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Jan Svejkovsky

Location: San Diego
Joined: 04 Oct 2007

Posts: 25

PostPosted: Sun 18 May, 2008 7:20 pm    Post subject: How tall was a medieval knight? - Question about grip size         Reply with quote

I recently acquired my first genuine medieval (single hand) sword. In contemplating its conservation (and playing with it carefully) I realized how short the tang is for my hand. I am 6'2" and would need a grip at least 4" (10cm) to have a good hold on the sword. I imagine anyone even 6" shorter than me would need a similarly wide grip. My sword's grip (tang is all that survived) is a mere 7.5cm (a bit under 3").

I checked the proportions of other hilts of similar swords in Oakeshott's books and other photos and many have similar or in some cases even smaller grips. These are definitely not "boy's swords". My sword is dated around 1250. I know generally people were shorter (hence with smaller hands) in the past than in the present, although the Celts and Vikings have a reputation of being larger (I read one study of a Celt skeleton being 6'4"). But does anyone know how large your average 13th century knight really was?

I also noticed that many of these "short hilt" swords tend to have a relatively large (circular) pommel. Could there be some advantage in a short grip when holding such a sword? For reference I am enclosing a full scale pic of my sword...

 Attachment: 7.98 KB

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Matt Lewis

Location: England
Joined: 01 May 2007

Posts: 62

PostPosted: Mon 19 May, 2008 5:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Oh ! that is lovely !! I'm very envious , where on earth did you pick that up from ?

My own recent studies on similar pieces seem to indicate quite a short grip.

As for the actual size of medieval nights , As far as I can tell the average height may only have been a little shorter than now
there is one suit of armour in leeds that is about 6ft 7 and another in the tower that is even taller !! (made for an Italian if memory serves) henry the VIII's armour in Leeds is made for a wearer around 6ft - 6ft 2 ish.

There is quite a bit of variance in the heights as far as I can tell, thing is I know short people with huge hands and tall people with fine hands Im not sure if we should be talking about grip lengths in proportion to height ?!

Digging deep in the bowels of my memory I seem to remember the average height in the 9th 10th century seems to have been around 5ft 8 vikings avaraged at about 5ft 10 to 6ft, however viking swords tend towards short grips ?.

you could argue the 'diet' card which would have certainly effected the peasant classes but we are talking about a warrior elite or nobility ,and they invariably would have had a much better diet (I rekkon they ate better than alot of people do now)

hence it would appear that the nobility tended towards being taller and more long lived than the 'lower' classes .

I think it is entirely possible there is a good practical reason for the shorter grips ?


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D. Nogueira

Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Joined: 26 Aug 2006

Posts: 42

PostPosted: Mon 19 May, 2008 6:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Would it be too off-topic to ask you a couple of more detailed pictures of that lovely sword? Weight? Measures?
Anyway, congratulations, really.

Sorry about the original question, but I have no idea at all why some swords (Especially early medieval ones) have grips that "seem" too short. But I don't think there is always a strictly direct correlation between human height, hand's width and a particular sword grip's length during a given time period.

I have far more knowledge of contemporary weapons (firearms) than ancient ones. My experience there tells me that I don't think is totally wise to try to determine average soldier's height just by considering how their standard weapons "feel" to one.
This statement may not be applicable to ancient weaponry... but I still think it is worth considering.
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Bruno Giordan

Joined: 28 Sep 2005

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PostPosted: Mon 19 May, 2008 7:13 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It obviously depended on many factors: kind of ancestry, dietary factors etc.

The armor preserved at the Grazie Sanctuary in Mantua, armors that had belonged to the powerful Gonzaga princes in the XV century, show that they were in the 160 - 170 cm of height range.

Many single breastplates from the XVI century that are preserved at the Marzoli collection in Brescia would only fit a modern twelve year old boy, while others belonging to other armour would fit a robust modern man: .

Most of the armor preserved there is clearly on the tiny size: the greater part of the earlier helmets appear to be in the modern 35 - 55 european head size range, no more.

There were cases of big knights, the lords of Churburg (who were austrians, not italians) were tall, one of them was in the two meters range.

Earlier carvings from the twelfth and thirteen century do show very stocky and muscular figures, though.

Possibly a study on the dietary habits of various stages of the medieval and renaissance age, a study on the welfare of the various european populations, could shed some light on the topic.
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Steven H

Location: Boston
Joined: 10 May 2006

Posts: 545

PostPosted: Mon 19 May, 2008 12:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Search for Viking grip size and you will find a lengthy conversation on grip size and the handling of a sword. The short version is that swords with a short grip can be held in a 'handshake' grip quite well even by large handed people. Therefore short grips may have nothing to do with person size.


Kunstbruder - Boston area Historical Combat Study
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Elling Polden

Location: Bergen, Norway
Joined: 19 Feb 2004
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PostPosted: Mon 19 May, 2008 1:03 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Upper class 13th century norwegians where about 173cm on average. This is about the same as the rest of northwestern europe at the time.
A bit taller than the italians, but no real surprise there.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Dan Bexell

Joined: 16 Feb 2008

Posts: 7

PostPosted: Mon 19 May, 2008 3:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I read somewhere that the aristocracy in Europe bred for size among other things. Don't know if it's true, but if it is, then the average nobleman may have been taller than the average commoner. Wish I could remember where I read that.
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James R.Fox

Location: Youngstowm,Ohio
Joined: 29 Feb 2008

Posts: 253

PostPosted: Tue 20 May, 2008 8:00 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sirs-Mr Oakshot states in several books that the pommel was part of the grip- that is, the sword was held in the handshake position.That makes sense when you think of it, it lets you switch from stabbing to slashing faster.
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