Info Favorites Register Log in
myArmoury.com Discussion Forums

Forum index Memberlist Usergroups Spotlight Topics Search
Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > Swords as a secondary weapon Reply to topic
This is a standard topic  
Author Message
Kirk K.





Joined: 24 May 2016

Posts: 74

PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2016 3:52 pm    Post subject: Swords as a secondary weapon         Reply with quote

Many spearmen, archers and other soldiers carrying other primary weapons than a sword also had a sword on their belt as a backup. In thinking about that, I assumed such swords would be smaller, so as not to interfere with the use of the primary weapon, and cheaper due to their secondary status. But looking at historical drawings those assumptions do not seem to be well borne out in reality. I know many simply used whatever they had, but surely there were some attempts at weapon standardization, especially in larger military orgs.

So are there any overarching common characteristics to be observed in 'secondary swords', or are they just all over the map in design style?
View user's profile Send private message
Mikko Kuusirati




Location: Finland
Joined: 16 Nov 2004
Reading list: 13 books

Posts: 965

PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2016 5:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Almost all swords are "secondary swords". There's no distinct type or style of sword specifically for carrying as a sidearm, because all reasonably compact swords were carried as sidearms. Primary weapons like a spear or polearm or gun (or a large two-handed sword, for that matter) you have to carry in your hands - the nonsensical cinematic and video game obsession with strapping large weapons to your back notwithstanding - but any regular sword will just hang from your belt or saddle, safe and secure in its scabbard, leaving your hands free yet instantly accessible when you need it.
The subtle tongue, the sophist guile, they fail when the broadswords sing;
Rush in and die, dogs -- I was a man before I was a king.
-- R. E. Howard, The Road of Kings
View user's profile Send private message
Kirk K.





Joined: 24 May 2016

Posts: 74

PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2016 5:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mikko Kuusirati wrote:
Almost all swords are "secondary swords". There's no distinct type or style of sword specifically for carrying as a sidearm, because all reasonably compact swords were carried as sidearms. Primary weapons like a spear or polearm or gun (or a large two-handed sword, for that matter) you have to carry in your hands - the nonsensical cinematic and video game obsession with strapping large weapons to your back notwithstanding - but any regular sword will just hang from your belt or saddle, safe and secure in its scabbard, leaving your hands free yet instantly accessible when you need it.
Were there so few dedicated swordsmen in Medieval and Renaissance armies?
View user's profile Send private message
Ronald M




Location: vancouver bc canada
Joined: 06 Oct 2015

Posts: 65

PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2016 6:03 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kirk K. wrote:
Mikko Kuusirati wrote:
Almost all swords are "secondary swords". There's no distinct type or style of sword specifically for carrying as a sidearm, because all reasonably compact swords were carried as sidearms. Primary weapons like a spear or polearm or gun (or a large two-handed sword, for that matter) you have to carry in your hands - the nonsensical cinematic and video game obsession with strapping large weapons to your back notwithstanding - but any regular sword will just hang from your belt or saddle, safe and secure in its scabbard, leaving your hands free yet instantly accessible when you need it.
Were there so few dedicated swordsmen in Medieval and Renaissance armies?


well mercenaries got pay bonuses for being "fencing masters"

but there wouldnt be many people who went into battle with swords as their main weapons....

smiley face 123? no? lol yeah well im here cause i like...swords and weapons and stuff obv
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail
Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
Joined: 17 Sep 2003

Posts: 1,306

PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2016 6:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kirk K. wrote:
Were there so few dedicated swordsmen in Medieval and Renaissance armies?


It's almost safer to say that there were *no* "dedicated swordsmen" until the large 2-handed infantry sword came into use. And the men who wielded those typically carried a smaller sword at their waist, as well. For everyone else, right, the main weapon was a spear, bow, crossbow, polearm, pike, or lance. Generally speaking!

Matthew
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
Kirk K.





Joined: 24 May 2016

Posts: 74

PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2016 6:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew Amt wrote:
Kirk K. wrote:
Were there so few dedicated swordsmen in Medieval and Renaissance armies?


It's almost safer to say that there were *no* "dedicated swordsmen" until the large 2-handed infantry sword came into use. And the men who wielded those typically carried a smaller sword at their waist, as well. For everyone else, right, the main weapon was a spear, bow, crossbow, polearm, pike, or lance. Generally speaking!

