During the Middle Ages, the medieval knights wielded their longswords against heavily armored opponents. Most recognized for its cruciform hilt, the longsword was light enough to use one-handed, but the long grip also allowed two-handed use. It suited the military strategies and social environment throughout Europe and eventually became a dueling weapon.
Let us talk about the history of the longsword, its medieval uses, and how it differs from the European greatswords.
What Exactly Is a Longsword?
Today, the term “longsword” refers to all swords lightweight enough to wield in one hand but has a long grip to accommodate two hands. However, the term longsword is relatively modern—not a historical term. Medieval writers used several
For convenience, modern historical fencers use the term longsword, as there is no specific term for the weapon. In German fencing texts, they are the kind of weapons used in the so-called “art of the long
The longsword also served as a sidearm for armored fighting, implying that it was short enough to be able to draw from the belt. Many associate it with the hand-and-a-half sword or bastard sword, which appears in the medieval armory list. However, fencing master Joseph Swetnam described bastard swords as shorter than longswords but longer than the short swords.
Characteristics of Medieval Longsword
The distinguishing characteristic of the longsword was its longer grip rather than its long blade, though most of them had both.
Here are the unique characteristics of the medieval longsword:
Type of Metal
Medieval swords evolved as metallurgy improved. The ideal
Early medieval ironmakers used the bloomery iron-smelting process in charcoal furnaces. Due to a lack of precise control and measuring equipment, medieval blades had varying carbon content and could not match the quality of modern steel.
Medieval swordsmiths often used slack quenching, where blades were drastically cooled. The process created less brittle but also less hard blades. Some longsword blades had steel edges forge-welded to an iron core.
However, longsword blades were not clay tempered as done with the Japanese katana. Japanese swordsmiths traditionally covered the blade in clay, so the cutting edge was hardened during quenching. In slack quenching, medieval swordsmiths used quenching media like molten lead, boiling water, or olive oil, which did not draw out heat as fast.
Longswords had symmetrical double-edged blades, which varied in tapering and cross-sections. Earlier
Some had a fuller, which lightened the blade without compromising its structure. Others had diamond cross-sections that stiffened the
Size and Weight
Longswords typically have blades a few inches longer than modern single-handed swords but do not necessarily imply superior reach. The maximum length for longswords was generally limited by what could be drawn from a scabbard. Its blade length may range from 83 to 101 centimeters, while its hilt measures about 17 to 25 centimeters long. Most medieval longswords were reasonably light, weighing around 3 to 4 pounds.
The hilt consists of three parts—the pommel, the grip, and the crossguard—though some might have additional features.
The crossguard protected the hand from an opponent’s
Instead of a full tang, longswords generally had a narrow tang, sometimes carved into the shoulders of the blade. It generally had a wooden grip, usually hollowed out for the tang. Commonly wrapped in leather and metal wire, the handle may also be polished horn or ivory.
The pommel, at the end of the hilt, counterbalanced the weight of the blade. Most longswords had iron or brass pommel, but often not hard steel. Earlier pommels were flat and wheel-shaped, but 15th-century designs featured spherical and fishtail pommels. Some types of swords also featured silvered pommels, sometimes inlaid with decorative glass or enamel.
The knights carried the longswords in scabbard, attached to the skirt of the armor. Medieval art often portrays men carrying swords in their hands without sheaths, which may mean that they discarded them after drawing the
Facts About the Medieval Longsword
In medieval weaponry, the term longsword refers to all European swords lightweight enough to use one-handed but with grips long enough to allow the use of two hands if needed. It initially developed for armored fighting but eventually became a dueling weapon.
Here are the things you need to know about the medieval longsword:
Medieval states rarely restricted the right to own longswords and other weapons.
Several cities in Italy, Germany, and other regions in Europe depended on citizen militias for defense and required their citizens to equip themselves properly. In some German cities, the average citizen’s skill with longswords was impressive, and every guild member owned several weapons.
The longsword had a longer hilt than an arming
The longsword might have had longer blades than the arming
Many refer to short longswords as bastard swords.
