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So I understand a lot of world builders and aspiring fiction writers have often tried to be creative with weapons and get shutdown for various reasons of impracticality or inferiority to steel. I'm thinking why not play into that? Why not have all those weaknesses be part of a closely guarded secret known by few not unlike the Pentagon with military secrets? In fact, I'm sure there's plenty of real life military equipment specs that are closely guarded not just to avoid adversaries copying it, but to avoid having its crippling weaknesses discovered by the enemy.

So with that in mind, how feasible would it be to have an elite guard equipped with magnesium alloy swords that can be ignited into flaming sword either through specially created gauntlet or sheathes with embedded flint edges? I certainly expect it to be a terrifying sight to see.

Would its weaknesses be immediately seen by a trained fighter in combat through a simple clashing of blades? Even if so, I don't expect there be a reason for unarmed peasants to be able to tell its weakness while being singed and slashed at?

How would they most effectively employ the weapon and guard its secret? How often could they employ such a weapon?

If it is simply not an effective practical weapon, is there a way at least to use it to "bluff" the enemy to believe that it is?

EDIT: Thanks for all the responses. Some of the comments were very enlightening to me and has been helpful in revising my idea. There's still some that I see my preface to the question didn't help steer in the direction I wanted.

For example, I don't see the fact the sword burns away as a crippling detriment, so long as it remains functionally useful and retains its form for a few minutes until the encounter is over - the enemy doesn't need to know that; this elite group may only deploy the weapon when they know the encounter will be over within a few minutes. The fact it won't survive blade contact is also not an insurmountable problem; they would use a sword style that emphasizes on dodging rather than parrying. This leaves something for protagonists to observe and eventually deduce its weakness and limitations.

As for function, well, striking fear and confusion into the enemy is already a great advantage, as is damaging and melting the enemy's equipment. They might advertise themselves as the god's chosen enforcers or some such and cleanse their enemies with divine fire when its really just science.

The fact that it would be just as dangerous if not more so to the wielder is a good point, but that need not be an insurmountable issue as the wielder can prepare themselves with proper equipment/usage as opposed to their victims.

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    $\begingroup$ So the elite guard wants a magnesium alloy sword that is actively hazardous to the person holding it when lit, is blindingly bright to the wielder and the friendly soldiers next to them, gets duller and thinner the longer it's lit since the blade material is burning away, is very difficult to safely extinguish, and also weakens at high temperatures? $\endgroup$ Dec 31, 2021 at 4:50
  • $\begingroup$ the question to you is what advantage do you think such a sword would have? For a starter a magnesium sword would break almost instantly , $\endgroup$
    – John
    Dec 31, 2021 at 5:58
  • $\begingroup$ @GrumpyYoungMan what if its a magnesium edge folded over a tungsten carbide blade to withstand the heat? $\endgroup$ Dec 31, 2021 at 15:01
  • $\begingroup$ The magnesium edge burns away the fastest because it's the narrowest point and the tungsten carbide shatters when struck by the opponent's steel sword because of its brittleness. $\endgroup$ Dec 31, 2021 at 17:51
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    $\begingroup$ this video may be helpful, the thicker the magnesium is the harder it is to light , you need a fairly hot flame to even start it, but once it gets gong will burn away in seconds, worse it will get hot enough to melt the magnesium off the sword so it will not even last for the full burn rate. if you just want a show put an thin coating of red phosphorus on it, easier to light and you get a far less dangerous flame. Plus medieval tech could actually make it. youtube.com/watch?v=9V2Nno2-XnI $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jan 7 at 16:29

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How to design the sword

One thing to note about magnesium is that it is not a very strong metal. It also burns so hot and bright that setting an entire sword made of the stuff on fire is about as good of an idea as setting off a grenade in your own hand. So, rather than a sword made of magnesium, let us assume you really mean a steel sword that has been coated in enough magnesium to put on a good light show, but not so much as to harm the user. For this answer to make since, you will need to make sure the sword ignites as you are drawing it. For this, giving your scabbard a locket made of flint should cause it to spark when drawn quickly igniting the sword immediately.

