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H. Mann





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PostPosted: Mon 09 Mar, 2009 7:27 am    Post subject: Questions about the Long Knife!         Reply with quote

After studying German Longsword several years now I am going to start German Knife in a few weeks.
But my researches led me to some questions:
1. In nearly every source the author stated that the Knife is cheaper than a sword. But why?
2. Also very often writers stated that the Knife was a tool. And here again: why? What makes it more efficient as a tool than a sword although it is a similar weapon? (I never test-cutted single edged weapons so I assume it is a matter of blade geometry.)
What are the general differences between swords and knives besides their design?

I think here are many people who could help me...
Big Grin
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Dan P




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PostPosted: Mon 09 Mar, 2009 8:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The "Grosse Messer" type things might be cheaper due to a more "utilitarian" construction than a double-edged sword. A big knife has several advantages over a sword for purposes other than fighting. The single- edge means, roughly, that for the same width blade you can have a sharper, narrower edge, which is better for cutting, slicing, chopping, and skinning most things than a double-edged blade would be. A large knife might also be cheaper than a sword, so its easier to replace if it gets damaged though chopping firewood or bones for example. Finally, most European swords have narrow tangs that pass though the hilt and are peened at the pommel, whereas the Grosse Messers generally have what we would call a full tang which is generally a bit stronger for the heavy work.
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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Mon 09 Mar, 2009 8:42 am    Post subject: Re: Questions about the Long Knife!         Reply with quote

Hi H. Mann,

H. Mann wrote:
1. In nearly every source the author stated that the Knife is cheaper than a sword. But why?


For the same reason that a machete is cheap. Its basic, its utilitarian, and its not even necessarily very high quality or made to very high standards. If you need to cut some brush or do any sort of basic maintenence, then it will do the job.

Quote:
2. Also very often writers stated that the Knife was a tool. And here again: why? What makes it more efficient as a tool than a sword although it is a similar weapon? (I never test-cutted single edged weapons so I assume it is a matter of blade geometry.)
What are the general differences between swords and knives besides their design?


See above. If I were a 15th century peasant who needed to cut down a tree, I'd use a basic axe, inexpensive one designed for the purpose, and if that axe broke, I'd get another one. What I wouldn't do is purchase an axe with a well designed back spike for dealing with armoured opponents, a steel haft, a grip with rondels to help prevent it from sliding out of my hands while on horseback, a top spike for thrusting, and heat treated to the highest quality I could afford. The latter example would be much more expensive, and not even necessarily do well at the job I needed it for (i.e. cut down a tree). The former is a tool, though if I needed it to be a weapon, it could be, even if that isn't its primary design.

On a side note, welcome to messerfechten. Happy Its one of my favorite aspects of the art.

Virginia Academy of Fencing Historical Swordsmanship
--German Longsword & Italian Rapier in the DC Area--


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Gert-Jan Beukers




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PostPosted: Mon 09 Mar, 2009 9:50 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Remember that peasants on battlefields used eveything they could find. And even the most battlefield weapons are originally peasant tools. For example ; the flail, axe, scythe. These were inexpensive, versatile, and every peasant had one of these weapons/tools in his shed, or in his house.

The main thing with swords is that they were prestige weapons. Buying a sword is a show-off for letting everybody know how rich you are. The other thing is that swords are only made for combat and could not doing anything with it. a knive is no show-off, but it fits well for the job. (butchering for example)

In the picture you see in the middle an flail that was used by peasants. It has 2 sticks connected with a chain the smash the grain. (in dutch we call this 'Dorsen')



 Attachment: 146.36 KB
MILL1002.gif


Correct me if I'm wrong.... I'm dutch
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H. Mann





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PostPosted: Mon 09 Mar, 2009 9:57 am    Post subject: Re: Questions about the Long Knife!         Reply with quote

Bill Grandy wrote:
Hi H. Mann,

H. Mann wrote:
1. In nearly every source the author stated that the Knife is cheaper than a sword. But why?


For the same reason that a machete is cheap. Its basic, its utilitarian, and its not even necessarily very high quality or made to very high standards. If you need to cut some brush or do any sort of basic maintenence, then it will do the job.

This exactly what I meant: you wrote (like Dan in the post before) that it is an "utilitarian" and "cheap" tool but didnt answer why this is. For me there is no much difference between a messer and a sword regarding to their role in battle. The messer is single edged and the sword is double-edged, thats all. So I thought the answer must lie somewhere in the blade construction and smithing.

