Great swords and the myth of weight

Discussion in 'Weapons' started by Anthony Shore, Oct 28, 2004.

  1. Anthony Shore

    Anthony Shore New Member

    Hi all,

    I thought after reading the thread by Epoch and his insistance that my favorite weapon was a ponderously heavey thing that it was high time I posted this.

    The link I have provided is to an article I had written a published earlier this month on the very subject of the Two Handed Great Sword and the myth of weight.

    Another poster here said he would like to see some cold hard data to back up the arguments either for or against inordinately heavy weapons and I have included such in the article.

    Please let me know what you think and I will address any questions you may have...This article was written specifically for folks like Epoch who have only a "perception" of what "seems" right without having done any true research into the subject or having consulted with any persons who are credentialed and qualified and have extensive experience handling "antique" weapons.

    This is dedicated to those who would like to know, would like good data from credible sources (and Del Tin is NOT a good source of informtion...they may REPLICAS...not actual combat weapons).

    I will post links to other articles at a later date.


    Anthony Shore.
  2. Anthony Shore

    Anthony Shore New Member

    Evidence supporting large but lightweight swords for combat

    When we discuss the issue of weight where it concerns the classification of sword called the "great sword", which includes the Zweihander, Flamberge and the Scottish two handed Cleidghmhor (Claymore), we must make the distinction between "Ceremonial or Processional" and "Combat" weapons.

    Ceremonial weapons were usually a bit heavier than those used in combat but usually did not exceed 10 - 12 lbs. If you think about it logically, a foot soldier who is probably wearing a good 30 lbs of upper body armor is not likely to carry a weapon into battle that is inordinately opponent with lighter weapon would have a much greater advantage in a combat situation.

    In an earlier version of an article I had written, I quoted verbatim a paragraph from "Swords and Hilt Weapons, Barnes and Noble Books of New York, Page 48" the following paragraph is offered as evidence.

    “The two-handed sword was a specialized and effective infantry weapon, and was recognized as such in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Although large, measuring 60-70 in/150-175 cm overall, it was not as hefty as it looked, weighing something of the order of 5-8 lbs/2.3-3.6 kg. In the hands of the Swiss and German infantrymen it was lethal, and its use was considered as special skill, often meriting extra pay. Fifteenth-century examples usually have and expanded cruciform hilt, sometimes with side rings on one or both sides of the quillon block. This was the form which remained dominant in Italy during the sixteenth century, but in Germany a more flamboyant form developed. Two-handed swords typically have a generous ricasso to allow the blade to be safely gripped below the quillons and thus wielded more effectively at close quarters. Triangular or pointed projections, known as flukes, were added at the base of the ricasso to defend the hand."

    Also not included in the posted version was a quote from Vivian Etting, Curator of the National Museum of Denmark, in which she states:

    "In the Medieval and Renaissance collections at the National Museum of Denmark we have several very fine two-handed swords. This type of sword was used primarily in middle and northern Europe from about 1400 up to the beginning of the 16th Century. It was a combined cut-and-thrust weapon, which often was manufactured in Passau or Solingen in Germany. Originally it was a sword, used by armed knights on horseback, but in the end of the century it was used by the infantry as well. Thus the big cavalry sword developed into the two-handed sword, which in turn became the weapon of the Landsknecht.

    The two-handed swords from the collections of the National Museum of Denmark are primarily archaeological finds from excavations near castles or in graves. One example found in the royal castle of Søborg ( D 8804), has an octagonal pear-shaped pommel is. It is 1.62 m long and has special marks showing a running wolf and, a bishop’s staff, which indicates that it, was manufactured in Passau. Other fine two-handed swords have been found in the graves of noblemen, which were buried in a Franciscan monastery in the town of Næstved. Another fine two-handed sword which is now is exhibited in the church, was found in the tomb of King Christian I of Denmark in the cathedral of Roskilde."

    As much as I hate to admit it, John Clements has posted and written himself a few very good articles on this and related subjects located on his website the Association of Renaissance Martial Arts.

    Here are some suggested text resources which have some very good, solid data concerning medieval swords including weights and dimentions.

