The Cutting Edge

The official blog of Knife Depot

Category: Knife History (page 1 of 2)

History of Roman Daggers & Swords


In honor of our current giveaway of the Roman-inspired Thraex XII Tactical from US Gladius, we’re taking a more in-depth look at the swords and daggers from Ancient Rome.

When it comes to swords from history, it’s hard to think of better-known weapons than those from the Roman times. Due to the countless parallels with modern day society and the drama that took place during the time, our fascination with Ancient Rome is almost as old as Rome itself.

Before we venture into the swords and daggers, we’ll start with what Ancient Rome was like.

Life in Ancient Rome

Even though the peak of Ancient Rome was way back between 753 BC and 476 AD, Roman society was extremely advanced. Most of the wealthy Romans lived extravagant lifestyles with luxurious furnishings. The poor were on the other side of the spectrum. They didn’t have such lavish lives, but they did kill some time watching things like chariot races and gladiator fights.

After a hard day’s work, Romans from all backgrounds would head over to the public baths—where they would relax, gossip, mingle, and recuperate.

Rome wasn’t all fun and games, though. The Roman Empire—and the Republic to a lesser extent—were bent on expanding its territories through conflicts and conquests. Along with the gladiator events, weapons came in handy during battles.

Types of Roman Swords and Daggers

Maybe it’s just because of the countless movies set in Ancient Rome (such as Spartacus and Gladiator), but Roman weapons are very distinct. Let’s take a look at a few.


The gladius was the primary weapon for the foot soldiers of Ancient Rome. The name was derived from the words gladiator, which means swordsman, and gladiolus, which means little sword. In general terms, the gladius sword features a double-edged blade that’s meant for thrusting with a few slices. Its other discerning feature is a knobbed hilt, which was typically ornate.

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Why Switchblades Should Be Legal

At Knife Depot, we pride ourselves on being a business that works toward giving customers the greatest selection of products possible.

So, when we were finally able to sell automatic knives (better known as switchblades), we were downright stoked. We posted on Facebook and sent out an email to our subscribers announcing the arrival of automatic knives for authorized military personnel and law enforcement officers.

Microtech Combat Troodon DE Automatic Knife

Microtech Combat Troodon DE Automatic Knife

Let’s just say that the reception was less than enthusiastic.

We received emails from disgruntled fans attacking our automatic knives policy as dumb, ridiculous, and discriminating.

The truth is we whole-heartedly agree with the hate mail. Unfortunately, as a business that conducts interstate commerce, we’re bound by the federal law of the United States.

The Switchblade Knife Act of1958 prohibits the manufacture, importation, distribution, transportation, and sale of switchblade knives between states, but there are a few exceptions in terms of what can be mailed across state lines found in 18 USC 1716 (G) and 15 USC 1244.

If you didn’t click on the links to the actual code (and we don’t blame you), they basically say switchblades can only be shipped across state lines to certain people, which includes authorized government personnel and those who have the use of only one arm.

Benchmade Bedlam Automatic Knife, Axis

Benchmade Bedlam Automatic Knife, Axis

So how did we get to this point? Let’s go back to the development of automatic knives.

History of the Switchblade

A switchblade is a folding knife that uses a spring-loaded button to fully engage a knife. (If you’re curious, I wrote an article about the difference between a switchblade and assisted-opening knife.) The blade’s natural position is to be open and the button is absorbing that pressure. Once that pressure is removed, the knife opens up.

Switchblades were around in ewhe form since the mid-18th century, but those mostly used levers and weren’t very practical.

It wasn’t until the late 1800s did George Schrade help pioneer the modern and functional iteration of the switchblade. By 1916, Schrade had created what we know as the switchblade today. He used a button to engage the knife instead of the old lever system.

A switchblade from Flylock Knife Company from between 1918 and 1929.

A switchblade from Flylock Knife Company from between 1918 and 1929.

Legend has it that the automatic knife was developed in order to make it easier for women to open folding knives without breaking a fingernail. While this is a slight exaggeration, early advertisements did use this aspect as a selling point.

Here’s a Schrade advertisement from 1904, according to Gizmodo.

Operated With One Hand.

No Breaking of Finger Nails.

Will Not Open in Your Pocket.

