The Paper Armoury: Our Top Shelf
An article by Chad Arnow, Sean A. Flynt, Bill Grandy, Patrick Kelly, and Nathan Robinson
Compiled and edited by Sean A. Flynt

Building a fine, thoughtfully-focused arms and armour library should be as important to the student of these artifacts as building a collection of modern replicas.

Why? Because books and articles:
  • Provide the most convenient and inexpensive means to compare original arms and armour to modern reproductions.
  • Explain the construction and use of arms and armour.
  • Provide the full historical context for the development of arms and armour.
  • Reveal a world of arms and armour dramatically broader in scope and more diverse than that available through reproductions or even through museums or private collections.
As valuable as the printed word is, $50 may seem like an extravagant price for a book, and many of the "essential" titles are in that price range. Rare, antique, limited edition or out-of-print titles command prices that rival those of mid-range replica swords. On the other hand, many excellent arms and armour books are under $50. Even significant, specialized titles can sometimes be found used or remaindered for under $20. As in building any collection, patience, inquiry and research are key virtues in collecting books.

There are many thousands of arms and armour titles from which to choose, and although there are some excellent general surveys among them, no single book can fully cover even a narrow aspect of our hobby. With that caveat in mind, we present the personal book recommendations of several contributing authors. All of the books described below are among the best references for a given subject, and all of them inspire and entertain as well as educate.

Many of these books are decades-old classics, and have been reprinted by two or more publishers. In such cases, we have listed the most recent publisher and publication date to aid you in the search for your own copy.

Jump directly to: Pre-Medieval | Medieval | Post-Medieval | General 


Greece and Rome at War
Peter Connolly
Greenhill Books, 1998

The 320 pages of this book present a wealth of information on warfare in the classical world. The book is profusely illustrated throughout with color plates and illustrations. The equipment, tactics, and methodology of warfare in both the Greek and Roman periods are clearly described. While not as detailed or specific in given areas as some other books on the subject, this one is still an excellent, broad reference on the military minutiae of the ancient world. Patrick Kelly

Warriors of Rome: An Illustrated Military History of the Roman Legions
Michael Simkins, illustrated by James Field
Blandford Press, 1988

This book deals primarily with the Roman army from the second century BC to the fourth century AD Its 160 pages are full of information on not only roman military equipment but also fortifications, camps, tactics, and everyday life of the Roman soldier. Included are line illustrations of original equipment, as well as many photos of replica weapons and equipment: many of them created by the author. This book is an excellent resource not only for those interested in the Roman army, but also for those wishing simply to broaden their knowledge of military history. Patrick Kelly

Caesar's Legions: The Roman Soldier, 753 BC to 117 AD
Nicholas Sekunda, Simon Northwood, and Michael Simkins
Ospery Publishing, 2000

This book deals specifically with the military equipment of the Roman soldier: from the founding of Rome to the later days of the Roman Empire. Within its 143 pages are many line illustrations of roman equipment as well as color plates of soldiers in action from well-known illustrators such as Angus McBride, Ron Embleton, and Richard Hook. As with most Ospery books, this one relies heavily on photos and illustrations, with the text often seeming to be a secondary consideration. However, the text provides a good broad overview of Roman tactics and deployment. In the end, this book is a compilation of several previously published Ospery books and is a worthwhile addition to a library focusing on ancient arms. Patrick Kelly

The Roman Legions Recreated in Colour Photographs
Daniel Peterson
The Crowood Press, 1992

This book is designed as a photographic resource for the roman re-enactor. Its 96 pages are full of large color photographs of Roman living history enthusiasts and their kit. Included are photographs of the Roman soldier from the fifth century BC through the fifth century AD. The text is minimal, consisting primarily of captions that support the photographs. Nevertheless, this book is a valuable resource for anyone interested in the Roman era. Many of the photographs are detailed close-ups of individual pieces of equipment, many of which are not commonly seen outside of living history circles. While this book should not be considered a stand-alone resource on Roman equipment, it will serve as an outstanding supplement to a larger library. Patrick Kelly

Swords of the Viking Age
Ian Peirce, with an introduction by Ewart Oakeshott
Boydell Press, 2004

This is undoubtedly one of the most important books written in the field of arms study. At 152 pages, this book provides an outstanding resource for any student of the Viking Age sword. Laid out primarily as a photographic reference, it contains a plethora of high quality photographs of Viking swords, many of which have not previously been photographed. The sword typologies of R.E.M. Wheeler and Jan Petersen are laid out in detail. The typology developed by Alfred Geibig is also covered, perhaps for the first time in the English language. Geibig's work is of particular interest, as it details the development in the blade design of Viking swords, something that isn't dealt with in the previous typologies. A must-have. Patrick Kelly


