The question Any notable battles fought with steel vs. bronze weapons?, more precisely the comment to this answer to the tone of "ah, but that was mainly a chariot battle...", piqued my interest.

As far as I know my history, the predominant weapons of the Bronze / Iron Age were spears and bows. Isn't it correct that the sword was, mostly, a nobleman's sidearm (as it was rather expensive to produce)?

This would render the whole "how would a bronze sword fare against an iron / steel sword" issue mostly academical.

How common, or uncommon, were sword-versus-sword combats on the ancient battlefield?

I am not talking duels or the like, but warfare.

  • Is there some evidence that swords were a nobleman's weapon in the ancient world? Are you making a distinction between short swords and long daggers? Are you considering sword use only as a primary weapon or will secondary weapon usage also count?
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 10:40
  • @SteveBird: No, I don't have evidence; that was a side remark from what I remembered. For the purpose of my question, consider any bladed, full-metal weapon where parrying an opponent's strike is a viable option a "sword". (To distinguish from short knife / dagger weapons, where you would try to avoid the thrust as parrying is not a viable option -- and metallurgy of the weapon is mostly irrelevant as well.) And secondary weapons use is fine by me.
    – DevSolar
    Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 10:46
  • To clarify, when I mentally picture an ancient battle, I mostly see shield-and-spear. A dagger or short sword as secondary weapon, perhaps, but I don't see much clanging of swordblade on swordblade. I'd like to align this mental picture with historic facts, if available.
    – DevSolar
    Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 10:54
  • Too broad? Bronze and Iron Age span centuries to millenia and at the very least the whole of Europe and large portions of Africa and Asia. The "how common" part, especially, seems pretty much unanswerable. Maybe rephrase it to something like "Was there a place and time during the Bronze and Iron Ages in [narrow down the geographical region of interest], where swords were a commonly used weapon in pitched battle such that sword-vs-sword combat occured regularly?" or somesuch. Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 11:21
  • @xNGTMx: That would be answerable by "there was this one battle...". I am trying to verify if my "mental picture" of an ancient battlefield is generally correct (or incorrect). I don't know at this point how to better phrase it.
    – DevSolar
    Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 11:25

1 Answer 1


I can think of at least one place where it would have been common.

Roman infantry were typically equipped with short-swords which they used once combat got down to hand-to-hand. Of course their opponents weren't typically from rich empires that could afford standard swords for everyone, but in the case of the Persians it was close.

Persian armies seem to rely much more on cavalry, and much of their infantry was either archers or spear-wielding rabble, but they did typically have Daylamite units of elite heavy infantry that used much the same equipment package as the Roman infantry.

So when Rome fought Persia (which was pretty often), and legions got into hand-to-hand action with Daylamites, there would have been sword-vs-sword fighting.

  • 2
    +1 The Roman's opponents were often identically armed Romans.
    – Nathan
    Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 15:57
  • @NathanCooper - Oh yeah, that's a good point I'd forgotten about. Pretty much every new Emperor was "selected" by the armies, via winning a civil war.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 17:44
  • 1
    Accepting this answer to get the question out of my "still open" queue. I accept that it was a rather open-ended question to begin with. ;-)
    – DevSolar
    Commented Jul 17, 2019 at 10:03

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.