Matthew
Iknow Landsknecht-style knights with great swords were rare, but I thought that soldiers with sword and buckler were fairly common. They were a standard type used in Spanish tercios, for example. I also read that sword and buckler men were frequently used to try and rush in and attack enemy pikemen. Am I mistaken?

Last edited by Kirk K. on Wed 25 May, 2016 6:17 pm; edited 1 time in total
View user's profile Send private message
Mikko Kuusirati




Location: Finland
Joined: 16 Nov 2004
Reading list: 13 books

Posts: 965

PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2016 6:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kirk K. wrote:
Were there so few dedicated swordsmen in Medieval and Renaissance armies?

That's a bit beside the point, really. There were lots of swordsmen, as such, but for the vast majority of them the sword was not their main battlefield weapon - functionally, in a battle almost all swordsmen were actually archers, lancers, pikemen, halberdiers, musketeers and such first and swordsmen only secondarily - on the side, as it were (and outside active combat, at that, primary battlefield weapons being a pain to drag around whereas a sword is quite handy to wear at your side just in case).

The subtle tongue, the sophist guile, they fail when the broadswords sing;
Rush in and die, dogs -- I was a man before I was a king.
-- R. E. Howard, The Road of Kings
View user's profile Send private message
Mikko Kuusirati




Location: Finland
Joined: 16 Nov 2004
Reading list: 13 books

Posts: 965

PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2016 6:18 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kirk K. wrote:
Iknow Landsknecht-style knights with great swords were rare, but I thought that soldiers with sword and buckler were fairly common. They were a standard type used in Spanish tercios, for example. Am I mistaken?

Rodeleros and similar special troops didn't use bucklers - there's another extremely popular sidearm, BTW! so yes, in that sense soldiers with sword and buckler would have actually been fairly common - but rather rodelas or targets, medium size shields strapped to the arm. And they were, indeed, specialists, not common rank and file.

The subtle tongue, the sophist guile, they fail when the broadswords sing;
Rush in and die, dogs -- I was a man before I was a king.
-- R. E. Howard, The Road of Kings
View user's profile Send private message
Kirk K.





Joined: 24 May 2016

Posts: 74

PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2016 6:21 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mikko Kuusirati wrote:
Kirk K. wrote:
Were there so few dedicated swordsmen in Medieval and Renaissance armies?

That's a bit beside the point, really. There were lots of swordsmen, as such, but for the vast majority of them the sword was not their main battlefield weapon - functionally, in a battle almost all swordsmen were actually archers, lancers, pikemen, halberdiers, musketeers and such first and swordsmen only secondarily - on the side, as it were (and outside active combat, at that, primary battlefield weapons being a pain to drag around whereas a sword is quite handy to wear at your side just in case).
By "dedicated swordsmen" I meant a soldier whose primary weapon is their sword.
View user's profile Send private message
Mikko Kuusirati




Location: Finland
Joined: 16 Nov 2004
Reading list: 13 books

Posts: 965

PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2016 6:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kirk K. wrote:
By "dedicated swordsmen" I meant a soldier whose primary weapon is their sword.

Then yes, very few of those, and mostly in specialist roles.

The subtle tongue, the sophist guile, they fail when the broadswords sing;
Rush in and die, dogs -- I was a man before I was a king.
-- R. E. Howard, The Road of Kings
View user's profile Send private message
Kirk K.





Joined: 24 May 2016

Posts: 74

PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2016 6:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mikko Kuusirati wrote:
Kirk K. wrote:
By "dedicated swordsmen" I meant a soldier whose primary weapon is their sword.
Then yes, very few of those, and mostly in specialist roles.
Fair enough. It leads me to wonder why so much time and energy went into training on a secondary weapon.
View user's profile Send private message
Mikko Kuusirati




Location: Finland
Joined: 16 Nov 2004
Reading list: 13 books

Posts: 965

PostPosted: Thu 26 May, 2016 1:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kirk K. wrote:
Mikko Kuusirati wrote:
Kirk K. wrote:
By "dedicated swordsmen" I meant a soldier whose primary weapon is their sword.
Then yes, very few of those, and mostly in specialist roles.
Fair enough. It leads me to wonder why so much time and energy went into training on a secondary weapon.

