When swords stop being useful as primary weapon?

Oct 2018
The Roman heavy infantry of the Republic and Principate didn't really have a primary weapons, they had dual weapons. The pilum was for long range, the gladius was for short range. There were other sword centric cultures of the ancient world, but all also used javelins, throwing spears, and fighting spears as well as swords.

The only time I can think that swords were primary weapons were for officers and certain types of cavalry from the 1600-1800s.
Most of the cavalry in the napoleonic wars used swords for main weapons.
Also the Carolean soldiers of the 17th century all used swords with their muskets


Ad Honoris
Feb 2011
Perambulating in St James' Park
The Victorian Royal Navy still used swords and cutlasses for boarding and shore parties. The Royal Naval Division also supposedly used cutlasses and swords for trench raids in WW1 in the early days. Monty also took his sword 'over the top' in WW1 but didn't use it as he only knew ceremonial drill.

"In August 1914, I was a full lieutenant of twenty-six. It was to take the experiences of the 1914-18 war to show me what was wrong in the Army. My battalion mobilised at Shorncliffe. The mobilisation scheme provided, amongst other things, that all officers' swords were to go to the armourers* shop on the third day of mobilisation to be sharpened. It was not clear to me why, since I had never used my sword except for saluting. But of course I obeyed the order and my sword was made sharp for war."

"mand, and there was a plan and there were proper orders. Two companies were forward, my company on the left being directed on a group of buildings on the outskirts of the village of Meteren. When zero hour arrived I drew my recently sharpened sword and shouted to my platoon to follow me, which it did. We charged forward towards the village; there was considerable fire directed at us and some of my men became casualties, but we continued on our way. As we neared the objective I suddenly saw in front of me a trench full of Germans, one of whom was aiming his rifle at me. In my training as a young officer I had received much instruction in how to kill my enemy with a bayonet fixed to a rifle. I knew all about the various movements—right parry, left parry, forward lunge. I had been taught how to put the left foot on the corpse and extract the bayonet, giving at the same time a loud grunt. Indeed, I had been considered good on the bayonet-fighting course against sacks filled with straw, and had won prizes in man-to-man contests in the gymnasium. But now I had no rifle and bayonet; I had only a sharp sword, and I was confronted by a large German who was about to shoot me. In all my short career in the Army no one had taught me how to kill a German with a sword. The only sword exercise I knew was saluting drill, learnt under the sergeant-major on the barrack square. An immediate decision was clearly vital. I hurled myself through the air at the German and kicked him as hard as I could in the lower part of the stomach; the blow was well aimed at a tender spot. I had read much about the value of surprise in war. There is no doubt that the German was surprised and it must have seemed to him a new form of war; he fell to the ground in great pain and I took my first prisoner!"

Memoirs of Field Marshal Montgomery, My Early Life In the Army. P29, 2015.

We can deduce from the above that it was common for junior officers to carry swords into combat in WW1, yet they received no official training in how to use it. It would be interesting to see whether the Royal Naval Division used their swords, I still need to find a primary source. Sword training was commonplace in the Navy up until the 30s and they were used in the Boxer Rebellion.

Cutlass - Wikipedia

Of course there's also Mad Jack Churchill but he's a crazy individual. You can see him here storming ashore with sword in hand.

He also took out Germans using a longbow, quite a splendid fellow.
Last edited:

Edric Streona

Ad Honorem
Feb 2016
In 1914 swords were still carried, not by everyone by by enough to be common. In 1915 or 16 the army banned them for making men to conspicuous.


Ad Honorem
Jul 2016
Swords that can cut through steel exist only in fictions.
So all steel swords are equal? A poorly forged sword with poor carbon distribution due to poor carborizing is fully equal to a well made sword, forged from phosphorus and maganese, so when they clash against one another, damage is equal to both?


Ad Honorem
Jul 2016
In that case the gladius was clearly the primary weapon while the pilum--a secondary weapon--was used within a narrow window, i.e, when the opponents entered a certain range. It was not meant to kill as well but to disable the enemy shield.
The idea that the pilum was not designed to kill but only disable a shield is a trope. Myth. False. It was designed to penetrate a shield, then to wound/kill the individual carrying the shield. It also was designed to penetrate deeply in flesh of man or beast if it hit that. They didn't even get pyramidal bodkin type points until late 2nd Cent BC and mostly 1st Cent BC.

Before that they use broad head points, which are clearly designed for flesh.

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
So all steel swords are equal? A poorly forged sword with poor carbon distribution due to poor carborizing is fully equal to a well made sword, forged from phosphorus and maganese, so when they clash against one another, damage is equal to both?
From a purely practical perspective, it doesn't really matter so long as it survives the encounter because a sword can be repaired or replaced afterwards. No sword can cut through armour and it doesn't take much of a blade to cut flesh.