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Bryan Heff




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PostPosted: Mon 03 Feb, 2014 1:23 pm    Post subject: How were Great Swords used?         Reply with quote

How were the early great swords used on the battlefield? I am interested in specifically the XIIa and XIIIa types. I believe it was still essentially a mail+sword+shield era with a cavalry focus for the nobility when they first seemed to become popular.

So how were these big swords employed?

Were they swung with 2-hands from the saddle? Swung 1-handed? Primarily a weapon used on foot only?

Were they used with a shield, which would seem to go against the longer 2-handed grip?

Was the shield cast aside when the sword was drawn?

Were great sword soldiers not carrying a shield in the first place?
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Hector A.





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PostPosted: Mon 03 Feb, 2014 1:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I asked myself the same question and this is the information I gathered:

First the weapon: the blade average length was 85cm to 89cm, so not very long, certainly not as much as a longsword of later times.
They where also only slightly heavier then 1 handed swords, around 1300-1400g ( easily manageable in 1 hand ). 3/4 of the added weight came from the grip, not the blade.

So essentially what u got is a 1hand sword with a 2handed grip.

It was a weapon primarily used by nobility, on horse back or foot.

On horse back it was used 1 handed, while the other held firmly the reins.

On foot it was also used 1 handed in combination with a shield while the threat of long ranged missiles lingered.
Example: during a advance and early on in the battle.
As soon as missiles where no longer an issue knights would drop there shield and at this point use the sword 2 handed to have a faster more powerful hitting weapon.

NB: If in tight melee formation with the threat of spears, the shield would not be dropped!.

And that's basically it Happy.

If somebody has something to add or if you have further questions be my guest.
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Robin Smith




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PostPosted: Mon 03 Feb, 2014 2:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Don't forget that shields were generally suspended from guige straps and did not have to be held in hand.
A furore Normannorum libera nos, Domine
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D. S. Smith




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PostPosted: Mon 03 Feb, 2014 7:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I thought I read on someone's post here that "bastard swords" were also carried by archers as a self defense weapon, since they weren't carrying a shield.

Let me add to this that I really know nothing on the subject, and could very well be remembering it wrong. It just made sense to me when I read it as a logical explanation. Hopefully someone with knowledge on the subject can correct me if I'm wrong.

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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Mon 03 Feb, 2014 8:15 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

D. S. Smith wrote:
I thought I read on someone's post here that "bastard swords" were also carried by archers as a self defense weapon, since they weren't carrying a shield.


Great swords and bastard swords aren't exactly the same unless we're using different meanings of the terminology. Great swords are Types XIIa and XIIIa mostly. Their grips are usually too long and their weights too great for what I consider a bastard sword. A bastard sword (as some use the term) is equally good with one hand or two. It is sometimes an arming sword blade with a longer grip. Great swords seem better with two hands than one though they can be used that way.

But that's just how I use the terms.

Happy

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Christopher B Lellis




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PostPosted: Mon 03 Feb, 2014 8:25 pm    Post subject: Re: How were Great Swords used?         Reply with quote

Bryan Heff wrote:
How were the early great swords used on the battlefield? I am interested in specifically the XIIa and XIIIa types. I believe it was still essentially a mail+sword+shield era with a cavalry focus for the nobility when they first seemed to become popular.

So how were these big swords employed?

Were they swung with 2-hands from the saddle? Swung 1-handed? Primarily a weapon used on foot only?

Were they used with a shield, which would seem to go against the longer 2-handed grip?

Was the shield cast aside when the sword was drawn?

Were great sword soldiers not carrying a shield in the first place?


I have researched this extensively and have found very little about how these types of swords were used, there simply is very little written record on the subject. Actually during this age there was very little written period and what was being written seems to mostly be religious books.

The Liechtenauer, Talhoffer, Ringeck chroniclers seem to be from a different, later age.
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D. S. Smith




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PostPosted: Mon 03 Feb, 2014 8:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Chad Arnow wrote:
D. S. Smith wrote:
I thought I read on someone's post here that "bastard swords" were also carried by archers as a self defense weapon, since they weren't carrying a shield.


Great swords and bastard swords aren't exactly the same unless we're using different meanings of the terminology. Great swords are Types XIIa and XIIIa mostly. Their grips are usually too long and their weights too great for what I consider a bastard sword. A bastard sword (as some use the term) is equally good with one hand or two. It is sometimes an arming sword blade with a longer grip. Great swords seem better with two hands than one though they can be used that way.

But that's just how I use the terms.


Ah, thanks for the description Chad, that makes more sense now. I've always gotten confused with bastard sword, war sword, great sword, etc.

