Weapons are likely the first tools crafted by humanity. They have been with us since the beginning. And while physics allows multitudinous ways to end a human life, the reality is that they tend to organize themselves into discrete categories recognizable across cultures. We have swords, that slash. Axes, that cut. Spears that pierce. Knives, that shiv. Maces, that pummel....the list goes on.
But weapons are more than mere implements of death and destruction. They are works of art: pommels studded with jewels, or blades woven with an intricate pattern or design. They are symbols of power: some weapons can only be wielded by those deem fit to wear them. They are even instruments of peace: many of the weapons we fear so rightly are or are descended from farming tools used to slaughter animals or even clear humble foliage.
The weapons that we craft tend to say something about who we are as a culture. They also rise and change in response to technological development: in a world with crossbows and gunpowder, swords no longer needed to be heavy enough to pierce armor, for example, and became a slim, agile dueling weapon.
Are you a master of history's arsenal? Behold our panoply of killing tools posted herein, how many do you recognize? Show us your skills, weapon master!
The rapier is a thrusting weapon with an extremely thin blade. It would typically be used for piercing, but slashing was also possible. The weapons also have (often extremely ornate) hand guards meant to protect the weapon hand while in use.
The Claymore is a Scottish two-handed weapon whose name literally translates to "Great Sword", and great it is. The blades were approximately 42 inches in length, and capable of cleaving a man in half!
A Katana is a long sword with a curved blade and a single edge. They were purely used for cutting, and were evidence of the bearer's Samurai lineage, as lesser castes were not permitted to carry them.
Palstave is an ancient kind of bronze axe found across much of Europe. It has high flanges and a forked wooden handle. It comes from the bronze age, so it was used around 1,300 BC.
An Ida is a long African sword, noted for the use of pepper and poison on its edge in order to complement its lethality. It is a leaf shaped blade, designed for cutting.
A Talibong is a wickedly sharp Filipino weapon designed for hunting, but conflicts with Spain brought it into use as a particularly brutal weapon. It is a sword with a curvy, hooked blade.
A Pinuti is another Filipino weapon that originated as a farming tool. It has a straight blade with a hooked hand guard and requires careful sharpening to keep it in use. The handle was typically made of guava wood.
The Nzappa zap is a Congolese weapon, made by the Nsapo people. It has a broad, leaf-headed blade, and the weapon would frequently have motifs of human faces carved into it.
The Dane Axe is an early form of battle ax. You can clearly see how it descended from the lumber cutting tool from the simplicity of its design, which is little more than a wide blade mounted on a wooden haft.
Executioner's swords were heavy, two handed blades designed for the execution of (accused) criminals. They were extremely weighty, so as to be used in decapitation, and lacked a point.
Longswords are a European weapon, typically ranging from 33 to 43 inches in blade length. Contrary to their portrayal in fiction, their significant length and weight meant they were frequently used with two hands.
The Labrys was a Minoan double-bladed ax and was frequently used as a symbol in the various religious cults of the age. That said, not much more is known of them due to the lack of surviving examples.
The Chokutō was an ancient Japanese sword that was likely inspired by their Chinese neighbors. It is notable for having a straight edge, something that became less and less used as Japanese sword forging progressed.
Barongs are long semi-knives with curving, leaf-shaped blades that bulge in the center. They are typically wielded by the Muslim ethnicities in the Philippines and are occasionally used with a scabbard.
The Gladius is a Roman short bladed sword. It was the primary hand weapon of the legionnaires after the Marian reforms and was used in close combat after the legionnaire had thrown his pilum.
An Ono is a Japanese ax weapon, stereotypically wielded by Monks in self defense. It has a very broad head and a long body, making the entire weapon around six feet in total length.
The Takoba is a flat, straight bladed sword typically wielded by the tribes of the Sahel, the desert band between the Sahara proper and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.
The Katzbalger is a short bladed sword, a weapon of last resort for a German renaissance Pikeneer or Landsknecht. It has a large, decorative handguard to help parry blades, but its ornate nature leaves gaps that can be exploited by thrusting weapons.
