Military Wiki
Swiss longsword, ca. 1500
(Morges museum)
Type Sword
Service history
In service ca. 1350–1550 AD
Weight avg. 1.1–1.5 kg (2.4–3.3 lb)
Length avg. 120–150 cm (47–59 in), blade length:
avg. 100–122 cm (39–48 in)
Width 4.14–3.1 cm, then sharp point

A longsword (also spelled long sword, long-sword) is a type of European sword characterized as having a cruciform hilt with a grip for two handed use and a straight double-edged blade of around 100 to 122 cm (39 to 48 in),[1] current during the late medieval and Renaissance periods, approximately 1350 to 1550 with early and late use reaching into the 13th and 17th centuries.


Historical (15th to 16th century) terms for this type of sword included Spanish espadón, montante or mandoble, Italian spadone or spada longa (lunga), Portuguese montante and French passot. The Gaelic claidheamh mòr means "great sword"; anglicized as claymore, it came to refer to the Scottish type of longsword with V-shaped crossguard. Historical terminology overlaps with that applied to the Zweihänder sword in the 16th century: French espadon, Spanish espadón or Portuguese montante may also be used more narrowly to refer to these large swords. The French épée de passot may also refer to a medieval single-handed sword optimized for thrusting.

The French épée bâtarde as well as the English bastard sword originates in the 15th or 16th century, originally in the general sense of "irregular sword, sword of uncertain origin", but by the mid-16th century could refer to exceptionally large swords.[2] The Masters of Defence competition organised by Henry VIII in July 1540 listed two hande sworde and bastard sworde as two separate items.[3] It is uncertain whether the same term could still be used to other types of smaller swords, but antiquarian usage in the 19th century established the use of "bastard sword" as referring unambiguously to these large swords.[4]

The German langes schwert ("long sword") in 15th-century manuals does not denote a type of weapon, but the technique of fencing with both hands at the hilt, contrasting with kurzes schwert ("short sword") used of fencing with the same weapon, but with one hand gripping the blade (also known as half-sword). It is only in the later 16th century that the term langes schwert can be shown to be applied to a type of sword. Contemporary use of "long-sword" or "longsword" only resurfaces in the 2000s in the context of reconstruction of the German school of fencing, translating the German langes schwert.[5]

The term "hand-and-a-half sword" is modern (late 19th century).[6] This name was given because the balance of the sword made it usable in one hand, as well as two. During the first half of the 20th century, the term "bastard sword" was used regularly to refer to this type of sword, while "long sword" (or "long-sword"), if used at all, referred to the rapier (in the context of Renaissance or Early Modern fencing).[7]


While there are general trends in the medieval evolution of the sword, it was by no means a linear process. The longsword is characterized not so much by a longer blade, but by a longer grip, which indicates a weapon designed for two-handed use. Swords with exceptionally long hilts are found throughout the High Middle Ages, but these remain exceptional specimens, and not representative of an identifiable trend before the late 13th or early 14th century.

The longsword as a late medieval type of sword emerges in the 14th century, as a military weapon of the earlier phase of the Hundred Years' War. It remains identifiable as a type during the period of about 1350 to 1550.[8] It remained in use as a weapon of war intended for wielders wearing full plate armour either on foot or on horseback, throughout the late medieval period. From the late 15th century, however, it is also attested as being worn and used by unarmoured soldiers or mercenaries. By the 16th century, its military use was mostly obsolete, culminating in the brief period where the oversized Zweihänder were wielded by the German Landsknechte during the early to mid 16th century. By the second half of the 16th century, it persisted mostly as a weapon for sportive competition (Schulfechten), and possibly in knightly duels.

Distinct "bastard sword" hilt types develop during the first half of the 16th century. Oakeshott (1980:130) distinguishes twelve different types. These all seem to have originated in Bavaria and in Switzerland. By the late 16th century, early forms of the developed-hilt appear on this type of sword. Beginning about 1520, the Swiss sabre (schnepf) in Switzerland began to replace the straight longsword, inheriting its hilt types, and the longsword had fallen out of use in Switzerland by 1550. In southern Germany, it persisted into the 1560s, but its use also declined during the second half of the 16th century. There are two late examples of longswords kept in the Swiss National Museum, both with vertically grooved pommels and elaborately decorated with silver inlay, and both belonging to Swiss noblemen in French service during the late 16th and early 17th century, Gugelberg von Moos and Rudolf von Schauenstein.[9] The longsword or bastard-sword was also made in Spain, appearing relatively late, known as the espadon or the montante.


