Two-handed sword

two handed sword

2-handed swords were specialized infantry weapons, used commonly in the 15th and 16th century, especially by German and Swiss armies. Considering the amount of specialized training required, extra-pay was often given to 2-handed sword wielders.

Features of 2-handed swords differed by country:

• Expanded cruciform hilts (15th century – continued usage in the 16th century in Italy), with side rings on the quillon blocks.

• In Germany, 2-handed swords were given ricassos to allow for safe wielding below the quillon, while also adding triangular projections at the ricasso’s base. The purpose of this is to help with close combat.

• Ricassos were also equipped with parrying hooks to help with the low speed of using such a heavy weapon when being in a defensive stance.

• Many of these arms were given compound hilts and cross-guards of up to 30 centimeters.

• Most 2-handed swords weighed 2.2-3.2 kg (they are not as heavy as they look).

Variants of the two-handed sword

medieval-two-handed-swords

2-handed swords are not quite medieval weapons. They are Renaissance weapons that existed in the later 1500s to 1600s. Such Renaissance swords were known by different names throughout the various countries:

• Swiss/German Dopplehander and Bidenhander for 2-handed swords.

• English Slaughter-Swords, named after the German Schlachterschwerter.

• A variant of the weapons known in German as Flammenschwert or in English knows as flambards or flamberges, which has a visually beautiful blade, but is not more effective than regular looking straight blades.

• German Paratschwert or in English parade-swords that weigh up to 7kg (very heavy for a two-handed sword), and were used only for parades and ceremonies.

History

007

2-handed swords also differ from regular in their competitive use. There are no records of those weapons being used in duels or fencing. These arms were used primarily for fighting among pike-squares, using slashing and stabbing tactics, as described by Paulus Jovius during the early 1500s, when the Swiss used them in the battle of Fornovo, 1495. 2-handed swords were also used as honor weapons by highly paid people, specifically for the protection of royal property such as banners and castle walls.

According to Dr. Hans-Peter Hils in his dissertation of the 14th century Master Johannes Liechtenauer, he noted that many museum collections feature 2-Handed Swords as if they were combat weapons, while completely ignoring the quality of these arms, and how most of the displayed weapons are inefficient for battle. Most of those weapons in museums were ceremonial weapons and were not used in fighting.

In Switzerland and Germany, where mercenary bands were commonly hired, 2-handed swords and halberds were used as trademark weapons. As such, during the 14th century, there was widespread production and exports of those weapons throughout Europe. Major producers would be the Swiss, Germans, and Italians. This would change, as 2-handed swords would be limited by law by the time of the 15th century, specifically after Swiss and German armies adopted pikes for weapons as more practical tools.

two-handed-sword-against-pikesThere is a source that shows that within the 16th century, two-handed swords were limited to function as a way of breaking enemy pikes in wars. As such, those who were given double pay to wield those weapons were placed in the front ranks of armies for this job. The enormous momentum in addition to the size of the weapon and the long reach, made it very tough to block, allowing the wielder to crush rapiers and pikes with ease in combat. Eventually, their use would be limited when the war would become short-distance combat focused, due to the weapon’s slow speed, and as such it disappeared as a war weapon.

How did fighters carry two-handed swords?

holding-two-handed-sword

Most two-handed swords and longswords can be worn on the hip without much hassle. It just depends on proper attachment and the right angle. They weren’t that much bigger than one-handed swords.

Sometimes, wearing them on the hip, was a little bit uncomfortable, but carrying a sword is not really about comfort. It’s about defending yourself.

The other way to carry the two-handed sword was just to hold the weapon in hand, and the blade would rest on the shoulder like you see in the picture.

This way, it was easy to carry the sword as all you needed to do is balance the sword on your shoulder.

This great video below explains how two-handed swords were carried in Renaissance and Medieval Ages.

One-Handed versus Two-handed swords

There is a misconception that two-handed and longswords were much bigger and heavier than single handed swords. Actually, two-handed swords and one-handed swords were pretty close in weight.

A second misconception regarding the weapon is how it is used in combat. 2-handed swords are mainly used as chopping, hacking, and cutting weapons. They require the use of brute force and a strong arm, and not on agility. The sense of agility and nimbleness seen with smaller swords is found due to the fact that smaller swords focus on cutting, not chopping.

A third misconception is, one-handed swords are thought of as superior due to their speed and mobility in movement. This is found to be false when the specs of each weapon are compared.

A fourth misconception is related to weapon technologies at the time of the 2-handed swords. Many would assume that a 2-handed sword would not have been made lighter due to primitive methods of welding arms, but this is not the case.

