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Victor K.

Location: ON, Canada
Joined: 27 Jan 2007

Posts: 5

PostPosted: Sat 27 Jan, 2007 10:21 pm    Post subject: An unexperienced, unqualified, but fresh set of eyes.         Reply with quote

I apologize if this is pointing out my disgusting lack of experience in the subject, as some of you have been studying spathology since before I was born, but could the rapier not be useful against a more heavily armoured opponent? It seems to me that, given that a man wearing heavy armour and carrying a larger sword would not be able to move as fast as a lightly armoured rapier fighter, and that all the armour I have ever heard of does have weak points, (particularly near the groin, armpits, throat, and waist), the rapier fighter has the advantage, provided that he is focusing on staying out of the way of the potentially fatal chunk of metal being waved at him.

I was discussing this subject with one of my teachers, arguing that the rapier was not practical against an unarmoured opponent, when he pointed out that gentleman's dueling is where the style most likely developed, as fighters found it more effective to stab the point of their weapons into the joints of their opponent's armour than to hack at each other until they managed to cut through a substantial plate of iron. Once the practice of stabbing became common, the strong-edged weapons of the Norman Franks(as the soldiers mostly were fighting poorly armed and armoured civilian) slowly developed an offshoot branch of weapons focused on having a fortified point, as well as a strong edge, rather than the previous desire for a strong edge only. From my little (minuscule, diminutive, lousy, etc.) experience with trying to make swords, it seems to me that the two styles of attack don't just require different techniques to utilize, but have different requirements for the style of blade. Therefore, some (not all) of the swords being used became thinner and longer, with gradually tapering points instead of the more obtuse points that I have been told the Norman's weapons had.

I was wondering if there was a direct correlation between the style of a weapon and the availability of metals and skilled craftspeople to make armour, specifically that the better the armour gets the less popular edged weapons become. I understand that after the introduction of gunpowder this would be an irrelevant theory, but up until that point I believe it may be relevant...

Please reply, if only to explain how wrong my basic ideas are. The more information you can give me, the happier I will be! I've had trouble getting any consistent information until I found this site.

Also, sorry about the length. I cut down a couple of points, but this was as small as I felt I could go without giving up hope on someone actually understanding my reasoning.



--The word sounded strange and exotic in my ears and the small hairs on my arms stirred. "Qalibr," I said. "The hilt came out of a mould. Ex-Qalibr. That's where you got the name!"
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Adam Simmonds

Joined: 10 Jun 2006

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PostPosted: Sun 28 Jan, 2007 12:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi all, interesting thread.

Just to toss my 2 cents in, I would like to point out that alot of misconceptions are fostered, as some have already mentioned, when we take 'evolution' to be a term describing a purely linear development through time from worst - best, primitive - sophisticated, simple - complex. If this were the case, swords made these days would be superior to those made centuries ago - simply because they have been manufactured at a later date, succeeding and therefore (so goes the idea) superseeding their ancestors. Ofcourse, this is not the case.
Evolution happens regionally, contextually, as a process of adaptation and mutation to fit the ever changing aspects of an environment moving through time and space. So a two handed longsword will be best equipped to deal with one situation while a light single handed sword or a dagger will be best suited to alternate situations. A cheap wallhanger may very well be the 'best' (ie most appropriate) 'sword' for the context of someone who wants a cheap and flashy decorative object.
Context is all important for understanding the driving force behind adaptations, mutations - evolutions. Idealogies of linear evolutions with corresponding 'progresses' (from simple - advanced) are unrealistic, widely accepted and, counter evolutionary.

Cheers, Adam S.
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Vincent Le Chevalier

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PostPosted: Sun 28 Jan, 2007 5:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote


Interesting discussion, and I'd like to share my thoughts on some of the points debated...

I think we should differentiate as much as possible between the possible use of weapons or fighting style, and their intended use.

Take for example the rapier. I tend to think of it now more as a method of fencing than as a specific weapon, because as others described, there is a great uncertainty as to what exactly should be called a rapier. So what is a rapier fighter training for? I'd say it is to fight an unarmoured opponent, using just about any weapon, in a dueling setting (this is what the manuals show, at least, but self-defence against multiple opponents might have been a concern too). To do so, he chooses a rather long, thrust oriented weapon, still solid enough to deal with some heavy cutting blow, still with some edge.

