The sword in ancient Egypt was known by several names, but most are variations of the words sfet, seft or nakhtui. The earliest bronze swords in the country date back 4000 years. Four types of sword are known to have been used: the ma or boomerang-sword based on the hunting stick, the kat or knife-sword, the khopesh or falchion based on the sickle, and a fourth form of straight longsword. The khopesh was used region-wide and is depicted as early as the Sixth Dynasty (3000 BC). It was thick-backed and weighted with bronze, sometimes even with gold hilts in the case of pharaohs. The blade may be edged on one or both sides, and was made from copper alloy, bronze, iron, or blue steel. The double-edge grip-tongue sword is believed to have been introduced by the Sherden and became widely dispersed throughout the Near East. These swords are of various lengths, and were paired with shields. They had a leaf-shaped blade, and a handle which hollows away at the centre and thickens at each end. Middle Eastern swords became dominant throughout North Africa after the introduction of Islam, after which point swordsmanship in the region becomes that of Arabian or Middle Eastern fencing.
The process of both iron smelting and forging was introduced to Sub-Saharan Africa from the north, thus many African swords were of Egyptian derivation. Among some communities, swords were restricted to royalty or tribal leaders. Forms vary from one area to another, such as the billao of Somalia, boomerang-sword in Niger or the single-edge swords of the Gold Coast. The Abyssinian shotel took the form of a large sickle, like the Egyptian khopesh, with a small 4 inch wooden handle. The edge was on the inside of the blade, which has a mid-rib running along its entire length. Double-edge swords similar to those of Europe and ancient Arabia occurred in some areas such as the takoba and kaskara. Two types of sword existed in Zanzibar: the foot-long shortsword and the standard sword with a blade measuring 3–3.5 feet and a cylindrical pommel. The latter weapon was wielded with both hands like a quarterstaff.
Greece provides the foundation for the widespread use of the sword as a weapon in its own right in the West. The Roman legionaries and other forces of the Roman military, until the 2nd century A.D., used the gladius as a short thrusting sword effectively with the scutum, a type of shield, in battle. Gladiators used a shorter gladius than the military. The spatha was a longer double-edged sword initially used only by Celtic soldiers, later incorporated as auxilia into Roman Cavalry units; however by the 2nd century A.D. the spatha was used throughout much of the Roman Empire. The Empire's legionary soldiers were heavily trained and prided themselves on their disciplinary skills. This probably carried over to their training with weaponry, but we have no Roman manuals of swordsmanship. One translation of Juvenal's poetry by Barten Holyday in 1661 makes note that the Roman trainees learned to fight with the wooden wasters before moving on to the use of sharpened steel. In fact, it is also found that Roman gladiators trained with a wooden sword, which was weighted with lead, against a straw man or a wooden pole known as a palus (an early relative of the later wooden pell). This training would have provided the Roman soldier with a good foundation of skill, to be improved upon from practical experience or further advanced training.
Little is known about early medieval fencing techniques save for what may be concluded from archaeological evidence and artistic depiction (see Viking Age arms and armour). What little has been found, however, shows the use of the sword was limited during the Viking age, especially among the Vikings themselves and other northern Germanic tribes. Here, the spear, axe and shield were prominent weapons, with only wealthy individuals owning swords. These weapons, based on the early Germanic spatha, were made very well. The technique of pattern welding of composite metals, invented in the Roman Empire around the end of the 2nd century A.D., provided some of these northern weapons superior properties in strength and resilience to the iron gladius of early Rome.
As time passed, the spatha evolved into the arming sword, a weapon with a notable cruciform hilt common among knights in the Medieval Age. Some time after this evolution, the earliest known treatises (Fechtbücher) were written, dealing primarily with arming sword and buckler combat. Among these examples is the I.33, the earliest known Fechtbuch. The German school of swordsmanship can trace itself most closely to Johannes Liechtenauer and his students, who later became the German masters of the 15th century, including Sigmund Ringeck, Hans Talhoffer, Peter von Danzig and Paulus Kal. It is possible that the Italian fencing treatise Flos Duellatorum, written by the Italian swordmaster Fiore dei Liberi around 1410, has ties to the German school. During this period of time, the longsword grew out of the arming sword, eventually resulting in a blade comfortably wielded in both hands at once. Armour technology also evolved, leading to the advent of plate armour, and thus swordsmanship was further pressed to meet the demands of killing a very well protected enemy.
For much of the early medieval period, the sword continued to remain a symbol of status. During later years, production techniques became more efficient, and so, while the sword remained a privilege, it was not so heavily confined to only the richest individuals, but rather to the richest classes.
The military importance of swordsmanship rapidly diminished with the advent of firearms. The last prominent battlefield sword to be used was the backsword. Although it was not a new invention, it managed to outlast other forms of war swords, being used by cavalry units and officers.