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Authentically Reproduced Xiphos, featuring Leaf shaping and natural casting imperfections.
Modern reconstruction of a Greek xiphos and scabbard.
Actaeon holding a xiphos. Painted vase from Metaponto, c. 390–380 BC
Bronze casted shortsword
Historical Reproduction of a Greek Xiphos

The xiphos (Ancient Greek: ξίφος [ksípʰos]; plural xiphe, Ancient Greek: ξίφη [ksípʰɛː])[1] is a double-edged, one-handed Iron Age straight shortsword used by the ancient Greeks. It was a secondary battlefield weapon for the Greek armies after the dory or javelin. The classic blade was generally about 45–60 cm (18–24 in) long, although the Spartans supposedly started to use blades as short as 30 cm (12 in) around the era of the Greco-Persian Wars. The xiphos sometimes has a midrib, and is diamond or lenticular in cross-section. It was generally hung from a baldric under the left arm.[2] The xiphos was generally used only when the spear was broken, taken by the enemy, or discarded for close combat. Very few xiphe seem to have survived.

Stone's Glossary has xiphos being a name used by Homer for a sword. The entry in the book says that the sword had a double-edged blade widest at about two-thirds of its length from the point, and ending in a very long point.[3] The name xiphos apparently means something in the way of "penetrating light" according to researcher and swordsmith Peter Johnsson.[2][dubious ]

The xiphos' leaf-shaped design lent itself to both cutting and thrusting. The design has most likely been in existence since the appearance of the first swords. Blades in bronze and iron are suitable for a leaf shape due to the softness of the metals in comparison to steel. Bronze swords are cast and are thus more easily formed into a leaf shape than iron swords, which need to be forged.

The early xiphos was a bronze sword, and in the classical period, would have been made of iron. The early Celtic La Tène short sword, contemporary with the xiphos, had a virtually identical blade design as the xiphos.[citation needed]

The leaf-shaped short swords were not limited to Greece, as mentioned, but can be found throughout Europe in the late Bronze Age under various names.[4] Bronze leaf-shaped swords from as early as the late second millennium still survive.[5] The Urnfield culture is associated with the use of the leaf shaped bronze short sword.[citation needed] It is generally thought that iron swords had replaced bronze swords by the early La Tène culture about 500 BC.[citation needed] During the Halstatt culture a mixture of bronze and iron swords seem to have existed side by side.[citation needed] Notwithstanding, it can be assumed bronze cast swords were held by families and armies for generations, while ironworking slowly permeated the Classical Age. Iron tends to become severely oxidized (rusted) over the years, and few iron swords have survived, in contrast to bronze swords that age very well. Surviving examples of Bronze Xiphe can exist in polished condition for generations, in comparison to their ferrous counterparts. Bronze disease is subsequently a rare possibility in the degradation of bronze artifacts, and has likely claimed countless swords as victims over the millennia.

Thus, much is known regarding the sword during the Bronze Age but less so in the early Iron Age. Bronze thrusting swords from the second millennium still exist in excellent condition. Reproduction continues to this day as a preservation of Greek sandcasting technique, and many examples of adapted three dimensional printing exist.


Bronze Age xiphe typically were cast using readily available materials as armies marched. Casting the sword was a necessity of Bronze, as the material is a crystalline structure and thus cannot be hardened or forged with heat. Typical Bronze age alloys relied on local tin deposits and mines which were in relatively scarce supply in Bronze Age Europe, resulting in Bronze alloys that follow a wide range of Tin and Copper concentrations (5%-10%). The process of casting has developed into what is known as sandcasting today, and has a major advantage of being able to re-melt damaged parts and weapons with relative ease.