A basic anatomy of the Renaissance longsword.

Blade profile

The blade of the longsword is straight and double edged. Over time the blades of longswords become slightly longer, thicker in cross-section, less wide, and considerably more pointed. This design change is largely attributed to the use of plate armour as an effective defense, more or less nullifying the ability of a sword cut to break through the armour system. Instead of cutting, long swords were then used more to thrust against opponents in plate armour, requiring a more acute point and a more rigid blade. However, the cutting capability of the longsword was never entirely removed, as in some later rapiers, but was supplanted in importance by thrusting capability.

Blade cross-section

Different blade cross-sections. At the top, variants of the diamond shape. At the bottom, variants of the lenticular shape.

The two most basic forms of blade cross-section are lenticular and diamond. Lenticular blades are shaped like thin doubly convex lenses, providing adequate thickness for strength in the center while allowing a proper cutting edge. These normally have fullers, which are grooves or channels running down the flats of the blade originating at or slightly below the hilt. The resultant geometry lightens while conversely strengthening the blade. On earlier blades this shape runs almost the entire length of the blade. As points became more acute the fuller stops around one-third from the point and the cross section changes to a diamond shape. The diamond shaped blade slopes directly up from the edges, without the convex curve of the lenticular blade. The central ridge produced by this angular geometry is known as a riser. Many later blades are of diamond section their entire length though with the flats of the diamond hollowed to give increased rigidity for thrusting. These forms were hammered in by the bladesmith and only the surface finish was ground.


A variety of hilt styles exist for longswords, with the style of pommel and quillion (crossguard) changing over time to accommodate different blade properties and to fit emerging stylistic trends.

Fighting with the longsword

The expression fechten mit dem langen schwert ("fighting with the long sword") in the German school of fencing denotes the style of fencing which uses both hands at the hilt; fechten mit dem kurzen schwert ("fighting with the short sword") is used of half-sword fighting, with one (gloved) hand gripping the blade. The two terms are largely equivalent to "unarmoured fighting" (blossfechten) and "armoured fencing" (fechten im harnisch).


1440s illustration of one- and two-handed use of the longsword. Note the sword being used one-handed is drawn shorter and may also be intended as a large knightly sword (CPG 339 fol. 135r).

Example of two handed use vs. half-sword, dating to ca. 1418 (CPG 359, fol. 46v).

Codified systems of fighting with the longsword existed from the later 14th century, with a variety of styles and teachers each providing a slightly different take on the art. Hans Talhoffer, a mid-15th-century German fightmaster, is probably the most prominent, using a wide variety of moves, most resulting in wrestling. The longsword was a quick, effective, and versatile weapon capable of deadly thrusts, slices, and cuts.[10] The blade was generally used with both hands on the hilt, one resting close to or on the pommel. The weapon may be held with one hand during disarmament or grappling techniques. In a depiction of a duel, individuals may be seen wielding sharply pointed longswords in one hand, leaving the other hand open to manipulate the large dueling shield.[11] Another variation of use comes from the use of armour. Half-swording was a manner of using both hands, one on the hilt and one on the blade, to better control the weapon in thrusts and jabs. This versatility was unique, as multiple works hold that the longsword provided the foundations for learning a variety of other weapons including spears, staves, and polearms.[10][12] Use of the longsword in attack was not limited only to use of the blade, however, as several Fechtbücher explain and depict use of the pommel and cross as offensive weapons.[13] The cross has been shown to be used as a hook for tripping or knocking an opponent off balance.[10] Some manuals even depict the cross as a hammer.[14]

What is known of combat with the longsword comes from artistic depictions of battle from manuscripts and the Fechtbücher of Medieval and Renaissance Masters. Therein the basics of combat were described and, in some cases, depicted. The German school of swordsmanship includes the earliest known longsword Fechtbuch, a manual from approximately 1389, known as GNM 3227a. This manual, unfortunately for modern scholars, was written in obscure verse. It was through students of Liechtenauer, like Sigmund Ringeck, who transcribed the work into more understandable prose[15] that the system became notably more codified and understandable.[16] Others provided similar work, some with a wide array of images to accompany the text.[17]

The Italian school of swordsmanship was the other primary school of longsword use. The 1410 manuscript by Fiore dei Liberi presents a variety of uses for the longsword. Like the German manuals, the weapon is most commonly depicted and taught with both hands on the hilt. However, a section on one-handed use is among the volume and demonstrates the techniques and advantages, such as sudden additional reach, of single-handed longsword play.[18] The manual also presents half-sword techniques as an integral part of armoured combat.

