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Jean Henri Chandler wrote:
Well, maybe not the only contention. For example you mean something completely different than most when you use the word 'longsword'.

Archaeologists use "long sword" to mean "a sword which is longer than many swords in the place and time I study" just like medieval Franks used "long sword" to mean a sword which was longer than usual. In a world where many swords are about 60 cm long, a 90 cm sword is impressive! (And it does different things than a short sword or small sword, so it needs a different name to avoid creating false impressions! A lot of ancient swords had the same function as a dagger or hanger or baselard in 14th/15th century Europe, so its not really fair to compare them to giant cavalry swords). Remember, most archaeologists are not trying to write a World History of Swords or communicate with arms-and-armour buffs just organize finds and talk to their colleagues!

I would love to write a book on Iron Age swords one day, because there are all kinds of things hidden in expensive site reports and catalogues. I have even seen estocs with square cross-sections in the forte. I don't have an archaeological drawing handy, but here is a reproduction of one from Vergina https://www.manningimperial.com/product/thrusting-xiphos/
Sean, of course. I get that specialists of certain periods will use different terminology.

When we are comparing European swords with Early Modern Japanese swords, the perspective from the early Iron Age or even Migration Era is arguably not as useful since you are talking about technology from a thousand years earlier, or more. And around here by default, when people say 'long sword' they are typically referring to the late medieval, hand and a half type. At any rate, I've been clear what I meant by the term, so to challenge it and say 'they made longswords in ancient Rome' seems a bit obtuse.

I think we have all seen some amazing variety and specialization in even quite early European swords. Mostly outside of a Roman context I believe for that that is worth, as they tended to standardize to a larger extent than some of their neighbors.

That 'thrusting xiphos' is a fascinating example, thanks for the link.

[ Linked Image ]

The La Tène culture(s) seem to have produced almost every kind of fuller, blade shape and cross section that was ever used in later eras, and more than a few that never were again. The Germanic tribes of the Migration era were if anything, more creative and variegated in their designs.

And yet there were certain limitations, including especially in the metallurgy. This in turn seems to have limited the role meant for the sword, i.e. not so much as a defensive / parrying weapon. Because a sword has a very hard edge in a duromoter test does not mean that it is has the same characteristics for example regarding springiness or overall toughness. This also speaks to the issue of rarity, as a sword with properties you might see produced routinely and available by the bushel on every market day in hundreds of towns in say, 1450 or 1550, could be an object of princely value taking months of work by a small group led by one of the best artisans in the region 500 or 1000 years earlier.

[ Linked Image ]

The same is somewhat true for the Early Modern Japanese swords as I understand them (admittedly, I know relatively little about Japanese swords). But from my grasp of Japanese fencing, there is far less emphasis on blade to blade parrying, and no single-time counters such as you see so routinely in for example the Liechtenauer system, where one blade is bound up on the other in a parry at the same time as the opponent is attacked with a thrust or a cut. To me this is possible mainly because of the additional hand protection on European swords (i.e the quillons) and because the sword is designed to be robust and made for parrying.

And I think these differences were basically technological and economic. That is why I kept bringing up blast furnaces, large bloomery forge complexes, craft guild subcontracting and so forth. I think that is the main difference between the high to late medieval and earlier periods - and between late medieval Europe and Japan in the same era. Look at the size and length of those iron billets from the ship on Lake Neuchatel, that wasn't even necessarily a major iron exporting area, that iron was probably for local or regional consumption. And yet, billets 5 or 6 feet long - we don't know the chemical composition but they were able to remain intact on the bottom of a lake for 500+ years. Obviously there were some people in 50 BC who knew metallurgy quite well too. But production on that scale was not necessarily the standard.

Lets remember also by the way, not all late medieval swords were particularly heavy, even hand-and-a-half weapons could be fairly light. They were still bulky and awkward to carry though of course compared to a gladius.

I just want to say this, as I think this conversation has the potential to bring up unneeded contention amongst yourself and other very well informed individuals on the board. That contention is not necessary.

To that effect, I would argue that everyone on this board is well aware of the difference between a Medieval "longsword" and other "long swords." I feel that, perhaps, we have allowed the Victorian's naming conventions to get the better of us even when we are want to point out their errors. I have either watched or read other presentations where the end point is, even though we have got past the time of the 80's and 90's gaming standard of calling an arming sword a long sword, the point is you have a sword, and it just happens to be longer than other swords. Honestly, that point is not wrong. Someone else is simply describing something that exists by a different standard.

I think it is correct to point out the fact that the weapons you describe are by several measures different than ones from antiquity. Wouldn't the better angle be to identify which specific "ancient" examples generally match the performance and proportions of the Medieval examples rather than dispute the naming convention? That would be a far better starting point for an objective conversation.

Aspects of metallurgy are of interest for me, and again, I need to read that book (perhaps this weekend)! The extent of quality steel or iron production in antiquity and how it was used is potentially a very interesting point to cover. Unfortunately, iron tends to wear itself out under the elements. We have a much better recollection of the last 1000 years as opposed to the last 3000 because of that.
I see that and thanks for your comment Michael. I think if one person posts using a particular terminology, to reply in contradiction when you are referring to something completely different by a similar name doesn't seem helpful. At the very least you should probably specify exactly what you mean, as I have done repeatedly for example referring to Oakeshott typology.

I know and respect Sean. We disagree slightly but I don't think we are in any conflict. You and I and a couple of others in this thread have also had friendly discussions many time. Beyond that, well you can't get along with everybody.

And let me say this - it gets very difficult to have a conversation if you can't use some kind of middle ground on basic terminology. I believe the Romans themselves used the terms "Gladius' and "Spatha" as noted in the Osprey article I linked. You can call Roman swords anything you like, all I would ask is if you are responding to a comment about a medieval longsword or an early modern Japanese sword, be clear what you mean.

