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Silver pattern welded rapier guard, from between 1580 and 1600, with reproduction blade. Rapiere-Morges-1.jpg
Silver pattern welded rapier guard, from between 1580 and 1600, with reproduction blade.

The hilt (rarely called a haft or shaft) of a knife, dagger, sword, or bayonet is its handle, consisting of a guard, grip and pommel. The guard may contain a crossguard or quillons. A tassel or sword knot may be attached to the guard or pommel.



A Visayan tenegre horn hilt from the Philippines, depicting the moon-engulfing sea serpent deity, Bakunawa, a prominent figure in Philippine mythology. Visayan tenegre horn hilt closeup.JPG
A Visayan tenegre horn hilt from the Philippines, depicting the moon-engulfing sea serpent deity, Bakunawa, a prominent figure in Philippine mythology.

The pommel (Anglo-Norman pomel "little apple" [1] ) is an enlarged fitting at the top of the handle. They were originally developed to prevent the sword slipping from the hand. From around the 11th century in Europe they became heavy enough to be a counterweight to the blade. [2] This gave the sword a point of balance not too far from the hilt allowing a more fluid fighting style. Depending on sword design and swordsmanship style, the pommel may also be used to strike the opponent (e.g., using the Mordhau technique).

Pommels have appeared in a wide variety of shapes, including oblate spheroids, crescents, disks, wheels, and animal or bird heads. They are often engraved or inlayed with various designs and occasionally gilt and mounted with jewels. Ewart Oakeshott introduced a system of classification of medieval pommel forms in his The Sword in the Age of Chivalry (1964) to stand alongside his blade typology. [3] Oakeshott pommel types are enumerated with capital letters A–Z, with subtypes indicated by numerals.

  1. the "Brazil-nut" pommel derived from the classical Viking sword
  2. a more rounded and shorter form of A. B1 is the variant with a straight lower edge, known as "mushroom" or "tea-cosy"
  3. "cocked-hat" form, derived from the Viking sword
  4. a bulkier and slightly later variant of C
  5. a variant of D with an angular top
  6. a more angular variant of E
  7. a plain disk. G1 and G2 are disk pommels ornamented with flower-shaped or shell-like ornaments, respectively, both particular to Italy
  8. a disk with the edges chamfered off. One of the most common forms, found throughout the 10th to 15th centuries. H1 is an oval variant
  9. a disk with wide chamfered edges, the inner disk being much smaller than in H. I1 is a hexagonal variant
  10. as I, but with the chamfered edges deeply hollowed out. J1 is an elaborated form of the classic wheel-pommel
  11. a very wide and flat variant of J, popular in the late medieval period
  12. a tall type of trefoil shape; rare and probably limited to Spain in the 12th and 13th centuries
  13. a late derivation of the multi-lobed Viking pommel type, found frequently on tomb effigies during 1250–1350 in southern Scotland and northern England, but with few surviving examples; see Cawood sword
  14. boat-shaped, rare both in art and in surviving specimens
  15. a rare type of crescent-shape
  16. a rare shield-shaped form only known from a statue at Nuremberg cathedral
  17. flower-shaped pommels, only known from artistic depictions of swords
  18. rare spherical pommel, mostly seen in the 9th and 10th centuries
  19. a rare type in the form of a cube with the corners cut off
  20. the "fig" or "pear" or "scent-stopper" (for its resemblance to the stopper on a bottle of scent) shape, first found in the early 14th century, but seen with any frequency only after 1360, with numerous derived forms well into the 16th century. T1 to T5 are variants of this basic type
  21. "key-shaped" type of the later half of the 15th century
  22. the "fish-tail" pommel of the 15th century, with variants V1 and V2
  23. a "misshapen wheel" shape
  24. square shape, with its sub-types used to closely define the area and age, Z1 and Z2b (most common in south-eastern Europe), Z3 ("cat's head", typical for Venetian swords), Z4 (typical for Serbia and Bosnia)


Parts of a sword Sword parts-en.svg
Parts of a sword

The grip is the handle of the sword. It is usually made of wood or metal and often covered with shagreen (untanned tough leather or shark skin). Shark skin proved to be the most durable in temperate climates but deteriorates in hot climates. Consequently, rubber became popular in the latter half of the 19th century. Many sword types alternatively opt for ray skin, referred to in katana construction as same. Whatever material covers the grip, it is usually both glued on and wrapped with wire in a helix.


The guard is just above the grip. It is a common misconception that the cross-guard protects the wielder's entire hand from the opposing sword; only with the abandonment of the shield and then the armoured gauntlet did a full hand guard become necessary. The crossguard still protected the user from a blade that was deliberately slid down the length of the blade to cut off or injure the hand.

Early swords do not have true guards but simply a form of stop to prevent the hand slipping up the blade when thrusting as they were invariably used in conjunction with a shield.

From the 11th century, European sword guards took the form of a straight crossbar (later called "quillon") perpendicular to the blade.