Where lies the efficiency of the rapier? In my opinion, in this specific situation, the rapier is most efficient because it uses relatively less energy to fight. Stepping is about the same, but the arm movements are far less energetic than with for example a longsword. A rapier fighter excels in thrust fights, keeping the opponent at distance by the threat of a very mobile point, avoiding binds, and finally advancing into the adversary along a favorable angle, under protection from the quite solid rapier.

This style is not really practical, or not the most easy to practice, in a many-to-many fight such as what you find in battle. That is because controlling the distance and angles gets more and more difficult as the number of threats goes up. In these situation, cuts are more efficient. I believe this is also why most military swords were somewhat cut-oriented.

Of course many rapiers could cut, because there are situations that demand the use of cuts. That is intended use, cuts against unarmoured target. This is supported by period manuals, as earlier pointed out.

Is an edgeless rapier is useless in cutting motions? Not really. As Stephen Hand puts it, you are still getting hit in the face by 3 pounds of steel, going fast... It's certainly a possible use. I don't think it is intended, however.

Can rapiers be useful in battle? Well, certainly it's better than no weapon at all... Is it intended use? Given the styles described in the manuals, I wouldn't think so. That does not mean it cannot be a military weapon, in the sense that it can be worn as a symbol of status.

On the subject of rapier versus armoured opponent, mentioned by Victor... I don't think the rapier style would be very effective in such a situation. A rapier's cut would be totally inefficient against plate armour, not only it will not cut (neither would any other sword, most likely), but it does not even has enough mass on the blade to unbalance the adversary. The rapier user is thus bound to try to keep the adversary at distance, by the sole threat of the point. Victor mentions that armour had a few gaps that were specifically targeted by thrusts. In my opinion, those are not enough. It would be too easy for the armoured fighter to just cover the gaps, rush in without any consideration for the rapier's point, and crush the rapier guy. Remember that while armour slows the wearer down, from what I have seen it does not slow him enough in order for the rapier fighter to avoid him forever... In short, I think that there are too few exposed gaps in the armour, and that the rapier fighter has little chance in a close range fight.

As far as I know, the way to fight an armoured fight with a longsword for example, is to strike the opponent a few times with edge blows, throw him into disorder, get in close range with halfswording, pin him on the ground and finally use the pointy tip of the sword as a kind of can-opener Happy, attacking the gaps. Technically, it is every bit as difficult to do properly as fighting with the rapier is, and I do not dismiss at all this method of fight. But it is not the way a rapier is intended to be used, I believe... And it's something dangerous to do if you are not armoured yourself.

Usual disclaimers apply, given that I'm only formally trained in kenjutsu and sport fencing (a long time ago for sport fencing), have only a theoretical experience in rapier fencing, and certainly never fought an armoured opponent Wink


Ensis Sub Caelo
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Jean-Carle Hudon

Location: Montreal,Canada
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PostPosted: Sun 28 Jan, 2007 7:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

