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Swiss longsword, ca. 1500
(Morges museum)
Type Sword (two-handed, double-edged)
Place of originEurope
Service history
In service Late Middle Ages, Renaissance, c. 1100–1700
Production history
Massavg. 1.1–1.8 kg (2.4–4.0 lb)
Lengthtotal: avg. 100–130 cm (39–51 in) blade: avg. 90–110 cm (35–43 in)

A longsword (also spelled as long sword or long-sword) is a type of European sword characterized as having a cruciform hilt with a grip for two-handed use (around 16 to 28 cm or 6 to 11 in), a straight double-edged blade of around 85 to 110 cm (33 to 43 in), and weighing approximately 1 to 1.5 kg (2 lb 3 oz to 3 lb 5 oz). [1] [2]


The "longsword" type exists in a morphological continuum with the medieval knightly sword and the Renaissance-era Zweihänder. It was prevalent during the late medieval and Renaissance periods (approximately 1350 to 1550), with early and late use reaching into the 12th and 17th centuries.


The term longsword is ambiguous, and refers to the "bastard sword" only where the late medieval to Renaissance context is implied. "Longsword" in other contexts has been used to refer to Bronze Age swords, Migration period and Viking swords as well as the early modern dueling sword.[ citation needed ]

Historical (15th to 16th century) terms for this type of sword included Spanish espadón, montante, or mandoble, Italian spada longa (lunga) or spada due mani (Bolognese), Portuguese montante and Middle French passot. The Scottish Gaelic claidheamh mòr means "great sword"; anglicised 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 and the English bastard sword originate 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. [3] The Masters of Defence competition organised by Henry VIII in July 1540 listed two hande sworde and bastard sword as two separate items. [4] 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. [5]

The German langes schwert ("long sword") in 15th and 16th-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 a half-sword). [6] [7]

Contemporary use of "long-sword" or "longsword" only resurfaced in the 2000s in the context of reconstruction of the German school of fencing, translating the German langes schwert. [8] [9] [10] Prior to this the term "long sword" merely referred to any sword with a long blade; 'long' being simply an adjective rather than a classification.

The term "hand-and-a-half sword" is relatively modern (from the late 19th century). [11] 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). [12]


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. For example there is a longsword in The Glasgow Art and History Museum, Labelled XIIIa. 5, which scholars have dated back to between 1100-1200 due to the hilt style and specific taper, but swords like this remain incredibly rare, and are 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 steel weapon of the earlier phase of the Hundred Years' War. It remains identifiable as a type during the period of about 1350 to 1550. [13] 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.

Use of the two-handed Great Sword or Schlachtschwert by infantry (as opposed to their use as a weapon of mounted and fully armoured knights) seems to have originated with the Swiss in the 14th century. [14] 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 developed during the first half of the 16th century. Ewart Oakeshott distinguishes twelve different types. [5] :130 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. [5] :133 [15] The longsword, greatsword and bastard-sword were also made in Spain, appearing relatively late, known as the espadon, the montante and bastarda or espada de mano y media respectively.


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

The swords grouped as "longswords" for the purposes of this article are united by their being intended for two-handed use. In terms of blade typology, they do not form a single category. In the Oakeshott typology of blade morphology, "longswords" figure as a range of sub-types of the corresponding single-handed sword types. [16]

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 in half-sword fighting, with one 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). Parzival und Condviramur.jpg
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). Cpg359 46v.jpg
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. [17] :15–16 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. [17] :plates 128–150

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. [17] [18] 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. [17] :73–73; plate 67 The cross has been shown to be used as a hook for tripping or knocking an opponent off balance. [17] :plate 58 Some manuals even depict the cross as a hammer. [19]

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 [20] that the system became notably more codified and understandable. [21] Others provided similar work, some with a wide array of images to accompany the text. [22]

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. [23] 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 despite 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. [24]

German school of fencing


Unarmoured longsword fencers (plate 25 of the 1467 manual of Hans Talhoffer) De Fechtbuch Talhoffer 025.jpg
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 manoeuvre, 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) Augsburg Cod.I.6.4o.2 (Codex Wallerstein) 107v.jpg
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, literally "fighting in armour on foot"), depicts fighting in full plate armour. [25]

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 armour, 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. [26] Instead, the energy of the cut becomes essentially pure concussive energy. The later hardened plate armours, complete with ridges and roping, posed a threat against the careless attacker. It is considered possible for strong blows of the sword against plate armour to 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". Also, the hand on the blade increases its rigidity which is advantageous when thrusting. 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 advantage of the balance being close to the hilt to increase the concussive effect (see the fighter on the right of the Codex Wallerstein picture). [26]

See also

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.

