The The Book of the Sword: With 293 Illustrations Book of the Sword

The The Book of the Sword: With 293 Illustrations Book of the Sword

3.0 1
by Sir Richard F. Burton

View All Available Formats & Editions

Eloquent, exceptionally erudite history of the "Queen of Weapons." Traces sword's origin — from prehistory to its full growth during early Roman Empire. Discusses earliest weapons of stone, bone, horn and wood as well as variations: sabre, broadsword, cutlass, scimitar and more. Enhanced by nearly 300 excellent line drawings.
 See more details below


Eloquent, exceptionally erudite history of the "Queen of Weapons." Traces sword's origin — from prehistory to its full growth during early Roman Empire. Discusses earliest weapons of stone, bone, horn and wood as well as variations: sabre, broadsword, cutlass, scimitar and more. Enhanced by nearly 300 excellent line drawings.

Product Details

Dover Publications
Publication date:
Dover Military History, Weapons, Armor
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Sales rank:
File size:
10 MB

Read an Excerpt


By Richard F. Burton

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2014 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-14231-9



MAN'S civilisation began with Fire—how to light it and how to keep it lit. Before he had taken this step, our primal ancestor (or ancestors) evidently led the life of the lower animals. The legend of 'Iapetus' bold son' Prometheus, like many others invented by the Greeks, or rather borrowed from Egypt, contained under the form of fable a deep Truth, a fact, a lesson valuable even in these days. 'Forethought,' the elder brother of 'Afterthought,' brought down the semina flammæ in a hollow tube from Heaven, or stole it from the chariot of the Sun. Here we have the personification of the Great Unknown, who, finding a cane-brake or a jungle tree fired by lightning or flamed by wind-friction, conceived the idea of feeding the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] with fuel. Thus Hermes or Mercury was 'Pteropédilos' or 'Alipes;' and his ankles were fitted with 'Pedila' or 'Talaria,' winged sandals, to show that the soldier fights with his legs as well as with his arms.

I will not enlarge upon the imperious interest of Hoplology: the history of arms and armour, their connection and their transitions, plays the most important part in the annals of the world.

The first effort of human technology was probably weapon-making. History and travel tell us of no race so rude as to lack artificial means of offence and defence. To these, indeed, man's ingenuity and artistic efforts must, in his simple youthtide, have been confined. I do not allude to the complete man, created full-grown in body and mind by the priestly castes of Egypt, Phœnicia, Judæa, Assyria, Persia, and India. The Homo sapiens whom we have to consider is the 'Adam Kadmon,' not of the Cabbalist, but of the anthropologist, as soon as he raised himself above the beasts of the field by superiority of brains and hands.

The lower animals are born armed, but not weaponed. The arm, indeed, is rather bestial than human: the weapon is, speaking generally, human, not bestial. Naturalists have doubted, and still doubt, whether in the so-called natural state the lower animals use weapons properly so termed. Colonel A. Lane Fox, a diligent student of primitive warfare, and a distinguished anthropologist, distinctly holds the hand-stone to be the prehistoric weapon. He quotes (Cat. pp. 156–59) the ape using the hand-stone to crack nutshells; the gorillas defending themselves against the Carthaginians of Hanno; and Pedro de Cieza (Cieça) de Leon telling us that 'when the Spaniards [in Peru] pass under the trees where the monkeys are, these creatures break off branches and throw them down, making faces all the time.' Even in the days of Strabo (xv. 1) it was asserted that Indian monkeys climb precipices, and roll down stones upon their pursuers—a favourite tactic with savages. Nor, indeed, is it hard to believe that the Simiads, whose quasi-human hand has prehensile powers, bombard their assailants with cocoa-nuts and other missiles. Major Denham (1821–24), a trustworthy traveller, when exploring about Lake Chad, says of the quadrumans of the Yeou country: 'The monkeys, or, as the Arabs say, men enchanted (Beny Adam meshood), were so numerous that I saw upwards of a hundred and fifty assembled at one place in the evening. They did not appear at all inclined to give up their ground, but, perched on the top of a bank some twenty feet high, made a terrible noise, and, rather gently than otherwise, pelted us as we approached within a certain distance.' Herr Holub, also, was 'designedly aimed at by a herd of African baboons perched among the trees;' and on another occasion he and his men had to beat an ignominious retreat from 'our cousins.' 'Hence,' suggests Colonel A. Lane Fox, 'our "poor relation" conserves, even when bred abroad and in captivity, the habit of violently shaking the branch by jumping upon it with all its weight, in order that the detached fruit may fall upon the assailant's head.' In Egypt, as we see from the tomb-pictures, monkeys (baboons or cynocephali) were taught to assist in gathering fruit, and in acting as torchbearers. While doing this last duty, their innate petulance caused many a merry scene.

