Suspensions for Oakeshott Type X-XI Swords
Suspensions for Oakeshott Type X-XI Swords

What are the historically-correct methods for suspending Oakeshott Type X-XI swords of the 12th Century? I decided to do some detailed research on this subject. Feel free to add more information and corrections.


First, I searched for examples of Type X-XI swords in medieval books, effigies, illuminated manuscripts, paintings, extant swords, scabbards and modern research articles. Then I compiled a catalog of the various Type X-XI sword belts and scabbards. Generally it is not possible to differentiate between the individual types of 12th Century swords using this methodology, so all four types of 12th Century swords (Types X, Xa, XI and XIa) are all considered together as one group.

Suspension Methods

There are no extant scabbards from Type X, Xa, XI or XIa swords for us to review. Fortunately, the manner in which these swords were suspended in their scabbards is represented to some degree in illuminated manuscripts from the 12th Century.

Sword Belts

Sword belts of Oakeshott Type X, Xa, XI and XIa swords were almost always all wide (approximately 2 to 3 inches wide), very light in color (or white) and fastened by a knotted thong (Figures A and B). These will be referred to herein as "wide thong belts."

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Figure A: A typical 12th Century sword belt. It is made of a wide, lightly-colored or white leather and fastened by knotting a thong.
From Folio 101, "Martydom of Peter and Paul," from the illuminated manuscript The Ottobeuren Collectar, Germany, dated to the last quarter of the 12th Century.;NStart=2

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Figure B. A late 12th Century sword belt (AD 1160-1180). It is made of a medium-width, lightly-colored leather and fastened by knotting a thong. The sword's pommel appears to be in the shape of a "brazil nut," which suggests that the sword is an Oakeshott Type X.
Image detail from "Scenes from the Life of David," from the illuminated manuscript Morgan Bible, England, AD 1160-1180.

Wide thong belts were undecorated and generally did not have any decorative mounts. However, one illustration from the late 12th Century shows a white sword belt with a linear array of round dots that could represent small mounts (Figure C). Similar representations from the 13th Century images show clearly that these dots along the entire length of the belt are holes for the buckle prong, and must have also served a decorative purpose. However, neither belt buckles nor mounts were used in the 12th Century, so in a 12th Century image the nature of these dots is not clear.

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Figure C: A linear array of dots on a wide white sword belt may represent some type of belt mount. Similar representations from the 13th Century images show clearly that these dots along the entire length of the belt are holes for the buckle prong.
Image detail from folio 7 verso, from the illuminated manuscript Psalter of Henry the Lion, Germany, c. AD 1168-1189.

Sword Suspensions

In his 1891 article The Sword Belts of the Middle Ages, Albert Hartshorne made the astute and obvious observation that sword scabbards of the 11th and 12th Centuries appeared to be "stuck" to the sword belts rather than suspended from them. He said of the embroidered depictions in the 11th Century Bayeaux Tapestry:

"Likewise in the Stitch Work, and other pictorial authorities of the eleventh century, the sword is shown, not suspended from the waist belt, but simply stuck to it." (Hartshorne, Albert. 1891. The Sword Belts of the Middle Ages. Journal of Archeology 47:323)

Clearly, though, the scabbards were, in fact, suspended from the sword belts, the exact manners of which will be explored in the next section. Hartshorne went on to say:

"Hitherto we have seen the belt attached solely to the top of the scabbard, the result being that the sword constantly hung in a more or less vertical position, and vibrated inconveniently. This was found to be an evil both on foot and on horseback."

The illuminated manuscripts contain important clues about the manner in which scabbards were suspended vertically from the belts. Most importantly, you will notice that when the sword belt disappears behind the scabbard it reappears on the other side at the same level. This is strong evidence that the sword belt was a single, continuous piece of leather, and the scabbard is bound to the belt in some manner. (The offset sword belt was not developed until about AD1200-1220.) There are a few effigies and depictions in the illuminated manuscripts from the 12th and 13th Centuries that show that this is exactly the case. Medieval sword suspension methods have not been named in the literature, so I will take the liberty of naming this the "vertical" suspension.

There is one very important image in 12th Century illuminated manuscripts that depicts clear detail of a vertical suspension (Figure D).

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Figure D. A late 12th Century (AD 1175) image from France that clearly shows that the belt is laced through the front of the scabbard. While this lacing through the front of the scabbard is unique, it does clearly show that the belt is a single, continuous piece of leather.
Image detail from folio 51 recto of the illuminated manuscript KB 76 E 11 Bible, France, AD 1175.

More commonly, 12th Century images show a vertical suspension in which there is lacing in the scabbard's cover. These laces form an X" or a backwards "Z" pattern (Figure E). Sometimes the tails of the laces were knotted on the outside of the scabbard and the ends hung like tassels (Figure F). It is not known exactly how these laces attach the scabbard to the belt.

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Figure E: A typical "X" lacing pattern on a 12th Century scabbard.
Image detail from folio 41, "Holy Women at the Tomb," from the illuminated manuscript The Siegburg Lectionary, Germany, dated to the second quarter of the 12th Century.

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Figure F: A typical backwards "Z" lacing pattern on a 12th Century scabbards.
Image detail from the illuminated manuscript Hortus Deliciarum, France, c. AD 1185.


Since there aren't any extant scabbards from Type X-Xa or XI-XIa swords, we can only presume that they had a wood core and were covered with leather. We know that these scabbards were covered with something because we can see the belt lacing in the covers. Scabbards from later centuries were usually covered with leather and, less frequently, velvet. In illuminated manuscripts, the overwhelming majority of these scabbards are dark brown in color. Rarely the scabbards appear to be the same light color as the belt. No other colors were seen, although many illustrations are in black and white.

Integrated rain guards do not appear in illuminations until late in the 12th Century, at which time they are moderately common.

Chapes also do not appear in illuminations until late in the 12th Century at which time they are common. All of the depicted chapes have simple geometric forms such as that shown in Figure G. The Oakeshott Type XII swords were also prevalent in the late 12th Century, and it is impossible to determine from the manuscripts if the chapes are associated with Type X, Xa, XI, XIa or XII swords, or all of the above.

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Figure G: A simple chape from the 12th Century.
Image detail from folio 50 verso, Navarre Picture Bible, Spain, AD 1197.

Other features, such as leather tooling, risers, rings and lockets, are not found on 12th Century scabbards in the illuminated manuscripts.


In summary, these are the general characteristics of Oakeshott Type X-Xa and XI-XIa sword suspensions:

-The sword belts were almost always wide, undecorated and lightly-colored

-The sword belts were always fastened with a knotted thong, not a buckle

-Scabbards were hung vertically from the sword belt. The offset sword belt had not yet been developed.

-Scabbards were always plain and undecorated, and generally dark brown in color

-Integrated leather rain guards were often present late in the 12th C

-Chapes were often present late in the 12th C

-Scabbards generally lacked any other decorations or features such as risers, tooling, lockets, or rings

A really great introduction to this subject, and nicely illustrated with excellent examples. If I may offer an observation of my own: it seems to me that, from circa 1175 AD to 1200 AD, black scabbards become especially popular. It's true that brown scabbards are also found, and a sizable number of scabbards in black and white manuscripts are shown having no colour. Whether these should be interpreted as being white, or having some other form of light colour (aside from dark brown or black) is up for debate. Just the same, it seems the overall proportion of black scabbards rises significantly at this time, which is something that modern collectors or reenactors might want to take into account.
Next section:

Suspensions for Oakeshott Type XII Swords
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Here is another example of suspension of Type X-XI swords from Germany in the late 12th Century, showing wide thong belts and vertical suspension. Note that the sword belt disappears behind the scabbard, and then reemerges on the other side of the scabbard at the same level. This shows that theses are not offset sword belts, but vertical suspensions instead. The wrap around the upper scabbard is in the "backwards Z" pattern. Integrated rain guards are present at the throat of the scabbards.

From folio 53 verso, Rolandslied of Konrad Pfaffe
Hello Harry,

I've been digging through your various postings with great interest. I applaud your efforts to not only thoroughly document what you are finding but sharing it with the rest of the community. I think through my dozens of books and think to myself "I really should compile this into a reference guide for when someone wants to me to make a scabbard for an Albion XYZ or an A&A ABC." I keep thinking I don't have the time to do so... but you may have inspired me to think more seriously about it!
For those of you, including myself, who were wondering what an offset suspension looks like there is a really good example in this image from the BNF Arsenal 1186 Psalter of Saint Louis and Blanche of Castile, which is dated to 1225 AD. Notice also a rare example showing the strapping of a flat-top kite shield.

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Source: Manuscript Miniatures,

I found a new 12th century German miniature for you. It has a chape, and shows the suspension system quite well. Also of note is the lack of fingers on the mail hand covers.

Bible, Judas Maccabeus , ULB Düsseldorf Ms.A.2 fo.151v, 1150-1175, Köln, Benediktinerabtei Groß St. Martin.