Both schools declined in the late 16th century, with the later Italian masters forgoing the longsword and focusing primarily on rapier fencing. The last known German manual to include longsword teaching was that of Jakob Sutor, published in 1612. In Italy, spadone, or longsword, instruction lingered on in spite of the popularity of the rapier, at least into the mid-17th century (Alfieri's Lo Spadone of 1653), with a late treatise of the "two handed sword" by one Giuseppe Colombani, a dentist in Venice dating to 1711. A tradition of teaching based on this has survived in contemporary French and Italian stick fighting. (See, for instance, Giuseppe Cerri's Trattato teorico e pratico della scherma di bastone of 1854.) However, there can be no doubt that the heyday of the longsword on the battlefield was over by 1500.

German school of fencing


Unarmoured longsword fencers (plate 25 of the 1467 manual of Hans Talhoffer)

Bloßfechten (blosz fechten) or "bare fighting" is the technique of fighting without significant protective armour such as plate or mail.

The lack of significant torso and limb protection leads to the use of a large amount of cutting and slicing techniques in addition to thrusts. These techniques could be nearly instantly fatal or incapacitating, as a thrust to the skull, heart, or major blood vessel would cause massive trauma. Similarly, strong strikes could cut through skin and bone, effectively amputating limbs. The hands and forearms are a frequent target of some cuts and slices in a defensive or offensive maneuver, serving both to disable an opponent and align the swordsman and his weapon for the next attack.


Page of the Codex Wallerstein showing a half-sword thrust against a two handed sword's Mordstreich (Plate 214)

Harnischfechten, or "armoured fighting" (German kampffechten, or Fechten in Harnisch zu Fuss lit. "fighting in armour on foot"), depicts fighting in full plate armour.[19]

The increased defensive capability of a man clad in full plate armour caused the use of the sword to be drastically changed. While slashing attacks were still moderately effective against infantry wearing half-plate armor, cutting and slicing attacks against an opponent wearing plate armour were almost entirely ineffective in providing any sort of slashing wound as the sword simply could not cut through the steel, although a combatant could aim for the chinks in a suit of armour, sometimes to great effect.[20] Instead, the energy of the cut becomes essentially pure concussive energy. The later hardened plate armours, complete with ridges and roping, actually posed quite a threat against the careless attacker. It is considered possible for strong blows of the sword against plate armour to actually damage the blade of the sword, potentially rendering it much less effective at cutting and producing only a concussive effect against the armoured opponent.

To overcome this problem, swords began to be used primarily for thrusting. The weapon was used in the half-sword, with one or both hands on the blade. This increased the accuracy and strength of thrusts and provided more leverage for Ringen am Schwert or "Wrestling at/with the sword". This technique combines the use of the sword with wrestling, providing opportunities to trip, disarm, break, or throw an opponent and place them in a less offensively and defensively capable position. During half-swording, the entirety of the sword works as a weapon, including the pommel and crossguard. One example how a sword can be used this way is to thrust the tip of the crossguard at the opponent's head right after parrying a stroke. Another technique would be the Mordstreich (lit. "murder stroke"), where the weapon is held by the blade (hilt, pommel and crossguard serving as an improvised hammer head) and swung, taking advantadge of the balance being close to the hilt to increase the concussive effect. (see the fighter on the right of the picture).[20]

