Results 1 to 15 of 15

Thread: How common was the sword on the medieval battlefield?

  1. #1

    Default How common was the sword on the medieval battlefield?

    Was the usage of the sword on the battlefield very rare or was quite common?

    I heard the most common weapon was the spear and polearmes/axes, then bows, then finally swords.

    What percent would you say that a medieval army in 1066 AD, during the times of the Normans, that they had arming swords (the typical high medieval one handed sword used with a kite shield)?

    What about like in the Third Crusade 1191 AD, did many crusaders use swords? What about the Muslim forces?

    Were swords really that effective on the battlefield or where their only use relegated to self-defense amongst the most rich or nobles?
    In other words, where there any real life sort of "Dismounted Feudal Knights" or "Swordsmen Militia" in real life that were a common sight on the battlefield whose job was to fight against cores of spearmen as shocktroops like they depict in video games?

    I wonder what can be said about medieval Japan if katanas used as a primary weapon on the mass field of battle was common and effective.

  2. #2
    NaptownKnight's Avatar Praeses
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    Indianapolis, Indiana
    Posts
    8,558

    Default Re: How common was the sword on the medieval battlefield?

    Well I can tell you that a lot of men carried swords, as not only were they weapons but status symbols as well. So I assume they were used a lot. Of course you are right that other weapons were used more than the sword.

  3. #3

    Default Re: How common was the sword on the medieval battlefield?

    I'm fairly sure that swords were common among knights uptill about the mid/late 14th century when plate armor rendered the sword obsolete against knights.

    I'm also sure that knights used swords during the crusades (as did muslims, although of differant designs) if only because I remember reading a story of Godfrey of Bouillon cutting a man in half at the waist with his broadsword.

  4. #4
    The Good's Avatar the Bad and the Ugly
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Location
    California, U.S.A.
    Posts
    5,766

    Default Re: How common was the sword on the medieval battlefield?

    I am pretty sure that swords were common weapons in the Middle Ages, with spears and axes being more common I think. It is especially displayed well in CA's game, Medieval II: Total War, that spears were a very common weapon, more so than swords.


  5. #5
    Manuel Komnenos's Avatar Senator
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    Pula, Croatia
    Posts
    1,092

    Default Re: How common was the sword on the medieval battlefield?

    Sword was very common on the battlefield because only nobles participated in medieval warfare. Not peasants. So, sword was expensive and status simbol like horse, but it was cheaper that horse, and even poorer nobles can buy it.
    Why we dig up the past? To understand it.

  6. #6
    Mig el Pig's Avatar Senator
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Location
    Ghent, flanders, belgium, europe, earth
    Posts
    1,008

    Default Re: How common was the sword on the medieval battlefield?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kiki52 View Post

    I wonder what can be said about medieval Japan if katanas used as a primary weapon on the mass field of battle was common and effective.
    The first ones in the samurai cast mainly used bows and spears (mounted and dismounted) They did have a sword but it's wasn't a cutting sword like the katana and it already was very important emotionaly (one of the 4 sacred relics of the emporer is his sword)
    While the ashigaru( men at arms) weren't allowed to use bows.

    The first "katana" variants appeared around 1000 AD but it wasn't untill the 16th century that the sword was as we would recognize it today.
    By the end of the warring state period the art of swordsmithing had reached it's peak.
    The clan that had won(tokugawa) immobilized the society and restricted the sword solely to the samurai caste.

    That combined with the end of large scale armed conflict the samurais took great pride in their swords.
    1) they were a destinction off their class
    2) it's a bit clumsy to walk around with a spear or bow and arrow if their isn't any war.
    So the main focus on the swords came during a time of relative peace.

    Swords were used on battlefields but not in the numbers that spears and daggers were adopted.

  7. #7
    Ringeck's Avatar Lauded by his conquests
    Join Date
    Nov 2004
    Location
    Oslo
    Posts
    1,449

    Default Re: How common was the sword on the medieval battlefield?

    In medieval Europe, like feudal Japan, battlefield swords were typically back-up weapons to polearms (which includes spears) and missile weapons,in the former case to be used when the polearms were broken or the press became too close to wield 2+meters long implements. A lot of men-at-arms carried swords, and well-to-do peasants or commoners could have swords as well - there are a number of documented examples of this; in wills, descriptions and illustrations.