Quote:
See above. If I were a 15th century peasant who needed to cut down a tree, I'd use a basic axe, inexpensive one designed for the purpose, and if that axe broke, I'd get another one. What I wouldn't do is purchase an axe with a well designed back spike for dealing with armoured opponents, a steel haft, a grip with rondels to help prevent it from sliding out of my hands while on horseback, a top spike for thrusting, and heat treated to the highest quality I could afford. The latter example would be much more expensive, and not even necessarily do well at the job I needed it for (i.e. cut down a tree). The former is a tool, though if I needed it to be a weapon, it could be, even if that isn't its primary design.

Right but this will only work for an axe. As I stated above there are not the possiblities of "pimping" my messer with a spike or a steel haft so there are less differences between a "tool version" (messer) and a "battle version" (sword) like in your example.
So why should I take a sword which is very expensive when I can get a similar weapon which I can use in the exact same way when it comes to fighting?

Quote:
On a side note, welcome to messerfechten. Happy Its one of my favorite aspects of the art.

Oh thank you!
And I am looking forward to my training. Big Grin
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Gabriele A. Pini




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PostPosted: Mon 09 Mar, 2009 1:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The main difference betwenn a sword and a knife is the problems to make one: to make the blade of a sword you need a forge big enough (for the temper you need to warm all of it simultanely), a bigger quantity of iron (a smaller problems as you progress in the ages, but a problem anyhow), and above all a greater ability. Every swordblademaker could make a knife, but not every blademaker could do a sword: the difficulty is equivalent to the square of the lenght...

Moreover you can count causes-effects of the cost of a sword: the minor diffusion, the value of "status symbol" that was put in a flashy sword, etc...
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Sa'ar Nudel




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PostPosted: Mon 09 Mar, 2009 1:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Making a messer of regular daily lenght, say, 50-60cm was far less costly then making a straight sword. Less material, less fittings, less polish, simpler heat treating, less labor, shorter time = lower price.

A sword was usualy a symbol of rank and social posture. A person who could afford a sword would rather be cought dead with a peasant weapon. The Langmesser was somewhat a development and purposely-built version of a combat weapon out of the ordinary tool.

Gert-Jan, can you point me to a higher resolution link of this woodcut? Note the flail-wielding peasant is also armed with a messer...

Curator of Beit Ussishkin, regional nature & history museum, Upper Galilee.
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Dan P




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PostPosted: Mon 09 Mar, 2009 1:32 pm    Post subject: Re: Questions about the Long Knife!         Reply with quote

H. Mann wrote:

This exactly what I meant: you wrote (like Dan in the post before) that it is an "utilitarian" and "cheap" tool but didnt answer why this is. For me there is no much difference between a messer and a sword regarding to their role in battle. The messer is single edged and the sword is double-edged, thats all. So I thought the answer must lie somewhere in the blade construction and smithing.

A sword is a specialized tool for fighting. Its not just a bar of steel with two edges, in order to be a good sword it has to be tapered and balanced in more or less the "right" way- lively enough to thrust, hefty enough to cut, and tempered well enough that it won't really break doing either. This costs time and money, so frequently any person who could afford a sword to begin with would also insist on it being a good-looking piece as well.

A messer is like a machete, its a general-purpose tool that's a good weapon in a pinch. They are often made to favor chopping over thrusting since that's mostly what a big blade is meant for outside of combat. This means that less attention needs to be paid to the subtleties compared to a sword- so the blade takes less time to make, less skill to make, and the person whom its being made for won't care as much about the fit and finish as long as it'll hold up to brush cutting.

Of course, some fighters took a look at messers vs swords, and decided that the broader single edge and powerful chopping capacity of the messer was an advantage over the double-edged sword. This led to the falchion, a weapon with a blade much like a messer but a hilt construction (and sometimes craftsmanship and finish) similar to a sword, likely at the same cost of a double-edged blade.
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Vincent Le Chevalier




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PostPosted: Mon 09 Mar, 2009 2:21 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think the problem is that you could find messers of varying quality, maybe more so than swords. I'm not sure they were all "bars of steel with one edge" even if some might have been. I think they can be made to have a balance as adequate as that of a sword, and with no pommel you have to do it almost purely through distal taper which is not that easy to do.

I mean look at Albion's offering: the messer is certainly not any more crude and not cheaper than the swords (actually quite the opposite if you're looking at short swords). But it is possibly representative of a pure fighting messer with no utilitarian role... closer to a sword.

