Forms of European Edged Weaponry

Arming Sword | Backsword | Bastard Sword | Baselard | Ballock Knife | Broadsword | Claymore | Cinquedea | Dagger | Dirk | Estoc | Falchion | Flamberge | Gladius | Hand-and-a-half | Hanger | Holbein Dagger | Katzbalger | Main Gauche | Mortuary Sword | Pallasch | Pappenheimer | Poniard | Parrying Dagger | Rapier | Rondel | Saber | Sax | Scramasax | Schiavona | Sinclair Saber | Smallsword | Spatha | Stiletto (Stylet) | Swiss-Dagger | Tuck | Two-handed Sword | Walloon Sword

Arming Sword
A general term for swords carried by the mounted knight or soldier attached to his sword belt. (top)

A general term for heavy military swords that have a straight single-edged blade and a well-developed closed guard—usually a basket hilt or a shell guard. The blade, sometimes grooved and ridged on both faces, had a more or less thick back to give to give the blade the necessary rigidity. A short section of the back near the point often had a sharpened edge to carry out cutting strikes without changing the position of the sword. The point itself was sometimes rather ogivally contoured since the backsword was essentially a cutting weapon; however, some military models had blades gradually narrowing into a sharp point designed for thrusts. The backsword was widely used in European heavy cavalry from the 17th century, and a most popular variety was the pallasch. (top)

Ballock Knife (or Kidney Dagger)
This is the medieval term describing a dagger that has a grip bearing considerable resemblance to a phallic symbol. From the 19th century it has been also called "kidney dagger." At the base of the grip there are two roundish, symmetrical globes, with the grip itself emerging upward between them and flaring slightly toward the top, sometimes surmounted by a cap. The narrow, strong blade was usually single-edged and often spurred or reinforced at the tip. It is depicted iconography from the early 14th century onward as a weapon used by knights and soldiers but later also by citizens and country folk. (top)

Baselard (or Basilard)
A dagger or short sword used in the 13th to 15th centuries having an I-shaped hilt formed by the guard, grip, and the crosspieces of the pommel. Their form varied greatly. In Italy the guard and the pommel were usually straight and of the same length, whereas in other European countries the upper crosspiece was usually markedly upward-curving and the guard straight. Another popular shape had both crosspieces curving slightly toward each other. The blade was almost always double-edged, pointed, and reinforced by central ribbing. (top)

Bastard Sword
A term used in the 15th and 16th centuries for a large sword with a broad double-edged blade and a long grip, which, when necessary, could accommodate both hands to wield it. It was also known as a "hand-and-a-half sword" inasmuch as its size, 45-55", places it halfway between the usual sword and the two handed sword. This type appeared from the second half of the 13th century and was particularly favored in Germany and Switzerland, where it was produced up to the mid-17th century.

The hilts of German bastard swords before the middle of the 16th century were basically cruciform, with long straight or curved quillons, ring guards, and one or two arms of the hilt. In some later types a more developed guard included two knuckle bows connected by a loop, all looking not unlike a basket hilt.

From the early 16th century, the hilts of the Swiss bastard swords were provided with knuckle guards as well as with recurved quillons and ring guards. It was also the time when saw a new lasting form of the Swiss bastard sword, which had a slightly curved blade and an asymmetrical pommel often shaped like a bird or animal head. (top)

A general term applied from the 17th century to heavy military swords with a large double-edged blade, designed mainly for cutting, and either a basket hilt or a well-developed shell guard. Particularly favored by European heavy cavalry up to the early 19th century, the broadswords can be divided into many groups and types classified mainly by various hilt forms. Late schiavonas, Scottish basket-hilted broadswords, Walloon swords, and some types of eastern European pallasches and western European cavalry swords are among the broadswords. (top)

A term found in 16th- and 17th-century Italian writings. It referred to a particular type of large dagger or short sword, suggesting Venetian origin. Writers of the day described it as a dagger with blade "five fingers" wide. Since the 19th century the term has been applied to an Italian dagger in use in the 15th and early 16th centuries.

The dagger had a long, triangular blade of specified width at the base; its tip was often ogive-shaped. The guard, which had two short quillons that curved forward, was pointed at the center. The handle was often plated on the flats with ivory and decorated with rosettes on each side. The wider parts of the blade were decorated with etching, engravings and gilding, bearing mottoes or quotations from the Gospels. The sheath was made of dark hardened leather (cuir-bouilli) and was finely decorated with embossed designs. Based on the number of flutings on the blade, these weapons can be divided into two groups; those with four-three-two arrangements and the latter type with only two fullers, one on each side of the blade.

