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Dagger


Daggers were the quintessential sidearm of every warrior until the widespread use of gunpowder. In modern times all short blades are considered knives, the term dagger generally indicates purely a weapon of war rather than a tool. However, throughout history many daggers doubled as tools, and many knives doubled as weapons, so it's a murky distinction at best.

Dagger blades come in many varieties. If the dagger is single edged it means only one side of the dagger is sharpened. A double edged dagger means both sides of the blade are sharpened. The blade also comes in many shapes. A wedge or diamond shape indicates that the blade is thicker in the middle and tapers off towards the edges. If you held the dagger with the point of the blade facing you, you would see a diamond shape. Some daggers were designed purely for thrusting, in which case they would have a triangular or square cross section. Again, if you held the dagger with the point of the blade facing you the base of the blade would form a triangle or a square. These blades have virtually no slashing capability, but they often excelled at piercing chain mail or plate joints.

In many cultures, every member of society owned a dagger, and the dagger could even be a status symbol. The jambiya for instance is passed down from father to son as a sign of loyalty and prestige, a tradition that may date back as far as 500 BC. The handle of the jambiya often indicates the social status of the person who owns it. The most expensive handles are called "saifani" and the value of the jambiya increases over time as the handle ages. A famous jambiya can be worth over 1000 times more than an ordinary one.

In war, the dagger was an invaluable backup weapon. It was quite common for swords to break, or to get irretrievably stuck in another warrior's shield. In the chaos of the battlefield it was also possible to be packed so tightly that there was no room to swing a sword. In such close quarters the dagger was the only viable weapon. Daggers ranged from roughly 3 to 12 inches long, although some were long enough to be considered short swords.

In 14th century Europe, armor technology quickly surpassed their weapon's ability to penetrate it, and as a result many daggers became extremely specialized. The French rondel for instance was designed purely for stabbing. The dagger's name is derived from its hilt, which features two round plates called rondels in the place of a pommel and guard. This made it particularly awkward to use like a regular knife because the lower rondel, while protecting the hand, interfered with the natural movement of the wrist.

As the Middle Ages gave way to the Renaissance, daggers experienced a reversal. Daggers like the rondel evolved into the stiletto, thought to be largely a civilian weapon. Additionally, daggers like the main gauche developed to be used in dueling unarmored opponents in a non-war setting.

In the Middle East, the widespread use of chain mail created a need for piercing daggers such as the kard, pesh kabz, and choora. Middle Eastern armor developed different from that of Europe because the extreme heat of the region prevented the widespread use of heavy plated armor.

Use of the dagger declined primarily due to the widespread use of gunpowder. That is not to say that short bladed weapons ever disappeared from use, but their role as purely weapons of war were usurped by bayonets and pistols. Gradually over time they began to be referred to as knives, which are still carried by most armed forces to the present day. There are still many popular modern knives that enjoy the same level of use as in the past, or at least a ceremonial position such as the kukri used by the Gurkhas of Nepal (technically a knife), the Malaysian keris (kris) and gunong, the jambiya, and even the Scottish sgian dubh.

Dagger, General Term, History, Present, Weapon


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