Here are couple more facts regarding these weapons and strategies of using them:

• Two-handed swords may actually be faster than one-handed variants. The reason for this is two-handed swords are powered by two hands while weighing nowhere as close as twice the weight of a one-handed sword. Many usually weigh between 1.1-1.8 kilograms, and at most are 2.5-4 kilograms for the enormous variants.

• The reach of the two-handed sword may be comparable to the one-handed, due to the one-handed wielder’s ability to move their body, and increase their reach through side-moves.

• Regardless, the momentum of the two-handed sword is larger, therefore allowing the weapon to overpower the one-handed sword in leverage, especially when both weapons cross. This also makes the weapon impossible to parry, without risking being smashed through.

• In battle, the two-handed wielder has an advantage over the one-handed wielder. To equalize the strength, the one-handed wielder would need an additional one-handed weapon, therefore forcing the two-handed wielder to worry about dealing with two weapons.

Conclusion

Even though the weapons usage did not last for more than two centuries, it was still used nevertheless and plentifully. This shows that there were technologies available in the past that allowed those weapons to be lighter than they actually look, making them usable.Two-handed swords were strong enough to break enemy armor, but light enough to be used effectively. That is why Medieval and Renaissance knights loved them.

Two-handed swords were strong enough to break enemy armor but light enough to be used effectively. That is why Medieval and Renaissance knights loved them.

Falchion

Medieval-FalchionA Falchion is a sword of European origin, handled by one hand, whose design is somewhat similar to the Persian Scimitar or the Chinese Dao.

The weapon combined the weight and power of an Axe with the versatility of a simple sword. Falchions are found in different forms throughout the 11th-16th centuries. In some versions the Falchion looks more like the Seax or the Sabre, and in other versions the shape is irregular and looks more like a Machete.

While some suggest that the meeting with the Islamic Shamshir inspired its creation, these “scimitars” of Persia were only developed many years after the Falchion. Falchion almost always had a single edge with a slight curve on the blade towards the point on the end. As the tip of the falchion had more weight near the end, it was more effective in sharp attacks as an Axe or Hatchet, but also made it slower to be wielded as a sword.

Butterfly Sword

Steel-Butterfly-Sword

Prior to World War II, the butterfly sword was not well-known outside of China. The deadly swords feature a single-edged blade that is as long as a human forearm. This length allowed for concealment inside loose sleeves or boots. Typically, butterfly swords are wielded in pairs.

Butterfly swords, also known as butterfly knives, were only sharpened from the midpoint to the tip. This way, the dull part of the battle knives could be used to knock an opponent unconscious without being fatal. Another interesting fact is that butterfly swords were often kept in the same scabbard. This gave the illusion of a single weapon until the wielder was ready to attack.

Spanish Rapiers

spanish-rapier
Spanish rapiers date back to 15th century Toledo. Spanish masters mixed hard and soft steel to give rapier swords strength and flexibility. These swords were narrow, long, and had a slight edge.

A rapier sword was used almost exclusively as a thrusting weapon. At first, the swords were used on the offensive, but eventually became a self-defense tool. It was primarily used by civilians for protection and for duels. In the 16th century, other European nations developed their own rapiers, such as the German Rappier which was used in sport fencing. Use of the rapier for civilian combat dropped off after the 17th century.

What is a Main Gauche?

Parrying-Dagger
Also referred to as a parrying dagger, main gauche swords were used in juxtaposition with traditional rapiers during the late Middle Ages. The main gauche, which is French for left hand, was used to deflect incoming attacks while the rapier was utilized for offense. If the opportunity presented itself, the main gauche could also be used for offense, of course.

This combination of weaponry was particularly popular with the Schools of Fence in Renaissance Europe. As the sport of fencing evolved, the use of the offhand weapon fell out of style. Although the main gauche isn’t used in contemporary fencing, it still is a prized item for historical collectors.

Longsword

Steel-long-sword

The longsword is a European sword used during the medieval and Renaissance eras. Longswords are also sometimes called bastard swords, greatswords or hand-and-a-half swords. In addition to its length, its most important characteristic was your way to wield it. These weapons were used exclusively to two hands, and since its handle was “to hand and a half”, few of its forms could be made to use them with one hand.

The longsword was developed because plate armor replaced chainmail, so a longer and heavier sword was needed to penetrate the armor. This sword is used for striking, cutting and thrusting. This sword was not used as often in medieval combat, as the lighter swords were much easier to handle. These types of swords were heavily used back in the 13th-14th century, whereas using ending would be around 17th century.

