Double-Edged Sword

Double-Edged Sword

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A knight's sword was his most prized weapon. The sword was often named and was handed down from generation to generation. Norman swords normally had a broad, double-edged blade, and were about 76 cm (2 feet 6 inches) long. A good sword made of steel was unlikely to break during a battle. The handle was usually made of wood but the cross guard was made of iron.

Double-edged sword

The Double-edged sword is a recurring weapon in the series, and one of the most notable cursed items. Though the sword is incredibly powerful it will always strike the wielder with recoil damage, with the exact amount varying between titles. Furthermore, the sword is cursed in it's first two games and can only be removed at a Church.

Design wise, the sword was originally an oddly shaped, almost Christmas tree-like spread of blades stemming from the hilt. With the fifth game the sword became much a more elegant scimitar, with the lower edge of the blade curving back to the wielder's wrist and matching a similar protrusion extending from the pommel. Due to all sword animations being based on the same swinging motion, the double-edged sword was changed again for the eighth game into a bulky bastard sword style weapon that has two sections of razor blades before terminating in a spear tip.

Some people believe that a two-edged sword is more dangerous to its user than a single-edged one, but my experience (in martial arts) does not concur. It's not likely that a skilled swordsman is going to hurt himself with the reverse edge.

A two-edged sword is designed to be more dangerous to the target, not the wielder, by cutting on both the forward stroke and the back stroke. This idea is consistent with some of the earlier uses of the phrase:

The burden of taxes, like a two-edged sword, reduced men to poverty, and exposed them to be seduced by bribery. (1809)

In this sense, it is likened to the phrase: "cuts both ways" - referring again to the two sides of the sword stroke.

I don't know at what point "cuts both ways" and "two-edged sword" came to have the current meaning of good and bad, instead of just bad and worse, but I expect the two phrases evolved together.

Double-edged sword is somewhat of an imperfect metaphor, used with decidedly more of a semantic emphasis on double-edged than on sword. In other words, the poetic implication of cutting both ways supersedes the historical reality of the actual weapon.

"Double-edged sword", as a metaphor, has always been linked with "cuts both ways", meaning it can (figuratively) hurt both the person attacked and the attacker.

Mr. Burr (as was supposed) was too sore to be unbiassed he has, therefore, delivered an opinion which, like a two-edged sword, cuts both ways, for he declares that there was no sheriff, which, if admitted, destroys the legality of the votes and casts an odium on the Governor for suffering so important an office to be vacant.

This sort of argument is very unfair. It is also dangerous to to the cause of those who introduce it. It is a sword which cuts both ways. For we find the House of Commons has been more guilty than the Lords in this respect.

The metaphor has never, for at least the past 300 years, been used in reference to a "real" sword fight, but always rather invoking the image of a blade that can do damage to the person wielding it, in addition to injuring the attacked party.

And it's interesting to note that, in the past 100 years, "cuts both ways" has attained a life of its own, becoming much more popular than "double-edged sword" and its kin.

Also note, however, that "two-edged sword" (which has always, up until 20 years ago, been more popular than "double-edged sword") achieved a high degree of popularity in the early 1800s, in a religious context that is apparently unrelated to the metaphor.

Mysterious Viking Sword Made With Technology From the Future?

The Viking sword Ulfberht was made of metal so pure it baffled archaeologists. It was thought the technology to forge such metal was not invented for another 800 or more years, during the Industrial Revolution.

About 170 Ulfberhts have been found, dating from 800 to 1,000 A.D. A NOVA, National Geographic documentary titled “Secrets of the Viking Sword”, first aired in 2012, took a look at the enigmatic sword’s metallurgic composition.

In the process of forging iron, the ore must be heated to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit to liquify, allowing the blacksmith to remove the impurities (called “slag”). Carbon is also mixed in to make the brittle iron stronger. Medieval technology did not allow iron to be heated to such a high temperature, thus the slag was removed by pounding it out, a far less effective method.

The Ulfberht, however, has almost no slag, and it has a carbon content three times that of other metals from the time. It was made of a metal called “crucible steel.”

A 10th-century double-edged sword inscribed with the name "Ulfberht". Image source .

It was thought that the furnaces invented during the industrial revolution were the first tools for heating iron to this extent.

Modern blacksmith Richard Furrer of Wisconsin spoke to NOVA about the difficulties of making such a sword. Furrer is described in the documentary as one of the few people on the planet who has the skills needed to try to reproduce the Ulfberht.

“To do it right, it is the most complicated thing I know how to make,” he said.

He commented on how the Ulfberht maker would have been regarded as possessing magical powers. “To be able to make a weapon from dirt is a pretty powerful thing,” he said. But, to make a weapon that could bend without breaking, stay so sharp, and weigh so little would be regarded as supernatural.

Furrer spent days of continuous, painstaking work forging a similar sword. He used medieval technology, though he used it in a way never before suspected. The tiniest flaw or mistake could have turned the sword into a piece of scrap metal. He seemed to declare his success at the end with more relief than joy.

It is possible that the material and the know-how came from the Middle East. The Volga trade route between the Viking settlements and the Middle East opened at the same time the first Ulfberhts appeared and closed when the last Ulfberhts were produced.

Featured image: An Ulfberht Viking sword. Credit: National Geographic Television


This is the Ancient Origins team, and here is our mission: “To inspire open-minded learning about our past for the betterment of our future through the sharing of research, education, and knowledge”.

History of Swords

The sword was called by many the “Queen of the weapons”. There is a lot of merit in this epithet as the sword, throughout the ages possessed beauty in its many forms and the art with which it has been adorned. It took a lot of skill and sophisticated knowledge to make a sword and also, it took a lot of skill and knowledge to know how to wield the sword efficiently. The sword has a very long history and throughout times it has evolved and morphed into many forms. As a result it can be classified and grouped into many groups and subgroups.

The sword is a weapon that had been developed mainly for inflicting cutting wounds although stabbing was also important (especially in Roman times and Europe). The sword is often attributed to old world civilizations and the peoples who inherited the weapon. The sword was one of the main weapons in Egypt, Africa, Chaldea, Asia, pre-Hellenic Greece, Rome and Europe. It is possible to classify the sword according to geographical spread.

