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Greek hoplite (standing) fighting against a Persian archer. Both are using a kopis. Depiction in ancient kylix, 5th century BC, National Archaeological Museum of Athens. Greek-Persian duel.jpg
Greek hoplite (standing) fighting against a Persian archer. Both are using a kopis. Depiction in ancient kylix, 5th century BC, National Archaeological Museum of Athens.
Greek kopis, 5th-4th centuries BC, iron, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Iron machaira (sword) MET SF2001346.jpg
Greek kopis, 5th–4th centuries BC, iron, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Modern reproduction of a kopis Kopis 2.jpg
Modern reproduction of a kopis

The term kopis (from Greek κοπίς, plural kopides [1] from κόπτω – koptō, "to cut, to strike"; [2] alternatively a derivation from the Ancient Egyptian term khopesh for a cutting sword has been postulated [3] ) in Ancient Greece could describe a heavy knife with a forward-curving blade, primarily used as a tool for cutting meat, for ritual slaughter and animal sacrifice,[ citation needed ] or refer to a single edged cutting or "cut and thrust" sword with a similarly shaped blade.



The kopis sword was a one-handed weapon. Early examples had a blade length of up to 65 cm (25.6 inches), making it almost equal in size to the spatha. Later Macedonian examples tended to be shorter with a blade length of about 48 cm (18.9 inches). The kopis had a single-edged blade that pitched forward towards the point, the edge being concave on the part of the sword nearest the hilt, but swelling to convexity towards the tip. This shape, often termed "recurved", distributes the weight in such a way that the kopis was capable of delivering a blow with the momentum of an axe, whilst maintaining the long cutting edge of a sword and some facility to execute a thrust. Some scholars have claimed an Etruscan origin for the sword, as such swords have been found as early as the 7th century BC in Etruria. [4]

The kopis is often compared to the contemporary Iberian falcata and the more recent, and shorter, Nepalese kukri. The word itself is a Greek feminine singular noun. The difference in meaning between kopis and makhaira (μάχαιρα, another Greek word, meaning "chopper" or "short sword", "dagger") is not entirely clear in ancient texts, [5] but modern specialists tend to discriminate between single-edged cutting swords, those with a forward curve being classed as kopides, those without as makhairai. [6]


The Ancient Greeks often used single-edged blades in warfare, as attested to by art and literature; however, the double-edged, straight, and more martially versatile xiphos is more widely represented. Greek heavy infantry hoplites favored straight swords, but the downward curve of the kopis made it especially suited to mounted warfare. The general and writer Xenophon recommended the single edged kopis sword (which he did not distinguish from the makhaira ) for cavalry use in his work On Horsemanship; saying, "I recommend a kopis rather than a xiphos, because from the height of a horse’s back the cut of a machaira will serve you better than the thrust of a xiphos". [7] The precise wording of Xenophon's description suggests the possibility that the kopis was regarded as a specific variant within a more general class, with the term makhaira denoting any single-edged cutting sword.

Greek art shows Persian soldiers wielding the kopis or an axe rather than the straight-bladed Persian akinakes.

It has been suggested that the yatagan, used in the Balkans and Anatolia during the Ottoman Period, was a direct descendant of the kopis. [8]

See also

Related Research Articles

A sword is a bladed melee weapon intended for cutting or thrusting that is longer than a knife or dagger, consisting of a long blade attached to a hilt. The precise definition of the term varies with the historical epoch or the geographic region under consideration. The blade can be straight or curved. Thrusting swords have a pointed tip on the blade, and tend to be straighter; slashing swords have a sharpened cutting edge on one or both sides of the blade, and are more likely to be curved. Many swords are designed for both thrusting and slashing.

<i>Gladius</i> Type of Sword

Gladius is a Latin word meaning "sword", but in its narrow sense, it refers to the sword of Ancient Roman foot soldiers. Early ancient Roman swords were similar to those of the Greeks, called xiphe. From the 3rd century BC, however, the Romans adopted a sword similar to the one used by the Celtiberians and others late into the Second Punic War, known in Latin as the gladius hispaniensis, or "Hispanic sword".

Falchion One-handed, single-edged sword

A falchion is a one-handed, single-edged sword of European origin, whose design is reminiscent of the modern machete. Falchions are found in different forms from around the 13th century up to and including the 16th century. In some versions the falchion looks rather like the seax and later the sabre, and in other versions the form is irregular or like a machete with a crossguard.

Sabre Type of sword used for combat on horseback

A sabre is a type of backsword with a curved blade associated with the light cavalry of the early modern and Napoleonic periods. Originally associated with Central European cavalry such as the hussars, the sabre became widespread in Western Europe in the Thirty Years' War. Lighter sabres also became popular with infantry of the late 17th century.

This is a list of types of swords.

<i>Dao</i> (sword) Single-edged Chinese sword primarily used for slashing and chopping

Dao are single-edged Chinese swords, primarily used for slashing and chopping. The most common form is also known as the Chinese sabre, although those with wider blades are sometimes referred to as Chinese broadswords. In China, the dao is considered one of the four traditional weapons, along with the gun, qiang (spear), and the jian, called in this group “The General of Weapons".

