THE SWORD HAS ACCOMPANIED human civilisation since the Bronze Age. Treasured both for its functionality as a weapon and its symbolic power, we have never lost our fascination with it. Even though now obsolete in military terms, it remains part of the insignia of soldiers all over the world. Together with the scales, it is recognised as a symbol of justice. It is featured in national flags and coats of arms. Just as in the literature of earlier centuries, modern pop-culture puts the sword in the hands of the righteous hero and villainous antagonist, most famously in its incarnation as the lightsaber. Martial arts and combat sports concentrate on the use of the sword, be it the Japanese national sport of kendo, Olympic fencing, or the quickly growing community of Historical European Martial Arts. Antique originals and high-quality replica swords are sought-after items among enthusiastic collectors.
But from what springs the fascination that the sword holds for the human mind? Fundamentally, from its materiality. A polished blade of metal, be it bronze or steel, is an object that transcends ordinary experiences; reflecting the sun, it resembles a ray of light held by the hands of its wielder. Its sharp edges threaten and attract at the same time. A child learns to fear the blade from the first time of being cut, a fear that soon becomes intuitive, like the fear of fire. Yet at the same time, children love to hold a blade in their hand: the blade promises empowerment, a possibility to change and dominate the world around them. The promise stays with them while they grow older; once taken in the hand, the sword seems to bestow an aura of invincibility to its wielder. An aura which is sometimes paid for with the horror the weapon instills in those it threatens. The sword is, one could say, an answer to our fear of our own weaknesses – even if that means to project the fear unto others.
All of this results in the sword's reputation as the “Queen of Weapons” through the millennia and across the continents. Given its outstanding status in human culture, it is no wonder that the weapon, its production, symbolism and usage also attracts the attention of researchers from various academic backgrounds. The volume brings together several such approaches to the history and meaning of the sword.