Fencing master Joseph Swetnam described bastard swords as longer than short swords but shorter than longswords. Also known as a hand-and-a-half sword, the bastard
RelatedHand And A Half Sword: History and Modern Use
Medieval blade designs adapted to military tactics of the time.
With the emergence of improved armor, medieval swords eventually focused on the blade strength in the thrust rather than the cut. Historian Ewart Oakeshott created the standard typology of medieval swords based on blade form.
Generally, the type XIIIa is not an uncommon longsword blade during the late 13th century. It usually had a fuller and limited tapering, making it ideal for cutting. On the other hand, the type XVa blade of the early 15th century featured a diamond cross-section and was sharply tapered to a thrusting tip.
Training with the longsword began at an early age.
Some medieval writers suggested that boys must train with the longsword aged 12 to 14, alongside other knightly skills and courtly manners. Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince, fought when he was 16, while King Edward VI of England practiced fencing when he was 13. There were also professional fighting schools where students learned how to use the longsword for an average of five months.
Medieval fight books or fechtbücher served as symbols of wealth and status.
Most fight books—called fechtbücher or singular fechtbuch—were written in German and Italian, often handwritten by professional scribes on parchment. These books served as wealth and status symbols, reflecting the owner’s interest in prestigious knightly activities. Johannes Liechtenauer, the famous German master of the longsword tradition, even wrote using secret and hidden words so not everyone would understand it.
The longswords served as deadly weapons in judicial duels.
The trial by battle or judicial duel, was the earliest form of dueling and a means to settle accusations of crimes. Several medieval manuscripts portray judicial duels using the German longsword, spear, and spiked shields. Fencing master Hans Talhoffer is known for his lavishly illustrated fight books, widely reproduced in modern times.
Fighters demonstrated longsword techniques with federschwerter.
The federschwerter, German for feather swords, were practice swords associated with the German Fechtschulen sport fighting. By the 16th century, the middle class who were unlikely to own armor used it as a sports weapon. These swords had thick edges and blunt or foiled tips, but could also cause injuries or death. Fighters demonstrated longsword techniques with federschwerter, usually until one participant bled or was blinded.
Unarmored combat was the foundation of longsword techniques.
Several fight books teach several sets of longsword techniques suited for fighting unarmored, fighting in armor, and fighting from horseback. The bare fighting or blössfechten refers to an unarmored combat technique that remained a martial sport into the 16th century, even after the longswords disappeared from the battlefield.
Longsword vs. Greatsword
Unlike the longsword, the greatsword is too large to be worn on the belt. The term greatsword may mean different things to different cultures, but it generally had a massive blade length roughly the height of a man. The ones used on the battlefield usually weighed around 3 to 7 pounds.
The most popular greatsword is the zweihander or bidenhander of the German Landsknechts. These German two-handers had an overall length of about 150 to 175 centimeters. So, the Landsknechts carried them over the shoulder like a halberd.
Unlike the medieval longsword, the zweihander was not a combat weapon. The doppelsöldner used it against the opposing pikes to create a gap in the enemy’s formation. Also, the longsword is a medieval weapon, while the zweihander is a Renaissance weapon.
Is Claymore a Longsword?
The Scottish claymore, particularly the Highland claymore is actually a great
The longsword had a long hilt that allowed the use of two hands, but it was lightweight enough to wield with one hand. On the contrary, the Highland claymore is a two-handed
The term claymore also applies to the Scottish broadsword or basket-hilted sword, measuring about 100 centimeters long. However, these swords are one-handed and their basket hilts won’t allow two-handed use, hence not a longsword.
Uses of Longswords in Medieval Times
The knights used the longswords in wars and tournaments, while commoners utilized them in judicial duels. These swords lost their practical use on the battlefield in the late 16th and early 17th centuries but continued as sporting weapons.
On the Battlefield
In 1471, the Burgundian Abbeville ordinance recommended the longswords and daggers as backup weapons for the cavalry. The spearmen and armored knights needed the
Early tournament weapons were longswords and armor used in actual warfare. During these combats, individual knights or groups challenged specific individuals to fight with sharp weapons. Most foot-combat events utilized the longsword and spears, though competitors wore full armors. By the 14th century, the tournament weapons included blunted swords and lances.