    Blankwaffen.Geschichte und Typenentwicklung im Europäischen Kulturbereich", By Dr. Heribert Seitz

    The Complete Bladesmith, Forging your Way to Perfection", Jim Hrisoulas, Paladin Press, 1987

    Wallace Collection Catalogue, 1962 two-volume set, by James Mann, plus the 1986 Supplement by A.V.B. Norman. (Contains weights of every edged
    weapon in the collection as well as weights of body armour)

    Records of the Medieval Sword", The Boydell Press 1991 and "The sword in the Age of Chivalry" 1964, By Ewart Oakeshott

    Swords and Hilt Weapons, Barnes and Noble Books of New York, 1993
  3. spacepimp

    spacepimp Valued Member

    I remember reading or watching something a while back. That a sword (unlike the value we place on them today) was more or less a weapon of last resort. Basically your pole arm was broken or the enemy was too close to use a pole arm. The sword held a much more ceremonial function than as a prefered weapon... If this is covered in one of those articles sorry...
  4. Anthony Shore

    Anthony Shore New Member

    Weapons of last resort

    Generally speaking, the sword was more or less a weapon of last resort...yes, polearms, axes, warhammers, flails and maces could effectively cause alot more damage in certain circumstances but, the sword being primarily ceremonial to begin with? Swords were not the easiest of weapons to produce, were more often than not very expensive to purchase a quality weapon and not the easiest of weapons to repair if damaged. With the invention of guns, armor became somewhat pointless and the sword developed into a more refined "gentlemens" weapon although the military still carried them...for Military purposes, the sword became less and less functional and more symbolic but for civilians, it was still very much used.

    At the end of WW I, the Motorcycle was introduced and the equestrian mounted cavalry became a thing of the past, the need for practical sword production in the military came to a grinding halt and at that point, became truly ceremonial.
  5. K_Coffin

    K_Coffin New Member

    Mm hm. Yep, good articles. I was wondering how I would ever find that article by Hank Reinhardt again....Thanks for the links. I'm sure there are a few people on this board who could learn a fair bit from them. I'm personally a fan of the Nihonto, but I understand the limitations they face in reality, and have no illusions of satisfying my deep-seated need to destroy machine gun barrels (But someday...........)
  6. Anthony Shore

    Anthony Shore New Member

    Thanks...I am always one who is willing to contribute to the knowledge pool..I generally like to come armed to the teeth with hard data though...It just makes the whole thing "easier" to deal with.

    I like the looks of your site, I will have to check it out "away" from work.
  7. YODA

    YODA The Woofing Admin Supporter

    Anthony: I'm curious as to why you have suddenly decided to come here and respond at length to something said by someone who hasn't visited this site in almost a year.

    Good info though :D
  8. Anthony Shore

    Anthony Shore New Member

    There is no suddenness about it, I have never been to this site prior to monday of this week.

    I'm not responding to anyones post from a year past...I saw the posts by Epoch from a link someone had sent and thought for anyone who did want some good information that this would be the place to post it. Please note that I did not respond directly to Epoch, I started a clean thread, not a response.

    It is folks like Epoch that inspired me to write the article in the first place and whether or not he is still here is's a good subject to get clarification on.

    I'm glad you liked it though, Thanks.

  9. YODA

    YODA The Woofing Admin Supporter

    Thanks - like I said - just curious about what brings people here :D
  10. Anth

    Anth Daft. Supporter

    For some reason, with all this info coming out, my mind jumps to the word "Article" ;) :)
  11. Stolenbjorn

    Stolenbjorn Valued Member

    All written above fits into what I've been told by people I regard as qualified sources; which is the blacksmith Thomas Russel and the WMA-instructor Colin Richards.

    As for wether swords were mainly status symbols, I have a theory that they were main weapons when they arrived (in the bronze-age), but in battles and in times when armor became normal, the became secondary weapons. The sword have allways been extremely effective to supress unarmoured masses when wielded by skilled and well armed users. The cost and skill requierd to buy/wield/make swords still made them higly valuable as status-symbols for the upper classes. When the roman empire colapsed, the sword had a good period, and with the cristianity, the cross-guard-shape's similarities with the cross made them even better symbolic weapons. But as the european nations started to emerge, and armor once again became more normal (from year 1000ad onwards), the sword were once again becoming secondary weapons. The huge swords that the first article on this thread adresses fits into a period where the armor on the opponent meant that the twohanders was most effective in halfsword/wresteling-type of matches.
  12. Anthony Shore

