What Is a Dagger?

A dagger is a knife which is designed or capable of being used as a stabbing or thrusting weapon. Daggers usually have short blades and a very sharp point. Most daggers have two sharp edges. However, there are daggers that have no cutting edge at all (such as the stiletto), or have one cutting edge only (such as the bayonet). Like the sword, a dagger usually has a full crossguard to protect the hand.

The word “dagger” comes from the Latin word daca, which means a Dacian knife.

Difference between a dagger and a knife

Although a knife and a dagger have some similar features, the knife is a tool that is primarily used for cutting, slicing, and chopping, although it can sometimes be used for piercing for stabbing. A knife usually has one cutting edge, but other knives have both sharp edges (which may offer different degrees of serration), depending on what they are designed for.

A dagger is primarily designed for thrusting or stabbing, with its secondary function being cutting or slashing. It is usually double-edged and tapered to a very sharp point, and has a crossguard to protect the hand from going forward onto the sharpened edges of the blade. Think of it as a very much smaller sword. It is designed for close-proximity combat or as a self-defense weapon.


The earliest daggers were made of materials such as bone, flint, or ivory during the Neolithic era. When the Bronze Age came, daggers were made of metals such as copper.

During the ancient Egyptian era, daggers were usually made of bronze or copper, while the royalty had daggers made of gold. Around 3100 B.C., ceremonial daggers were adorned with gilded hilts and later even more elaborate construction. When Tutankhamun’s tomb was opened in 1924, two daggers were found – the one with a golden blade, and the other with a smelted iron blade.

Iron production did not begin until around 1200 B.C., but iron ore was so scarce in ancient Egypt that it was valued on a level equal to that of gold. Tutankhamun’s iron dagger had long been believed to be made of meteorite, and evidence of this was not conclusive until researchers discovered similar metals in a meteorite found in the area, which was deposited by a meteor shower that occurred during the ancient times. This particular meteorite contained iron, 10% nickel, and 0.6% cobalt, therefore concluding that Tutankhamun’s iron dagger is indeed meteoritic in origin.

Iberian blacksmiths from the 5th to the 3rd century B.C. produced several high-quality swords and daggers. The ornamental patterns of these bladed weapons were heavily influenced by the ancient Greeks, Punic (Carthaginian), and Phoenician cultures.

Going straight to the Roman Empire, soldiers were issued a double-edged iron dagger called pugio, which had a blade measuring from seven to 12 inches. The creation and design of the pugio were directly derived from the Iberian daggers. The Romans even adopted the Iberian dagger, the triangular-bladed parazonium.  For more info on the history of the Roman Empire, you may read our article, Learn About the Expansion and Decline of the Roman Empire.

After disappearing during the Early Middle Ages in favor of the knife or seax, the dagger made an appearance again in the 12th century as the cross-hilt or quillon dagger. They were also known as the “knightly dagger.” During much of the Middle Ages, the dagger was considered as a secondary defense weapon in close combat. During the 1500s, it became more common for knights to fight their enemies on foot, which necessitated more increased dagger usage. During the Late Middle Ages, daggers that emphasized thrusting or stabbing attacks became more popular, and one of those well-known daggers was the stiletto.

The dagger rose to popularity during the Renaissance and the early Modern Era. In Spain, it was used as a personal defense and fencing weapon, which they referred to as daga or punal. The plug bayonet and later, the socket bayonet, appeared in the 17th century. They were fitted into muskets and other longarms, converting them into spears.

The trench warfare during World War I caused daggers to be widely used again, replacing the sabers, which officers found as too long and clumsy for trench warfare. They were also worn with pride as having served frontline duty. Daggers rose to notoriety during World War II as ornamental uniform regalia during Hitler’s and Mussolini’s dictatorships in their respective countries. As combat weapons, daggers were used by infantrymen and commando forces during that war. The Gerber Mark II dagger rose to popularity among soldiers during the Vietnam War.

Nowadays, military forces usually carry daggers by concealing them in clothing. The boot knife is usually one of the more popular forms of concealable dagger.

What Are the Different Types of Daggers?

1) Bollock dagger

Probably the most masculine type of dagger, the bollock dagger consists of a distinctively shaped hilt, with two oval swellings that resemble the male testicles (“bollocks”). It was popular in England, Scotland, Wales, Flanders, and Scandinavia from the 13th to 18th centuries and was commonly used by outlaws and raiders.

During the Victorian period, this dagger was called “kidney dagger,” probably in a bid to avoid sexual connotations.

2) Scottish dirk or Highland dirk

The Scottish dirk (or Highland dirk) is a longer type of dagger worn as part of a full Highland dress for formal occasions. The blades typically measure 12 inches long. As dirks were primarily for ceremonial purposes, they were often elaborately decorated with fancy fittings such as silver mounts, cairngorm stones (smoky quartz), and decorative pommels. Scottish dirks are only one of the very few daggers that have a single-edged blade, and often have decorative artwork at the unsharpened edge of the blade.

3) Cinquedea

The cinquedea came from northern Italy, where it was developed. The name means “five fingers,” referring to the width of the blade next to the guard. The blade is heavy, measures 45 centimeters (18 inches) in length, and has a rounded point. The cinquedea rose to popularity during the Renaissance-era Italy (15th – 16th centuries).

4) Kris or keris

The kris (or keris) is an asymmetrical dagger from Indonesia, characterized by its distinctive wavy blade (although a kris can also have a straight blade), as well as its blade-patterning, which is achieved by alternating laminations of iron and nickelous iron. It is also indigenous to Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, southern Thailand, and southern Philippines.

The kris is said to be good in cutting and thrusting, and its wavy blade facilitates easier slashing in combat, as it doesn’t get stuck in the enemy’s bones, making it easier to be pulled out of bodies. Aside from being a weapon, the kris is also seen as a spiritual object.

5) Jambiya

“Jambiya” is an Arabic term for a specific type of dagger. A jambiya typically has a short curved blade and a ridge in the middle and is usually worn on a belt. The jambiya is most closely associated with Yemen and Najran, a city in Saudi Arabia. Men over 14 years of age typically wear a jambiya as a clothing accessory. The hilt or handle of the jambiya is what determines the price – a jambiya that has a “safani” or ivory handle can fetch up to $1,500 a kilogram!

6) Trench knife

Again, the trench warfare during World War I caused the daggers to be widely used again. Trench knives were used by the British and American armies, as well as other allied forces. Apart from trench-raiding expeditions, this dagger was also used in typical close-proximity combats. It became known as “combat knife” during World War II; in Nazi Germany, it was called Nahkampfmesser.

7) Stiletto

The stiletto is a dagger with a long, slender blade with a tapering blade. A stiletto usually doesn’t have sharpened edges, so it is not designed for cutting or slashing. But even when there are edged variants, a stiletto is still intended for stabbing or thrusting only.

Stiletto was first developed in Italy during the 15th century and gained a reputation as a famous street weapon in the country. It is also usually associated with the bad guys, such as gamblers and murderers. People still purchase stilettos and even use it for self-defense as well as other purposes.