Will Not Close on the Fingers When in Use.

The Schrade Safety Push Button Knife, of which we are the exclusive manufacturers, is rapidly becoming the leading knife on the market because of its many advantages over the ordinary pocket knife. Being easily operated with one hand it is far more convenient than the old style pocket knife which necessitates the use of both hands to open and frequently results in broken finger nails… This novel knife is especially suitable for a gift or souvenir, as it is something out of the ordinary, very useful, and when furnished with one of our attractive handles makes an ideal gift.

What made the knife go from a tool that wouldn’t break your nails to a weapon that was destroying society? We turn to the 1950s for the answer.

How the Switchblade Was Banned

Let’s set the scene of the time. The U.S. was undergoing a major economic boom in the wake of WWII, while the onset of the Cold War had shifted the politics of the country right. The Civil Rights movement was gaining steam. Rock-N-Roll was emerging on the scene with artists like Sam Cooke, Buddy Holly, Howlin’ Wolf, and others were captivating teens. Juvenile delinquency was up during the time, and movie stars like James Dean weren’t helping matters.

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Parker River Knife Company Embraces the Past with Classic Pocket Knives


Even though the knife market is continually dominated by huge brands like Kershaw, Buck, and Spyderco, smaller companies also make fantastic knives and offer personal touches that those larger companies simply can’t. That’s where the Parker River Knife Company comes in.

Parker River Knife Company’s story began nearly 100 years ago along the banks of Parker River in Newbury, Mass. A restaurant and gift shop opened right on the water, but after many years it was converted into a marina. Once the owners decided to retire, Jim Bowes and his wife decided to take over the family business and write a new chapter in the family story.

Here’s more about the start of the company from the Parker River site:

Drawing on years of experience working along the Parker River, we’ve designed a line of knives that are as beautiful as they are functional. The river has taught us to respect and love nature. Our products are designed to last a lifetime and to be cherished as much as we love this little river.

What really sets Parker River knives apart from some of the other knives you see on the market is just how much these knives look and feel like the same ones your granddad might have carried. This ensures the knife not only features a handsome design but also boasts a look you know will never go out of style.

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“Art of Combat” Keeps Stage Fighting Alive

Art of Combat NYC Class in 2011. Photo by Jared Kirby.

Art of Combat NYC Class in 2011. Photo by Jared Kirby.

Have you ever wondered how someone can go from an average actor to a seemingly experienced, masterful sword fighter? As you might have guessed, it takes a lot of practice and training for Uma Thurman to do this or for Liam Neeson to do this.

However, unlike movie actors, who have the benefit of doing multiple takes and sometimes even get help from the magic of film, stage actors must get the scene just right and in front of a live audience after only a few sessions of practice. That’s what I call amazing.

But the best and most serious actors don’t go it alone. Enter the Art of Combat.

The Art of Combat is an organization founded by a group of fight directors who wanted to take stage combat (both on stage and in films) to another level. Here’s a little more about the group from its site:

Art of Combat has been actively transferring historical combat styles to stage and film for over a decade with many members working in the industry for much longer. With our Fight Directors across the United States, Great Britain and Australia we have enhanced theatre, film and TV with authentic and realistic combat sequences all around the world. Company members are trained in historical as well as standard stage combat styles, so whatever the aesthetic requirements for your production, AoC can give you an excellent fight!

In July, the Art of Combat is hosting an intensive week-long workshop for fight directing and combat in NYC. The class, which will have participants from all over the world, is going to culminate in a public performance showcasing what they’ve learned.

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How to identify an old knife

So, you picked up an awesome knife for $3 at a yard sale or your grandfather gave you his favorite blade and now you’re curious about what type of knife it is and what it’s worth. If you’re looking for an easy way to identify what type of knife you have, here are good places to start.

Find any identifying marks or symbols

The first, and most obvious, place to start is with the knife itself. Look for any sort of symbols, initials or identifying marks. Certain symbols or scratches in the handle or steel of the blade are usually calling cards of certain knifemakers or brands. Sometimes a simple Google search on whatever is on the knife is enough to identify the brand or maker.

