The first sword appeared during the Bronze Age. It was made of copper and was uncovered at the Harappan sites in present-day Pakistan. By the Middle Ages iron and steel swords were being mass produced and used in battle. Soldiers were trained in swordsmanship and prepared for combat. It was before the era of guns and high powered artillery and face to face fighting was the norm. During this time in history, all of the royal generals, kings, and emperors owned personal swords. These weapons were manufactured by the greatest sword makers of the time. Many historical manuscripts document events surrounding significant swords. This article will be examining ten world famous swords that still survive today. Mythological and legendary swords will not be listed.
10. Tomoyuki Yamashita’s Sword
Tomoyuki Yamashita was a general of the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II. He became known during the war after conquering the British colonies of Malaya and Singapore, ultimately earning the nickname “The Tiger of Malaya.” After the end of World War II, Yamashita was tried for war crimes relating to the Manila Massacre and many other atrocities in the Philippines and Singapore. It was a controversial trial that ended with a death sentence for Tomoyuki Yamashita. The case changed the United States rules in regards to command responsibility for war crimes, creating a law known as the Yamashita Standard.
During his military career, Tomoyuki Yamashita owned a personal sword that contained a blade manufactured by famous sword maker Fujiwara Kanenaga sometime between 1640 and 1680. The weapon had its handle remade in the early 1900s. The Samurai sword was surrendered by General Yamashita, along with his army, on September 2, 1945. It was taken by General MacArthur and given to the West Point Military Museum where it remains today. The sword is one piece in a great collection of military arms housed at the West Point Museum.
9. Curved Saber of San Martin
José de San Martín was a famous Argentine general that lived from 1778-1850. He was the primary leader of the southern part of South America’s struggle for independence from Spain. San Martín is a South American hero and the 1st Protector of Perú. Under the lead of San Martín, Peruvian independence was officially declared on July 28, 1821. In the state of Argentina, the Order of the Liberator General San Martin is the highest decoration given out.
One of the most cherished possessions of José de San Martín was a curved sword that he purchased in London. San Martín admired the saber’s curved blade and felt that the weapon was maneuverable and ideal for battle. For this reason, he armed his cavalries of granaderos with similar weapons, which he deemed important for charge attacks. The curved sword stayed with San Martín until his death and was then passed down to the General de la Republica Argentina, Don Juan Manuel de Rosas.
In his will San Martín referred to the sword as “The saber that has accompanied me throughout the War of Independence of South America.” In 1896 the weapon was sent to the National Historical Museum in Buenos Aires where it remains today. In the 1960s the sword was stolen on two separate occasions and this caused museum operators to build a screened gazebo to protect the artifact.
8. Seven-Branched Sword
The Baekje Dynasty was an ancient kingdom located in southwest Korea. At its peak in the 4th century, Baekje controlled colonies in China and most of the western Korean Peninsula. They were one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, together with Goguryeo and Silla. In 372, King Geunchogo of Baekje paid tribute to Eastern Jin and it is believed that a Seven-Branched Sword was created and given to the king as a sign of praise.
The weapon is a 74.9 cm long iron sword with six branch-like protrusions along the central blade, which is 65.5 cm. The sword was developed for ceremonial purposes and was not built for battle. In 1870 a Shinto priest named Masatomo Kan discovered two inscriptions on the Seven-Branched Sword. One of them states “At noon on the sixteenth day of the eleventh month, fourth year of Taiwa era, the sword was made of 100 time’s hardened steel. Using the sword repels 100 enemy soldiers. Appropriate for the polite duke king.”
The Seven-Branched Sword contains many statements, but the most controversial involves the phrase “enfeoffed lord,” used when describing the King of Wa as a possible subservient to the Baekje ruler. The sword is an important historical link and shows that a relationship did exist between the East Asian countries of this era. The original Seven-Branched Sword is currently housed in the Isonokami Shrine in Nara Prefecture of Japan. It is not on display to the public.
7. Wallace Sword
William Wallace was a Scottish knight who lived from 1272-1305. Wallace is known for leading a resistance against England during the Wars of Scottish Independence, which were waged during the late 13th and early 14th centuries. During his lifetime, William Wallace was appointed the Guardian of Scotland. He led an infantry of soldiers who engaged the enemy in hand to hand combat. The prize possession of many of these soldiers was their sword. In order to survive on the battlefield one had to be a talented swordsman. In 1305, William Wallace was captured by King Edward I of England and was executed for treason. Today William Wallace is remembered in Scotland as a patriot and national hero. His sword is one of the most famous in the world.
The William Wallace sword is located at the National Monument in Stirling, Scotland. The shaft of the sword measures 4 feet by 4 inches in length (132cm) and it weighs 6.0 lb (2.7 kg). The sword is said to be the weapon that Wallace used at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 and the Battle of Falkirk (1298). The pommel on the sword consists of an onion-shaped piece of gilded iron and the grip is wrapped with dark brown leather. The hilt or handle that is currently on the Wallace sword is not the original. It is believed that the sword has been modified on separate occasions.
After the execution of William Wallace, Sir John de Menteith, governor of Dumbarton Castle, received his sword. In 1505, King James IV of Scotland paid the sum of 26 shillings to have the sword binned with cords of silk. It is said that the sword underwent many changes, which might have been necessary because Wallace’s original scabbard, hilt and belt were said to have been made from the dried skin of Hugh Cressingham, who was an English commander.
El Cid is a man that was born circa 1040 in Vivar, which was a small town about six miles north of Burgos, the capital of Castile. The Kingdom of Castile was one of the medieval empires of the Iberian Peninsula. During his lifetime El Cid became a successful military leader and diplomat. He was named the chief general of the army of Alfonso VI and became a Spanish hero. El Cid was the king’s most valuable asset in the fight against the Moors. He was a skilled military strategist and strong swordsman.
El Cid owned and used many different swords in his lifetime, but the two most famous are Colada and Tizona. Tizona is a sword that was used by El Cid to fight against the Moors. The weapon is one of Spain’s most cherished relics and is believed to have been forged in Córdoba, Spain, although considerable amounts of Damascus steel can be found in its blade. Damascus steel was primarily used in the Middle East. Tizona is 103 cm/40.5 inches long and weighs 1.1 kg/2.4 pounds. It contains two separate inscriptions, with one listing a manufactory date of 1002 and the other quoting the Catholic prayer Ave Maria. Tizona is currently on display at the Museo de Burgos in Spain.