When people think about famous weapons, they think of fictional pieces like Excalibur or Captain America’s shield. However, there are plenty of examples of totally real, totally cool historical weapons. The ancient weapons that historical figures used often had names and stories of their own that were on par with anything from Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. Not every historical figure named his weapon, but those who did obviously had a flair for the dramatic that helped them make their marks on history.
Most of the notable named weapons in history are swords, but there are plenty of spears, daggers, guns, and cannons with monikers and their own stories to tell. We honor these long-dead warriors for having the foresight to give their trusted tools cool names and thus make them more memorable. These might not be the best weapons in history, technically speaking, but they are among the most memorable—after all, we are remembering them right now.
Disclaimer: The story of the sword Durandal probably contains more myth than actual history. The weapon was wielded by Roland, the legendary warrior and nephew of Charlemagne. Both sword and sword-wielder definitely existed, and the tales that follow them are truly worthy of legend.
Legend said the blade was given to Charlemagne by an angel and blessed to ensure the continued victory of his armies. It was supposedly indestructible, something Roland discovered when he tried to destroy it to prevent his enemies getting their hands on it. It’s now allegedly wedged in the side of a cliff in Rocamadour, a small town in the Pyrenees. According to the tale, Roland threw the sword into the side of the mountain where it remains to this day.
The Goujian, named after its supposed wielder, has been described as the Chinese version of Excalibur. The sword was uncovered in a tomb on an archeological dig, and was deemed to be more than 2,000 years old. Despite its age, the sword contained no rust and was sharp enough to draw blood when an archaeologist tested its edge.
This has led people to believe the sword carries magical qualities.
Charlemagne was a revered King of the Franks, whose legacy is so fabled, it’s hard to differentiate which stories about him are rooted in fact or fiction. He undoubtedly existed and made some impressive military conquests—and if the stories can be believed, he did so with a sword that allegedly shifted colors in battle. Like a deadly version of a mood ring, Joyeuse had a name that belied its fatal capabilities.
Whatever caused its weird properties, Joyeuse had a magical air about it that added to Charlemagne’s mythic legacy.
Any fan of Japanese RPGs will be familiar with the name Masamune, as the famous swordsmith is now synonymous with fantasy weaponry. The man actually existed and created a number of beautiful swords, including the lost treasure Honjo Masamune. The sword is named after a general who wielded it, and it was said to be among the most beautiful creations of sword-making’s most skilled artisan.
Its current whereabouts are under dispute, but it’s possible that the weapon is in the United States after an American officer took the sword home as a trophy in WWII.
Sword Of Mercy
The Sword of Mercy, also known as Curtana, has a full-on origin story to go along with its cool name. The sword, famous for its blunted tip, is still used to this day in royal ceremonies. It is considered one of the British Crown Jewels and is only used to coronate Kings and Queens of England.
Supposedly, the blunted tip is a result of it being left in the skull of an opponent of the crown.
The Mons Meg is a legendary medieval cannon used by the Scots in countless sieges over multiple centuries. Its name essentially translates to “Big Margaret,” and big is definitely a fitting description of the intimidating cannon. Although it’s now a popular tourist attraction, Meg was no vacation for the people its mighty firepower rained down upon over the years.
Mons Meg was in service between the 15th and 17th centuries, until its barrel broke, rendering it unusable.
The Holy Lance
The Holy Lance, also known as the Spear of Destiny and the Lance of Longinus, was the spear that allegedly pierced the side of Jesus during the crucifixion. Initially, it was discovered during the Crusades, but was somehow lost to history. Since then multiple people, including Charlemagne and Adolf Hitler, have claimed they possess the spear.
There are multiple possible spears on display at museums around the world.
Davy Crockett is a relatively modern figure whose story is larger than life. Crockett was possibly the most famous figure of the American frontier, served his country in Congress, and died fighting for his country at the Alamo. He did it all with a series of rifles he named various iterations of Betsy, ranging from Ol’ Betsy to Pretty Betsy to just Betsy.
He allegedly named it after his older sister. One of the guns, Ol’ Betsy, was famously lost in the 1950s and recovered in 2014.
The Kusanagi, or Grasscutter sword, has a nearly mythological backstory that leaves plenty of doubt of its existence. The sword has been featured in countless fictional stories, including Marvel comics, and was purportedly handed down through several iterations of Japanese emperors.
The Grasscutter nickname comes from its fabled sharpness, which could evenly cut a piece of grass. The current emperor claims to still have the sword, although no one is allowed to see it.
While the name Tick-Licker doesn’t immediately instill fear in the hearts of many, the history of this weapon sure does. Daniel Boone claimed he named his rifle after its ability to snipe even the smallest of creatures—even ticks—from a distance.
The famous fur trader used Tick-Licker to protect himself and his large family on the rough-and-tumble American frontier.
Tizona – Or “Fireball”
The famous Spanish military leader El Cid led his people on several important campaigns, and picked up a number of notable swords along the way. The most important of these was dubbed Tizona, which roughly translates to “fireball,” hinting at the explosiveness with which El Cid fought.
The sword supposedly survives to this day, although its authenticity is questionable.
With Zulfiqar, the distinction between fact and fiction is tough to make out. The scimitar allegedly belonged to Ali, the son of the prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam. Ali was a noted warrior and supposedly used Zulfiqar for all of his victories. Though the actual sword was lost to history, the purported appearance of Zulfiqar, with its two points, is significantly intimidating and would likely deal out some serious damage.