While it's true that prior to the industrial era, every sword is to some extent unique, a major part of the point I was making was that there was a great deal of quality control and to some extent, standardization in the later medieval period. The Romans too did a fair amount of standardizing through their bureaucratic systems, of course gradually changing across the centuries and in different regions.

But if you are down to only comparing individual blades then it gets pretty difficult to draw any conclusions, you need a broader sample for one thing. Then the discussion starts to evolve into a PhD thesis. It seems like maybe it's hard to follow already.

I think I have made my point as clearly as I can, for some people maybe it made sense, for others, maybe not. I'll just have to live with that. It's up to you to evaluate what you read, and I don't claim to be smarter than anyone else posting here, I have my opinions and I try to back them up as thoroughly as I can. To a fault sometimes, I know. ;)

Jean Henri Chandler wrote:
And yet there were certain limitations, including especially in the metallurgy. This in turn seems to have limited the role meant for the sword, i.e. not so much as a defensive / parrying weapon. Because a sword has a very hard edge in a duromoter test does not mean that it is has the same characteristics for example regarding springiness or overall toughness. This also speaks to the issue of rarity, as a sword with properties you might see produced routinely and available by the bushel on every market day in hundreds of towns in say, 1450 or 1550, could be an object of princely value taking months of work by a small group led by one of the best artisans in the region 500 or 1000 years earlier.

Jean, it sounds like you are interested in how fighting with shields works. Why not get some big shields and play with someone who knows sword and target or spear and target? Then you can decide how often you cross swords with your partner and how much hand protection you want for that kind of fighting. Personally, I enjoy using my Naue type II with a buckler, but swords are like deserts, what one person loves makes another throw up. I never had a chance to play with large shields because that requires money, storage space, and partners, but we need more people playing with sword and target and spear and target because everyone just sees one piece of the puzzle based on their previous training.

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A nasty uncooperative ancient person who does not want to die, and does not have a spear or a shield in reach, is likely to wrap their cloak around their left arm. We have Greek, Persian, and Roman sources. And if they see you don't have a shield, just a gigantic sword in both hands, they may gack you with a rock or a javelin from ten yards away, and carry off the giant shiny sword as a trophy ("the man was five cubits tall and he wore trousers like a fearsome Scythian! His war cry Maya Maya Zanha Liktena echoed from the hills!") The whole mano a mano, sword (or knife) alone against sword (or knife) alone situation which historical fencers love is very fragile and artificial.

To sum up, my position in this thread has been:
- the biggest types of ancient swords are about as long as typical 15th century one-handed swords
- after they figure out quenching, ancient and medieval swords have a similar range of metallurgical quality (you show me a dreadful ancient sword, and given time I can find one made in Europe between 1300 and 1600 which is just as bad) but average quality probably improved over time (edit: ok- keeping in mind that their idea of what makes a good sword may not be our idea!)
- the big swords and the little swords and the swords of fancy metal and the swords of meh metal show up in the same ancient cemeteries, the same lakes, and the same ancient temples. We don't know why there was such a range of sizes and materials.
- ancient swords and 15th century swords have different types of hilt, but both probably worked well in their original context.

Wonderful image there of the hunter. I love it.

I don't think I'm opposed to most of what you said. I'd like to be clear, I am not making the claim that people in 15th Century Nuremberg or Venice were somehow better fighters than in 1st Century Rome or 5th Century BC Athens.

Nor am I one of the black coated horde of tournament fighters who think the longsword is the only weapon that matters. I'm 51 my tournament days are maybe not yet over completely but surely drawing to a close. For the record I have respect for the martial cultures across the span of time. I'm sure any Roman Legionairre or Spartan Hoplite is tougher than me. The Classical armies were highly formidable and incredibly lethal, and generally, they get their due. I think we sometimes have a tougher time coming to grips with the capabilities of people in the late medieval.

In the 15th Century same as the 1st, the sword was a sidearm. The primary weapons were in fact the same - some kind of spear was still first and foremost across that entire swath of time. Newer devices like crossbows and arquebus were carving out a niche, but in many ways the spear was still king (and the newer weapons had their ancient equivalents too).

But we do know the designs did change, the capabilities of the weapons changed and the fencing systems that went with them changed. The sword arguably became more important both as a backup weapon and in a civilian context for duels or chance encounters on the road.

I'm sure some parrying was done with a gladius or a spatha, just as some is done in Japanese fencing. And we know that the Classical World had their own marital arts like Pankration. It's basically a matter of emphasis. My argument is, relevant to the original video we were discussing, that far from being brittle, late medieval and Early Modern European swords were designed more and more for the use in defense, yes quite often in one on one encounters, but also on the battlefield. We know that armor had improved quite a bit too, and thrown weapons weren't any guarantee of taking out an opponent (although they too, in the form of things like the hurlbat and the Swiss Arrow were certainly still around).

The question of why shields gradually became less prominent on the European battlefield is a big one maybe beyond the scope of this thread, but we do know that fewer people were carrying them and more were relying on the sword for defense as well as for offense. We know that complex hilt features became more and more prevalent and fencing systems leaned toward techniques requiring a highly robust (and therefore given the length, springy) weapon.

That is my argument in a nutshell. Far from being more fragile or brittle, I think European swords in the era of the tachi and the katana and the no-dachi were probably a bit more robust. That isn't to take away from Japanese sword design or swordmaking, since they had their own advantages as we well know.

And I also still say that yes, I think it's highly unlikely that the Romans could have made an Oakeshott XV or XVIII sword any more than they could have made an arquebus, a steel rotella, a volley gun or a tempered steel gothic harness. And if they could have done anything like that, I believe they would.

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