The procedures used for combat have undergone a surprising evolution. In general, warfare in ancient times was based on treachery, cunning, tactics, and good technique was based on surprising the enemy. But we don’t talk much about the materials that were used to craft your battle items.
One of the best ancient combat weapons that exist are the famous Damascus swords. Although it looks like a modern metallurgical creation, the reality is that the enigmatic metal that composes them has a much older and more complex origin than is believed.
The Crusaders begin to use resistant weapons
these soldiers Western European Christians Participants in the crusades promoted by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, they were considered powerful warriors and gifted travelers, apparently they were the first to use such resistant swords.
Initially, their swords were forged from copper, but later much stronger material began to be used.
How did the Crusaders strike fear into their enemies?
When the Crusaders presented themselves at the Middle East It was in the eleventh century. At that time, they were shocked to discover amazing swords that were light to use, but very dangerous. By acquiring these extremely effective weapons to defeat the enemy, they could terrify the bravest warrior.
According to records, swords forged from Damascus steel were so sharp that they could easily cut hair and pierce armor.
All over the world, news began to spread about a fabulous metal and its admirable strength, it was called “Damascus Steel”. Its name was due to the fact that it was widely used in Syria, but no one knows the formula for its creation.
Very few people could know the secret of steel construction. The recipe was reserved for gunsmiths They made shields, swords and armor. The rest of the inhabitants were forbidden to know the great mystery of the legendary component, for which they ceased to be elaborated in the 18th century.
Outstanding Characteristics of Damascus Steel
We know that in the 4th century AD, throughout the Syrian territory, surprising blades that cut any type of material. What makes them so special and extraordinary is that they always remained sharp, even after going into battle.
Along a curved blade, measuring 91 cm, there were inscriptions in Arabic languageIt also had gold inlays. The hilt was silver and had delicate floral engravings, which offered a unique elegance. It was carried in a wooden scabbard covered with fine velvet and trimmed with silver.
19th century Persian shamshir, curved Damascus steel blade, with Arabic engravings and inscriptions. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
A perfect feat of engineering
The appearance of this particular weapon was luxurious, when observed from afar it could be easily recognized, because it was a unique model. When using it, it was very effective, it is said that it could even cut a hair if it rested on its blade. This means it was an outstanding feat of ancient engineering.
True, it has been impossible to know all the components that were once part of the sword. The little we have discovered is that steel is a derivative of “wootz”a kind of material from India.
Former manufacturer of Damascus steel swords. public domain
The Arabs were those responsible for introducing this Indian metal to Damascus, and it has been very useful for two millennia. It is possible that its elaboration began before the common era.
Amazingly, ancient blacksmiths kept the materials and process used to forge this metal secret for millennia. But quickly the Wootz steel weapons they began to gain fame in the known world.
It is almost impossible to trace the origins of wootz metal and determine how and when it was first produced. But, the first known literary reference to the metal is found in the archives of one of the campaigns of Alexander The Great.
When the emperor visited the region at the end of the 4th century BC. J.-C., he received 100 talents of this steel in homage of the ancient Indians. Also, archaeologists have found a steel industrial center dating from the 3rd century BC. C. belonging to the Chera dynasty. These archaeological evidences are found specifically in Kodumanal, the state of Tamil Nadu in southern India. There is no doubt that Indian Wootz steel making techniques were way ahead of their time.
production is neglected
Why these amazing cutting blades went out of production is a complete puzzle that remains unsolved. One of the hypotheses proposed by the researchers supposes that it might be due to the fact that steel production decreased to a large extent.
Many theories have been advanced about the decline of production of damascus steel swords. Among them are the collapse of trade routes, the scarcity of trace impurities such as tungsten or vanadium, the secrecy of its production, and even the suppression of industry by the British Raj, or perhaps the result from a combination of all of this.
Perhaps, with the arrival of a new era, they began to be most useful firearms and little by little they replaced the swords. Another option would be that because the “recipe” was only known to a few people, it was lost over time.
Carbon nanotubes in an ancient weapon
Close up of a Damascus steel sword forged in the 18th century. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
After chemical, microscopic and radiographic examinations, a series of components such as cementite and Carbon nanotubes.
Carbon nanotubes are among the strongest and stiffest materials known, and at the same time they are very light. They are made of cylinders of carbon only one atom thick. If used in composite materials, they would dramatically improve the strength of an object, resulting in a super strong alloy.
Different investigations over the years have discovered that the creators of the swords in Damascus they were able to mix nanotubes into their steel hundreds of years ago. The result is beautiful sheets covered in swirling patterns and, more importantly, exceptionally durable with extremely sharp edges.
On the other hand, it was concluded that a very important element must have been the process to forge the Damascus blade.
You might also be interested in: The legendary Viking sword made with technology that only existed 800 years later.
To obtain Wootz steel, the crucible process is used which, along with blooming and the blast furnace, were the three main methods of making pre-modern iron. Wrought iron and other carbon-rich materials, such as wood chips, are placed in a clay pot.
The container is closed and heated to 1400°C, a temperature sufficient for the iron to absorb the carbon, liquefying the entire mixture. The addition of iron and carbon gives the metal high ductility, impact resistance and less brittleness. All these qualities are the qualities par excellence of any weapon of war.
Attempts to produce a replica
Although the exact composition of Damascus steel is known, modern metallurgists have not been able to reproduce it until now.
Today it has been possible to reproduce this ancient art of engineering with the same material used by the Damascenes. Corn it was not possible to perfectly imitate quality, because the recipe has been lost. As well as the original procedure and elements to produce the metal.
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