The cinquedea was a typically Italian weapons. It was developed in an area centered in Emilia and Veneto in the 15th century, a period of creative fervor (which coincided with the development of the Swiss dagger north of the Alps) in which efforts were made to redesign weapons as well as armor. The cinquedea survived only until the early part of the 16th century. (top)

A term derived from the Gaelic claidheamohmor, meaning "great sword." It was first used to describe the large cross-hilted broadsword used in the Scottish Highlands and by Scottish mercenaries in Ireland from the late 15th to early 17 century. In its classic form, the claymore consisted of a straight, broad, double-edged blade, long, diamond-section quillons angling toward the blade and terminating in quatrefoils, a quillon block extending to form a long spur on each side, and a tubular section leather covered grip with wheel-shaped pommel. The blade was generally shorter than blades of Continental two-handed swords of the same period.

The claymore almost certainly developed from a late medieval cross-hilted sword that can be seen on some effigies and tomb slabs in the West Highlands and the Isles. The sword exhibited two of the characteristics found on the claymore, namely, the long, downward-angled quillons and the central part of the quillon block extending in a long spur. The dating of claymores is complex and imprecise, although there is a claymore of classic form depicted on a grave slab from Oronsay dated 1539. In the latter part of the 16th century, although retaining the characteristic form of quillon and blade, claymores sometimes had large spherical pommels.

A sword related to the claymore is known as the "lowland" form because of the fact that several examples came from southern Scotland. Lowland swords had angular, round-section qillions, the terminals arranged as turned knobs set at right angles; some have open rings affixed to the center of the quillons on each side. They retrained the feature of the quillon block extending to a spur on each side but unlike the claymore's, the spur was small and pointed. The pommels of these swords were large and spherical, the long tubular-section grips being of wood covered with leather. One form of the Lowland sword had quillons in the form of an arched cross, and in the center a solid oval plate bent down as an extra guard for the hands. Although Lowland swords have been dated to the second half of the 16th century and those with arched quillons and plates have been dated to the early 17th, little evidence is at present available that would lead to more precise dating.

Most of the blades of both the Highland and the Lowland claymores appear to be of German origin, whereas Scottish craftsmen made the hilts.

Several Scottish literary references indicate that the term "claymore" was applied by Gaelic speakers in the Highlands to both the old-fashioned, two-handed sword and the characteristic Scottish basket-hilted sword of the early 18th century. (top)

A general term, used at least from the period of Middle English (c. 1050-1450), for edged weapons with a short, pointed blade and a handle. Similar names, all deriving from postclassical Latin dagua, were used in some other European languages. (top)

A Scottish dagger-knife, carried by the Highlander. When required, it was used as a weapon, but its main use was as a knife, which was carried permanently at the side, ready for a wide range of duties. It was in fact a version of the ballock knife and was documented as such from the third quarter of the 17th century. It echoed the appearance of the ballock knife in the particular form of the grip, which, though made from various materials (leather, ivy root, ivory), retained a consistent and typical shape and was often decorated with intricate designs typical of the Celtic culture. The round, flat pommel and the guard were usually covered with brass or, more rarely on the earlier models, silver; there are also examples having the grip made entirely of brass. From the end of the 18th century, following the revival of the Highlander's traditional costume, the dirk was often richly mounted in silver (and sometimes even gold) with semiprecious quarts (cairngorm). The dirk blade was often made from a larger fragment of a sword blade; it was usually single-edged with a back edge near the point, grooved, and with a decorative notch at the base of the back. There are, however, examples with double-edged blades. The dirk had a distinctive scabbard made of hide or leather with two small holders on the front, one below the other, for containing a small knife and fork; these were furnished in the same way as the dirk itself. As well as being a civilian weapon, a military version, faithful to the original form of the dirk, was produced when Scottish men were incorporated in the regular army of the UK. (top)

See Tuck.

