Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Saturday, March 04, 2023

The Weight of Historical Swords

I can't stand the floppy, tin swords that many people use for practice. What did historical swords weight? Below is a article that appeared at the Association for Renaissance Martial Arts about the weight of western historical weapons. The full post may be read here.

A Weighty Issue

Erroneous statements about the weight of Medieval and Renaissance swords are unfortunately common. It is an issue of the most habitual misinformation and misstatement. This should come as no surprise given the misrepresentation Medieval and Renaissance swordplay continually receives in popular media. Everywhere from television and movies to video games, historical European swords have been depicted as being cumbersome and displayed with wide, exaggerated movements. On a recent national television appearance on The History Channel, one respected academic and expert on medieval military technology even declared with conviction how 14th century swords were "heavy" sometimes weighing as much as "40 pounds" (!).

From ordinary hands-on experience we know full well that swords were not excessively heavy nor did they weigh 10 or 15 pounds and more. There is only so many ways we can repeat how these weapons were not at all heavy or ungainly. Remarkably, while one would think a crucial piece of information as the weight of swords would be of great interest to arms curators and arms historians, there is no major reference book that actually lists the weights of different types. Perhaps this vacuum of documented evidence is part of the very problem surrounding the issue. However, there are a few respected sources that do give some valuable statistics. For example, the lengthy catalog of swords from the famed Wallace Collection Museum in London readily lists dozens of fine specimens among which it is difficult to find any weighing in excess of 4 pounds. Indeed, the majority of specimens, from arming swords to two-handers to rapiers, weigh much less than three pounds.

Despite frequent claims to the contrary, Medieval swords were indeed light, manageable, and on average weighed less than four pounds. As leading sword expert Ewart Oakeshott unequivocally stated: "Medieval Swords are neither unwieldably heavy nor all alike - the average weight of any one of normal size is between 2.5 lb. and 3.5 lbs. Even the big hand-and-a-half 'war' swords rarely weigh more than 4.5 lbs. Such weights, to men who were trained to use the sword from the age of seven (and who had to be tough specimens to survive that age) , were by no means too great to be practical."(Oakeshott, Sword in Hand, p. 13). Oakeshott, the 20th century's leading author and researcher of European swords would certainly know. He had handled thousands of swords in his lifetime and at one time or another personally owned dozens of the finest examples ranging from the Bronze Age to the 19th century.

Medieval swords in general were well-made, light, agile fighting weapons equally capable of delivering dismembering cuts or cleaving deep cavities into the body. They were far from the clumsy, heavy things they're often portrayed as in popular media and far, far more than a mere "club with edges." As another source on arms affirmed: "the sword was, in fact, surprisingly light·.the average weight of swords from the 10th to the 15th centuries was 1.3 kg, while in the 16th century it was 0.9 kg. Even the heavier bastard swords which were used only by second-grade fighting men did not exceed 1.6 kg, while the horse swords known as 'hand-and-a-half' swords weighed 1.8 kg on average. When due allowances are made, these surprisingly low figures also hold good for the enormous two-hand sword, which was traditionally only wielded by 'true Hercules.' Yet it seldom weighed more than 3 kg." (Funcken, Arms, Part 3, p. 26).

Starting in the 16th century there were of course special parade or bearing swords that did weigh up to 8 or 9 pounds and more, however these monstrous show pieces were not fighting weapons and there is no evidence they were ever intended for use in any type of combat. Indeed, it would not make sense given that there were other far more maneuverable combat models available which were several pounds lighter. Dr. Hans-Peter Hils in his 1985 dissertation on the work of the great 14th century master Johannes Liechtenauer noted that since the 19th century many arms museum collections typically feature immense parade or bearing greatswords as if they were actual combat weapons ignoring the fact they are not only blunt edged, but of impractical size and weight as well as poorly balanced for effective use. (Hils, p. 269-286). 


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