My guess is that on average knives were indeed cheaper than swords, but good purposedly designed fighting knives were not. But, you can still use an average knife to fight Happy

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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Mon 09 Mar, 2009 3:18 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I am wondering if the original context of "longknife" included objects similar to seaxes, long daggers, etc.?

Using traditional methods (forge, anvil and hammer), it is reasonable for an individual smith to forge, heat treat, and even surface carburize a small scale blade without assistance, nor sophisticated facilities. To properly work (not burn the carbon out of it) a billet sufficient in size for a sword, it realistically took a team of workers several hours and a whole different scale of tools and processes. It's one of those situations where cost and effort invested did not even remotely begin to scale proportionately with mass of the finished object. (i.e. 2 carat diamonds don't simply cost twice what 1 carat ones do.)

The above comparison changed gradually between 11th and 15th century, as powered mills turned out increasingly better quality steel. "Making" the blade eventually became a matter of "grinding" it. However, most European countries were still extremely dependent upon German exported bars for "blade quality" steel at the time early period fechtbooks were penned. I have not seen any papers discussing how the export bars of blade steel were priced, or if larger pieces commanded premiums.

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Dustin R. Reagan





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PostPosted: Mon 09 Mar, 2009 3:59 pm    Post subject: Re: Questions about the Long Knife!         Reply with quote

To add to what others have stated, forging & finishing a single edged blade takes less time and skill than forging a double edged blade of the same length.
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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Mon 09 Mar, 2009 8:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

From what I understand (and note that I have not handled an antique messer myself) many langes messers were poorly heat treated, if at all. Many had very, very thin cross sections, to the point where they could bend or break fairly easily compared to a more expensive sword. Now, I'm sure there are many exceptions to this (and in fact, there are even langes messers that have elaborate decorations and embellishments), but if we're talking about a peasant's tool vs. a warrior's weapon, that's likely going to be the case.

Quote:
They are often made to favor chopping over thrusting since that's mostly what a big blade is meant for outside of combat.


Well, yes and no. It really depends on the individual messer. Messerfechten techniques in the Liechtenauer tradition show quite a number of thrusting techniques, just as with the longsword. Some messer also taper to a very fine point.

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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Fri 20 Mar, 2009 1:42 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It would be nice to see more messers on the market.

Do we have many extant Grossmessers? When I normally hear about a messer, it's almost always the larger Kriegsmesser.

M.

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Sam M.





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PostPosted: Sun 22 Mar, 2009 10:18 am    Post subject: Messer vs Falchion         Reply with quote

I'm curious about the quality and combat effectiveness of a typical grossemesser vs a typical falchion.

It is my impression that the falchion was common in earlier periods than the grossemesser (including some bizzare forms of the falchion as depicted in the Maciejowski Bible, see
http://home.tiscali.nl/~t401243/mac/mac10rA.jpg
http://home.tiscali.nl/~t401243/mac/mac11rA.jpg
http://home.tiscali.nl/~t401243/mac/mac14vB.jpg
for example). Is it fair to say that 1. the falchion was typically made to a higher standard than the grossemesser, and 2. that the falchion was designed specifically for (or effective in) combat more so than the grossemesser was? If the answers to those questions are both yes, then why does it seem that the grossemesser supplanted the falchion in common usage? (Might it be because the images of the grossemesser that we have normally depict it in the hands of civilians rather than warriors?)

In case it isn't obvious, I have a particular interest in the grossemesser and unfortunately I've found that it's one of the most overlooked sword designs in historical research, so there isn't a whole lot of information available about it.
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Doug Lester




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PostPosted: Sun 22 Mar, 2009 2:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

From my understanding, I would not agree that a falchion was made to a higher quality than a messer. They were both made for the same clientele, the "common man", rather than the knightly class. I do realize, however, the knights and lords did utilize both weapons. I would think that the quality of the weapons would depend on who made them. If they were made by someone who specialized in cutting tools they would probably be of better quality than if they were made by a "general" blacksmith. I do imagine that there was a certain overlap in quality between the two groups and also the quality of the steel available would be an issue.

I also don't agree the the falchion disappeared and much as it morphed into other styles of backsword.
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Sun 22 Mar, 2009 3:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The Medici falchion and others were of very high quality. Maximilian had some messers made to outfit his guards. I don't think we can safely generalize in this case about them being low-class weapons. I also think that it's not entirely safe to say that messers superceded falchions. The Italians seemed to like falchions and stortas during roughly the same era that Germans liked their messers.