A sword with a heavy single-edged blade, whose back was either straight or slightly concave, while the edge had a pronounced convex curve. The blade also broadened considerably toward the point where the back formed a long cut-off sharpened section (back edge). It was in use in northern Europe from at least as early as the 13th century and throughout the 14th and 15th centuries. Its origins cannot be accurately pinpointed, even though there is much backing for the theory that it derived from the sax. Of northern Europe, with which it had many features in common, particularly the broadening of the blade toward the point. It is also thought that the later development of the falchion may have been the result of Eastern influences. However, its hilt always reflected forms of other European swords in use at that time. (top)

A French word (meaning "flamboyant") which originally was a nickname given by the legendary knight Renaut de Montauban (8th century) to his sword. Later it came to denote knightly swords in general, but in the 17th and 18th centuries the name was sometimes applied to special dueling swords. In modern times "flamberge" has been erroneously applied to swords having wavy blades, which were actually called flambards or flammards, these terms being recorded since the 13th century. (top)

A general term that refers to the short double-edged pointed Roman sword with an almost nonexistent guard, which was carried by the infantry. As it evolved it followed both metallurgical progress and changing combat techniques. In the 4th and 3rd centuries B.C. the Roman sword was pointed and designed principally for thrusting; from the 2nd century B.C. it changed into a weapon that had two edged and a strong point, which was made to carry out both cuts and thrusts. As such it consisted, from the classical period onward, of a large sphere-shaped or bilenticular pommel mounted on an "anatomical" grip formed by a cylindrical piece with four depressions for the fingers; a guard that was rectangular and not very salient; and a blade about 20-22" in length. The length would increase in later centuries, until it reached 30-35" in the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D.

The gladius was carried on the right hand side in a sheath slung from a baldric. Both methods of attaching the sheath to the bladric are documented: that of Gallic-Teutonic original (which involved a loop on the back of the sheath) and that of Eastern origin (with two rings on the sides of the sheath). (top)

Hand-and-a-Half Sword
See Bastard Sword.

A short hunting sword with a straight or slightly curved single-edged and pointed blade, often with a back edge. In the 17th century and first half of the 18th its hilt usually had quillons, a knuckle guard, a shell guard turned towards the blade, and a pommel, occasionally shaped like a bird's head. Hilts of later examples often have only short recurved quillons and a massive one-piece grip flaring towards a cap (instead of a pommel).

The term "hanger" is also to a short infantry soldier's regulation sidearm used in the 18th to mid-19th century (in Germany and Russia this military hanger was called respectively, Dusack and tessak.) (top)

A type of sword used in the late 15th and 16th centuries, particularly by the landsknechts of Switzerland and Germany. In its classic form, the Katzbalger was comprised of a broad, double-edged, straight blade with almost horizontal S-shaped quillons and a faceted grip widening at the pommel. The central part of the quillons extended to form a short socket into which the grip-usually wooden-was fitted. The pommel cap also extended down the grip, leaving exposed only a short section of the grip. With many examples, the quillons are decoratively roped at intervals and terminated with decorative finials.

Two theories have been advanced to explain the name. First, that the type of sword was carried by the landsknechts without a scabbard, but instead, was covered with the skin of a cat (Katzenfell) so that it could be drawn swiftly. The much more reasonable theory is that the name comes from the German slang verb Katzbalger, meaning to fight at close quarters, to tussle. (top)

Main Gauche
A modern French term (meaning "Left hand") somewhat misleadingly applied to the parrying dagger. Only a right-handed swordsman held the dagger in the left hand, whereas a left-hander parried with the dagger in his right hand. (top)

Mortuary Sword
A cavalry or dragoon officer's sword of the 17th century English Civil War period deriving its name from the style of sword which memorialized King Charles I, who was executed in 1649. (top)

A term derived from the Turkish Pala (meaning "straight") and used in Germany and other eastern European countries to denote a backsword with a straight, heavy blade, usually single-edged, and a closed (ie, with a knuckle guard) or, more rarely, an open hilt. It was designed mainly for cutting, although thrusts with the pont were also possible; occasionally the blade was double-edged and was grooved and ridged on both faces. As a weapon of the heavy cavalry, it was used at least from the beginning of the 17th century, and its typological derivations are still used today.