Couple it with a technique similar to iaigiri

In feudal Japan, koiguchi san sun was a set of laws designed to prevent a Samurai from drawing his weapon unless he was absolutely sure he needed to. Cliff notes of these laws were that if a samurai drew his sword more than about 9cm from its fully sheathed position in public without just cause, he could be executed for it, and once his sword was drawn, he was required to kill the person he drew his sword against before the sword could be returned to its sheath, or else he could also be executed for it... or more accurately, he would be forced to commit suicide.

These laws led to a curious technique known as iaigiri which is the technique of striking with your blade in the same action as you draw it. Since failing to kill a person once you draw your blade is a death sentence, the samurai placed a lot of emphases on training for this critical first second of a fight since letting your opponent flee was not an option.

What does this have to do with flaming swords?

The moment you draw your sword is a unique point in a fight where your opponent is looking at or generally at your sword while it is well outside of your field of view. So when you draw your sword, there is a brief moment, where the flash of your blade catching fire as it is removed from its sheath will affect your opponent more than yourself. This blinding flash will increase your odds of landing your iaigiri cut.

Would its weaknesses be immediately seen by a trained fighter in combat through a simple clashing of blades?

On the contrary, because a semi-trained fighter knows that there is about to be a bright flash of light, he will flinch in anticipation of it by closing his eyes or looking away, essentially blinding him before the magnesium even ignites. Only warriors of great discipline would be able to know they are about to face the flash of a fire sword and not break thier gaze.

On last caveat here is that if the magnesium will quickly ruin the temper of your steel effectively destroying the blade. So after the fight, you could simply break the sword against a rock preventing it from ever being returned to its sheath. So if your culture abides by koiguchi san sun law, then your warrior does not need to worry about letting an opponent live since once drawn the sword can never be sheathed or used again.

In Feudal Japan, this kind of side-stepping the law on a technicality may or may not be seen as dishonorable... but in a very similar culture, it may in fact be the whole point of your own version of koiguchi san sun law. The whole purpose of koiguchi san sun law was to prevent a samurai from drawing his sword unless it was absolutely necessary. Since swords are so expensive, making your warrior elites pay for and carry thier own 1-use fire swords would put that same pressure to keep thier swords sheathed on them without the threat of death over thier heads. So, while your version of samurai may not be required to kill or be killed every time he draws his sword, he will certainly think twice about pulling out his flaming sword over a minor disagreement if he knows it will cost him a few cows to replace.

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how feasible would it be to have an elite guard equipped with magnesium alloy swords that can be ignited into flaming sword either through specially created gauntlet or sheathes with embedded flint edges?

Setting a magnesium sword on fire is a terrible idea.

First lesson of chemistry lab in high school, our teacher took us into the lab, closed the curtains and put a short strip of magnesium next to a flame. The strip caught fire and lit the entire room with a bright light until it was completely burnt.

Now, while the light was bright and blinding, if that strip had been a sword, my teacher would have been left with a nice basic sword made of MgO.

Whenever you are using magnesium, you want to make sure it doesn't catch fire. Or, if you want to use magnesium in a fight, use the flame as you would use a flashbang: blind your opponent and use this to your advantage.

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  • $\begingroup$ So based on your explanation, would a magnesium-tipped sword be feasible even if its a oneshot blinding/short term flaming appearance? $\endgroup$ Dec 31, 2021 at 5:54
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    $\begingroup$ @FantasyScience short answer, no. magnesium will react rapidly to create MgO, in which it becomes non-reactive. If your scabbard was filled with mineral oil, it would stop the reaction, but once you unsheathe it, it will begin to react, violently once you stab something, then it would be useless after that. $\endgroup$
    – Sonvar
    Jan 3 at 21:40
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Magnesium shields.

You want to dazzle your opponent. You do not want them to see what hits them. You are like Athena, with the head of Medusa on her shield. Pointed away from you.

athena with glow shield

Magnesium on the front of your shield can be lit and burn away over the 1 or 2 minutes while you engage your foe. You can reuse the shield with a new piece of magnesium later. You are not blinded because the shield shades you from the brilliance.

Of course if you happen to actually be Athena, you are not blinded because you are Athena.