The yatagan or yataghan is a type of Ottoman knife or short sabre used from the mid-16th to late 19th centuries. The yatagan was extensively used in Ottoman Turkey and in areas under immediate Ottoman influence, such as the Balkans and the Caucasus.

Shamshir Type of Persian/Iranian curved sword

A shamshir is a type of Persian/Iranian sword with a radical curve. The name is derived from the shamshīr, which means "lion's claw or lions tail" in the Persian language. The curved "scimitar" sword family includes the shamshir, kilij, talwar, pulwar and nimcha.

Swordsmanship or sword fighting refers to the skills of a swordsman, a person versed in the art of the sword. The term is modern, and as such was mainly used to refer to smallsword fencing, but by extension it can also be applied to any martial art involving the use of a sword. The formation of the English word "swordsman" is parallel to the Latin word gladiator, a term for the professional fighters who fought against each other and a variety of other foes for the entertainment of spectators in the Roman Empire. The word gladiator itself comes from the Latin word gladius, which is a type of sword.

Classification of swords

The English language terminology used in the classification of swords is imprecise and has varied widely over time. There is no historical dictionary for the universal names, classification or terminology of swords; A sword was simply a double edged knife.

Xiphos Iron Age weapon

The xiphos is a double-edged, one-handed Iron Age straight shortsword used by the ancient Greeks. It was a secondary battlefield weapon for the Greek armies after the dory or javelin. The classic blade was generally about 45–60 cm (18–24 in) long, although the Spartans supposedly prefered to use blades as short as 30 cm (12 in) around the era of the Greco-Persian Wars. The xiphos sometimes has a midrib, and is diamond or lenticular in cross-section. It was a rather light weapon, with a weight around 450 to 900 grams or 1-2 lbs. It was generally hung from a baldric under the left arm. The xiphos was generally used only when the spear was broken, taken by the enemy, or discarded for close combat. Very few xiphe seem to have survived.

Makhaira Ancient Greek bladed weapon

The makhaira is a type of Ancient Greek bladed weapon, generally a large knife or sword with a single cutting edge.


A kilij is a type of one-handed, single-edged and moderately curved scimitar used by the Timurid Empire, Mamluk Empire, Ottoman Empire, and the later Turkic Khanates of Central Asia and Eurasian steppes. These blades developed from earlier Turko-Mongol sabers that were in use in lands invaded or influenced by the Turkic peoples.

The khopesh is an Egyptian sickle-sword that evolved from battle axes.

The falcata is a type of sword typical of pre-Roman Iberia. The falcata was used to great effect for warfare in the ancient Iberian peninsula, and is firmly associated with the southern Iberian tribes, among other ancient peoples of Hispania. It was highly prized by the ancient general Hannibal, who equipped Carthaginian troops with it during the Second Punic War.


The harpē (ἅρπη) was a type of sword or sickle; a sword with a sickle protrusion along one edge near the tip of the blade. The harpe is mentioned in Greek and Roman sources, and almost always in mythological contexts.

Scimitar Type of Sword

In English the word scimitar refers to a backsword or sabre with a curved blade. Adapted from the Italian word scimitarra in the mid 16th century from an unknown source, the word became used for all 'Oriental' blades which were curved, compared to the more commonly straight and double edged European swords of the time. This is apparent in Thomas Page's The Use of the Broad Sword. Published: 1746:

"The Sword was of enormous length and breadth, heavy and unweildy, design'd only for right down chopping by the Force of a strong Arm; till Time and Experience discovering the Disadvantages, by Degrees contracted its Length and lighten'd its Weight in to the more handy Form of the Scymitar; which was first invented by the Eastern Nations, and has continued to be their principal Weapon to this Day:....""The Saracens, Turks and Persians, made use of but three different Throws with the Scymitar, and one of those, only on Horseback; the other two on Foot."

A single-edged sword may be any single-edged bladed weapon with a hilt which is shorter than a polearm.

Scythe sword

The scythe sword (Sensenschwert) was a type of single-edged sword of the German Renaissance, related to the Dussack. It consisted of the blade of a scythe to which a sword hilt was attached. Like the falx or falcata of antiquity, it was thus a curved sword with the cutting edge on the inside.


  1. κοπίς, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  2. κόπτω, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  3. Gordon, D.H. (1958) "Scimitars, Sabres and Falchions". in Man, Vol 58, p. 24
  4. Connolly, P. (1981) Greece and Rome at War. Macdonald Phoebus, London, pp. 63 and 99.
  5. For a good summary of the evidence, see F. Quesada Sanz: "Máchaira, kopís, falcata" in Homenaje a Francisco Torrent, Madrid, 1994, pp. 75–94.
  6. Tarassuk & Blair, s.v. "kopis", The Complete Encyclopedia of Arms and Weapons, 1979.
  7. Sidnell, P. (2006) Warhorse: Cavalry in Ancient Warfare. Continuum International Publishing Group, pp. 33–34.
  8. Gordon, D.H. (1958) "Scimitars, Sabres and Falchions". in Man, Vol 58, Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, pp. 25–26.