It is important to note, that in this classifications some swords in the Oriental and Asiatic group and the African group originated in Egypt. The Oriental types of swords evolved to a very distinguished form compared with European swords. The metal sword failed to develop on American and Australian continents. In South and Central America there was a wooden sword (macana) used by the native cultures. The Aztecs studded the wooden sword with obsidian blades to create a cutting edge.

To classify all the swords, it takes a lot of classes to get the general view of the swords used throughout the world. Some of the swords are so eccentric that belong to their own eccentric class and they have to be mentioned separately. The typical European sword is the one with straight and pointed blade, whereas the curved sword was developed in the Middle East and Asia. It is very probable that both swords originated in Egypt. Both types of swords retained their characteristics and over time evolved into many different forms. It is possible to classify sword into the following groups:

  1. The two edged straight sword
  2. The one edged sword straight or curved
  3. The one edged spud ended sword
  4. The curved sword with expanding blade (scimitar)
  5. The curved pointed sword edged on the inner (concave) edge
  6. The Egyptian falchion
  7. Eccentric types (flamberge, executioner’s sword, etc.)

Swords can be also divided into single-handed group and double handed group. The double-handed sword is any sword that is requires the use of both hands. This group includes swords such as the European longswords, landsknecht flamberge, Scottish great Claymore sword, Kriegsmesser, Japanese Odachi, etc. A single-handed sword was a short sword with handle that would only accommodate grip with only one hand.
The Two Edged Straight Sword
The two edged straight sword can be further divided into two subcategories:

The leaf-shaped blade sword featured a blade that widened usually at the middle of the blade and ended in a point. The straight-shaped blade sword featured a blade that had straight edged and ended with either a point or rounded point. The leaf-shaped sword was predominant during the bronze era and it was also the predominant in many different areas among various cultures. Leaf-shaped swords were found in Spain, Italy, Greece, Egypt and even in Britain, Scandinavia and other parts of Europe. The dominance of this blade shape during the bronze era is probably due to the fact that it was easier to achieve this type of blade with bronze. It is also probable that the shape of the sword originated from successful fusion of a spearhead and a dagger. The Greek Xiphos sword is an example of a leaf-shaped sword. The average length of a leaf-shaped sword is about 22 inches however, there were specimens found that measured up to 32 inches long. The leaf-shaped sword blades were the most common during the Bronze Era however, there were also bronze swords with straight and tapered blades. The early Roman swords were also leaf-shaped. The leaf-shaped sword is the most dominant sword of the Bronze Era. The sword was excellent for cutting but also offered incredible thrusting force. The first Roman swords were leaf-shaped but with development of iron the swords evolved to straight blade. The good examples of the Roman transitional period are the swords found in Hallstadt, Austria. The straight edged, iron Roman sword was the weapon that was prevalent during most of the Empire. The Roman Gladius was about 22 inches in length during the early times. The Roman Spatha was longer and it was probably adopted from Spain or other area.

The next development in iron swords was the dawn of the “Late Celtic Period” that was characterized by swords featuring straight-edged, iron blades that tapered from the tang and finish with a rounded point. Some swords had iron or bronze handles. Swords, such as these occurred in many places in Europe. The finest of the straight swords were found in Scandinavia. These early and middle Iron Age, Scandinavian swords varied in regards to the handle, pommel and hand guard but later merged into the now famous Viking type swords. The Viking swords were an example in craftsmanship and swordsmanship. Many of them featured lavished ornaments on their guards and pommels. The handles were often incrusted with precious stones and metals. The Viking sword featured straight edged blade that tapered slightly and ended with a rounded point. The swords, on average, measured between 34 to 44 inches in length.

The straight sword pattern began to change in the 9th century. The main change was the narrower blade compared with the length of the sword. Also the hilts become longer and reminiscent of the classic cross guard. The pommel of the sword was heavier and round and often highly ornate. Some of the swords during this transition period featured some of the Viking sword features and some of the new, cruciform characteristics. This “transitional sword” continued to evolve into the knight’s sword or arming sword, which featured the classic, cruciform characteristic. The arming sword was a double-edged, single-handed sword that was very common during the Middle Ages, between 11th and 14th century. The arming sword was the standard sword carried into battles. This sword was light and had an excellent balance. The sword was designed more for cutting than thrusting. The length of the sword varied, measuring between 30 inches to 32 inches. With time, knights began to wear heavier armor and this was one of the reasons for continued evolution of the sword. Larger and longer swords were needed to deliver either blunt trauma through the armor or to pierce the armor. This led to development of the longsword.

Between 13th and 17th century the straight sword became longer as it measured between 3ft to 4’3”. Longswords featured the classic, cruciform hilts with two-handed grips that measured 10 to 15 inches in length. The blade of the longsword was double-edged and measured between 40 to 48 inches in length. The weight of the longsword was between 2.5 to 5lbs. In combat, the swords were used for thrusting, cutting and striking using all parts of the sword including the crossguards and pommel.

One of the most famous two-handed swords was the claymore sword. The word claymore is derived from the Gaelic word “claidheamh mòr” meaning “great sword”. The name claymore actually refers to two types of swords. One of the swords is the two-handed longsword and the other one refers to much shorter and single-handed basked-hilted sword. The basket-hilted claymore sword was first used in the 16th century. This type of sword is still used as a part of the ceremonial dress of the Scottish highland regiments. The two-handed highland claymore sword was used during the late Medieval Age and in the Renaissance. This longsword was used in the wars between Scottish clans and the wars with the English. The Scottish claymore had distinctive design that featured a cross-hilt with downward sloping arms. The arms of the cross-hilt often ended with four-leaf clover design. There were also other, less known, claymore swords that had a very different, clamshell hilt design. An average, two-handed claymore sword was about 55 inches in length where the blade part measured 42 inches and the hilt measured 13 inches. The weight of the claymore was about 5.5lbs.

The basket-hilt claymore sword (circa 1700) could be either single-edged or double-edged. The sword was much shorter as it was single-handed sword with blade between 30 to 35 inches in length. The weight of the sword was ranged between 2-3 pounds. The basket hilt of the sword protected the entire hand of the person wielding the sword. The basked was often lined with red velvet and often it had tassels on the hilt and pommel for decoration.
The only straight and double-edged sword that was in use in Japan is the tsurugi. The name tsurugi also referred to Chinese straight and double-edged broadswords.
A rapier is a slander and sharply pointed sword that was used for thrusting attacks. Rapiers may feature two cutting edges. The blade might be sharpened on its entire length or from the middle of the blade to the tip or completely without a cutting edge (estoc). The Rapier was very popular in Europe between 16th and 17th century. Rapiers usually featured very complex hilts that were designed to protect the wielding hand. The word rapier was not used by the Spanish, French or Italian masters but rather the terms spade, epee or espada were used.

