Military Wiki
Arming sword
Ms I33 fol 04v.jpg
The MS I.33 manuscript, dated to c. 1290, shows fencing with the arming sword and the buckler.
Type Sword
Service history
In service c. 1000–1500
Weight avg. 1.1 kg (2.4 lb)
Length avg. 90 cm (35 in)
Blade length avg. 75 cm (30 in)

Blade type Double-edged, straight bladed
Hilt type One-handed cruciform, with pommel

The arming sword (also sometimes called a knight's or knightly sword) is a type of European sword with a single-handed cruciform hilt and straight double-edged blade of around 69 to 89 centimetres (27 to 35 in), in common use from the 11th to 16th centuries. It is a common weapon in period artwork, and there are many surviving examples in museums.

History and use

The arming sword was the standard military sword of the medieval European knight. The term came into use to differentiate the standard single-handed sword from other recently developed types such as the war sword[Clarification needed] and great sword. It is so called because it was worn with armour.[1]

It was typically used with a shield or buckler; however, there are many texts and pictures depicting effective arming sword combat without the benefit of a shield. According to medieval texts,[specify]

in the absence of a shield the empty (normally left) hand could be used for grabbing or grappling opponents. The arming sword was overall a light, versatile weapon capable of both cut and thrust combat, and normally boasted excellent balance.

After the longsword came to predominate, the arming sword was retained as a common sidearm but came to be referred to as a shortsword, later evolving into the cut and thrust swords of the Renaissance.


Sword, ca. 1300 AD

Although a variety of designs fall under the heading of 'arming sword', they are characterized as having single-handed cruciform hilts and straight double-edged blades designed for both cutting and thrusting.

Blade length was usually from 69 to 89 centimetres (27 to 35 in); however, examples exist from 58 to 100 centimetres (23 to 39 in).[2] Pommels were most commonly of the 'Brazil-nut' type from around 1000-1200AD,[1] with the 'wheel' pommel appearing in the 11th and predominating from the 13th to 15th centuries.

Arming swords correspond to Oakeshott types XI, XII and XIII. The type is a development of the High Middle Ages, first apparent in the Norman swords of the 11th century. As such they are a continuation of the early medieval "Viking sword", which ultimately derives from the spatha of Late Antiquity and the Migration Period.

A combination of the Oakeshott and Peterson Typologies[by whom?] shows a chronological progression from the Viking sword to a "transitional sword", type X, which incorporated elements of both Viking and arming swords. This "transitional sword" continued to evolve into the presently defined arming sword.

Oakeshott contrasts the arming sword both from what he calls the "great swords"—describing the latter as having longer and broader blades—and from what he calls "hand-and-half swords" which he describes as similar in size but with a longer grip (typified by the subtypes XIIa and XIIIa that were in use simultaneously with the arming swords in the latter part of the High Middle Ages, c. 1250–1350). He notes these subtypes as the progenitors of the later two-handed longswords of the Late Middle Ages, in use c. 1350–1550. For this reason, scholars occasionally refer to these "great swords" improperly and anachronistically as "longswords". By contrast, the arming sword would evolve into the later "shortsword" worn as a sidearm while wielding the two-handed longsword.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Loades, Mike (2010). Swords and Swordsmen. Great Britain: Pen & Sword Books. ISBN 978-1-84884-133-8. 
  2. Oakeshott, Ewart (1998). Records of the Medieval Sword. Boydell & Brewer Inc. ISBN 0-85115-566-9. 


  • Oakeshott, Ewart (1998). Records of the Medieval Sword. Boydell & Brewer Inc. ISBN 0-85115-566-9. 
  • Loades, Mike (2010). Swords and Swordsmen. Great Britain: Pen & Sword Books. ISBN 978-1-84884-133-8. 

External links

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