Dark blades in history…

If there were any famous dark blades in history, I have been unable to find any. Barring the possibility that some historical or ceremonial blade may have been unfinished or made of a particularly dark variety of Damascus steel, searching for historic black blades has been a fruitless exercise for me. The best fictional reference I have been able to come up was to a black blade (also sometimes called the Shade Blade inspired by a black sword called StormBringer, from a fictional series by Michael Moorcock. Interestingly, this StormBringer, and variants thereof, has made it’s way in to numerous computer games, and was, in at least one of them (according to this Wikipedia entry), made “the most powerful magical weapon in the game.” Not surprising, since it would most likely be the rarest weapon in the whole of videogamedom as well… : P

StormBringer Black Sword

But in all fairness however, I can see why medieval sword makers and swordsmen might not want a black sword. From all accounts, the polishing process made the average medieval sword a better weapon. It was easier to clean, much more aesthetically pleasing, and probably a little lighter too, since the polishing removed a layer of material from the surface of the blade.

In any case, one of my hopes for this blog is that I may eventually gain sufficient exposure to some true professional blade historians who may actually have some insight into the existence of historical black or dark blades. I consider myself fortunate to be live in an age where the technology exists to make functional and durable black swords, even if it requires special steels or artificial finishes… : )


4 Responses to “Dark blades in history…”

  1. 1 sam
    July 8, 2007 at 8:36 pm

    prince marko and the sword of vukashin was a story about a damascus blade said to be enchanted. probably not damascus, maybe ionized black steel. on the flip side, look up durendal on the wiki (sword of roland) and you will see the holy sword is said to be in france and it looks copper or bronze.

  2. July 9, 2007 at 1:29 am

    Hey Sam, Thanks for the tip! I looked up “Prince Marko and the Sword of Vukashim” and sure enough, based on the description given in the story here, it appears to have been a sword of Damascus Steel. Yet another part of the story (where Marko gets revenge for the death of his father and the one who took the sword from him) describes it as a golden sword, so even though I am actually inclined to believe that they were in fact talking about Damascus steel, (since it was supposedly made for a king, and also because to my knowledge, Damascus was actually a well known steel in that part of the world at the time), I could be wrong.

    My search on Durendal was less productive. A lot of what I found were interesting references to HALO video game characters. However I did find some interesting information. According to the legends, there were actually three swords of the same heritage in Charlemagne lore. Durendal, Joyeuse, and Curtana. Curtana was supposedly engraved with the words: “My name is Cortana, of the same steel and temper as Joyeuse and Durendal”. Looking up Joyeuse, we are told that “its color changed thirty times a day.”

    Now I suppose that it is possible for copper or bronze to give you a color changing effect with certain finishes, but I was kind of skeptical about the use of bronze swords in that era. So I did a little more reading and found this: From “The Death of Roland“:

    “…and took in his hand his good sword Durendal. Before him was a great rock, and on this in his rage and pain he smote ten mighty blows. Loud rang the steel upon the stone…”.

    Given this description, and also historical references to weapons of the day, we can probably infer that Durandal, Cortana and Joyeuse were actually made of steel, and the “color changing” may have simply been a the result of a special polishing process/finish. But again, lore does not always match fact. It is always interesting to see how cultural lore often “colors” many of the important artefacts. Now I’m kind of interested in seeing that holy sword over there in France…

    Thanks again!

  3. 3 ChroniclerLoki
    September 20, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    Actually the Mayans were quite fond of black blades, though to be honest they were not made of steel, they were actually made of obsidian which would never survive ten blows to even an armored opponent, much less a rock as obsidian is a glass like rock that is formed from lava cooling in the ocean. I think I had better stop this now as both my sanity and useless knowledge are showing.

  4. September 21, 2008 at 4:42 am

    Indeed, Obsidian is great for making razor sharp edges, but most certainly not the most durable material in the world… 🙂

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