Ten Legendary Swords from the Ancient World
Swords are not only weapons, but symbols of great power, used over the centuries as offerings, in ceremonies, for coronations, and as precious items for trade. Over the years, a number of swords have been unearthed, bringing with them centuries of legends and incredible tales, linking them to famous figures and folk heroes. Here we feature ten striking swords from the ancient world.
The sword of Joyeuse, which today sits in the Louvre Museum, is one of the most famous swords in history. Historical records link the sword to Charlemagne the Great, King of the Franks, who reigned some 1,200 years ago. The sword of Joyeuse was used in countless coronation ceremonies, and is tied with ancient myth and legend ascribing it with magical powers.
The Isonokami Shrine is a Shinto shrine believed to have been built in 4 AD. Located in in the foothills of Tenri in Nara prefecture, Japan, this shrine is culturally significant for it houses several national treasures, including a legendary sword known as the Nanatsusaya no Tachi, or ‘Seven-Branched Sword’. An inscription on the blade reveals the Seven-Branched Sword was given by the king / crown prince of Baekje (an ancient kingdom in the south western part of the Korean Peninsula) to the king of Wa (ruler of Japan). The delicate nature of the sword branches suggest that it was never intended to be used as a weapon, but rather served a ceremonial function.
Inside a glass case in a round chapel on top of Montesiepi in Tuscany, Italy, is a 12 th century sword lodged within solid rock. According to legend, the sword was placed there by San Galgano, a fierce knight and wealthy nobleman, who converted to Christianity following a vision of Archangel Michael. The story goes that San Galgano was walking on Montesiepi when he saw another vision of a round temple with Jesus and Mary surrounded by the Twelve Apostles. A voice spoke to him, commanding him to renounce all his worldly desires. San Galgano replied that this was as easy as splitting stones with a sword, and with that he drew his sword and thrust it into a stone. To the saint’s great amazement, the weapon went through the stone like a hot knife through butter, and has been stuck in the stone ever since.
Fifty year ago, a rare and unusual sword was found in a tomb in China. Despite being well over 2,000 years old, the sword, known as the Goujian, did not have a single trace of rust. The blade drew blood when an archaeologist tested his finger on its edge, seemingly unaffected by the passage of time. Besides this strange quality, the craftsmanship was highly detailed for a sword made such a long time ago. Regarded as a state treasure in China today, the sword, which was once owned by Emperor Goujian of Yue, is as legendary to the Chinese people as King Arthur's Excalibur in the West.
Muramasa Sengo was a legendary swordsmith who lived during the Muromachi period in Japan (14th - 16th centuries AD), and was said to have been completely mad and prone to bouts of violence. It was therefore believed that these destructive qualities were passed by the master swordsmith into the blades he forged. The blades would then ‘possess’ their wielders, turning them into insane and deadly warriors, just like Muramasa himself.
Despite the bad reputation surrounding the blades Murasama forged, they were undeniably of high quality, and were popular in Japan. However, during the reign of Togugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo period, Muramasa’s blades fell out of favour. The shogun’s father and grandfather were both murdered by their retainers who were wielding Muramasa blades and so it came to be thought that Muramasa’s blades carried a curse again members of the Tokugawa family. Consequently, the shogun banned ownership of the Muramasa. Today, just a small number of the rare blades remain.
Over the years, around 170 Viking Ulfberht swords have been found across Europe, dating from 800 to 1000 AD. The swords were made of metal so pure, and crafted with such high quality, that many say they were centuries ahead of their time. The Ulfberht was made with crucible steel, which has a carbon content three times higher than that of other metals of the time. It was believed that the technology to create this metal was not invented for another 800 or more years, during the Industrial Revolution.