    Anthony Shore New Member

    In an earlier version of my article, I included a paragraph that summarized the versatility of the great swords, primarily used for thrusting to either punch through or get between the weak spots in armor (i.e. the joints.) the greatsword could also be used for smashing blows with the Pommel (hence the term "pummeling"), the quillons could be used to either disarm an opponent or trip him up. there is an unsharpened area of the blade called the "ricasso" just below the quillons that could be used to lengthen the grip and use the weapon as a staff and in turn as a fact, late 17th century "boar" spears were nothing more than modified greatswords used for hunting.

    This weapon was the weapon of choice by gate guards at the castle gate because of the variety of ways this weapon could be was essentially an "all in one" sort of weapon for close quarter fighting

    Someone mentioned that this was a bad weapon for "close quarter" fighting because of the way he defined "close quarter" as being in a fairly enclosed room...first off, why would you pick a fight with someone in an enclosed room and attempt to use a sword? beats me, a dagger would be better but, by Close quarter what I suspect is actually meant is a reasonably confined space such as a tunnel way through the city gates...there is enough room for a few well and appropriately armed men to defend against a larger crowd until reinforcments arrive.

    downgrading the use of the greatsword as ineffective by comparing to the romans and the use of the Gladius for "up close and personal" fighting is not a good comparrison. 1. there is nearly 1000 years and a few countries of separation and 2. the roman tactics of marching en masse behind a wall of shields and using the gladius to "gut" their opponents cannot be compared to nearly 1000 years of sword evolution and fighting tactics that had been influenced by other cultures. It's sort of like comparing the viking swords with the rapier and stating that the rapier is ineffective because you cant cleave a chunk out of someones skull with it. Two distinct weapons and fighting comparrison, each is effective in it's own right and in its own style and designed use.
  13. Anthony Shore

    Anthony Shore New Member

    Hi Gaskell...see the link included in the starting thread.
  14. Anth

    Anth Daft. Supporter

    I wasn't on about it being from one, more like how about submitting one on the subject to the MAP magazine? To me, an article like that would clear up a load of the myths mentioned in another of your posts, and would give us a good point of reference :)
  15. Anthony Shore

    Anthony Shore New Member

    What I can do, is submit the original version of the article which contains a bit more data than the posted version which was revised to accomodate a slightly different format.

    sound like a plan?
  16. Anth

    Anth Daft. Supporter

    Sounds like a plan indeed :)

    To submit it, email it to YODA and he will check through it. If he reckons its good enough, it will be posted. YODA's email address is :)
  17. Stolenbjorn

    Stolenbjorn Valued Member

    Where do you have this from; can you direct me to sources?
    Personally, I've been under the impression that the truely great greatswords were freak-weapons for the arena fightings, or more of "regalia" for mercenary/professional units, than actual weapons for war. I've heard claims that they were used in formation combat to cut pikes, somthing I find hard to believe, others state that they were used to cut horses with, and I don't find that theory especially realistic either... I haven't heard of any training manuals for the greatswords; all the german and italian longswordmanuals I've heard about adresses swords of max. 1,4m lenght, and when the issue's been up on the, there doesn't seem to be anyone able to claim that they know for certain from written sources; they only asume from what they know from the longswordmanuals (fiore, talhoffer, lichtenaure, etc.). I've allways thought that the helebard was prefered as the first choise by soldiers going to war or participating in real action. (The pope's swiss guards use helebards, not greatswords)

    -Not that I disagree in that the long(great)sword is a very efficient multi-tool-weapon( ;my previous post speaks for itself). I've studyed Fior di Battaglia for 3 years now, and I know that I'd pick a longsword If I could choose when it comes to gatekeeping and crowdcontroll in a peacetime environment that you describe (-or even in a siege-breakthrough-the gate-situation). But that's because it's the longsword I know; I haven't done more than one hour of pollaxetraining. If I meat someone with 3 years experience with the helebard, I honestly think he'd have an edge over me, as the helebard is just as effective at close quarters as the greatsword, and it have longer reach (this could evolve into a discussion that have much in common with the exellent spear vs. sword-thread).
    I didn't elaborate what I meant with halfswording and close in-combat, but your response shows that you know what I meant. Other techniques the longsword (and helebard) is good at, is to use it as a leaver to break and lock arms, and to throw opponents to the ground.
    Last edited: Oct 30, 2004
  18. Anthony Shore

    Anthony Shore New Member

    Greatsword article resources


    All of my resources were listed in the original article which the link is posted in the opening thread and in subsequent material I provided in a second posting. The entire purpose of the article was to provide more data and to combat some of the common myths and misconceptions regarding the great you said, it has been your "impression" that the great sword was used in X manner by Y type of soldier.

