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Until the eventual takeover by the firearm, the sword was one of the primary weapons of a soldier. The name comes from the Old English sweord (or to Old High German swert) which means, roughly, "a wounding tool". Simply put, a sword is a (primarily) metal weapon with one or two cutting edges and a place to grip it at one end. A sword primarily consists of the blade and the hilt.


The blade of a sword usually tapers to a point, and is usually sharpened along one or both edges. European swords tend to be double-edged and straight-bladed, allowing for a "cut and thrust" approach. Japanese swords are famously single-edged and curved for better control and effect when slashing. The length of the blade can vary greatly, but generally, the longer the cutting edge of the blade, the more emphasis is placed on "cutting" and less on "thrusting", a function of the weight and length of the weapon. Some European sword-blades are an almost uniform width for most of their length, others taper markedly over their entire length. The preferred shape of the blade in Europe changed depending on period and location. The general length of a blade in a given European culture was largely a function of the availability of iron and the skill of their swordsmiths.

An entire nomenclature developed in medieval Japanese culture to describe sword-length and blade curvature, and great emphasis was placed on a warrior's ability to fight with swords of varying lengths.

Hilt and other Furniture

The hilt of a sword is the place to hold the weapon. Generally, most late-medieval European swords had a broad crossguard at the base of the blade to protect the hand, a long grip wrapped in leather and sometimes wire, and a large pommel at the base to provide both a counterbalance to the blade's weight and an additional mode of attack by using it as a bludgeon. This is an interesting contrast to early-medieval European swords which tended to be shorter and lacked broad crossguards. Japanese swords tended to have a simple metal disk or ellipse as a crossguard (tsuba) and no pronounced pommel, making the weapon's lines much smoother, with little variance to the basic sword-design throughout period.

Sword Shapes

However, swords came in many different types, for differing styles of combat. People tend to be most familiar with the medieval arming sword which has long been the symbol associated with knights, but other types such as the primarily thrusting rapier and estoc, to the curved blade heavy falchions or messers. As metallurgy, fighting styles and even fashion progressed, swords changed considerably and became highly specialized as did their hilts.

Ewart Oakeshott, a 20th century scholar, devised a standard classification system of blade, hilt and pommel types for European swords throughout the medieval period.


Sword-collecting has always been popular as many people find swords beautiful. Replica or recreation swords are extremely popular in the SCA, but it is important to be familiar with the live steel safety rules before wearing one at an event. In addition, SCA armoured combat rules forbid the presence of live steel on the field, and therefore SCA Heavy Fighters make swords out of rattan while SCA Rapier Fighters use reproduction rapiers with rebated edges.

See also:

Types of Swords

Fencing Swords