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Sammy Jackson





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PostPosted: Fri 28 Mar, 2008 2:22 pm    Post subject: what was a sword used for?         Reply with quote

Now we know that theres probably something more to this question. a sword was only made for killing right? but my thought is in the 14th and 15th century didnt maces and hammers become the knightly standard for armoured combat?

why carry an expensive, not so useful thing to a fight like that? was it just the chivalrious symbolism?

sammy the man
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Christopher Gregg




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PostPosted: Fri 28 Mar, 2008 2:30 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well, for one thing, a sword remained a very effective weapon against lightly armored and non-armored combatants, so a knight who also used a mace could get a little better reach with his trusty side sword. Also, a sword is more versatile than a mace, IMO. It has greater reach, has more possibilities of attack from the point, edge, cross and pommel, and was probably lighter to carry.
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Brian James




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PostPosted: Fri 28 Mar, 2008 8:21 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

also remember not everyone had full plate... only wealthy nobles could afford it... so many of the "regular" soldiers wore not much armor at all... padded jack, maybe some leather armor and chainmaille for the more wealthy landowners or professional warriors/mercenaries.

I've always wondered what the ratio of armor types would be... like would only 20% have full harness and horse..? less..?
anyone have figures for that sort of thing...?

Best,

Brian
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Marc Blaydoe




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PostPosted: Sat 29 Mar, 2008 5:29 am    Post subject: Why do we use them NOW?         Reply with quote

As an officer in the US Navy, I was required to have a sword. I still have it, it is hanging on the wall next to me. The entire time I was in the Navy I don't recall ever having to stick it into anybody. While it has a point to it, it has no edge. But it is still a sword, even if it is entirely ceremonial. And we still use them for that purpose to this very day.
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Mike Capanelli




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PostPosted: Sat 29 Mar, 2008 7:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

From what I understand swords were also status symbols. A good quality sword could cost as much as a small car today as far as I understand it. Also the majority of the men who owned swords were Knights who were wealthy, well to do men at arms and the like.
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Sat 05 Apr, 2008 11:52 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Brian James wrote:
also remember not everyone had full plate... only wealthy nobles could afford it... so many of the "regular" soldiers wore not much armor at all... padded jack, maybe some leather armor and chainmaille for the more wealthy landowners or professional warriors/mercenaries.


Umm...actually, all men-at-arms by the 15th century had to have armor completely covering their body, even if this armor was not entirely composed of state-of-the art articulated plate. And, as we can see in discussions of 15th-century warfare, there are often thousands of these men-at-arms fighting in the century's largest battles. So full armor (if not necessarily full plate harnesses) wasn't all that rare.

Mind that I'm using "men-at-arms" here in its historical sense--that is, only for the elite soldiers that modern laymen would call "knights." It's certainly true as well that the wars of late medieval Europe involved large numbers of soldiers other than men-at-arms, and these common soldiers (billmen, voulgiers, halberdiers, pikemen, archers, crossbowmen, handgunners, etc.) would have had somewhat less complete protection. But still, to be a professional soldier by this time you simply had to have at least some armor, the minimum being something like a helmet and a padded jack (and usually you'll need more than that if you want to have any prospect of being hired into the prestigious royal or mercenary companies).

Christopher's point about the usefulness of swords is still valid, though. The unarmored portions of the common soldiers' bodies woud have been perfectly vulnerable to swords, and even men-at-arms had gaps in their armor that a sword could exploit. And, of course, the sword was a status symbol too. You pretty much had to possess a sword if you wanted people to believe you were a professional soldier--remember that both the availability of swords and the definition of "professional soldier" encompassed a much broader range of social classes in the 15th century than it did in, say, the 13th or 11th.
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Don Stanko




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PostPosted: Sun 06 Apr, 2008 4:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Also keep in mind that some swords in the 15th century were made primarily as thrusting weapons. The blades were more slender, with reinforced tips, to penetrate vulnerable spots in armour. I believe that armour elevated the importance of maces, hammers, and axes on the battlefield but they didn't necessarily replace the sword. Now, I don't know which weapon was actually the preferred weapon on the battlefield, but I do believe that the sword never became obsolete or just a status symbol.
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Ken Speed





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PostPosted: Sun 06 Apr, 2008 1:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I was speaking to a civil war reenactor and he told me that swords were very rarely used as weapons in the Civil War. According to him swords were carried by NCO's and Officers as tools to signal to their units what it was they were supposed to do and where they were supposed to go.

