Medieval Swords

Swords were one of the most common weapons used by knights in the Middle Ages. Swords were not typically used by common soldiers who were more likely to use pikes or other weapons. There were a number of different types of swords and as armor changed, so did the type of sword that was used.

The blade of a sword could be straight or curved and have either one sharpened edge or two sharpened edges. Broad, thin blades were used by knights who preferred a cutting action and tapered blades were more useful for stabbing or thrusting attacks.

The sword had to be strong enough to hold its edge and needed to be strong enough to not bend or break when in use. Some swords were better at dealing with well-armored opponents while others were good for lightly armored opponents. The best sword depends on the fighting situation. For example, Filippo Vadi, a famous Italian fencing master, wrote that when fighting one man, a sword for thrusting is good but it does not work well when fighting more than one person.

Types of Swords

Different swords were designed to different things. As armor got better, swords moved away from being cutting weapons (since this didn’t work well with chain mail or plate mail), and become stabbing weapons aimed at piercing the opponent’s armor. There are a vast number of different swords but they can be broken down into some broad categories.

Arming Swords: The arming sword is sometimes called the knight’s sword or the knightly sword. It is used with one hand and was used with a shield or a buckler. It was very popular around 1000 to 1350 CE. It was a cruciform sword, which simply means that the sword had a horizontal bar between the hilt and blade. This horizontal bar was a guard to protect the hands. The arming sword became less popular after the development of the longsword. The arming sword was good at both cutting and thrusting with a blade around seventy-five to eighty centimeters in length.

By the late 12th century, the arming sword developed in two different directions. One direction was towards having a short, thick blade that would be used in a blunt attack to injure someone in heavy armor. The other direction was to have a longer, heavier blade that was aimed at piercing an opponent’s heavy armor.

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Broadsword: the broadsword was one of the earliest swords used in the medieval period. It was around 90–115 centimeters long and was sharp on both sides. The base of the blade (the bottom part) was wider and then narrowed to a point.

Falchion: The falchion had a curved blade and was sharp on one side. The blade would curve into a sharp point at the end and often had a crossguard. There were two types of falchions: cleaver falchions and cusped falchions. A cleaver falchion was shaped like a machete and a cusped falchion had more of a curve. The falchion was similar to a scimitar.

Longsword: The longsword was a popular weapon. It was around 100–140 centimeters long and had an edge (was sharp) on both sides. Longswords were used for cutting and stabbing. The grip of the longsword was usually long enough so that it could be held with two hands if necessary.
Greatsword: The greatsword is a two-handed weapon. It was around 130–180 centimeters long. The hilt of the greatsword was also longer so that it could be held with two hands.

Parts of the Sword

The sword was made up of different parts and each part had a different use. The two main sections of a sword are the blade and the hilt.

Blade

The blade was the biggest part of the sword. It could have a cutting edge on either one side of the blade or on both sides. The blade is made up of a number of parts.
Ricasso: This is the part of the blade closest to the hilt. It was left unsharpened so that the knight could hold the area with his hand to increase leverage.

Fuller: The fuller is a groove that runs down the middle of the sword lengthwise. It is sometimes known as the blood groove but it really has nothing to do with blood. The groove makes the blade lighter but also makes it stronger and more resilient.

Hilt

The hilt was the part of the sword a soldier used to hold on to the weapon. The hilt was made up of the grip, the crossguard, and the pommel.

Grip

The grip was typically made of bone or wood and covered in leather. It was made to fit the knight’s hand and ensure that the sword didn’t slip from the knight’s grasp.

Crossguard

The crossguard was horizontal to the blade and made the sword look like a cross. It was used to protect the knight’s hands and catch an attacking blade.

Pommel

The pommel was at the end of the hilt and was used to counter the weight of the blade. With the pommel, the blade was balanced and easier to use.

Swords were mainly used by knights and many even named their swords. A good sword was not that heavy and the balance made it seem a lot lighter than it was. A well-made sword was perfectly balanced so that the knight could swing the weapon easily.