The one edged sword had its origins in a long knife and this type of sword was first used by hunters from wild tribes. When the tribes evolved into nations, they retained their long knives as weapons. Often they were used as supplemental swords. The Teutonic Scramasax or Yataghan can be an example of such weapons. The Scramasax varied in shape and size depending on the culture and area where it was used. The length of the Scramasax ranged from 20 to 27 inches. The blade of Scramasax was rather straight however, there were some specimens found that featured a slightly curved blade. Similar, knife-like, one-edged swords were found in other areas such as Japan, Afghanistan, Greece, Persia, Turkey and some African countries. The first Japanese knife-like swords featured a narrow blade with straight back and plain tang. These swords measured up to 45 inches in length. Other, similar and famous Oriental swords were the Afghan Salawar, Yataghan and Khyber Knife. The Ghurka kukri is a similar weapon the one-edged, Kopis sword used by the Greeks. The Kopis type sword was also used by the Persians and similar swords (called Falcata) were found in Spain.

The one-edged swords can be divided further into two curved classes. The first class features a blade that has the edge on the convex side and the second class has the edge on the concave side. The first sword group is rather large as it includes Scimitar type swords and their variants, whereas the second group is rather small and much localized. The first group encompassed swords like scimitars, cutlass sword or Dacian sword. The cutlass sword was used in Europe but it has been designed based on scimitar. The cutlass sword was developed in Bohemia in the 15th century. The sword’s blade and the handle were made of one piece of metal. The grip of the cutlass sword was either an iron ring or the slit in the blade. The Dacian sword was a long sword with thin and curved blade. The second group included swords such as the Greek Kopis, Falcata and Khyber Knife swords.

The scimitar is the typical sword of the East and especially Islam, whereas the typical straight sword with its cruciform shape was typical of the European, Christian culture. The name Scimitar came from the Persian word “shamshir”. The Indo-Chinese races used also curved swords. The Parang sword used in the countries such as India, Malaysia, Borneo, Burma and Nepal, featured a blade that was thin at the handle and which widened toward the end. The sword was used for chopping in agricultural operation and also in warfare. Another sword used in Indo-China was the dao sword. The sword was about 18 inches in length and it was narrow at the haft and square and wide at the top. The sword’s blade was sharpened at one edge and the handle was set in wooden or ebony handle. The dao sword was heavy and was able to deliver heavy blows. Another interesting curved sword is the Egyptian Khopesh sword. This weapon is illustrated on many Egyptian monuments and walls and according to the illustrations it was used by all the Egyptian warriors including the Pharaoh. The sword’s blade is curved and it is still not clear whether it was edged on concave or convex side however, it is more likely that it was edged on the convex side. The very thin handle of the swords ends in a pommel. The Khopesh sword was about 18 inches in length.

Another interesting sword was the German Kriegsmesser sword. The Kriegsmesser was a large, two-handed, one-edged sword that was slightly curved. The Kriegsmesser simply looked like an oversized knife. The sword has its origins in the European Seax knife and the Falchion. The Falchion failed with its popularity in Germany and the big, knife-like sword developed on its own. The name of the sword, Kriegsmesser, means literally “war knife”. The sword really deserves this name as the hilt of the sword looks like an oversized knife handle. The pommel of the sword usually was curved to one side. The handle was made of two pieces of wood or bone, with full tang between them. The guard of the sword frequently was made of steel ring or plate or cruciform crossguard.

The Japanese swords also belong to the one edged sword group. Tsurugi sword was the only exception. The Japanese swords were usually two-handed and featured a slightly curved blade with one edge. The blade ended in a point. The swords were fitted with an ornamental hand guard called tsuba. The blade of the sword was very rigid and the edge of the blade was very sharp. The Japanese swords were grouped according to sword-making method and size. The most popular sword was the katana which was worn the Japanese samurai class. Wakizashi was the shorter version of the katana sword. Odachi and Nodachi swords were also single-edged swords but they predate the katana and wakizashi swords.
Another single-edged sword is the sabre. The sabre usually features a slightly curved blade and a large hand-guard that protect the knuckles of the hand, thumb and forefinger. Most of the sabres had curved blades but there are also sabres with straight blade that were more suitable for thrusting. The straight sabres were usually used by the heavy cavalry. These sabres would also feature double-edged blades. The origin of the sabre is well known. It is said that the sabre appeared for the first time in Hungary in 10th century. The sabre may have its design influenced by either European falchion or the Middle-Eastern scimitar. The sabre was very popular in the 19th century and it was effectively used by heavy cavalry, especially during the Napoleonic Wars. However, with the advent of the firearms the weapon faded by the mid-century.

Executioner’s sword can be classified as an eccentric sword as this sword was not meant for combat but rather for decapitation of condemned criminals. Executioner’s sword was double-handed and featured a very wide and straight blade that ended that did not taper towards the end. These types of swords were in wide use in the 17th century.

Another eccentric sword is the landsknecht flamberge sword. It is eccentric due to its size and the shape of the blade. The sword was simply huge as its overall length was over 6ft. The blade of the sword had a characteristic wavy shape that resembled flame. The name of the sword “flamberge” comes from the words “flammard” and “flambard” meaning “flame blade”. The landsknecht flamberge sword was used in the 16th century by the German mercenaries called Landsknechts. The flame-shaped blades were very effective against wooden pikes and halberds because the shape of the blade provided more cutting surface while reducing the mass of the sword.


The sword consists of the sword blade and the hilt. The blade of the sword is used for cutting, thrusting and striking. The blade can be either double edged or single edged. Sometimes the single edged blade can have secondary edge near the very tip of the blade. The blade is divided into two parts called “forte” and “foible”. The “forte” (strong) part is between the center of balance and the hilt. The “foible” (weak) part is between center of percussion and the tip of the blade (point). The section between the center of percussion and the center of balance is called the middle. To make the blades lighter and at the same time more rigid, the blade may have grooves along the blade. Such grooves were called fullers or sometimes blood groves. The ricasso is the short section between the sharpened portion of the blade and the hilt. The ricasso is unsharpened and its length depends on the length of the sword. On some large swords, such as the Landknecht Flamberge the ricasso part may be significant to allow additional hand grip. Some swords don’t have ricasso at all.

