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JE Sarge
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PostPosted: Thu 12 Mar, 2009 11:40 pm    Post subject: Concerning Executioner's Swords...         Reply with quote

I've seen a couple of these in German collections and have began to develop an interest in them...I used the search function, but nothing came back to further help me learn more about these weapons. I am interested about how they developed and the primary periods in which they were used. Here are some of the questions I am looking at:

1. Why these were selected compared to the axe for decapitation? Was there a special purpose or reason (as depicted in The Tudor's: Season 2) why they would have been chosen over the axe?

2. Why was the tip not tapered?

3. Was a standard 1.5 or 2-handed sword modified into an executioner sword or were they specifically made for their purpose?

3. Is there a manufacturer of a quality executioner sword replica out there?

Thanks in advance for any input or direction to any resources that you may have!

J.E. Sarge
Crusader Monk Sword Scabbards and Customizations
www.crusadermonk.com

"But lack of documentation, especially for such early times, is not to be considered as evidence of non-existance." - Ewart Oakeshott
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Nathan Robinson
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PostPosted: Thu 12 Mar, 2009 11:55 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I found this with the search feature: http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=8303

The blades were not tapered because they didn't need to be. They were made exclusively for cutting and had absolutely no need to thrust. Additionally, the balance point would be further out, towards the tip, to make for a powerful cut. There was no need for quick recovery, as with regular swords, but just a single powerful cut.

Check these guys out for a replica: http://www.spartakus.pl/eng/swords2.htm

Or these guys: (same maker) http://www.kasto.org/swords.html



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Peter Johnsson
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PostPosted: Fri 13 Mar, 2009 12:13 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

1: With the connotations of the sword, belonging to the upper class in society, it is inherently more "noble" than the axe. Also take into account that the victim is kneeling with head upright as he is beheaded with a sword, while he is stooping forward like an animal for slaughter when awaiting the axe blow.

2: From the 16th C and onwards, the sword was made with a blunt end partly to show this was no ordinary sword, but a sword for an elevated or specialized purpose: to punish, not to be used in battle. I have heard that it has to do with Justice and clemency but those reasons never did make much sense to me. I may have misunderstood.
The reason I think is that this sword was to be used away from the scene of war, not being used in rage or combat, but in a cold and calculated way among civilians. The thrust was never part of its function: only a very effective blow with the edge.
I have never seen a heading sword dated before the 16th C.

3: These swords were specialized indeed. Not converted from weapons of war. They are implements of justice and punishment, rather than weapons. Once this fundamental difference is recognized, they show their true face.

4: I don´t know.
Being a sword smith my self, I would much hesitate to make such a blade. The connection to punishment, being put to use on defenseless individuals in a very cold blooded manner makes it a theme I want to stay away from.
I have held many originals, and they are creepy. Very harsh, very cold, totally about obliterating a person. There is a difference between a sword made for combat, and one designed for murder organized by society.
At least to me there is.
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Andreas Auer




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PostPosted: Fri 13 Mar, 2009 3:45 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

all of the above...and a cross section in form of a lens...indeed a sword was seen less "barbaric" than an axe.

Andreas

The secret is,
to keep that pointy end thingy away from you...
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Sa'ar Nudel




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PostPosted: Fri 13 Mar, 2009 4:40 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Most execution swords were of top quality, vs. the beheading axe that was usually a simple (if not crude) tool. The sword was sometimes regarded as a symbol of the local judicial authority and therefore was the property of the city, not the executioner's. Some countries put to use both the sword and axe, pending on exact location and court. The use of the sword took more expertise than the axe and occasionally was regarded a specialty, as with the execution of Anne Boleyn, which demanded the import of a French executioner who could wield the sword, rather the English executioners who were used to the axe exclusively.
Some swords have three holes punched in their points; from what I know the holes were intended for the addition of a small weight - to increase the power of the swing when an extra thick neck is on the line.

there is one exeption of the execution sword (in Europe): the small & wonderful Police museum in Paris displays both the last Epee de justice and the first guillotine's blade. The sword looks much more of a battle, hand and a half sword, with a long hilt, thick diamond cross section and an acute point.

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Joel Minturn





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PostPosted: Fri 13 Mar, 2009 10:02 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have read in several places, I believe one of them was book on execution, that the sword was believed to be less painful than the axe. The sword was sharp and made a quick slice while the axe was not as sharp and tended to rip through the neck hence more painful.
Though that might have had more to do with executioners who used a sword were more likely to be better trained (or less corrupt).
King Henry VII had a executioner who specialized in the sword brought in from France to behead Anne Boleyn.
There is another story of a noble who was to be beheaded but was cheap and paid the executioner only 2 pennies and supposedly it took the executioner 7 tries to get through the guys neck.
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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Fri 13 Mar, 2009 10:35 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There are countless "enhauptung" scenes in Austrian artwork of the late medieval period, and these always show the act carried out with ordinaryy broad-blade longswords (though in the case of some saints (esp. Barbara) the weapon can be a more exotic Eastern type). That's at least through1500. The image below (from Antwerp, apparently) dates from the third quarter of the 16th c., so I guess the blunt-end type was not yet widely distributed. I would guess that at least some of the surviving broad German and Italian longswords of the period were used as weapons of execution at some point in their working life.