Because it's your personal weapon that's with you whenever you might need a weapon, both on and off the battlefield. And because it's cool and fashionable. And, in fact, we tend to grossly overestimate the historical importance and prevalence of swords because they still are cool and fashionable (and far easier to train with, of course - you just need one other interested person to put up a swordfight, but rounding up the people and equipment for two proper pike formations would be quite the challenge).

Swords were fairly analogous to modern handguns, really. Consider how the Wild West was actually dominated by rifles and carbines yet the sixshooter - another sidearm - gets all the glory. Happy

The subtle tongue, the sophist guile, they fail when the broadswords sing;
Rush in and die, dogs -- I was a man before I was a king.
-- R. E. Howard, The Road of Kings
View user's profile Send private message
Jeffrey Faulk




Location: Georgia
Joined: 01 Jan 2011

Posts: 578

PostPosted: Thu 26 May, 2016 12:18 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kirk K. wrote:
Mikko Kuusirati wrote:
Kirk K. wrote:
By "dedicated swordsmen" I meant a soldier whose primary weapon is their sword.
Then yes, very few of those, and mostly in specialist roles.
Fair enough. It leads me to wonder why so much time and energy went into training on a secondary weapon.


Bear in mind that a LOT of the fight-books are dealing with swordfighting in a civilian context, not military. A highly trained swordsman would have been quite the rarity in a *military* context, as the sword itself was extremely rare as a primary weapon. Certainly there were soldiers who could use a sword with a high level of skill, but they would probably have carried a different weapon as their primary for the most part.
View user's profile Send private message
Mike Ruhala




Location: Stuart, Florida
Joined: 24 Jul 2011

Posts: 328

PostPosted: Thu 26 May, 2016 2:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

All this primary/secondary stuff is very misleading. People were generally armed with two or more weapons and used whichever one was most appropriate for the context. A sword was the common denominator because there was a good probability that at some point you'd find yourself at close quarters with the enemy and probably in a fairly loose formation. Even if you meant to do most of your fighting with a sword you'd still begin a battle with a bow, spear or similar weapon with greater reach because it just makes sense to try and thin out the enemy a little before they get too close.
View user's profile Send private message
Kirk K.





Joined: 24 May 2016

Posts: 74

PostPosted: Thu 26 May, 2016 4:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Okay, it all makes much more sense now. Thanks!
View user's profile Send private message
Mario M.




Location: Croatia
Joined: 31 Mar 2016

Posts: 107

PostPosted: Fri 27 May, 2016 11:53 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kirk K. wrote:
Were there so few dedicated swordsmen in Medieval and Renaissance armies?


Yes, and no.
The debate on the amount of sword usage in actual battles is still ongoing.

Though, if looked through medieval imagery, it would seem that they were everywhere.

I believe that they are heavily underestimated as battlefield weapons.

Not in the notion that they were primary weapons, but that primary weapons(lances in case of knights/MAA) went sideways regularly and swords were used constantly.

There are also the usual mentions of certain units on the field being swordsmen, not only in Europe, but in the Middle East as well;

"The Agulani were three thousand in number and feared neither lances, arrows, nor any kind of arms, because they and all their horses were fitted with iron all around, and they refused to carry any arms except swords into battle. All of these came to the siege of Antioch to disperse the gathering of Franks." - Gesta Francorum, the account of the First Crusade


There were also the Spanish rodeleros, who famously annihilated an entire force of landsknecht pikemen during the Italian wars.

“The stream of Time, irresistible, ever moving, carries off and bears away all things that come to birth and plunges them into utter darkness...Nevertheless, the science of History is a great bulwark against this stream of Time; in a way it checks this irresistible flood, it holds in a tight grasp whatever it can seize floating on the surface and will not allow it to slip away into the depths of Oblivion." - Anna Comnena
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail
Pedro Paulo Gaião




Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brasil
Joined: 14 Mar 2015

Posts: 261

PostPosted: Fri 27 May, 2016 12:45 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mikko Kuusirati wrote:
Kirk K. wrote:
Iknow Landsknecht-style knights with great swords were rare, but I thought that soldiers with sword and buckler were fairly common. They were a standard type used in Spanish tercios, for example. Am I mistaken?

