11 of the World’s Most Unbelievable Swords
Part historical artefact and part legend, they remain objects of veneration and admiration for the heroes who carried them and their fascinating qualities.
In world history, the sword was not merely a weapon of war, one relatively inexpensive and easy to produce, but a sign of rank and power. Of all the weapons produced in antiquity, swords continue to fascinate us for their ability to transport us back to the age of legend, half-real and half-imagined, through their still wonderful stories.
The most famous sword of all, Excalibur came into the hands of King Arthur Pendragon in one of two ways, depending on which version of the story we read. In one, Arthur draws the sword from an enormous stone, thus establishing his right to the throne of England. In another version, the Lady of the Lake presents it to Arthur. Legend says that Arthur, later badly wounded, ordered one of the Knights of the Round Table to throw Excalibur back into the lake.
The sword of Charlemagne, Joyeuse was used to coronate French kings during the 13th century. According to the Song of Roland, its blade changes color “thirty times in a day.” Today, it’s on display in the Louvre museum but, according to scholars, Joyeuse has undergone several modifications over time. The handle and guard date from the 12th and 13th centuries respectively, but the blade dates from the 9th or 10th century.
A legendary sword, it belonged to Muhammad’s cousin, Hazrat Ali. The prophet is said to have given it to Ali saying, “There is no warrior like Ali and there is no sword like Zulfiqar.” According to tradition, it’s a double-pointed scimitar which, besides being a sign of the Islamic faith, has been sheltered until today in a private collection.
The Sword of William Wallace
Measuring one meter and sixty centimeters, this legendary sword of the Scottish hero William Wallace dates from the 13th century. Today it’s on display at the National Wallace Monument, near Stirling, Scotland. Some historians believe it to be a replica or later reconstruction.
Tizona and Colada
According to El cantar del Mío Cid (The Song of My Cid), Tizona and Colada were swords belonging to Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, nicknamed Cid the Champion. Although Cid’s story mixes historical truth with legendary folklore, Tizona is exhibited in the Museo de Burgos along with other relics from the famous Spanish knight.
Having once belonged to the legendary Danish king, Hrólf Kraki, Skofnung is one of Icelandic literature’s most famous swords. A magical weapon, it held the spirits of 12 of the king’s bravest bodyguards. According to the Laxdæla saga, the sword should never be unsheathed in the presence of a woman, nor should sunlight be permitted to shine on its hilt.
Re-discovered only in the 20th century, it’s said that the archaeologist who unearthed Gou Jian from a tomb in China cut off a finger with its edge, though the sword is dated to some 2,000 years ago. Safeguarded today as a treasure of the Chinese state, it weighs less than a kilo and measures 58 cm in length, 4.6 cm in width, and 8.5 cm at the handle.
Hrunting and Naegling
A pair of swords, they were once the weapons of the mythical hero Beowulf. According to tradition, both were mystical swords though they were unable to defeat the hero’s enemies. In fact, Naegling was broken during a confrontation with a dragon.
According to the Song of Roland, an angel gave this sword to Charlemagne. It was made of numerous relics from the Christian tradition, including a tooth from Saint Peter and part of the vestments of the Virgin Mary. In literature, Roland uses it to defend himself against a horde of Muslim fighters. In one very old legend, Durandal was thrown from a cliff by Roland, and may be embedded in a rock face in the mountain village of Rocamadour, in France, even today.
Image: Public Domain
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