Aesthetics aside, what are the pros and cons of a curved sword vs a straight one?
Both are double-edged and the same length.
Fantasy/medieval setting.

Curved example:

asymmetric blade


Straight example:

enter image description here


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    $\begingroup$ Hello and welcome. This area is both too broad (many people spent years studying swords and fighting techniques, both practically and theoretically, and list of differences with explanations could easily fill a book or few) and off topic (no world building here, just request for explanation on real world). $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Apr 13 '18 at 9:03
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not a fan of this question because it's purely about the real world. Or can I make any question on-topic by adding "Fantasy/medieval setting."? "Will mowing my lawn twice a week damage it long-term? Fantasy/medieval setting." Can you perhaps specify in what way the fictional part is relevant? Are they fighting special creatures? Do they have special armor? Or are you just unaware that curved swords exist in the real world and were very popular even? $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Apr 13 '18 at 9:18
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    $\begingroup$ @AjnatorixZersolar There was a proposal for a weapons SE a while ago though. area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/102381/weapons $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Apr 13 '18 at 9:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35 Just because a question is about the real world doesn't by itself make a subject off topic. So long as it's relevant to building a world then it can be fine (although it may have other problems). For example "what is the maximum population an island of size X, climate Y can support" is both a real world and a worldbuilding question. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Apr 13 '18 at 10:18
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    $\begingroup$ Wikipedia has an entire page dedicated to the comparison of curved and straight sword. If this is not off topic it is at least "lack of research effort" $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Apr 13 '18 at 11:28

The debate about whether curved or straight swords are superior is as old as warfare itself.

Cultures all throughout history have had different preferences. Generally the European cultures (Greeks, Romans, Medieval) preferred straight, while the Asian cultures (Mongols, Japanese, Saracenes...) preferred curved.

The main difference is that curved swords are better at slashing while straight swords are better at thrusting. This is mostly relevant if you are fighting enemies who wear armor. If the enemy is wearing chainmail or plate armor, then slashing attacks are unlikely to hurt them. You then want a straight sword which allows you to do a thrusting attack which breaks through their armor.

Straight swords also give you more range for the same weight. This is useful for fighting in close formations where every cm of range counts. That's why traditional close formation armies (like the Roman legion) used straight swords.

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    $\begingroup$ Don't think this is always necessary on WB, but since this question is strictly about the real world, could you include references so that people that don't know anything about swords can see if you know what you are talking about and check your information and so on? I guess you get what those are for $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Apr 13 '18 at 9:29
  • $\begingroup$ I remember a television program (from discovery?) about the history of weapons, where they would set warriors from different ages agianst each other. One of those was a Samurai against a knight in chainmail. Samurai did nothing against the chainmail, just made a few tiny dents (wasn't tested with a person in it). I think the knight won that fight. $\endgroup$
    – Mixxiphoid
    Apr 13 '18 at 13:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Mixxiphoid Sounds like Deadliest Warrior. $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Apr 13 '18 at 13:33
  • $\begingroup$ At least in European history, straight swords also allowed for half swording which was a very popular way to try and bypass platemail. $\endgroup$ Apr 13 '18 at 13:41

As always for weapons, there are no weapon better than another, if one of them would be useless, we wouldn't have any historical exemple of it. It's just different combat style.

Depending on how curved the blade is, the slash damaged would not be the same: not as deep, or as big area. Another thing to keep in mind is that sometimes, weapon can keep stuck in bodies, a slightly curved blade can prevent this.

As the other answer says, straight blade are better to thrust weak point of ennemies. However, a curved blade can be harder to parry. With a sword like the Khopesh, you can bypass a shield.

The Dacians also win some battles against romans thanks to Dacian falx, hitting over roman shields. Romans then redesigned their helmet, and crushed the Dacians. It's a great exemple, as romans had straight short blades: there is no blade better than another, you just have to have a blade depending on the ennemy equipment.


The difference is because of function:

This is a pretty simple difference. They are shaped differently because they are used for different kinds of enemies and combat styles.