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They bid me take my place among them,
In the halls of Valhalla!
Where the brave may live forever!
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Harry Marinakis




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PostPosted: Mon 03 Feb, 2014 8:50 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Take a look at the images in this thread:

http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=29618

All of the images that I've been able to find of people using a Great sword show people on their feet, swinging with both hands, either with no shield or their shield slung over their shoulder.

If you can find more images, I'd love to see them.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Mon 03 Feb, 2014 10:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It's been said many times before, but you can apply the techniques of Liechtenauer's long sword teaching to the great sword, as demonstrated by the manuscript Goliath:

http://wiktenauer.com/wiki/Goliath
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Harry Marinakis




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PostPosted: Mon 03 Feb, 2014 10:21 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think the OP was looking for data on how Types XIIa and XIIIa were actually used at the time. This would have been the period AD 1250-1350.

Goliath (c AD 1510) is more than a century too late in regards to the question in the OP.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Mon 03 Feb, 2014 10:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

True, and I realized that as I wrote. However, Goliath is a version of Peter von Danzig's commentary of Liechtenauer (15th C), which is presumably based upon Master Liechtenauer's teaching itself (14th C). So that brings us back considerably closer than before. Besides, it is mentioned that Liechtenauer did not devise the art, but instead learned it from others. That easily allows us to say that many of the techniques would have been known by 1350 AD or earlier. After all, there's only so many ways to effectively fight with a long sword or great sword.
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Harry Marinakis




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PostPosted: Mon 03 Feb, 2014 11:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Good point Craig

I love how this guy is winding up for a haymaker....

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Bryan Heff




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PostPosted: Tue 04 Feb, 2014 4:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for the answers so far. As a poster already mentioned, my curiosity and question is in how/when were these weapons used during the period 1250-1350 (approximately). If we work under the premise that XIIa/XIIIa blade types were a "knightly" weapon, then to me that means mounted on a horse, but I don't believe they were primarily used on horseback. Probably just the opposite. How common was it for knights to dismount and fight? My guess, and its purely speculation is that perhaps the Great Sword was a weapon of last resort, after the mount was killed under the rider and they were forced on foot, perhaps surrounded by the enemy's infantry.

Perhaps the Great Sword was used primarily in one on one combat and not so much on the battlefield, although the picture above certainly looks like a battlefield situation...
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Eric W. Norenberg





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PostPosted: Tue 04 Feb, 2014 9:52 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think Bryan is on the right track. There are period French references to a sword style called a "branc d'arēon" which is typically defined as "saddle sword", a long bladed, two handed sword, not the knights primary mounted weapon (probably a lance given the time period?) or his back-up to the spear or lance (which would be his belt-carried cavalry sword- a one-hander), but his "go nuclear" piece when the horse was no longer viable, cut out from under him and surrounded by enemy footmen. French Wikipedia (which is surely more reliable than English Wikipedia Wink ) describes it's use similar to the later montante, for clearing a big circle around a single defendant. Given the time period I feel sure this would be a type XIIA or XIIIA.

Not that this would be the only use for the great sword of war at this time period but I feel this is surely one application.
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Jeremy V. Krause




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PostPosted: Tue 04 Feb, 2014 11:21 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I really don't see how a great sword could be used on foot with only one have. It just doesn't seem probable. Maybe the shield could have remained, as Robin states, from a quite.

I'm not the weakest guy but unless these swords were more than a bit lighter than the Duke or Baron- I don't see it. In addition there is no historical depictions of great swords being used with shields.
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Christian Borglum




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PostPosted: Tue 04 Feb, 2014 12:16 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Unfortunately, all of the written works concerning technical swordsmanship which have come down to us from the middle ages date from post 1350. While some of the techniques described in these later fechtbuchs like half-swording or wrestling from the bind probably don't work as well with the earlier, wider. more flexible blades. I'm sure quite a bit of the Lichtenauer or Fiore material works just fine with the cut oriented 'Greatswords' of type XIIA or XIIIA pattern. Craig Peters has already mentioned the Goliath Fechtbuch as an example in which the illustrations show wider blades.
I think there are a couple of other points we need to keep in mind when speculating about how 'Greatswords' were used in the 1250 to 1350 period. The first is that the 'Greatswords' which have survived vary significantly in length and mass. Some type XIII swords have blades only around 30". XIIA.2 from records has a blade 35" long and weighs right around 3 lb. Those measurements are inline with numerous short gripped, single handed swords from the first half and middle of the 13th century. It's easy to imagine a sword like that being wielded in one hand or two from horseback or on foot. At the higher end of the spectrum, we've got weapons like Oakeshot's XIIIA.1 with a 39.5" blade or XIIA.4 blade measuring over 43" inches! I can't picture those extreme examples as anything other than exclusively two handed swords. I'm sure in period 'Greatswords' handling and tactical use varied.
The second point is that as a community, I think we have a tendency to over focus on how equipment from this period was used on the battlefield. As modern people, we probably think of Knights and Medieval warfare in the context of field engagements and set piece battles. Medieval strategy and warfare was dominate by sieges. Knights on campaign were much more likely to see combat in the context of a siege than a set piece battle. So, how can we imagine the knightly 'Greatsword' being used in those conditions?

