Crafted by master swordsmiths of the past and wielded by some of the bravest figures from history and myth, swords have always been the centerpiece of many historical battles, folk tales, and legends.
Although many famous swords achieved mythical status due to their use in warfare, they are so much more than ordinary weapons, representing great power, warrior identity, dignity, honor, and bravery. Here we feature some of the greatest swords ever discovered and we share the exquisite legends that surround them.
The Sword in the Stone
Few are those who haven’t heard about the British legend of King Arthur and the sword in the stone that gave him the power of belief and united an entire nation. Of course, we all know that this is nothing more than a story, but what many people don’t know is that Italy has its own version of the Excalibur legend. Here is the story about the sword of St. Galgano Guidotti.
Known for being one of the most remarkable relics of the Middle Ages, the sword of St. Galgano Guidotti was, according to the popular belief, plunged into a stone by Galgano Guidotti, a 12th century Tuscan knight.
It all began after the Archangel Michael ordered the knight to give up his sinful habits. At first, Guidotti objected, saying that it would be much easier for him to cut a stone with his sword than to renounce his worldly desires and sinful habits. According to the legend, his blade passed easily through the stone, where it remains stuck to date. As for Guidotti, it is said that this miracle made him devote the rest of his life to God. He was canonized a few years after his death.
A Japanese legend has it that this mysterious sword was found in the body of a legendary eight-headed serpent that was killed by the Shinto god of sea and storms, Susanoo.
According to Japanese mythology, Susanoo gave the sword as a present to his sister, Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun, who in turn gave it Yamato Takeru, Emperor Keiko’s son. Numerous legends concerning the great powers of Kusanagi have been told and retold throughout the centuries in Japan, including the one about how Yamato Takeru defeated his enemies by using the sword’s power to control the wind.
The legend of the sword continued growing over the years, but according to some accounts, the sword was lost forever after the 12th century Battle of Dan-no-ura. No one knows for sure whether or not the modern Kusanagi, housed in the Atsuta Shrine, is the original one. It appears that no one has seen the sword, not even the current Emperor of Japan. Although its existence continues being a matter of debate, what remains indisputable is the fact that Kusanagi is an integral part of Japanese culture, history, and mythology, and will remain so for centuries to come.
According to a popular legend, out of the 12 legendary paladins in service of King Charlemagne, Roland was the most courageous. The medieval legends surrounding his name involve one more thing–Durandal, the sword of Roland.
Similar to other legendary swords, the origin of Durandal has been shrouded in mystery over the centuries. Perhaps the best-known version of the Durandal legend is the one that states the sword belonged to the Trojan hero Hector, one of the greatest warriors of the Trojan War, and was given to the paladin Roland by one of the best-known enchanters, Maugris. Another version has it that it was Wayland the Smith, a mythical smith, who forged Durandal and, as the story goes on, the sword had been taken by an angel and brought to Charlemagne, who gave it to Roland.
It is said that with the help of Durandal, Roland went on to win many battles before he was defeated at the Battle of Roncevaux. Conferring to legend, in an attempt to destroy Durandal after the defeat, the mighty Roland created La Brèche de Roland, a 130-foot natural gap, high up in the Pyrenees.
The Cursed Muramasas
It is said that Muramasa Sengo was one of the greatest swordsmiths in Ancient Japan, creating blades of great beauty and strength. However, according to a popular legend, that was not enough, and the great swordsmith prayed to the gods that his swords would become the “prodigious destroyers.” The gods granted Muramasa what he requested and his swords became extremely dangerous, and not just for the enemies, but also for their wielders.
The legend tells that the dark curse caused the swords to turn on their owners if not satisfied with combat and there was nothing that the wielder could do to prevent it. Although they were forbidden by imperial decree, the sword had an excessive sharpness that became a symbol of Japanese sword-making skills and Muramasa’s blades are part of today’s pop culture.
St. Peter’s Sword
Another mysterious sword on our list is one that is believed to have been in possession of St. Peter. As you might have guessed, there is more than one legend concerning the sword involved in the incident of Peter cutting off the right ear of Malchus, the servant of the Jewish High Priest Caiaphas, during Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane.
It is believed that the sword resided in Rome for several centuries before it was brought to Poland after the country adopted Christianity as a state religion. Another legend has it that St. Joseph of Arimathea brought the legendary sword to England, which makes the story of St. Peter’s sword even more complicated.
Nonetheless, what is believed to be the Sword of St. Peter can today be seen at the Archdiocese Museum in Poznan, Poland. It was used as a ceremonial sword during the coronation of numerous Polish monarchs.
The Wallace Sword
Proudly displayed in the National Wallace Monument in Stirling, the Wallace Sword is believed to have been used by William Wallace, one of Scotland’s greatest historical figures.
Although there is no clear evidence that the sword actually belonged to the legendary Scottish knight, portrayed by Mel Gibson in the 1995 classic Braveheart, its importance as a symbol of freedom and as one of Scotland’s most treasured national icons cannot be disputed.
The Sword of Goujian
What makes the Sword of Goujian unique is the fact that it is most probably around 2,500 years old and it was still shiny and sharp when it was discovered by archaeologists in China in 1965.
Considered a state treasure of China from the Spring and Autumn period (770–476 B.C.), the beautifully decorated Sword of Goujian is believed to have been made of bronze, copper, tin, and small amounts of iron. According to the engravings on the blade near the hilt, the sword belonged to Goujian, the King of Yue State and one of the most famous Chinese emperors. Today, the legendary sword is on display at the Hubei Provincial Museum along with numerous other archaeological artifacts.
The Seven-Branched Sword
What we have learned so far is that the Japanese swordsmiths of the past are most certainly among the best in the history of mankind. Their swords have reached legendary status over the centuries, with some of them being identified as national treasures of the country. One such sword is the legendary seven-branched sword.
According to the inscription on the blade, this mysterious sword was gifted to the King of Wa by the King of Baekje, a kingdom in the southwest of the Korean Peninsula. Experts believe that the sword has never been used in battle and most probably served a ceremonial function.