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Eric Holt





Joined: 13 Nov 2006

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PostPosted: Tue 21 Nov, 2006 6:06 pm    Post subject: Sword Terminology         Reply with quote

Forgive the newbishness of this question, but...

I'm confused by sword terminology. When looking stuff up on the Internet I find people using different terms for similar weapons and the same term for weapons that are very different. I'm sure that there are people here who know the right terms and can help to clarify this for me. Specifically:

What, if any, is the difference between a "war sword" and an "arming sword?" I see both terms applied to very similar weapons.

Hand-and-a-half vs. longsword vs. bastard sword. In my SCA days I was taught that a bastard sword was a sword with basically the same blade as a one-hander, but with a longer hilt. I tend to consider swords that have longer blades to be longswords rather than bastard swords, and the term "hand-and-a-half" seems to be a generic term for both weapons. Is this correct terminology? I see all three terms applied to any of these weapons in catalogs, with no apparent distinction.

Broadsword...this is used in different places for very different weapons, and I've never been clear on what it means.

Does the term "short sword" refer to any specific family of weapons, or is it just literally any kind of sword with a relatively short blade?

Two-handers. Some people call them that, but at my height of 5'0" I call them polearms (just kidding on this one).
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Tue 21 Nov, 2006 6:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Eric,
You're sure to get a lot of responses to this one. Happy You could also try usingthe search function as this has been discussed before.

Just so you're fore-warned: These terms weren't always used consistently (or at all) in the period. Some are old terms used in the old way nowadays. Some are new terms given to old things, etc. Not everyone today uses them the same or agrees what they do/did represent.

Happy

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Eric Holt





Joined: 13 Nov 2006

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PostPosted: Tue 21 Nov, 2006 6:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Chad Arnow wrote:
Eric,
You're sure to get a lot of responses to this one. Happy You could also try usingthe search function as this has been discussed before.

Just so you're fore-warned: These terms weren't always used consistently (or at all) in the period. Some are old terms used in the old way nowadays. Some are new terms given to old things, etc. Not everyone today uses them the same or agrees what they do/did represent.


Sorry for posting in the wrong forum. I tried searching but I'm not having much luck; I'll keep trying though. If there's no definitively "correct" way to use these terms, though, then that kind of answers my question.
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Grayson C.




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PostPosted: Tue 21 Nov, 2006 7:15 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Chad Arnow wrote:
Eric,
You're sure to get a lot of responses to this one. Happy You could also try usingthe search function as this has been discussed before.

Just so you're fore-warned: These terms weren't always used consistently (or at all) in the period. Some are old terms used in the old way nowadays. Some are new terms given to old things, etc. Not everyone today uses them the same or agrees what they do/did represent.


I'm going to agree with Chad here. Many terms were not period and have come up in much later centuries. Example: There was no such term (I believe) as a short sword.

Broadsword may or may not be period but it generally refers to a heavy bladed cutting sword (heavy in comparison with a light cut-&-thruster)

An arming sword is (in my generally incorrect opinion) a sword that was worn as a complement. A war sword could be an arming sword but was made specifically for battle.

Longsword, Bastard sword, and hand and a half are all interchangable.

As you can see, there are some pretty overlapping gneric terms here.
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Greg Coffman




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PostPosted: Tue 21 Nov, 2006 7:35 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

First off, these are great questions. All of these terms are used by different people in different situations and it is very difficult to figure out which is which. It is hard enough to figure out the lingo of one particular group of people yet alone know which words correctly and/or historically describe which swords.

First off I recommend consulting the Oakshott Typology. An article on Ewart Oakshott, his contributions, and his typology can be found here at:
http://www.myArmoury.com/feature_oakeshott.html

Understand that only certain types would be around or in use at certain time periods. Throughout most if not all of the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, both one and two handed swords were in use but were known by different names. One handed swords were normally known just as "swords." During the age of mail and up until somewhere during the 14 century, larger swords with enough grip for two hands were known as "war swords," "grete/great swords," "epee d'guerre," etc. These correspond to Oakshott type XIIa, XIIIa for reference.

During the 14 century, as more and more plate was added to armour, both one handed and two handed swords began to be shaped more towards the thrust. One handed swords were then refered to as "arming swords" and two handed swords were refered to as "longswords." Other names used for lonswords include "bastard swords" and "hand-and-a half swords" both of which descibe these swords as being able to be used with one hand or two hands. This is also true of the war swords. Of course some longswords and warswords were simly too large or heavy to be used with just one hand, but many were. These swords were not only thrust oriented and many exhibit a good balance between the thrust and cut.

Later on in or around the 16 century, true two handed swords made their appearance. These swords can be used only with two hands. I am not familiar with all of the names used for them or which are historically appropriate, but for reference "biddenhander" is one of the names used.

