Andrea writes on various topics from dating, couples, astrology, weddings, interior design, and gardens. She studied film and writing.
The Most Famous Swords
Swords in history and fiction represent powerful warriors, prized possessions, and, in some cases, peace treaties. There is a great deal of lore surrounding some of the most famous blades: Excalibur, Joyeuse, Durendal, and Fragarach. Whether the weapons were used in real battles or as relics in fantasy tales featuring dragons and wizards, swords take great skill and care to master.
In no particular order, the following article lists some of the most famous swords from different countries, legends, and wars.
No other sword has more name recognition than Excalibur. The legendary weapon was wielded by King Arthur. In Welsh, the sword is called Caledfwlch, in Cornish, Calesvol. The sword gives the owner sovereignty over Great Britain.
Excalibur, in most stories, is given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake. When he receives the sword, it represents the beginning of his reign or a new age. In some tales, a young Arthur must pull the sword out of a stone.
The weapon is associated with holiness. The scabbard was said to have healing powers. It would be used to protect the injured, and, if worn, the keeper of it couldn’t be harmed — no blood could be shed.
Nineteenth-century poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson described the sword as such:
"There drew he forth the brand Excalibur,
And o’er him, drawing it, the winter moon,
Brightening the skirts of a long cloud, ran forth
And sparkled keen with frost against the hilt:
For all the haft twinkled with diamond sparks,
Myriads of topaz-lights, and jacinth-work
Of subtlest jewellery."
Excalibur is by no means the only weapon associated with King Arthur. Welsh tradition also attributed a dagger named Carnwennan and a spear named Rhongomyniad to the famous king.
The Sword of Peace, Clarent, was used by King Arthur for ceremonies, particularly for knighting. It was stolen by his nephew, Mordred, and he used it to fatally wound King Arthur at the battle of Camlann. King Arthur’s body was then moved by Morgan le Fay and three other queens to Avalon.
There are many legends behind Mordred, that he may have been the illegitimate son of Arthur or he was a traitor to England. In some versions, Mordred kidnapped Arthur’s wife, Guinevere, and he physically abused her setting King Arthur into a rage.
Mordred is in the final circle of hell in Dante’s Inferno where other famous traitors were cast such as Judas, Brutus, and Cassius. Clarent and its tale would be one of irony since its purpose was for peace, but it was used to murder a beloved king.
Carnwennan is another of King Arthur’s weapons. It was a dagger that supposedly could shield its user while in shadow. Arthur uses Carnwennan to slay the witch Orddu — the Very Black Witch daughter of Orwen — by slicing her in half. This weapon along with Excalibur and Rhongomiant are listed as weapons given to him by God. Carnwennan is exclusive to Welsh tales of Arthurian legends.
In Culwch and Olwen, a Welsh tale about a hero connected to King Arthur, there is a part that highlights the significance of the holy weapons:
“Then said Arthur, ‘Since thou wilt not remain here, chieftain, thou shalt receive the boon whatsoever thy tongue may name, as far as the wind dries, and the rain moistens, and the sun revolves, and the sea encircles, and the earth extends; save only my ship; and my mantle; and Caledvwlch, my sword; and Rhongomyant, my lance; and Wynebgwrthucher, my shield; and Carnwenhau, my dagger; and Gwenhwyvar, my wife. By the truth of Heaven, thou shalt have it cheerfully, name what thou wilt.’”
The Crown Jewels
There are six swords in the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom including the Sword of Mercy (Edward the Confessor’s Sword), the Jewelled Sword of Offering, The Great Sword of State, the Sword of Spiritual Justice, and the Sword of Temporal Justice.
- Three of the swords predate the Restoration dating back to the early 17th-century.
- Three swords, symbols of kingship since the dawn of civilization, have been used in the coronation ceremony to represent the monarchy’s powers and sense of justice. This includes the Sword of Spiritual Justice, the Sword of Temporal Justice, and the Sword of Mercy.
Sword of Mercy, Curtana
The Sword of Mercy, Curtana, is a broken sword, according to legend, the sword was broken by an angel to prevent a wrongful killing. The sword is a reminder for knights during a knighting ceremony to remember honor and mercy in the heat of battle and conflict. The sword is believed to have been made along with the Sword of Spiritual Justice and the Sword of Temporal Justice for the Coronation of King Charles I.
