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Zweihaender im historischen Museum Basel.JPG
Zweihänders with and without Parierhaken
Type Sword
Service history
In servicec. ~1500–1600
Production history
Mass2–4 kilograms (4.4–8.8 pounds)
Lengthup to 213 centimetres (84 inches)

Blade  typeDouble-edged, straight bladed
Hilt  typeTwo-handed cruciform, with pommel

The Zweihänder (German pronunciation: [t͡svaɪhɛndɐ] ( Loudspeaker.svg listen )) (German 'two-hander'), also Doppelhänder ('double-hander'), Beidhänder ('both-hander'), [1] Bihänder or Bidenhänder, is a large two-handed sword primarily in use during the 16th century.


Zweihänder swords developed from the longswords of the Late Middle Ages and became the hallmark weapon of the German Landsknechte from the time of Maximilian I (d. 1519) and during the Italian Wars of 14941559. The Goliath Fechtbuch (1510) shows an intermediate form between longsword and Zweihänder.

These swords represent the final stage in the trend of increasing size that started in the 14th century. In its developed form, the Zweihänder acquired the characteristics of a polearm rather than a sword due to their large size and weight and therefore increased range and striking power. Consequently, it was not carried in a sheath but across the shoulder like a halberd.

By the second half of the 16th century, these swords had largely ceased to have a practical application, but they continued to see ceremonial or representative use well into the 17th century. Some ceremonial zweihänder, called "bearing-swords" or "parade-swords" (Paradeschwert), were much larger and weighed about 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms). [2]


Due to their size and weight—typically at least 1.4 m (4 ft 7 in) long and with a mass/weight of over 2 kg (4.4 lb)—Zweihänders require two hands, as the name implies; as such they require at least 25 cm (9.8 in) for the grip. [3] Zweihänders above 4 kg (8.8 lb) were confined to ceremonial use.[ citation needed ]

Early Zweihänders were simply larger versions of longswords. Later examples had Parierhaken ("parrying hooks") at the top of the ricasso as well as side rings on the hilt. Swords continued to be made without one or both features. [3] Some Zweihänders had wavy blades and were called Flammenschwert.


1548 depiction of a Zweihander used against pikes in the Battle of Kappel Battle of Kappel detail.jpg
1548 depiction of a Zweihänder used against pikes in the Battle of Kappel

The weapon is mostly associated with either Swiss or German mercenaries known as Landsknechte , and their wielders were known as Doppelsöldner . However, the Swiss outlawed their use, while the Landsknechte kept using them until much later. [2] The Black Band of German mercenaries (active during the 1510s and 1520s) included 2,000 two-handed swordsmen in a total strength of 17,000 men. Zweihänder-wielders fought with and against pike formations. Soldiers trained in the use of the sword were granted the title of Meister des langen Schwertes (lit. Master of the Long Sword) by the Mark brotherhood.

Frisian hero Pier Gerlofs Donia is reputed to have wielded a Zweihänder with such skill, strength and efficiency that he managed to behead several people with it in a single blow. The Zweihänder ascribed to him is, as of 2008, on display in the Fries Museum. It has a length of 213 cm (84 in) and a mass/weight of about 6.6 kg (15 lb). [4]


Some modern historical European martial arts groups, specifically ones focusing on the German longsword styles, use some Zweihänders with less pronounced Parierhaken for training and tournament purposes. These less pronounced parrying hooks are sometimes colloquially referred to as "Schilden," or literally "shields" in German, as they are used to catch incoming opposing blades. These Schilden often also act as ricassos by smoothing out, and thickening, after the blade-catchers have been passed. These are specifically the Zweihänders called feders , or federn in German, and are historically training weapons; there is no concrete evidence suggesting wooden longswords were ever actually used, even for training purposes. Even today, most modern training weapons are metal, as wood does not have as much give under blade pressure as real steel, although some synthetic plastic weapons are used for cost-efficiency. Additionally, some modern adjustments to certain weapons extend the crossguards of the blades; this is in part because certain HEMA schools follow manuscripts pertaining to Kreutz attacks – i.e., attacks performed with one's crossguard, specifically, and some persons also choose to use their Zweihänders as rapiers, so a basket hilt may be designed atop this extension.

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.

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.

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 BCE, 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.

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.

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.

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.

Kampilan 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).

<i>Ōdachi</i> Sword

The ōdachi (大太刀) or nodachi is a type of traditionally made Japanese sword used by the samurai class of feudal Japan. The Chinese equivalent of this type of sword in terms of weight and length is the miao dao, and the Western battlefield equivalent is the longsword or claymore.

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 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.

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.


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.


Doppelsöldner were Landsknechte in 16th-century Germany who volunteered to fight in the front line, taking on extra risk, in exchange for double payment. The stated ratio was that one Landsknecht in four would be a Doppelsöldner. The Doppelsöldner of each company were usually issued with ranged weapons, such as a crossbow or an arquebus, and arranged in the wings of a square, in front of the pikemen.

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 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.


  1. Oakeshott, Ewart (November 2000). European Weapons and Armour: From the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution. Boydell Press. p. 148. ISBN   9781843837206.
  2. 1 2 Clements, J. "The Weighty Issue of Two-Handed Greatswords". ARMA. Retrieved 11 May 2012.
  3. 1 2 Melville, Neil H. T. (January 2000). "The Origins of the Two-Handed Sword". Journal of Western Martial Art.
  4. "Greate Pier fan Wûnseradiel" (in Western Frisian). Gemeente Wûnseradiel. Retrieved 4 January 2008.