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The Middle Ages

In the high and late middle ages, the period roughly defined as c.1000 to 1500 ce, swords entered a crucial stage in their history. Evolving from the slashing swords of the Vikings into a classic cruciform design ( so called due to the development od straight cross - guards that made these swords resemble a cross), European swords entered a period termed as the "knightly phase" - their high cost of production generally allowed them to be used only by affluent knights. In the Far East , medieval Japan saw the emergence of swords specifically designed for the elite members of the military nobility, known as  the samurai. Sword design became increasingly sophisticated and diversified-hilts became more complex with the addition of more features and blades were designed in different shapes.

In Europe, swords became longer and more powerful, often designed to be held with a two - handed grip. Typical swords of the early 14th century, for example, had straight, broad, double-edged blades up to 1,25 m ( 4 ft ) long, large pommels, and straight or forward-curving quill-ions - the extended arms of  a cross-guard. In the hands of skillful knight , such weapon was capable of causing devastating injuries on unprotected soldiers. Yet from the end of the 13th century, chain mail and plate armor pushed sword design in new directions. Slashing weapons were largely useless against armor, so thrusting weapons were developed, featuring blades with a diamond or lozenge cross-section. Such blades were thicker in the middle and therefore more rigid. A well - equipped knight would often carry both  a thrusting and a slashing sword to battle. Designs of hilts also developed during this period. Cross - guards steadily became more elaborate with additional features such as the forefinger hook, which protected the warriors's finger if the sword was gripped by the ricasso for better controll . A narrow metal strip called the knuckle guard, which curved over the lenght of the hilt , protected the warrior's knuckles. These features laid the groundwork for the development of some highly ornate hilts during the Renaissance ( 14th - 17th centuries ) , especially the hilts of long thrusting swords known as rapiers , which became common in the 16th century.

Outside Europe, sword design followed different paths. The Islamic world, which consisted of the MIddle East, North Africa, Central Asia, and India, favored curved, single- edged swords. Such swords were ideal for the cavalry - style warfare of the Muslim armies, and were decorated with scroll - work and religious texts. Further East Asian sword-smiths were also producing single - edged swords that displayed some degree of curve. In Japan prior to the 10th century, the two primary types of blade were the straight single - edged "Chokuto" and the double - edged "Warabiti - tachi". From the 10 century , however, Japanese swords, called " Katana" , began featuring  a graceful curve. By the late medieval period, the samurai had started pairing the long Katana with a shorter, more curved sword called the " Wakizashi ". Two classic sword types also emerged in China during the medieval period - the straight, double - edged " Jian " and the deeply curved, single - edged, and  one -handed " Dao", as well as its two - handed version, the "Dadao". Although both the "jian" and the "dao" were used up until the 19th century, it was curved "dao" they predominated, mainly because it suited the style of warfare adopted by the Chinese cavalry. Similarly, India developed the curved " Talwar ". Produced from the 14th century, it reached a highly refined from during the 16th century. While all these developments were taking places across the world, certain societies were yet to discover metal and its benefits in sword construction. Weapons used by warriors of the Aztec empire were still being made from stone and wood, and were not match for the sophisticated European swords they would face in the near future.
 

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