Jewelled Sword of Offering
The Jewlled Sword of Offering is the only sword actually presented to the Sovereign during the Coronation (by the Archbishop of Canterbury, to signify that the royal power is at the service of the church). The sword is of great magnificence with a hilt and quillions almost entirely encrusted with precious stones. At the center of the quillion is a very large and fine emerald.
The scabbard is of gold ornamentation with the badges of the United Kingdom in rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and diamonds. A less elaborate sword was provided for the Coronation of Queen Victoria, but at the last three coronations, the George IV sword has taken its place.
The Great Sword of State
The Great Sword of State: The gilt handle has crosspieces representing the lion (England) and unicorn (Scotland). The scabbard is decorated with jewels in the shapes of the floral symbols of the United Kingdom: the rose for England and the thistle for Scotland.
The two-handed sword was made in 1678. The wooden sheath is bound in crimson velvet and decorated with emblems.
Japanese blacksmith Gorō Nyūdō Masamune is said to be the greatest swordsmith of all time. He created swords and daggers in the Sōshū school. His forged swords called tachi were remade into katanas. The only existing swords of his today are katanas and tantōs.
The medieval swordsmith likely worked in the Sagami Province. He was born circa 1264 and died in the year 1343.
In some video games, the most powerful weapon to equip is called Masamune. At the Japanese Sword Making Competition, there is an award for excellent swordsmiths called the Masamune Prize.
In some legends, Masamune swords are seen as holy relics while his rival Muramasa gets killed for forging evil swords.
A magic sword mentioned in Norse mythology. Dwarves made the sword for Svafrlami, the king of Gardariki. The king had trapped the dwarves and forced them to forge a blade that would never miss, never rust, and could cut through stone and iron.
The dwarves cursed the sword. Whenever it was used to kill someone, it would become corrupt, eventually breeding three great evils. The king was eventually killed by the berserker Arngrim. The sword continued to be passed down to new successors, leaving behind a bloody trail (like the Elder Wand story in Harry Potter but worse).
The legendary sword of Danish king Hrólf Kraki. It was the vessel for the spirits of the king’s 12 loyal berserker guards.
In the Laxdæla saga, Eid, the son of Midfjardar-Skeggi, takes Skofung from Hrólf Kraki’s burial mound. The sword is passed down to Eid’s kinsman Thorkel Eyjólfsson. He was supposed to use the sword to kill the outlaw Grim, the man who killed Eid’s son. Thorkel instead became friends with Grim… and he doesn’t return Skofnung to Eid.
The sword is lost for a time when Thorkel’s ship capsized off the coast of Iceland. Everyone who was aboard the ship drowned. Skofnung is found on a beach by Thorkel’s son Gellir. He dies while returning from a pilgrimage to Rome. He was buried at Roskilde with the sword.
According to the Laxdæla saga, Skofnung should never be drawn in the presence of women and the sun should never shine on the hilt. Any wound created by the sword can’t be healed unless the Skofung Stone is used.
Nægling is one of the swords used by Beowulf. He uses the sword to fight a dragon, but the sword snaps in half, not because of the dragon’s strength but because of Beowulf’s. The sword is often described as an old heirloom, gray, and of excellent quality.
The sword is potentially in reference to the Nagelring from Viking Saga.
The Vorpal Sword is featured in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland novel. The sword is featured in the “Jabberwocky” poem:
"One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.
And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
He chortled in his joy."
The term “Vorpal Sword” is now used to mean a wavy or unusually long sword. The term may also refer to a supernatural weapon used to sever heads.
Sword of Godric Gryffindor
The Sword of Godric Gryffindor is a goblin-made sword adorned with rubies on the pummel. It was once owned by Godric Gryffindor, a founder of Hogwarts. Early in the Harry Potter series, Harry draws the Sword from the Sorting Hat to kill Voldemort’s Basilisk. The sword also plays a large role in the Deathly Hallows, due to it being imbued with the Basilisk’s venom.
