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Sam Arwas




Location: Australia
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PostPosted: Wed 02 Dec, 2015 6:02 pm    Post subject: How frequently were arming swords sharpened?         Reply with quote

I have read several times that surviving arming swords/knightly swords often exhibit more profile taper than they had when they were forged because of continued sharpening throughout their period of use. To my knowledge these swords were sidearms so although they were carried all the time they wouldn't see a lot of use in actual combat. If use in combat was not the primary cause of the blade to require sharpening than why were they sharpened often enough to effect the silhouette of the blade?
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Mike Ruhala




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PostPosted: Wed 02 Dec, 2015 6:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A lot of people will say something like "swords were never primary weapons" but that's really an over-simplification, probably in large part driven by a desire to feel like one is "in the know" by finding fault with some particular concept or another. It reminds me of how 15 years ago everything was automatically attributed to "fashion" without many other considerations taken into account. Swords weren't primary weapons in the same way that rifles aren't primary weapons for modern armies, most actual casualties are in inflicted by artillery and that's been the case for a very long time, perhaps even before the gunpowder era. It would be just as absurd now to send infantry soldiers into the field without rifles as it would have been to send Medieval warriors into battle without a sword, mace, axe or similar even if most of the enemy casualties would likely be inflicted by artillery or polearms. Trying to apply concepts like "primary weapon" and "secondary weapon" isn't a good way to look at the situation anyway because it's less like one particular weapon is the clearly favored choice and a lot more like you have to use the correct tool for the job. No matter what ideas might be presented today the fact remains that swords were seen as important individual equipment, they were mass-manufactured century after century and we have ample evidence that they were getting used for their intended purpose.
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Sam Arwas




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PostPosted: Wed 02 Dec, 2015 7:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mike Ruhala wrote:
A lot of people will say something like "swords were never primary weapons" but that's really an over-simplification, probably in large part driven by a desire to feel like one is "in the know" by finding fault with some particular concept or another. It reminds me of how 15 years ago everything was automatically attributed to "fashion" without many other considerations taken into account. Swords weren't primary weapons in the same way that rifles aren't primary weapons for modern armies, most actual casualties are in inflicted by artillery and that's been the case for a very long time, perhaps even before the gunpowder era. It would be just as absurd now to send infantry soldiers into the field without rifles as it would have been to send Medieval warriors into battle without a sword, mace, axe or similar even if most of the enemy casualties would likely be inflicted by artillery or polearms. Trying to apply concepts like "primary weapon" and "secondary weapon" isn't a good way to look at the situation anyway because it's less like one particular weapon is the clearly favored choice and a lot more like you have to use the correct tool for the job. No matter what ideas might be presented today the fact remains that swords were seen as important individual equipment, they were mass-manufactured century after century and we have ample evidence that they were getting used for their intended purpose.
Observing that a warrior has items in his arsenal that in terms of their function classify as primary, secondary or tertiary weapons is not in it's self indicative of an attempt to feign greater subject knowledge than one actually has.
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Mike Ruhala




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PostPosted: Wed 02 Dec, 2015 11:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Perhaps not in every circumstance but any way you cut it the concept doesn't really apply the way it is often presented. Different weapons were used for different phases or aspects of combat. I think part of the reason this is a bit of a peeve for me is that it puts the focus on the weapons rather than the troops where it would make more sense. For instance the primary weapon of a pikeman would in fact be a pike but a pike wouldn't be the primary weapon of an archer so the pike itself is not primary/secondary/tertiary it's just a tool for particular sorts of work that may or may not apply to any given troop.

