.
Now, on the the top 10;
Used extensively by the French and English throughout the 16th century, the broadsword was a big leap in technology to dealing with the heavily armored knights that dominated battlefields. While they were all honed to a killing edge, broadswords where also large and heavy for a single-handed weapon designed to crunch through the armor and shields of enemy knights. It's shortcoming for this list is that it was purely a battlefield tool and swords in general phased out of combat with the development of black powder and long range firearms.
The scimitar is an ancient weapon dating back to the 12th century in ancient Persia. The forerunner of the saber and cutlass, the scimitar is a light, one handed slasher used to great effect in the lightly armored wars of ancient Persia where it could cause great damage to the human body with the long draw of the blade. It would come back into fashion with mounted cavalry, where the speed of a horse could add to the power of a slash and with the rise of black powder firearms negating the effectiveness of heavy armor that would traditionally make a pure slashing blade like the scimitar moot.
Ok, what hasn't been said about the katana? The weapon has become a symbol of ancient Japan in not only western popular culture but Japanese as well. This weapon is like a cross between a western bastard sword and middle eastern scimitar, although it doesn't really have ties to either. Samurai trained to use the blade single or two handed, and it is said the folded steel blades where so strong and honed to such a fine edge that they could cut through tree trunks. Now despite this weapon's popularity, my personal opinion is that the tanto, not the katana, has had a longer lasting impact on blade history. I may be in the minority there, but that's how I feel in regards to it's incredibly effective tip design. But the sheer popularity and sex appeal of the katana cannot be denied. It is one of the few blades that can be shown to just about anyone and they will be able to tell you what it is.
7) Grecian Xyphos
While more ancient than the broadsword or katana, the Grecian Xyphos was ahead of it's time. This short sword was the 'sidearm' of choice for many and ancient Greek military force, made famous by the Spartans. It's short stature made it an excellent thrusting weapon, which would later influence the Roman Gladius, but it's leaf shaped head added weight to the end of the blade making it a highly effective slasher and chopper. However, much like the broadsword, swords have been phased out of military use limiting how high I feel like I can place it.
Yes, I know it isn't TECHNICALLY a blade, as it has no edge. But it's impact is undeniable. Small, easily concealable, and effective at closing the distance against the long katana blade, the sai made it's mark as a tool and weapon. Originally a farm tool, like nunchucka, converted into killing weapon by Japanese peasants to combat oppressive Samurai, it allowed farmers to easily ambush their superior armed overseers and lords. This type of tool could be credited with the idea of weapons serving purposes outside of combat, which all knives and the like now serve within modern military's. Not to mention the popular culture recognition given to it by Raphael of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
5) MK1 Trench Knife
I have a great personal love for this weapon, and really wanted to put it higher on the list. However it's incredibly short service life compared to the other weapons on this list really prevent me from doing so. However this does make it high on the list as it is the US military's first foray into a blade that is a battlefield tool as much as a battlefield weapon. In the up close, nose to nose combat of trench warfare, the MK1 proved itself with it's unique design of a brass-knuckle hilted blade. Effective on offense, defense, in a melee or in a grapple to the ground, opening ration cans or prying open doors, the MK1 was truly versatile. Perhaps I rate this too high due to personal bias, but I feel the blade deserves more respect than it receives.
4) Viking Seax
The utility blade of the Viking hordes, the seax could be credited with the inspiration of the world famous Bowie Knife. As much a Viking tool as it was killing weapon, it's tip design was intended to pierce easily into a foe and it's wide, flat body was intended to maintain structural integrity during a variety of uses.
These top 3 I am all a big personal fan of. First, at number 3, is the Kukri. A Nepalese blade with a wildly different design than just about any other great blade in history, this large knife has inwardly curving blade rather than a straight or outward curve. The blade leafs towards the tip, giving it a heavy end while remaining balanced. This intends the blade to be primarily used for chopping or slashing, and the inward curve gives the edge more surface area for longer draws on a slash. Made famous by the Gurkha Regiments of Nepal. In fact, it is still the issued blade of choice to this day, giving the Kukri an incredibly long service life and is a true testament to not just it's killing potential but it's utility as well, as it serves the Regiments as a tool in the jungles of Nepal.
My personal favorite. The weapon made famous by the Native Americans against the Colonials. It ticks the check boxes of utility, longevity, and functionality...the only thing holding it back is the inspiration given to other weapons. Certainly it is a design that has been constantly improved upon, but hasn't inspired new tools in it's own right. It's impact is undeniable though, especially in American military service. I personally carried one in my time in Afghanistan, and whether it was a survival tool, used for breaking up hard dirt to dig a foxhole, using the flat side of the head as a hammer or for hacking and slashing, it is a great catch-all utility blade to carry in austere environments. It's biggest shortcoming is its size compared to a knife, but it's greater functionality more than makes up for it. Personally I carried a 'hawk and a knife, but there is a solid argument to be made for just carrying this small hand axe.
1) Bowie Knife
The wilderness knife of choice for years and years. Tough, reliable, multi-functional and inspirational to the Marine Corps Ka-Bar to just about every fixed blade civilian knife on the market. Slashing, stabbing, prying, shaving...it really can do it all. With a good steel and minimal care it can hold it's edge and won't break under duress. While folding knives have garnered some popularity in units these days, for my money a solid fixed blade, bowie-inspired knife can do you no wrong. I've skinned with it and worked with it, and it has never failed. It may not have the long-lived history of the sai or kukri, but it is still going strong and is in many ways the quintessential American knife that has inspired blades around the world for military and outdoorsmen alike.
That's it for my top 10 blades of history. This is by no means all-inclusive, and once again I reiterate this is simply my opinion, and by no means correct for everyone. If you wish to add or mention your own, please sound off below. Thanks for reading.