Christian
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Bryan Heff




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PostPosted: Tue 04 Feb, 2014 1:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Christian Borglum wrote:

The second point is that as a community, I think we have a tendency to over focus on how equipment from this period was used on the battlefield. As modern people, we probably think of Knights and Medieval warfare in the context of field engagements and set piece battles. Medieval strategy and warfare was dominate by sieges. Knights on campaign were much more likely to see combat in the context of a siege than a set piece battle. So, how can we imagine the knightly 'Greatsword' being used in those conditions?

Christian


Interesting point about siege warfare. Does that really change things? Yes, I suppose it could. I assume there would be more fighting on foot for one. Is the task of defending walls or gates better served with a large two-handed sword?

I do like the "nuclear" theory though mentioned a few posts above. The weapon of last resort when things really get out of hand and you know what just hit the fan...but who knows. I think that still fits if a battlefield situation or a siege. It makes for some interesting discussion for sure.
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Ben Coomer




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PostPosted: Tue 04 Feb, 2014 2:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I could see a greatsword wielder being the guy that meets the people coming up the ladders on a siege if they get to the top or defends (or attacks) breaches. Powerful blows, perhaps a bit less need for really technical technique, and the intimidation factor.

Pure speculation, but "shock troop" is what comes to mind seeing fully armored knights swinging these swords.
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Augusto Boer Bront
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PostPosted: Tue 04 Feb, 2014 2:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I don't get the one handed usage thing. Just because Oakeshott wrote it in his book now everyone is repeating that.
Wonder what Oakeshott was thinking then =).
Maybe with the one handed sized sword it could be done, but I don't see the point in using the obviously two handed sword with a single hand and a shield.
Would you use a XVth century longsword with a single hand?

Neither would I....

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Christian Borglum




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PostPosted: Tue 04 Feb, 2014 3:52 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
I don't get the one handed usage thing. Just because Oakeshott wrote it in his book now everyone is repeating that.
Wonder what Oakeshott was thinking then =).
Maybe with the one handed sized sword it could be done, but I don't see the point in using the obviously two handed sword with a single hand and a shield.
Would you use a XVth century longsword with a single hand?



Hi Augusto,

Although, some of the larger ones, like the examples I listed earlier look like they were "obviously two handed", many surviving 'Greatswords' from second half of the 13th century and 14th centuries seem to have have hand-and-a-half proportions. A lot of them have blades 34" to 38" long, with grip lengths of 6" or 7". If all of the 'Greatswords' from this period were intended to be used exclusively two handed, why not make them all bigger? For two handed use, it seems to me that longer grip lengths of 9 to 12 inches would be the norm.
Unfortunately, the only surviving manuscript we have on swordsmanship from the period when 'Greatswords' were really popular is I.33, and that covers self defense with the single handed sword and buckler. Although I've read Guy Windsor & Bob Charon's works on Fiore, I'm not a trained swordsman, just a pathetically out of shape office worker like a lot of us. So, take my observations with all due skepticism. I could not wield my Albion Baron effectively single handed with a shield on foot. It's a little too massive. The Baron is much quicker and more controllable when used with two hands. However, having ridden off and on as a child and adult, I think I could deliver an effective sweeping or passing cut single handed riding by a target. Much of the speed and momentum of the blade would come from the horse. I think that with practice, keeping edge alignment on outward or downward cuts wouldn't be that hard. I find that once I get it up to speed, the somewhat forward POB on the Baron helps keep the blade sailing through a nice plane. You could almost say it's forgiving that way. That being said, it's NOT a sword you're going to "fence" with from horseback, and as a modern office worker, delivering repeated cuts from the saddle single handed would tire me out real quick.
For a fit, strong, highly trained, soldier, using a large hand-and-a-half 'Greatsword' like the Albion Baron or Duke for single handed passing cuts from horseback seems feasible.

Christian
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