your teacher's point of view is the same to that which I was taught by Gerald Hubert, who was trained as a maître d'armes in Belgium, and for years was the technical advisor for the Federation d'Escrime du Quebec. He obtained his master's degree after completing his university degree in Canada ( U. de Montreal). The Masters program was a two year affair at the Military college in Belgium. I mention this in part for Vincent's benefit.
I generally regard information passed on to me by specialists in their field of study with respect, as they benefit from teachings passed on from generation to generation, and in fencing this is most certainly the case as the use of swordmanship in military colleges in some areas of Europe has gone on without interruption for many centuries. So, though I have the greatest regards for self taught masters and students, I generally pay heed to those who do come from established and documented backgrounds. I conclude that the rapier, being a more precise instrument in the hands of those who are trained to use it, could in fact target precise areas of an opponent's vulnerable areas.... BUT, I am also quite sensitive to Adam's statement that evolution is always contextual... I expressed the same concept previously when I referred to the "basket " of factors which needed to be considered as the rapier gradually supplanted the use of the longsword as the most widely used form of sword in Europe, which does not take anything away from broadswords, or my beloved schiavonna, nor even the use of round shields and targes, and so on. So, when looking to the reasons why armor was abandonned and rapiers develloped, your teacher, and all teachers who are focusing on the history of the blade, cannot ignore extraneous factors such as the devellopment of firearms. This is the factor which is most widely accepted as that which brought about the obsolescence of armor ( though we all know that armor still existed in residual forms up to the first WW).
So, though I would not argue against your teacher's comment with regards to the precision of point control allowing to neutralize the advantage of armor in areas such as the armpits and such, I would not place it as a determinant factor. I have always thought that the devellopment of better gripping techniques led to better estoc control, which in conjunction to the more fatal blows being delivered by thrust than by cut, brought the swordsmen to favor weapons with superior point control, thus phasing out longswords in favor of rapier type weapons. This is debattable, it is an opinion, and I do not pretend to confuse opinions with facts, but from the facts available, the physical evolution of swords in general being the most important fact considered, contemporaneously with the gradual obsolescence of armor and the devellopment of superior hand protection on the sword itself, whether swept hilt rapier or baskethilted backsword or schiavonna, I think that it is reasonable to conclude that the precision of the new weapon was the prime motivator in supplanting the longsword as the most widely used type of hand weapon in Europe until the advent of the smallsword.

So then , Victor of Ontario, whatever style of fencing you come to favor, have fun and welcome to the neverending debate of chicken and egg, rapier and broadsword, civilian and military use, etc .. Hubert was my maître d'armes in the late eighties, and since then I have seen self taught "masters" invade the fencing scene in Quebec, each with his own school, and all arguing techniques garnished from attempting to understand cryptic manuscripts written with poetic licence in foreign tongues, and all have their own version or definitive sense of where the truth of the matter lies. So read on, fence a lot, try different styles proposed, and you will come to your own conclusions on this whole evolution debate. This site will allow you to access most of the proposed styles and preferences out there, so again, welcome, have fun and don't worry about someone wanting to blast you and your opinion out of the water, there's room for an awful lot of speculation, and sometimes some of it comes to make sense to you and your own tastes.

Bon coeur et bon bras
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Will C.

Joined: 18 Jan 2015

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PostPosted: Wed 11 Mar, 2015 2:41 pm    Post subject: Re: The Evolution of the Sword         Reply with quote

Jared M. Olson wrote:
Hello again. I have been pondering what little I know about the evolution of the sword and I am quite puzzled by one thing: the rapier. Now, it seems that sword production was limited by and catered to resources, abilities and of course, the state of armor of their day. For the first centuries the evolution makes sense, we being with relatively small, one-handed swords, which proceed to grow in length and cutting ability, and eventually we are left with large two-handed swords for hewing and stabbing alike. So how does the rapier fit into this as the successor to the large swords of the medieval age? I understand that they are quicker and more agile, but could a man with a rapier really stand up to a man with a large sword? And if not, then I fail to understand why the sword took a turn for the worse. My apologies to those who love rapiers, but am confused as to their existence. If anyone can help explain this and explain my error, please do.

My understanding is the medieval sword split down two separate paths. One is the larger two handed sword such as the zweihander of the renaissance. The other is the rapier which became the smallsword whose primary function was to make a fashion statement.
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Graham Shearlaw

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PostPosted: Thu 12 Mar, 2015 11:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Theres differently a split towards full size battle swords and smaller second line swords.
Once we get a lot of fighters that aren't primilarly using there sword then they want smaller and lighter weapons, think of the m1 carbine vs the m1 garand.
If all you do is use a crossbow, hold a pike or drive a truck then why carry a full size gun.

The full size battle swords fade away with the last of the armour as guns come to the fore.

So we are left with the smaller swords that then ends up being a fashion statement.

I do wonder if there are any early bronze age swords made from multiple blade segments like earlier flint weapons.
They probably didn't last all that long as the binding would of made it weaker than a one piece sword.
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Mike Ruhala

Location: Stuart, Florida
Joined: 24 Jul 2011

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PostPosted: Fri 13 Mar, 2015 1:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Firearms did more to displace pole-arms than they did to displace swords. Right up to the 18th c. soldiers commonly carried a hanger for close combat, quite a few still did well into the 19th century and the machete serves the same role for many today.