    It is probably impossible to determine the "ratio" of swords in medieval europe; we simply don't have the documentation. However, swords in their thousands could be and were purchased by army leaders or monarchs in preparation for campaign - we have several "purchase lists from the 12th century on.

    I tend to go for the division seen in scandinavian levy laws: The fully equipped high medieval levied peasant or townsman wore textile armour and/or maille, had a helmet, a spear (or presumeably any polearm), a sword or a (war) axe, and a shield. The next step down dropped the maille, and then the textile armour. The next step after this loses the helmet and are carrying axes or swords, shields and spears. Only the common day laborer, with practically no income, is allowed to bring only an axe and a shield.

    Swords and short war axes are typically carried alongside a spear or polearm, and only in direst need used alone. Swords were, however, very popular dueling weapons - the earliest german fechtbuch details sword-and-buckler fighting, and the norwegian hird laws specify that a guardsman in peacetime needs only carry helmet, buckler, sword and spear when he is on guard duty. Likewise, when a royal retinue is ambushed in the 12th century in Bergen while bathing, they rush from their bath-house almost naked and carrying only swords and bucklers. Since the wearing of swords in many cities was regulated to prevent dueling, they must have been rather predominant peacetime weapons as well - all similar to what Mig en Pig describes, although there were no or few equivalents to the japanese "solution" of banning swords and weapons in general save for the warrior class in peacetime.
    -Client of ThiudareiksGunthigg-

    tabacila speaks a sad truth:
    Well I guess fan boys aren't creatures meant to be fenced in. They roam free like the wild summer wind...

  8. #8
    Osceola's Avatar Protector Domesticus
    Join Date
    Oct 2004
    Location
    Port Richey, Florida
    Posts
    4,661

    Default Re: How common was the sword on the medieval battlefield?

    Well, theres a different type of sword for each class though. For example one wouldnt expect to see a peasant, or militiaman or what have you using a broadsword, or longsword, but its entirely within reason that he had a falchion, or grosse messer.

    Also, the katana was not the main weapon of the samurai. A sword never really is the main weapon for a martial culture. .. It's a sidearm you see. Also the katana wasnt really developed until the 14-1500's. The first CURVED samurai sword that would evolve into the katana we know of nowadays, was the tachi. It's much more heavily curved , and much longer. It was also intended to be used one handed, from horseback. You see, it could be said the samurai started out as a mounted culture. The main weapon in these early days was of course the bow, or yumi, the tachi being the secondary. Now, later on as we progress into the 14-1500's, the samurai begin to take on more of an infantry role, the bow becomes much rarer, and even then, the primary weapon of infantry becomes the yari or spear. The naginata or halberd also gains much use. And when guns were introduced, that became very much the main weapon. The by this time, katana or ancestor of what will develop into the sword we immediately identify as the katana, is very much a last ditch weapon on the BATTLEFIELD. It doesnt have as much use (though it still saw plenty of use, battle is battle afterall) when fighting an actual pitched battle. So why does the samurai even have the katana?

    Just because it's not a battlefield weapon of choice, doesnt mean it doesnt do its service. One must remember, when a battle was over (assuming he survived) a simple spearman foot soldier conscript will simply leave and go back to his fields, only to be an armed man once it's time for war again. Not so with a samurai, who's entire lifestyle is that of a warrior. A samurai does not carry his armour on him at all times, and neither should he lug around his yari (which for a samurai, is more accurately described as a cross between a sword and a pike, not just a spear) or his naginata, bow, or gun. Thus, his katana and wakizashi or daisho, become his weapons of choice. Afterall, he must stay armed at all times, so much so that while he removes his katana before entering a house, he shall keep his wakizashi (really just a shortened version of the katana) on him, perfectly suited for combat indoors. And a samurai saw plenty of combat off the battle field as well. The katana did a great ammount of service, it simply did less on the battlefield then other weapons.

    Another thing to mention, is I'm quite sure the katana saw plenty of battlefield service as a cavalry sidearm, just like the tachi, especially considering that a yari can break.

    Just thought I'd clear up any misconceptions over the role of the sword in samurai warfare.
    Team Member <3

  9. #9
    Nibs's Avatar Semisalis
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Location
    Isca Dumnoriorum, Defnascir, Wessex, Ingerlond, Christendom, The World etc etc...
    Posts
    330

    Default Re: How common was the sword on the medieval battlefield?