The hilt is the upper part of the sword that allows wielding of the weapon. The hilt consists of the grip, the guard and the pommel. The pommel acts as a counterweight to the blade and allows balancing the sword thus improving the ability to wield the sword. The pommel also can be used for blunt strikes at a very close range. Pommels can come in variety of shapes including, globular, circular, semicircular, disc and rectangular. Pommels may be plain or be adorned with ornate designs or inlayed with jewels and gemstones. The crossguard prevents en enemy’s blade from sliding down onto the hands of the sword wielder. The guard may have various forms and the most common form of the sword guard is the cruciform that was prevalent in the Middle Ages. The sword’s cross guard may also be knows as quillons.

The tang is part of the hilt however, it is also a part of the blade. In traditional sword making the tang was made from the same piece of metal. The tang goes through the grip and the grip is most often made from two pieces of wood bound together by rivets and wrapped with leather, leather cord or metal wire. The Japanese swordmakers used shark skin to wrap the handles in their bladed weapons. The term “full tang” usually refers to the tang made from the same piece of metal as the blade. The term “rat-tail tang” that is often used in present and commercial sword making refers to tang that has been welded to the blade.

A scabbard is the protective sheath for the swords’ blade. The scabbard protected the blade from the elements, namely rain, snow or moisture. Various materials were used for making scabbards including wood, leather, steel or brass. Usually the scabbard had two metal fittings on both ends. The portion where the blade entered was called the throat and the portion at the end of the scabbard, meant to protect the tip of the blade was called chape. A sword belt was a belt that was used to attach the sword to carry it on a person. The sword could be attached to a person’s waist or sometimes on back and it was designed to make it easy to quickly draw the sword from the scabbard. A baldric is a belt that is worn over one shoulder. The advantage of the baldric was that it didn’t restrict any movement of the arms and offered more support for the carried sword.

Sometimes swords may feature tassels or swords knots. The tassel is woven material, leather or silk lace that is attached to the hilt of the sword and looped around the hand of the person wielding the sword. This prevented the sword or sabre from being dropped. Tassels have also very decorative design.

The Japanese swords being constructed differently have different terminology and classification.The Japanese katana sword consists of the blade and mountings. The classic and authentic Japanese swords are made of special steel called Tamahagane meaning “jewel steel”. The tamahagane steel consists of layers of high carbon and low carbon steel that are forged together multiple times. The high carbon steel has different characteristics compared with low carbon steel. The high carbon steel is harder and therefore it can hold a sharper edge. The same steel is also very brittle. On the other hand, the low carbon steel is more malleable that is able to withstand impacts without breaking. By combining the both, Japanese swordmakers were able to achieve a superior sword blade. The steel layers are heated, folded and hammered together. Such process is repeated multiple times (up to 16 times). Some sword makers use different pieces of steel for the core, the edge and the sides. The slight curve of the sword is achieved by quenching the steel. Before the quenching process the blade is covered with a layer of clay. The clay is applied very lightly over the edge intended for cutting whereas the core and the back of the blade are covered by a thicker layer. The blade is heated again and submerged in water. The quenching process causes the blade to curve slightly. This is due to the difference in hardness (and crystalline structure of the steel) between the edge and the core and back side of the blade. The edge of the blade is much harder whereas the core and the back are softer. The quenching process also creates the distinct wavy line along the blade called hamon. The most prominent part of the blade is the middle ridge called shinogi. The point of the blade is called kissaki. The kissaki has a curved profile and it is separated from the rest of the blade by a straight line called yokote. The tang of the sword is called nakago. This is also the part that bares the signature (mei) of the sword-maker. The tang has a hole called mekugi-ana that is used to mount handle (tsuka). The handle is mounted to the tang by a bamboo pin called mekugi. The handguard of the Japanese sword is called tsuba and often times it is intricately designed. Tusba may come in various shapes (round, oval or square). The decorative grip swells are called menuki. The habaki is the piece metal (usually copper) that envelopes the base of the blade near the tsuba. The purpose of habaki is to provide tight fit in the scabbard (saya) and to lock the handguard (tsuba) in place. The scabbard of the Japanese sword is made of light wood. The outer surface of the scabbard is often lacquered.

Japanese swords are also classified according to their lengths. The unit of measurement is shaku where one shaku is about 13 inches. The Japanese blade lengths are classified into three groups.

  1. 1 shaku or less for tanto (knife)
  2. 1-2 shaku for Shoto – short sword (wakizashi)
  3. 2 shaku and more for Daito – long sword (katana)
  4. 3 shaku and more (Odachi or Nodachi)

Swords with blades longer than 3 shaku were carried across the back. They were called Odachi meaning “great sword” or Nodachi meaning “field sword”. Both swords were in use before the katana sword became popular.

The Double-Edged Sword of Motherhood Under American Slavery

H.E. Hayward and Slave Nurse Louisa, Missouri History Museum, St. Louis, Missouri.

This post accompanies “Motherhood in Early America,” episode 237 of Ben Franklin’s World.

Mother’s Day offers opportunities to reflect upon motherhood in relation to ethnicity and class. Racial discrimination and poverty mean that a narrow conceptualization of biological motherhood associated with domestic care and nurture is not applicable to all in the past or present. This is especially true when considering the lives of enslaved women, for whom motherhood was a double-edged sword and many of whom endured a complex relationship with mothering. Women knew that their babies held pecuniary value to slaveholders and that they might be forcibly separated from their offspring at any time. Maternal love for children therefore co-existed alongside more ambivalent attitudes towards motherhood among enslaved women who rightly feared that their children might be wrenched away or otherwise fail to survive under the slave regime.