Because the Sword was goblin-forged, it is indestructible, and according to Griphook the goblin, the Sword was originally forged by the goblin Ragnuk the First and “stolen” by Godric. The sword was stolen (or retrieved, as goblins would say) by Griphook when the sword fell from Harry’s grasp during the raid on Lestrange’s vault in book seven.
However, it again returned to wizard hands later in the book, when Neville pulled it out of the Sorting Hat and used it to decapitate Nagini, Voldemort’s snake. This shows that apparently, no matter where the sword happens to be, it will reappear in the Hat when a true member of Gryffindor house is in need of it.
Author JK Rowling confirmed in a web chat that Godric Gryffindor did not steal the sword from Ragnuk and that this belief is merely part of Griphook’s goblin mistrust and prejudice against wizards. It was revealed on Pottermore that Godric commissioned Ragnuk the First to make the sword for him under his specifications.
Once Ragnuk had made the sword, he was so fond of it that after he presented it to Gryffindor, he told the goblins it had been stolen and sent minions to retrieve it for him.
Gryffindor defeated the goblins using magic, and instead of killing them, he bewitched them to go back to Ragnuk and say that if he tried to take the sword again, he would use the blade against them. The goblin took the threat seriously, but he insisted it had been stolen from him until the day he died.
Would a proper sword list omit Lord of the Rings? No, at least one sword should be named from the fantasy series.
Glamdring was a sword used by the king of Elves, Turgon, and the wizard Gandalf. It was forged alongside Orcrist and possibly Sting during the First Age.
The blades were lost during the sacking of King Turgon’s kingdom, Gondolin. In the late Third Age, Glamdring somehow came into the possession of Trolls. During the Quest of Erebor, Gandalf found the sword in a Troll hoard. He used it during the Battle of Gondor.
In the Chronicles of Narnia, Peter Pevensie received Rhindon along with a shield from Father Christmas. This was after meeting him on the journey to find Aslan.
The sword is used later when Peter is knighted “Sir Peter Wolf’s-Bane” by Aslan. Peter had killed Maugrim, the wolf-chief of the White Witch’s secret police, who was trying to kill Susan and Lucy.
Peter is reunited with Rhindon in Prince Caspian.
Sword of Peter
A holy relic claimed to be the sword Apostle Peter used to cut off the right ear of Malchus, the high priest’s servant who was conspiring with others to arrest Jesus.
The sword is wide-tipped. A replica of it is displayed at the Poznań Archcathedral Basilica.
The Wallace Sword
The Wallace Sword is an antique claymore believed to be William Wallace’s Sword, a Scottish knight who lived around 1285–1305. He led Scotland in campaigns for independence from England during the Wars of Scottish Independence.
After William’s execution in 1305, it is believed the governor of Dumbarton Castle took the sword. The sword that is currently claimed to be the Wallace Sword is under great scrutiny, and the real sword is considered to be a lost relic of time.
However, the bottommost piece has a flattened diamond cross-section commonplace for the time period, so perhaps it might be a 13th-century sword, and therefore, there is some hope for those who think that Wallace’s sword hasn’t been lost to history.
Wallace was an incredibly young and powerful warrior. England really did not like him, giving him one of the cruelest executions in history… I can’t place the details here.
Fragarach, known as “The Answerer” or “The Retaliator”, was the sword of Manannan mac Lir and later, Lugh Lamfada (warriors of Irish lore).
It was said that no one could tell a lie or move with Fragarach at his or her throat, thus the name “Answerer” was quite fitting. Legend also has it that the wielder of Fragarach could control the wind. It could cut through any shield or wall. No one could recover if they were pierced by the sword.
Crocea Mors was the name of Julius Caesar’s sword. In Welsh versions, it is called Angau Coch (“Red Death”) or Agheu Glas (“Grey Death”).
The British prince Nennius acquired it when, during single combat with Caesar, it got stuck in his shield. It killed everyone Nennius struck with it. Nennius died fifteen days after battling Caesar, and the sword was buried with him.
