Damascus Steel

The creation of Damascus steel blades in the middle east was a phenomenon that begun to take place somewhere between the 300s BC and and the crusades when these blades began to become the legend that they are today.  They are known to be durable, shatter resistant blades which can hold a fine edge under very adverse conditions.

However, in the mid 1700s, the art was lost to metalsmiths, likely because of the fact that the secret of creating such blades was carefully guarded by the craftsmen who made them.  There is much speculation about the chemical processes used in the creation of such blades, but while modern science can create very near matches, there is still some question about how such precise metallurgy could happen so early in history.

It seems likely that a lifetime of study likely went into the creation of the first Damascus steel blades.

Some interesting facts about this form of steel:

1: Damascus steel contains about 1.5% carbon.

2: The famous ‘damask’ pattern found on these high quality blades appeared because there are layers of cementite particles contrasting against the surrounding steel.

Here is an example of that pattern:

Image is freely available through the wiki article on Damascus steel.

Damascus steel represents a sort of peek to the metal mastery race that took place in Europe, northern Africa and western Asia from the first bronze swords on into the best steel available.  The advantage of better armor and weapons became more clear as history formed, and until the age of gunpowder, Damascus steel and some similar arts found in Japan represent the height of that era.  To this day, it would be hard to find a better kind of sword than a handmade Damascus blade or Japanese Katana.

Bronze to Change the World

The ancient Greeks fought two famous battles against the army of the Persian Empire in the early era of bronze between the early and late 400s BC. These were the battles of Thermopylae and Marathon.  And these battles, along with the Greek invention of bronze weapons and armor, allowed the Greek civilizations to weather the storm that was the invasion of the Persian Empire.

An example of a Greek bronze short sword.


Greek bronze helm, C. 600 BC.


The advantage bronze provided to the Greeks allowed a small number of Spartan hoplites to stand and inflict outrageous casualties on a much larger Persian host at a pass known as Thermopylae with cliffs to their left and a fall into the ocean to their right.  Although they were later surrounded and killed down to the last man, this battle lasted much longer than it would be expected for 300 men to stand against hundreds of thousands.

    Metal armor made the difference by making many of the Persian weapons nearly useless against the hoplites.  When the Persians advanced to the Greek line, the contest between each Greek with the Persian advancing toward him was greatly weighted in favor of the Greek.  This is because of a few different factors like extensive training and discipline, but perhaps the greatest advantage was the disparity in their equipment.  Persians were armed with much cruder weapons and wore cloth and leather armors.  These were not adequate to the task of stopping sharp bronze swords, whereas the whips some of the Persians are said to have carried would be totally useless against bronze armor.

    Because the Greeks had these advantages during the Greco-Persian wars, their civilizations survived to influence the western civilizations around the Mediterranean.  In some ways the development of bronze working technology was the basis for the ancient Greek say in how things are today.