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The History of Medieval Swords

Medieval swords were considered the most cutting edge technology (pun intended) throughout medieval times. Because the Middle Ages overflowed with conflict, battle, and territorial disagreements, the medieval sword became extremely popular among soldiers and knights—a man with a sword could kill ten times the number of men he could kill unarmed.


The medieval sword perhaps originated from the spatha, a straight and elongated sword used in very early Europe and in the Roman Empire. The very simple design of the spatha evolved into the medieval sword design we are all so familiar with; however, it underwent a series of technological advances before it evolved into the unstoppable weapon of choice for medieval knights and a captivating weapon still collected and used today by martial arts enthusiasts.


In the tenth century, a new technology was introduced that allowed the hardening and tempering of steel. This resulted in a sword that was many times more resilient than swords resembling the spatha. This led to the creation of what was known as “Damascus” steel, a very tough and nearly unbreakable metal that was used to create valuable, highly-prized swords.


As blades became more and more effective, more emphasis began to be placed on the design of the sword handle. Since a great deal of strength was needed to slice a blade through increasingly stronger armor designs, men needed to use both hands to generate power. Therefore, the fourteenth century resulted in a sword known as the “hand and a half” sword, also known as a “bastard sword,” which could accommodate for a two handed grasp.


Parts of a Medieval Sword

If you are interested in purchasing a medieval sword, you may first want to familiarize yourself with medieval sword terminology. The sword has a very simple and elegant appearance; however, it is comprised of many subtle parts—each with its own name. Review the terms below to become better informed about the parts of a sword:

      The crossguard, which is sometimes referred to as a quillion. These are both large words for the cross-shaped handle of a medieval sword. A crossguard was often composed of very expensive materials including precious metals. It would not be uncommon to see crossguards made of bronze, pure silver, or even hammered gold.

      The grip. This is the part of a sword’s handle that a user grips. Grips were often covered in a soft sturdy material like leather that was layered over an underlying base of wood. Typically, the grip was shaped to create a decent hold for the user’s hand.

      The sword pommel. A pommel is a fundamental part of any sword’s design. It acts as a weight, counterbalancing the very heavy blade of a medieval sword. This gave the user far more balance and agility when striking, parrying, and defending.

      The hilt. The hilt is simply a term that refers to the sword handle and all of its various parts. Therefore, the hilt is comprised of a grip, quillion, and pommel. As mentioned, the hilt was often a very expensive aspect of a knight’s sword. Even when blades were broken or cracked beyond use, the hilt was often recycled and attached to a newer and stronger blade. Many knight’s had their hilts engraved with personalized designs or embedded with stones.

      The sword blade. Medieval blades from Europe are typically straight. Depending on the era, the sword may have one sharp edge or two. The most prevalent design is the two-edged blade, perfect for hooking through the tough chainmail and armor of the enemy. Early blades were mainly composed of bronze and then evolved from iron into steel.

      The forte. This term refers to the very strongest point in the blade of the sword. Because the blade tapers into a thinner point at one end, the strongest part of a sword is right above the hilt where the blade is thickest.

      The edge. The sharpened side or sides of a sword blade are referred to as an edge. Since medieval swords were created with hand-to-hand combat in mind, the sword edge was designed to hold up against another person’s blade and slash through shield and armor of various thicknesses.

      The fuller. The majority of medieval sword blades have a small “gutter” or shallow groove that runs directly down the center of the blade like a backbone. The fuller was actually referred to as the “blood gutter” by many knights because blood would run down the small trench much like water in a small gutter.

      The tang. The tang is the butt of the sword that is embedded into the sword hilt and covered neatly. The tang is not sharpened; this area of the sword is simply fused firmly into the handle to prevent the sword from breaking in half during battle.


Famous Medieval Swords

Medieval sword enthusiasts often find themselves captivated by medieval swords of historic importance. There are many swords that simply exist as lore, such as King Arthur’s famed weapon Excalibur, claimed from the Lady of the Lake. However, there are many historic swords that have been proven to exist or are still present today. The following famous swords will be of interest to anyone who enjoys learning about sword history and lore:

      The Sword of Mercy. This sword can be found today in the United Kingdom within the Crown Jewel collection. This beautiful weapon belonged to Edward the Confessor and practically oozes with rich symbolism. Because Edward the Confessor was known to be a merciful ruler, the sword tip was shortened and squared, meant to prevent any wrongful killings on behalf of the user. It is still carried today during the coronation day of every British monarch.

      The Wallace sword. This sword belonged to the Scottish knight William Wallace, a name almost everyone is familiar with. This Scottish knight was famous for leading the resistance against England during the war for Scottish independence. Supposedly, this weapon was used in the infamous battles of Falkirk and Stirling Bridge. Five feet, eight inches in total length and weighing six pounds, this weapon makes a very intimidating and beautiful piece of history that can still be viewed today.

      The Joyeuse sword. According to ancient ballads and other historical documents, this was the sword carried by the famed King Charlemagne. This sword was then used by French royalty during coronations and other processions from the year 1270 to the year 1824. The sword was then kept safeguarded in a basilica until circa 1500. It can now be viewed in the Louvre, in Paris. Although this sword received a great deal of “cosmetic treatment” over the years in the form of ornamentation and stone inlays, the underlying weapon dates back to at least the tenth century.

      The Lobera Sword. In Spanish, Lobera translates to “Wolf-Slayer”—an appropriate name for such a formidable weapon. The Lobera Sword was used in place of a traditional rod by King Ferdinand the third. Historical documents indicate that The Lobera Sword was used by Fernan Gonzalez, the main hero from a well-known epic poem. King Ferdinand was said to have uttered these famous words with his dying breath, indicating the significance of this beautiful weapon: “I can bequeath no heritage to you, but I bestow upon you my sword Lobera, that is of passing worth, and wherewith God has wrought much good to me.” The Lobera’s 80 centimeter steel frame and silver ornaments can be viewed at the Seville Cathedral today where the weapon is considered a relic.


The vast knowledge, rich lore, and charming historic value of medieval stores cannot be expressed in a single article, but the information above should give you a general knowledge concerning these prized medieval weapons. Still used today in martial arts and considered a valuable collector’s item, the medieval sword lives on. Take the time to do some more research on these valuable weapons to learn more about their role in history and continuing fame today—you are sure to be drawn in by the captivating lore of the medieval sword and the underlying layers of history and culture.