Browse Categories

Japanese Swords

Shop By Forge

The Cutlass: The Ultimate Pirate Sword

If you were to walk up to any number of strangers on the street and ask if they are familiar with the term “pirate,” nine times out of ten the answer would be “of course.” It would seem as if people of all ages and from all backgrounds are interested in pirates and pirate lore—as is clearly evidenced by the numerous pop culture and media references to swashbucklers in film, games, and literature. Anyone who knows anything about pirates (and it has been established that most people do) knows that a good pirate never went anywhere without his or her trusty pirate sword. To be more specific, a good pirate never went anywhere without his or her trusty cutlass.


Even if you are unfamiliar with the term “cutlass,” you may already know what one looks like. Most, if not all, pirates portrayed in film, games, and literature today are often depicted with gleaming cutlasses at their sides—and of course, a mischievous sparkle in one eye. The cutlass was the perfect weapon (as far as pirate swords go) for several reasons, which are to be discussed in further detail. If you are interested in learning everything there is to know about the pirate way of life, then you definitely need to learn everything there is to know about pirate swords. One of the first things you may want to learn about is the appearance of pirate swords; in other words, what does a cutlass look like?


The Sailor’s Sword

Pirates took great pride in the pirate swords they carried at their sides. It only makes sense; pirates wore their cutlasses both day and night to remain on the ready. Their weapons, therefore, became loyal companions. You can easily imagine the special bond that was formed between pirates and their pirate swords.


When you think of pirates, you may think of gaudy individuals with a love for “bling”—they did like treasure more than most things, after all. Interestingly, though, the pirate’s beloved cutlass was an unusually simplistic weapon. The cutlass was a basic short sword used most often in hand-to-hand combat. The short blade on a pirate’s cutlass was relatively straight that usually formed a very slight, elegant curve. Only one side of the cutlass was kept sharpened while the other side remained blunt for other uses. The hilt, another word for the handle of a sword, was often characterized by the feature of a half-circle shaped guard. A guard was always fashioned out of solid, resilient metal to protect a pirate’s hand from injury during hand-to-hand and other forms of close combat.


The name “cutlass” stems from a French term developed in or close to the sixteenth century that referred to a blade resembling a machete. This French term, “Coutelas,” meant blade or knife during the sixteenth century. It is easy to see how the name cutlass evolved from its ancient ancestor the “Coutelas.” A similar Latin word, cultellus, also sounds remarkably like today’s name for this sharp, curved sword. In Latin, the word cultellus is translated to mean “short knife.”


Pirates Were More Efficient Than You Might Think

Why did pirates choose the cutlass as the weapon of choice among all of the other styles of pirate swords available at the time? The reason the cutlass received such favor from pirates as a precious weapon can be summed up in a single word: efficiency.


Pirates may be rumored to be messy, unorganized ruffians, but nothing could be further from the truth. As any good sailor knows, a ship cannot sail successfully in a state of disorder. An ideally running ship is one that is the ultimate definition of sleek and organized; everything had a place, and a pirate had to know exactly where everything was at all times in order to help run the ship as efficiently as possible (again, the importance of efficiency is highlighted here). Therefore, contrary to popular belief, pirates were hardly a sloppy bunch, and order was valued by everyone on the ship. Because a ship could only handle so much clutter and weight, pirates were very good at bringing along only what they truly needed or most badly wanted; unnecessary weapons would be in the way. Perhaps this explains why the cutlass became the most popular of pirate swords.


The cutlass was relatively light weight, and as a result, it made the perfect weapon for a pirate always on the go—a weapon of mobility and fluidity. Since the blade was very short in contrast with other swords of the day, there was a decreased danger of the blade or hilt getting caught in the many ropes, riggings, sails, or masts that were so prevalent on a pirate’s ship. The short nature of a cutlass was made up for by the weapon’s strength and width. A cutlass could easily cut through rope when a need arose, and it was ideal for the wide variety of tasks a pirate needed the weapon for. Since pirate swords like the cutlass were so light, they made the perfect weapon for the quick hand-to-hand combat that took place when other ships were attacked. Pirates could easily slash, clink, and clank away at all manner of opponents without be hampered by the extra weight of an overly gilded or excessively long sword. In fact, pirates are known for the somewhat frivolous, haphazard appearance of their style of fighting; the cutlass allowed pirates to move as quickly as they wanted to, which often confounded slow-moving opponents.


The Pirate’s Pride

All right, so you get the idea. The cutlass was a pirate’s best friend and boasted a fantastic record of both efficiency in work and in hand-to-hand battle. As established before, pirates did enjoy cleanliness and a very organized system on board their ships. However, any good pirate also had a healthy dose of vanity and pride. As far as pirate swords go, the cutlass was a very beautiful one. Pirates enjoyed the functionality of the cutlass, but most importantly, the pirates looked good while using them.


When a pirate waved his silvery cutlass in the air with a hearty yell, it was obvious to onlookers that this was a person who knew what he was doing and was set on doing it. It would be very difficult not to be intimidated by a pirate slashing his or her sword through the sea air, blade splashing with the light reflecting from ocean waves. Yes, pirates were vain. And who could blame them? You have to admit that they were just as (or even more) cool as they thought they were.


A Pirate’s Legacy

Eventually, non-pirates began to recognize the usefulness of the cutlass. Pirate swords became incredibly popular with the very individuals who so often opposed the sea rogues. The cutlass was used by those in early cavalries for the same reason the cutlass was so beloved by pirates everywhere. A cutlass had an ideally short, light blade that was perfect for slicing and hacking through enemy forces. It functioned with far more speed than the saber that had before been a standard for military men.


The cutlass became a staple in the United States Navy for just under 60 years. Interestingly, the pirate sword of all pirate swords then became one of the most used weapons during the American Civil War from the year 1861 to the year 1865. Both sides of the conflict made use of cutlass swords, with both Union and Confederate sides preferring the light, quick efficiency of a cutlass in comparison to the standard issue sabers given by the government. The cutlasses used by people participating in the Civil War were about 25 inches in length and weighed a very light 2.75 pounds; a very sizeable difference from the other weapons used during this time period. Since running out of ammunition equated to almost inevitable death, a cutlass was ideal, since a sword never runs out of ammo.


The cutlass was even used by the United States Navy during 1917 with the implementation of a new version called the M1917. New technology allowed for the use of specially made blades that resisted the rust and corrosion that swords were so prone to when constantly exposed to salty sea air.


As you can see, the cutlass legacy lived on and continues to live on today. If you look hard enough, you can see a little bit of pirate in many present day soldiers. Pirate swords were considered the best weapons of the pirate time period, and they are still recognized as superior weapons for hand-to-hand combat during present day. If you would like to learn more about pirate swords or how you can own a cutlass of your own (because who wouldn’t want that?), you can simply contact a supplier of martial arts weaponry. You are sure to find that cutlasses provide a sense of unique nostalgia and a form of defense that remains effective today.