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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Wed 11 Feb, 2009 3:00 pm    Post subject: Evolution of the early medieval cavalry sword         Reply with quote

I was flipping through Records last night and it struck me - how did we get from the very early medieval long-swords typified by certain type XIs to the later XIIIa types - it almost seems from the standard presentation and typology scheme that there is a century of missing development.

Most people seem to intuit that long, thin, long-fullered type XIs (of which there are several very similar archtypical historical examples) developed along side the increased use of cavalry, showing up sporadically toward the end of the Viking age and perhaps peaking in use with the early 12th century. They clearly have greater reach than type Xs, although with their long blades and short handles they don't balance out very well for anything like fencing. If you've every played with a type XI replica, it just seems to say 'cavalry sword'. They even strongly resemble certain known cavalry swords of post-medieval times in general shape and dimension. But they do not seem heavy enough to oppose major armor.

http://www.myArmoury.com/feature_spotxi.html

Then in the late 13th century / 14th century we have the predominance of the XIIIa 'war sword'. A sword type often with a similar length blade to the type XIs mentioned above, but wider and heavier, with a purposefully shorter fuller presumably to gather weight at the end for cutting power - all balanced by a longer handle. (Which of course also allows for 2 hand use, but in my mind probably relates more to balancing out a heavy sword for one-hand use in a cavalry situation). Here, presumably, is a cavalry sword intended to face stronger armor.

http://www.myArmoury.com/feature_spotxiii.html

So what went on in between, particularly during the late 12th, early 13th century?

One might logically look to type XII (http://www.myArmoury.com/feature_spotxii.html) for clues, since it falls in the middle of this part of Oakeshott's typology. In some respects (tip and fuller development) there does seem to be a transition. However, the classic XIIa long sword seems to be contemporary with the type XIIIa. I don't see any evidence that one evolved from the other. And the regular XIIs are a mixed bag - some are clearly long enough to be cavalry swords, but these do not seem to form a particular cluster and its hard to say that they form a direct line between XI and XIIIa. It seems to me that these are parallel developments, playing around with different forms, and that there is some missing (or ignored) link between XI and XIIIa

A different way to look at it is this - which came first, the elongated handle that makes the XIIa/XIIIa, or the heavier wider blade of the XIIIa? Was the handle lengthened first, leading to the possibility of a heftier blade, or did a new blade type require a different handle?

One clue might be the 'hard to classify' XIIIa From the Glasgow Museum and Art Gallery (XIIIa.5 in the spotlight link above). This has a long handle and profile like the XIIIa, but a blade like an XI. And what do you know, this is thought to be an early example, perhaps as early as 1100. Could this be representative of those missing links? If so, then this would suggest that handles were elongated first, and that then people noticed that this allowed the use of a heavier blade.

It might also suggest that this whole conundrum is just the byproduct of artificially forcing a continuum of individual swords into a specific number of categories.

This is as far as I was able to get in my rush-job amateur research. One might also look at dated historical artworks for clues -that might be the most reliable way- but I do not know enough about this topic to speak on it. From what I gather, its pretty hard to identify specific sword types in things like the Bayeux tapestry. If anyone has any further insights, thoughts, 'we already knew thats - here are the links', or 'we know that's wrongs', they are welcome. I just like thinking about this stuff.

-JD
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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Sat 11 Apr, 2009 4:10 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I might be the only one geeky enough to care about this subject, but...

I was in Glasgow a couple of weeks ago, and happened to be staying close to the Kelvingrove Museum, where resides Oakeshott's XIIIa.11, the sword mentioned above. (See attached picture). What struck me about this big sword was its typical XIIIa dimensions, down to the non-linear distal taper I have seen on other such warswords. Nevertheless, it has the typical spike-hilt and long narrow fuller of the earlier forms. It's hard to see from my picture, but the fuller actually starts out a bit wider near the guard but then dwindles quickly and narrows further as it goes along almost to the tip of the sword.

Perhaps an even better example of a 'transitional' warsword is #7 on page 223 of Records (also dated to 1200+, but I would say earlier). With its long, light, narrow-fullered blade, thin wide guard, and big Brazil nut pommel it would likely be categorized as a type XI - except it has the longer handle of an XIIa/XIIIa. Perhaps this should have been XIa (Oakeshott mentions this idea once), to fit better with the rest of Oakeshott's system.

These examples tend to convince me more that in this transitional era, first handles were elongated, and then swordsmen and sword-makers alike noticed that with the improved balance and opportunity for two-hand use they could put more weight on the blade to oppose the improvements in armor that were occurring at the time.

Just speculation of course.