The important thing about the names of swords is that they refer to the time period of the name more than the specific blade type of the sword. Longswords represent an evolution of the warsword. The longsword would continue to evolve and so some of the blade shapes within the "longsword" classification are as different from each other as a longsword is to the warsword. Or to say it backwards, warswords are only as different to longswords as longswords of one era are to longswords of another era. So you need to know what time period you are talking about.

Another important thing is that many of these names are interchangeble. "One handed sword" is the same thing as "arming sword." Of course, I already made the point that historically, one handed swords were not called "one handed swords," just "swords," but it is useful nomeclature for us today. The difference between referring to "swords" versus "arming swords," does more to specify the time period you are talking about. Likewise, great sword and warsword are interchangable,and longsword, hand-and-a-half sword, and bastard sword are interchangable. Most commonly, we use the term "longsword."

As for you specific questions, the terms "war sword" and "arming sword" were used in different periods of time to describe different swords. I would not think the terms should be used interchangably. The term 'broadsword" refers to the one handed sword in use on the battlefield during the time of the narrow rapier. It also describes the Scottish basket-hilted sword. The term is often mis-used to describe any medieval sword. The term "short sword" is not a historic term, as far as I know, but is also useful today to describe shorter one handed swords. Notice that in the Oakshott Typology, only the XIV is disctincly short. Again, true two handed swords were late era, appearing in the early Renaissance. The big sword in Braveheart is a good depiciton of what the early biddenhanders would have looked like but it still wouldn't have appeared until the 16 century.

This is general and not precise. I may be wrong on some of these. It can be hard to be precise when using the terms "longsword," "warsword," "bastard sword," etc. If you mean to be precise, it is better to use the Oakshott Typology when referring to swords.

Well, I hope all this is at least as clear as mud.

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
-Hebrews 4:12
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Marc Blaydoe




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PostPosted: Wed 22 Nov, 2006 8:19 am    Post subject: Broadsword/backsword         Reply with quote

Quote:
The term 'broadsword" refers to the one handed sword in use on the battlefield during the time of the narrow rapier. It also describes the Scottish basket-hilted sword.
Actually, as I understand it, Scottish basket-hilts are of two kinds. The "broadsword" in this case appears to refer specifically to a two-edged blade while the "backsword" is generally used to differentiate a single-edged blade.

Marc the newbie
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Richard Fay




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PostPosted: Wed 22 Nov, 2006 8:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hello all!
Greg Coffman wrote:

Later on in or around the 16 century, true two handed swords made their appearance. These swords can be used only with two hands. I am not familiar with all of the names used for them or which are historically appropriate, but for reference "biddenhander" is one of the names used.


I want to say that Greg gave a very thoughtful response, but I just wanted to give a bit more details.

There were true two-handed swords earlier than the 16th century. These were apparently differentiated from the hand-and-a-half sized "war swords" or "great swords". The true-two handed swords seem to have been called "espee a deux main" (French for two-handed sword), "espee a II mains" (with the Roman numeral for two instead of the French for two), or "twahandswerd". Ewart Oakeshott, in The Sword in the Age of Chivalry, stated that he felt that the two-handed sword of the 12th through the 14th centuries were no more than large-sized versions of the typical medieval "war swords" or "great swords" (swords with longer hilts and blades than ordinary one-handed swords).

We can't say for sure how much of a distinction there truly was between "war swords" and "twahandswerds", but there seems to have been some. An extremely large "war sword" could be considered a "twahandswerd".

There was recently a thread about "Great Two-Handed Swords", check it out for more information.

I hope this helped to clarify things. I just wanted to add a few more details to what Greg said.

Stay safe over the holiday!

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T.L. Johnson





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PostPosted: Fri 24 Nov, 2006 6:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

An arming sword could denote a side-arm. Basically, a one-handed sword you wore at the hip to provide yourself with a basic arm in all situations on and off the field. This differs from, say, a riding sword (a longsword) you used to fight while in the saddle.
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Greg Coffman




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PostPosted: Sun 26 Nov, 2006 3:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Richard,
Thank you for your comment and for filling in where I do not have as much information.

Marc,
That's right about scottish basket hilts. It was the broadsword basket hilt that I was thinking of, though I didn't specify.

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
-Hebrews 4:12
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Jeremiah Swanger




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PostPosted: Sun 26 Nov, 2006 5:51 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Greg Coffman wrote:

During the 14 century, as more and more plate was added to armour, both one handed and two handed swords began to be shaped more towards the thrust. One handed swords were then refered to as "arming swords" and two handed swords were refered to as "longswords." Other names used for lonswords include "bastard swords" and "hand-and-a half swords" both of which descibe these swords as being able to be used with one hand or two hands. This is also true of the war swords. Of course some longswords and warswords were simly too large or heavy to be used with just one hand, but many were. These swords were not only thrust oriented and many exhibit a good balance between the thrust and cut.