I'm pretty much agreeing with your main observation though, I think. Somehow or another all that wear and tear was accumulating on these weapons so clearly they were seeing some action and chances are good its because they were being used for exactly what they were made and purchased to do.
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David Cooper




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PostPosted: Thu 03 Dec, 2015 1:11 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think you also must consider that swords were not only used in battle. A great deal of practice was required to become proficient in the use of arms. Certainly wooden substitutes would be used for some training but there would be a lot of work at a pell, feats of arms displays and tourneys et.c. Swords were expensive and so were not likely to be abused as such but equally most men at arms did not own a huge array of blunts and wasters.
The journey not the destination
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Sam Arwas




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PostPosted: Thu 03 Dec, 2015 1:35 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mike Ruhala wrote:
Perhaps not in every circumstance but any way you cut it the concept doesn't really apply the way it is often presented. Different weapons were used for different phases or aspects of combat. I think part of the reason this is a bit of a peeve for me is that it puts the focus on the weapons rather than the troops where it would make more sense. For instance the primary weapon of a pikeman would in fact be a pike but a pike wouldn't be the primary weapon of an archer so the pike itself is not primary/secondary/tertiary it's just a tool for particular sorts of work that may or may not apply to any given troop.

I'm pretty much agreeing with your main observation though, I think. Somehow or another all that wear and tear was accumulating on these weapons so clearly they were seeing some action and chances are good its because they were being used for exactly what they were made and purchased to do.
I think the point you are getting at is a weapon being a sidearm doesn't mean it did not see regular use. That's interesting. But calling a pike "the primary weapon of a pikemen" and then saying it is not a primary weapon (because archers don't use it??) is confusing.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Thu 03 Dec, 2015 3:10 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The distinction about swords being secondary weapons or sidearms is misleading, because it can give the impression that swords were not commonly used. In most battles involving cavalry, the knights and mounted warriors would make use of their lance until it snapped, and then would use a second and third lance (if they had them) until these back-up lances broke. Once the various lances snapped, the swords would come out and be used for the remainder of the battle. Given, then, that swords were used after lances inevitably broke in battle, words like "secondary" or "backup" seem inappropriate. Swords are just as much primary weapons as lances; knights used their lances first, but the knight may well have spent more time wielding his sword once his lance(s) broke.
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Mike Ruhala




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PostPosted: Thu 03 Dec, 2015 3:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sam Arwas wrote:
I think the point you are getting at is a weapon being a sidearm doesn't mean it did not see regular use.


Yeah, that's more or less it.

Quote:
But calling a pike "the primary weapon of a pikemen" and then saying it is not a primary weapon (because archers don't use it??) is confusing.


Well, that's kind of my point... it is confusing! Whether or not any given weapon is "primary" totally depends on the role of the soldier who may wield it. A pikeman needs a pike, an archer needs a bow, a halberdier needs a halberd. It's no help to call a weapon "primary" if it doesn't match up to the job that needs to be done. That's why I say instead of thinking in terms of primary/secondary/tertiary it's better to think about a toolbox. I think it's meaningful that so many people for such a very long time felt it was important to have a sword in their toolbox whether or not they were also armed with something else. That in itself suggests that the need for immediate access to a sword was pretty common.

David Cooper wrote:
I think you also must consider that swords were not only used in battle. A great deal of practice was required to become proficient in the use of arms. Certainly wooden substitutes would be used for some training but there would be a lot of work at a pell, feats of arms displays and tourneys et.c. Swords were expensive and so were not likely to be abused as such but equally most men at arms did not own a huge array of blunts and wasters.


Those are some good points, David. There's also self defense and dueling besides actual warfare.

As far as swords being expensive goes that's not necessarily the case for all eras. ~20 years ago this idea was floated as a means to justify parrying with the flat but now we've got historical documents that have shown that inexpensive swords were available and that in most cases you're specifically supposed to parry with the edge. Even if you go back to the Viking Age the existence of "name brands" like Ulfberht and Ingelri as well as imitators suggests swords were being mass-produced and traded internationally so it's not unreasonable to believe economies of scale kept at least some kinds of swords relatively affordable.
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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Thu 03 Dec, 2015 5:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Craig Peters wrote:
The distinction about swords being secondary weapons or sidearms is misleading, because it can give the impression that swords were not commonly used. In most battles involving cavalry, the knights and mounted warriors would make use of their lance until it snapped, and then would use a second and third lance (if they had them) until these back-up lances broke. Once the various lances snapped, the swords would come out and be used for the remainder of the battle. Given, then, that swords were used after lances inevitably broke in battle, words like "secondary" or "backup" seem inappropriate. Swords are just as much primary weapons as lances; knights used their lances first, but the knight may well have spent more time wielding his sword once his lance(s) broke.