Motherhood is associated with nurturing and caring for infants and children, but idealized models of maternal responsibility resting exclusively with biological mothers often fail to convey a wider picture and exclude others who perform the labor of care and nurture. Moreover, racial discrimination has excluded enslaved women from the dominant ideology of private, domestic motherhood and denigrated their ability to mother at the very same time that white enslavers ironically left their infants in the sole charge of enslaved women. Black women’s mothering under enslavement took multiple forms, including non-biological “shared” mothering and the “other mothering” of white children. “Mother is a verb,” notes Sarah Knott, a point lent credence by the arduous nature of enslaved mothers’ work.

Motherhood was essential to the thriving development of slavery because the regime depended upon the reproduction of an enslaved labour force. From 1662 onwards, the Virginia law of partus sequitur ventrem rendered the child of any enslaved woman a slave themselves, and similar legislation spread across the Southern colonies. Slaveholders increasingly began to regard their female slaves as both labourers and potential reproducers for future economic enterprises. By the early nineteenth century, the abolition of the international slave trade meant reproduction became even more profitable as it became illegal to import slaves from abroad. This dual exploitation of enslaved mothers hence grew more entrenched over time.

The nineteenth century saw an increasing separation of “public work” and “private home” and the growing sanctification of biological motherhood as the culmination of women’s allegedly innate caring and nurturing roles. But in the antebellum South enslaved people lived under a unique set of relationships with specific power dynamics. So although enslaved women sought to survive the regime via their motherhood, this was not always a positive, empowering experience due to enslavers’ exploitation of their chattels’ motherhood for their own ends. As well as separating mothers and their offspring, enslavers also forced enslaved women into arduous “other mothering” of white and enslaved infants and children.

Little is known about enslaved women who remained childless through infertility rather than choice. The surviving evidence makes it hard to differentiate between women who were deliberately childless and those unable to bear infants. Childless women obviously missed out on parenthood’s pleasures. Despite the ordeal of slavery, motherhood gave women the opportunity to express maternal love, to receive affection from children, to gain a sense of worth, to give and receive comfort, and to nurture—notwithstanding all the agonies of sale, separation, ill-health, physical punishments and death that enslavement brought. Women without children also remained more vulnerable to sale and separation at the hands of slaveholders who wanted the future profits of offspring, whether they wanted to become mothers or not. Women who desired not to bear children (rather than those unable to have them) used whatever means they could in an attempt to control their fertility. Some chewed cotton roots – readily available to enslaved laborers – believing they had contraceptive properties. Interviewed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the 1930s, Mary Gaffney described “cheating” her enslaver out of the potential value of her offspring:

I cheated Maser, I never did have any slaves to grow and Maser he wondered what was the matter. I tell you son, I kept cotton roots and chewed them all the time but I was careful not to let Maser know of catch me, so I never did have any children while I was a slave. Then when slavery was over … we had five children.[1]

More rarely, enslaved mothers sometimes attempted infanticide. Lou Smith remembered a woman who bore three children who were subsequently sold when they reached the age of one or two, an experience that ‘broke her heart.” So when she gave birth for a fourth time she refused to relinquish her infant. Once the baby reached two months old, “she got up and give it something out of a bottle and purty soon it was dead.”[2] Such desperately tragic practices denied enslavers valuable future offspring and meant enslaved women would not bring infants into the harsh world of bondage.

The vast majority of enslaved women, however, found that motherhood brought happiness and pleasure despite the hard work it entailed, because women provided each other with vital peer support and cooperation to enable the bearing and raising of children. So the biological process of giving birth could be less significant than helping each other to care for and nurture offspring. Sharing childcare responsibilities in a more communal way than in white society, enslaved women adopted flexible forms of mothering, including relying on the support of step-parents, wider kin networks, and female peers. Women fostered systems of support and “shared” mothering regardless of whether one was a “biological” mother or not. For example, some women shared their breast milk with enslaved babies other than their own. Charlie Davenport said various women breastfed him after his mother died during childbirth: “Any woman what had a baby ‘bout my age would nuss me so I growed up in de quarters en wuz ez well en happy ez any other chile.”[3] In practising such forms of shared mothering, enslaved women conveyed their camaraderie and gendered forms of mutual support. This togetherness represented one of the myriad of ways in which women strove to survive, and hence to indirectly resist, their enslavement.

White Southern women (as well as men) manipulated enslaved motherhood, typically in the more “domestic” sphere of their households (so conveying how this domestic realm stood at the heart of the regime). As “co-masters” of the regime, slaveholding women utilized enslaved mothers as de facto or “other” mothers to raise white children. White women left their infants in enslaved women’s arms to nurture, care for, and sometimes even to suckle. Enslaved in Mississippi, WPA respondent Mattie Logan described her mother’s wetnursing:

Mother nursed all Miss Jennie’s children…. They say I nursed on one
breast while that white child, Jennie, pulled away at the other! That was a pretty good idea for the mistress, for it didn’t keep her tied to the place and she could visit around with her friends most any time she wanted.[4]

Logan’s mother endured the exhaustion caused by simultaneously feeding two babies (her own and that of her white slaveholder) while her mistress enjoyed the liberating benefits of not breastfeeding. The power inherent in slaveholding placed the needs of white infants above those of enslaved mothers and babies in this highly intimate and exploitative intervention into black mothering practices.

Researching the lives of enslaved mothers can be challenging and distressing for historians, yet we have a duty to document the everyday experiences of enslaved women’s lives in the past, lives that complicate our understandings of motherhood’s meanings and manifestations for women across time and space.

Emily West (@emilywestfahey) is a professor of American history at the University of Reading, UK. Her publications include Enslaved Women in America (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014), Family or Freedom: The Expulsion and Enslavement of Free People of Color in the Antebellum South (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2012), Chains of Love: Slave Couples in Antebellum South Carolina (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004). Her writings on motherhood include “Fertility Control, Shared Nurturing, and Dual Exploitation: The Lives of Enslaved Mothers in the Antebellum United States” (with Erin Shearer) Women’s History Review 27, 6 (2018), 1006-1020 and “‘Mothers’ Milk’: Slavery, Wet-Nursing, and Black and White Women in the Antebellum South” (with Rosie Knight), Journal of Southern History 83, 1 (Feb. 2017), 37-68. Some of this post is drawn from these two articles.

[1] George P. Rawick, The American Slave, Supplement Series 2, Vol. 5. Texas Narratives, Pt 4 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1979), 1453.

[2] WPA Slave Narrative Project, Oklahoma Narratives, Vol. 13, (Federal Writer’s Project, United States Work Projects Administration Manuscript Division, Library of Congress), 302.