However, tournaments were not necessarily bloodless as several combatants fought to the extreme or à outrance until one party surrendered, was incapacitated, or dead. On the other hand, combat à plaisance showed the skills and bravery of participants without causing serious injury, though many still fought with sharp weapons.
In Judicial Duels
Originating from the early medieval trial by battle, the judicial duel was part of the legal process, usually fought over serious crime. In 1306, the French ordinance allowed judicial duels when a serious crime was punishable by death and there were no witnesses or documents to prove or disprove the matter.
Commoners often fought with longswords, clubs, or shields and wore fighting suits made of greased leather. However, most of them were between craftsmen or townsmen. The elderly, children, women, and clergymen were generally exempted from fighting. Nobles often fought from horseback with lances and on foot with longswords.
In Honor Duels
The honor duels, similar to the classic post-medieval duels fought with rapiers or smallswords, were rarely fought to the death. Medieval nobles engaged in duels when they felt their honor was slighted. These duels were fought in armor, on horseback or on foot usually with spears, longswords, or axes. It was initially legal and public, though some also fought privately.
History of the Longsword
The longsword gradually evolved from the Viking sword and adapted through time. Earlier examples were designed for heavy cutting strokes, while later longswords were more tapered for thrusting into armor. It also became longer both in grip and blade.
In the Late Antiquity
During the Migration period, from the fall of Rome to about the year 1000, the Roman cavalry
In the Middle Ages
By 1000, the Carolingian or Viking swords evolved into the classic knightly
Around 1300, the improvements in metallurgy resulted in better-armored opponents which also required better swords. Some single-handed swords evolved into so-called arming swords or knightly swords with sharply tapered blades efficient for thrusting against armor. Other single-handed swords developed into single-edged falchions with heavy blades efficient for cutting.
The Rise of the Longswords
Longswords appeared around the 1250s, likely to counter better armor, but became most popular from 1370 to 1440. Unlike the single-handed arming
The Decline of Longswords
As swords became impractical on the battlefield, they became part of sports fighting and civilian life. Early tournaments and honor duels utilized longswords. When the armor was no longer practical, the rapier became the civilian dueling weapon.
Early rapiers emerged as cut-and-thrust weapons with broad, double-edged blades. By the 16th century, the rapier was developed for swordplay, featuring long and thin blades. Since they featured an elaborate hilt, they also became fashion items and were worn as part of the civilian dress before being replaced by the smallsword.
Long enough to be gripped with both hands, the medieval longsword was an efficient weapon in armored fighting in battlefield, judicial dueling, and tournaments. Unlike greatswords, the longsword was surprisingly light and suitable for thrusts and cuts. Today, it remains one of the most popular weapons associated with knights and battles of the Middle Ages.
What is the most famous longsword? ›
Excalibur: The Most Famous Legendary Sword
Under the guidance of Merlin and with the power of Excalibur, Arthur united Britain against the Anglo-Saxon invaders and assembled a group of knights to help him govern. His knights — Lancelot, Perceval, Gawain, Galahad — were supposedly exemplars of chivalric ideals.
The German school of swordsmanship includes the earliest known longsword Fechtbuch, a manual from approximately 1389, known as GNM 3227a.How heavy were longswords? ›
Cruciform hilts characterize the longswords (around 6 to 11 inches long) and they have a blade length that ranges from 33 to 43 inches. Longswords weigh approximately 1 to 1.5 kilos – 2.2 to 3.3 Lbs, considering both blade and hilt.What was the best sword ever made? ›
The Katana (14th-16th century) - The katana is a type of Japanese sword known for its distinctive curved blade and long handle. It was used by the samurai class of feudal Japan and is still widely regarded as one of the best swords ever made.What was the most effective medieval sword? ›
- Knightly sword. The knightly sword, or arming sword, is the common name for what we traditionally picture when we think of a sword. ...
- Longsword. The longsword was one of the most popular choices of weaponry for European knights. ...
- Falchion. ...
- Broadsword. ...
- Rapier. ...