Narrow down any possibilities by analyzing the construction

If there aren’t any intentional identifiers on the blade, it’s still possible to narrow down the possibilities of where, when and who it came from by simply looking at the qualities of the knife. For example, if you have a knife with a specific type of lock, you can usually narrow the date it was manufactured with a little research. You could also narrow down where it was made by looking at its style and influence.

Post your picture on websites

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The Sypderco portable hand, the knife that gave Sypderco their start

Today, Spyderco knives are known across the world for their unique shapes and stellar performance, but have you ever wondered about the early days of this famous knife company?

Spyderco was founded by  Sal Glesser  in 1976, but Glesser’s first product wasn’t actually a knife, but a spider-shaped device  called “The Portable Hand,”  which was the inspiration for the company’s name.

Of course, despite being freakishly cool to look at,  it wasn’t exactly a bestselling product, so Glesser moved on to producing knife sharpeners and eventually folding knives.

In 1981,  he constructed his first folding knife, the CO1 worker, which was the first knife to feature a round hole in the blade that helped it achieve lightning-quick opening.

According to Spyderco, it  was also the first’s knife to feature a pocket clip on the handle.

In those days, Glesser and his wife Gail would travel from knife show to knife show in a converted old bread delivery truck.  Thirty years later, they’re the founders of one of the world’s most premiere knife companies.

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The Lowdown on Survival Knives

Dark Ops Survival Knife

Dark Ops Survival Knife

A pocket knife is adequate for a number of outdoor tasks, but if you’re a bona fide survivalist, a serious hunter or a Rambo-enthusiast, you’ll want a bigger, burlier, survival blade. Here’s a look at how the survival knife changed over history and what it represents today.

Survival knife prehistoric history

The survival knife has likely existed in some form for thousands of years. When German hikers discovered Otzi the Iceman, Europe’s oldest mummy, he had a flint knife in tow.  He likely used that knife to skin animals, start fires, build shelters and defend himself from everything from bears to human attackers.

Jim Bowie, survival knife inventor, fighting machine.

It’s difficult to imagine a historic figure manlier than Jim Bowie. Whether he was operating as a backwoods pirate in the swamps of Louisiana or slaying Mexicans with his back to the wall at the Alamo, Bowie was one of the toughest knife-wielding renegades of the 19th century and a key contributor to the legacy of the survival knife.

In 1930, Bowie designed the most famous version of his Bowie Knife, a monstrous 9.5-inch blade similar to a butcher knife.  The knife blade curved at the end, making it especially apt for skinning dead animals; its straighter section was ideal for chopping or cutting smaller items.

However, the most infamous use of the Bowie knife was combat.  In 1827, Bowie was a principal at a duel, later termed the sandbar incident, that ended in him being attacked and shot. Bowie defended himself with his Bowie knife, disemboweling one man and nearly slicing off the arm of another.

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NOVA does documentary revealing “Secrets of the Samurai Sword.”

The samurai sword, also known as the katana, has a rich history dating back from ancient Japan. The sword, which typically exceeds 23 inches in length, is known for its curved single-edge blade and long grip. It gained popularity among waring clans in 12th century Japan and has traditionally been a sword associated with an elite group of Japanese swordsman.

NOVA recently put together a documentary entitled “Secrets of the Samurai Sword,” which breaks down the history of the sword, its construction and the warriors who used it.  Here are a few of the highlights.

History of the Samurai People

The samurai quickly rose to the status of elite swordsman and as early as the 12th century had established themselves as the knights of Japan.  Between the 12th century and the 16th century, they were active in a number of armed clashes, insurrections and battles over control of Japan.

According to the documentary, the samurai were treated with great reverence and up until the 17th century could could legally kill any common person who did not show them sufficient respect. However, along with this respect came a set of ethics that could prove fatal to the samurai himself.

They lived by their own moral code, called Bushido, which deemed a death by enemy to be dishonorable; for this reason, the Samurai would often commit suicide if death on the battlefield appeared unavoidable.