The longest of these swords was the zweihander whose length was up to 6 feet. This sword was used by the landsknechts who came from the Holy Roman Empire or an area that is now modern-day Germany. These swords were also used to break up infantry formations by attacking pikes and halberds.

Deadly Scimitar

Scimitar
When the crusaders battled against their Arab opponents, they came face to face with the deadly scimitar. The scimitar is a backsword with a curved blade that originated in the Middle East. It was used by warriors on horseback because it was lightweight in comparison to other swords, making it easy to wield while also holding the reins of a horse.

Soldiers of the Khurasan region of Persia are the first known users of the scimitar during the 9th century. During the crusades, a special crusader shield was designed specifically to protect the wearer against the deadly scimitar. Today, the weapon still holds significance. For instance, it can be seen on the coat of arms of Saudi Arabia.

Scimitar Sword

Medieval Scimitar SwordAn early Crusader who had just arrived in the Holy Land viewed a band of Saracens from a distance. He was so impressed with the curved sword that they wielded that he attempted to locate his own. Naturally the Saracens were not anxious to trade with the enemy, so he was forced to use his own straight blade crusader sword. The image that the Crusader saw is the picture that the western world still holds of the Islamic warrior—a turbaned soldier with a curved blade sword.

However straight bladed swords were also used by Islam during the Crusades. The stereo-type exists, because the Prophet Mohammed likely carried a curved weapon. There are relics which are preserved in the armory of the Sultans in the Topkai Palace in Istanbul that substantiate that he possessed a Scimitar. There are two swords that are associated with Mohammed at the armory. One of the swords is a narrow blade and is slightly curved. The hilt and scabbard of the weapon are embellished with precious stones and gold. The period that he utilized the blade would have been between 560-632 years.

We have written about western swords with names in this blog. Islamic warrior’s swords also had names. The famous sword mentioned above was ‘Dhu’l Faqar’. Mohammed wielded this weapon at the battle of Badr in 624. Legend recounts that the sword was cloven in two near its point, and this is how it has been depicted ever since. It was bequeathed to Ali, son-in-law to Mohammed. He served as Caliph from 656 to 661.

The Scimitar as well as being a beautifully formed sword, it also is very balanced and easy to handle. Collectors appreciate the sword. Also it is so easy to wield that it is also used today in exotic belly dancing.

What is a Rapier?

Rapier
A rapier is a slender, sharply pointed sword with a long blade and a complex, sometimes embellished hilt primarily used for thrusting attacks in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. The hilt of the rapier is made to protect the hand that wields it. Also called a hilt rapier, this thrusting sword was called other things as well due to the tendency of sword masters of the time using description of a sword’s function as a method of naming it.

It is thought that the rapier began to develop in Spain around the year 1500 as a type of dress sword for civilians and duels. It became increasingly fashionable over time in Europe among the wealthier classes, but always had its detractors.

With its long reach, the rapier allowed for fast reactions suitable for civilian combat in the 16th and 17th centuries. Military-style swords for cutting and thrusting purposes continued to evolve to meet battlefield needs, and rapiers continued to change with the times as well, becoming lighter and shorter and eventually succumbing to the widespread use of the small-sword in the 1700s.

Daggers

Medieval-Daggers

‘Caesar was stabbed with twenty-three dagger thrusts and uttered not a word, but only a groan at the first stroke, though some have related that when Marcus Brutus rushed at him, he said in Greek,”You, too, child?””  This is how Suetonius the author of “The Life of Caesar”describes his death.  Nero, the most evil of Roman Emperors stabbed himself in the throat with a dagger.

This hidden weapon has resulted in the death of the unsuspecting friend, husband, or statesman.  The sharp stab is a startling blow, because it came from a woman’s bosom, or from a friend’s hand.   In Caesar’s case the daggers came from most of those he thought he could trust.  From ancient ages to the present day the knife or dagger is a popular weapon.

stiletto-daggerIn Rome and Greece the short sword was the weapon of choice.  In the Medieval and Renaissance eras the dagger was used to penetrate plate armor.  One of the most well-known daggers, the stiletto, was developed particularly for this purpose.

During the late Renaissance period, a different style of sword fighting developed in Europe.  The dagger was held in the left hand and the sword in the right with the dagger being used to deflect sword thrusts.  One of the most well know of these left-handed daggers is the Main Gauche.

scissors-daggerThe scissors dagger is a utilitarian weapon that can be used to cut and make clothes or to just as easily stab an unsuspecting soul.  This weapon was usually concealed in a woman’s bra.