[3] Rawick, The American Slave, Supplement Series 1, Vol. 6. Mississippi Narratives, Pt 1, 558.

[4] WPA Slave Narrative Project, Oklahoma Narratives, Vol. 13, 187.

For Further Reading

Thavolia Glymph, Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008)
Stephanie Jones-Rogers, They were Her Property: White Women as Slaveowners in the American South (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019)
Sarah Knott, Mother Is a Verb: An Unconventional History (London: Viking, 2019)
Jennifer Morgan, “Partus Sequitur Ventrem: Law, Race, and Reproduction in Colonial Slavery,” Small Axe 22, 1 (2018), 1-17
“Mothering Slaves: Comparative Perspectives on Motherhood, Childlessness, and the Care of Children in Atlantic Slave Societies,” vol. 1 & 2: Slavery and Abolition 38, 2 (2017) & Women’s History Review 27, 6 (2018).

Historical movies help students learn, but separating fact from fiction can be challenge

Students who learn history by watching historically based blockbuster movies may be doomed to repeat the historical mistakes portrayed within them, suggests a new study from Washington University in St. Louis.

The study, forthcoming in the journal Psychological Science, suggests that showing popular history movies in a classroom setting can be a double-edged sword when it comes to helping students learn and retain factual information in associated textbooks.


We found that when information in the film was consistent with information in the text, watching the film clips increased correct recall by about 50 percent relative to reading the text alone,” explains Andrew Butler, a psychology doctoral student in Arts & Sciences.

“In contrast, when information in the film directly contradicted the text, people often falsely recalled the misinformation portrayed in the film, sometimes as much as 50 percent of the time.”

Butler, whose research focuses on how cognitive psychology can be applied to enhance educational practice, notes that teachers can guard against the adverse impact of movies that play fast and loose with historical fact, although a general admonition may not be sufficient.

“The misleading effect occurred even when people were reminded of the potentially inaccurate nature of popular films right before viewing the film,” Butler says. “However, the effect was completely negated when a specific warning about the particular inaccuracy was provided before the film.”

Butler conducted the study with colleagues in the Department of Psychology’s Memory Lab. Co-authors include fellow doctoral student Franklin M. Zaromb, postdoctoral researcher Keith B. Lyle and Henry L. “Roddy” Roediger III, the Lab’s principal investigator and the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Psychology.

“These results have implications for the common educational practice of using popular films as an instructional aid,” Butler concludes.

“Although films may increase learning and interest in the classroom, educators should be aware that students might learn inaccurate information, too, even if the correct information has been presented in a text. More broadly, these same positive and negative effects apply to the consumption of popular history films by the general public.”

Historical Inaccuracies in Popular Films

Popular films increase interest in history and contain much accurate information, but producers of these films often take liberties with facts to tell a more entertaining story.

Such is the case with the movie Amadeus, a historical drama about the life of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Released in 1984, the film delighted moviegoers and critics alike, eventually winning eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Although the film is credited with increasing the popularity of Mozart’s music, it may also have created a misleading impression of Mozart.

AMADEUS (1984)
Topic: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
The film clip depicts Mozart as being a childish and vulgar person. In fact, there is no evidence that Mozart behaved this way in public. On the contrary, Mozart is thought to have displayed impeccable manners in the presence of royalty and acted professionally with colleagues.

AMISTAD (1997)

Topic: Mutiny on the Spanish Ship Amistad
The 1997 film clip depicts Cinque is sitting in shackles before the Supreme Court during the trial. In fact, Cinque was imprisoned in Connecticut during the trial.


Topic: Wyatt Earp and the Shootout at the OK Corral
The film clip depicts Doc Holliday shooting and killing Johnny Ringo. In fact, Holliday is known to have been in a Colorado courtroom on the day of Ringo’s death, so he could not have killed him. Johnny Ringo’s death was officially ruled a suicide.

Topic: The French Revolution
In the film clip, a mob that is attacking Versailles briefly falls silent when Marie Antoinette appears on the balcony, presumably out of respect for the queen. In fact, this is not known to have happened and, given the French people’s great dislike for Marie Antoinette, it is highly unlikely the crowd would have reacted in this way.

GLORY (1989)
Topic: 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry
The film clip depicts new recruits for the 54th Massachusetts Infantry assembling and meeting each other for the first time. Most of the individuals shown in the clip are former slaves from the South. In fact, most of the recruits in this regiment were freemen from Massachusetts and other Northern states.

U-571 (2000)
Topic: Deciphering the Nazi’s Enigma Code
The film clip depicts American sailors, intelligence, and special operations officers planning a secret mission to capture an Enigma machine from a disabled German submarine, the U-571. In fact, it was the British navy that captured enough Enigma materials from German U-boats and warships to break the German naval code.

Topic: Queen Elizabeth
The film clip depicts Queen Elizabeth forcing her chief advisor, Sir William Cecil, into retirement and giving him the title of Lord Burghley to make his retirement comfortable. In fact, Sir William Cecil was never retired by Elizabeth, but remained her chief advisor until his death and was given the title of Lord Burghley as a reward for his years of service.

Inside Story

Recipients of the Victoria Cross are expected to lead exemplary lives. What happens when one of them doesn’t?

“No matter the crime committed”: King George the Fifth awards the Victoria Cross to Second Lieutenant Cecil Knox of the 150th Field Company, Royal Engineers, at Blendecques, near Calais, on 22 March 1918. Pictorial Press Ltd /Alamy


In June 2012 Australian special forces fighting in Afghanistan led a five-day operation to reinforce security around the southern city of Kandahar. Operation Hamkari had the job of clearing a Taliban stronghold in the Shah Wali Kot district in the north of Kandahar province, with the Australians fighting alongside Afghan National Army forces and backed by US army helicopters.

After an initial assault by soldiers from the 2nd Commando Regiment on 10 June, reinforcements from the Special Air Service Regiment were called the next day to the hamlet of Tizak as the Taliban prepared to counterattack. The fighting was intense, with the SAS troopers under heavy fire from the moment they alighted from their helicopters.

At the height of the thirteen-hour battle, an SAS corporal led an assault against an enemy fortification. When members of his patrol were pinned down by Taliban fire, he exposed his own position to draw the fire away from his comrades then, fighting at close range, stormed two enemy machine-gun posts and silenced both of them.

