HISTORY OF STEEL – Swords Around the World

Swords Around the World - Iron Steel Weapons

Gone were the days of the ancient iron and steel weapons. Fast forward to the age of powerful and beautifully-crafted swords. Swords were being made around the world.

The Excalibur, the famous sword of King Arthur, was not made of steel, even though the word meant “cut-steel”. In fact, Europe as a whole fell behind in the production of iron and steel through the Medieval Age. Furthermore, the fall of the Roman Empire around 470 BC sent the whole of Europe in a downward spiral. Iron and steel could not be imported into the continent from India (which was still the leader in steel production), as the European roads were not suitable for transport. Moreover, the merchants had to travel with caution, constantly on the lookout for attackers. Finally, Europe was feared by all because of the widespread plague. As such, the people of Europe had to find indigenous ways to produce iron and steel. The Spaniard metalworkers in Catalonia later developed furnaces akin to the ones in India, which produced sufficient wrought iron to make door hinges, carriage wheels, horseshoes, and armour coated with steel.

As more iron and steel weapons were forged in Europe, the knights of various armies were given specially-crafted swords. The forging process involved twisting the iron rods, giving the final sword a braided pattern. However, the Vikings believed this design to be that of dragon coils, hence, swords like the Excalibur and the Tizona obtained mythological statuses.

On the other side of Earth, the Japanese were forging never-before-seen swords, containing blades that were light and sharp. The swords, called katanas, were passed on through generations and involved a masterful and detailed production process. The intricate process of forging katanas involved rituals also; the Japanese washed themselves before making the swords. This was a ritual to avoid any kind of evil spirit from entering the blade. The process began with wrought iron, which was first heated with charcoal up to a point when it became soft and malleable. Post the cooling, the iron was heated and folded 20 more times, resulting in the distinctive arc-shape. Constant exposure to carbon-filled charcoal transformed the wrought iron into steel. The swordsmiths then brushed the blade with charcoal, iron powder, or clay as part of the design process. The final design had patterns of ripples and knots. Drifting SandCrescent Moon, and Slayer of Shuten-doji were some of the names of the katanas, of which the last was the name of a Japanese mythological beast. The last remnants of the katanas are the Tenka-Goken, which translates to Five Swords of Heaven, are preserved as relics and national treasures in Japan.