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Antonio Ganarini




Location: Trentino, Italia
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PostPosted: Thu 03 May, 2012 6:53 am    Post subject: A correlation between blade length and men tallness?         Reply with quote

Hi!
Today I come out with a question that intrigued me for a long time: is there a correlation in history between a soldier's tallness and the length of his blade? What type of correlation? Or It's only matter of fencing techniques?

Looking for some literature, I found an article by Richard H. Steckel (http://www.nber.org/papers/w8542), that in a table (Table 3) reports that the average tallness in Northern Europe during 12th-14th C was ~67.5".
On the other side, the Codex Theodosianus (Vth century AD) states that the minimum heigth for a legionary was ~65", while for a auxilliary knight ~70" and for a I cohors legionary the minimum was ~68".
The roman gladius was ~20" long, the spatha ~27" and, if I'm not wrong, the medieval knigth's blade was over 30" long.

Perhaps is a stupid question, but I would be very happy if somebody could help me!

Ciao a tutti!
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Sean Manning




Location: Austria
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PostPosted: Thu 03 May, 2012 8:45 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A number of 15th through 17th century manuals recommend a sword proportional to the user's body. In the case of a large army, though, many soldiers would use whatever weapon was issued to them. There might be some variation in the bundle of a dozen gladii in the quartermaster's office, but I'm not sure that the average tiro would have time to look at several and pick one, or would have an opinion about what was the right length for his height ("That one has a pretty hilt, and the steel looks good- I'll buy that one if its not too expensive"). And the ideal length certainly varies with the type of sword- Renaissance writers tended to recommend much longer swords than had been used in earlier periods.

Remember that the Roman inch is not the same as the US or British inch. The US foot is about 30.5 cm, the Roman pes is about 29.6 cm.
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Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
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PostPosted: Thu 03 May, 2012 9:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Right, it's no surprise that manuals of formal swordsmanship mention a ratio of blade length to user's height, but those are for specific fighting techniques, for trained swordsmen. Though I would expect different masters to have different opinions on the optimal ratio! But the fighting techniques would be very different in different eras, so the same ratios would not apply.

In any case, as an example, Roman swords varied dramatically in length, especially over time. In the early Empire, blades ranged from 16 inches to 24, and in the Republic they could reach 27 inches. And the height "requirements" for various troops were simply recommendations from one historian (Vegetius), and we don't know if they were ever enforced.

I have a feeling there just isn't enough hard data to back up an idea like this. If there are a number of medieval writers who discuss length-to-height ratios, that would tell us it was something they considered if they could. But since we have no idea who used all the swords that have survived, we can't draw any solid conclusions based on archeology. We could just be back to fashion and personal taste.

Matthew
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Neil Langley




Location: Stockport, UK
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PostPosted: Thu 03 May, 2012 10:26 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Also I would think it depends on how the sword is used. A gladius would be too short to be an effective horseman's weapon but a lot of auxiliaries would be cavalry - requiring a longer blade. For later periods, a longsword begs a two handed technique, also allowing for a longer (heavier) blade.

Neil.
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Thu 03 May, 2012 11:44 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Perhaps suprisingly, the long bladed knightly sword appears before the longsword grip. Some of the 12th century type XIs are as long as later longswords, with a regular one handed grip.
This is was a clear example of fashion and technology prompting a change of blade length, as average height stayed the same in NW Europe throughout the early/high middle ages.

"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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Antonio Ganarini




Location: Trentino, Italia
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PostPosted: Thu 03 May, 2012 2:05 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

So, if I well understood, the key of blade length change over time is a combination of new fight techniques and technological advances rather than some reason linked to the soldier's heigth...
Also, I read somewhere that there aren't sources of roman era describing the fencing with gladius: perhaps a longer blade would have not been as effective in the legionary's hands, if it was used primarly as a thrusting weapon, or the contemporary technologies didn't permit the construction of a longer effective blade...

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Antonio Ganarini




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PostPosted: Thu 03 May, 2012 2:36 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Only for curiosity: Estore Visconti's mummified body is, according to Ferdinando Borsa's records ("Antichità e siti rimarchevoli della città di Monza..." 1838), 35 "once milanesi" (~175 cm - 68 7/8") tall; his sword has a 27.875 inches blade!
cfr: http://www.myArmoury.com/review_dt2150.html

Ciao a tutti!
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Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
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PostPosted: Fri 04 May, 2012 7:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Antonio Ganarini wrote:
Also, I read somewhere that there aren't sources of roman era describing the fencing with gladius: perhaps a longer blade would have not been as effective in the legionary's hands, if it was used primarly as a thrusting weapon, or the contemporary technologies didn't permit the construction of a longer effective blade...


Right, Roman combat (like most ancients) was based on the large shield, so the sword was used only to attack, not defend. The idea was to encourage the legionary to get right in his opponent's face and gut him with a thrust, a very intimidating technique which was effective no matter how tightly packed the men were. A longer weapon would be a disadvantage. However, we know that cavalry swords were longer, and that blades 36" long were very much technically possible, so it wasn't a matter of metallurgy.

Matthew
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Ryan S.





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PostPosted: Fri 04 May, 2012 7:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I thought the change in length from the gladius and other classical swords to the longer European swords was mostly technological. After all, the longer the blade, the farther away you can stab your enemy from. I would imagine if there was some correlation between sword length and height, it would be best to look for within sword types. So instead of asking did Vikings used longer swords then Romans because Vikings are taller, ask did taller Vikings have longer swords?
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Fri 04 May, 2012 7:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The average length of a viking age sword is ca 75cm (30"), with most consentrated within the 70 cm range. Blades shorter than 70cm are rare, as are the ones longer than 80. The longest blade recorded by Pettersen is a 90 cm single edged blade.