“Durendal” or “Durandal” is the sword of Charlemagne's paladin Roland, who went on many marches in the name of bringing Christianity throughout Europe. Durendal was said to have been blessed by many saints, having in its golden hilt a tooth of Saint Peter, the blood of Saint Basil, a hair of Saint Dennis, and a garment from Blessed Mary. The sword was considered to be indestructible, and Roland himself attempted to destroy the sword in case it fell into the wrong hands, but he was unable to do it.
Monks from Rocamadour, France attest that Durendal still exists and that it is embedded in a cliff wall. The sword is believed to have once belonged to Hector of Troy, and the sword was given to Roland by Malagigi, another of Charlemagne's paladins in the Chansons de Geste. Malagigi was a great enchanter who owned many magical things — including the magical horse Bayard who was capable of carrying several riders at once.
Joyeuse was Charlemagne’s personal sword. There are many legends about the origins of the sword, one being that it was made partly from the Lance of Longinus, the spear thrust into Christ’s side at the crucifixion.
Joyeuse is said to have been made from parts of Durendal, Roland’s sword. There is some controversy as to whether the sword exists — two different versions are in existence, one at the Lourve and the other at the Musée de Cluny.
The sword was possibly used in coronation ceremonies for kings from 1270 (King Philip III) to 1824 (Charles X). If the sword indeed has retained itself through so many French kings, it would be impressive indeed. At the core, the medieval blade consists of Oakeshott type XII, which was primarily used in the 10th century.
Joyeuse is the French word for joyful.
Lobera, forged in steel, has a blade of 80 cm. and is silver. It is a relic kept in the Capilla Real at the Seville Cathedral.
Lobera means “wolf-slayer” it was wielded by Saint Ferdinand III of Castile. Pope Innocent IV named Ferdinand the “invincible champion of Jesus Christ.” Don Juan Manuel writes that King Ferdinand III, lying on his deathbed, addressed him in these words:
“I can bequeath no heritage to you, but I bestow upon you my sword Lobera, that is of passing worth, and wherewith God has wrought much good to me.”
Ferdinand greatly expanded the borders of Spain. His tomb is inscribed in four languages: Arabic, Hebrew, Latin, and an early version of Castilian.
Swords of El Cid
Tizona and La Colada were swords used by El Cid of medieval Spain. The Tizona sword was ceremonial, owing to its adornment (which reflects its Castillian heraldry), and would have belonged to a member of the Castillian royalty or their family. After this mention in the inventory list, there are no other historical notices, although the blade currently residing in the Royal Armory of Madrid could be the same one described in 1503.
In the Cantar de Mio Cid, there are verses that describe each sword:
"Martín Antolínez took his sword in hand,
it lights up all the field, it is so clean and bright,
he gave him a blow, he hit him a glancing blow,
it broke away the top of the helmet,
it cut away all the helmet straps,
it tore off the mailed hood, and reached the coif,
the coif and the hood all were ripped away,
it cut the hairs on his head, and it reached well into the flesh,
one part fell to the ground and the other remained.
When precious Colada has struck this blow,
Diego González saw that he would not escape with his soul,
he turned his horse to face his opponent.
At that moment Martín Antolínez hit him with his sword,
he struck him broadside, with the cutting edge he did not hit him.
Diego González has sword in hand, but he does not use it,
at that moment the infante began to shout,
-Help me, God, glorious Lord, and protect me from this sword!"
Gram is the name of the sword that Sigurd used to kill the dragon Fafnir in Norse mythology. Gram was forged by Volund and originally belonged to Sigurd’s father, Sigmund, who received it in the hall of the Völsung after pulling it out of the tree Barnstokkr. Odin had put it there and people struggled to pull it out.
The sword was destroyed in battle when Sigmund struck the spear of an enemy soldier. Before he died, Sigmund instructed his wife to keep the pieces so that the sword might be reforged for their unborn son (Sigurd), whom she was carrying. The sword was eventually reforged by Regin for Sigurd’s use.
After it was reforged, it could cleave an anvil in two. Fafnir was the son of a dwarf who was turned into a dragon by the magical ring from Andvari.
Legbiter was the sword of Magnus III of Norway. When King Magnus was killed in an ambush by the Men of Ulster, his sword was retrieved and sent home. More legends abound for this Scandinavian king in Ireland and Scotland than in Norway.
