is a sheath for holding a sword
A sword is a bladed weapon used primarily for cutting or thrusting. The precise definition of the term varies with the historical epoch or the geographical region under consideration...
, knife, or other large blade. Scabbards have been made of many materials over the millennia, including leather
Leather is a durable and flexible material created via the tanning of putrescible animal rawhide and skin, primarily cattlehide. It can be produced through different manufacturing processes, ranging from cottage industry to heavy industry.-Forms:...
Wood is a hard, fibrous tissue found in many trees. It has been used for hundreds of thousands of years for both fuel and as a construction material. It is an organic material, a natural composite of cellulose fibers embedded in a matrix of lignin which resists compression...
, and metal
A metal , is an element, compound, or alloy that is a good conductor of both electricity and heat. Metals are usually malleable and shiny, that is they reflect most of incident light...
s such as brass
Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc; the proportions of zinc and copper can be varied to create a range of brasses with varying properties.In comparison, bronze is principally an alloy of copper and tin...
Steel is an alloy that consists mostly of iron and has a carbon content between 0.2% and 2.1% by weight, depending on the grade. Carbon is the most common alloying material for iron, but various other alloying elements are used, such as manganese, chromium, vanadium, and tungsten...
Types of scabbards
Most commonly, scabbards were worn suspended from a sword belt or shoulder belt (baldric
A baldric is a belt worn over one shoulder that is typically used to carry a weapon or other implement such as a bugle or drum...
). Some shoulder belts held the scabbard diagonally across the back (see also Koshirae
refers to the mountings of a Japanese sword when the sword blade is being worn by its owner, whereas the shirasaya is a wooden saya and tsuka that the sword blade is stored in when not being used.-Description:...
Wooden scabbards were usually covered in fabric or leather, and leather versions also usually bore metal fittings for added protection and carrying ease. Japanese blades, however, typically have their sharp cutting edge protected by a wooden scabbard called a saya. Many scabbards like the ones the Greeks and Romans used were small and light. They were designed for holding the sword rather than protecting it. All-metal scabbards were popular items for a display of wealth among elites in the European Iron Age
The Iron Age is the archaeological period generally occurring after the Bronze Age, marked by the prevalent use of iron. The early period of the age is characterized by the widespread use of iron or steel. The adoption of such material coincided with other changes in society, including differing...
, and often intricately decorated. A number of ancient scabbards have been recovered from weapons sacrifice
The Greeks and Romans set up trophies after victories in battle. These have left little archaeology . Normally, on dry land wood will rot, iron will rust and bronze would be reused...
s, a few of which had a lining of fur on the inside. The fur was probably kept oily, keeping the blade free from rust. The fur would also allow a smoother, quicker draw.
Entirely metal scabbards became popular in Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...
early in the 19th century and eventually superseded most other types. Metal was more durable than leather and could better withstand the rigors of field use, particularly among troops mounted on horseback. In addition, metal offered the ability to present a more military appearance, as well as the opportunity to display increased ornamentation. Nevertheless, leather scabbards never entirely lost favor among military users and were widely used as late as the American Civil War (1861-65).
Some military police forces, naval shore patrols, law enforcement and other groups used leather scabbards as a kind of truncheon.
Back scabbards were never used in European, Near East, or Indian military cultures, and depictions of such are a modern invention and have enjoyed great popularity in fiction and fantasy, to the point that they are widely believed to be a Medieval invention. A well-known example of this is the back scabbard depicted in the movie Braveheart
Braveheart is a 1995 epic historical drama war film directed by and starring Mel Gibson. The film was written for the screen and then novelized by Randall Wallace...
. There is some limited data from woodcuts and textual fragments that Mongol light horse archers and some Chinese soldiers wore a slung baldric over the shoulder, allowing longer blades to be strapped across the back.
However in "The Ancient Celts" by Barry Cunliffe, on page 94 of that book, Professor Cunliffe writes,"All these pieces of equipment [shields, spears, swords, mail armour], mentioned in the texts, are reflected in the archaeological record and in the surviving iconography, though it is sometimes possible to detect regional variations. Among the Parisii
The Parisii were a Celtic tribe who in pre-Roman times controlled almost all of the area which is now known as the East Riding of Yorkshire. Under Roman administration, the capital of their civitas was Petuaria, which today is known as Brough....
of Yorkshire, for example, the sword was sometimes worn across the back and therefore had to be drawn over the shoulder from behind the head."
The metal fitting where the blade enters the leather or metal scabbard is called the throat
, which is often part of a larger scabbard mount
, or locket
, that bears a carrying ring or stud to facilitate wearing the sword. The blade's point in leather scabbards is usually protected by a metal tip
, or chape
, which on both leather and metal scabbards is often given further protection from wear by an extension called a drag
, or shoe