^This pretty much.

Lances were indeed the primary weapon for heavy cavalry but that does not mean they caused the most casualties. Then there were tournaments where fighting with the sword was quite common.

Froissart describing the battle of Nájera says that the men-at-arms fought (on foot) with different weapons, some with axes others with swords or lances/spears.

Then here is Sir John Silver discussing what weapons are suited for single combat and battlefield use.

Truth is that I do not know if he was correct but at least the thought was floating around in that time.

Quote:
The battle axe, the halberd, the black-bill, or such like weapons of weight, appertaining unto guard or battle, are all one in fight, and have advantage against the two handed sword, the sword and buckler, the sword and target, the sword and dagger, or the rapier and poniard.


Quote:
Yet understand, that in battles, and where variety of weapons are, among multitudes of men and horses, the sword and target, the two handed sword, battle axe, the black bill, and halberd, are better weapons, and more dangerous in their offense and forces, than is the sword and buckler, short staff, long staff, or forest bill. The sword and target leads upon shot, and in troops defends thrusts and blows given by battle axe, halberds, black bill, or two handed swords, far better than can the sword and buckler.

The morris pike defends the battle from both horse and man, much better than can the short staff, long staff, or forest bill. Again the battle axe, the halberd, the black bill, the two handed sword, and sword & target, among armed men and troops, by reason of their weights, shortness, and great force, do much more offend the enemy, & are then much better weapons, than is the short staff, the long staff, or the forest bill.


Quote:
The short sword, and sword and dagger, are perfect good weapons, and especially in service of the prince. What a brave weapon is a short sharp light sword, to carry, to draw, to be nimble withal, to strike, to cut, to thrust both strong and quick. And what a good defence is a strong single hilt, when men are clustering and hurling together, especially where variety of weapons are, in their motions to defend the hand, head, face, and bodies, from blows, that shall be given sometimes with swords, sometimes with two handed swords, battle axes, halberds, or black bills, and sometimes men shall be so near together, they shall have no space, scarce to use the blades of their swords below their waist, then their hilts (their hands being aloft) defend from the blows their hands, arms, heads, faces and bodies. Then they lay on, having the use of blows and grips, by force of their arms with their hilts, strong blows, at the head, face, arms, bodies, and shoulders, and many times hurling together, scope is given to turn down their points, with violent thrusts at the faces and bodies, by reason of the shortness of their blades, to the mighty annoyance, discomfort, and great destruction of their enemies.
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Thu 03 Dec, 2015 12:24 pm    Post subject: Re: How frequently were arming swords sharpened?         Reply with quote

Sam Arwas wrote:
I have read several times that surviving arming swords/knightly swords often exhibit more profile taper than they had when they were forged because of continued sharpening throughout their period of use. To my knowledge these swords were sidearms so although they were carried all the time they wouldn't see a lot of use in actual combat. If use in combat was not the primary cause of the blade to require sharpening than why were they sharpened often enough to effect the silhouette of the blade?


Even if they were a primary weapon, they might not see a lot of use in actual combat. Battles weren't that common.

Consider the humble kitchen knife. Daily use. It takes a long time for resharpening to affect the profile. But it does. This is even more obvious with butcher's knives. They get used a lot, and sharpened a lot. A sword, even if used in many battles, would be unlikely to get close to the amount of cutting that tools such as kitchen and butcher knives get. So sharpening to resharpen the blade after cutting is not the answer to modified sword profiles.

Some other possible explanations are:
(a) Resharpening because the scabbard blunts the sword. A good scabbard won't. So rule this one out.
(b) Sharpening for discipline or as regular maintenance, whether or not the sword is already sharp. This will do it.
(c) Removing edge damage such as nicks after battle or tournament. This will do it very easily. Even if there are years between incidents, this will do it.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Thu 03 Dec, 2015 1:10 pm    Post subject: Re: How frequently were arming swords sharpened?         Reply with quote

Timo Nieminen wrote:


Even if they were a primary weapon, they might not see a lot of use in actual combat. Battles weren't that common.