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Kelvingrove Sword (XIIIa.11 from Oakeshott's Records). [ Download ]
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Luka Borscak




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PostPosted: Sat 11 Apr, 2009 7:01 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Don't forget the XIIIa with octagonal pommel that served as an inspiration for A&A 12th century sword. Also XI-ish blade. That one is my favorite. Happy
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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Sat 11 Apr, 2009 12:59 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Luka, that's the sword in my picture. Happy Sorry the octagonal pommel doesn't show up very well in the photo. It's an impressive sword to see in real life; more imposing than I expected. -JD
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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Sat 11 Apr, 2009 1:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

PS - on the A&A version of XIIIa.11, like other replica's I've seen on the market, the fuller remains too wide and does not extend down the blade far enough. The closest I've seen to a fuller like this on a replica is on those MRL Kingdom of Heaven swords, which I used to think were not very historical.
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Luka Borscak




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PostPosted: Sat 11 Apr, 2009 2:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

J.D. Crawford wrote:
Luka, that's the sword in my picture. Happy Sorry the octagonal pommel doesn't show up very well in the photo. It's an impressive sword to see in real life; more imposing than I expected. -JD


Big Grin I didn't realize it's that one. Happy Do you think it is maybe longer that A&A version? I was considering about ordering one custom made and I don't know if I should stick with A&A stats or is the original significantly different. I might even order the hilt parts like this to fit on my DT2142 blade and use its fittings for something else.
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Sat 11 Apr, 2009 3:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well, I don't think we can apply the Darwinian model to everything and think that everything evolved directly from something else and directly into something else. Happy

For one thing, longer handles may predate some Type XI's altogether. See the various threads on long-gripped Viking era swords, including this one.

In some countries/regions some Oakeshott types will predominate and others may be relatively or entirely unknown. I don't see the Oakeshott blade typology as intending to be a linear evolution of the sword. In some cases it works that way, but not always. For example, I think it goes out of order where Type XIII is involved. I see Type XIII more related to X and XI and not as any kind of step between XII and XIV. From an evolutionary standpoint, XII seems to flow more directly into XIV and then XVI if you choose to view it that way. Some speculative thoughts on how to reorganize the blade typology can be found here.

At the end of that day, I don't have an answer to your question except to say that it may not be correct to assume that one Oakeshott type always evolved into another (especially from one Roman numeral to the next). We may also have to look to regional variations, changes in armour, tactics, fashion and other things to see why a particular type may have come into and then dropped out of favor. Throw into that that some Oakeshott types seem to be variations on a theme while others are clear evolutionary steps forward and it muddies the waters further.

My personal opinion is that types X, XI, and XIII are, in some ways (not all), variations on the same theme, trying to answer the same question: how do we get more cutting power? Types XII, XIV, and XVI take the fullered design so popular previously and add this question: how do we get more thrusting ability?

I don't know that I believe this theory, but one might say the "evolution" of X, XI, XIII could have been an attempt to the combat increasing use of mail and plate with increased cutting and percussive power. XII, XIV, and XVI went a different direction, trying to use the point more. But that seems too simple an answer.

We don't know for sure, but I think I can say for certain that the Oakeshott blade typology is not meant to be a representation of linear evolution, for the sword likely had no such thing. Happy

This may at least partially be the answer to your question:

You wrote:
It might also suggest that this whole conundrum is just the byproduct of artificially forcing a continuum of individual swords into a specific number of categories.

Happy

ChadA

http://chadarnow.com/
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Sat 11 Apr, 2009 8:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Keep in mind that the XII is still a cutter, and that many of them are as long as the XIs. While it does not have the staight edges of the the XIII, the long XII are as long and choppy as any XI or XIII, perhaps even more.

While the Type X is made for cutting unarmoured flesh around the edges of a round shield, both type XI and XII is made for hitting people in the side of the head over the topp of a kite or heater shield.
As great helms and other helmets with better protection for the side of the head become popular, this tactic does no longer work, and shorther thrusting swords for use in a clinched situatuation, like the XIV, become popular.

In this context, the XIIa and XIIIa are mere tradeoffs, adding some 5-10 cm in each end for greater reach, while maintaning balance. A XIIa or XIIIa with a 95 cm blade does not hit harder than a XI or XII with a 95 cm blade if you want to keep a hand on the reins, and if you don't, a hand on the pommel has much the same effect as a longer blade.
The difference appears when knights start to dismount to use their lances as spears, and bring their long gripped swords with them, since they allready have two hands free.
Even with this development, its not like the the XIIIa was THE sword of the 14th century; one handed thrusting types are the norm at the beginning of the century, beeing replaced by long handled thrusters in the later part.

So, in short, the "missing" 13th century cavalry swords are XIIs with long blades. They just have the same shape as the shorter swords of the same period.

"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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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Sun 12 Apr, 2009 6:26 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Luka, I could not take measurements myself, but according to Oakeshott the Glasgow sword has a blade length of 89CM.

Chad and Elling, thanks for taking this up.

Perhaps I should not have used the word 'evolution' (progression, development?) but still there seem to be some interesting and interacting factors going on during that 1100-1300 period. Greater use of cavalry calling for longer blades, longer blades producing balance challenges, changes in armor, helms, and shield use (As Elling points out well), possibly more sophisticated and varied cavalry techniques as time went by. (I wonder as well if the increased use of two hands is what put an end to Brazil Nut pommel, but that's another topic).

