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Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > Original tangs length versus modern ones Reply to topic
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Bruno Giordan





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PostPosted: Wed 28 Jul, 2010 1:32 am    Post subject: Original tangs length versus modern ones         Reply with quote

I have noted by personal experience and measurements that in originals tangs tend to be considerably shorter than in modern replicas.

Let's say circa eight centimeters versus twelve, to give an average measurement.

Now this would bring us back to the vexed question of the different measurements of medieval and renaissance men with respect to modern individuals.

I have seen original armour that today could only fit twelve years boys, so I tend to believe modern swords should indeed have longer tangs to make up for the different dimensions of moderns.

What I feel is that such a difference between ancient tangs and modern ones is excessive.

I examined in person an original type XII from a local collection, despite its eight centimeters tang I could swing it with ease (yes I did it, with gloves on and moderate force), my hand was sort of blocked between the pommel and the cross.

As I'm recreating this sword I would tend to make its tang approx 10 cm long.

This would likely have an "hammer grip" effect too, but it should be applied to a medieval sword
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Marko Susimetsa




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PostPosted: Wed 28 Jul, 2010 1:45 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Interesting. My palm, in rest, is exactly 10 centimetres wide (and when I grip something it naturally gets wider). I would certainly not be comfortable with a grip that would squeeze my hand from either side...

I still doubt that medieval men could have been so much smaller than we are today. Certainly, men were considered adults at younger age than today and that could explain the smaller pieces of armour that remain (they could have been, after all, made to fit a 14-year-old or so)?
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Luke Zechman




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PostPosted: Wed 28 Jul, 2010 2:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It is my understanding that people where indeed smaller (on average) then they are in modern times. Yes it is true that some one would have been considered an adult at a younger age, since the average life span was also significantly shorter. Enriched food, hormone, and steroid use that persist in modern foods have contributed to this overall increase in body size. It has even been noted that we (as a species) have gotten larger on average since a time so long ago as the 1950's. I'm not saying large people didn't exist back then, just that they were very uncommon. Head size is another thing that has been significantly larger in modern times then times of the past.
I could be wrong but i was under the impression that the Scandinavians where larger as a local population then the rest of the people of the world at the time. At 6 ft. tall or 1.82 meters tall they would have been gigantic. I am 6'2" and there are several men in my family that are taller then 6 feet.
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Peter Johnsson
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PostPosted: Wed 28 Jul, 2010 3:21 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think it is a mistake to write of the size of medieval swords to the smaller size of medieval men.
Some swords have tight grips and benefit from it.
Before we "improve" on medieval designs we may learn the reason for the size and shape through careful practical study.

With these original design there can be benefits in practical use that we do not fully understand.

If we want to adjust or change an original sword when making a reproduction, we are naturally free to do so. Personal preference is as good an argument as any. It does *not* mean we make a faithful reproduction by increasing the size of a "short" to a more "modern size". It simply means we are changing a design to suite our personal preference.
(EDIT: I left out the vital *not* in the paragraph above!)

Just going by hand size, be it 9.5 cm or 10.5 cm and giving this as a length for the tang is not the best way to go about establishing size for a custom made sword grip. Making a hilt more roomy (to allow "freedom of movement") may defeat the original purpose of the design. It may well have been made to hug the hand tightly. This can provide support and increase control in some designs and types of hilts.
Among modern enthusiasts of the sword there are strong ideas and ideals of what a sword should feel like and handle: "this is a well balanced sword!". When we examine original swords we see that they exhibit a wider range of examples of heft, weight, size and ergonomics. It is not always straightforward to know the reasons why the dimensions are like they are. I d not think swords normally were made so that only people of a certain size could comfortably use them. In some cases we see armour and weapons made for the very young, or children or personal of unusually large frame. These stand out and cannot be help to us in understanding the intention and concept of original designs. In most cases a sword would be ready to be used by just about anyone. Some will by preference prefer a larger or heavier weapon, or the opposite. It does not mean that this person is unable to use lighter swords of smaller dimensions.
To learn about the sword in all its richness of expression we may be better of if we do not adjust original designs to suit or modern taste. By trying to use exacting replicas made after original measurements we cold expand our understanding and appreciation of the european sword.

But then again, there is personal preference, and that is also a good argument in adjusting a design to suit our taste.


Last edited by Peter Johnsson on Wed 28 Jul, 2010 7:14 am; edited 1 time in total
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Bruno Giordan





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PostPosted: Wed 28 Jul, 2010 3:38 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Peter Johnsson wrote:
I think it is a mistake to write of the size of medieval swords to the smaller size of medieval men.
Some swords have tight grips and benefit from it.
Before we "improve" on medieval designs we may learn the reason for the size and shape through careful practical study.

With these original design there can be benefits in practical use that we do not fully understand.

If we want to adjust or change an original sword when making a reproduction, we are naturally free to do so. Personal preference is as good an argument as any. It does mean we make a faithful reproduction by increasing the size of a "short" to a more "modern size". It simply means we are changing a design to suite our personal preference.

Just going by hand size, be it 9.5 cm or 10.5 cm and giving this as a length for the tang is not the best way to go about establishing size for a custom made sword grip. Making a hilt more roomy (to allow "freedom of movement") may defeat the original purpose of the design. It may well have been made to hug the hand tightly. This can provide support and increase control in some designs and types of hilts.
Among modern enthusiasts of the sword there are strong ideas and ideals of what a sword should feel like and handle: "this is a well balanced sword!". When we examine original swords we see that they exhibit a wider range of examples of heft, weight, size and ergonomics. It is not always straightforward to know the reasons why the dimensions are like they are. I d not think swords normally were made so that only people of a certain size could comfortably use them. In some cases we see armour and weapons made for the very young, or children or personal of unusually large frame. These stand out and cannot be help to us in understanding the intention and concept of original designs. In most cases a sword would be ready to be used by just about anyone. Some will by preference prefer a larger or heavier weapon, or the opposite. It does not mean that this person is unable to use lighter swords of smaller dimensions.
To learn about the sword in all its richness of expression we may be better of if we do not adjust original designs to suit or modern taste. By trying to use exacting replicas made after original measurements we cold expand our understanding and appreciation of the european sword.