I never witnessed this bombardment by monkeys. But when my regiment was stationed at Baroda in Gujarat, several of my brother officers and myself saw an elephant use a weapon. The intelligent animal, which the natives call Háthi ('the handed'), was chained to a post during the dangerous season of the wet forehead, and was swaying itself in ill-temper from side to side. Probably offended by the sudden appearance of white faces, it seized with its trunk a heavy billet, and threw it at our heads with a force and a good will that proved the worst intention.

According to Captain Hall—who, however, derived the tale from the Eskimos, the sole living representatives of the palæolithic age in Europe—the polar bear, traditionally reported to throw stones, rolls down, with its quasi-human forepaws, rocks and boulders upon the walrus when found sleeping at the foot of some overhanging cliff. 'Meister Petz' aims at the head, and finally brains the stunned prey with the same weapon. Perhaps the account belongs to the category of the ostrich throwing stones, told by many naturalists, including Pliny (x. 1), when, as Father Lobo explained in his 'Abyssinia,' the bird only kicks them up during its scouring flight. Similar, too, is the exploded shooting-out of the porcupine's quills, whereby, according to mediaeval 'Shoe-tyes' men have been badly hurt and even killed. On the other hand, the Emu kicks like an Onager and will drive a man from one side of a quarter-deck to the other.

But though Man's first work was to weapon himself, we must not believe with the Cynics and the Humanitarians that his late appearance in creation, or rather on the stage of life, initiated an unvarying and monotonous course of destructiveness. The great tertiary mammals which preceded him, the hoplotherium, the deinotherium, and other -theria, made earth a vast scene of bloodshed to which his feeble powers could add only a few poor horrors. And even in our day the predatory fishes, that have learned absolutely nothing from man's inhumanity to man, habitually display as much ferocity as ever disgraced savage human nature.

Primitive man—the post-tertiary animal—was doomed by the very conditions of his being and his media to a life of warfare; a course of offence to obtain his food, and of defence to retain his life. Ulysses says pathetically:

No thing frailer of force than Man earth breedeth and feedeth; Man ever feeblest of all on th' Earth's face creeping and crawling.

The same sentiment occurs in the 'Iliad'; and Pliny, the pessimist, writes—'the only tearful animal, Man.'

The career of these wretches, who had neither 'minds ' nor 'souls,' was one long campaign against ravenous beasts and their 'brother' man-brutes. Peace was never anything to them but a fitful interval of repose. The golden age of the poets was a dream; as Videlou remarked, 'Peace means death for all barbarian races.' The existence of our earliest ancestors was literally the Battle of Life. Then, as now, the Great Gaster was the first Master of Arts, and War was the natural condition of humanity upon which depends the greater part of its progress, its rising from the lower to the higher grade. Hobbism, after all, is partly right: 'Men were by nature equal, and their only social relation was a state of war.' Like the children of our modern day, helpless and speechless, primæval Homo possessed, in common with his fellow-creatures, only the instincts necessary for self-support under conditions the most facile. Uncultivated thought is not rich in the productive faculty; the brain does not create ideas: it only combines them and evolves the novelty of deduction, and the development of what is found existing. Similarly in language, onomatopœia, the imitation of natural sounds, the speech of Man's babyhood, still endures; and to it we owe our more picturesque and life-life expressions. But, despite their feeble powers, compulsory instruction, the Instructor being Need, was continually urging the Savage and the Barbarian to evolve safety out of danger, comfort out of its contrary.