The Flamberge is a sword with a long, wavy blade that looks like, you guessed it, fire. The name actually refers to any sword that has such a blade, and as such they can be of varying length.
Tachis are Japanese swords that are the predecessors of the Katana. In fact, the latter is mostly a historical appellation - besides when they were used, the only real difference between the two is where the signature appears on the "tang" of the blade, near the hilt.
Masakari is the Japanese word for an ax and is the term used for an array of similar weapons with a large blade at the end of a wooden haft. They are usually aesthetically connected to Sohei, fighting monks like the Ikko-Ikki who opposed Nobunaga Oda.
The Hwandudaedo is a Korean sword with a ring pommel, and is one of the earliest recorded Korean swords. They started as royal weapons in the 5th century, but gained more widespread military usage over time.
The Panabas is a battle ax with a long, sickle shaped curve. It looks like an enormous shaving razor, and the haft is about as long as the blade. It is sometimes used for butchering of hogs.
The Tabarzin is a Persian "saddle ax," and saw wide use around that part of the Middle East and Russia. It was occasionally used by Islamic Dervishes, wandering holy men.
Cossack daggers, also known as khanjali, are long-bladed, double-edged daggers used by the Cossack people. Over time they became a symbolic weapon and even a minor work of art, frequently being bejeweled or engraved.
A Flyssa is a weapon used by various tribes in Tunisia and Northern Africa, including the Morocco region. It is a sword designed to break mail, so it has particular use against technologically sophisticated invaders.
Baselards were I-shaped daggers in use across Europe in the 14th century. Over time, the name grew less associated with a particular weapon and became more used for daggers in a broader sense.
Wodao is a Chinese Ming Dynasty era sword, but the name is confusing since in this instance "Wo" refers to it being of Japanese origin! It was a two handed weapon capable of great cutting strength.
Patags are a type of sword from Bhutan, and there are at least 11 extant types. It was a symbol used by ruling figures, both of the royal family and members of parliament.
The Espadon is a Spanish variant of the classic Longsword, and is therefore a heavy, two handed weapon with a powerful cutting edge that could also be used for stabbing.
Saingeom is the name of the archetypical "Korean Sword" of the Joseon era, which was the 15th to 19th century. These weapons saw heavy use during that time and were also incorporated into many artistic endeavors, like dances.
Dōtanuki is a type of Katana, noted for its strength and sharpness, and its abandonment of aesthetics. Such a weapon was used by fictional samurai Ogami Itto in the manga Lone Wolf and Cub.
Nodachi was a particular kind of Japanese sword. It was enormously heavy and long, being akin to the long western sword. Unlike katana, it was usually worn over the samurai's back rather than at his waist.
The Miao Dao is a relatively recent Chinese long saber, one with an unusually long blade relative to its hilt. It was largely used in the Republican period, and there are relatively few martial arts incorporating it.
Long-bearded axes were typically used by Scandinavian Vikings as both weapons and tools. The hook on the end could be used to rob an opponent of a shield or caught weapon, so as to go in for the kill.
Nagamaki were a Japanese pole arm that had the curious combination of a long blade with a long hilt. The resulting weapon looks unwieldy, and is used mostly by infantry fighting cavalry.
Broadaxes are simply axes with a wide blade and have been used since time immemorial as both weapons and cutting tools. They are the archetype from which the ax style weapons (in contrast to hatchets) were formed.
Small sword is a Renaissance-era weapon with a light, thrusting blade. It could be used as a dueling weapon, but it was more a decorative weapon used by gentry, the military, or anyone who had aspirations toward either of those things.
The Bolo is a Filipino tool that is occasionally used as a weapon. It is a long-bladed knife, which can be used to cut cane or underbrush as well as coconuts. Or people.
An Estoc is a form of longsword particularly designed to fight opponents in heavy mail armor, including plate. It had a cruciform grip and was not edged at all, relying on a heavy point to penetrate joints in the armor.