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 medieval swords

During the medieval era, a range of unique sword types evolved, each serving a distinct purpose and reflecting the craftsmanship of the time. The longsword, recognized by its cruciform hilt and two-handed grip, was a common symbol of knightly status. Contrarily, the falchion, featuring a broad, single-edged blade, was a favored infantry weapon more suited for slashing than piercing.

The single-handed arming sword, often used with a shield, gained prominence as the weapon of choice for Crusading knights. The claymore, a distinguishing Scottish weapon with a cross hilt, was often seen in the hands of Highland warriors.

Finally, the rapier, a slender and sharply pointed sword, was trusted for its speed and precision in one-on-one combat, making it ideal for thrusting attacks. Each of these swords significantly influenced the warfare strategies of the medieval era.

Swordsmithing and metallurgy

During the medieval era, the art of swordsmithing and metallurgy significantly impacted the strength and efficiency of swords, requiring an intricate level of craftsmanship. Swordsmiths used pattern welding, a process of merging iron and steel strips, to produce a resilient, flexible weapon.

This was further enhanced by quenching, a technique that involved rapid cooling of the red-hot blade in water or oil, bolstering its strength. The evolution of metallurgy led to the creation of superior-quality steel, resulting in stronger, sharper, and more enduring swords.

The famed ‘Damascus’ steel swords, celebrated for their unique patterns and unparalleled strength and sharpness, showcase the advanced metallurgical prowess of the medieval swordsmiths. This sequence of advancements in swordsmithing and metallurgy during the medieval period led to a significant evolution in the quality of swords.

Crusader knights

During the medieval era, the most emblematic weapon brandished by Crusader knights was undoubtedly the arming sword. With its cruciform hilt and double-edged blade typically measuring between 28 to 31 inches, the arming sword was particularly suited for one-handed use.

This allowed knights to carry a shield or control the reins of their horses with their free hand. Constructed from high carbon steel, these swords were robust enough to endure the harsh realities of Crusades warfare. Knights would often etch religious symbols onto their swords, under the belief it provided divine safeguarding during battle.

The evolution of these swords mirrored advancements in armor technology, transitioning from a tapered, thrusting design to a broader, slashing style as plate armor advanced in prevalence.

Sword fighting techniques

During the Middle Ages, knights and soldiers predominantly relied on swords, making medieval sword fighting techniques a pivotal aspect of warfare. The techniques were intricate and significantly differed based on the type of sword.

The longsword, for example, prevalent in the 14th and 15th centuries, demanded considerable skill and strength since it was typically wielded with both hands. Techniques involved an amalgamation of slashing, thrusting, and sometimes even wrestling maneuvers.

In contrast, the one-handed arming sword, generally coupled with a shield or buckler, necessitated strategies centered on balance and swift, accurate strikes. Rigorous training in these techniques, often initiated in childhood, was deemed indispensable for any noble or knight-in-training.

Chivalry and knighthood

In the medieval era of chivalry and knighthood, the sword was not merely a weapon but a significant and symbolic instrument. It reflected a knight’s status, honor, and commitment to the chivalric code, acting as a physical embodiment of their oath and the duty it entailed.

The mastery of swordsmanship, regarded as an art, was a critical part of a knight’s training, requiring years of dedication to effectively wield in battle. The ceremony of knighthood often incorporated a ritualized dubbing with a sword, symbolizing the knight’s vow to uphold justice and safeguard the weak.

Beyond its functional design, the medieval sword often featured intricate designs and inscriptions on the blade and hilt, bearing religious or personal significance. This further underscored the profound symbolism of the sword within the realm of chivalry and knighthood.

Medieval weaponry

Medieval swords, essential to warfare in the Middle Ages, mirrored the era’s social hierarchy and technological progress. Initially, these swords were simple iron blades, but with advancements in metalworking techniques, they developed into finely crafted steel weapons over the centuries.

The most prevalent models included the longsword, the broadsword, and the greatsword, each differing in size and design to cater to various battle strategies and personal choices. For instance, the longsword was crafted for two-handed use, possessing a longer grip and a double-edged blade, making it perfect for delivering powerful hits.

More ornate and finely crafted swords were typically owned by the nobility, serving dual purposes as functional weapons and status symbols. Despite weighing up to 4.5 pounds, the balance near the hilt of these swords ensured they remained agile in the hands of a skilled warrior.

Armor and chain mail

During the medieval period, the evolution of swords was meticulously influenced by the progression of protective measures such as armor and chain mail used by warriors. As these defenses evolved, so too did the design of swords.

For instance, during the early medieval era, swords were primarily double-edged with a tapered point, crafted to slash through chain mail. As plate armor became more widespread, swords underwent a transformation, resulting in more pointed tips or ‘arming swords.’ These adaptations allowed for thrusting into the gaps of plate armor, a technique more effective than slashing due to the armor’s ability to deflect such attacks.

Consequently, the force of a thrust could potentially penetrate or damage the armor. Therefore, the historical development of medieval swords was profoundly shaped by the advancements in armor technology.

Heraldry and coat of arms

Heraldry, an ancient system of visual identification crucial to the medieval era, was closely linked to the use of swords, transforming these weapons into significant symbols of a knight’s lineage, allegiance, and personal accomplishments.

The intricate designs and symbols, or ‘charges’, on a knight’s heraldic coat of arms were frequently mirrored on their swords, converting a simple piece of armament into a representation of their identity.

These charges, ranging from animals and objects to geometric shapes, were carefully chosen to reflect various aspects of the knight’s life, such as their social rank, family ties, or participation in specific battles. Consequently, the sword was not just a weapon, but also a heraldic device, embodying the knight’s identity and honor on the battlefield, serving a dual purpose in the world of medieval warfare.

The Knight’s Code of Honor

During the medieval era, the sword had profound significance in the Knight’s Code of Honor, symbolizing not just a knight’s bravery and honor, but also his fidelity. This emblematic weapon was used by knights to safeguard the vulnerable, enforce justice, and serve their noble lords faithfully.

The transition from a squire to a knight, marked by a ceremonial sword stroke, was an important ritual steeped in reverence, symbolizing an intense honor and obligation. Moreover, each component of the sword held a metaphoric connotation; the crossguard symbolized the Christian faith, the blade represented justice, and the point epitomized mercy.

Consequently, the symbolic and practical roles of the sword were fundamentally intertwined with the ethos of the Knight’s Code of Honor.

Castles and fortifications

Throughout the medieval era, the strategic role of swords in both offensive and defensive warfare was significantly influenced by the construction and design of castles and fortifications. The architecture of these structures, such as the narrow spiral staircases often found within them, potentially favored right-handed swordsmen who were attacking from an ascending position, as the central pillar restricted the defender’s sword swing.

Embrasures, narrow openings in castle walls, were another design feature that offered an advantage to swordsmen and archers, allowing them to assault invaders while maintaining considerable protection. Siege warfare tactics often necessitated the use of larger swords like the Claymore or Zweihänder to penetrate enemy defenses and open up a route to the castle gates.

Consequently, the symbiotic relationship between medieval sword design and castle fortifications significantly influenced the results of numerous historical conflicts.

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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.