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Modern Winchester Riot Dagger and sheath

A dagger (probably from Vulgar Latin: 'daca' - a Dacian knife) is a double-edged blade used for stabbing or thrusting. They often fulfill the role of a secondary defense weapon in close combat. In most cases, a tang extends into the handle along the centreline of the blade.

Daggers may be differentiated from knives on the basis that daggers are intended primarily for stabbing whereas knives are usually single-edged and intended mostly for cutting. However, many knives and daggers are capable of either stabbing or cutting.

Contents

Early history

Much like battle axes, daggers evolved out of prehistoric tools. In Neolithic times, daggers were made of materials such as flint, ivory or bone and were used as weapons since the earliest periods of human civilization. The earliest metal daggers appear in the Bronze Age, in the 3rd millennium BC, predating the sword, which essentially developed from oversized daggers. Although the standard dagger is in many cases was not as effective as axes, spears, or even maces due to its limited reach, it was an important step towards the development to what is often seen as a more useful close-combat weapon, the sword.

Celtic dagger and sheath

However, from pre-dynastic Egypt,[1] daggers were adorned as ceremonial objects with golden hilts and later even more ornate and varied construction. One early silver dagger was recovered with midrib design. Traditionally, some military and naval officers wore dress daggers as symbols of power, and modern soldiers are still equipped with combat knives and knife bayonets. In the second century BCE, socketed daggers were known to be used in Minoan Crete as evidenced by archaeological recovery at the Knossos site.[2]

Historically, knives and daggers were always considered secondary or even tertiary weapons. Most cultures mainly fought with pole weapons, swords, and axes at arm's length if not already utilizing bows, spears, slings, or other long-range weapons. Roman soldiers were issued a pugio.

From the year 1250 onward, gravestones and other contemporary images show knights with a dagger or combat knife at their side. The hilt and blade shapes began to resemble smaller versions of swords and led to a fashion of ornamented sheaths and hilts in the late 15th century.

Symbolism and use

The dagger is symbolically ambiguous. It may be associated with cowardice and treachery due to the ease of concealment and surprise that someone could inflict with one on an unsuspecting victim—many assassinations were reportedly carried out using one. Victims of such assassinations included Julius Caesar, who suffered from 23 stab wounds from irate members of the Roman Senate. On the other hand, the dagger may symbolically suggest a determination to become courageously close to the enemy.

With the advent of very protective plate armour during the Middle Ages, the dagger became increasingly useful as a good close in weapon for stabbing through the gaps in armour. Books offering instruction on the use of weapons predominantly described that the dagger be held in the hand with the blade pointing from the heel of the hand both in armour and out of armour, and used by making downward jabs. Straight jabs from a normal hammer grip were also used, though icepick style jabs are more commonly depicted in manuals. The dagger was quite a common murder weapon, easily used by commoners or vengeful aristocrats who wished to remain anonymous.

With the development of firearms, the dagger lost more and more of its usefulness in military combat; multipurpose knives/bayonets and handguns replaced them. However, beginning with the 17th century, another form of dagger—the plug bayonet and later the socket bayonet—was used to convert muskets and other longarms into spears by mounting them on the barrel.

Daggers achieved public notoriety in the 20th century as ornamental uniform regalia during the Fascist dictatorships of Mussolini's Italy and Hitler's Germany. The resurgence of these dress daggers and accoutrements in post-WW1 Germany gave a much needed boost to the flagging fortunes of the metalworking center Solingen. Dress daggers were used by several other countries as well, including Japan but never to the same extent as those worn by the Military and Political bodies of the Third Reich. As combat equipment they were carried by many infantry and commando forces during the Second World War. British commandos had an especially slender dagger, the Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife, developed from that used in Shanghai. U.S. Marine Corps Raiders in the Pacific carried a similar fighting dagger, and others were fashioned for American forces and their allies from cut-down World War I Patton sabers.

See also

References

  • Iorwerth Eiddon Stephen Edwards, Cyril John Gadd, Nicholas Geoffrey Lemprière Hammond (1970) The Cambridge Ancient History, Cambridge University Press, 780 pages ISBN 0521070511

External links

Line notes

  1. ^ Iorwerth Eiddon Stephen Edwards, Cyril John Gadd, Nicholas Geoffrey Lemprière Hammond, 1970
  2. ^ C. Michael Hogan, Knossos fieldnotes, Modern Antiquarian (2007)
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