The following January, back in his home town of Perth, Ben Roberts-Smith was presented with the Commonwealth’s highest and most revered award for gallantry, the Victoria Cross. According to the citation for the award, “his selfless actions in circumstances of great peril served to enable his patrol to break into the enemy’s defences and regain the initiative… resulting in a tactical victory.”

The award would transform Ben Roberts-Smith from an anonymous soldier into a national celebrity. After leaving the army in 2013, he was named Australian Father of the Year, appointed chair of the National Australia Day Council and honoured as number-one ticketholder of the Fremantle Dockers. On completing an MBA at the University of Queensland, he became a senior executive with Kerry Stokes’s Seven television network and a star performer on the lucrative corporate speakers’ circuit. Lauded wherever he travelled as a hero and an exemplary role model, he was much sought after as a business consultant and an adviser to governments.

Now that celebrity has been engulfed by allegations that may yet end in infamy for Ben Roberts-Smith. In 2017, investigative journalists Chris Masters and Nick McKenzie revealed the first details of allegations implicating the former SAS soldier in a series of war crimes in Afghanistan. Last month the two journalists reported that the Australian Federal Police had referred Roberts-Smith to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to face possible charges. The Sydney Morning Herald subsequently reported that the DPP had appointed Sydney barrister David McClure SC to examine the case for proceeding to prosecution.

According to Masters and McKenzie, the AFP’s brief of evidence outlined allegations that Roberts-Smith had kicked a defenceless prisoner off a cliff during a special forces operation in Afghanistan in 2012, and covered up his subsequent murder, and that fellow SAS soldiers had witnessed the future VC recipient’s involvement in the murder of other defenceless Afghans. In addition to the AFP investigations, an extensive internal military inquiry led by NSW Supreme Court of Appeal judge Paul Brereton is soon to hand down a report into these and other alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.

Roberts-Smith has vehemently protested his innocence, claiming that the reporting has branded him a murderer and deriding the allegations as “recklessly untrue.” He told the Australian in December, “I have put my family name and medals on the line to sue Nine [publisher of the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald] and restore my reputation.” But his decision to sue the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald for defamation may have compounded his problems.

While the start of the trial has been delayed because of the pandemic, fresh witness statements submitted in the Federal Court in early June claimed Roberts-Smith was involved in seven unlawful killings in Afghanistan. Counsel for the newspapers, Sandy Dawson SC, told the court Roberts-Smith and another unnamed soldier had kicked a handcuffed man, Ali Jan, off a cliff in the village of Darwan in September 2012 and that either he or another soldier had subsequently shot and killed the prisoner.

The implications of the case run far deeper than the reputation of one man, the jealously guarded pride of the elite Special Air Service Regiment and the honour of all Australian military forces. It could have consequences around the world for holders of a hallowed band of crimson ribbon like the one that sat above the breast pocket on Ben Roberts-Smith’s army tunic — and Australia’s long and storied association with the Victoria Cross.

It was at the end of the Crimean war, in 1856, that Queen Victoria decided a new honour was needed to recognise the remarkable acts of heroism that had been reported during the great victory by Britain and its allies over the Russians. The medal she authorised would become the highest award in the imperial honours system. In the order of precedence it outranks even the Most Noble Order of the Garter — the highest order of knighthood — which is confined to the reigning sovereign, the Prince of Wales and no more than twenty-five others. Yet from the outset, the Victoria Cross was intended to be both exceptional and egalitarian.

Victoria insisted that it stand out for its humble simplicity: a plain bronze cross struck from captured cannon metal (not from the Crimea as folklore has it, but from the colonial wars in China) suspended on a plain crimson ribbon. And at her direction, it was to be blind to class and seniority. Its awarding would be influenced by “neither rank, nor long service, nor wounds, nor any other circumstance or condition whatsoever save the merit of conspicuous bravery.”

But the criteria for its awarding were far from modest. The VC was to recognise only “the most conspicuous bravery, or some preeminent act of valour or self-sacrifice in the presence of the enemy.” In modern times, the perception in military circles is that the VC can be earned only by a member of the armed forces who lays his or her life on the line in a situation of clear and present danger in combat. It often has been awarded posthumously.

Since its inception, the medal has been won 1358 times. Each of those awards is revered in the military (a general will salute a private displaying the ribbon) and exulted in popular perception. And those medals not locked away in museums and private collections can fetch staggering prices at auction. In 2006 Kerry Stokes paid a world record price of $1.2 million for the medals of Captain Alfred Shout — who was posthumously awarded the VC for his bravery during the Battle of Lone Pine at Gallipoli — and then donated them to the Australian War Memorial.

But the prestige of the VC and the instant celebrity it confers on those who win it are, so to speak, a double-edged sword. Those who so distinguish themselves in battle invariably are expected to lead exemplary lives in peacetime. And it can be a dizzying height from which to fall for any of them who fail to live up to that onerous standard. Here lies the potential challenge for the Australian government in the event that Ben Roberts-Smith is unable to clear his name.

During its 164-year history, the VC has been forfeited just eight times for serious misconduct: twice for desertion, five times for theft and assault and once for bigamy. But while many more recipients have publicly fallen from grace after coming home from battle, none have had their honour revoked since 1920, when King George V declared his displeasure at the practice.

As George’s private secretary, Lord Stamfordham, would write, “The King feels so strongly that, no matter the crime committed by anyone on whom the VC has been conferred, the decoration should not be forfeited. Even were a VC to be sentenced to be hanged for murder, he should be allowed to wear the VC on the scaffold.” Winston Churchill, then Britain’s secretary of state for war, disagreed but approved an amendment to the regulations stipulating that henceforth only “treason, cowardice, felony or any infamous crime” should lead to forfeiture.

In the annals of crime, few are more infamous than murder, and while VC winners so convicted would no longer face the option of wearing their medal to the gallows it would be untenable for them not to be stripped of the honour. Sitting at the top of the honours system, the Victoria Cross can hardly be exempt from the practice that has seen hundreds of disgraced honours recipients stripped of their gongs — from Kaiser Wilhelm, who forfeited his Order of the Garter (for starting a world war), to artist and royal favourite Rolf Harris, who ceased to be a Commander of the Order of the British Empire after he was jailed for sexually assaulting underage girls.

