Medieval Sword Types List
Posted by Swords and Weapons on 3/28/2011
Arming Sword - after the 14th century, with the appearance of the longsword the simple, single-handed weapon became known as a short sword or arming sword, since it hung from the belt of the knight, while his longsword hung from the saddle. In the mid-15th century treatise How a Man Shayl be Armyd, the author advises: “hys shorte swerde upon hys lyfte syde in a rounde ryunge all nakid to pulle out lightlie....and then hys long swerd in hys hand.’
Backsword - The backsword was so named because it only had one cutting edge. The non-cutting edge (the back of the blade) was much thicker than the cutting edge thus creating a wedge type shape which was said to increase the weapons cutting capacity. Also known as a "Mortuary Sword", or the German "Reitschwert."
Basilard - a two-edged, long bladed dagger of the late Middle Ages, often worn with both civilian dress and armour.
Bastard Swords - developed in the mid 1400's as a form of long-sword with specially shaped grips for one or two hands. These swords typically had longer handles which allowed use by one or both hands. The sword's hilt often had side-rings and finger rings to defend the hand, and a more slender, or tapered, narrowly pointed blade. Bastard swords continued to be used by knights and men-at-arms into the 1500's, and for a time, enjoyed the civilian side-arm role that would later be superceded by the sidesword and rapier.
Broadsword - A term popularly misapplied as a generic synonym for medieval swords. The now popular misnomer "broadsword" as a term for medieval blades actually originated with Victorian collectors in the early 19th century.
The term " broadsword" seems to have originated in the 17th century, referring to a double-edged military sword, with a complex hilt. A medieval sword was simply called a "sword," a "short sword" (in the works of George Silver), or an "arming sword."
Further complicating the issue is a "true broadsword," which is actually an 18th century short naval cutlass. The term did not take on the meaning of a wide-bladed medieval sword until the later 19th century. Since then, it has entered popular use by collectors, museum curators, fight directors, and authors. What should modern students call it? The word "sword," seems to work very well.
Medieval swords appeared in a variety of forms, but generally had a long, wide, straight, double-edged blade with a simple cross-guard (or "cruciform" hilt). The typical form was a single hand weapon used for hacking, shearing cuts and also for limited thrusting which evolved from the Celtic and Germanic swords of late Antiquity. Over time, the sword became more tapered and rigid, to facilitate thrusting, and began to add a series of protective rings to the hilt, to defend the fingers and hand. This was the birth of the "cut and thrust" or "sidesword."
Claymore - Identified with the Scot's symbol of the warrior, the term "Claymore" is Gaelic for "claidheamh-more" (great sword). This two-handed broadsword was used by the Scottish Highlanders against the English in the 16th century and is often confused with a Basket-hilt "broadsword" (a relative of the Italian schiavona) whose hilt completely enclosed the hand in a cage- like guard. Both swords have come to be known by the same name since the late 1700's.
Compound-hilt - a term used for the various forms of swept, basket, and cage hilts found on Renaissance swords. The compound hilt is comprised of the quillon, side-rings, and a knuckle bar in a variety of configurations.
Cross-guard - the steel, cross-piece between the hand and blade of a Medieval sword.
Cut-and-Thrust Sword - the spada filo or spada da lato of the Italian Renaissance masters. The sword was a thinner, more tapered sword than the earlier Medieval forms, but still shorter and wider than the nearly edgless rapier. They were used for hacking, slashing, stabbing, and had compound hilts used to employ a "fingered" grip. Unlike the later rapier, which was wholly a civilian weapon, the cut & thrust sword was a military weapon that became popular for civilian use until superseded by the rapier. Various forms of later military cut & thrust swords include the: schiavona, spadroon, hanger, and Espadon. These are the swords discussed by such Masters as George Silver, Achille Marozzo, and Di Grassi.