Chad, I also tend to view X, XI, XIII (and later XIX) as a progression of parallel-edge cutters and XII, XIV as early forms of cut and thrust. (And yet, ever notice the strongly tapering tip development in some of those XIs - what was up with that?)

Elling, It's true of course that some of the earlier XIIs are plenty long for cavalry use and in fact very similar to XIIIs except for the more thrust-oriented tip). Although I don't think you can beat a parallel edged blade with a spatulate end for cutting reach and power, and the long handled XIIa types seem to appear later.

I still think that some of the early 'XIII' warswords get caught between the cracks in Oakeshott's terminology - or at least we now tend to ignore the fact that they don't fit into the archetypes.

Take the example I mentioned above - most replicas of the Glasgow sword give it the fuller of a 'classic' XIIIa, instead of the fuller it really had. I doubt this is because these manufacturers don't know better - my guess is that they are catering what people want and expect (and possibly following A&A's lead in this particular case). I am guilty of this too - a few years ago I would have thought that a warsword was not historical if its fuller went past 2/3 length, but this is just not the case.
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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Sat 23 May, 2009 6:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Apparently Oakeshott himself had a hard time drawing the line between 'earlier' Xa/XI swords and XIIIa. I was just looking through 'Records of the Medieval Sword', thinking about this esoteric topic again, and noticed:

- Xa.7 is the same sword as XIIIa.3

- XI.7 is the same sword as XIIIa.4

Interestingly when he calls them XIIIa, he dates the same swords as being about 200 years later than when he calls them Xa/XI. This suggests that even the master could be misled by his own system.

Can't believe I never noticed this before, after poring through this book for years! Has this been pointed out before?
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Roger Hooper




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PostPosted: Sat 23 May, 2009 7:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

They are definitely the same photographs. Neither of those pictures look like a XIIIa to me - the grips are too short. The described characteristics of Xa.7 and XIIIa.3 are very close, but the blade length of XI.7 is 32 inches - XIIIa.4's is 36 inches. and the described pommel types are different.

My guess is that the wrong photos were inserted for the 2 XIIIa's. There are a number of errors in Records. The one I notice most frequently is that the specified pommel type sometimes doesn't match the one in the photograph.
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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Sat 23 May, 2009 7:43 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Roger Hooper wrote:
They are definitely the same photographs. Neither of those pictures look like a XIIIa to me - the grips are too short. The described characteristics of Xa.7 and XIIIa.3 are very close, but the blade length of XI.7 is 32 inches - XIIIa.4's is 36 inches. and the described pommel types are different.

My guess is that the wrong photos were inserted for the 2 XIIIa's. There are a number of errors in Records. The one I notice most frequently is that the specified pommel type sometimes doesn't match the one in the photograph.


That's a good theory. I agree that they look more like Xa/XI...that's what got me cross-checking in the first place.
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Luka Borscak




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PostPosted: Mon 29 Jun, 2009 5:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A bit off topic, but I just wanted to share it with you guys interested in this kind of swords, I am finally going to customize my DT2142 in the style of XIIIa 11. from the Records. From the beginning I wanted to make this sword (DT2142) more suitable to earlier dating than with original fittings. First I wanted to order DT5143 with brazil nut pommel and straight cross but that failed because of a too long wait. When I got 2142 and 2130 I switched their guards because I wanted straight guard like 2142 had on 2130 to make it more typical for crusader type sword. That left my 2142 with 2130 type 7 guard and its original pommel. Now I'm going to put these fittings aside and order custom made fittings for 2142 blade and I want these fittings to be octagonal pommel and spike-hilt like on XIIIa 11. which are suitable for wide dating between 1100 and 1250.
Thanks for reading through my rambling, and if anyone (you J.D.?) have some nice pictures of XIIIa 11. hilt, please post them here or e-mail them on luka.borscak@gmail.com . Thank you.

P.S. If moderators think I should, I will make a new thread for this.
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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Mon 06 Jul, 2009 5:30 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Luka, we seem to have similar tastes and interests. Sounds like some neat projects. Do you have pictures?

I also like the DT2130 with the more typical straight guard - I believe there is another one like this shown on the Brazil nut thread. (although according to Oakeshott, Dr. Lepaho also found curved guards on his 11th century Finnish type Xa swords, so the St. Maurice of Turin sword may not be that unusual). And I have decided to shorten the handle of my Kingdom of heaven Tiberius sword and replace the pommel with a Brazil nut, to turn it into an earlier Xa. I would happily trade my octagonal pommel for a brazil nut pommel, but I'm not sure how likely the tangs would fit.

Unfortunately I don't have any pictures of the XIIIa11 more clear than the one I posted above.
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Luka Borscak




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PostPosted: Mon 06 Jul, 2009 5:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Yes, it seems we are interested in both the same period and similar swords. I read about those finnish early curved guards but I don't like curved guards very much generally and with brazil nut pommels straight guards definitely look best. The sword is at the smith right now and when it comes back I will post some pictures.
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