Analysis: Heroes Prefer Swords

In many works of medieval historical fiction, medieval fantasy, or ancient historical fiction, the hero uses a sword as a primary weapon. This is regardless of whether a warrior of the culture in question would actually be likely to carry a sword at all.

There are strong cultural reasons for this trope. In Western culture, especially Northern and Central Europe, the sword is seen as the symbol of chivalry, justice, and power. The straight-bladed Middle Ages knightly sword with a simple hilt and crossguard also strongly resembles The Cross, adding religious significance to the weapon.

In Japan, the samurai is considered to be one with his katana, actually imbuing a portion of his spirit into the blade through use and sometimes manufacture. The katana symbolizes the samurai code more than any of the other weapons he could choose. Like the sword in Europe, the katana in Japan is also a weapon of the nobility. Ashigaru, the common-born soldiers, could use yari spears, naginata polearms, or bows, but almost never katana.

Historically, spears were vastly more common weapons than swords. In many ancient and medieval European cultures, spears were the primary weapons of most warriors. Ancient Greece and the Saxons are two notable examples. Axes were also quite common. Both spears and axes were cheaper to make than swords, requiring less metal, and were also extremely effective in skilled hands. As armor and warfare continued to develop, maces, polearms and warhammers became more and more common.

Another reason not to use a sword is that they were often prohibitively expensive throughout history. As mentioned, any Blade on a Stick or axe-type weapon was far cheaper. So when the Hero is a Farm Boy, it's extremely unlikely that he'd have the money to buy a sword or the the relatives to pass one down to him. Of course, he might have received for a host of reasons, all boiling down to the fact that he's The Hero, so he'd better have a sword.