Arms and Armor of the Medieval Knight: An Illustrated History of Weaponry in the Middle Ages
David Edge and John Miles Paddock
Diane Publishing Co., 2000

This book covers the history and armament of medieval knights from the eleventh to the seventeenth centuries. It is full of photographs, paintings, and drawings and is organized into chapters by century. The information is laid out in a fairly scholarly fashion without being esoteric or difficult to read. Appendices feature armour construction information and close-up pictures. A handy glossary follows. Chad Arnow

The Sword in the Age of Chivalry
Ewart Oakeshott
Boydell Press, 1998

This book is not the first of Oakeshott's books to show his typologies for sword blades, guards, and pommels, but it goes into the greatest detail. It is illustrated throughout with Oakeshott's line drawings. Included in the middle of the book are photographic plates showing a great variety of swords. Chad Arnow

Sword in Hand
Ewart Oakeshott
Arms & Armor, 2000

This is a compilation of articles originally featured in Gun Report Magazine. It's written from a narrative perspective that only a man with a life-long passion for the subject of European arms could muster. The author's unique ability to cite obscure references and note commonalities between archeological finds, literary references, and pieces of art make for a fascinating study of the subject matter. In many ways, this book portrays what it may have been like to sit down and have a lengthy conversation with Ewart Oakeshott more than it serves solely as a reference aide. The book's greatest strength is its ability to trace the sword through the ages while strategically stopping at just the right moments to tie its evolution into that of armour, battle, and world history. It is certainly worth adding to one's library, if for no other reason than to get better acquainted with the author. Nathan Robinson

Records of the Medieval Sword
Ewart Oakeshott
Boydell Press, 2004

Other of Oakeshott's books contains more text, and therefore more substance, than this one, but it's unrivaled among his books for its photographs. The typologies for blades, pommels, and guards are laid out briefly though the obvious focus is on the swords themselves. It contains many black and white photos of surviving medieval and early renaissance swords, plus line drawings of some whose current whereabouts are unknown. It also includes some articles as appendices which are worth reading. I see this book as a companion to The Sword in the Age of Chivalry, further illustrating the information presented there. Chad Arnow

Blood Red Roses: The Archaeology of a Mass Grave from the Battle of Towton AD 1461
Veronica Fiorato, et al.
Oxbow Books Ltd., 2000

This is the most expensive recent addition to my library, but I already value it above many others. Essentially, it's a collection of well-illustrated articles providing excellent overviews of English arms and armour circa 1461. But its greatest appeal is the matching of all that information with ghastly forensic data from the bodies of men slaughtered at Towton. When collecting edged weapons it's easy to focus on the objects and forget their purpose. This book reminds me that "the object of my affection can change my complexion from white to rosy red," as the old song goes. I'm glad I bought it while it's still in print and only $50. Sean Flynt

Secrets of German Medieval Swordsmanship
Christian Tobler
Chivalry Bookshelf, 2002

While there are several books that discuss the martial arts of medieval Europe, there are few that faithfully cover one true system as well as this one. Christian Tobler provides his translation of the once-secret verses of the 14th century Master Johannes Liechtanauer, considered the father of the German martial art Kunst des Fechtens—the Art of Combat. In addition, Tobler offers a translation of 15th century Master Sigmund Ringeck's explanation of Liechtanauer's commentaries, as well as Tobler's own interpretations. The book is laid out in a very clear and easy to understand format, with plenty of photographs to help the reader understand what is going on. For an experienced longsword fencer, the book will allow you to see one interpretation and compare/contrast this with your own. For a beginner, it is invaluable. Bill Grandy

The Swordsman's Companion
Guy Windsor
Chivalry Bookshelf, 2004

There are many excellent translations of historical European fighting texts, but there are very few training guides dedicated to the modern beginner who does not have access to an instructor. With the novice in mind, Guy Windsor has put together a comprehensive book that explains the principles of Italian longsword usage. He goes into detail on biomechanics, blade handling, footwork, distance, timing, balance and control, which are many of the things beginners might overlook without personal instruction. The book also includes several drills for training both solo and with a partner. In addition to being an excellent starting place for the neophyte swordsman, it also is a wonderful reference book for those who practice swordsmanship but are not familiar with the medieval Italian system. Bill Grandy

The Medieval Soldier: 15th Century Campaign Life Recreated
Gerry Embleton and John Howe
Windrow & Green, Ltd., 1994