Rapier Slender, sharply pointed sword

A rapier or espada ropera is a type of sword with a slender and sharply-pointed two-edged blade that was popular in Western Europe, both for civilian use and as a military side arm, throughout the 16th and 17th centuries.

Hilt Handle of a sword or similar weapon

The hilt 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.

The spatha was a type of straight and long sword, measuring between 0.5 and 1 m, with a handle length between 18 and 20 cm, in use in the territory of the Roman Empire during the 1st to 6th centuries AD. Later swords, from the 7th to 10th centuries, like the Viking swords, are recognizable derivatives and sometimes subsumed under the term spatha.

The French estoc is a type of sword, also called a tuck in English, in use from the 14th to the 17th century. 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.

Swordsmanship or sword fighting refers to the skills of a swordsman, a person versed in the art of the sword. The term is modern, and as such was mainly used to refer to smallsword fencing, but by extension it can also be applied to any martial art involving the use of a sword. The formation of the English word "swordsman" is parallel to the Latin word gladiator, a term for the professional fighters who fought against each other and a variety of other foes for the entertainment of spectators in the Roman Empire. The word gladiator itself comes from the Latin word gladius, which is a type of sword.

German school of fencing

The German school of fencing is a system of combat taught in the Holy Roman Empire during the Late Medieval, Renaissance, and Early Modern periods, as described in the contemporary Fechtbücher written at the time. The geographical center of this tradition was in what is now Southern Germany. During the period in which it was taught, it was known as the Kunst des Fechtens, or the "Art of Fencing". Though the German school of fencing focuses primarily on the use of the two-handed longsword, it also describes the use of many other weapons, including polearms, daggers, messers, and the staff, as well as describing mounted combat and unarmed grappling.

Classification of swords

The English language terminology used in the classification of swords is imprecise and has varied widely over time. There is no historical dictionary for the universal names, classification or terminology of swords; A sword was simply a double edged knife.

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:

Waster Type of Practice Weapon

In martial arts, a waster is a practice weapon, usually a sword, and usually made out of wood, though nylon (plastic) wasters are also available. The use of wood or nylon instead of metal provides an economic and safe option for initial weapons training and sparring, at some loss of genuine experience. A weighted waster may be used for a sort of strength training, making the movements of using an actual sword comparatively easier and quicker. Wasters as wooden practice weapons have been found in a variety of cultures over a number of centuries, including ancient China, Ireland, Iran, Scotland, Rome, Egypt, medieval and renaissance Europe, Japan, and into the modern era in Europe and the United States. Over the course of time, wasters took a variety of forms not necessarily influenced by chronological succession, ranging from simple sticks to clip-point dowels with leather basket hilts to careful replicas of real swords.

Viking sword Type of Sword

The Viking Age sword or Carolingian sword is the type of sword prevalent in Western and Northern Europe during the Early Middle Ages.

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.


Half-sword, in 14th- to 16th-century fencing with longswords, refers to the technique of gripping the central part of the sword blade with the left hand in order to execute more forceful thrusts against armoured and unarmoured opponents. The term is a translation of the original German Halbschwert. The technique was also referred to as mit dem kurzen Schwert, "with the shortened sword" in German.

Feder (fencing) Type of fencing sword

The Feder, is a type of training sword used in Fechtschulen of the German Renaissance. The type has existed since at least the 15th century, but it came to be widely used as a standard training weapon only in the 16th century, shown extensively in the fighting manuals of the time, particularly those of Paulus Hector Mair and Joachim Meyer, and it remained in use in such Fechtschulen well into the 17th, and in some cases for much of the 18th century.

<i>Zweihänder</i> Type of Sword

The Zweihänder, also Doppelhänder ('double-hander'), Beidhänder ('both-hander'), Bihänder or Bidenhänder, is a large two-handed sword primarily in use during the 16th 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.

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.

Turko-Mongol sabers Type of Cavalry Sabre

These swords were used by the Turkic nomads of the Eurasian steppes primarily between the 9th and 14th centuries. One of the earliest recorded sabres of this type was recovered from an Avar grave in Romania dating to the mid 7th century. Although minor variations occur in size and hilt, they are common enough in design across 5 centuries that individual blades are difficult to date when discovered without other context.


