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The falcata is a type of sword typical of Pre-Roman Hispania (the Iberian Peninsula, modern Spain and Portugal), similar to the Greek kopis or Nepalese kukri.
The term Falcata is not ancient. It seems to have been coined by Fernando Fulgosio in 1872, on the model of the Latin expression ensis falcatus “sickle-shaped sword” (which, however, refers to the Harpe). He presumably went with falcata rather than falcatus because the Spanish word for sword espada is feminine, although there are other presumable theories. The name caught on very quickly, and is now firmly entrenched in the scholarly literature.
The Falcata has a one edged blade that pitches forward towards the point, the edge being concave on the lower part of the sword, but convex on top. This shape distributes the weight in such a way that the falcata is capable of delivering a blow with the momentum of an axe, while maintaining the cutting edge of a sword. The hilt is typically hook-shaped, the end being stylized in the shape of a horse or a bird. There is often a thin chain connecting the tip of the hilt with the upper section. Although it was a one-edge weapon, two-edge falcatas have been found.
The falcata-like swords were derived from the sickle-shape knives of the Iron Age; that too explains their ritual uses. It is thought that it was introduced in the Iberian Peninsula by the Celts who spread the iron technology. It seems that its origin is parallel to the Greek Kopis, and not derived from it.
Roman armies in the Second Punic War and later, during the Conquest of Hispania, were surprised about the quality of these weapons, used by Iberian mercenaries and warriors. The overall quality of the Falcata came not only from the shape, but also from the quality of the iron. Steel plates were buried in the ground from two to three years, corroding the weakened steel from them. With the rest, the sword was made. The blade was made from three laminas of this steel, joining them in a bloomery. Due to the strength of the Falcata, the Roman Legions reinforced their shield borders and their armours and hand weapons were redesigned, and it is probable that the Falcata influenced the posterior designs of the standard legion weapon, the Gladius.
In the early times of the Celtic tribes in the Iberia, when the use of iron was expensive and not yet spread, its use was more ornamental and liturgical than military. Very decorated falcatas have been found, namely in tombs, such as the Falcata de Almedinilla.
Since “Falcata” is not a term used in Classical Latin, it is difficult to tell when, or if it is being referred to in ancient literature. There is, however, one passage that is generally agreed to refer to this type of sword, in Seneca’s De Beneficiis 5.24:
Caesar awarded the case to the veteran.