Forged in Fire

Deadliest swords in history

Image: Jonathan Kemper - Unsplash Images
Image: Jonathan Kemper - Unsplash Images

If you haven’t already caught Forged in Fire you’re really missing out. Deadly blades, high paced competition and expert blacksmithing all rolled into one: Forged in Fire is the show bringing historic weaponry back to life.

Thanks to the recent boom in fantasy blockbusters, passions for sword fighting and smithing have been on the rise. From replicas of a character’s trusty longsword to the equipment used in combat choreography: the swords reimagined in today’s popular culture are all inspired by real blades from history. Here are three historic blades that are still capturing imaginations centuries later.

The claymore, the longsword, and William Wallace

The Scottish claymore (translated from Scottish Gaelic to mean ‘Great Sword’) is a two-handed double-edged sword most commonly used during the late medieval period and into the early modern period. Used for clan warfare in the highlands, and border skirmishes with the English, the claymore sword is a later variation of a traditional Scottish longsword. Most commonly associated with Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace, the Claymore was first recorded as being used in the 15th century though it is believed to have first been used in the 1200s.

The claymore was a deadly weapon and a devastating tool on the battlefield. With their average length falling to around 130cm, the claymore offered a mid-ranged combat style and the combined length, dual handed wielding, and weight meant that the claymore could easily sever limbs or even decapitate with a single blow.

There is still often debate around whether William Wallace used a claymore or an earlier iteration of a two-handed greatsword. The Wallace sword (currently on display at the National Wallace Monument in Stirling), is a two-handed sword that stands at an impressive 1.63 meters tall and while similar, is not a claymore. However, there is still debate as to the true owner of the sword as it wasn’t recorded as Wallace’s sword until 200 years after his death.

Either way, the claymore’s legacy lives on in modern warfare with the A18 Claymore mine (named for the iconic blade) still in use by the military today.

The katana and Masamune: Japan’s greatest sword smith

Known for its slender curve, sleek design, and decisive strike, the katana is more prominently known as the iconic single-edged blade of the samurai warrior. Steeped in tradition and legend, many are often surprised to hear that the katana didn’t always boast its signature curve.

The first known katana blade was inspired by a Chinese double-edged steel blade. The origin behind its curve is attributed to the legend of Amakuni. The story goes that Amakuni (a Japanese swordsmith) noticed that a lot of the swords that were returning from battle were broken. This inspired Amakuni to design a near-indestructible sword (the single-edged curved katana that we more commonly recognise today) that was perfect for precision slicing and combat. Amakuni’s design was so deadly that his legend goes on to say that he gained immortality from all the blood spilt by his swords.

Masamune was another medieval Japanese swordsmith and is, to this day, considered the greatest swordsmith in Japanese history. With a skill of precision, Masamune was known for creating blades that were not only deadly but considered works of art. Working in the late 1200s to the early 1300s, a time when steel was notorious for its poor quality, Masamune developed a style for his creations that resulted in blades that were razor-sharp and breathtakingly beautiful in equal measures.

There are still Masamune blades in existence today with the most infamous perhaps being the Honjō Masamune katana. Passed from shōgun to shōgun throughout the centuries, the blade eventually ended up in the hands of its final owner Tokugawa Iemasa. The sword was named a Japanese National Treasure in 1939 but disappeared less than a decade later when its owner surrendered it to his local police station under new laws instituted by the American occupation. To this day its whereabouts remain unknown.

Para 3: Saladin’s singing scimitar

Often when we think of scimitars the image that is brought to mind is the scene in Indiana Jones where Indy is in a standoff with a skilled swordsman facing him down - only to shoot from the hip. This iconic view of the ‘oriental’ blade is the first thing that people think of when they hear the word scimitar.

Scimitar, however, is much more of an umbrella term than any one specific type of blade. Dating back to the 1500s, the word scimitar was the English word for a sword with a curved blade that had originated from Asia, the Middle East, and other western cultures. This can include anything from the Persian Shamshir to the Turkis ‎Kilij.

One particularly infamous scimitar in history is that which belonged to Saladin. Influential Muslim leader and sultan of Egypt, Yemen, Palestine and Syria, Saladin founded the Ayyubid dynasty that ruled throughout the 12th and 13th century. One contributing factor to his successes is his ‘singing’ swords and their deadly ability to deftly hack and slash any opposing forces.

Want to see more deadly historical weapons brought to life? Watch as four blacksmiths battle to recreate history's most infamous weapons on Forged in Fire.