    It seems to happen alot that people think in terms of units of a specific type of troop armed in a specialised way. With you bog-standard medeival levy armaments would have varied hugely. Spears were especially popular as were polearms as we approach the mid-medeival period though swords, whilst still an expensive piece of equipment, are certainly not uncommon.
    Uniformity of armament was rare and usually down to the lord who levied the troops. English medeival armies made important steps towards this, Henry Vs army was a model of organisation and uniformity.

    To respond to your specific point, the army of William I was also unusual in its efficiency and quality of armament. Its organisation stretched beyond the standard feudal levy of troops with requirements regarding training and armament being imposed upon lords and their men. As a result the footsoldiers of Williams army were well armoured and armed primarily with spears and a fair few swords mingling about...hope that helps
    "Syng a song of Saxons
    In the Wapentake of Rye
    Four and twenty Eaoldormen
    To eaold to die...."

    Concept artist for Wrath of the Norsemen

  10. #10
    Mathius's Avatar Biarchus
    Join Date
    May 2007
    Location
    Blighty. Near the Ivy Bush Pub
    Posts
    662

    Default Re: How common was the sword on the medieval battlefield?

    Quote Originally Posted by Manuel Komnenos View Post
    Sword was very common on the battlefield because only nobles participated in medieval warfare. Not peasants. So, sword was expensive and status simbol like horse, but it was cheaper that horse, and even poorer nobles can buy it.
    Sticking up for English peasants I would say my muck spreading ancestors played a pretty fundamental part in medieval warfare. Taking Agincourt as a fairly typical mid-late medieval battle, depending on which source you read possibly 80% of the English army was made up of longbowmen, not armoured nobility on foot or horse.


  11. #11
    Odovacar's Avatar I am with Europe!
    Join Date
    Dec 2004
    Location
    Arrabona (Gyr, Hungary)
    Posts
    6,122

    Default Re: How common was the sword on the medieval battlefield?

    As far as I know in medieval France some poor knights had lances but could not afford swords. A sword was expensive (maybe like a motorbicycle today) untill 14-15th century at least in East-Europe.

    In the 16th century swords became very prevalent, almost everyone could afford them, (along with cheap armour pieces) who was at least a citizen or a wealthier peasent. (Peasent didn't need it anyway, a sword was for a trained warrior, not a levy)
    But already around 1300 a common infantryman in eastern europe could have one without problem.
    IN PATROCINIVM SVB HORSEARCHER
    quis enim dubitat quin multis iam saeculis, ex quo vires illius ad Romanorum nomen accesserint, Italia quidem sit gentium domina gloriae vetustate sed Pannonia virtute

    Sorry Armenia, for the rascals who lead us.


  12. #12

    Default Re: How common was the sword on the medieval battlefield?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jaquil View Post
    I'm fairly sure that swords were common among knights uptill about the mid/late 14th century when plate armor rendered the sword obsolete against knights.

    I'm also sure that knights used swords during the crusades (as did muslims, although of differant designs) if only because I remember reading a story of Godfrey of Bouillon cutting a man in half at the waist with his broadsword.
    To say that the sword became obsolete because of plate armor is wrong!

    There are many way's to kill your opponent in plate armor with a sword, I would suggest you read these swordfighting manuals: Vadi, Talhoffer,Ringeck and for beginners maybe Christian Henry Tobler's Secrets of german medieval fighting or Fighting with the german longsword.

    One form of long-sword or great-sword was the Italian spadone. It had a triangular or diamond blade cross-sectional shape and a narrower point and was intended for fighting heavier armors. Their blades were made stronger to resist the trauma of hitting tougher armors. They were much more rigid but still quick for their size. These swords were most popular in Germany and Italy. Another form of specialized thrusting long-sword was the estoc. This was a rarer form of specialized sword with a very rigid, pointed, edgeless triangular or square bladed weapon designed exclusively for fighting plate-armor by beating on it and thrusting into its openings and gaps. The estoc was essentially an armor-piercing rod with a hilt. It could not cut but could be used almost like a club. Called a stocco in Italian and a tuck in English (the root word is derived from a thrusting term and English rapiers are sometimes mistakenly referred to as tucks). They could be used in one or two-hands, with the second armored hand often gripping the blade itself.
    Last edited by Aether; May 30, 2007 at 01:55 AM.