Ken
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Gary Grzybek




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PostPosted: Sun 06 Apr, 2008 1:35 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Of course swords were quite common among soldiers but often as a side arm which could be drawn when things became a bit too tight for the more popular pole arm. A good pole axe, war hammer or lance could be first choice against armored enemies. I still think the sword was a prominent tool for warfare but more or less under certain conditions.
Gary Grzybek
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Doug Lester




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PostPosted: Sun 06 Apr, 2008 2:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Remembering back to a paper that I did on the American Civil War in High School, wounds from all stabbing and cuting weapons were rather rare and I also remember that Union calvery units that were only armed with sabers were of limited effect and were usually torn to pieces by Confederate calvery, which were generally armed with pistols. The usefulness of a sword as a secondary weapon was pretty much ended by the advent of the repeating pistol. However, I knew an old guy back home when I was in Junior High who was in a calvery unit in the US army before Pearl Harbor was bombed. Up until the start of the war, when they had to hand in their horses and sabers, they had to qualify with their sabers on horse back. He told our class about having his horse stumble and fall during a drill and he was able to get his hand free of the sword knot and throw the saber before he hit the ground.
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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Sun 06 Apr, 2008 4:24 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Back to the 14th century; I'm no soldier but a number of period sources suggest that in warfare based on hand-to-hand combat (before guns etc) the majority of casualties occurred after the battle was won, during pursuit of the fleeing enemy. One can imagine the mounted knights, having broken the opposing front line with their maces and war hammers, whipping out their swords to chase and cut down the poorly armed unfortunates from the supporting lines (archers, servants, even camp followers) who were not worth capturing for ransom. My guess is that in practice, chivalry only applied to the rich.

This suggests a not-so-glamorous role for swords in late medieval warfare.

Then of course there's the non-combat uses...like touring one's own lands in peaceful times with a sword strapped to one's side for status, intimidation, and protection against brigands.
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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Mon 07 Apr, 2008 7:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

With belt and scabbard, you're talking about only an extra three or four pounds worn on the hips, depending on type of weapon and ornamentation of accoutrement. There's not much reason not to wear one.

I'll second the point about the utility of the thrusting weapon. Some blades were designed specifically to defeat plate (by thrusting), and that suggests that the sword was still considered a valuable, if secondary, weapon, worthy of continuous improvement. By contrast, look at the development of the military sword after about 1850--more than 150 years later we're still looking at the same short-ish, thick, narrow, curved, single-edged, single-hand sword with D-shaped brass guard. Development just stopped because swords are no longer valuable in combat. But I'd say that, historically, rapid introduction of sword forms suggests either actual martial value or a last-ditch attempt to maintain the practical relevance of the sword (as opposed to the symbolic relevance).

-Sean

"Everywhere I have searched for peace and nowhere found it, except in a corner with a book"- Thomas a Kempis (d. 1471)
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Adam Bodorics
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PostPosted: Wed 09 Apr, 2008 6:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

While this is not history-based, I hope it'll help a bit. We often take part in larps and mass-fighting games. Even as armour is much cheaper now, only a few guys have armour with them (thus they sometimes have a broken hand or arm or leg or ribs or...), and even less have armour on them all day. And even those few don't always have plate protection. Now, while a full plate armour is hard to defeat, even a removed greave gives space to swords, even to those which are more cut-oriented. Closed helmets are not the best to use on foot, as it limits vision, thus most fight in open-face helmets- another opening for sword use - and so on.
...
The other thing, which is historical, but not 15th century, is the typical landsknecht and reislaufer. While they are professionals, they wear very little armour compared to the possibilities, and even when they do, they most usually have exposed areas vulnerable by swords. Hey, if it would have been no use, why would have they liked the dopplehander so much? Big Grin
...
Even with these, in a battle I'd prefer a poleaxe over a sword, but I'd love to have a poleaxe AND a longsword with me. Happy
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Matthias F.





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PostPosted: Wed 09 Apr, 2008 10:02 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The greatest advantage of a sword is flexibilty. It may be true that a mace or polearm is the better weapon to fight in a battle. But the times back then were not as civilized and save like today, and fighting was quite common, even outside of war zones. Raids, bandits, negotiations turning violent etc. could happen all the time, and you don't wear armor all the time. Therefore you need an all-purpose weapon which allows to parry and attack against all possible types of enemies and weapons: the sword.
(Which has the additional benefit of being easy to wear and being socialy accepted).

