Monday, April 5, 2010

What is a medieval sword?

What is a medieval sword? For historians, this is not an easy question to answer. They may point to a large sword now on display in Fries museum of Netherlands. It measures seven feet in length and weighs fifteen pounds, a weapon that only a giant can effectively put to use. Indeed it belonged to a giant, a 15th century Dutch peasant rebel named Pier Gerlofs Donia, a man of towering height and strength that he could slash the necks of several people using his sword in one cut. Or they could point to Zulqifar, the sword of Muhammad’s son-in-law Ali, who cut a Meccan opponent and his shield into two halves.

Medieval swords are weapons that are documented to have been made during the Middle Ages or Medieval Ages, which spanned from the time the Roman Empire was in decline (500 AD) to the time of the Renaissance (1500 AD). This period is also known as the Dark Ages because the progress of science was put on hold and people did not have access to education and power. They have to rely on their kings and nobles for guidance and survival.

Medieval swords in service for the Kings

Thus, it was during the Dark Ages that kings, queens, and princesses lived in huge palaces. Often, the royal families are always under the threat of attacks from neighboring kingdoms. So, to protect their territory and power, they employ military officers, called knights, and foot soldiers to defend their land. With the rise and fall of kingdoms and civilizations, medieval swords, medieval daggers, and armors were produced and became very good relics of those olden times.

Medieval swords according to their edges

The question what is a medieval sword and what type does it belong seem to have a lot of answers. Many cultures and many countries have produced countless classes of swords that are classified further according to rank, purpose, shape, length, and even the monograms etched on their hilts. Classification is further made more difficult as different eras produced different versions, which are by-products of advancing technology in metallurgy and sword-making. It is thus impossible to classify swords according to their form.

Today, experts classify them comfortably according to the shape of their edges. Medieval scimitar swords (Asian swords with curved blades design), sabers (cavalry swords with slightly curved blade design), and samurai swords (slender, curved Japanese) are examples of single-edged swords. Double-edged swords, on the other hand, include longsword (a European sword with cruciform hilt), and the famous Gaelic claymore (a Scottish sword with down-sloping hilt).

Medieval swords according to their use in combat

They are also divided according to how they are used in combat. The Middle Ages was the age of the Romantics; people and philosophers were preoccupied in reliving the teachings of the Classical World of the Greeks and Romans. Hence, Germany’s katzbalger (a short arming sword with a figure-8 hilt) and Italy’s cinqueda (a thrusting sword with a heavy blade and a rounded point) reintroduced and improved the classic single-handed sword spartha. The arming sword and medieval scimitar swords are another foremost example of a single-handed sword. Double-handed swords, on the other hand, are used in tandems. They include the longsword and the samurai sword.

Medieval swords and their symbols

Some of the swords of famous heroes like Ali have names. Spain’s national hero, El Cid, had his swords named Tizona and Colada. This illustrates the romantic symbols, and even religious connection, of the sword to its owners. For one, it represents inseparability of the weapon and its wielder for life. Together, they symbolize strength and invincibility. Two, it represents prestige, as it a symbol of elitism. Three, it is a symbol of authority, as it can protect or take away life. Swords represented a badge of honor. A lowly commoner may rise into ranks by showing valor in the battlefield, and may be gifted by a sword.

Medieval swords and their purpose

Swords were used by noblemen like knights and samurai, and ordinary soldiers as hand-to-hand combat weapon. They served as backups to lances, bows, and arrows. Not only are they used for the grisly purpose of killing and subjugating enemies. Sometimes, they are used as an instrument of punishment for those who were proven traitors or perceived threats to power. In medieval kingdoms of France and Austria, capital punishments were in the form of beheadings. Because swords are linked to nobility, princes and other high ranking officials were beheaded by sword. Ordinary people were punished by the axe.


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