In this book, the author documents the life of 15th century fighting men through photographs of the re-enactment group called The Company of Saynte George. These photos and the accompanying text describe campaign life, warfare, weapons, armour, and costume. The author admits to some concessions of authenticity and so this is not to be taken as the final word on the matter, but still serves as one of the best sources of information specific to those interested in "living history". The 270 color photographs prove to be one of the single most comprehensive collections for the topic. Nathan Robinson


English Martial Arts
Terry Brown
Anglo-Saxon Books, 2002

Terry Brown has put together a highly enjoyable and easily readable book describing the fighting spirit of the English. In it he discusses the history of several traditional English weapons such as the bill, quarterstaff, and broadsword. He also shows some of the techniques that make these weapons work. The biggest draw to this book is the many anecdotes of English fighting men that relate to each of the weapons Brown describes. This gives the reader a great sense of the historical martial context and the fighting spirit of England. Bill Grandy

European Weapons & Armour: From the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution
Ewart Oakeshott
Boydell Press, 2000

This book provides an excellent overview of a vast subject without bypassing important details. In fact, I find this the most detailed and generally helpful of Oakeshott's books. I especially value the chapters on Helmets of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, The Military Sword of the Seventeenth Century, and Swords of the Sixteenth Century (supplemented by a separate chapter on The Curved and Single-edged Swords of the Sixteenth Century!). Oakeshott also devotes entire chapters to more esoteric topics such as The Mace, War-Hammer and Horseman's Axe, The Developing Power of the Handgun, Staff Weapons and The Smallsword. The development of armour is particularly well explained here. An essential reference. Sean Flynt

Heroic Armor of the Italian Renaissance: Filippo Negroli and His Contemporaries
Stuart W. Pyhrr
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999

At its surface, this fascinating title is a beautiful collection of quality photographs showcasing the work of sixteenth century armourer Filippo Negroli and the artisans that worked with him. Each and every item is thoughtfully discussed and documented, with a detailed discussion of both artistic influences and techniques. Digging deeper, this title's real value comes from discussion of the actual business of renaissance arms manufacture, including details of family life, business partnerships, employee matters, and commerce. This relatively inexpensive and widely available title is highly recommended. Nathan Robinson

The Rapier and Small-Sword, 1460-1820
A.V.B. Norman
Arno Press, 1980

Norman's book is a must-have for any serious student of the sword. Its 464 pages clearly outline a typology and evolutionary system for the rapier and smallsword. The design of both hilts and pommels are discussed in great detail, with many black and white photographs and line drawings supplementing the text. The evolutionary development of the rapier hilt is clearly defined and cleanly laid out. Items such as daggers, sword belts, and sword knots are given study in their own chapters. Norman's work on the subject may be equaled but would be almost impossible to surpass. Patrick Kelly

Resplendence of the Spanish Monarchy: Renaissance Tapestries and Armor
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1991

Divided roughly equally between both tapestries and armour of the Spanish monarchy, this book is a photographically rich record of both. Every piece is discussed in detail and is put in proper historical context. The book comprises 172 pages and contains large, high-quality color photographs taken specifically for this publication. Many are close-up shots exhibiting often overlooked details. Of particular interest is the armour of Charles V, attributed to Kolman Helmschmid, circa 1525, and generally known as the "KD" garniture. Nathan Robinson

Arms and Armour in Colonial America, 1526-1783
Harold Peterson
Dover Publications, 2000

The reprint edition of this classic (1954) title shows its age in places, but provides an excellent introduction to Anglo-European arms and armour in North America from the 16th century through the War of Independence. The line drawings of arms and armour in action still hold up after three decades, but the black and white photographic reproductions are only mediocre, at best. Fortunately, the text remains highly readable and the reprint edition includes a fascinating introduction/update by archaeologist Beverly Straube. The sheer amount and variety of information here keeps me coming back. Sean Flynt

Culloden: The Swords and the Sorrows
The National Trust for Scotland Trading Company Ltd., 1996

This is the catalog of a Scottish exhibit called The Swords and the Sorrows, a commemoration of "battle-related objects" from the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. The preface and forward contain background information on the conflict. Following that are pictures and descriptions of the exhibition, including swords, dirks, knives, firearms, targes, and other accoutrements of the time. The color photographs are fantastic and show a wide variety of weapons. Chad Arnow

Swords and Blades of the American Revolution
George C. Neumann
Scurlock Publishing Co., 1995