Small swords weren't a direct development from rapiers, they were more like a parallel development. The triangular sectioned thrusting blade of the small sword has an ancestor in what some label a "panzerstecher," a big two-handed weapon for armored dueling. The same kind of blade can be found on a bohrschwert. There was also more than one small sword configuration, some were quite heavily built and used for self defense or military combat. Even those weighing about a pound are perfectly deadly.
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Timo Nieminen

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PostPosted: Fri 13 Mar, 2015 4:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mike Ruhala wrote:
Firearms did more to displace pole-arms than they did to displace swords. Right up to the 18th c. soldiers commonly carried a hanger for close combat, quite a few still did well into the 19th century and the machete serves the same role for many today.

It's the hybrid firearm-polearm (courtesy of the bayonet) that displaced the polearm. Until the bayonet, battlefields were still full of polearms - lots more infantry with polearms as their primary weapons than with swords as their primary weapons.

Cavalry was a different story - one could say that armoured vehicles displaced the cavalry sword.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Mike Ruhala

Location: Stuart, Florida
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PostPosted: Fri 13 Mar, 2015 7:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

That's certainly the gist of it, Timo. What's really interesting to me is that recognizable staff/pole-arm techniques can be found in bayonet fencing and even cannon firing drills in relation to their handling of the various long hafted implements used to tend the guns. Colonial forces during the American Revolutionary War made much more extensive use of pole-arms than most people realize and pikes remained in use on warships for boarding actions well into the 19th century. The "guns ended swords" thing gets way overplayed, honestly I think some people are just using it as a smokescreen. If you want to blame any particular thing on the reduction of hand-to-hand combat weapons in Western armies then most of that blame should be placed on everything that isn't a weapon that a soldier has to carry nowadays.

Other than that I'm not a fan of the concept of "primary weapons," that over-simplifies things considerably. I prefer to think in terms of "right tool for the job."
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Timo Nieminen

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PostPosted: Fri 13 Mar, 2015 9:20 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bows and crossbows didn't replace swords, so why should guns? If guns replaced anything, they replaced crossbows and bows (very slowly in some places, much faster in others). Cannons replaced mechanical artillery. Like replaces like. Hand-to-hand weapons are still used - these are what replaced swords.

Magazine-fed firearms did make hand-to-hand combat less important, but it still happened. If swords were replaced by other weapons for hand-to-hand fighting, that isn't the same as being replaced by guns. The late 19th century cavalry renaissance, in the face of more and more rapid-fire firearms appearing on the battlefield, says that armies still saw the sword as useful. This wasn't just wishful thinking on their part - it really worked. Just before WW1, Australia's mounted forces were intended to fight on foot (the Light Horse were not quite mounted infantry, since they were supposed to perform some cavalry duties, like mounted reconnaissance, but doctrine was to fight on foot; their famous charge at Beersheba didn't conform to that doctrine, and was with bayonet in hand (since they didn't have swords)). Based on their WW1 experience, they were converting to cavalry, and being equipped with swords.

On the cavalry revival:

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Greg Ballantyne

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PostPosted: Sat 14 Mar, 2015 5:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As you say Timo, while "Guns replaced swords" is too broad a generalization to describe the process, it does describe the eventual outcome. Today a military fighter's sidearm is not a sword of any type, it is a firearm - usually a pistol.
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Lafayette C Curtis

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PostPosted: Thu 19 Mar, 2015 4:44 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mounted cavalry actions in WW1 didn't only happen in the Middle Eastern theatre. Donald Kenyon wrote a very extensive dissertation (later expanded to a book) about British cavalry on the Western Front, and he listed some actions in the last half-year of the war where cavalry once more became a potent force once the fighting moved outside the long-established confines of the trench lines. Interestingly enough, he pointed out that cavalry was most effective when used as part as small combined-arms units or teams, not as large single/segregated-arm formations -- so in this respect it was very similar to other modern arms.

And of course, on the Eastern Front, where conditions were more "primitive," old-style cavalry charges and manoeuvres in large units (entire squadrons, regiments, or even brigades) were still rather common, especially in the Russian Civil War. Some really good articles about it:
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