When it comes to sword length, one also has to consider the intended use of the blade. A longer blade will be more sluggish, regardless of other factors such as balance. If over all sword weight is low, this does not matter as much, though.

As a rule, long blades are better for thrusting or tip strikes, while the shorter ones are more manouverable and better for draw cutts and innfighting.

"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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Luke Kramer




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PostPosted: Fri 04 May, 2012 8:08 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I know there are some works regarding quarterstaff that use the height of the wielder to determine the length of the weapon. I have the material at home, and can give specifics if needed. Since staff shares a lot of sword techniques, it could be possible that a similar rule applied to swords.

Mechanically, a taller person can usually handle a longer sword with ease. It makes sense to me that there would be some variance according to size of the person; this of course assumes that the swordsman has the means to have such a weapon custom tailored!
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Fri 04 May, 2012 8:52 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In Silver's work, the quarter staff has the same length guidielines as the half pike; Hold by your left side, reach over your head and graps with the right hand, and turn to a quarter grip (Lead hand 1/4th down the shaft, rear hand on the end).
The resulting weapon is some 2,7m long for a 1,8m person. At a width of 2 inches (5cm) it is essentially a small tree for hitting people with, that has more in common with the spear or halberd than the sword.

In the norse literature, the rule for spears seem to be holding the spear next to you and touching the bottom of the socket with your fingers, resulting in a (one handed spear) in the 2.3-2,5 m range, depending on spearhead length.

"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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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Fri 04 May, 2012 9:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ryan S. wrote:
I thought the change in length from the gladius and other classical swords to the longer European swords was mostly technological. After all, the longer the blade, the farther away you can stab your enemy from.


Nah, it's mostly fashion and tactics. Longer swords were never really a problem to make, it's just that the earlier Romans prefered to get really up-close and personal. (Who is going to worry you more, the guy who dances around just out of reach with something long, or the one who is coming at you fast with a big knife and a big grin?) Plus, the Late Romans were mostly using spears as their primary weapons, not swords.

Quote:
I would imagine if there was some correlation between sword length and height, it would be best to look for within sword types. So instead of asking did Vikings used longer swords then Romans because Vikings are taller, ask did taller Vikings have longer swords?


Exactly, it needs to be specific to time and place.

Matthew
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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Fri 04 May, 2012 9:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ryan S. wrote:
I thought the change in length from the gladius and other classical swords to the longer European swords was mostly technological. After all, the longer the blade, the farther away you can stab your enemy from.

The trouble there is that gladii were shorter than many earlier iron swords. If the Romans had wanted longer infantry swords, they would have made them- as they did in late antiquity. Similarly, many 18th and 19th century swords are shorter than had been fashionable in the 16th and 17th centuries. Designing a sword is all about how it will be carried and used- there is no universal ideal.
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Gary Teuscher





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PostPosted: Fri 04 May, 2012 10:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

You guys have it all wrong. Longer swords with Vikings and knights came abut because they needed bigger swords to deal with the heavy armour the vikings and knights wore.

Signed,

Cole B's Professor Big Grin
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T. Arndt




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PostPosted: Fri 04 May, 2012 12:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gary Teuscher wrote:
You guys have it all wrong. Longer swords with Vikings and knights came abut because they needed bigger swords to deal with the heavy armour the vikings and knights wore.
Signed,
Cole B's Professor Big Grin

LOL. What a troll. Happy

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Antonio Ganarini




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PostPosted: Sun 06 May, 2012 1:20 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gary Teuscher wrote:
You guys have it all wrong. Longer swords with Vikings and knights came abut because they needed bigger swords to deal with the heavy armour the vikings and knights wore.

Signed,

Cole B's Professor Big Grin


Happy to hear that, it's something new that I can learn!
But, for the same reason, I think that all the posts till now were precious for me, in each of them there were something good!

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Ryan S.





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PostPosted: Sun 06 May, 2012 3:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew Amt wrote:
Ryan S. wrote:
I thought the change in length from the gladius and other classical swords to the longer European swords was mostly technological. After all, the longer the blade, the farther away you can stab your enemy from.


Nah, it's mostly fashion and tactics. Longer swords were never really a problem to make, it's just that the earlier Romans prefered to get really up-close and personal. (Who is going to worry you more, the guy who dances around just out of reach with something long, or the one who is coming at you fast with a big knife and a big grin?) Plus, the Late Romans were mostly using spears as their primary weapons, not swords.

Quote:
I would imagine if there was some correlation between sword length and height, it would be best to look for within sword types. So instead of asking did Vikings used longer swords then Romans because Vikings are taller, ask did taller Vikings have longer swords?


Exactly, it needs to be specific to time and place.

Matthew


did the Roman's ever not use spears?
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Sun 06 May, 2012 7:36 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ryan S. wrote:
did the Roman's ever not use spears?


A lot of Roman troops of various sorts used spears over time. Most legionaries used javelins and swords from around 500 BC to around 200 AD (I think!). Not *all*, mind you--for a long time the triarii still used spears, up to about 100 BC. And auxiliaries (infantry and cavalry) typically used spears. But the *classic* Roman legionary, the guy we think of from Marius to Hadrian, was a swordsman.

Plus I wasn't bothering to bring spears into the mix cuz the original question was about sword length!

Matthew
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Mark T




PostPosted: Sat 19 May, 2012 8:51 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Some of you might like Roger Norling's How long should a longsword be?
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