Sailors, special corps, and irregular troops also adopted it in smaller forms. It found considerable favor among hunters. The hunting version of the pallasch was in fact one of many types of hunting hanger. Its handle was made in a wide variety of materials, usually carefully decorated and surmounted by a cap with a button. Unlike the military prototype with a closed hilt, the guard of the hunting weapon had only two short quillons, whose finals were occasionally shaped like an animal's foot or head; a shell of the guard, when it was present, usually pointed toward the blade. The blade was sharply pointed and sometimes had a fuller running almost the entire length; it was decorated with ornamental patterns and gilding. Along the other types of hunting hangers, such weapons were still used in the 19th century. (top)

A sword whose modern name derives from that of Gottfried Heinrich, Count of Pappenheim (1594-1632), colonel of cuirassier regiment and later the general in command of the imperial cavalry. During the Thirty Years War (1618-48) he adopted and encouraged the use of a sword that was in style among the officers of the day, and which was subsequently named after him.

The Pappenheimer had quite a large cut-and-thrust blade and a closed hilt comprising a pair of symmetrical shell guards enclosed in rings and pierced with holes, wide recurved quillons, and a knuckle guard with side bars. Some types of hilts had a pair of ring guards below the shells for additional protection. The heavy pommel was most often urn-shaped and also topped off by a button. (top)

Poniard (or Poignard, Poyniard, Puniard)
A term derived from the French poignard and introduced in England in the late 16th century, denoting a light dagger that had a strong blade, usually squarish in section, and a reinforced point, beadlike in shape. Some blades were deeply grooved and ridged, such a structure adding to the rigidity of the blade. Most poniards were only thrusting weapons—unlike the dagger of the time, which had larger, double-edged blades for making cutting strikes as well. When provided with a sizable cross guard and, particularly, a strong side ring for protection of the hand, the poniard served as a light parrying weapon used in conjunction with the rapier in personal combat. (top)

Parrying Dagger
A dagger used along with a sword in personal combats in accordance with the rules of Spanish and Italian schools of fencing. It had a robust blade and was often made to match the sword in construction and in decorative features. The parrying dagger, which appeared toward the end of the 15th century, as fitted with special defensive devices. Long straight or curved quillons extended from the hilt in the plane of the blade or slightly bent in front of it. A strong side ring protruded from the hilt perpendicular to the blade to protect the fingers. There were many varieties of blades. Spring blades could be split into three when a button was pressed by a thumb. Other blades had the form of a comb designed to catch and possibly even break the tip of the opponent's sword. (top)

A term borrowed in the 16th century from the French (rapiere), where it was recorded in 1474 in the phrase epee rapiere, which itself derived from the contemporary Spanish espada ropera, "dress sword," carried daily by gentlemen. If compared with the arming sword, the rapier was a much lighter weapon with a straight double-edged and pointed blade, which, with the development of the art of fencing in the 16th and 17th centuries, finally became narrower and lighter, and thus suitable for thrusts only. The word itself was subject to various definitions with time and place. It soon became obsolete in Spain, where the general term espada prevailed to cover almost all sword forms, and it never was used in Italy. In English and French, it has retained its classical connotation of a light thrusting sword used in the 16th and 17th centuries. The German Rapier had the same meaning in that period, but from a later time up to the present has denoted a fencing foil or fleuret. In this latter meaning the word rapira was also, and still is, used in Russia.

When the blade and the hilt of rapiers underwent great changes in size and form in the late 17th century, the English language reacted to this development by introducing a new term, smallsword.

The new technique of swordplay, introduced in the mid-16th century, with the emphasis now on the point of the blade as the main instrument of attack, brought about the changing structure of the sword's guard. In order to point the blade more effectively, some swordsmen preferred to place one or two fingers in front of the quillons, and these fingers had to be protected by arms of the hilt and side guards. And since ordinary gloves were usually worn during an encounter, an increase in all these elements of the guard became a necessity to cover the hand of the target nearest the opponent. Finally, in Spanish dueling rapiers a cup guard was development by the mid-17th century, which afforded complete hand protection.

The rapier of the latter half of the 16th century usually had a hilt with straight or recurved quillons, side guards, arms of the hilt, and knuckle bows; additional rings and bars in ever increasing numbers were used in various types of hilts to improve the protection. But the sharp point of the opponent's blade often found a way through this sophisticated defense network, and the only foolproof way of stopping it was the use of a metal plate. In the early decades of the 17th century the shell guard started to increase in size until this protection reached the form of the cup guard.

