10 Real Sword Types From European History

10 Real Sword Types From European History, featured image

Europe has a very long history of wars and bloodshed. This is evidenced by the vast array of weapons used throughout different periods. One of these weapons is the sword. From records, there were countless sword types, most of them used even in today’s sword martial arts.

However, recognizing each sword type may be hard for the untrained eye. Thus, this article will cover the ten most popular types of swords known in European history, highlighting their most distinct characteristics.

The 10 Real Sword Types

Number 10 – Fencing Swords

partial image of a fencer holding a fencing sword
A fencing sword with a blunt tip, a thin flexible blade, a circular guard with a pad, and a straight handle.

Fencing swords were first used as a tool for entertainment during the late 16th-17th century in England. These swords, as observed from their design, were not made to cut objects but rather, for thrusting. Thus, these swords aren’t necessarily lethal.

There have been 3 types of fencing swords since their inception. These types are still highly popular and are used today.

  • Foil sword – the most used fencing sword type. It has a straight handle with a circular or basket-hilted guard. Variations to the design of the foil sword may be observed in its French or Italian versions.
  • Epee – a fencing sword that came a little later and is mostly distinguished by its pistol-like handle. The grip is pretty much the same and it is chosen only as a personal preference.
  • Sabre – a fencing sword that could be used for slashing as well as thrusting. Its distinct feature is the sabre type of guard, which is distorted on the side.

Number 9 – Cutlass

laid out on a plain white surface is cutlass, one of sword types
Cutlass with a curved pommel, straight closed handle, a round closer guard, and a slightly curved blade [Source]
The cutlass is a shortsword used as a slashing weapon during the 16th/17th-19th centuries. You may be familiar with this type of sword as it is used by pirates, sailors, and privateers, as depicted in movies.

This shortsword is known for its distinct guard and broad blade wielded for both killing and machete-like functions. Although short, some variations have a length that can go up to 31.5-35.4 inches (80-90 cm) long.

Number 8 – Large Two-Handed Swords

on a plain white surface is a large two-handed sword, one of the sword types
Two-handed sword with a straight pommel and handle, a big guard, and a long, wide two-edged blade [Source]
The large two-handed sword, from its name, is wielded with both hands, mostly for slashing. It is said that these swords could cut a human in two as if cutting through butter.

Although popular back in the 12th-19th centuries, the large two-handed swords are not used today, except for props for movies set in the medieval ages.

There are different types of two-handed swords. Each type is observed to have distinct lengths.

  • Zweihander – basically means ‘two-handed’ in German. It is a large sword with an extremely long grip that goes up to  9-7.2 ft (1.8-2.2 m) long. This is the longest sword under this sword type.
  • Greatswords – swords that were produced earlier than the Zweihander and were used in Western Europe and Germany. It has an overall length that could go up to 5.9 ft (1.8 m).
  • Scottish Claymore – another heavy two-handed sword with an overall length that spans from 4.3-4.9 ft (1.3-1.5 m).
  • Executioner’s Sword – another two-handed sword that is not that long as compared to the other types. As implied by its name, it is used for decapitating criminals during the medieval ages.

Number 7 – Falchions

on a plain white surface is a falchion, one of the sword types
Falchion with a round, curved pommel, straight handle, unique-shaped guard, and a broad blade that curves at the end [Source]
The falchion is a sword that came about during the 16th century. It was mostly used in Italy and Western Europe as a cutting weapon.

Its length is around 2.6-3.1 ft (80-95 cm) long and has a broad and wide blade, making it heavier than a regular sword. This design of the falchion was mostly inspired by the single-edged blade swords wielded by the Turkish, Persian, and Chinese.

Number 6 – Rapiers

a rapier laid out on a plain white surface, sword types
A rapier with a round pommel, rotated handle, a big guard with intricate design, and a straight, thin, pointy blade [Source]
The rapier ranks 6 in our list as it was widely used as a dueling weapon in Europe. It originated in Spain during the 17th century and has been popular ever since.

Rapiers are usually around 3.2 ft (~1 m) long and can have a basket-hilted guard like the broadsword. It is distinct for its very thin and extremely sharp edge.

With this design, the rapier can be used for both thrusting and slashing. It is said that veteran rapier users are lethal when faced. For this reason, it is sometimes referred to as a lethal fencing sword.

