Writer’s Deep Dive: Toledo Steel

Damascus, Syria was not the only city that became famous for its steel. Toledo, Spain was also producing high quality and highly valued blades from ancient times.

Now, let’s dive in!

What is Toledo Steel?

Toledo steel was famous for being flexible and strong and its production was a closely guarded secret until the 20th century. It started with the metals. An envelope of steel was folded around a wrought iron strip, which gave the metal the strength of the steel and the flexibility of the iron. The combination of metals was heated, and forge welded together. This technique is called san mai by modern bladesmiths and is often used when forging swords and knives. It’s also known as the “taco” method. Because of this technique, Toledo steel was said to have a “soul of iron.” [1]

The second secret was the production with a strict schedule of heating, cooling, and temperature. If the process was not followed exactly, the blade would not be of the highest quality. Originally, prayers and psalms were carefully recited with the same rhythm to keep the timing. This process was long and difficult and the average bladesmith produced two to three weapons per year.

Antonio Arellano at the forge. He is the last master swordsmith in Toledo. Image source.


Historians are unsure when the peoples of Iberia began making Toledo steel, but the tribes of ancient Hispania were famous for a type of sword known as a falcata. It was thought to be more fatal than other weapons. [1] The steel and style of sword became prized by the 3rd century when Hannibal choose to arm his soldiers with them during the Second Punic War. The Romans were impressed by their quality and later made Toledo the standard source of steel for their legions. [2]

The production of Toledo steel continued under the Muslin occupation of the Iberian Peninsula but reached its peak in the 15th and 16th centuries after the Christians regained control of southern Spain. [3]

An artist’s depiction of Hannibal carrying a falcata. Image source.

However, as armies replaced their swords with guns, blacksmithing and bladesmithing began to die out. In 1761, King Carlos III of Spain ordered the creation of the Royal Sword Factory in Toledo to preserve the techniques and methods of steel production. [4] Unfortunately, the art has continued to decline and as of 2021, only one master swordsmith remained in Toledo. [5]

Besides Hannibal and his army, other famous warriors to carry Toledo swords include El Cid with his swords, Tizona and Colada, Emperor Charles V, and Charlemagne. Also, the ceremonial sword of the Catholic monarchs used to knight Christopher Columbus was Toledo steel. [1]

The sword claimed to be Tizona on exhibit at the Army Museum in Madrid. Image source.

The Write Angle

Sword-making cities can be a fantastic inspiration for fantasy writers. Is there a unique type of metal or weapon in your novel? Is there a famous forge or city of bladesmiths? Does your hero or heroine carry a legendary sword with a name?

I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or by writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

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Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2022 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

[1] https://artesaniamorales.com/en/contenido/6-the-toledo-sword
[2] Diodorus Siculus 5.33.4
[3] “La Real Fábrica de Espadas de Toledo y el mejor acero del mundo”. 17 September 2015.
[4] “The Bite of Spanish Steel: An Introduction to the Metal that Made Toledo”. May 2017.
[5] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/aug/24/toledos-last-swordmakers-refuse-to-give-up-on-their-ancient-craft

1 Comments on “Writer’s Deep Dive: Toledo Steel”

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