  1. Loades, Mike (2010). Swords and Swordsmen. Great Britain: Pen & Sword Books. ISBN   978-1-84884-133-8.
  2. "Hand-and-a-Half Sword". Metropolitan Museum of Art. Archived from the original on 19 July 2017. Retrieved 1 December 2017. Wt. 3 lb. 7 oz. (1560 g)
  3. Rabelais, François (1741). Le Duchat, Jacob (ed.). Oeuvres (in French). p. 129 (footnote 5). Archived from the original on 7 January 2014. Retrieved 4 October 2016. 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.
  4. Strutt, Joseph (1801). 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. Methuen & Company. p. 211. Archived from the original on 7 January 2014. Retrieved 4 October 2016.
  5. 1 2 3 Oakeshott, Ewart (1980). European Weapons and Armour: From the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution. Boydell & Brewer, Incorporated. pp. 129–135. ISBN   9780851157894.
  6. Paurñfeyndt, Andre (1516). Ergrundung Ritterlicher Kunst der Fechterey[Foundation of the Chivalric Art of Swordplay] (in German). Vienna: Hieronymus Vietor. p. 3.
  7. "What is a Longsword". Longsword.com. Archived from the original on 7 January 2017. Retrieved 5 January 2017.
  8. A nonce attestation of "long-sword" in the sense of "heavy two-handed sword" is found in Kezer, Claude D. (1983). Principles of Stage Combat. I. E. Clark Publications. ISBN   9780886801564. Archived from the original on 7 January 2014. Retrieved 4 October 2016.
  9. Thimm, Carl A. (31 May 1999). A Complete Bibliography of Fencing and Duelling. Pelican Publishing. ISBN   9781455602773. uses "long sword (Schwerdt) on p. 220 Archived 7 January 2014 at the Wayback Machine as direct translation from a German text of 1516, and "long sword or long rapier" in reference to George Silver (1599) on p. 269 Archived 7 January 2014 at the Wayback Machine .
  10. Systematic use of the term only from 2001 beginning with Tobler, Christian Henry; Ringeck, Sigmund; Liechtenauer, Johann (2001). Secrets of German Medieval Swordsmanship. Chivalry Bookshelf. ISBN   9781891448072.
  11. As attested in Exhibition of the Royal House of Tudor. London: New Gallery. 1890. Archived from the original on 21 May 2011. Retrieved 23 January 2020. +hand-and-a-half .
  12. See, for example, A General Guide to the Wallace Collection. H.M. Stationery Office. 1933. p. 149. Archived from the original on 7 January 2014. Retrieved 4 October 2016.
  13. Ewart Oakeshott (1994). The Sword in the Age of Chivalry (PDF). Woodbridge: Boydell Press. p. 56. ISBN   978-0-85115-715-3. OCLC   807485557. OL   26840827M. Wikidata   Q105271484. Archived (PDF) from the original on 15 December 2013. Retrieved 15 December 2013.
  14. Boeheim, Wendelin (1890). Handbuch der Waffenkunde: Das Waffenwesen in seiner historischen Entwicklung. Seemann Verlag. p. 261ff. ISBN   9783845726038. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  15. "Peter Finer". Archived from the original on 17 July 2011. Two further silver-encrusted swords possessing pommels of this type can be seen in the Schweizerisches Landesmuseum, Zurich...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.
  16. Oakeshott's Typology of the Medieval Sword A Summary Archived 4 December 2010 at the Wayback Machine , Albion Swords (2005).
  17. 1 2 3 4 5 Talhoffer, Hans (2000). Rector, Mark (ed.). Medieval Combat: A Fifteenth-Century Illustrated Manual of Swordfighting and Close-Quarter Combat . Greenhill Books. ISBN   1853674184.
  18. Lindholm, David (2006). Fighting with the Quarterstaff: A Modern Study of Renaissance Technique. Highland Village, Texas: Chivalry Bookshelf. p. 32. ISBN   9781891448362.
  19. Talhoffer, Hans (1467). Fechtbuch (in German).
  20. Ringeck, Sigmund. MS Dresd. C 487. Archived from the original on 16 September 2013. Retrieved 15 December 2013.
  21. Lindholm, David; Svard, P. (2003). Sigmund Ringneck's Knightly Art of the Longsword. Boulder, Colorado: Paladin Press. p. 11. ISBN   1581604106.
  22. Talhoffer, Hans. Thott 290 2. Archived from the original on 16 September 2013. Retrieved 15 December 2013.
  23. dei Liberi, Fiore. Flos Duellatorum (PDF) (in Italian). Archived (PDF) from the original on 16 July 2014. Retrieved 15 December 2013.
  24. See, for instance, Giuseppe Cerri's Trattato teorico e pratico della scherma di bastone of 1854.
  25. Clements, John. "Medieval and Renaissance Fencing Terminology". Archived from the original on 1 January 2007. Retrieved 29 November 2006.
  26. 1 2 Lindholm, David; Svärd, Peter (2006). Signmund Ringeck's Knightly Arts of Combat. Boulder, Colorado: Paladin Press. p. 219. ISBN   1581604998.