In the closing stages of the 17th century the rapier fell out of favor throughout central and northern Europe, where it was being replaced by the smallsword. In Spain and Italy, it retained its glory for several decades to come; during this period rapiers were made there with elaborate decorative work. Although Milan, Naples, and Palermo were Spanish dominions, the decoration style was typically Italian. (top)

These daggers had the grip enclosed at either end by two identical, horizontal discs, fixed at right angles to the grip. In vogue as early as the 14th century, they remained in use until the early 16th century. The grip, a variant of the sword hilt, had a flat pommel set horizontally; this characteristic had already been used in bronze weapons. The earliest grips were cylindrical in shape; later, they became gradually broader in the uppermost section where they met the upper disc, while the lower disc serving as a guard was reduced in size. The blade was originally single-edged and later also had a reinforced tip: from the functional point of view this type of dagger would be more accurately described as a "mail breaker."

A later type, which was fairly common in Germany and appeared in various versions, had a triangular-sections, almost isosceles-shaped blade. This dagger, which was used throughout Europe, did not show any structural variations from place to place; the decorations and the type of blade help in situating it both historically and geographically. (top)

A weapon with a long, curved single-edged blade designed for use mainly on horseback. All European languages with few phonetic variants adopted the term, which seems to be Slavic-Hungarian origin. Among the single-edged blades of the Middle Ages, the saber represented a pattern of Eastern derivation, and modern research has suggested that this weapon developed initially in regions of Central Asia. From the 9th century the saber was already used by the Slavs, who probably had adopted it from their opponents, the tribes of nomadic horsemen from the Steppes. During the same period, in northern Europe the sax was developing into a peculiar weapon, the curved sword later known as the falchion.

Another European from of the saber was the Schweizersabel, a variant of a bastard sword developed and used mainly in Switzerland in the 16th and 17th centuries. It had a long curved blade with a back edge and a hilt of various forms, with long recurved quillons, a ring guard, and a fairly developed knuckle guard with a main bow and several side bars. Contemporary German sabers were similarly provided with long quillons and a knuckle guard, but as additional protection they used a large shell guard covering the grip and, from the late 16th century, various forms of the basket hilt. Some of these weapons were nicknamed Sinclair sabers in the 19th century because of a resemblance of their hilts to those of typical Scottish broadswords (G. Sinclair was a colonel in a Scottish mercenary force destroyed in Norway in 1612).

The popularity of the saber in central and eastern Europe, particularly from the 16th century, was enhanced by the fact that German fencing schools were developing special training methods for this weapon using a practice saber, the Dusack, which later evolved into the infantry soldier's hanger.

The great Turkish invasion in the 16th century made the saber of Turkish form, the kilij, very popular, though the period of its greatest distribution came toward the end of the 17th century. Its influence remained undisturbed up to the end of the 18th century, that is, until Napoleon's troops, on their return from the Egyptian campaign, spread the word about the Persian version, the shamshir or scimitar, which had a considerably more curved blade with an elongated point.

Little by little the saber became the main edged weapon of European light cavalry and virtually a symbol of the Hussars; by the mid-19th century it was issued to almost all mounted troops.

The term "saber" is now also applied to a fencing cut-and-thrust weapon with a large closed hilt, although its blade is not curved, being rather a very light version of the pallasch blade. (top)

Sax (or Seax)
A large war knife with a blade having a straight back, a single cutting edge, and a point of varying shape. In many cases the grip was set slightly to the rear, toward the back of the blade. Its size varied a great deal, ranging from that of a dagger (about 12-16") to that of a sword (33-40"). This large knife-which is regions north of the Alps was used as a domestic implement, a weapon of war (a scramasax), and, according to some experts, as a throwing weapon-derived from a very similar weapon made of bronze and widely used in the Hallstatt period (900-500 B.C.) to the beginning of the Christian era) in an iron version. It was one of the national weapons of the Saxons, who at the time of the migrations (4th-6th centuries) carried it in a sheath on their left side and, at least up until the early Middle Ages, alongside the sword. Examples have been unearthed in the warrior tombs of various Germanic people, which clearly shows its wise distribution.

With the advent of cavalry, the large sax disappeared from the warrior's armament and was relegated to the task of a domestic implement; the smallest type became a knife, which, together with the sword and the spear, was part of the horseman's weaponry in the field. In an intermediate version it survived throughout the Middle Ages as a hunting knife. (top)

Scramasax (or Scramaseax)
A term used for the first time by Gregory of Tours (6th century), and later in various Visigoth legislative documents which lists weapons and includes the scramasax among the weapons issued to warriors. The etymology of the word (scrama, causing injury, and sax, [war] knife) suggests that it was a particularly offensive type of sax. But the precise meaning of the term is unclear. (top)

Italian term (meaning "Slavonic") for a sword with a distinctive basket hilt, peculiar to the Slavonian corps whose task was to act as bodyguards to the Doge, until the end of the Venetian Republic in 1797. Back in the 15th century Slavic mercenaries from the Balkans had fought for Venice, and their loyalty was unswerving throughout the centuries.