My only complaint against this wonderful book is that the title is somewhat misleading. It would more accurately be called "Everything Sharp: 1600-1800" because it covers everything from 17th century hangers up to and including late 18th century homespun patch knives. There's even a detailed, side-by-side comparison of 18th century hanger scabbards! The well-illustrated, engaging introductions give way to page after page of edged weapons, classed by type, with dozens of examples of each type and multiple views of each weapon. British, German, French and American hangers, bayonets, basket hilts, sabers, axes, pikes, knives...they're all here. Brief accompanying text for each example provides basic cultural, military and statistical information. This book is to my colonial interests what Records of the Medieval Sword is to my medieval interests, although Neumann's book offers a much greater variety of arms and many more examples of each type. Sean Flynt


The Archaeology of Weapons
Ewart Oakeshott
Dover Publications, 1996

First published in 1960, this was Oakeshott's first serious literary work on the sword. The book covers a wide period of history from the Bronze Age through the age of chivalry. Its 359 pages provide an excellent cross-section of information on the sword. The book contains 32 pages of black and white photographs that illustrate important pieces in the field of arms study. It also outlines Oakeshott's typology of the medieval sword for the first time. While not as topic-specific as some of Oakeshott's later books, The Archaeology of Weapons is still one of the best and broadest European sword references in print. Patrick Kelly

Armi Bianche Italiane
Lionello G. Boccia, Eduardo T. Coelho
Bramante Editrice, 1975

This is arguably the single most visually stunning title covering late medieval and renaissance Italian arms available. Its 462 oversized pages contain over 800 quality photographs, many in color and often showing multiple angles of the same object. Swords, daggers, polearms, and occasional pieces of armour or tournament arms are all featured. Each item is documented with notes that include a brief description, provenance, and basic dimensions and weights. Many illustrations and a glossary are included. All text is Italian but is often easily translated with Web-based tools. There is an extreme amount of objects documented, including some very early pieces and other items previously unpublished. This title was a limited-run volume and is quite rare but is well worth the high asking price when it can be found. Nathan Robinson

The Art and History of Personal Combat
Arthur Wise
H. Evelyn, 1971

Long out of print, this book is still a very valuable resource for the student of the rapier. The book covers a broad range of single-combat issues, from combat in the ancient world to dog-fighting in aerial combat. However, the lion's share of the work is devoted to the development and use of the rapier. The techniques and opinions of the various well-known rapier masters are well laid out and clearly defined in their chronological order. The book's initial chapter briefly describes medieval combat and is, unfortunately, rife with many of the old misconceptions concerning that field of study (overly heavy swords, crude, brutish techniques, etc.) In spite of these issues this book can still be considered a worthwhile addition to any library. Patrick Kelly

Weapons: An International Encyclopedia from 5000 B.C. to 2000 A.D.
Diagram Group
St. Martin's Press, 1991

This common, inexpensive book covers just about every type of weapon imaginable, from most cultures and from prehistory to the present, with clear line drawings, measurement scales, contextual introductions, chronological and cultural notes and period artistic representations of the arms in action. Not flashy, but a terrific general reference. Sean Flynt

The Secret History of the Sword
J. Christoph Amberger
Unique Publications, 1999

This book is a collection of articles by J. Christoph Amberger of the Hammerterz Forum on swords and swordsmanship. The articles challenge many of the myths held by modern fencers, and also shed new light on how swordsmanship was practiced throughout the ages. Amberger's style is not only scholarly and thorough, but also tremendously entertaining and oftentimes hilarious. The book covers many time periods and western cultures, from the ancient Greeks to American G.I.s in WWII Bill Grandy

European Arms & Armor
Charles Henry Ashdown
Barnes and Noble Books, 1995

Also published as An Illustrated History of Arms & Armour, Wordsworth Editions, 1989. Originally published in 1909, some of this book's information is now out of date. Nevertheless, it covers arms and armour from the Stone Age to the seventeenth century, is well-illustrated throughout with line drawings and contains sections of photographic plates. The evolution of armour from mail to full plate, with many intermediate stages, is especially well-covered. The book's many drawings of effigial monuments help show this progression. The Wordsworth and Barnes & Noble editions are identical, except for their dimensions. The Wordsworth edition is 9" x 12" instead of 6.5" x 9.75", making all the illustrations easier to view. Chad Arnow

About the Author
Sean Flynt is a writer and editor living in Birmingham, Alabama. He is interested in Western arms and armour of all periods, but especially those of 16th through 18th century Britain and Colonial North America.

Each cover image is copyrighted by the respective publisher of the book.

All contents © Copyright 2003-2023 — All rights reserved

Open a printer-friendly version of this page

You must be logged in to access all the features of
Your name: I forgot my password
Register for an account
Password:  Log me on automatically each visit
Why register? See our Membership Plans for details.