Curved sword are generally better at cutting. This is because they have a longer surface area of blade that generally follows the motion of your cut and is therefore in contact with your target longer. This can create a deeper cut. With curved swords you generally try to do what is called a Draw Cut. This is when you cut something and slide the entire length of the blade against the target. By doing so you can slice much deeper than just by hacking.

Curved swords generally appeared in areas or ages where the contemporary enemy was lightly or unarmored. This is because the earlier mentioned deep cutting is very effective against bare human bodies, but not so much against chainmail or plate mail. This is was this weapons selling point was and is why we see them more in the Middle East, ancient Egypt etc where and at times when the enemy would have been more lightly armored.

enter image description here

Straight Swords were generally designed to have some capacity for piercing. While not every straight sword was necessarily designed to pierce, and by all means straight swords can cut, historically the great increase in the use of straight swords in for example Europe was in response to a greater need for piercing ability.

Piercing weapons I believe are more effective against armored opponents. This is suggested in Half-Swording and other techniques that emphasized using the point of a blade to bypass armor. While every sword seeks to be the most optimal tool, balancing cutting and slashing often at a tradeoff, in Europe it seems that the need for thrusting overtook the need for cutting at the onset of the high Medieval ages. This is probably why straight swords became so popular around this period.

As we move into the renaissance and age of guns, when armor again became minimal you will notice that there was a return to curved blades in the form of sabres. Changes in sword design across history tended to follow the changes in what was optimum for combat in the region and period where it was used.

enter image description here

Blacksmiths knowing these differences and military practitioners wanting to survive, naturally picked the best designs for whatever kind of combat they were facing. This is how these different sword came to be designed, and why they were used and became popular. Purely for best function (usually at the trade-off of cut vs thrust) depending on what was needed.

Some light reading for you, why curved for cutting: http://raynfall.com/2539/the-physics-of-the-cut/

Why straight swords overtook curved swords in Europe during the high medieval ages (armor prevalence): http://www.thearma.org/essays/thrusting_vs_cutting.html#.WtDq0LpFy70

This is not really official, but is a good conversation on this topic: https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/comments/1w4gbt/why_did_knights_still_use_swords_after_the/

Why some straight swords were not pointed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVrYt5A3VyA

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Curved sword better at cutting, fine. Straight swords being generally for piercing, not so much. There are many types of straight cutting swords which are poor at piercing - say, a Falchion, and many Medieval Arming swords aren't particularly pointy. $\endgroup$
    – Slow Dog
    Apr 13 '18 at 13:23
  • $\begingroup$ Falchion is an axe sword(?) and is in its own special category, and I would even argue is actually a curved sword so lets overlook that one. As for your other point, yes no not all straight sword are exclusively for piercing, but they all retain the ability to pierce. You may or may not know that there are also straight swords that are exclusively for piercing and don't cut at all like the Small Sword. One hallmark of straight swords is that they can pierce. Maybe I was unclear, but I just wanted to communicated that straight swords generally retain piercing ability. $\endgroup$ Apr 13 '18 at 13:29
  • $\begingroup$ Also see, I said (some) piercing. $\endgroup$ Apr 13 '18 at 13:42
  • $\begingroup$ There are straight swords without points. See hampel-auctions.com/img/auktionen/A108/b/Hampel-108075014.jpg It's not going to pierce anything. $\endgroup$
    – Slow Dog
    Apr 13 '18 at 15:18
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    $\begingroup$ @SlowDog I'm not sure what you think of as an arming sword, but I would certainly consider them pointy. The important consideration is context - you can cut with or stab with just about any sword, but there is always the trade-off with every design consideration (estocs and smallswords being the extreme of trading cutting ability for better stabbing by having no cutting edge at all). A flexible blade or one whose point is not in line will not give a good transfer of energy as a straight stiff blade is best for punching through instead of the force being directed away. $\endgroup$ Apr 13 '18 at 15:18

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