In its earliest form the schiavona had a pommel made almost invariably of bronze or brass, in the shape of a cat's head with a central boss on each side. The grip was usually made of wood, wound around with cord or twine in broad loops and usually covered with leather, often gilded. In some cases the loops were of wire and overlaid the leather binding. The guard, arms of the hilt, and straight rear quillon all extended from the quillon block. A series of side bars, going from the knuckle guard to the rear quillon, and the arms of the hilt on both sides of the hilt offered good protection to the hand. As time passed, the bars of the guard increased in number until they formed a "basket."

Schiavona blades had various places of origin; Italy, Germany, Spain. The blade was usually double-edged and pointed, often with one or more fullers. The use of the ribbed saber blade was rare and usually of a later date. The swords which have survived do not usually date back beyond the 16th century, but even this dating has not been unanimously agreed upon, especially with regard to certain obviously older examples. We know that the swords called schiavone were in use as early as the late 15th century from a chronicle which refers to incidents which occurred during the 1493 carnival in Rome. (top)

Sinclair Saber (or Sinclair Sword)
A name given by the 19th-century collectors to a group of weapons whose hilts, provided with long recurved quillons and either a ring guard or a knuckle bow with a shell guard, bear some resemblance to Scottish swords.

It was erroneously believed that these weapons had belonged to a Scottish mercenary band commanded by Colonel G. Sinclair that perished in Norway in 1612.

Swords of this type often had thier complex, or "compound", hilts mounted to a variety of blade types; long, curved saber blades; large, broad blades with several fullers; back-blades; or even acutely pointed blades of flattened diamond cross-section. (top)

A civilian sword with a light, slender, moderately long blade, variously sections, and a simple small guard with one or two shells and the arms of the hilt; many but not all types had a knuckle bow. The smallsword developed in the first half of the 17th century from the arming sword and short rapier.

By the late 17th century, the typology of the various forms of the hilt had ecome international, and the place of production can often be identified only on the basis of decoration. Thus, in Italian smallswords manufactured in Brescia the hilt and entire furniture consisted of delicately pierced and chiseled scrollwork; those made in Saxony had steel or gilded-bronze furniture and grips often made of ornate Meissen porcelain; brightly cored Baroque and Rococo decoration was generally typical of German work. The blades mounted on these smallswords were very varied indeed; although the commonest form was flattened, hexagonal-sectional, rhomboid- or triangular-sectioned blades were also widespread, the latter with shallow grooves and pronounced edges. The manufacture of blades had by now become centralized in several centers which supplied the entire market. The initials and other signature marks often referred to the assembler or fitter rather than the actual maker.

In the later decades of the 18th century a new fashion for decoration of the hilt spread throughout Europe from England. The entire hilt was covered with patterns of small studs made of faceted cut steel, looking very much like diamonds. The knuckle guard was often replaced by one or more small chains, with tassels, similarly decorated with cut-steel beads (a chain instead of a knuckle guard had already been used earlier in sabers showing an Eastern influence).

The custom of wearing the smallsword (also known as the "town" or "walking" sword) as part of the everyday civilian attire started to fade towards the end of the 18th century, but in military circles, from the latter half of the 18th century onward, the dress sword, a military counterpart of the smallsword, served to round off the uniform and keep alive the decorative forms traditionally applied to swords. In the 19th century a type of hilt was adopted which lasted until the early 20th century. It consisted of a grip with rounded corners, covered with mother-of-pearl, and surmounted by a small curved cap; this was met by the knuckle guard, which ran from the quillon and the shell guard. The shell was broad and rounded, and turned toward the blade; it bore the insignia of the corps to which the bearer belonged, or a princely coat of arms. (top)

After 150 A.D., the gladius began to be replaced by the spatha, a cavalry sword that had been introduced by the Celts in the late first century. The rise of the spatha as an infantry weapon reflects a dawning realization that the longer sword has an advantage while fighting, plus a new emphasis on the role of cavalry in warfare. After the fall of Rome, the spatha evolved into the cruciform sword of the Middle Ages. (top)

