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October 26, 2016

Weapons of the Bronze Age: An Expanding Arsenal

The Bronze age was a time of change in terms of warfare; however, what changed was not necessarily tactics or how wars were fought, but instead a change of arsenal. In this period of human history, we see the creation of new a weapon, the use of bronze to enhance weapons that already existed. In terms of the additions, the newest weapon that was added to humanity’s arsenal in the Bronze age was the sword.

Bronze sword collection | Courtesy of the Museum of Scotland

The first swords began to emerge around 1600 BCE, and many bronze age swords that have been recovered have a similar story to tell; one that speaks of heavy use in combat as seen by the damages in the blade and hilts as well as evidence of much resharpening and repair.1 In fact, one interesting discovery, which at first was rather strange, is that it has often been found that the damage on many of the swords that have been recovered typically have damage on only one side of the weapon; however, it was found that this was a shared trait among the many recovered swords. The answer to this mystery was not a hard one to find. Take for example a pencil; one will typically, without even noticing it, hold a pencil the same way every time one picks it up. After a while one may come to discover that the pencil will become dull, requiring it to be sharpened. The same thing will happen when using a sword; out of habit, the wielder will hold his sword the same way when striking or blocking while in combat, which will result in the dulling of the blade as well as the one-sided damage to the weapon requiring constant upkeep.2

All weapons share one thing in common: they are an extension of the human body. To elaborate, take for example the sword. A sword would be an extension of the arm allowing for a much greater attacking reach through slashing and thrusting movements. There is also one thing that swords, spears, and axes have in common. They can be used with one hand, and the obvious tool for the other hand would be a shield. It is understandable that one might just consider a shield as a piece of armor; but on the contrary, a shield is actually a defensive weapon, and when paired with a one-handed offensive weapon, the wielder could repeat a series of attack and defense maneuvers, such as slash and thrust then block or side step to avoid a blow, and repeat. One weapon by itself already enhances the human body’s capacity for combat, but add another, and at that one with defensive capabilities, and a skilled soldier becomes a one man army.

Shields came in many different shapes, sizes, and forms; the shield made of wood, for example was capable of taking hits and had a good resistance to blades. The leather shield was not much different from its wood counterpart though it was very light and more flexible; however, shields made of bronze had a much higher rate of survival than their organic made counterparts. They had much higher resistance to damage and breakage, ultimately leading to the wielder being in slightly less danger than if he were using lesser shields. Yet with the defensive advantage that bronze shields had over wood or leather came a slight drawback, a shared trait with any bronze weapon; they had additional weight to them.3 This additional weight would have hindered mobility just a bit compared to weapons not made of bronze, but that was a fair price to pay for a better defense and survival rate in the long run.

The bronze age would eventually come to an end, and weapons would be made of iron as the following era’s name suggests, the Iron Age. From this point on weapons would continue to evolve, warfare would be revolutionized by the Assyrians, the Greeks, and the Romans in the following age. However, one thing will always stay the same; that is that war would be a constant occurrence throughout human history for many reasons, and humanity’s ever growing arsenal would continue to expand.

  1. Barry Molloy, “For Gods or Men? A Reappraisal of the Function of European Bronze Age Shields,” Antiquity 83, no. 322 (December 2009): 1053.
  2. K. Kristiansen, “The Tale of the Sword – Swords and Swordfighters in Bronze Age Europe,” Oxford Journal of Archaeology 21, no. 4 (November 2002): 323.
  3. Barry Molloy, “For Gods or Men? A Reappraisal of the Function of European Bronze Age Shields,” Antiquity 83, no. 322 (December 2009): 1053-1055.

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Zander Barrera

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Recent Comments


  • Ryan Estes

    As a lover of superhero movies, it is interesting to learn how real life weapons evolved. When I went to Europe I learned the staircases are built counter-clockwise so right-handed soldiers have trouble getting up the stairs. I find history very interesting, and it was cool to learn why weapons that are recovered in the present day are so beat up.

  • Antonio Coffee

    The creation of a bronze weapon was a huge change in the way war was fought and had a major impact on society. It is great to see an article covering this topic as some schools will not really discuss the major impacts of using different metals for warfare while they are covering early history. This is a very well written article as it does not only focus on how the use of bronze changed the sword but also how it affected the use of the shield, and then explained to the reader how these two items complemented each other.

  • Yadira Chavez

    This is a really neat read overall and although these topics tend to bore me, this one stood out. Looking at how far technology has come, and especially warfare technology, we have reach scary heights with how we kill each other. While the use of bronze was a giant leap, it seems very primitive compared to weapons that we have now. Thanks for informing us on the topic!

  • Noah Bolhuis

    No matter what time humans are in, and what weaponry they are using, there is always a drive to find the next tactical advantage. From musket to modern semi-automatic firearms and to the next and so on; there is always improvement. Bronze took over the world when it was first put into place, and it was a revolutionary discovery. Military advantages have so many things involved in them, and more advanced weaponry is a key component. As you said, iron soon took over as the dominant weapon of the world. Bronze had an important part in human and military history.

  • Samuel Ruiz

    As someone who is a minor fan of swords and medieval weapons, I found this article to be enjoyable. Of course, this article is about the Bronze Age and not about medieval warfare, but the discovery of the bronze sword and shield pulled at me with this interest. People at this time found a great use of bronze in their “extension of the human body.” Awesome article!

  • Caroline Bush

    Great article! Its interesting to hear about the bronze age and how it completely modernized war. The fact that a person decided to craft new weapons made out of bronze is crazy and shows how far human innovation can go. We recently talked about this topic in class and even reading about it now I still find it impressive just how far humans can advance with the materials available to them. Overall I really enjoyed reading about this topic and found the article to be well put together.

  • Belia Camarena

    It is interesting to learn of the evolution of weaponry, and the impact these new weapons have on warfare. Swords and shields of bronze were introduced in the bronze age, and they completely modernized warfare, since swords had never been used before. It is awesome how technological advancements can lead to a higher risk of survival, as was the case for bronze shields.

  • Raymond Davila

    This is an important age in human history for it is the age in which people started making weapons and armor out of bronze. It is also the age where one of my favorite historical weapons gets introduced, “The Sword”. The invention of the sword was only possible because of the discovery of being able to make weapon out of metal (more specifically bronze) because unlike other weapons like spears, axes, clubs, and arrows that can be made out of wood or stone. Because a true sword that can kill by piercing, slicing, and hacking can not be made.

  • Thomas Fraire

    It’s quite fascinating how the human race has advanced in technology. Like the fact that someone was like “I am going to sculpt bronze and make a weapon out of it is just crazy.” I remember learning about this stuff in class, and it was fascinating seeing the strides we’ve made in society.

  • Aaiyanna Johnson

    It is amazing, how much innovation happens when there are enemies. I can’t believe they made weapons, started a whole revolution based around making better weapons for killing others, and to me it is heart-breaking because it is still happening today. But, this ingenuity helped with the expanding the curiosity, and creativity of humans. It is oftentimes for the wrong reasons we humans become smart.

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