Dagger - a knife, usually in the form of a sword. Daggers came a variety of forms, with both single and double edged varieties. Like swords, were usually fitted with a pommel and guard, and throughout the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, also developed progressively more complex hilts.
Dirk - a long, usually single-edged dagger that developed from the Medieval ballock and kidney daggers.
Espada - Spanish for sword.
Espee/Epee - Old French and Modern French terms for sword, respectively.
Estoc - A form of long, rigid, pointed, triangular or square bladed and virtually edgeless longsword designed for thrusting into plate-armor was the estoc. Called a "stocco" in Italian and a "tuck" in English, they were used with two hands - similar to great-swords. They were used in two hands with the second hand often gripping the blade. Rapiers are sometimes mistakenly referred to as tucks, and may have been referred to as such by the English.
Falchion - a single-edged, heavy-bladed sword, usually widening noticably towards the tip. A form of sword that was little more than a meat cleaver, possibly even a simple kitchen and barnyard tool adopted for war. Indeed, it may come from a French word for a sickle, "fauchon". It can be seen in Medieval art being used by warriors of all stations, especially in close quarters fighting. The weapon is entirely European in origin, and is similar to the German "dusack," and has been linked to the Dark Age long knife or "seax." The falchion was used throughout the Middle Ages, predominantly by foot soldiers, but occassionally as a side-arm for mounted knights. More common in the Renaissance, it was considered a weapon to be proficient with in addition to the sword. The falchion appeared in several forms, but mostly all forms have a single edge and rounded point or "clipped" point. This wide, heavy blade was weighted more towards the point, and could deliver tremendous blows, making it ideal for combating heavy armours.
Flamberge - An unusual waved-bladed rapier popular with officers and upper classes during the 1600s. It was considered to look both fashionable and deadly as well as erroneously believed to inflict a more deadly wound. When parrying with the flamberge, the opponent's sword was slowed slightly as it passed along the length. It also created a disconcerting vibration in the other blade. The term flamberge was also used later to describe a dish-hilted rapier with a normal straight blade. Certain wave or flame-bladed two-handed swords have also come to be known by collectors as "flamberges", although this is inaccurate. Such swords are more appropriately known as "flammards" or "flambards".
Great-Swords - are infantry swords which cannot be used comfortably in a single-hand. The term "great-sword" has come to mean a form of long-sword that is still not the specialized weapons of later two-handed swords. They are, however, the weapons often depicted in various German sword manuals. Length was usually measured against the wielder's body - usually from somewhere between the diaphragm to the armpit. Blade shape could be flat and wide, or narrow and hexagonal, or diamond shaped. These larger swords were capable of facing heavier weapons such as pole-arms and larger axes, and were devastating against light armour. Long, two-handed swords with narrower, flat hexagonal blades and thinner tips were an evolutionary response to plate-armour.
Longsword - the Medieval hand-and-a-half sword, which forms the basis of most surviving Medieval fighting treatises. Longswords are the classic "hand and a half" or "war sword," of the 14th and 15th centuries. Between 4 - 4.5' long, and with an average weight of 3 - 4 lbs, the longsword was typically straight, double-edged, and with a simple cruciform hilt. It grew naturally out of the older, single-handed sword, as a means of combating heavier mail, and reinforced mail armour. References to longswords appears as early as the 1180s, but they do not seem to have been common until the late 13th century, and became the principle battlefield sword for the knightly class in the early 14th c.
Main-gauche - the left-handed, parrying dagger used with the rapier.
Misericorde - from the word “mercy.” A straight, narrow dagger, commonly seen on knightly effigies. It was so-called because it was often used to give the final “mercy” stroke to the mortally wounded.
Pommel - the large steel knob that counter-balanced the sword, and provide a secondary weapon in its own right. Pommels came in a variety of shapes: disks, balls, brazil-nuts, crescents, a sort of mushroom cap, etc., and changed in popularity as much with changes in fashion sense as martial usage
Quillons - A Renaissance term for the cross-guard.