So to answer your questions:

Quote:
Is it fair to say that 1. the falchion was typically made to a higher standard than the grossemesser, and 2. that the falchion was designed specifically for (or effective in) combat more so than the grossemesser was? If the answers to those questions are both yes, then why does it seem that the grossemesser supplanted the falchion in common usage? (Might it be because the images of the grossemesser that we have normally depict it in the hands of civilians rather than warriors?)


1) not necessarily.
2) not necessarily.

Happy

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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Sun 22 Mar, 2009 5:16 pm    Post subject: Re: Messer vs Falchion         Reply with quote

Sam M. wrote:
why does it seem that the grossemesser supplanted the falchion in common usage?


What makes you think this? Falchions and hangers existed all through out the medieval period up through until the 18th century, and were used in just about all European countries. The messer (or at least the variant that we seem to be talking about) was mainly seen in the Germanic countries, but not common elsewhere, from the late medieval to early Renaissance.

As to falchions being weapons for commoners: This seems to be a very persistent myth that is not backed up by fact. Chad brought up the Medici falchion as a perfect example of an ornate one. I would say that most surviving falchions, in fact, seem to be high quality, and in many cases ornate. They are also seen all over 15th c. Italian artwork being carried by men in full plate, as well as by angels (St. Michael, for example).

Messers and falchions are not exactly the same thing. A falchion is a sword, a messer is a knife. While there is a lot of overlap between a large knife and a small sword, they still developed independently of one another.

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Sam M.





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PostPosted: Sun 22 Mar, 2009 8:39 pm    Post subject: Grossemesser vs Falchion?         Reply with quote

Thanks for the informative replies.

I guess what I really want to know relates to handling- taking into account that the messer is a knife (though I have in mind the longer-handled grossemesser, which is rather like a shortish bastard sword), do falchions differ from messers in their handling characteristics? For example, does one style have more blade presence and the other have better recovery? Is one style better suited to thrusting than the other? Or would it depend entirely on the individual items, with no general differences between the two blade styles? (I have heard that in some cases the only real distinction between the two styles relates to the hilt construction but not the blade.)

I realize that these are general questions which may not have standard answers, but I am looking for a comparison between a typical grossemesser of the late medieval period and a typical falchion of the same period (specifically not the highest quality or the most ornate, but something more typically moderate). Is such a comparison possible, or do the terms cover too broad a range of overlapping weapons?

Put another way: Could a typical late medieval falchion be used to maximum effectiveness with grossemesser techniques, or would it be too heavy or overbalanced or have too short a hilt or be otherwise unsuited to those moves and more effectively used with a different set of techniques?

Another question: Given a messer and a falchion of equivalent size and quality, would the messer be less expensive due to the simpler hilt construction?

I apologize for the long post and the numerous questions.
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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Mon 23 Mar, 2009 11:37 am    Post subject: Re: Grossemesser vs Falchion?         Reply with quote

Hi Sam,

The hard part about your questions is that there is so much variation between falchions, and so much between messers. In general, a langes messer (or grosse messer, if you will) is nothing more than a large knife. Just as with machetes and large butcher knives, you'll see some that are heavy, some that are light, some that are crude, some that are expertly made.

A falchion is a form of sword. Just as with all swords they are made to different tastes and standards.

But messers do seem to have very thin blades, as a broad generalization, whereas falchions do tend to be a little more substantial. But again, that can vary from piece to piece.

Sam M. wrote:


Put another way: Could a typical late medieval falchion be used to maximum effectiveness with grossemesser techniques, or would it be too heavy or overbalanced or have too short a hilt or be otherwise unsuited to those moves and more effectively used with a different set of techniques?


Hans Talhoffer shows the messer as interchangible with the arming sword. If you've trained with a long knife, you know how to use any single handed, bladed weapon.

Quote:
Another question: Given a messer and a falchion of equivalent size and quality, would the messer be less expensive due to the simpler hilt construction?


Most likely, at least in period.

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--German Longsword & Italian Rapier in the DC Area--


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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Mon 23 Mar, 2009 12:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm not sure the messer grip construction is simpler than the traditional sword grip. In my very limited experience, a riveted scale grip of the period is harder to do, with more steps and materials and requiring more skills and tools.
-Sean

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