    The original start of my information on average weight and how the greatsword was used and, the reason for my comments, was a bit done on the History Channels "Arms and Armour" section on "the evolution of the sword" (or something like that). The Royal Armourers at Leeds had found a several hundred year old manual in their vaults that was plate by plate instruction on "great sword" combat postures. From this manual they were able to peice together and choreograph a combat sequence designed for the greatsword which demonstrated the versatility of the weapon and the variety of things that could be done in a typical fight scenario with the greatsword.

    Not included in the published work was a quote by Vivian Etting, curator of the National Museum of Denmark:

    Vivian Etting, Curator of the National Museum of Denmark, offered the following in a recent correspondence: "In the Medieval and Renaissance collections at the National Museum of Denmark we have several very fine two-handed swords. This type of sword was used primarily in middle and northern Europe from about 1400 up to the beginning of the 16th Century. It was a combined cut-and-thrust weapon, which often was manufactured in Passau or Solingen in Germany. Originally it was a sword, used by armed knights on horseback, but in the end of the century it was used by the infantry as well. Thus the big cavalry sword developed into the two-handed sword, which in turn became the weapon of the Landsknecht."

    Although Ms. Etting did make some mention of Greatsword lopping off the head of pike as well, I find that one a tad hard to swallow as well so I contacted Maestro Paul MacDonald of the Dawn Duelists Society in Scotland. The Maestro writes:

    "There have been many suggestions posted regarding the effectiveness and best methods of using the zweihander to deal with pikes, with many discussing the best way to `cut the heads off pikes`.

    I can but draw on a number of years using the zweihander as a favoured weapon both individually and tactically in co-ordinating a small unit of these weapons against pikes on numerous occassions.

    For a man to cut the head off of a pike, it means that he has to take himself to that measure and stand there for at least the length of time it takes to cut the pike head off. I`m sorry but by that time, standing in measure I am most likely to receive another spear in the face. Even if I manage to lop of a spear head or two, my operating at that measure does not discount the possibility of receiving a broken shaft full in the face, somewhat affecting my judgement."

    There were other comments made during e-mail exchanges with Robert Woosnam-Savage at the Royal Armouries at Leeds as well as David Edge from the Wallace Collection, that never made it to the article as they were not relevant to the primary subject of "weight". The Article itself was based on those conversations and the data they provided as well as the textual resources either quoted directly or cited in the bibliography and webliography included.

    Other conversations with David Cvet from Academy of European Medieval Martial Arts were a good source of information regrding the variet of uses of the greatsword in combat. The information he provided, although not included in the article, was key in "shaping" the direction the article went and a few key peices shaped the conclusions. much as I hate to admit it...John Clements of the Association of Renaissance Martial Arts Http:// has written a couple good articles on the subject as well which I believe were mentioned in an earlier post.

    One thing I would like to point out is, when I wrote the article, I wrote it with two intentions. 1. to provide some good, solid, hardcore data with verifyable and "reputable" sources. and 2. to provide enough textual and internet resource links for my readers to follow that if they required more information than I had provided or were in doubt of the information itself, they could go look it up for essence, I expected some of my readers to "doubt" me and gave them the means to check it out for themselves if they had the time and inclination.

    I do plan on posting an earlier version of the article in the "articles" section on this board and I will include a couple extra text resources not originally included. I have been recently contacted by Henrik Andersson from the Royal Armouries of Stockholm and provided with some texts in PDF format that I can draw more data from and will try to included those texts.