But then again, there is personal preference, and that is also a good argument in adjusting a design to suit our taste.


All this leads me to think that the hand had to somehow be squeezed between the pommel and cross. BTW Mr. johnson knows what sword I'm talking about.
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Peter Johnsson
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PostPosted: Wed 28 Jul, 2010 5:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I went back to edit my previous post.

I think I have to be less categorical. Of course grip lengths can be adjusted somewhat to fit individuals. To some extent. It al depends on what we want to achieve. I am just very wary of arguments that go along the lines that people were shorter back then. People came in different size back then too. As society was stratified, we can expect the those who did most of the fighting a non proportional part came from the elite in society. They may well have been better fed and more healthy than people in general. If the general population was shorter than average people today, the median values for fighting men may well have been closer to what we see today. All this to say that short hilts were most probably intended to be short and tight.

If a hilt to us looks strangely short or cramped, it is most probably originally made to make the hand sit tight when gripping the sword. When making a contemporary sword based on such a weapon we should strive to make the hilt tight, but perhaps allow a little more length to allow for individual differences. We should not go to extremes and make a 8 cm grip into a 11 cm grip (if you have medium to large sized hands) just to make it "comfortable and roomy". That is if we are interested in understanding what the original sword was all about.
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Peter Johnsson
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PostPosted: Wed 28 Jul, 2010 5:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

And to comment further: yes I know what sword Bruno talks about. It is a very, very nice sword of a type where short grips are common. It goes with the type. Pommels of this type lends themselves well for short grips. They give a good support for the heel of the hand. The Saint Maurice of Turino has a somewhat similar pommel (a pommel that works on the same principle) and the two swords seem to have very similar blades. The Saint Maurice of Turino is a large and heavy sword, with a surprisingly small (as in light) pommel. This sword would not work if you made the tang longer to give "better room" for a larger hand. You need this short grip if the hand is to have enough support to effectively control the sword in the way it is intended.
I expect the sword Bruno has studied works along the same lines. I hope to be able to see this sword myself one fine day ;-)
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Craig Johnson
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PostPosted: Wed 28 Jul, 2010 6:37 am    Post subject: SIze does it matter?         Reply with quote

I would concur with Peter's comments whole heartedly. The understanding of size in the historical record has altered over the past two generations or so as research has gotten better and assumptions in the past where found to be wanting in certain respects.

Here are some pretty good comments from past threads

Height and Weapons

Medieval Physiology

How tall was a medieval knight? - Question about grip size

Also

Pretty good modern stats on Wiki

Discussion of Medieval height and the reduction in 17th 18th C before current results

More modern stats

Article about Anthropometric History

Good article about the origin of modern studies in this area

One last bit that occurs to me.

If one takes some of the above documented details of height say in the 14th C and compares to a modern average today we could expect an increase in grip width of say just under 3%, thus our 8 cm tang would be about 8.22 cm to compensate for the increase in size.

In the context of Bruno's original statement about modern replicas being long gripped. He is correct. Unless one is buying a piece that is taking measurements from an original or at least proportions and the size is not changed to greatly this will give you a pretty good result. Many companies do not worry to much about such sizing as they are trying to move swords and cater to the perception of the buyer as to what the sword should be like rather than what the surviving details of swords indicate they should be. Its not wrong to answer the needs of your customers but sometimes this gives a skew to how the sword is perceived in the public eye that has not accounted for the difference between what is for sale and what was used in the past.

Interesting discussion.

Craig
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Peter Johnsson
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PostPosted: Wed 28 Jul, 2010 7:40 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

My six year old daughter is 117.5 cm tall and her palms are 7 cm across.
If we apply the reasoning that people were smaller in older times as so needed smaller weapons my daughter would not be so much shorter than a medieval knight...
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Bruno Giordan





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PostPosted: Wed 28 Jul, 2010 10:05 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

To talk of a different type of swords, I visited the Doge's Armeria in Venice, all the schiavonescas appeared to be quite short gripped.
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Marko Susimetsa




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PostPosted: Wed 28 Jul, 2010 11:21 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Peter Johnsson wrote:
My six year old daughter is 117.5 cm tall and her palms are 7 cm across.
If we apply the reasoning that people were smaller in older times as so needed smaller weapons my daughter would not be so much shorter than a medieval knight...

Well, my wife is 168 cm tall and her palms are <7.5 cm across. Her Albion Valkyrja is a "loose fit" for her, while it is a bit cramped for my palm. For her slender wrist, the hammer grip is easier, while I can use it with the handshake grip as well.

I wonder which would have been true for the people who wielded such swords in the past and what it meant for the handling of such swords in general.
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Craig Johnson
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PostPosted: Wed 28 Jul, 2010 1:36 pm    Post subject: Some Raw data         Reply with quote



Some raw data via wiki

Marko I think you address a very important point. There is no one way to hold a sword. Any accomplished practitioner will demonstrate a variety of grip positions and strengths in the proper use of a sword in action. Sometimes we get to caught up in the tool and not enough attention is paid to the proper way to use the tool and probably the most important aspect the practice of the skill. Happy

Best
Craig
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