What about tournament usage, siege warfare and skirmishing. Especially mounted troops would be at the forefront of the campaign.
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Philip Dyer





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PostPosted: Thu 03 Dec, 2015 5:19 pm    Post subject: Re: How frequently were arming swords sharpened?         Reply with quote

Pieter B. wrote:
Timo Nieminen wrote:


Even if they were a primary weapon, they might not see a lot of use in actual combat. Battles weren't that common.



What about tournament usage, siege warfare and skirmishing. Especially mounted troops would be at the forefront of the campaign.

I honestly think sieges is where swords would take the most abuse and use.It sorta hard to scale walks wielding lance,halberd or pike, since you sorta need at least one hand to safely scale a ladder quickly. Polearms are also harder to use in cramped spaces that a sword. In besieging a castles you may have to employ undermining, scaling, hammering, be fighting upward, downwards and extremely cramped space. If the defender is any good, you will probably be facing raids and few fights to even get to the fortification in the first place. The attacker can't take everything with them because that leaves them that much more open to reprisals if he fails to the take the land he is after. So I wouldn't be surprised that swords were used allot more,and in allot more damaging ways in sieges than in battles,and some of the wierder weapons we see in illuminations are battle field weapons adapted for siege warfare.
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Sam Arwas




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PostPosted: Thu 03 Dec, 2015 8:20 pm    Post subject: Re: How frequently were arming swords sharpened?         Reply with quote

Philip Dyer wrote:
Pieter B. wrote:
Timo Nieminen wrote:


Even if they were a primary weapon, they might not see a lot of use in actual combat. Battles weren't that common.



What about tournament usage, siege warfare and skirmishing. Especially mounted troops would be at the forefront of the campaign.

I honestly think sieges is where swords would take the most abuse and use.It sorta hard to scale walks wielding lance,halberd or pike, since you sorta need at least one hand to safely scale a ladder quickly. Polearms are also harder to use in cramped spaces that a sword. In besieging a castles you may have to employ undermining, scaling, hammering, be fighting upward, downwards and extremely cramped space. If the defender is any good, you will probably be facing raids and few fights to even get to the fortification in the first place. The attacker can't take everything with them because that leaves them that much more open to reprisals if he fails to the take the land he is after. So I wouldn't be surprised that swords were used allot more,and in allot more damaging ways in sieges than in battles,and some of the wierder weapons we see in illuminations are battle field weapons adapted for siege warfare.
Yes and it also seems pretty inevitable that when swinging a sword around in a space tightly confined by stone walls your edge is going clang against those stone walls a couple of times.
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Thu 03 Dec, 2015 9:43 pm    Post subject: Re: How frequently were arming swords sharpened?         Reply with quote

Pieter B. wrote:
Timo Nieminen wrote:
Even if they were a primary weapon, they might not see a lot of use in actual combat. Battles weren't that common.


What about tournament usage, siege warfare and skirmishing. Especially mounted troops would be at the forefront of the campaign.


Tournaments could add up, if you fought in a lot of them. If his biography is correct, William Marshal peaked at about 1.5 tournaments a month. Not a typical case, though.

Siege and raid will occupy a lot of time, but very little of that time will be spent sword in hand, swinging it at enemies. It would be really hard to spend so much time swinging a sword at enemies that it would need regular re-sharpening without (a) running out of enemies, or (b) dying.

A hundred or so hours of continuously cutting abrasive materials, hitting rocks and dirt, and re-sharpening with a file, can leave a thin blade essentially worn out. With continuous hard use (i.e., 40 or more hours per week), a cane knife (a thin-bladed machete for cutting sugar cane) might have its blade replaced every few weeks. That's hard use compared to a sword, with no real effort to make the blade last for a long time (since they're cheap). Similar hardness to a lot of Medieval swords (45-50HRC). Not hitting rocks and sharpening more conservatively than with a file would see the blade lasting much longer.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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