Most people know about the samurai of feudal Japan and their skill with the katana; a skill expected of a dedicated noble warrior-class. In medieval Europe, knights wielding a longsword studied swordplay derived from a system of combat that was just as effective: Kunst des Fechtens, German for “the art of fighting.”What is the strongest longsword? ›
While there may be no exact "best" longsword in the game, the Phantom Mirage is currently dominating the high-rank scene for its great versatility. It already has high blue sharpness and strong affinity, but incredibly high raw damage as well.What was the heaviest medieval sword? ›
|Mass||2–4 kilograms (4.4–8.8 pounds)|
|Length||up to 213 centimetres (84 inches)|
|Blade type||Double-edged, straight bladed|
What was the heaviest sword in history? Damascus steel sword 3 m long 17 cm and weighing 33 kg is recognized as the largest in the world and is included in the Russian Book of Records.How heavy was a Viking longsword? ›
Can longswords be one handed? ›
At the most basic level a longsword, also often known as a hand-and-a-half sword or a Bastard Sword, is a double-edged European sword, often with a cruciform hilt, that is capable of being used in either one hand or two.How long is a Viking longsword? ›
Swords in the Viking age were typically double edged; both edges of the blade were sharp. Swords were generally used single handed, since the other hand was busy holding the shield. Blades ranged from 60 to 90cm (24-36 in) long, although 70-80cm was typical.Is a longsword stronger than a katana? ›
Each one is unique with its own defining characteristics. The longsword is a longer, heavier sword with more stopping power, while the katana is a shorter, lighter sword with a stronger cutting edge.What is the best medieval weapon? ›
According to DeVries, “The single most important weapon in the Middle Ages was the sword.” A fast-moving weapon that could stab as well as slice, the sword delivered the most damage for least effort.Which is the No 1 sword in the world? ›
The Honjō Masamune represented the Tokugawa shogunate during most of the Edo period and was passed down from one shōgun to another. It is one of the best known of the swords created by Masamune and is believed to be among the finest Japanese swords ever made.What is the most damaging sword? ›
The claymore was a deadly weapon and a devastating tool on the battlefield. With their average length falling to around 130cm, the claymore offered a mid-ranged combat style and the combined length, dual handed wielding, and weight meant that the claymore could easily sever limbs or even decapitate with a single blow.What is the deadliest sword in history? ›
Winner- The Miao Dao, China
Incredibly, and against all odds, this sword was so popular with Chinese warriors that some even took the sword into battle during WWII! While it may have been no match for modern munitions of the day, the sword is deadly close-up, as Japanese soldiers learned at a high cost.
Paired with shields, spears were undoubtedly one of the most deadly weapons to ever have been used in medieval warfare. Spears were also useful against cavalry, because horses (unsurprisingly) refuse to run into a hedge of spikes.What was the most feared medieval weapon? ›
- Swords. If there's one weapon that's truly emblematic of the middle ages, it's the sword. ...
- Pikes. Cheaper and easier to mass-produce than swords, pikes were long wooden shafts with sharp, metal tips, popularly used by infantrymen. ...
- Lances. ...
- Maces. ...
- Battle axes. ...
- Daggers. ...
- Crossbows. ...
Nuclear weapons are the elephant in the room when the deadliest weapons in history are being discussed. The proliferation of nuclear weapons has provided humankind with the ability to inflict upon itself the sort of extinction-level event that was previously achievable only by straying into the path of an asteroid.