Stiletto (or Stylet)
A short dagger with triangular- or square-sectioned blade that was strong, slender, and sharply pointed. The name seems to stem from the word "stylus," a small pointed instrument used since ancient times for writing and drawing on wax tablets. Because this easily concealed weapon was designed exclusively for delivering thrusts, it was often prohibited in peacetime in towns and cities. Nevertheless, it was a very widespread weapon in the period when mail and leather were used in civil life to protect the body, because it could easily pierce these defenses with a swift stabbing blow. (top)

Swiss-Dagger (or Holbein Dagger)
There existed in Switzerland as early as the 13th century a type of sword and dagger hilt with a pommel and guard that opened out into a crescent shape, thus enclosing the hand around the wooden grip. This type of guard does not seem to have been imitated in other countries.

A famous artist whose designs can often be seen on ornate Swiss-dagger sheaths was Hans Holbein. This relationship has caused Swiss-daggers to often be called "Holbein Daggers."

The Swiss-dagger served as a model for some regulation daggers in Germany under the Nazis (worn with uniform by members of S.S., S.A., and N.S.K.K. formations). (top)

From the French estoc, "thrust") A long thrusting sword usually with a fairly long grip and a simple cross-shaped hilt. The strong, rigid blade, designed for thrusting at armored opponents, was triangular, rhomboid, square or flat hexagonal in section. In some blades, toward the center, there was a smooth, edgeless portion that enabled the user to grip the weapon with his other hand and deliver a more powerful blow.

The tuck, carried hanging from the saddle, was in use as early as the beginning of the 14th century as an auxiliary side arm for the cavalry. Occasionally the horseman used it when he had dismounted. It continued to be used throughout the 17th century, particularly in eastern Europe (in Poland and Russia the tuck was called konchar, akin to kinzhal, "dagger"). The tucks were especially suitable for blows aimed between the plates of armor and at opponents protected by mail (hence the German term for the tuck, Panzerstecher, "mail-piercing [sword]").

Toward the end of the 16th century the simple cruciform hilt of earlier German tucks was replaced by a stout grip with a mushroom-shaped pommel and a fairly developed guard consisting of quillons, straight or curved, and a ring guard; occasionally a knuckle guard and a counterguard ring were used to protect the hand, no longer covered by a gauntlet. (top)

Two-handed Sword
(German, Zweihander) A large sword, up to 6 feet in length, used by foot soldiers from the mid-15th to late 16th century. The name is derived from the fact that this weapon required both hands to wield it. Its prototypes appeared in the 13th century and were probably of Teutonic origin. The long, usually double-edged blade, with a sharp or rounded point, was mounted with a hilt that had straight or slightly curved quillons. The grip was quite long, designed to accommodate both hands. The heavy pommel was triangular, faceted, or pear-shaped, and invariably larger toward the top, designed to balance the weapon.

The version of the two-handed sword in use in Germany and Switzerland in the first half of the 16th century often had a ribbed blade, a double ring guard with slightly curved or straight quillons, and a pommel that was almost triangular in shape. At a later date the blade became broader, with fullers along the forte, and the pommel was usually faceted. An important feature of these blades was a long ricasso covered with leather, which protected the dress when the sword was carried on the shoulder and proved a more convenient grasp when the soldier had to move the hand forward for more powerful blows. To protect the hand on the ricasso, two strong parrying lugs were often forged on the blade just in front of the ricasso.

At a later period the two-handed sword became largely a ceremonial or processional weapon. Its blade was often made with impressive wavy edges, and the grip was decorated with trimmings and fringes. (top)

Walloon Sword
A broad-bladed sword in use from the middle of the 17th century, mainly in central and northern Europe. Its name derives from Wallonia, a part of modern Belgium. The guard, made principally of iron, had two oval rings perpendicular to the blade, which enclosed two flat or slightly convex shells with punched holes and stars. The two rings joined near the knuckle guard, which was fixed to the pommel with a screw; the short rear quillon ended in a curled finial or a lobe, and on the inside shell there was a small thumb ring. Variations of the Walloon hilt, developed by the end of the century, had one or two side bars joined to the knuckle guard as an additional protection. A simplified form had only the outer shell guard. (top)

Based on content by Simon and Schuster and reproduced with permission


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