Spotlight: Oakeshott Type XIX Swords
An article by Alexi Goranov
One of the most famous swords from Alexandria resides in the The Royal Armouries, Leeds. This sword is a representative of Type XIX swords according to Oakeshott's Typology. The defining characteristics of Type XIX swords are the parallel edges of the blade, hexagonal blade cross-section, and short ricasso. The average blade length of surviving examples is 30-33" but could reach as much as 36" or be as little as 26". Here is how Ewart Oakeshott describes Type XIX in his book, The Sword in the Age of Chivalry:
Broad flat blade, edges running nearly parallel to a sudden sharp point, with narrow well-moulded fuller in the upper third. The section is a flat hexagoni.e. the blade is flat, with edges clearly chamfered, as in Type XVIa. There is a well-made ricasso, almost 2.5-3" long.The Type XIX was originally thought to have been used after the beginning of 16th century. However, the dates on two Type XIX swords form the Arsenal of Alexandria showed that they were deposited in 1432 and 1368 meaning that the swords had been made prior to these dates. From the many surviving examples it seems that this type was in use from the second half of 14th century until well into 16th century and later.
Most of the swords used by Oakeshott to illustrate his Type XIX are of the single-handed variety, but plenty of hand-and-a-half swords that could be attributed to this type survive. Oakeshott's own view of these swords changes through time. In his book The Sword in the Age of Chivalry (1964), he states that Type XIX consists of only single-handed swords. By the time of the publication of Records of the Medieval Sword (1991), his view changed to include hand-and-a-half swords. Indeed, the short ricasso, hexagonal blade cross-section, well-defined single fuller, and parallel edges can be found on great many swords ranging from slim cut and thrust swords, to hefty single-handers, slim bastard swords, great two-handers, and even rapiers. Based on Oakeshott's own definition, these could all be classified as Type XIX.
One of the characteristic, but not defining or always present, features of the Type XIX sword is the presence of two narrow but deep grooves outlining the shape of the ricasso and the fuller. The strong resemblance between some of the surviving examples of the type begs the question of whether they were all made in the same place. It is likely that many Type XIX swords were made in Italy. Most of the swords deposited in the Arsenal of Alexandria were in fact Milanese. The Type XIX sword in the The Royal Armouries, Leeds bears a stylized "M" as a maker's mark. A nearly identical mark can be found on two Milanese swords in the Military museum in Istanbul and in a private collection respectively. Some hand-and-a-half Type XIX swords are from German provenance. The Type XIX swords were not confined to a small area of use. There are examples from Spain, Germany, and Italy, as well as England.
Presented here is a sampling of authentic Type XIX swords:
This single-handed sword with its 34" long blade was deposited in the Alexandria Armouries in 1432. It is possibly Milanese.
Likely of Italian manufacture dated to 1380-1400, this example is a very elegant and well-preserved sword from the Arsenal of Alexandria. The blade length measures 36".
A sword in good condition from the Arsenal of Alexandria dated to before 1368, this is the earliest known example of the type. It has a 32" blade.
This well-preserved example has a relatively complex hilt development. It is dated to 1460-80. The blade is 32" long.
A short sword of characteristically Italian form, this one dates from the early 16th century. Its overall length is 33.625" long and it has a blade length measuring 26".
This example is a hand-and-a-half sword of German manufacture with a Passau wolf mark on its blade. It dates to the first half of the 16th century. The overall length is 40.75" and it weighs 4.2 pounds.
This German hand-and-a-half sword is dated to the second half of 16th century and is 41" long with a weight of 3.5 pounds.
This Italian specimen is dated circa 1480. It measures 39" overall and has a 32.5" long blade with a maker's mark by master Pippo.
Type XIX Swords Found in Art
At this point, we do not know of any clearly identifiable Type XIX swords in contemporary art, literature, or architecture.
A Sampling of Available Reproductions
Of the many manufacturers of medieval-styled swords, only a few offer Type XIX swords. This is not likely due to the shortage of authentic swords to replicate or study but more likely due to the general lack of popularity of this type amongst today's collectors.
Albion Armorers has introduced three single-hand Type XIX and three hand-and-a-half Type XIX swords in their Next Generation lineup: The Condottierre, Kern, Doge, Hauptmann, Markgraf, and Gallowglass. Each of these is awaiting production at the time this article was written.
Del Tin Armi Antiche has based their DT2151 sword on XIX.1 above. The DT5153 is likely a Type XIX, resembling XIX.8 with a simplfied ricasso. Like all Del Tin swords, both models are designed with re-enactment in mind and are made with blunt edges.
The ArmArt Model S34 is also based on XIX.1 above. Perhaps one of the closest reproductions when compared to the original, this version is still about 20% heavier than its historic inspiration.
Angus Trim Swords creates the MS1401 Cresset. It is inspired by Type XIX swords recovered from the Arsenal in Alexandria, even though the hexagonal cross-section of these swords is not maintained in this reproduction.
The abundance of swords that can be classified as Type XIX strongly suggests that these were popular and versatile weapons. The hexagonal cross-section and parallel edges allow for rigidity during a thrust but provide enough mass in the blade for devastating cuts. The beveled geometry of the edges should have rendered them capable of opposing armour while resisting damage. The adaptability and utility of these swords is underlined by their use across more than two centuries, transitioning into the "next generation" of edged weapons: the rapier.
About the Author
Alexi is a doctoral student in the biological sciences at MIT. He has had an outstanding interest in medieval military history and weaponry for many years, but only started collecting in late 2003. His main interests lie towards European weapons and warfare practices of the 13th and 14th centuries.
Sword in the Age of Chivalry, The, by R. Ewart Oakeshott
Records of the Medieval Sword, by R. Ewart Oakeshott
European Weapons and Armour: From the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution, by R. Ewart Oakeshott
Wallace Collection Catalogue of European Arms and Armour, by J. G. Mann
European Swords and Daggers in the Tower of London, by Arthur Richard Dufty
A Distinctive Group of Swords from the Arsenal of Alexandria, The twentieth London Park Arms Fair Catalogue, Thomas
I want to thank Peter Johnsson for providing helpful information and taking time out of his busy schedule to provide his comments
Sword Illustrations © 2002 Peter Johnsson
The list of available reproductions contained in this article is not meant to be all-encompassing. It is, however, a good representation of what was available at the time of this article being published.