  13. #13

    Default Re: How common was the sword on the medieval battlefield?

    I fully agree with Aether, it is actually thanks to the plate armour the was some sort of revival of use of the traditional one-handed sword along with the bastard sword(hand-and-a-half). Prior to advancements of plate armour the knights interestingly could have used falchions which were perfect to dealing with mail armour. Although lets not exaggerate, the sword was always popular.

    Sword was a common weapon for the nobility for all the medieval period, Early, High, Late. However since the High period it was also becoming common among the lesser classes. Those swords however were of far inferior quality than those of the nobility(I remember reading on how a Taborite commander was upset that his warriors used their swords to cut trees and such for collecting the wood for camp fire).

    However as mentioned, polearms dominated medieval battlefields. Early polearms were tradionally spears, but with the successful usage of agricultural tools, polearms started taking new shape. The halberd is one of the most brilliant evolutions of the polearm. It combined both slashing and thrusting abilities. It was useful both against cavalry as infantry.
    However to what extent were polearms primary weapons? I'd say the sword and it's sister imitations(falchions etc.) were primary weapons. A knight could have been a knight without a lance, but not without a sword.

  14. #14

    Default Re: How common was the sword on the medieval battlefield?

    Quote Originally Posted by The Sword of Cao Cao View Post
    Well, theres a different type of sword for each class though. For example one wouldnt expect to see a peasant, or militiaman or what have you using a broadsword, or longsword, but its entirely within reason that he had a falchion, or grosse messer.
    The familiar term "broadsword" is commonly misapplied as a generic synonym for Medieval swords or for any long, wide blade in general. Although, the first actual appearance of the term is likely from one of William Hope's various Scots Swordsman works from circa 1710, it did not take on its popular meaning of referring to medieval swords until the 1800's. Prior to that in the late 1600’s, the term likely originated as a way of distinguishing from newer civilian small-swords and the older, rapiers. During Hope’s time a gentleman's blade had become the slender small-sword, whereas the military still used a cutting blade. Those cage-hilt and basket-hilt swords used by cavalry starting in the 1640's were also broadswords in form, as they were gripped and used much as earlier Medieval swords.

    Modern use of the now popular misnomer "broadsword" in reference to medieval blades actually originated with Victorian era collectors. Fascinated by all things Medieval, they described swords of earlier ages as being "broader" than their own thinner contemporary ones. Although, the first actual appearance of the term is likely from one of a fencing book from 1710, it did not take on its popular meaning of referring to wider medieval swords until the mid 1800's. Those cage and basket hilted blades used by cavalry starting in the 1640's were in form, "broadswords". During this time a gentleman's blade had become the slender small-sword, whereas the military used a cutting blade. Many military blades of the 1700’s and 1800’s, such as spadroons, cutlasses, hangers, and straight sabers are also classed as broadswords. But the weapon known as the true broadsword is in fact a form of short, basket-hilted, naval cutlass developed around 1630. Today, arms collectors, museum curators theatrical-fighters, and fantasy-gamers have made the word broadsword a common, albeit historically incorrect, term for the Medieval sword.
    Last edited by Aether; May 30, 2007 at 01:47 AM.

  15. #15
    sgtgoody's Avatar Civis
    Join Date
    Jul 2006
    Location
    Houston TX
    Posts
    174

    Default Re: How common was the sword on the medieval battlefield?

    A lot of historians use the term "broadsword" to mean any of the more cheaply made swords used by many non-aristocratic troops. They tended to be hacking weapons with a blunter tip than better made weapons used by the upper class warriors. It isn't correct from a weaponology standpoint but it is fairly accepted use by many scholars.

    The sword didn't become obsolete until close combat did. In my opinion it is the greatest close combat weapon ever made. To counter the growing strength of armor swords were made with sharper tips than before, a developement that started as early as the Norman era, and more emphasis was placed on the thrust than the cut.

    Swords were never rare on the medieval battlefield but they were also never the primary weapon of medieval armies either. The spear has that place of honor. Looking at most of the sources about the cost of swords usually puts them at about the same cost as a cow.
    If you try to fail and succeed, which have you done?

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •