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Craig Peters

PostPosted: Thu 19 Jun, 2014 5:50 am    Post subject: Scabbard Chapes: Swords from the High Middle Ages         Reply with quote

With the proliferation of scabbard makers these days, many of whom do very fine quality work, scabbards and suspensions have experienced a "renaissance" of sorts, much the way that modern reproduction swords have experienced a renaissance of their own. That having been said, I think the sword enthusiast community in general is better educated on the subject of swords than they are on the subject of scabbards. Many have heard of Oakeshott's Typology, in no small part to sword makers who promote their weapons as belonging to a particular Oakeshott type, along with websites like that provide information on the subject. Swords are glamorous, and I think this is part of the reason why less attention is paid to scabbards. After all, a scabbard is just a sword casing or "sword holster"; while potentially aesthetically pleasing, scabbards are subordinate to the sword. It is the sword that is venerated, not the object used to contain it.

In accordance with myArmoury's mission to educate and raise awareness about swords and armour, I felt it would be of value to comment on a particularly common mistake seen on many modern reproduction scabbards. This mistake is an anachronism of placing metal chapes on scabbards before chapes were found on scabbards.

Many people who order reproduction scabbards choose to complete the scabbard with a metal chape of some sort. What not many people realize, however, is that metal chapes are not found on swords before the near the end of the 12th century, no earlier than the 1180s. Even well into the 13th century, many scabbards still have no chape.

A few images should suffice to illustrate this:

The 11th Century

In every case I've found, no 11th century sword is shown with a metal chape. Although there is one image which shows a seam of some sort at the bottom of the scabbard where a chape might be found, there is nothing to suggest that it is a chape. Here are a few examples from throughout the century to illustrate this point:

The 12th Century

For the long majority of the century, there are no scabbards with metal chapes either. Here is just a sampling, selected from images throughout the century:

The Emergence of Metal Chapes in the Late 12th Century

The first image in the 12th century that unambiguously depicts a metal chape is this one dated to 1180 AD, although it could well be from later:

A second example can be found in a manuscript dated to 1197 AD:

However, even well into the 13th century, scabbards did not always have metal chapes. For example, the Maciejowski Bible frequently shows scabbards with chapes, but sometimes it represents them without:


So, as you can see, if historical accuracy is a priority for your scabbard, then you should not include metal chapes until near the end of the 12th century. Even then, it's more common than not for swords to have no chape, and scabbards without chapes are seen well into the mid-13th century, and possibly later as well.

Images from Manuscript Miniatures; the image of the Bayeux Tapestry from the BBC:

Last edited by Craig Peters on Thu 19 Jun, 2014 7:33 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Craig Peters

PostPosted: Thu 19 Jun, 2014 6:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As a follow-up: since I have not spent much time reading about Viking era swords, I cannot comment on whether they used chapes or other metal decor at the end of the scabbard. The manuscript evidence suggests that, for 11th century representations of Scandinavians, chapes are inappropriate.
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Mike Ruhala

Location: Stuart, Florida
Joined: 24 Jul 2011

Posts: 335

PostPosted: Thu 19 Jun, 2014 5:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I poured through a TON of 9th, 10th and 11th century artwork recently and noticed that chapes were pretty scarce in this period. The cloth wrapped scabbards did have extra windings around the end of the sheath that would have reinforced the area normally covered by a chape but it's not quite the same thing. They were definitely in use during earlier and later centuries so I'm not sure why they were so rare in this particular era but it seems the swords got more plain on average, too.
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Craig Peters

PostPosted: Thu 19 Jun, 2014 7:23 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'd also like to add that it's conceivable that someone could discover an image in a manuscript that fairly clearly represents a metal chape from the earlier 12th century or the 11th century. In that case, my main argument would have to be modified, but not much. On the one hand, an image of a metal chape will mean that it is not anachronistic to put one on a reproduction scabbard from the date of the manuscript image onward. On the other hand, the fact that there are so many manuscript illustrations that clearly show no chape means that a much earlier chape is the exception, not the rule. I would still argue that people wanting to make a period accurate scabbard for circa 1000-1180 AD should not include a metal chape, since the clear majority of images do not show one. The other possible scenario is that someone presents evidence for chapes a decade or two before 1180. In that case, people making an accurate scabbard for the second half of the 12th century will have a bit more flexibility as to whether they include a metal chape, which still would be rare from the available evidence, or not.
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Craig Peters

PostPosted: Thu 19 Jun, 2014 7:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote


Thanks for your information. Your post implies that you have seen perhaps one or two metal chapes from that era; would you mind posting them? Nevertheless, it sounds (tentatively) that chapes are mostly inappropriate on scabbards from the Carolingian era until nearly 1200 AD, from what you've reported.
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Harry Marinakis

PostPosted: Thu 19 Jun, 2014 7:47 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote


I agree with your posts.

