Swords from our collection, starting with the unique Hallstatt Sword and ending with early modern sword types, are exhibited on the 1st floor of the convent building. As it is a ‘hands-on’ exhibition, visitors may pick up the swords and try them out.
History of Swords
The first swords were made of bronze in the Mediterranean region probably about 5,000 years ago. The sword was a weapon of noblemen and rulers, a symbol of strength and power. Bronze was an alloy consisting of nine parts copper and one part tin. The oldest Estonian bronze sword (1) is about 2,700 years old and it was made in the modern day Austria during the period of Hallstatt culture.
The oldest iron artefacts also come from the Mediterranean region and are approximately 4,500 years old. These were rare and only available for the wealthiest. Smelting of iron and making of iron swords started about 3,000 years ago during the Hallstatt culture.
Swords in the Classical Period
In classical antiquity, the majority of an army’s power consisted of professional infantry that was armed with long spears – swords were secondary weapons only used in close combat. The bronze swords of Egyptians were curved (sickle-shaped), but the Greeks’ swords and the Romans’ gladiuses (2) were short, straight, and double-edged. As the Roman army was an army of numbers, the legionaires’ swords were mass-produced in national workshops by slaves and masters. The officers’ swords, however, were especially commissioned and were thus of better quality.
Swords in the Viking Era
Vikings were warriors in ancient Scandinavia and they terrorised the whole Europe during the period of 8th to 11th century. Vikings kept swords in special honour, and thus, many swords were given names: Odin’s Flame, Dragon of Wounds, Battle-Snake, Torch of the Blood, Raven-Shirt’s Snake, Sea-King’s Fire, etc. Many swords had blades made of the so-called Damascus steel. In these cases, the blades were made by beating together thin steel and iron rods. As a result, different shades of iron and steel fibres formed complicated interwoven patterns on the sword’s surface. The cutting edges of swords were, however, made of the purest steel possible and were welded on the patterned cores.
Swords in the Middle Ages
The medieval knight was first and foremost dedicated to the service of the Warrior God. This was also symbolised by his sword – the handle represented the Holy Cross, the straight blade represented honesty and straightforwardness, and the two edges represented the fight against injustice (the injustice of the strong against the weak and the injustice of the rich against the poor). During knighting, a priest gave the young nobleman a sword saying: “Accept this sword in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and use it in protection of Our Lord’s Church and against the enemies of Christianity.”
Service in the Lord’s army was also indicated by the writings on the knights’ sword blades: HOMO DEI (the Lord’s man (warrior)), IN NOMINE DOMINI AMEN (in the name of the Lord, amen), CHRISTUS IMPERAT (Christ reigns).
The most important innovation of the medieval sword was the balancing pommel that functioned as a counterbalance, so that the thin steel blade seemed feather-light, but still enabled to deal crushing blows.
Swords in the Modern Period
In the beginning of the 15th century, firearms took the place of cold weapons. Knights were replaced by the new professional soldier class: low-born hired footmen – landsknechtid – whose weapons were adorned with verses illustrating the new world view: Kein besser dinnk in dieser wellt den schonnen frauenn und bar gellt (There is nothing better in this world than pretty women and money). Their swords held various magical symbols – planet and zodiac signs and the lucky number 1414. Swords were often enchanted and their hilts frequently contained auspicious amulets, a vipers tongue and a bats heart tied together with red silken thread, or a piece of wood from a wheel on which some unfortunate sinner had been executed according to a judge’s sentence.
Starting from the 16th century, sword blades became thin and narrow and crossbars developed into a “basket” covering the whole hand. The sword became light and elegant – a nobleman’s everyday accessory. The new fighting style – fencing – gave rise to the rapier whose blade was an elastic and sharp steal rod without edges.
The infantry wore swords until the mid-19th century; the cavalry used the curved sabre and the straight broadsword; and the cavalry had the boarding sabre. In the 20th century, the sword became the officers’ parade weapon.