Greg pretty much hit the nail on the head, where time period is concerned. "Grete Sverde," "Espee de Guerre," both meaning "war sword" were terms used in the late Crusades and the 100 Years War.

With the introduction of Oakeshott Type XVa, we start seeing the term "longsword" much more frequently. Also, we need to account for not only advances in armor, but also different cultural customs. Whereas in the earlier centuries, swords were primarily a battlefield presence. Around the middle of the 14th century (I think...), we start seeing swords created strictly for civilian defense, worn as dress items, and for judicial dueling. These "Riding Swords" sported a very different character from their battlefield-oriented, "arming sword" counterparts. It has been argued that the riding sword was the most likely ancestor of the rapier.

I'll also note that the term "bastard sword" was often used in a civilian context, whereas "longsword" was still used to describe a military weapon.

"Rhaegar fought nobly.
Rhaegar fought valiantly.
Rhaegar fought honorably.
And Rhaegar died."

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Nathan Robinson
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PostPosted: Thu 07 Dec, 2006 2:30 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I was thinking of updating our Forms of European Edged Weaponry article to include terms such as:

Falcata
Falx
Great sword
Longsword
Messer (including Kriegsmesser, grosse messer)
Pillow sword
Side sword (spada da lato)
Skean
Swiss saber (or Swiss sabre)
War sword
Zweihander (reference two-hander)
Hanger ("cuttoe" and "hunting sword")
etc. etc.

Some terms will reference already existing terms, as they are simply synonyms.

Requests and questions:
  • Suggestions for terms needing to be added
  • Suggestions for the actual text that would be written about these terms (3-5 sentences ideal, up to 9 probably)
  • The article is about "European edged weaponry" and is currently limited to swords and daggers. Do we include edged polearms?


You can post here if you want to have it open for discussion or email me directly if you want to simply submit some ideas.

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Greg Coffman




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PostPosted: Thu 07 Dec, 2006 4:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Polearms should definately be covered somewhere. Perhaps another article is needed and this one could be changed to "Swords and Daggers." There just seems to be so many different kinds of polearms and variations of those kinds. For some of the entries, longsword for example, you could do what encyclopedias do and just have the text read:

Longsword

(see Bastard Sword)

or something simular.

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
-Hebrews 4:12
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Stephen Hand




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PostPosted: Thu 07 Dec, 2006 5:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Greg's initial reply answers most of your questions very well, but I will add a few things.

The term Arming Sword refers specifically to swords strapped on your side, i.e. sword you were armed with as opposed to carrying in the hand or on the saddle.

The term Broadsword can't be traced back earlier than 1678 when it was used by William Veitch to refer to the broad bladed basket hilted swords used by the scots, which he also called Claymores (incidentally the first recorded use of this term). Broadsword shouldn't be used to refer to medieval swords. There is an excellent paper on the origin of the words Broadsword and Claymore in Spada II.

Short Sword was used by English authors to refer to basket hilted military swords with blades 32"-40" in length (so not really short at all). The short refers to them being shorter than Rapiers and most specifically Long Swords. The use of the term Short Sword to refer to things like the gladius appears to have originated in the 19th century (along with all sorts of other silly terms like chain mail).

And on two handers - refer to the post I just made elsewhere here, a German two handed sword could be six feet long, but the English difined a two handed sword as one with a blade the same length as a short sword but a longer hilt, so usage varied dramatically in period.

I hope this helps.

Cheers
Stephen

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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Fri 08 Dec, 2006 8:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Richard Fay wrote:
There were true two-handed swords earlier than the 16th century. These were apparently differentiated from the hand-and-a-half sized "war swords" or "great swords". The true-two handed swords seem to have been called "espee a deux main" (French for two-handed sword), "espee a II mains" (with the Roman numeral for two instead of the French for two), or "twahandswerd".


We're by no means certain that these swords were truly two-handed swords as we understand them today, however. This precise kind of sword (espee a deux/II mains) was often listed as the equipment of an archer in the French and Burgundian military Ordinances in the second half of the 15th century, but period illustrations often show these archers being armed in swords that would now be more likely classified as hand-and-a-half "longswords."
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Steve Grisetti




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PostPosted: Sat 09 Dec, 2006 7:14 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Nathan Robinson wrote:
I was thinking of updating our [url=http://www.myArmoury.com/feature_euroedge.html] ...
Requests and questions:
Suggestions for terms needing to be added.
- I would suggest "cuttoe" and "hunting sword". The definitions could be tied in with that for "Hanger", which is already in the feature. Definitions could be pulled from Neumann's Swords & Blades of the American Revolution, page 54?
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