And again: you can fight full-plate with a sword too. Maybe not by brute force. But that's why the fencing emphasised more and more on precission and accuracy, starting in the 15th century.
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Daniel Staberg




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PostPosted: Wed 09 Apr, 2008 1:50 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Adam Bodorics wrote:

...
The other thing, which is historical, but not 15th century, is the typical landsknecht and reislaufer. While they are professionals, they wear very little armour compared to the possibilities, and even when they do, they most usually have exposed areas vulnerable by swords. Hey, if it would have been no use, why would have they liked the dopplehander so much? Big Grin

Actually the written records as well as a number of eyewitness descriptions the many of the Landsknechts were heavily armoured in combat but on the march the armour was carried on wagons or pack animals. There has been a tendency to underestimate the use of armour among landsknechts based overinterpreations of period artwork.
Paul Donstein who was a landsknecht himself consistently show his comrades in armour during battles:
http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t...=dolnstein and the written parts of his diary make it clear that in 1502 all 1800 Landknechts serving the king of Denmark wore sallets, back-and-breast-platse and armharness.
Even as late as 1562 59% of the Landsknechts in French service are recorded as wearing full infantry harness.


The Swissseem to have made greater use of unarmored soldiers still had the outer ranks in armour. But the smaller contingets serving with the French often wore extensive armour at least in the late 15th and early 16th Century,


And both Landsknechts and Reislaufers alike saw most of their action in the period were the pike had become the primary infantry weapon. As long as the pikes keep their formation no swords man is going to get close.


Nor did they use the zweihänder in large numbers, this is another 19th Century invention. Actual record show that it's use for the most part limited to offices, NCO's and bodyguards.
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Wed 09 Apr, 2008 7:36 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Swords of conuenient length, forme and fubftance, haue been in all ages efteemed by all warlike Nations, of al other forts of weapons the laft weapon of refuge both for horfemen, and footmen, by reafon that when al their other weapons in fight haue failed them, either by breaking, loffe, or otherwife, they then haue prefentlie betaken themfelues to their fhort arming Swords and Daggers, as to the laft weapons, of great effect & execution for all Martiall actions...

- Sir John Smythe
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Adam Bodorics
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PostPosted: Thu 10 Apr, 2008 1:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ok, I agree with that they wore more armour than I remembered, but even these pictures show uncovered areas - not much, but enough to use a sword for cutting/slicing instead of only halfswording. Happy
...
With them liking the dopplehander much, I didn't mean that they used it widely, I meant that if it would be of no use, they wouldn't have paid more for the wielders. I do know that the "almost every landsknecht has a dopplehander" is stupid, but sometimes I can't really express myself in english, sorry for that.
Of course, if I'm wrong again in something, correct me, as I love to learn more. Big Grin
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James R.Fox




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PostPosted: Fri 11 Apr, 2008 6:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gentle Sirs-I always felt that the short sword, or heavy dagger was basically a emergency self-defence weapon due to lack of police forces even in quite large, well organized towns. Outside of town of course you took your chances, which is why the riding sword, like the Oakshott type XIV, or the cinquedia, were popular for so many centuries., along with a heavy textile defense. Heavy longswords and pole arms and mace and axes were strictly military weapons.
Ja68ms
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Doug Lester




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PostPosted: Tue 15 Apr, 2008 7:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

...

. As long as the pikes keep their formation no swords man is going to get close.

The pike formation was indeed formidable, or it wouldn't have been used as long as it was but swordsmen could and did break up the formations by closing inside of the reach of the pike. According to Oakeshott, the Spanish did so at Barletta and Rivenna. The Romans before them learned to get inside the pikes of the macidonian phalanx. Once the swordsmen were inside the reach of the pike head, the pikemen were at a serious disadvantage and the squares broken up. The formations failed because the swordsmen were able to get in close and force the pike formation to collapse, not because the pikemen broke the discipline of holding the square and allowed the swordsmen to close with them. I'm not saying that it was easy but the pike formation did have a vulnerability that could be exploited by a determined formation of men armed with sword and shield.
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Fri 18 Apr, 2008 12:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hmm...didn't most of those things happen because the pike formations got broken up by rough terrain? At least that's the most popular explanation I know of for battles like Cerignola, Barletta, or (to take one of the Romans v. Macedonians examples) Pydna. Ravenna and Cynoscephalae, on the other hand, seem to have been decided by flanking attacks, in the former case by the French horse falling upon the flank of Imperial foot and the latter by a number of Roman cohorts that went around the rear of the Macedonian phalanx.

(BTW, were there really still substantial numbers of rodeleros in the Imperial force at the time of Ravenna?)
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