It is unknown where or when the crossed swords were first used as a symbol. Examples can be found throughout history including use in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and, famously, on pirate flags. Some common meanings can still be found, especially as it relates to the military.
Points Up or Down
Swords pointing upward historically indicate battle or conflict or the readiness for battle or conflict. One example of this is modern fencing where a swordsman holds the sword point upward to indicate his readiness. Swords pointing downward represent peace, rest or the end of conflict.
Variations on the crossed sword symbol can still be found in many cavalry unit's insignia including the U.S. Army's 11th Cavalry, 15th Cavalry, 158th and 202nd Cavalry. Other divisions vary it further with, in some cases, a single saber or a saber crossing a torch or gun.
The crossed swords are also frequently found on military gravestones. Most of these will be point down, indicating the end of conflict. It is most frequently used on the gravestones of officers and cavalry soldiers.
- blue swords on red background image by Oxlock from Fotolia.com