Beginning in the 16th century in Europe, guards became more and more elaborate, with additional loops and curved bars or branches to protect the hand. A single curved piece alongside the fingers (roughly parallel with the handle/blade and perpendicular to any crossguards) was referred to as a knuckle-bow. [4]

Ultimately, the bars could be supplemented or replaced with metal plates that could be ornamentally pierced. The term "basket hilt" eventually came into vogue to describe such designs, and there are a variety of basket-hilted swords.

Simultaneously, emphasis upon the thrust attack with rapiers and smallswords revealed a vulnerability to thrusting. By the 17th century, guards were developed that incorporated a solid shield that surrounded the blade out to a diameter of up to two inches or more. Older forms of this guard retained the quillons or a single quillon, but later forms eliminated the quillons, altogether being referred to as a cup-hilt. This latter form is the basis of the guards of modern foils and épées.


The ricasso is a blunt section of blade just below the guard. On developed hilts it is protected by an extension of the guard. [5] On two-handed swords, the ricasso provided a third hand position, permitting the user's hands to be further apart for better leverage.

Sword knot

Germany 19th century: Various colours and tassels of sword knots. Farben Troddeln Faustriemen.jpg
Germany 19th century: Various colours and tassels of sword knots.
German cavalry officers' Stichdegen
(dress sword, literally 'stabbing rapier') with sword knot, or Troddel
. When worn, the sword knot is wrapped around the sword guard, or sometimes looped though a slot in the guard. Sword knot.jpg
German cavalry officers' Stichdegen (dress sword, literally 'stabbing rapier') with sword knot, or Troddel. When worn, the sword knot is wrapped around the sword guard, or sometimes looped though a slot in the guard.

The sword knot or sword strap, sometimes called a tassel, is a lanyard—usually of leather but sometimes of woven gold or silver bullion, or more often metallic lace—looped around the hand to prevent the sword being lost if it is dropped. Although they have a practical function, sword knots often had a decorative design. For example, the British Army generally adopted a white leather strap with a large acorn knot made out of gold wire for infantry officers at the end of the 19th century. Such acorn forms of tassels were called 'boxed', which was the way of securing the fringe of the tassel along its bottom line such that the strands could not separate and become entangled or lost. Many sword knots were also made of silk with a fine, ornamental alloy gold or silver metal wire woven into it in a specified pattern.

The art and history of tassels are known by its French name, passementerie, or Posamenten as it was called in German. The military output of the artisans called passementiers (ornamental braid, lace, cord, or trimmings makers) is evident in catalogs of various military uniform and regalia makers of centuries past. The broader art form of passementerie, with its divisions of Decor, Clergy and Nobility, Upholstery, Coaches and Livery, and Military, is covered in a few books on that subject, none of which are in English.

Indian swords had the tassel attached through an eyelet at the end of the pommel.

Chinese swords, both , jian and dao , often have lanyards or tassels attached. As with Western sword knots, these serve both decorative and practical functions, and the manipulation of the tassel is a part of some jian performances.

Hilt ring

Silver sword hilt ring BUC-FA09D7 Silver sword hilt ring (FindID 417678).jpg
Silver sword hilt ring

The hilt ring is an optional item used for decoration.

Related Research Articles

A sword is a bladed melee weapon intended for cutting or thrusting that is longer than a knife or dagger, consisting of a long blade attached to a hilt. The precise definition of the term varies with the historical epoch or the geographic region under consideration. The blade can be straight or curved. Thrusting swords have a pointed tip on the blade, and tend to be straighter; slashing swords have a sharpened cutting edge on one or both sides of the blade, and are more likely to be curved. Many swords are designed for both thrusting and slashing.

A longsword is a type of European sword characterized as having a cruciform hilt with a grip for two-handed use, a straight double-edged blade of around 85 to 110 cm, and weighing approximately 1 to 1.5 kg.

<i>Jian</i> Chinese double-edged sword

The jian is a double-edged straight sword used during the last 2,500 years in China. The first Chinese sources that mention the jian date to the 7th century, during the Spring and Autumn period; one of the earliest specimens being the Sword of Goujian. Historical one-handed versions have blades varying from 45 to 80 centimeters in length. The weight of an average sword of 70-centimetre (28-inch) blade-length would be in a range of approximately 700 to 900 grams. There are also larger two-handed versions used for training by many styles of Chinese martial arts.

Small sword Light one-handed sword designed for thrusting

The small sword or smallsword is a light one-handed sword designed for thrusting which evolved out of the longer and heavier rapier of the late Renaissance. The height of the small sword's popularity was between mid 17th and late 18th century, when any man, civilian or military, with pretensions to gentlemanly status would have worn a small sword on a daily basis.

The French estoc is a type of sword, also called a tuck in English, in use from the 14th to 17th centuries. It is characterized by a cruciform hilt with a grip for two-handed use and a straight, edgeless, but sharply pointed blade of around 0.91 metres (36 in) to 1.32 metres (52 in) in length. It is noted for its ability to pierce mail armor.