Number 5 – Sabres

a sabre or saber with its sheath, one of the sword types
A saber with a curved pommel, handle, and one-edged blade, with a straight or rounded guard [Source]
The sabre (also spelled “saber”) is the most recognizable sword in the late medieval and renaissance eras of Europe. It was during these periods that cavalry became a popular military tactic. Here, the fashion of slashing strikes predominated.

In eastern Europe, sabers were used for duels in the nobility and other medieval combat functions. Today, the saber is one of many national weapons employed by some countries.

The saber is mostly curvilinear, starting from its handle and up to its one-edged blade. Variations in its design according to its length and function are observed through its types: short sabers, long sabers, and saber fencing swords.

Number 4 – Viking Swords

Viking sword, one of the sword types, laid out on a plain surface
The Viking sword with a round pommel and guard, and a straight handle and blade with a pointy tip [Source]
Everybody knows the Vikings for their scary and destructive axes. But did you know that they also used swords as they terrorized the whole of Europe?

The use of Viking swords dominated during the 6th/7th-11th centuries. Its usage was recorded in several parts of the Eurasian Steppes in the east, up to the western shores of France.

This medieval sword was probably the earliest European sword to have a guard, handle, and straight blade, similar to other modern sword types. Its length spans to 2.5-2.6 ft (75-80 cm) long.

Number 3 – Longswords

longsword, one of the sword types, laid out on a plain white surface
The longsword with a metal pommel, a straight handle, a cross guard, and a long, pointy blade [Source]
The longsword (also “long sword” or “long-sword”) was first produced in the 10th/11th century. It is the most popular sword for knights and foot soldiers during this time until the 16th/17th century. It became one of the most notable swords in Europe.

The longsword is extensive, spanning from 2.95-4.27 ft (90-130 cm) long, and is wielded using both hands. The blade length is ~2.6 foot (80 cm) and is relatively light, weighing just around 3.3 lbs (1.5 kg).

Although all big swords may be considered in this category, this sword type is restricted only to the longswords that came right after the arming sword.

Number 2 – Ancient Shortswords

an ancient shortswords against a black background
An ancient shortsword with a short handle and pointed blade, and a round guard and pommel with a spike [Source]
 All of the ancient shortswords are very popular in European history. Though varied, ancient shortswords have an overall length of 1.64-1.96 ft (50-60 cm) long. These swords are mainly used for close combat.

  • Roman Gladius – a straight double-edged sword whose use dominated all of Europe: from modern-day Istanbul to Edinburgh in Scotland.
  • Kopis – a Greek weapon also called “makhaira” or “machaira”. This is a one-handed ancient shortsword with a one-edged curved blade that makes it very lethal.
  • Falcata – an ancient shortsword that came from Iberia and is one of the very early Celtic sword types. It resembles the Kopis in design but is differentiated by its double-edged blade that spans half of its length.

Number 1 – Arming / Knightly Swords

laid on a plain white surface is an arming or knightly sword, one of the sword types
An arming sword with a round pommel, straight/curved handle, a cross-shaped guard, and a long blade [Source]
The arming swords (sometimes referred to as “knightly swords” or “crusader swords”) are weapons that were widely used during the middle ages, in particular, from the 10th/11th-15th centuries.

According to Oakeshott, this sword type was influenced by the Viking swords. With its design, wielding the arming sword spread rapidly across European lands.

However, this did not last long since bigger swords became more favorable in future battles. Later, the arming sword was only used as a side-sword that knights show for prestige and authority.

Arming swords are easy to distinguish. Its guard is in the shape of a cross and its overall length spans 2.6 ft (80 cm) long. It can also be wielded using only one or both hands.

Conclusion

No matter the differences in popularity, each of these individual swords reflects various events that were significant in shaping Europe’s history.  If you are a sword enthusiast, we recommend choosing from this list as they are all worth it to have and own.

 

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  1. Withers, H. J., & Capwell, T. (2010, August 1). The Illustrated World Encyclopedia of Knives, Swords, Spears and Daggers. In Through History in 1500 Colour Photographs. Lorenz Books.

Lowe, E. (2020, July 24). The Use of Medieval Weaponry.
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