What is a sword expert called? ›
swordsmen. A swordsman is a person who is very good at swordplay or fencing. If you are looking to find a swordsman, you should look among Shakespeare's characters.What is a sword breaker weapon? ›
sword-breaker (plural sword-breakers) A short sword or dagger, with a deeply notched or toothed blade, designed to catch or grapple an opponent's weapon. quotations ▼ (rare) A notch or projection on a dagger (etc) designed to catch an opponent's weapon.What armor is best for longsword? ›
To take advantage of the weapon, you're going to want to equip an armor set that focuses on buffing your attacking prowess, and for this we'd recommend the Nergigante armor set. This unique armor set buffs attack power and Affinity, while also speeding up stamina recovery, meaning you're never out of the fight.Can a longsword cut through armor? ›
Can a longsword cut through armor? No, not unless you got very shoddy armour. Well you can maybe cut through chainmail with a longsword but its difficult and I wouldn't rely on it. Now you can thrust though some armour, though obviously better armour (such as plate) makes that very difficult, if not impossible.What is the best metal for a longsword? ›
The most popular three types of carbon steel used in swords are 1045, 1060 and 1095, starting with the most inexpensive to purchase and to shape (1045 carbon steel).Did medieval swords cut bones? ›
It's absolutely physically possible, it's just very unlikely. Most swords historically were not large or sharp enough to make a cut clean enough to cut a man in half. Not to mention most people can't put enough weight into swinging a sword to cut someone in half.How long was the average medieval sword? ›
In the European High Middle Ages, the typical sword (sometimes academically categorized as the knightly sword, arming sword, or in full, knightly arming sword) was a straight, double-edged weapon with a single-handed, cruciform (i.e., cross-shaped) hilt and a blade length of about 70 to 80 centimetres (28 to 31 in).How long would a medieval sword last? ›
Assuming thorough, regular maintenance, a sword can last almost indefinitely - the oldest one I've held that has seen use was about 250 years old and might still be usable, given a good cleaning.Who made the best swords in ancient times? ›
Masamune was a Japanese swordsmith that is widely regarded as one of the world's greatest metallurgists. The exact dates for Masamune's life are unknown, but it is believed that he worked from 1288–1328. Masamune's weapons have reached legendary status over the centuries. He created swords known as tachi and daggers.What is the sharpest sword in existence? ›
The Damascus sword is the sharpest sword in the world. It is said that it can cut through a falling hair & cut through a rock without dulling.
How heavy was the average medieval sword? ›
The majority of genuine medieval and Renaissance swords tell a different story. Whereas a single-handed sword on average weighed 2–4 lbs., even the large two-handed “swords of war” of the fourteenth to the sixteenth century rarely weighed in excess of 10 lbs.What was the heaviest sword used in combat? ›
The largest sword (also called Claymore) used by man in times of war, was a disproportionate sword and that to be tamed, a large force was needed. The handling of this sword, required no special technique. It is known that the largest sword used came to measure up to 2.24 meters and weigh up to 10 kilos.Why were Viking swords so strong? ›
Early Viking swords were made of pure iron, and were known to bend in battle. Later Viking swords, either locally produced or bought, were made by pattern welding, a sophisticated technique in which numerous thin strips of metal are interwoven together at high heat to create a stronger blade.Did Vikings ever use Damascus steel? ›
Early Viking swords were forged from layers of iron interwoven with strands of steel to produce a very tough sword. Although iron was a tougher material than bronze it would frequently bend. Damascus, or pattern welded steel, was used to make the blade strong enough to withstand the rigors of combat.How far can you throw a longsword? ›
An improvised thrown weapon has a normal range of 20 feet and a long range of 60 feet. So any weapon can be thrown, however they will deal significantly less damage. This can be done without any special training.How long are Claymores? ›
Traditionally, the average claymore would amount to about 140 cm (55 in) in overall length, with a 33 cm (13 in) grip and a 107 cm (42 in) blade. Due to its immense size, the Claymore broad sword is estimated to have weighed approximately 5.5 lb (2.5 kg).Can you wield two longswords? ›
If you combine this feat with the Two-Weapon Fighting Style, your character will be able to dual wield longswords and attack with each, both with full ability score damage bonus. If you have a way to pick up a feat at level 1 — such as the Variant Human race — you can do this starting at level 1.How long was a Celtic sword? ›
They were about 50–60 cm in length, with a rarer "long" type in excess of 70 cm, in exceptional cases as long as 130 cm.How did Vikings sharpen their swords? ›
VIKINGS SWORDS SHARPENED BY ROCKS FROM THE TRONDHEIM AREA | Norges Geologiske Undersøkelse.How long is an Italian longsword? ›
Overall Length: 47" Additional Features: Leather / Wood Scabbard with Steel Fittings.