Rodeleros and similar special troops didn't use bucklers - there's another extremely popular sidearm, BTW! so yes, in that sense soldiers with sword and buckler would have actually been fairly common - but rather rodelas or targets, medium size shields strapped to the arm. And they were, indeed, specialists, not common rank and file.


The Rodeleros appear to have been an Italian invention, rather than necessarily Spanish. In fact, I'm pretty sure that the first rodeleros were Aragonese - Sicilians instead of Castilians; it makes a way difference, as the Crown of Aragon had much more contact with the Italian peninsula than the other countries of the Iberian Peninsula.

Also, I think the sword + shield set would be much more common in urban militias and city garrisons defending walls than something actually used in the open battlefield. French gendarmes massacred spanish rodeleros in their charges during the first phase of the Italian Wars, only later they would gather themselves inside of the pike blocks to avoiding exposing.

Anyway, remember that Machiavelli, in his military treaty, had always emphasized the need to revive the armoured-shielded swordsmen created by the romans. I assume they should have at least some kind of real use. By the way, seens that 14th's englishmen had soldiers primarly equiped with sword and buckler:
http://www.warfare.altervista.org/WRG/Middle_...n-1320.htm
View user's profile Send private message
Mikko Kuusirati




Location: Finland
Joined: 16 Nov 2004
Reading list: 13 books

Posts: 965

PostPosted: Sat 28 May, 2016 12:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Pedro Paulo Gaião wrote:
By the way, seens that 14th's englishmen had soldiers primarly equiped with sword and buckler:
http://www.warfare.altervista.org/WRG/Middle_...n-1320.htm

Was this guy primarily armed with sword and buckler, or has he gone for his sidearms? FWIW, the scene on which he's based seems to portray a confusion of archers and infantry, as in, some of them are using hand weapons while others brandish bows; for all I know, any or all of the ones with swords or axes may have had either bows or polearms but dropped them in favor of tools more suited to such chaotic close combat.

Taken in context with more of his contemporaries, you see that almost every one of them carries heavier primary arms in addition to a sword, and it seems to me that if a shield was part of your primary weapon system you'd certainly want it to be a full size shield rather than a buckler (as depicted here, front and center).

(To be noted, the black-and-white line drawings are NOT reproduced directly from their attributed sources, but are more or less speculative modern interpretations, most of them apparently based on a composition of singular elements taken from several different figures in the original source - a helmet from here, a polearm from there, schynbalds from a third guy, etc.)

The subtle tongue, the sophist guile, they fail when the broadswords sing;
Rush in and die, dogs -- I was a man before I was a king.
-- R. E. Howard, The Road of Kings
View user's profile Send private message
Lafayette C Curtis




Location: Indonesia
Joined: 29 Nov 2006
Reading list: 7 books

Posts: 2,689

PostPosted: Tue 31 May, 2016 11:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kirk K. wrote:
Iknow Landsknecht-style knights with great swords were rare, but I thought that soldiers with sword and buckler were fairly common. They were a standard type used in Spanish tercios, for example. I also read that sword and buckler men were frequently used to try and rush in and attack enemy pikemen. Am I mistaken?


"Sword and buckler" is arguably, flat-out, a wrong translation for spada y rodela or spada e rotella. Contemporary English authors almost always translated the "rodela" or "rotella" as "target" and clearly distinguished it from the much smaller "buckler."

As for how common they were, it's probably best to think of them as specialist troops intended to fight on rougher terrain and/or in the more constricted spaces around the flanks of the main pike-based infantry formations. Their numbers were usually quite small -- it was rare for them to make up more than one-fifths of all the infantry on the battlefield, and usually less.

Moreover, their significance has been somewhat overinflated by Machiavelli's account of them ducking under the pikes and cutting down Swiss pikemen. In reality, they got steamrolled by the Swiss pikemen when the two met on open terrain at Seminara (1495). The rodeleros got their revenge later at Cerignola and Garigliano, but they did so as part of a combined force that also employed large amounts of pikes, arquebusiers, and field defences/obstacles that broke up the attacking Swiss/French formations so that the sword-and-target men could break in among them. Without the rest of the force (and the obstacles) the rodeleros would probably have suffered the same fate as at Seminara -- or at the very least been forced to retreat without fighting.