If I remember correctly, the Landsknecht included an officer charge of justice within the units, and he sometimes carried the sword of execution as a symbol of his position and graphic reminder to obey the law. Since many Landsknecht blades are parallel-edged, with lenticular cross sections and blunt distal ends, maybe the distinctive richtschwert design has its origin in those weapons in the middle 16th c. I think most of the examples I've seen are 17th and 18th c.

When I first saw these weapons in Austrian museums I was surprised by how very thin they are. Peter alluded to the creep factor--that's certainly true, although many of the weapons we admire have taken lives and maimed people. But that highly specialized blade--like a giant razor-- is what gives me chills. That and the ability to tell exactly where the center of percussion is just by looking because one or both edges of the blade at that point are often very slightly concave due to honing.

I have yet to hear a satisfactory explanation for the three holes often found in the tips of these blades, by the way.



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-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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Peter Johnsson
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PostPosted: Fri 13 Mar, 2009 11:01 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Sean,

The creep factor. Yes I guess it is a bit hypocritical of me to single out the heading sword among the murder weapons trough history. It is a fact, though: the ones I´ve held have given me shivers and a cold feeling down my back. I usually do not feel that when holding a sword of war, even though it may have taken as many lives and maimed defenseless people as well.
...Strange how the mind works.

About the three holes, I think they may have to do with sound.
Possibly they are there to actually make a sound as the sword sweeps down? An effect for extra entertainment and drama?
Or the other way around: perhaps the three holes actually dampens the sound of the blade, minimizing the risk of the poor victim flinching at the very last moment?
Alternatively you will get a audible feedback on the alignment of the edge. you will hear different sound and pitch depending on how true the edge is.


...Something to try out...
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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Fri 13 Mar, 2009 11:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

For what it's worth, this is the earliest image I can find depicting something similar to the dedicated richtschwert of later centuries. This painting is dated to ca. 1460, Augsburg. It's the only thing like it I saw before around 1515, and those later weapons are shown in the hands of men dressed in the flamboyant style associated with the Landsknecht.

I know what you mean, Peter. I don't think you're a hypocrite Happy Although I've never handled a richtschwert (or any other medieval sword,) I have had the same feeling on the site of public executions, especially in the Tower of London. For me, it's not a spiritual or paranormal feeling. It's just that having that tangible reminder causes me to pause and imagine all the people who died there. Likewise, any time I pass over a certain bridge in my home state I'm reminded of the Creek Indian village burned by U.S. military forces there in the 19th c.

Living in a state (Alabama) in the news for gun violence this week, I'm reminded that we can pay so much attention to the symbolic power, technology and aesthetic qualities of weapons that we forget their purpose. I actually try to maintain a certain amount of aversion to all weapons, if only as a constant safety reminder. Plus, purpose dictates design, so if I want to understand one I feel have to be mindful of the other.



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-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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JE Sarge
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PostPosted: Fri 13 Mar, 2009 12:30 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for the interesting and informative responses as well as the rest of your help in this query. I've definately got alot more digging to do. It's not really my interest that the sword's were used for executions, as much as it is concerning the evolution of the weapon along a different branch of the sword family tree and how these differed from their counterparts.

Thanks again guys!

J.E. Sarge
Crusader Monk Sword Scabbards and Customizations
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"But lack of documentation, especially for such early times, is not to be considered as evidence of non-existance." - Ewart Oakeshott
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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Fri 13 Mar, 2009 12:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think it's a very interesting line of inquiry. I'm wondering if these weapons didn't so much develop specifically for executions, but rather developed from swords whose forms happened to be efficient for that purpose. After swords declined in combat usefulness, the form of the execution sword could be further refined to suit its single purpose.
-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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Martin Erben




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PostPosted: Fri 13 Mar, 2009 4:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi

I know that the holes were used to attach weights to the tip, so an even more powerful cut became possible.
You can find an article about these sword in the book:"Das Schwert" by Thomas Laible (that's where my information is from....)
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Fri 13 Mar, 2009 10:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Peter Johnsson wrote:
Hi Sean,

The creep factor. Yes I guess it is a bit hypocritical of me to single out the heading sword among the murder weapons trough history. It is a fact, though: the ones I´ve held have given me shivers and a cold feeling down my back. I usually do not feel that when holding a sword of war, even though it may have taken as many lives and maimed defenseless people as well.
...Strange how the mind works.