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Excellent find Mart! That image is also one of the only one that displaces much of the reverse side of a flat top kite shields. If the image is representative, it would seem that kite shields even have patterns on the back! Regarding the chape, my guess is that this image should be dated closer to 1175 AD, since all the other evidence of chapes first appearing point to this late date. It's a very interesting find, especially since it does not show the standard horseshoe chape that seems to have dominated scabbards in the 12th and 13th centuries.
I do not wish to derail this thread, but does it look like he may be wearing thin cuisses over his chausses to anyone else? I thought it was maybe just artistic styling for a split undergarment, but if you look closely and follow the line up to his crotch (ahem), you'll see that his underlayer does appear to be properly separated into 'legs', as opposed to split or wrapped around his legs
Interesting image, clearly shows a vertical suspension. I think that I am going to try to reproduce that suspension method for one of my swords. Gotta work out how it's attached, and the lacing pattern.

One method of attaching it would be to start with the main thong, then attach a separate piece of the same fabric. This second piece of fabric could be used to sandwich the scabbard between it and the thong. Then it could be stitched to attach it to the main thong. I have no idea if this was done historically, and I don't see evidence for it in the image, but it is one possible option.

Another way would be to cinch the thong very tightly around the knight's waist, such that it effectively "pins" the scabbard into place, sandwiching it between the thong and the knight's mail. I'm not sure if this is viable; I would worry about the scabbard slipping out, but one would have to try it to know for sure.
It looks like the belt is sewn on both sides of the scabbard - sewn to something in the back. I am also wondering the lacing straps that are visible below the belt.

Maybe I'll play with something, but the details would be pure speculation.
Re: Suspensions for Oakeshott Type X-XI Swords
Harry Marinakis wrote:

However, neither belt buckles nor mounts were used in the 12th Century, so in a 12th Century image the nature of these dots is not clear.

-The sword belts were always fastened with a knotted thong, not a buckle

If you look at these effigies can you see that both Geoffrey de Mandeville 1st Earl of Essex and Hamo de Weston had sword belts with buckles. They are made 1185-1189.
Re: Suspensions for Oakeshott Type X-XI Swords
Ulf Lidsman wrote:
If you look at these effigies can you see that both Geoffrey de Mandeville 1st Earl of Essex and Hamo de Weston had sword belts with buckles. They are made 1185-1189.

Thank you
The English seemed to have been among the first to adopt buckled sword belts
Forgive me for resurrecting an old topic but I found the information in this thread helpful and I wanted to add a few additional clues to this puzzle.

Suspension Methods:

like others I have searched high and low for examples of how sword scabbards were laced and suspended in the 11th and 12th century. Some excellent examples have been given here that give a good idea of the typical variations seen in most period miniatures. Here are a couple additional examples that show features that are different than what has already been shared.

I was very surprised to see that in the depiction below the knights appear to have the same style of split laced light colored belt that we are used to seeing but two of the men are clearly holding their swords over their shoulder with scabbards in place while their belts remain around their waist. After seeing the first example of this I noticed the second image which also appears to show a scabbard detached from the sword belt which is still worn by the subject. These two examples have made me wonder if this suspension method was one that could perhaps be easily untied for removal of the scabbard. I can see this being done so a scabbard can be removed prior to a fight without the need to remove the belt. I can recall many miniatures in battle scenes where the sword wielders don't appear to be wearing a scabbard. I have not noted if they still have on a light colored belt. I'll have to pay more attention in the future.

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from Walters W.30 Gloss on Lamentations of Jeremiah
Austrian dated 1150-1200

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From Evangeliar Heinrichs d. Löwen
German dated 1188

It was suggested earlier that the "offset sword belt was not developed until about AD1200-1220." This next group of period depictions appears to contradict that theory. Perhaps it was developed but unfashionably, or perhaps if the vertical suspension was in fact detachable it was preferred in this period for that reason.
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From Hortus Deliciarum
France dated 1185

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From folio 76 verso, Rolandslied of Konrad Pfaffe
Germany dated 1180-1200

This image is particularly interesting because the first knight clearly has an offset suspension on this scabbard while the second knight appears to have an inline belt or vertical suspension.
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From the Chronicle of Otto of Freising
France Dated 1157-1185

Lastly, here is an example that I found interesting that appears to show the belt splitting into 4 strips on either side which presumably are then laced into or around the scabbard.
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From the Psalter of Ludwig der Heilege
England 1190

Scabbard & Belt Colour:

The most frequently seen combination (the light belt with the dark scabbard) has already been discussed, but I have a few outlier examples that show some color and decoration. I thought these may also be interesting to others.

Purple scabbard with a strip of red and a faint zig-zag or perhaps tooling.
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From the Parc Abbey Bible
Germany dated 1148

Scabbard with red top. This may just be a light colored scabbard stained with blood.
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From Winchester Psalter
Egland dated 1150

Green scabbard with a chape and what appears to be tooling or light decoration.
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From Charité-sur-Loire Psalter
France dated 1175-1200

Hope this is helpful or interesting to others.

P.S. I have searched many other sources other than, but in the end, everything of interest that I found happened to be on there anyway :D. Such a great resource.

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