In modern times a “Magnus Barelegs festival” has been held in Ireland, and there is a beer named after his sword. It is unclear what Magnus’ ultimate ambitions were, and the significance of his campaign has been downplayed by modern English historians.
According to Icelandic historian Snorri Sturlson, “King Magnus had a helmet on his head; a red shield, in which was inlaid a gilded lion; and was girt with the sword of Legbit, of which the hilt was of tooth (ivory), and handgrip wound about with gold thread; and the sword was extremely sharp.”
Szczerbiec is the coronation sword used for the king of Poland. It was used from 1320 to 1764. It is currently on display at the Royal Wawel Castle in Krakow; it is the only preserved piece of medieval Polish Crown Jewels.
The sword is characterized by a hilt decorated with magical formulas, Christian symbols, and floral patterns, as well as a narrow slit in the blade that holds a small shield with Poland’s coat of arms. In English, the weapon is often referred to as the “Notched Sword” or “Jagged Sword”, although its blade has straight and smooth edges.
A legend links Szczerbiec with King Boleslaus the Brave who was said to have chipped the sword by hitting it against the Golden Gate of Kiev in 1018. (However, the Golden Gate was only constructed in 1037 and the sword is actually dated to the late 12th or 13th century.)
It was first used as a coronation sword by Vladislaus the Elbow-High in 1320. Looted by Prussian troops in 1795, it changed hands several times during the 19th century until it was purchased in 1884 for the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The Soviet Union returned it to Poland in 1928. During WWII, Szczerbiec was taken to Canada and did not return to Kraków until 1959.
A legendary sword dating back to the Baekje, a Korean kingdom that reigned around 18BC to 660AD. The sword’s central blade has branch-like protrusions. It was a present to a Japanese official.
The sword is conserved in antiquity in the Isonokami Shrine. It is not on public display. A replica is at the War Memorial in Seoul.
Sword of Osman
The Sword of Osman was an important sword used during the coronation ceremonies of the Ottoman Empire sultans. The sword was named after Osman I, the founder of the Ottoman Dynasty. The girding of the sword of Osman was a vital ceremony that took place within two weeks of a sultan’s accession to the throne. It was held at the tomb complex at Eyüp, on the Golden Horn waterway in Constantinople.
The sword girding thus occurred on what was regarded as sacred grounds and linked the newly enthroned sultan both to his 13th-century ancestors and to the Prophet Muhammad.
A scissor-like double blade used by Ali ibn Abi Talib. It is often depicted on Muslim flags and as a talisman. In legends, Muhamad asked God for a sword, and then he gives it to Ali to replace his broken one.
Kusanagi no Tsurugi
A legendary Japanese sword and one of three Imperial Regalia Japan. The sword has many names including (“Heavenly Sword of Gathering Clouds”) and (“Grass-Cutting Sword”).
In lore, the god Susanoo visits a grieving family. They tell him they’re being terrorized by an eight-headed snake, and it had killed seven of the family’s eight daughters. Susanoo tricks the snake and kills it, and inside the serpent’s body, he finds the sword.
Sword of Goujian
A tin bronze sword of Goujian, one of the last kings of Yue in China. The sword was discovered in a tomb in Hubei in 1965. The sword was damaged while on loan to Singapore. China no longer allows the weapon to be displayed in international exhibits.
The sword has decorations of blue crystals and turquoise. The grip is held together by silk. The blade is still sharp and hasn’t tarnished, despite dating back to circa 771–476BC. The sword has had exceptional preservation over its 2,500+ years lifetime.
© 2014 Andrea Lawrence
Allison on January 22, 2015:
Surprisingly I like the gold one more, but they're both pretty fine-looking pecnlis :). Generous donations!A review would be interesting but understandably such specimens would go straight to the collection case . . . then again, the black one is already a little scuffed up on the barrel, so it's the perfect candidate for review week.It's a shame that other high-end Pentels like the Mechanica are made of mostly plastic though.
Joseph Ray on September 07, 2014:
Andrew from Rep Boston MA on July 03, 2014:
Cool history Hub on Swords. Excalibur wins all the way!