I know this is getting a bit off the original topic, but I remember having a discussion along similar lines with my mom shortly after the video of the Nick Berg decapitation was released. I remember saying that it was horrendous and disturbing to me. She pointed out my interest medieval swords which are designed to do the exact same sorts of things to people. Yet for me, the two are categorically different. At least in the case of many swords, they were wielded by men in battle who were fighting for their lives but who had a chance to protect themselves. By contrast, the execution saw a man left utterly helpless against what happened, and I think it was the utter helplessness of it that bothered me the most.
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Michel Pérusse




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PostPosted: Fri 20 Mar, 2009 9:01 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi everybody,

About the three holes at the tip of such swords: I read somewhere (will post the reference later as I'm at the job) that those holes were there to prevent anyone sharpening the tip to use the sword for battle or duel. Both affairs being considered on other ( in the case of duels, and sometime battle, higher) planes than the application of justice. The executioner's swords often carried a symbolic of infamy with them and as such shouldn't be put to another - more just and moral, honourable- causes. Such swords also frequently have symbols -gallows, torture wheels- associated with the application of justice etched on the blade, which could be another mean to prevent their use for anything else then the intended purpose.

I'll try to put up some pics when I get access to the book.
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Sa'ar Nudel




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PostPosted: Fri 20 Mar, 2009 10:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Michel Pérusse wrote:
Hi everybody,

About the three holes at the tip of such swords: I read somewhere (will post the reference later as I'm at the job) that those holes were there to prevent anyone sharpening the tip to use the sword for battle or duel. .


Good point; the only problem with it - there are executioner swords without any holes.

Curator of Beit Ussishkin, regional nature & history museum, Upper Galilee.
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JE Sarge
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PostPosted: Sat 21 Mar, 2009 2:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I don't know what to think about the three holes at this point. If they were used for attaching weights, it seems like it would throw the PoB and CoP off resulting in a pretty funky swing more akin to an axe or ball bat than a sword. Plus if the weights were linked via chain or cord, they would shift around and make stroke consistancy a little difficult. Of course, it would all depend on how much weigh we are talking - a couple ounces or a pound.

Another point would be that your average swordmaker could have weighted the tip to provide this effect with more stabilty by simply thickening the end of the blade - which would have certinally have to been tried at some point though the ages. But, we don't see an example like this in existing antiques or art. Nor do we see weights on the end portrayed (at least in what I have seen thus far). The whole weight on the tip thing looses steam in my book.

I'd be more apt to believe the making it unable to be sharpened or whistling stroke theory.

J.E. Sarge
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Michel Pérusse




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PostPosted: Sun 22 Mar, 2009 10:51 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sa'ar Nudel wrote:
Michel Pérusse wrote:
Hi everybody,

About the three holes at the tip of such swords: I read somewhere (will post the reference later as I'm at the job) that those holes were there to prevent anyone sharpening the tip to use the sword for battle or duel. .


Good point; the only problem with it - there are executioner swords without any holes.


Indeed. But for those swords who do, I thought it could be a plausible explanation...among other speculations.The book I was refering to is Les Armes Blanches by Jan Sach, Paris, Grund, 1999 (translated from the Czech). More of a coffee table book, I think, and I don't know the author or the seriousness of his references so...nice pictures of fine specimen anyway, mostly from collections in the Czech Republic, Germany and Austria.
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Einar Drønnesund





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PostPosted: Sun 22 Mar, 2009 4:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I've thought about the possibilty of the holes making a whistling sound as well, but I've never swung or even held such a sword, so I really dont know.

What is the distal taper on these swords like? Are they very thin at the cop, thick at the hilt?

What about the balance? I would assume they have quite a blade presence, since recovery is not an issue.
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Oleg Naumov




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PostPosted: Wed 06 May, 2009 4:31 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Gents,
This sword is in exhibition of Central Naval Museum, Saint Petersburg. According to explanatory text that sword was captured by Russian troops at Swedish military ship “Astrild” during the battle at river Neva on May 7, 1703. There are three hallmarks and inscription on the blade probably in Swedish. It translated as “I was made in Wira”. That sword was probably produced in 1657.
It would be great to read some comments on that sword especially from Swedes.

Sincerely,
Oleg



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Bjorn Hagstrom




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PostPosted: Wed 06 May, 2009 6:06 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Oleg Naumov wrote:
Hi Gents,
This sword is in exhibition of Central Naval Museum, Saint Petersburg. According to explanatory text that sword was captured by Russian troops at Swedish military ship “Astrild” during the battle at river Neva on May 7, 1703. There are three hallmarks and inscription on the blade probably in Swedish. It translated as “I was made in Wira”. That sword was probably produced in 1657.
It would be great to read some comments on that sword especially from Swedes.

Sincerely,
Oleg


Inscription is latin "Me fecit Wiira" (I am made in) Wiira? My latin is lacking..Wiira however is an old metalworking facility north of Stockholm founded early 17th century, with royal priviligies to produce arms. So it fits perfectly!

I can't really make out the stamps though. Hopefully some else can

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