Throughout history, the sword has been a constant and powerful symbol. Permeating many levels of society and psychology, it represents a duality of roles; connected opposites. Why has the sword been such a persistent piece of symbolism? Why has it been more influential than any other weapon? There is so much romance, legend and mythology surrounding every aspect of the sword; from the materials used, to its construction, design, use, and decoration. Let us look at the symbolism of the construction and design and how it relates to our world.
The basic design of every sword in existence consists of a blade, guard, grip and pommel. These vary widely in material, shape, and individual construction, but these elements are present on every sword ever made (with the exception of “art” swords, fantasy pieces, and other such items that are NOT real weapons meant for combat; we are discussing real swords in this article). This simple design of four elements is probably what contributes most to the sword’s significance. With this simple layout, the weapon has equal ability in the attack and the defense. This makes the weapon more attractive to trained and untrained eye alike, because of its inherent flexibility and efficiency. This symbolizes the two sides of the good-bad paradigm. This paradigm is at the base of our reality, as we know it. Good and evil, mercy and cruelty, attack and defense, God and Satan, bravery and cowardice, etc. These ideas influence us every day of our lives, every decision we make. The swords’ symbolic representation of this balance is part of what allows it to endure in the hearts and minds of humankind.
The sword, more than any other weapon in existence, showcases these two positions merely because its design and principles of use are so absolutely simple. The blade can inflict damage as easily and efficiently as it can deflect a harmful blow. It is well-balanced allowing supreme flexibility and efficiency of movement. The mechanics involved in the use of a sword are as natural and fluid as walking. This is not to say that the use of a sword is easy or elementary. It is quite to the contrary actually. The skill involved in the use of a sword can be extremely complex and yet remain efficient and fluid. Without question, in depictions of justice, the sword is the most common weapon represented.
More legends and mystique surrounds the construction and use of a sword, alluding to its otherworldly properties and the special talent required to build one. Caliburn (excalibur), Durandal, Aettartangi, all of these and most of the world’s famous, legendary weapons are swords. The most important and ceremonial weapon in a knight’s arsenal is his sword, and he would own several. The weapon used to declare a squire’s transformation into a knight is the sword. Many nations had and still have a special coronation sword for declaring the king or emperor to be the one in power. Even though technically “obsolete” on the field of battle in our modern age, many military units, such as the United States Marine Corps, still carry swords as part of their ceremonial attire.
In the not too distant past, say 400 years or so, the sword was considered to be a more civilized weapon than the war hammer, firearm, or axe. Why? While any weapon can have a defensive ability, no other weapon has such a balanced capability as the sword. Other weapons are more specifically concentrated on the attack. The sword’s ability to be used with equal skill for noble defense allows it to have a more psychologically “pleasing” sentiment attached to it. Let us not forget that the most exciting and significant battles in literature and, in the modern age, movies, are fought with swords. Brave men wielding shiny steel swords rescue fair maidens from fell beasts or vile tyrants, and the battles that ensue are thrilling and desperate, where good triumphs over evil.
They are the weapons of the nobility, either in birth or heart. The wearing of a sword gives the owner a sense of pride, strength, and confidence, that he will be able to face come what may in his walk through the day.