For man, compelled by necessity of his nature to weapon himself, bears within him the two great principles of Imitation and Progress. Both are, after a fashion, his peculiar attributes, being rudimentary amongst the lower animals, though by no means wholly wanting. His capacity of language, together with secular development of letters and literature, enabled him to accumulate for himself, and to transmit to others, a store of experience acquired through the medium of the senses; and this, once gained, was never wholly lost. By degrees immeasurably slower than among civilised societies, the Savage digested and applied to the Present and to the Future the hoarded wisdom of the Past. The imitative faculty, a preponderating advantage of the featherless biped over the quadruped, taught the former, even in his infancy, to borrow ad libitum, while he lent little or nothing. As a quasi-solitary Hunter he was doomed to fray and foray, to destroying others in order to preserve himself and his family: a condition so constant and universal as to include all others. Become a Shepherd, he fought man and beast to preserve and increase his flocks and herds; and rising to an Agriculturist, he was ever urged to break the peace by greed of gain, by ambition, and by the instinctive longing for excitement.

But there was no absolute point of separation, as far as the material universe is concerned, to mark the dawn of a new 'creative period'; and the Homo Darwiniensis made by the Aristotle of our age, the greatest of English naturalists, is directly connected with the Homo sapiens. There are hosts of imitative animals, birds as well as beasts; but the copying-power is essentially limited. Moreover, it is 'instinctive,' the work of the undeveloped, as opposed to 'reasoning,' the process of the highly-developed brain and nervous system. Whilst man has taught himself to articulate, to converse, the dog, which only howled and whined, has learned nothing except to bark. Man, again, is capable of a development whose bounds we are unable to determine; whereas the beast, incapable of self-culture, progresses, under the most favourable circumstances, automatically and within comparatively narrow bounds.

Upon the imitative faculty and its exercise I must dwell at greater length. It is regretable that the delicious wisdom of Pope neglected to point out the great lesson of the animal-world in suggesting and supplying the arts of offence and defence:—

Go, from the creatures thy instructions take ...
Thy arts of building from the bee receive;
Learn from the mole to plough, the worm to weave;
Learn from the little nautilus to sail,
Spread the thin oar, and catch the driving gale.

Man, especially in the tropical and sub-tropical zones—his early, if not his earliest, home, long ago whelmed beneath the ocean waves—would derive many a useful hint from the dreadful armoury of equinoctial vegetation; the poison-trees the large strong spines of the Acacia and the Mimosa, e.g. the Wait-a-bit (Acacia detinens), the Gleditschia, the Socotrine Aloe, the American Agave, and the piercing thorns of the Caryota urens, and certain palms. The aboriginal races would be further instructed in offensive and defensive arts by the powerful and destructive feræ of the sunny river-plains, where the Savage was first induced to build permanent abodes.

Before noting the means of attack and protection which Nature suggested, we may distribute Hoplology, the science of arms and weapons of offence and defence, human and bestial, into two great orders, of which the latter can be subdivided into four species:—

1. Missile.

2. Armes d'hast.a. Percussive or striking; b. Thrusting, piercing, or ramming; c. Cutting or ripping; d. Notched or serrated.

Colonel A. Lane Fox ('Prim. Warfare,' p. 11) thus classifies the weapons of 'Animals and Savages':—


Solid plates
Jointed plates




War cries

My list is less comprehensive, and it bears only upon the origin of the Arme blanche.

I. As has been said, the missile, the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], is probably the first form of weapon, and is still the favourite with savage Man. It favours the natural self-preservative instinct. El-Khauf maksúm—'fear is distributed,'—say the Arabs. 'The shorter the weapon the braver the wielder' has become a well-established fact. The savage Hunter, whose time is his own, would prefer the missile; but the Agriculturist, compelled to be at home for seed-time and harvest, would choose the hand-to-hand weapon which shortens action. We may hold, without undue credulity, that the throwing-arm is common to beasts, after a fashion, and to man. Among the so-called 'missile fishes' the Toxotes, or Archer, unerringly brings down insects with a drop of water when three or four feet high in the air. The Chætodon, or archer fish of Japan, is kept in a glass vase, and fed by holding flies at the end of rod a few inches above the surface: it strikes them with an infallible aim. This process is repeated, among the mammalia, by the Llama, the Guanaco and their congeners, who propel their acrid and fetid saliva for some distance and with excellent aim. And stone-throwing held its own for many an age, as we read in the fifteenth century:—

Use eke the cast of stone with slynge or honde;
It falleth ofte, yf other shot there none is,
Men harneysèd in steel may not withstonde
The multitude and mighty cast of stonys.