Rapier - a long, double-edged, slender bladed, single-handed sword, designed to emphasize the thrust. Rapiers first appeared in the mid-16th century, and were used through the next century. The rapier may be the first, purely civilian sword, devised. The exact origins of the rapier are still debated between Italy or Spain, but in either case, its popularity grew with the new, deadly “fad” of the duel (one no doubt directly influencing the other) and it began the process towards an exclusively thrust-oriented form of swordplay, which would see its final martial evolution in the smallsword of the Enlightenment.
Rebated - a sword that has had its point and edge blunted for training or tournament.
Ricasso - the unsharpened portion of the sword blade neares the hilt.
Rondel dagger - a military dagger witht he pommel and hand-guard formed of roundels. The dagger was often 18” long or more, with a single-edged, or even triangular, blade.
Sax/Saex - a long, heavy single-edged knife favored by the Nordic peoples, with a recognizable modern descendant in the Bowie knife. The Saxon race is said to have taken its name from this weapon, which originally meant stone. Some saxes could be as much as three feet long, and hilted like swords.
Scabbard - a sheath for a sword or dagger. Most scabbards were made of thin wood, lined with felt of sheepskin, and covered in leather.
Schiavona - A form of agile Renaissance cut & thrust sword with a decorative cage-hilt and distinctive "cat-head" pommel. So named for the Schiavoni or Venetian Doge’s Slavonic mercenaries and guards of the 1500’s who favored the weapon. They are usually single edged back-swords but may also be wide or narrow double edged blades. Some have ricasso for a fingering grip while others have thumb-rings. The Schiavona is often considered the antecedent to other cage hilt swords such as the Scottish basket-hilted "broadsword".
Small-Sword - Sometimes known as a "court-sword", a "walking-sword", or "town-sword", small-swords developed in the late Renaissance as a personal dueling tool and weapon of self-defense. Most popular in the 1700's it is sometimes confused with the rapier. It consisted almost exclusively of a sharp pointed metal rod with a much smaller guard and finger-rings. Its blade was typically a hollow triangular shape and was much thicker at the hilt. Most had no edge at all, and were merely rigid, pointed, metal rods. They were popular with the upper classes especially as decorative fashion accessories, worn like jewelry. In a skilled hand the small sword was an effective and deadly instrument. Until the early 1800s it continued to be used even against older rapiers and even some cutting swords. It is the small-sword rather than the rapier which leads to the epee and foil of modern sport fencing.
Spada - Italian for sword.
Spatha - the Roman long (36”), cavalry sword. One of the origins of the “knightly” sword, and the Latin origin for spada, espada and espee.
Two-handed sword - a specialized type of great sword that became popular in the 16th century. The size and weight of the weapon, made it unsuited for close formation fighting, and its use was reserved for banner defense, guarding breeches in siege warfare, and forming skirmish lines. The grip was very long in proportion to the blade, and the overall sword could be 5 1/2’ - 6’ long.
Two-handed Swords are really a classification of sword applied to Renaissance, rather than Medieval, weapons. They are the specialized forms of the later 1500-1600's, known in German as "Dopplehander" ("both-hander") or in English as "slaughterswords" (named after the German "Schlachterschwerter" -- battle swords), or in Italian as "lo spadone". In Germany and England they seem to have enjoyed a vogue for use in single-combat, but their precise military role is still in debate. True two-handed swords have compound-hilts with side-rings and enlarged cross-guards of up to 12 inches. Most have small, pointed lugs or flanges protruding from their blades 4-8 inches below their guard. The lugs provide greater defense, and can allow another blade to be momentarily trapped or bound up. They can also be used to strike with. Although collectors have come to call certain wave or flame-bladed two-handed swords "flamberges", these swords of the early-to-mid 1500's and are more appropriately known as "flammards" or "flambards" (the German" Flammenschwert").
Waster - a wooden practice sword. Also called a bevin, bavin or cudgel.