Skip links

A brief history of South African Swords

Extract of an article compiled by David Rilley-Harris, DITSONG National Museum of Military History Curator
South African Swords
1796 Cavalry Officer’s Sword

Swords first came into use in the region of modern-day South Africa with the arrival of European settlers. Before then, the spear had been prominent and the battle-axe was becoming increasingly popular. Swords were therefore only used widely in South Africa as a result of British expansion throughout the territory.
    The first formalised, consistent patterns of British swords appeared in 1786 with the first regulations for the standardisation of British military swords. Ten years later, the 1796 pattern swords became the first widely well-received pattern and remained in formal use for 25 years. The 1796 pattern was copied throughout Europe and still remains an iconic sword shape. The new pattern was based on the original 1786 pattern but adopted a new hilt which was similar to that of the British civilian small swords of the middle and late 18th century.
    While the patterns of these early 19th century swords were of British design, the blades were being manufactured in Germany. Solingen sword makers in Germany dominated the market for most of the 18th and 19th centuries. The first widely used South African swords were therefore British patterns with German-made blades. The South African swords would sometimes alter slightly from the patterns used elsewhere in the British military.
    In 1822, new British regulations brought new sword patterns. The hand guards were larger and the new cavalry swords introduced pipe-back blades. The DITSONG: National Museum of Military History has an 1821 pattern Light Cavalry Officer’s sword but with a stronger fullered blade instead of a pipe-back blade. The 1821/22 patterns, and slight variations of them, remained popular into the early 20th Century. The museum example is from after 1925 as can be told from the “Suid Afrika” inscription on the blade as opposed to a “Zuid Afrika” inscription. This distinction came as a result of Afrikaans and English replacing High Dutch and English as the two official languages.

CONTINUE reading the rest of this extract in the next part. Just click here or on page 2 below. For the full article, visit the DITSONG: Museums of South Africa website here.

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website.