See also


  1. Loades, Mike (2010). Swords and Swordsmen. Great Britain: Pen & Sword Books. ISBN 978-1-84884-133-8. 
  2. Qui n'étoit ni Françoise , ni Espagnole, ni proprement Lansquenette, mais plus grande que pas une de ces fortes épées ("[a sword] which was neither French, nor Spanish, nor properly Landsknecht [German], but larger than any of these great swords." Jacob Le Duchat (ed.), Oeuvres de Maitre François Rabelais, Jean-Frédéric Bernard, 1741, p. 129 (footnote 5).)
  3. Joseph Strutt The sports and pastimes of the people of England from the earliest period: including the rural and domestic recreations, May games, mummeries, pageants, processions and pompous spectacles, 1801, p. 211.
  4. Oakeshott (1980).
  5. A nonce attestation of "long-sword" in the sense of "heavy two-handed sword" is found in Principles of stage combat (1983). Carl A. Thimm, A Complete Bibliography of Fencing & Duelling (1896) uses "long sword (Schwerdt) on p. 220 as direct translation from a German text of 1516, and "long sword or long rapier" in reference to George Silver (1599)on p. 269. Systematic use of the term only from 2001 beginning with C. H. Tobler, Secrets of German medieval swordsmanship (2001), ISBN 978-1-891448-07-2.
  6. attested in a New Gallery exhibition catalogue, London 1890.
  7. see e.g. A general guide to the Wallace Collection, 1933, p. 149.
  8. Oakeshott, Ewart. The Sword in the Age of Chivalry. Boydell Press 1994. Page 56.
  9. Oakeshott (1980), p. 133. See also Peter Finer, "Two further silver-encrusted swords possessing pommels of this type can be seen in the Schweizerisches Landesmuseum, Zurich (inv. nos LM 16736 and 16988). The first belonged to Hans Gugelberg von Moos (recorded 1562–1618), and the second to Rudolf von Schauenstein (recorded 1587–1626), whose name appears on its blade along with the date 1614."
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Rector, Mark. Medieval Combat: A Fifteenth-Century Illustrated Manual of Swordfighting and Close-Quarter Combat. Green Hill Books, 2000. Page 15–16. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "medcombat" defined multiple times with different content
  11. Rector, Mark. Medieval Combat: A Fifteenth-Century Illustrated Manual of Swordfighting and Close-Quarter Combat. Green Hill Books, 2000. Plate 128–150.
  12. Lindholm, David. Fighting with the Quarterstaff: A Modern Study of Renaissance Technique. The Chivalry Bookshelf, 2006. Page 32.
  13. Rector, Mark. Medieval Combat: A Fifteenth-Century Illustrated Manual of Swordfighting and Close-Quarter Combat. Green Hill Books, 2000. Plate 67, 73–74.
  14. Hans Tallhoffer "Fechtbuch"
  15. Ringeck, Sigmund. MS Dresd. C 487
  16. Lindholm, D. & Svard, P. Sigmund Ringneck's Knightly Art of the Longsword Paladin Press, 2003. Page 11.
  17. Talhoffer, Hans. Thott 290 2
  18. dei Liberi, Fiore. Flos Duellatorum.
  19. Clements, John. Medieval and Renaissance Fencing Terminology
  20. 20.0 20.1 Lindholm, David & Svärd, Peter. Signmund Ringeck's Knightly Arts of Combat. Paladin Press, 2006. Page 219.

External links

  • "Oakeshott's Typology of the Medieval Sword: A Summary", Albion Armorers, inc. 2005, retrieved May 22, 2010.[1] This quick survey lists the types and sample illustrations of the Oakeshott Typology. Extremely useful, but note, the webpage updates the statistics of the original Oakeshott Typology, with the findings from later research.

Further reading

  • Clements, John. Medieval Swordsmanship: Illustrated Methods and Techniques. Paladin Press, 1998. ISBN 1-58160-004-6
  • Clements, John et al. Masters of Medieval and Renaissance Martial Arts: Rediscovering The Western Combat Heritage. Paladin Press, 2008. ISBN 978-1-58160-668-3
  • Lindholm, David & Peter Svärd, Sigmund Ringeck's Knightly Art of the Longsword, Paladin Press (2003), ISBN 1-58160-410-6
  • Lindholm, David, & Peter Svärd. Knightly Arts of Combat - Sigmund Ringeck's Sword and Buckler Fighting, Wrestling, and Fighting in Armor. Paladin Press, 2006. ISBN 1-58160-499-8
  • Oakeshott, R. E., European weapons and armour: From the Renaissance to the industrial revolution (1980), 129-135.
  • Thomas, Michael G. The Fighting Man's Guide to German Longsword Combat, SwordWorks (2007), ISBN 1-906512-00-0
  • Tobler, Christian H. Secrets of German Medieval Swordsmanship (2001), ISBN 1-891448-07-2
  • Tobler, Christian H. Fighting with the German Longsword (2004), ISBN 1-891448-24-2
  • Windsor, Guy. The Swordsman's Companion: A Modern Training Manual for Medieval Longsword (2004), ISBN 1-891448-41-2
  • Zabinski, Grzegorz & Bartlomiej Walczak. The Codex Wallerstein: A Medieval Fighting Book from the Fifteenth Century on the Longsword, Falchion, Dagger, and Wrestling. Paladin Press, 2002. ISBN 1-58160-339-8

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