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Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > Suspensions for Oakeshott Type XIIa and XIIIa War Swords Reply to topic
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Harry Marinakis

PostPosted: Thu 26 Jun, 2014 6:26 am    Post subject: Suspensions for Oakeshott Type XIIa and XIIIa War Swords         Reply with quote

Suspensions for Oakeshott Type XIIa and XIIIa War Swords

What are the historically-correct methods for suspending Oakeshott Type XIIa and XIIIa war swords? I decided to do some detailed research on this subject. Feel free to add more information and corrections.

Previous Threads

Suspensions for Oakeshott Type X-XI Swords:

Suspensions for Oakeshott Type XII Swords:


First, I searched for examples of Type XIIa and XIIIa swords in medieval books, effigies, illuminated manuscripts, paintings, extant swords, scabbards and modern research articles. Then I compiled a catalog of the various Type XIIa and XIIIa sword belts and scabbards. Finally, I reviewed the catalog for time and location trends.


While there are numerous surviving war swords, there are no surviving war sword scabbards. Thus, in order to examine the manner in which war swords were suspended with their scabbards, we must look to medieval effigies, paintings and illuminated manuscripts. Unfortunately, even these sources provide no more than a trace amount of information on how war swords were carried by those wielding them.

Though there is little actual data on war sword scabbards, we can (with some confidence, I think) draw some conclusions based upon that which is not found in the effigies, paintings and illuminated manuscripts. Though we must remember that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Typical one-handed arming swords of the 13th and 14th Century were carried in scabbards with integrated belts (Figure A). In fact, detailed searches of effigies, paintings and illuminated manuscripts from this time period fail to reveal any other kind of sword suspension except integrated belts. This includes the few war swords that can be found in these sources. More complicated types of suspension systems that are found in later medieval periods (such as multiple strap suspensions, Figure B) are not found in sources from the 13th and 14th Centuries. Therefore, is probably safe to conclude that two-handed war swords were carried in the same manner as one-handed arming swords of the same period. That is, in a scabbard with an integrated belt, as seen in Figure A.
Figure A. Maille-clad combatants confront an enemy swinging a two-handed war sword. Note that the war sword scabbard has an integrated belt, and is suspended in a manner identical to that of one-handed arming swords. From WLB HB XIII 6 Weltchronik & Marienleben, folio 199r, Austria, AD 1300-1350
Figure B. A modern replica of an Oakeshott Type XIIa war sword scabbard. The suspension system shown here has a narrow belt, three suspension straps, rings and buckles. There is no historical basis for a war sword suspension system such as this.

Modern war sword reproductions often come equipped with a suspension system such as that depicted in Figure B. While such a suspension system is very effective at supporting the large scabbard in a more horizontal position, and keeping the tip of the scabbard off the ground, it has no basis in fact. There is no historical evidence that war swords of the 13th and 14th Centuries were ever suspended in such a manner. The suspension system shown in Figure B is copied from longsword scabbard suspensions that are found much later in the medieval period (15th and 16th Centuries).

Why do modern war sword reproductions generally come with historically inaccurate suspensions? In my opinion, there are three major reasons:

(a) 13th and 14th Century War sword suspensions are almost non-existent in medieval art and manuscripts, and almost no one is familiar with a proper war sword suspension;
(b) 15th, 16th and 17th Century longsword suspensions are very commonplace in medieval art, and are very familiar to most medieval historians;
(c) Most people (correctly) assume that they would have a difficult time walking with a large war sword hanging from an integrated sword belt, because the tip of the scabbard would be dragging on the ground.

As a result of the three reasons discussed above, most people (erroneously) assume that the large war swords were carried in a manner identical to the later longswords. Thus, as shown in Figure B, we have a 13th Century war sword reproduction with a 15th Century longsword suspension.

War Sword Suspension

There are only a few images of war sword belt and scabbards, and they show very little detail.

War sword belts were 2 to 3 inches wide. The belt is generally fastened with belt buckle, except in Germany where the knotted thong belt was still in use (Figure C). The sword belt found on the tomb of Prince Edmund "Crouchback" shows a wide belt decorated with diamond-shaped mounts (Figure D). Other war sword belts are wide and undecorated (Figures A and E).
Figure C: Several war swords from a German manuscript dated AD 1256. While the war sword scabbards are not clearly visible, the wide thong belts are visible. From UBH Cod. Pal. germ. 389 Der Welsche Gast, folio 55, Germany, AD 1256
Figure D: The tomb of Prince Edmund "Crouchback" (AD 1245-1296), Earl of Lancaster, at Westminster Abbey shows the prince wearing a war sword with a wide integrated belt wrapped around the scabbard of war sword. From the Tomb of Prince Edmund "Crouchback" (AD 1245-1296), Earl of Lancaster, at Westminster Abbey, constructed between AD 1296-1301

Two types of suspension methods were used for war swords: the vertical (Figure A) suspension and offset-belt suspension (Figure D) methods were used. Vertical suspensions tend to show that the belts are wrapped around the upper scabbard (Figure A) or laced into the scabbard in a "X" pattern (Figure E).

The scabbards appear to be plain without tooling, risers, mounts or chapes. The scabbard of Prince Edmund "Crouchback" shows an integrated triangular rain guard (Figure D).

Figure E: A wide, undecorated war sword belt and scabbard found on folio 17r of the illuminated manuscript Tenison Psalter, circa AD 1284-1316


In summary, these are the general characteristics of Oakeshott Type XIIa and XIIIa war sword suspensions:

--The sword belts were wide and generally undecorated

--The sword belts were fastened with a buckle, except in Germany where the knotted thong belt was still in use

--Both vertical and offset-belt suspension systems were used

--Vertical suspensions show that the belts were integrated (laced) into the scabbard in an "X" pattern, or simply wrapped around the upper scabbard

--The scabbards were generally plain and undecorated

--Integrated triangular leather rain guards were present

--The scabbards generally lacked any other decorations or features such as risers, tooling, lockets, rings or chapes

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Craig Peters

PostPosted: Thu 26 Jun, 2014 10:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sean Flynt posted this in another thread, so I'd like to acknowledge him for drawing my attention to it. This is from an image of the crucifixion of Christ. Since the image is from Austria, the soldier wears a wide thong knotted belt, as commonly seen in the Empire. The scabbard appears to be integrally attached to the thong belt. The scabbard looks as though it is dark brown, and has no rain guard. The scabbard itself is entirely unadorned, save for the metal chape at the bottom. As I've noted in my other thread on metal chapes:, scabbards from the years 1300 to 1350 AD or so are most likely to have a metal chape; this particular image is from 1330-31 AD. Had it been from the latter half of the century, the scabbard very likely would not have the metal chape.

Kreuzigung Christi

Kunstwerk: Temperamalerei-Holz ; Einrichtung sakral ; Retabel ; Meister der Rückseite des Verduner Altars ; Wien ; Mt:27:033-056 , Mk:15:022-041 , Lk:23:033-049, Jo:19:017-037
Dokumentation: 1330 ; 1331 ; Klosterneuburg ; Österreich ; Niederösterreich ; Stiftsmuseum
Anmerkungen: 108x120 ; Wien ; Rückseite des Verduner Altars ; Benesch 1937: S. 40 , Geschichte der bildenden Kunst in Österreich, Bd. 2, S. 535-537

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