    Does that answer any questions or does it raise more? I hope I have been helpful. :eek:
    Last edited: Oct 30, 2004
  19. Stolenbjorn

    Stolenbjorn Valued Member

    WOW! This is new to me! (I'm in love with "Landsknecht-swerde", but have resorted to the longsword, as my instructor; Colin Richards didn't know of any authentic and serious zweihender-manuals). Do you know wether there will be postings of pictures and texts on the net anytime soon on this material (as there is for one of the surviving Fiore-manuals)?

    Not that I want to discredit a professional (but he is a dane :p ), No, seriously; I get the distinctive feeling that this is the story of how the norman cavallerysword evolved into the stuff talhoffer, fiore etc is playing around with on 14th and 15th century. Where is the source that proves landsknechte really wielding the zweihenders(at least 1,4m.long) in combat? (I hope there are evidence of this, as I love the zweihender, but until proven otherwise, I'm gonna stick to the wiev that zweihenders were weapons for the barracks(combat arenas) or mabye as sentry-weapons.)

    I totally agree with his wiev on pikecutting, It seems very logical what he writes.
    Very helpeful! Let me try to sumarize my wiev fore and against the zweihender as a weapon for war based on my asumptions and what little facts I have on zweihenders and combat:

    *The weight isn't deterring; from 2,2 kg up to mabye some 4 kg.
    *The reach + the halfswordtechniques shown in longswordmanuals proves that the zweihender would be a weapon with considerable reach as well as very eficcient at close quarters as well.
    *status and tradition. One must not forget the power of tradition and status; there are many examples of tradition, fassion and symbolism taking precedence over combat efficiensy. One example is the Swedish man o' war; Wasa from the 17th century that had decorations on her stern worth the weight of at least 4 cannons. It is possible that zweihenders were statusweapons that were given people with certain training and to build unit morale in a sort of elite unit.

    *they're expensive! A polearm would have much of the same advantages to a much lesser price.
    *they require a lot of training to work at the full potential. It takes much lesser time to train a bloke to wield a poleaxe/helebard/spear adequately.
    *unless used as a polearm (and if so the 2 points above become so much evident) they are very restricted in a tight formation, where sidesweeps cannot be done. (This is not the case in arena fighting, and I find it very likely that zweihenders were used there.) I'm currently holding a class where 10 people is trying to learn Fiore Longsword, and hitting the bloke beside is a constant hazard, as we have little space, so I can very well see the problems in a massed formation as well.
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2004
  20. Domenico

    Domenico Valued Member

    While not fight manuals, there are plenty of period illustrations depicting the Zwiehander in use in battle, but do bear in mind (and as you've suggested by their price tags), they are hardly common, probably in the 1-5% range of soldiery. Most often attributed to the Landsknecht Doppelsoldier (quite literally, "double-soldier", he gets double pay, as his job is to go pick a fight with an entire pike line... :)

    As your instincts are telling you, it *is* very much handled like a polearm as opposed to a traditional sword. The fluke or forward quillons above the Ricasso give you a safe place to grip it, point up or down, and they would be deployed between pike ranks. When the time to strike has come, they slide down the ranks, and engage with the tips of a few pikes. Since this tool is an incredibly powerful lever, one Zwiehander can successfully bind up 5-6 pikes at once. From here, you can either press the pikes to the side or the ground and hope your compadres pile in the opening, but that would leave the Zviehander rather exposed to getting nailed by other pikemen. If, however, you bind up those blades and start charging up the length of the pike, you're going to find yourself holding onto the end of a four foot long sword blade, punching into all of the soft, chewy centers of pikemen 16 feet away from the effective end of their weapons... :).

    The best application appears to be use the flukes and quillons as your defence to safely engage with the pikes, then press and slide. All the pikeman can do is try to choke up on his pike before you get to him, or draw his own blade to meet you (although you've got an advantage of length). BTW, if you want to visualize this one, stand sideways, get four other friends, two on either side of you (again, standing sideways), two across from them, and have them hold a broomstick between them chest-high (Imagine you're the "O"):

    | |
    X X

    Now, draw a sword and proceed to get into a fight with someone between and under the brooms.... :)

    And now we know why God invented the Katzpalger... :)

    As you can see, holding the Zvihander like a spear is about the only option at this point, after dispatching any opponents with swords, you can then use the blade and flukes to remove a few more hands from pikes, and a few more pikemen. Dirty work, but at least you're getting hazard pay... :)


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