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Bronze vs. iron? 
26th-Sep-2006 08:36 pm
Hello there!

I've been lurking around this community for ages... Now I thought that maybe you could help me with one thing. I've been trying to figure out just how much better/worse iron weapons are against bronze weapons. Googling hasn't been of much help... In general people seem to think that iron weapons beat bronze ones hands down, but I guess it's not that simple. I've a feeling that the most important thing about iron was its availability... but I don't know anything.

So... if we have an army with bronze weapons and an army with iron weapons (or then just a man to man fight) just how big effect would the weaponry have on the outcome?

Thanks for any input. ^^ And if you have any books to recommend, that's great too. (Just doing a bit of background research for one fantasy plot bunny that apparently isn't going to leave me in peace, if you're wondering...)
26th-Sep-2006 02:25 pm (UTC)
This might be obvious but in general bronze is softer then iron
26th-Sep-2006 02:26 pm (UTC)
You are right, it's not that simple. Bronze weapons are incredibly good, and both copper and tin are fairly widely available. The difference is that it requires more skill to make good bronze than to make useable iron weapons. The classic text is Hodges "Artifacts", which I think was republished recently.

Iron weapons tend to be heavier and less likely to be point weapons - though having said that, the Roman gladius was almost exclusively a point weapon. Bronze swords are more likely to bend; iron swords are more likely to break.
27th-Sep-2006 12:20 pm (UTC)
Have to get my hands on that book, thanks!

I've a feeling I've read somewhere that something happened to the tin supply back when... whenever it now was that bronze age ended... but my memory's full of holes, apparently. Have to start studying... ^^
26th-Sep-2006 02:30 pm (UTC)
There are more factors to consider, I think - good quality bronze weapons will do better than poorly made iron ones if the metal isn't good. Tactics and general military strategy can overcome any deficit in weaponry (look at Roman conquests and places they had to fight harder for more on that), also the type of army - if for example you have a well trained standing army with bronze weapons (or a warrior culture where fighting is a way of life), versus a feudal type collection of farmers and other ordinary folk called on to fight with iron weapons, the type of material isn't necessarily going to be as major a factor. Um, and things like does one army have any long range weapons or mounted fighters - archers and cavalry shift the odds again!

I suspect that isn't a helpful comment but might help you chase down some other avenues of research at least :)
27th-Sep-2006 12:22 pm (UTC)
Sure it's helpful. I think I've got to start some serious researching some day... ^^

Thanks for the reply!
26th-Sep-2006 02:34 pm (UTC)
I was given to understand that bronze is actually rather superior to iron. Bronze is pretty much everything you want in a metal - easy to work, durable, doesn't rust. Iron takes a lot of fuel and trouble to work, rusts like anything, and is softer and rather brittle (unless you convert it into steel, which wasn't feasible for most Iron Age smiths). All things being equal you'd go with bronze.

However, towards the end of the Bronze Age political unrest caused a lot of tin trading routes to break down, and no tin means no new bronze. I've seen early iron spearheads fastened to the shaft with bronze nails, probably got by melting down older weapons to extend the supply. Spearheads and arrowheads are actually somewhat of an exception to the rule; you find some iron ones even in the Bronze Age, since for them brittleness isn't an issue.
27th-Sep-2006 12:25 pm (UTC)
Ah, so I was right. ^^ I had some vague memories of something happening to the supply of tin... Thanks for all the info.
26th-Sep-2006 03:36 pm (UTC)
If I remember correctly, it did have an influence on the outcome of the war between Egyptians and Hitites in ancient times.
I don't have my history books at hand right now (stuck at the office, argh!), so if anyone can correct/confirm this, I'll appreciate it. ^_^
26th-Sep-2006 04:46 pm (UTC)
Thorium! Heh heh

Yeah. I agree with the above. Bronze is easier to work and is more supple, but iron ran with the prize because of its relative availability.
26th-Sep-2006 10:37 pm (UTC)
welll.... the next time your local national guard armory has a gun show, go there and find two willing volunteers (one selling an iron weapon and the other bronze) to duke it out. and you shall have an answer.
26th-Sep-2006 11:15 pm (UTC)
I have a feeling the difference may have as much to do as much with prestige and cost as actual effectiveness.
28th-Sep-2006 03:37 am (UTC) - My Opinion
From my knowledge on Iron and bronze, I know that bronze will bend but, you probably can still give a good impact plus, it is lighter. Iron is heavy and it probably will brake easly like mentioned below... But, if it brakes right... it might be fatal..

9th-Dec-2006 04:09 pm (UTC)
By far OK quality iron is better then good q bronze. The cuting age last longer and a tip (arow, spear) is more reliable. A large weapon made of bronze (sword, axe, spearhead) usualy BROKES if hit by a weapon made of OK iron. A arow/spear head bends and has almost no chance of piercing a iron armor. A iron weapon can be broken also if hit right but can open a helmet or pierce a metal armor. For arow heads, even low quality iron is vey eficient and (used with a decent bow) can easily pierce any bronze armor. And very soon high carbon steal came.....
19th-Oct-2012 05:36 pm (UTC)
UK professor and bronze age historian Neil Burridge (www.bronze-age-craft.com (http://www.bronze-age-craft.com)) helped conduct an experiment using one of his traditionally constructed bronze swords against a copy of an early iron-age sword. BOTH weapons sustained significant damage when struck against each other! The iron sword was pretty much equal to the bronze blade. It wasn't until steel-making was discovered that iron-based weapons became technologically superior to bronze. However, iron ore is far more plentiful than either copper or tin, and copper and tin deposits are seldom found close together, and that created a logistics problem. THAT is the main reason why bronze finally gave way to iron for weapons.
10th-Oct-2013 03:06 pm (UTC)
Thanks! Experiment trumps theory every time.
18th-Dec-2013 05:30 pm (UTC)
I remember once reading 'the Hittites learned to use iron in the making of weapons'.
To me this means that iron usage was around but wasn't being used as 'weapons-grade'.
The Hittite iron sword workmanship is similar to ‘Damascus Steel’ - not steel, just a folded iron type.
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