A flame-bladed sword or wave-bladed sword has a characteristically undulating style of blade. The wave in the blade is often considered to contribute a flame-like quality to the appearance of a sword. The design of the blade is purely decorative. The two most common flame-bladed swords are rapiers or Zweihänders, although there have been other sword types with flame-blades.

Shamshir Type of Persian/Iranian curved sword

A shamshir is a type of Persian/Iranian sword with a radical curve. The name is derived from the shamshīr, which means "lion's claw or lions tale" in the Persian language. The curved "scimitar" sword family includes the shamshir, kilij, talwar, pulwar and nimcha.

Kampilan Type of Sword

The kampilan is a type of single-edged sword, traditionally used by various ethnic groups in the Philippine archipelago. It has a distinct profile, with the tapered blade being much broader and thinner at the point than at its base, sometimes with a protruding spikelet along the flat side of the tip. The design of the pommel varies between ethnic groups, but it usually depicts either a bakunawa (dragon), a buaya (crocodile), a kalaw (hornbill), or a kakatua (cockatoo).

Messer (weapon) Cold weapon

A messer is a single-edged sword with a knife-like hilt construction. While the various names are often used synonymously, messers are divided into two types:

The talwar, also spelled talwaar and tulwar, is a type of curved sword or sabre from the Indian subcontinent.


Szabla is the Polish word for sabre.

Ricasso An unsharpened length of blade between the guard or handle on a knife

A ricasso is an unsharpened length of blade just above the guard or handle on a knife, dagger, sword, or bayonet. Blades designed this way appear at many periods in history in many parts of the world and date back to at least the Bronze Age—essentially, as long as humans have shaped cutting tools from metals.

Oakeshott typology Medieval sword classification system

The Oakeshott typology is a way to define and catalogue the medieval sword based on physical form. It categorises the swords of the European Middle Ages into 13 main types, labelled X through XXII. The historian and illustrator Ewart Oakeshott introduced it in his 1960 treatise The Archaeology of Weapons: Arms and Armour from Prehistory to the Age of Chivalry.


The shashka or shasqua, is a kind of sabre; single-edged, single-handed, and guardless backsword. In appearance, the shashka is midway between a typically curved sabre and a straight sword. It has a slightly curved blade, and can be effective for both cutting and thrusting.

Crossguard Type of sword guard made of two quillons

On a sword, the crossguard, or cross-guard, also known as quillon, is a bar of metal at right angles to the blade, placed between the blade and the hilt. The crossguard was developed in the European sword around the 10th century for the protection of the wielder's hand. The earliest forms were the crossguard variant of the Spatha used by the Huns, the so-called Pontic swords. There are many examples of crossguards on Sasanian Persian Swords beginning from the early 3rd century. They might be the oldest examples. The crossguards were not only used to counter enemy attacks, but also to get a better grip on the sword. They were later seen in late Viking swords, and is a standard feature of the Norman sword of the 11th century and of the knightly arming sword throughout the high and late medieval period. Early crossguards were straight metal bars, sometimes tapering towards the outer ends. While this simple type was never discontinued, more elaborate forms developed alongside it in the course of the Middle Ages. The crossguard could be waisted or bent in the 12th and 13th century.

Parrying dagger

The parrying dagger is a category of small handheld weapons from the European late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. These weapons were used as off-hand weapons in conjunction with a single-handed sword such as a rapier. As the name implies they were designed to parry, or defend, more effectively than a simple dagger form, typically incorporating a wider guard, and often some other defensive features to better protect the hand as well. They may also be used for attack if an opportunity arises. The general category includes two more specific types, the sword breaker and trident dagger.

Claymore Type of Sword

A claymore is either the Scottish variant of the late medieval two-handed sword or the Scottish variant of the basket-hilted sword. The former is characterised as having a cross hilt of forward-sloping quillons with quatrefoil terminations and was in use from the 15th to 17th centuries.

Basket-hilted sword Sword with basket-like hand protection

The basket-hilted sword is a sword type of the early modern era characterised by a basket-shaped guard that protects the hand. The basket hilt is a development of the quillons added to swords' crossguards since the Late Middle Ages. In modern times, this variety of sword is also sometimes referred to as the broadsword.


Kastane is a short traditional ceremonial/decorative single-edged Sri Lankan sword.

In the European High Middle Ages, the typical sword was a straight, double-edged weapon with a single-handed, cruciform hilt and a blade length of about 70 to 80 centimetres. This type is frequently depicted in period artwork, and numerous examples have been preserved archaeologically.


  1. In Old French of an ornamental knob from the late 11th century, attested for the pommel of a sword in the late 12th century, of the pommel of a saddle in the mid-15th century. Compare Middle Latin pomellum, pomellus "knob, boss" (12th century).
  2. Loades, Mike (2010). Swords and Swordsmen. Great Britain: Pen & Sword Books. ISBN   978-1-84884-133-8.
  3. See also myarmoury.com for an online summary.
  4. FineDictionary citation of Chambers's Twentieth Century Dictionary: "the curved part of a sword-guard that covers the fingers"
  5. David Haring, ed. "The Complete Encyclopedia of Weapons" Gallery Press, 1980, p. 48