For many centuries, knives have been the object of terror as well as fascination. Who knew that these humble cutting tools would play a significant role in human civilization? They are more than just cutting tools and weapons – they have become symbols of power, resistance against oppression, and the people’s culture and pride.
Here are some of the world’s iconic knives:
Khopesh or khepesh is an Egyptian sickle-sword, which was one of the most significant swords to come out of the Bronze Age. It features a hooked blade with a sharpened outer edge. The ancient khopesh were mostly made out of bronze and were believed to have been brought to Egypt from the Middle East.
During the New Kingdom period, khopesh changed from bronze to iron; by this period, they had become a standard military weapon. These weapons were praised for its terrifying slashing ability in close-proximity combat. Like many other bladed weapons, the khopesh was also used in formal ceremonies and was frequently depicted in art or included in the tombs of important ancient Egyptian figures.
The kukri or khukri is a knife distinguished by its inwardly-curved blade. It has been the traditional tool and weapon in Nepal. The Western world first got wind of the kukri during the early 1800s when the East India Company got into a bloody conflict with the Gurkha Kingdom. The locals’ prowess and mastery of the tool so impressed the British that they enlisted them as volunteer troops in their army.
These troops went on to become one of the world’s toughest and most formidable military units, and kukri, as service weapons, became prized for its unique shape, balanced blades, and excellent cutting and slashing ability. While the kukri has its famous place in the military and combat, it is commonly a chopping tool and is a usual item in most Nepalese homes. It is a versatile tool that is used for chopping food, slaughtering, cutting wood, clearing, digging, skinning animals, and opening cans, to name only a few.
The Ulfberht swords are associated with the Vikings, and were the symbols of wealth and status, and would perform way better than the swords that other people were using.
There are about 170 Ulfberht swords discovered in Europe, and they are dated between 9th and 11th centuries. They are typically inlaid with the engraving +VLFBERH+T or +VLFBERHT+, which became somewhat of a trademark among blacksmiths for several centuries. The blades were forged from high-carbon crucible steel, which led to their superior strength, sharpness, and durability.
Despite the recovery of these surviving Ulfberht swords from the archaeological sites, blades of such quality did not reappear in Europe until the Industrial Revolution era, so their origins are still debated among scholars and historians. It is suggested that Ulfberhts were forged from steel imported from Central Asia, where metalworking was more advanced. Others argue that the blades were made from an ore deposit from Germany.
The falcata was a type of sword used by the Roman Iberian soldiers in ancient Spain. It was crafted from high-quality steel or iron. The concave edge near the hilt, the convex edge near the point and the hooked hilt give the falcata its distinctive shape.
The falcata was designed to have the chopping and slashing ability of the ax and the sword, respectively. It’s like having a 2-in-1 gear. The weapon was used to great effect in the ancient Iberian peninsula and was associated with the general Hannibal, who held it with high esteem. He praised the virtues of the falcata so much that he supplied the Carthaginian troops with it during the Second Punic War.
The katana is the iconic Japanese sword strongly associated with the samurai, the noble warriors in feudal Japan. It typically has a slender, curved, and single-edged blade, with a circular or squared guard, and a long grip to be held with both hands. The best samurais possessed the ability to slash down opponents with a single, lightning-fast strike, and their swords would often get revered, even worshipped, as if they were works of art or objects of deity.
The Honjo Masamune, from the Edo period, was the early precursor to the katana. It is considered one of the best-known swords from Masamune, who is one of Japan’s greatest and most legendary swordsmiths. The Honjo Masamune was forged during the 13th or 14th century and was later owned by the samurai Honjo Shigenaga, who acquired the sword during a battle. He was attacked with the Honjo Masamune, which broke his helmet. But he survived and then took the sword as a prize.
The Honjo Masamune exchanged hands before disappearing at the end of the Second World War. The sword has never been found, despite diligent and repeated search efforts.
The bolo knife is a large knife of Filipino origin, similar to the machete. It is a multi-purpose tool used for chopping, clearing vegetation and trailblazing. But it also became a formidable warfare weapon. The first recorded use of the bolo knife as a weapon is at the Battle of Mactan in 1521, which resulted in a decisive Mactan victory and the death of the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan.
The bolo knife was also the primary weapon of the native guerillas during the Philippine Revolution, the Spanish-American War, the Philippine American War, and the two World Wars. It had been used for close-quarters combat. Even though these “bolomen” were severely outclassed by their armed enemies, they used this weapon to the most chilling effect. One of the bolomen’s proudest feats was to sever an enemy’s head from the body with just a single swoop.
The Roman gladius, or simply the gladius, was the primary weapon of the ancient Roman foot soldiers. The sword’s design evolved over many centuries, but its fundamental features remained – the sharpened point and a double-edged blade forged from high-grade steel.
The Roman gladius was primarily a stabbing weapon and was put to its greatest effect when used within a disciplined formation, where the soldiers could protect themselves with iron shields while making thrusting attacks towards the enemy.
The Bowie knife was named after Jim Bowie, the American pioneer who played a major role in the Texas Revolution prior to his death in the Battle of the Alamo in 1836. His rose to fame as a knife fighter came when in about a decade earlier, in 1827, when he killed a sheriff with a large knife, which was most likely a butcher’s knife. However, once word of the duel spread throughout the country, a lot of the pioneers commissioned their own “Bowie knives” from blacksmiths.
Over time, the knives developed distinctive and recognizable features – a blade measuring nine to 15 inches long, a crossguard, and a clip point. Soon these knives gained a reputation across the frontier, and people found several uses of it, from chopping wood to skinning animals to saloon brawls. While the Bowie knives are not much used today as combat weapons, they are still used as utility and hunting knives as well as self-defense weapons.