Can swords beat guns? ›
Pulling the trigger is quicker and easier than swinging a sword! And thus, a quick bullet is more humane than being gutted by a sword! Guns are still the weapon of choice for nearly all military and law enforcement agencies around the world.Who would win a fight a ninja or a samurai? ›
In rugged terrain, or in the mountain area, the ninja group may win. The ninja has better survival skills as a small group. If it is a large-group fight, the samurai can easily win. The ninja and the samurai usually collaborated.What kind of sword do ninjas use? ›
The ninjatō is typically depicted as being a short sword, often portrayed as having a straight blade (similar to that of a shikomizue) with a square guard. Usually of a length "less than 60 cm", the rest of the sword is comparatively "thick, heavy and straight".What is the oldest known weapon? ›
Stone-tipped hunting spears appear in the fossil record beginning about 500,000 years ago. However, these were thrusting spears, not thrown javelins. Until now, the oldest conclusive evidence dated such projectiles at 80,000 years old.How brutal was medieval combat? ›
Warfare during the medieval period was incredibly ferocious. When they weren't being slaughtered by arrows raining down from the sky, soldiers were hacked or pounded to death by swords, axes and hammers.What weapon is the king of weapons? ›
The spear is also called the King of Weapons because of its versatility and power. The spear is long and has a sharp point. One small poke can kill. Even an unskilled person who only knows how to thrust straight ahead is dangerous with a spear because it is hard to get around the length of the spear.Was Excalibur a longsword? ›
Most cinematic depictions place Arthur in the high middle ages with him wearing full articulated plate and Excalibur as a late-period longsword (often Oakeshotte type XIIa and XIIIa blades — long, thin, sharply tapered cut and thrust swords that could be used with one or two hand).What sword is better than a katana? ›
The katana has a curved blade with a single edge, while the longsword has a straight blade with a double edge. The curved blade of the katana allows for faster and more agile cuts, while the straight blade of the longsword is better for thrusting and parrying.What was the rival sword to Excalibur? ›
In Arthurian legend, Caliburnus is the Latin name for King Arthur's legendary sword. In the Lords of Avalon series, Caliburn is one of a pair of swords with Excalibur. Caliburn is the bad counterpart to Excalibur.Is a Zweihander a longsword? ›
Early Zweihänders were simply larger versions of longswords. Later examples had Parierhaken ("parrying hooks") at the top of the ricasso as well as side rings on the hilt. Swords continued to be made without one or both features. Some Zweihänders had wavy blades and were called Flammenschwert.
What sword is the opposite of Excalibur? ›
Caliburn is the bad counterpart to Excalibur. The one who wields it cannot be killed, nor can he bleed so long as he holds the scabbard that sheaths it. The two swords had been created together in order to bring balance so that no one Merlin would be the more powerful.Would a longsword beat a katana? ›
Each one is unique with its own defining characteristics. The longsword is a longer, heavier sword with more stopping power, while the katana is a shorter, lighter sword with a stronger cutting edge.Can a katana beat a longsword? ›
The Katana is a single-edged weapon, while the Longsword is double-edged. The Katana has a bit of advantage in speed, but the double-edge of the Longsword allows the user to use a larger variety of techniques to continually threaten an opponent.Which sword is unbreakable? ›
The Master Sword is unique in that it's the only unbreakable weapon in the game.What swords can cut through anything? ›
The Blast Sword (Slayers) is so sharp that not only can it cut absolutely anything, it can cannot be properly sheathed without using another sword as its scabbard.What is the most versatile sword in history? ›
Winner- The Miao Dao, China
The longer hilt meant that it could be swung with two hands, though it was light enough for a soldier to attack with one, making it one of the most versatile swords ever devised. And in addition to being used in the heat of battle, it was also used to execute captured enemy soldiers.
The medieval Knight would trample over the Japanese samurai in a battle due to their battle tactics but one on one the samurai would win with training and codes of respect. The samurai is one of the most disciplined warriors to this day and had specifically known for their rough training and code of conduct.Can a katana beat a rapier? ›
Obviously, a katana can't match the rapier thrust for thrust. What a rapier does best is fight point-on with linear stabs, and no heavier, wider blade will possibly out maneuver it. Playing to the rapier's strength by using a katana horizontally is a losing game.