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    $\begingroup$ This is a great idea! Thanks! $\endgroup$ Dec 31, 2021 at 19:16
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    $\begingroup$ I want to share that I did some research and it appears Emperor Nero wore polished emerald as sunglasses to watch gladiatorial fights and the inuit peoples used carved ivory as masks to protect against snow glare. Moving up to high middle ages more conventional sun glasses seem to start to exist. $\endgroup$ Dec 31, 2021 at 23:11
  • $\begingroup$ Great idea. I would add, why not use it as "medieval flashbangs" or incendiary grenades? $\endgroup$
    – Stivsko
    Jan 4 at 23:56
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    $\begingroup$ @FantasyScience - confirmed! If you have vastly more money than sense, there's even a company looking to sell their implementation of the idea. $\endgroup$ Jan 7 at 14:23
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Why would anyone want a sword that burned up?

The old time pirates are depicted with a cutlass in one hand and a gun in another for good reason. Because the gun is one shot and hard to reload, they need the cutlass to back it up.

Making your sword magnesium and setting it on fire would make the sword as consumable as ammunition. And unlike a gun, it would gain little advantage, since the heat and the light would be more dangerous to the wielder than his foe. (He's the one right next to it.)

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  • $\begingroup$ Agree.. a "flaming sword" is primarily a symbol, an illustration.. why would a sword burn anyway.. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Dec 31, 2021 at 15:16
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If it is simply not an effective practical weapon, is there a way at least to use it to "bluff" the enemy to believe that it is?

You bet. Simply use a sword with a deep groove in the center, and the groove is filled with a replaceable rod of magnesium or other highly flammable compound. The sword remains a sword, but once ignited (in the case of magnesium) it's now very difficult to look at, which gives the wielder a definite advantage over their opponents. The small quantity of magnesium involved should ensure the sword remains cool enough to remain serviceable and prevent small mishaps.

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  • $\begingroup$ The sword is going to be between you and your opponent (and closer to you) so the blazing white light is going to be at least as disadvantageous to you as it will be to your opponent. $\endgroup$ Jan 7 at 16:31
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelRichardson My current working concept is to combine it with a Corinthian style helmet fitted with emerald spectacles that Emperor Nero used. The referenced period is a bit later than the Corinthian helmet but the shape and function is more fitting in this context. They will pull down the helmet before every combat/drawing of the sword. Also, this group will be deployed sparingly, they need only to build up the reputation to be feared to keep the occupied territories in line. $\endgroup$ Jan 7 at 19:36
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There are a lot of great answers already but I wanted to give my two cents, so please picture this:

You, the elite guard, twist the sword grip. One hand going clockwise the other anti-clockwise. A recessed magnesium orb placed on the sword blade is slightly raised higher than the blade level.

The next attack is a special move to strike the orb against the enemy blade, thus igniting it and blinding your foe with super bright light.

Of course that means you're blinded too, but that is why you use eyepatch or special glasses.

The next couple of seconds are all yours and all you need.

Edit: What if the mechanism to raise the magnesium orb works by rotating the pommel of your sword? Better? It could also be a button/trigger near the guard.

Edit 2: A magnesium pommel would probably be too light, but the idea of gripping your sword by the blade and striking the pommel against the ground like a matchstick and then proceding to bash your foe while using your cool medieval sunglasses is amusing. Probably would be supper effective against creatures that live underground in the dark.

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Instead of the entire blade made out of magnesium you could have grooves throughout the sword that you light, though this may be separate to your intention. This makes the sword more durable and uses less magnesium. If you want to keep the magnesium swords in full, you could equip them with another blade to block blows from enemy weapons.

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    $\begingroup$ Actually grooves was exactly what I was thinking of after reading John's comment and Nosajimiki's answer. The steel will still likely be rapidly damaged but it makes it relatively more reusable in a short term engagement until elite soldiers are called back. In the world they are part of an empire that is not unlike the US and Rome in power projection and military budget, so it's perfectly feasible for secret weapons like this while masking away its crippling flaws. (Their enemies need not know they retreat because they literally can't fight anymore.) $\endgroup$ Jan 7 at 19:28

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