Warriors were known for plucking branches from passing trees, whittling them down as they traveled into a slightly larger model of a Xiphos blade. This blade was then set in a vertical wooden box mold, a method used by craftsmen to this day for casting metals. Using a finely ground mixture of clay, sand, and water the wooden blank is pressed and sealed into a two part mold that can be separated. Once the clay dried, the mold is taken apart carefully to remove the black, leaving a cavity for the molten bronze to fill. Using a forge of mud and charcoal, bronze is melted in a crucible of clay and straw then poured into the mold and allowed to cool. Left with a dull sand encrusted bronze weight from the casting, it would then be clamped to a board and filed or ground until the token leaf or lenticular shape was achieved. This filing process likely took days, conditioning the arms of the soldier and linking their work to their success in combat. During the Bronze age the Bronze sword was prized by Greek expeditionary forces for their ability to both be work hardened, and their ability to be recast when broken. Due to the time consuming nature of arms production in the Bronze Age, scholars like Sue Brunning further an argument that these swords are examples of 'Living History', as their lineage, construction, and use are all non-chronological examples of historical significance.

[4] After the sword is filed down to reasonable shape, imperfections are often revealed. A study conducted on imperfections and battle damage of surviving xiphe can be found here. During the Bronze Age it is argued that parry combat was largely avoided due to the brittle nature of bronze, emphasizing the necessity of work hardening the blades, and consistently creating new ones with each battle to arm the troops.

Leather wrapped animal bone often appear as a handle material alongside wood, varying across Eurasia.

Surviving xiphe are relatively rare, but appear alongside iron weapons in burials, indicating both a household status, and continued use into the Iron Age.[6]

While this period between the Classical and Iron Ages is often written as a 'Dark Age', the innovation upon metal casting, alloy construction, and procurement alone signify a golden age of the Craftsman. As widespread use of metallurgy slowly precipitated Iberia, humanity arguably made some of its most important innovations in technology.[7]

The word is attested in Mycenaean Greek Linear B form as 𐀥𐀯𐀟𐀁, qi-si-pe-e.[n 1] A relation to Arabic saifun and Egyptian sēfet has been suggested, although this does not explain the presence of a labiovelar in Mycenaean.[15] One suggestion connects Ossetic äxsirf "sickle",[16] which would point to a virtual Indo-European *kwsibhro-.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Qi-si-pe-e is thought to be the dual number nominative case form of *qi-si-po; that is, its meaning is "two swords". It is found on the PY Ta 716 tablet.[8][9][10][11] Mycenaean 𐀞𐀏𐀙, pa-ka-na, could be an attested form of φάσγανον, phasganon, the famous Homeric word for sword.[12][13][14] A sword is usually represented iconographically in Linear B by the ideogram 𐃉.
  1. ^ ξίφος. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project
  2. ^ a b http://www.myarmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=6021
  3. ^ George Cameron Stone, A Glossary of the Construction, Decoration, and Use of Arms and Armor
  4. ^ a b Brunning, Sue. The sword in early Medieval Northern Europe : experience, identity, representation. Woodbridge. ISBN 978-1-78744-456-0. OCLC 1105200255.
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on March 31, 2012. Retrieved January 26, 2009.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ Bachrach, Bernard S. Warfare in medieval Europe, c.400-c.1453. Bachrach, David S., 1971-. London. ISBN 978-1-138-88765-7. OCLC 961307661.
  7. ^ Bachrach, Bernard S. Warfare in medieval Europe, c.400-c.1453. Bachrach, David S., 1971-. London. ISBN 978-1-138-88765-7. OCLC 961307661.
  8. ^ "The Linear B word qi-si-pe-e". Palaeolexicon. Word study tool of Ancient languages.
  9. ^ Raymoure, K. A. "qi-si-pe-e". Minoan Linear A & Mycenaean Linear B. Deaditerranean.
  10. ^ "PY 716 Ta (2)". DĀMOS: Database of Mycenaean at Oslo. University of Oslo.
  11. ^ Heubeck, Alfred (1958). "MYKENISCH *qi-si-po = ξίφος". Minos (in German). 6: 114–116.
  12. ^ φάσγανον in Liddell and Scott.
  13. ^ "The Linear B word pa-ka-na". Palaeolexicon. Word study tool of Ancient languages.
  14. ^ Raymoure, K.A. "pa-ka-na". Minoan Linear A & Mycenaean Linear B. Deaditerranean.
  15. ^ Frisk, Griechisches Etymologisches Woerterbuch
  16. ^ Čop KZ 74, p. 231 f