The Xiphos

Today we look at the Xiphos, the classic double-edged sword of the ancient Greek warrior. It is a weapon that straddles the change from bronze to iron as the material of choice and is recognizable in its influence even to today.

The sword is not large by modern standards and averaged in the 18 to 24" range in overall length. The blade is often depicted with a distinct leaf shape, though there is not a consistent shape to the swelled portion of the mid blade. It is a rare find today, as an artifact and we do not have a great many in collections today but they are seen as common side arms on the vase art of the period.

Greek xiphos in hand from art on vase

The leaf shaped blade is one of the primary characteristics of the sword and would have been done in iron. The pommel and guard would be in iron as well or possibly bronze with two slabs of wood being pinned to the tang as the grip. Higher status pieces may well have had more exotic material or covering on the grip and hilt elements.

The sword was secondary to the main weapons of the Greek warriors. They relied on the Dory (Spear) and Javelin as their main weapons but when fighting was close or the need to deliver a fatal blow at close range the sword is often depicted. The sword was often worn under the left arm on a shoulder strap allowing the right hand to quickly pull the sword into an offensive position quickly for a downward stab.

Greek sword in action against mythical beast

The earliest forms of this style of sword were done in bronze as one-piece constructions with slab grip scales. But as Iron became the material of choice its multi part construction developed into one of the earliest forms of sword that we would see for another thousand years and more.

 Xiphos and Scabbard by Arms & Armor

Reproduction Xiphos and scabbard by Arms & Armor Inc.


divider swords

Nathan Clough, Ph.D. is Vice President of Arms and Armor and a member of the governing board of The Oakeshott Institute. He is a historical martial artist and a former university professor of cultural geography.  He has given presentations on historical arms at events including Longpoint and Combatcon, and presented scholarly papers at, among others, The International Congress on Medieval Studies.

Craig Johnson is the Production Manager of Arms and Armor and Secretary of The Oakeshott Institute. He has taught and published on the history of arms, armor and western martial arts for over 30 years. He has lectured at several schools and Universities, WMAW, HEMAC, 4W, and ICMS at Kalamazoo. His experiences include iron smelting, jousting, theatrical combat instruction and choreography, historical research, European martial arts and crafting weapons and armor since 1985.

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