II. The stroke or blow which led to the cut would be seen exemplified in the felidæ, by the terrible buffet of the lion, by the clawing of the tiger and the bear, and by the swing of the trunk of the 'half-reasoner with the hand.' Man also would observe that the zebra and the quagga (so called from its cry, wag-ga, wag-ga), the horse and the ass, the camel, the giraffe, and even the cow, defend themselves with the kick or hoof-blow; while the ostrich, the swan, and the larger birds of prey assault with a flirt or stroke of the wing. The aries or sea-ram (Delphinus orca) charges with a butt. The common whale raises the head with such force that it has been held capable of sinking a whaler: moreover, this mammal uses the huge caudal fin or tail in battle with man and beast; for instance, when engaged with the fox-shark or thresher (Carcharias vulpes). These, combined with the force of man's doubled fist, would suggest the 'noble art' of boxing: it dates from remote antiquity; witness the cestus or knuckle-duster of the classics, Greeks, Romans, and Lusitanians. So far from being confined to Great or Greater Britain, as some suppose, it is still a favourite not only with the Russian peasants, but also with the Hausas, Moslem negroids who did such good service in the Ashanti war. A curious survival of the feline armature is the Hindu's Wágh-nakh. Following Demmin, Colonel A. Lane Fox was in error when he described this 'tiger's-claw ' as 'an Indian weapon of treachery belonging to a secret society, and invented about A.D. 1659.' Demmin as erroneously attributes the Wágh-nakh to Sívají, the Prince of Maráthá-land in Western India, who traitorously used it upon Afzal Khan, the Moslem General of Aurangzeb, sent (A.D. 1659) to put down his rebellion. A meeting of the chiefs was agreed upon, and the Moslem, quitting his army, advanced with a single servant; he wore a thin robe, and carried only a straight sword. Sívají, descending from the fort, assumed a timid and hesitating air, and to all appearance was unarmed. But he wore mail under his flimsy white cotton coat, and besides a concealed dagger, he carried his 'tiger's-claw.' The Khan looked with contempt at the crouching and diminutive mountain rat,' whom the Moslems threatened to bring back in cages; but, at the moment of embracing, the Maráthá struck his Wágh-nakh into his adversary's bowels and despatched him with his dagger. The Wágh-nakh in question is still kept as a relic, I am told, by the Bhonslá family. Outside the hand you see nothing but two solid gold rings encircling the index and the minimus; these two are joined inside by a steel bar, which serves as a connecting base to three or four sharp claws, thin enough to fit between and to be hidden by the fingers of a half-closed hand. The attack is by ripping open the belly: and I have heard of a poisoned Wágh-nakh which may have been suggested by certain poison rings in ancient and mediaeval Europe. The date of invention is absolutely unknown, and a curious and instructive modification of it was made by those Indians-in-Europe, the Gypsies.


Excerpted from THE BOOK OF THE SWORD by Richard F. Burton. Copyright © 2014 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Read More

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

The Book of the Sword 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
stevenyowell More than 1 year ago
This is an exhaustive 19th century history of swords and sword-like devices written by the famous English explorer Richard Francis Burton. Burton writes in a somewhat rambling fashion exploring every possible nuance of hand weapons in nature and human history (Japanese angler fish, tiger claws emulated in a hand held device giving metal claws to a human fist to Narwhale tusks simluated by undulating swords). He quotes many many sources from European journals, Greek & Roman authors, Hindu texts, the Bible to Arabic texts. He uses extensive footnotes. He has pages and pages of quotes before any text appears. The digital version (Powered by Google) is marred by fragmented footnotes, undecipherable optical character recognition transciption errors, and punctuation problems. Nearly 500 pages with over 200 illustrations.