A dagger is a fighting knife with a very sharp point and usually (but not necessarily) one or two sharp edges and typically designed as a thrusting or stabbing weapon. Throughout human history daggers have been used for close quarters combat fights, but many cultures have used daggers (generally adorned) in ritual and ceremonial contexts. The distinctive shape and historic usage of the dagger have made it iconic and symbolic. A dagger in the modern sense is a weapon designed for close-proximity combat and self-defense.
A wide variety of thrusting knives have been described as daggers, including knives that feature only a single cutting edge, such as the European rondel dagger or the Afghan pesh-kabz, or, in some instances, no cutting edge at all, such as the stiletto of the Renaissance. However, in the last hundred years and in most contexts a dagger has certain definable characteristics:
a relatively short blade
a sharply tapered point
a central spine or fuller
usually two cutting edges sharpened the full length of the blade.
Some daggers also feature a crossguard to keep the hand from riding forwards onto the sharpened blade edge(s).
Daggers are primarily weapons, so knife legislation in many places restricts their manufacture, sale, possession, transport, or use.
The earliest daggers were made of materials such as flint, ivory or bone in Neolithic times.
Copper daggers appeared first in the early Bronze Age, in the 3rd millennium BC, and copper daggers of Early Minoan III (2400–2000 BC) were recovered at Knossos.
One of the earliest objects made of smelted iron is a dagger with a gold handle dated about 2500 BC and found in a Hattic royal tomb at Alaca Höyük, northern Anatolia.
The artisans and blacksmiths of Iberia (now Spain) produced various iron daggers and swords of high quality from the 5th to the 3rd century BC. The exceptional purity of Iberian iron and the sophisticated method of forging produced double-edged weapons of excellent quality. Iberian infantrymen carried several types of iron daggers (most of them shortened versions of double-edged swords) but the true Iberian dagger had a triangular-shaped blade. Iberian daggers and swords were later adopted by Hannibal and his Carthaginian armies.
During the Roman Empire, legionaries were issued a pugio, a double-edged iron thrusting dagger with a 7–12 inches long blade. The design and fabrication of the pugio was taken directly from Iberian daggers and their short swords, and the Romans even adopted the triangular-bladed Iberian dagger, which they renamed the parazonium. Like the famous gladius, the pugio was most often used as a thrusting (stabbing), extreme close-quarter combat weapon and was considered the Roman soldier's last line of defense. When not in battle, the pugio served as a utility knife.
Replaced by the hewing knife or seax, the dagger reappeared in the 12th century as the "knightly dagger", or more properly cross-hilt or quillon dagger, and was developed into a common arm and tool for civilian use by the late medieval period. During this time, the dagger was often employed in the role of a secondary defense weapon in close combat. The knightly dagger evolved into the larger baselard knife in the 14th century as it became fairly common for knights to fight on foot to strengthen the infantry defensive lines.
The term dagger is coined in the Late Middle Ages, as are the Early Modern German equivalents dolch / tolch and degen / tegen. As a response to the deployment of heavy armor (maille and plate armour) where cutting attacks were ineffective and focus was on thrusts with narrow blades to punch through mail or aim at armour plate intersections or the eye slits of the helmet visor, knives with blade designs that emphasized thrusting attacks such as the stiletto became increasingly popular and some thrusting knives commonly referred to as 'daggers' ceased to have a cutting edge. These late medieval thrusting weapons are sometimes classed by the shape of their hilt as either roundel, bollock or ear daggers.
These techniques in some respects resemble modern knife fighting, but emphasized thrusting strokes almost exclusively instead of slashes and cuts. When used offensively, a standard attack frequently employed the reverse or icepick grip, stabbing downward with the blade to increase thrust and penetrative force (the popular reverse grip / edge in A.K.A. Pikal is an evolution of this efficient knife fighting technique). This was done primarily because the blade point frequently had to penetrate or push apart an opponent's steel chain mail or plate armor in order to inflict an injury.
WW1 trench warfare caused daggers and fighting knives to come back in play. They also replaced the sabres worn by officers (too long and clumsy for trench warfare) and were worn with pride as a sign of having served front line duty.
Daggers achieved public notoriety in the 20th century as ornamental uniform regalia during the Fascist dictatorships of Mussolini's Italy and Hitler's Germany (dress daggers were used by several other countries as well but never to the same extent). As combat equipment tactical daggers were carried by many infantry and commando forces during the Second World War / WW2. British Commando and other elite units were issued an especially slender dagger, the popular Fairbairn–Sykes fighting knife, developed by William E. Fairbairn and Eric A. Sykes from real-life close-combat experiences gained while serving on the Shanghai Municipal Police Force. The F-S dagger proved very popular with the commandos, who used it primarily for sentry elimination. Some units of the U.S. Marine Corps Raiders in the Pacific were issued a similar fighting dagger (the Marine Raider stiletto).
During the Vietnam War, the Gerber Mark II, designed by US Army Captain Bud Holzman and Al Mar, was a popular fighting knife pattern that was privately purchased by many U.S. soldiers and marines who served in that war.
Daggers, Bladetricks style:
Daggers are one of my favorite fighting knives as they are very efficient, intuitive to use and easy to carry. I personally like the old definition of dagger as I consider that this kind of tools not necessarily require an edge at all. Halfway between a (tactical) ice pick and a single or double edge dagger, some Bladetricks tools are specifically designed and made for thrusting and for deep penetration and that's the reason why I consider them daggers:
Bladetricks Classic Ice Pry dagger
Nevertheless, this doesn't mean that I enjoy designing daggers with cutting edges:
Single edge EDC dagger utilty knife
Custom single edge dagger in Grade 5 titanium
Custom karambit double edge dagger
You can check more Bladetricks selection of handmade daggers by visiting the Bladetricks dagger collection on my website:
(All my blades can be customized to tailor customer's needs)
(All my blades can be customized to tailor customer's needs)