I, too, have noticed a lot of modern reproduction sword scabbards are not historically accurate. I could go on and on about a lot of misconceptions:
-war swords slung with 2 or 3 strap suspensions, like later longswords
-offset sword belts or belt buckles on Type X and XI sword suspensions
-chapes, as you mentioned

I spent a great deal of time researching proper sword and scabbard suspensions for Oakeshott Type X-XI swords, and chapes do not appear before the late 12th C.

Type XII swords also appear in the late 12th C, and I often cannot tell the difference between X, XI and XII swords in the manuscripts. So I am not sure whether chapes were used only on early XII sword scabbards, or if chapes were also used on late X-XI sword scabbards.

To date, I have cataloged what is, and what is not, historically-accurate sword suspension and scabbard characteristics for Oakeshott sword Types X, Xa, XI, XIa, XII, XIIa, XIII, XIIIa, and XIIIb. I am currently working on Type XIV swords. The volume of available reference material increases dramatically with each century, so my progress gets slower and slower the further along I get in my research.
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Mike Ruhala

Location: Stuart, Florida
Joined: 24 Jul 2011

Posts: 335

PostPosted: Thu 19 Jun, 2014 8:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The image in the link below appears to be a chape in the 9th century but it's a David vs Goliath so it's possible it's just copying earlier art from a time when chapes were more common.
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Craig Peters

PostPosted: Fri 20 Jun, 2014 1:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I sometimes wonder if this image from the Liber ad Honorem Augusti shows extended metal chapes that completely cover the outer edges of the scabbards. However, the images are quite low quality making it different to be certain, and it seems probable that my interpretation is wishful thinking. Therefore, I cannot count this image as evidence for metal chapes of any sort.

From Manuscript Miniatures.
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Craig Peters

PostPosted: Mon 23 Jun, 2014 12:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A related question that might also be asked is when metal chapes became the norm on medieval scabbards, such that no having a metal chape on a reproduction scabbard would be out of place. From what I have found, it seems like the transition point is around 1300 AD. Prior to this time, metal chapes are commonly seen in period art, but so too are are scabbards without chapes. The following images from circa 1275 to 1300 should serve as illustration of the continuing taste for scabbards without chapes, alongside scabbards that have metal chapes.

Around 1300, it starts to become significantly harder to find scabbards without a metal chape. It's not that there's none altogether; rather, it seems that most scabbards by this point have a horseshoe chape, or some other form of metal chape at the bottom.
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Craig Peters

PostPosted: Wed 25 Jun, 2014 2:32 am    Post subject: Scabbard Chapes: Later 14th Century         Reply with quote

Although my thread originally deals with chapes from the 11th to 13th centuries, it seems a bit unnecessary to create an entirely new thread for later centuries, especially since this thread has garnered only limited interest thus far. Therefore, I thought I'd outline a few observations I've made about metal chapes in the late Middle Ages, circa 1300-1500 AD.

As mentioned previously, metal chapes become fairly common by the mid 13th century, and around 1300 AD, most scabbards seem to have metal chapes. I decided to investigate scabbards around 1350 AD onward, to see if metal chapes were as common as they were earlier in the century. What I discovered was a little bit surprising. After 1350, especially around 1360 onward, if manuscript art can be relied upon as an indication, metal chapes start to become less common, particularly on long sword scabbards. In fact, it appears that, for much of the latter half of the 14th century it is at least as common, if not more common, to have no metal chape at all. Thus, if you are looking to represent or reenact the later 14th century, you might want to consider having no metal chape, because it seems to have been reasonably common, and virtually all modern scabbards made for 14th century swords have them.

The following images give a few examples of scabbards from this period without metal chapes:

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