Kirk K. wrote:
Mikko Kuusirati wrote:
Kirk K. wrote:
By "dedicated swordsmen" I meant a soldier whose primary weapon is their sword.
Then yes, very few of those, and mostly in specialist roles.
Fair enough. It leads me to wonder why so much time and energy went into training on a secondary weapon.


Did it, though? Although I've been involved in HEMA and trained with swords and all, I've always felt that in reality we're trying to emulate the top 5% or 10% of the most skilled swordsmen in the era, and that in reality the majority of soldiers wouldn't have been quite that skilled in the use of the sword. Sure, they would have had some practice, and probably even some instruction, so on average they would have had a pretty dominant advantage against an untrained modern office worker. The documented systems we're trying to resurrect may even be fairly representative of the variety of styles that the ordinary warriors and soldiers studied too (especially considering that they probably had their introduction to swords during peacetime in a militia capacity or somesuch -- the average soldier didn't sign up to a company wholly untrained back then) but I suspect the vast majority would have known only the basic strikes and thrusts and defences -- enough to get them out of a difficult situation but nothing like the deep encyclopaedic knowledge we'd expect of a fencing master. There's a reason why those few people were called "masters" after all. We can draw an analogy with gun ownership and training -- there are millions of people across the globe who own sidearms (like revolvers and semiautomatic pistols) but have never been properly trained in their use. Of course the numbers are skewed because firearms require less skill for effective use at a basic level (although I'd argue that really skilled use wouldn't require any less skill and practice than what we'd expect of a highly skilled swordsman in earlier times), but you get the idea.


Mario M. wrote:
There are also the usual mentions of certain units on the field being swordsmen, not only in Europe, but in the Middle East as well;

"The Agulani were three thousand in number and feared neither lances, arrows, nor any kind of arms, because they and all their horses were fitted with iron all around, and they refused to carry any arms except swords into battle. All of these came to the siege of Antioch to disperse the gathering of Franks." - Gesta Francorum, the account of the First Crusade.


The Agulani were actually quite an aberration. I remember some pretty heated debates on who and what they were on some wargaming research groups a few years ago because nobody could quite find satisfactory parallels for them -- there were no primarily sword-armed cavalry units around northern Mesopotamia before or since, so no similar troop types from nearby eras or regions that were better described and could be used as solid reference on their equipment and tactics. Their name is also very difficult -- does it refer to ghulam/ghilman cavalry? To Caucasian Albania? To Aghouanians? To some unknown people entirely lost to history? And last but not least, the biggest point of difficulty is that we only find them in this one foreign account of this one battle and we haven't been able to locate parallel descriptions from primary sources on the Turkish or Saracen side. So were they really sword-armed as said in the Gesta? Or did that reflect a foreign observer's lack of familiarity with some kind of cataphracts or heavily-armoured ghulam unit that ordinarily had bows too but had discarded them to engage with swords in this one particular encounter?


Mikko Kuusirati wrote:
(To be noted, the black-and-white line drawings are NOT reproduced directly from their attributed sources, but are more or less speculative modern interpretations, most of them apparently based on a composition of singular elements taken from several different figures in the original source - a helmet from here, a polearm from there, schynbalds from a third guy, etc.)


We can't really stress this enough. Primary sources or original historical artwork, no matter how unclear or low-quality they were, should usually take precedence over modern reconstructions no matter how well drawn when we're trying to figure out the whats and hows and whys of historical warfare. There are exceptions, but honestly this isn't one of them.


Going back to the more general topic of this thread, there's this pretty old but still decent introduction to the generalities of what medieval infantry looked like. Note that contemporary depictions generally didn't depict them as the uniform mass of swordsmen we normally see as "basic" units in modern computer strategy games based on a "medieval" setting!
View user's profile Send private message


Display posts from previous:   
Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > Swords as a secondary weapon
Page 1 of 1 Reply to topic
All times are GMT - 8 Hours

View previous topic :: View next topic
Jump to:  
You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot vote in polls in this forum
You cannot attach files in this forum
You can download files in this forum






All contents © Copyright 2003-2018 myArmoury.com — All rights reserved
Discussion forums powered by phpBB © The phpBB Group
Switch to the Basic Low-bandwidth Version of the forum