The documentary also details the painstaking process of constructing a samurai sword.  During the construction of the sword, which can last up to 3 months, over 15 men, from steel forgers to sword polishers, will work on it.  Eventually, it returns back to the original swordsmith, who will have the final say on whether or not it is worthy of a samurai warrior.
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In Vidalia, the ghost of Jim Bowie comes alive

The Riverview RV Park in Vidalia, Louisiana was packed to capacity last Saturday. In addition to the crowd of weekend campers, a British car show had attracted a throng of onlookers. They gawked at the shiny automobiles, seemingly unaware that in the back of the park, along the sandy banks of the Mississippi River, the ghost of one of America’s finest knife fighters was being resurrected.

Jim Bowie died at the Alamo, with a pistol in one hand and his famous Bowie knife in the other. How many member of the Mexican army he slayed before he was killed, no one knows. When the Mexican general Santa Anna heard of his capture, he ordered his body buried, saying that Bowie was too brave a man to be burned like a dog on the funeral pyre; he later changed his mind.

It was in Vidalia, where Bowie first garnered fame. In the legendary Sandbar Duel, he used his Bowie Knife to kill one of his attackers and slice off the forearm of another. Newspapers covered the story, with lurid details of Bowie’s incredible fighting prowess, and a hero of the frontier was born. His Bowie knife, distinctive because of its long, curvaceous blade, grew a reputation of its own.

Every September in Vidalia, population 4,553, they celebrate the legacy of Bowie with the annual Jim Bowie Festival. When I arrived last Saturday, it was just in time to catch the awards ceremony of the Little Mr. Wee Bowie Contest. A dozen or so aspiring Jim Bowies, between the ages of 3 and 6, dressed up in their burliest frontier gear. They wore chaps and cowboy hats and Ms. Vidalia, replete in her gown and tiara, crowned winners in each category.

This was only a warm-up for the main source of entertainment: a theatrical reenactment of the Sandbar Duel by the Natchez Little Theater. With a corn dog in one hand and an oversized jug of sweet tea in the other, I watched in awe as the ghost of Bowie came alive in front of my eyes. With the grace of a ballerina, Bowie dodged bullets and swords before slicing and knifing his foes into pieces. He was shot twice and stabbed once and ended the fight sprawled on the ground.

After the reenactment, attendees were serenaded by musical numbers from actors dressed as Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. I bought a five-dollar frontiersman hat and sat on the riverside bathing in the warm autumn sun. On the other side of the river sat Natchez, Mississippi, full of regal estates and haunted plantations, relics from the Old South. But in Vidalia, history was chronicled with little flair except for the blade of a knife. Bowie, now dead and buried for 164 years, would appreciate it that way.

Check out the video below for video footage from the Jim Bowie Festival in Vidalia,

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How old are knives?

When you’re using a Swiss army knife on a camping trip or a steak knife to cut up a tender rib eye, do you ever think about how old the blade you’re cutting with truly is?

Knives are some of the oldest tools on the planet. They date back to the Stone Age, approximately two and a half million years ago.  Throughout history, almost every major culture has used some form of knives.  A few recent discoveries have shed light on some of the more unique knife specimens from the past.  Check them out.

The Oldest Steak Knife (200,000 years old)

In July, researches in Tel Aviv, Israel discovered tiny flint knives, which they believe were used to cut meat.  These shards of stone, approximately the size of a quarter, were found around the remains of a fire and adjacent to the carcasses of animals.

Archeologists speculate that these knives were used to cut the meat of animals such as horses or rhinoceros.  The knives would have only been used for a short time and then discarded after they lost their sharpness.  They were likely created by chipping shards off stones

The Roman Army Knife (2,000 years old)

A precursor to the Swiss Army Knife, the Roman army knife had many similar features.  This knife was made from silver, but had an iron blade.  It features a spoon, fork, spatula, and retractable spike.  Researchers speculate that the spike may have been used to pry snails from their shell.

It’s possible that, because of its complexity, this knife was owned by a wealthy traveler who had it custom made.  The knife was discovered in the area of the Mediterranean and is currently on exhibit at a museum in Cambridge.

Otzi the Iceman

When researchers find mummies from the past, they are often carrying knives as well.  The discovery of Otzi the Iceman, the oldest naturally-preserved mummy found in Europe, was accompanied by the recovery of many of his tools, including the flint knife he had.

Because of their resourcefulness, knives have spanned millions of years and will likely be around for millions more.  That’s food for thought and something to consider the next time you’re slicing up a flank steak or whittling a stick with a pocket knife.

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