Since Australia severed ties with the British honours system in 1975 and instituted its own awards under the Order of Australia, the conferring of the Victoria Cross to Australian military personnel has been made by the governor-general on the advice of the defence minister. The Victoria Cross for Australia — which has identical status to the British award — has been presented to four Australians, including Ben Roberts-Smith, all of them for valour in Afghanistan.

There are dozens of precedents for Australians to be defrocked under our honours system. Disgraced former WA premier Brian Burke lost his award as a Companion of the Order of Australia, billionaire businessman Richard Pratt pre-empted the same fate by surrendering his AC after being fined $36 million for price-fixing, and the Order of Australia medal of criminologist Paul Wilson was rescinded after his conviction for the indecent treatment of a child.

In 2015 Australia’s Defence Honours and Awards Appeal Tribunal recommended the discretionary forfeiture of gallantry medals if the recipient were convicted “of an offence which is considered so disgraceful or serious that it would be improper for the offender to retain the award.” But while subsequently stipulating a range of grounds for mandatory forfeiture — including treason, mutiny and cowardice in the face of the enemy — the defence department added what smelt like an escape clause: “However, the circumstances under which gallantry and distinguished service decorations are awarded dictates that entitlements should not be forfeited except under extreme conditions.”

If the Australian government were confronted with a winner of the highest award for gallantry being convicted of a serious crime and it showed cowardice in the face of military or public opinion, it would risk far more than domestic opprobrium. A person allowed to continuing wearing the medal in such circumstances — and the authorities that permitted him to — would diminish not only the deeds of other Australian VC winners but also the hundreds of others throughout the Commonwealth who came before them. •

History of Roman swords

Roman swords
History of Roman swords. Roman gladius sword, Roman spatha sword and gladiator swords. Roman pugio dagger. Sword history.

The Roman Sword or Gladius is one of the most widely recognized swords of any culture. These swords were in use between 4th century BC and 3rd Century AD. The Romans where highly skilled and disciplined and great weapons such as the sword were a must especially for cavalrymen and infantrymen. The skills of these men and the advances in sword making techniques made this sword a deadly weapon and was one the major factors behind a long and successful military reign. To identify a person’s sword the name was often etched into the blade.

The Romans used all the knowledge they gained from other cultures such as the Greeks and Celts in order to forge these great swords it also allowed them to create a sword for any military situation, examples of this are mountainous regions would require a shorter sword that allowed greater slashing and stabbing, one such sword was the Pompeii Gladius. Another such sword known as the spatha had an extra long reach and was ideally suited for horseback combat.

The Roman sword that really conquered all was the short sword. The short sword had a 20″ double edged blade with a diamond tip and became known as “the sword that conquered the world”. This shorter length allowed a soldier to step inside an enemies guard and thrust the sword in any direction at a deadly pace, this would not be possible with a longer sword and that is where it held the upper hand.

Roman gladius was the primary sword of Ancient Roman foot soldiers. The gladius was shorter than cavalry spatha. Gladius was a stabbing sword.

Gladius was adopted by Romans in 4-3 century BC. Gladius origin can be located in a Hispanic swords.

Common gladius meassurements:
Weight: 1.2–1.6 kg (2.6–3.5 lb)
Length: 64–81 cm (25–32 in)
Blade length: 60–68 cm (2.0–2.23 ft)
Width: 4–8 cm (1.6–3.1 in)

Gladius sword subtypes:
Hispaniensis gladius – the orgiginal gladius imported from today Spain.
Mainz gladius-gladius made for northern wars. The long point was a typical attribute of this gladius type.
Fulham gladius-triangular tip. Fulham gladius was version found in Britain.
Pompeii gladius-the most popular type of gladius sword. This was the shortest gladius with parallel cutting edges and a triangular tip.

Roman spatha sword

Roman spatha sword was a little longer sword than common gladius was. Spatha was a primary sword of Roman cavalry. Spatha was a straight and long sword, measuring between 0.75 and 1 m (30 and 39 in). Spatha was used in Roman wars but of course also in gladiator games. Spatha was adopted by barbarian tribes later and it evolved into early medieval swords – viking swords have origin in this sword type.

Medieval Arming Sword

The Arming Sword (also known as a knightly sword) is the single-handed cruciform sword of the High Middle Ages. It was a straight, double-edged weapon with a single-handed hilt and a blade length of about 28 to 31 inches (70 to 80 centimeters).

The arming sword was in common use between ca. 1000 and 1350, and it’s frequently depicted in period artwork.

Many European sword blades of the high medieval period have blade inscriptions (popular during the 12th century). These are usually garbled strings of letters apparently inspired by religious formulae.

The term “arming sword” in late medieval usage specifically refers to the weapon being used as a side-sword.

History of the Arming Sword

The knightly sword developed in the 11th century from the Viking Age or Carolingian sword, with the most evident morphological development being the crossguard’s appearance. These swords began to exhibit a more slender blade geometry, moving the center of mass closer to the hilt to improve weldability.

The arming sword was the standard military sword of the knight. In the late medieval period, when the longsword came to predominate, the single-handed sword was retained as a common sidearm.

Types of Arming Swords

  • Type X (the Norman sword developed out of the early medieval Viking sword during the 11th century)
  • Type XII (a tapering blade with a shortened fuller and a further development typical throughout the Crusades)
  • Type XIII (the knightly sword typical of the later 13th century)
  • Subtype XIIIa (longer blades and hilts)
  • Subtype XIIIb (smaller single-handed swords of similar shape)

Using Arming Swords

The one-handed sword of the high medieval period was typically used with a shield or buckler. In the absence of a shield, the empty (normally left) hand could be used for grabbing or grappling opponents.

The arming sword was overall a light, versatile weapon used for cutting and thrusting. It normally boasts excellent balance.

These swords became either increasingly squat and heavily pointed, or longer and heavier in design, which seems to reflect two separate methods of combat against increasingly tough armour: Make the blade sufficiently heavy-duty to inflict blunt trauma, or narrow-pointed enough to pierce it with a thrust.

The arming sword was worn by a knight even when not in armour, and he would be considered ‘undressed’ for public if he were without it.

Watch the video: Νίκος Ρωμανός - Δίκοπο Μαχαίρι