Posts tagged: Longsword

The Oakeshott Typology

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By , February 14, 2013

Lets face it. Most of us that write for the Foreworld series are geeks—specifically sword geeks. As such we’re likely to ‘geek-out’ about swords, referring to them by their ‘Oakeshott Type.’ What is that, exactly?

Ewart Oakeshott (1916-2002) was an English sword collector and scholar. He was one of the first to take the view that swords had been made to be used, and should therefore be classified according to not just their rough appearance but by their intended uses. This is sensible; swords designed mainly for cutting are very different from swords designed to stab through the chinks in armor. The typology that he codified in his 1988 book Records of the Medieval Sword has become the standard of the ‘sword world.’ Here is a diagram of the typology, courtesy of the Oakeshott Institute:


In the interest of brevity I have restricted the descriptions to the swords used in The Mongoliad. Since the primary defensive armor is mail these swords are primarily cutting swords, too flexible to reliably thrust through mail. The typology is for double-edged swords, by the way.

Type X : Type X swords are cutting blade characterized by having a broad blade with relatively little taper in profile, usually with a broad fuller running from 3/4 to the full length of the blade. Average lengths seemed to have run about 30-32 inches. Rounded spatulate points are common though more acute points are seen as well. Swords of this type seem to have been made predominantly from the late 9th and into at least the 12th century.

Type Xa: The Xa type is broadly similar to type X except in that the fuller is narrower being approximately 1/3 the width of the blade or less. Longer on average than Type Xs and hilt-forms are similar. By and large these swords are the contemporaries of the Type X from approximately 1000AD on.

Type XI: These swords are rather like a longer, narrower version of the Type Xa. Blades range from 31-37 inches in length. Their period of use seems to have been from around 1050-1125 AD.

Type XIa: This Type is similar to both Type XI and Type Xa—it possesses the narrow fuller in a broad blade and these swords are rather shorter on average than type XIs. I’m a little bit at a loss as to what differentiates these swords from Type Xa unless it is a greater prevalence of acute points and the presence of engraving. 13-14th C.

Type XII: These swords had shorter fullers and more profile taper than the swords above.Blade lengths ranged from 30-36 inches in length. Swords of this type seem to have been in use in the 10th Century and continued until well into the 14th Century.

Type XIIa: These swords,. like the Type XIIIs, fall into the class of “Greatswords.” They are like a type XII, but longer and with a hand-and-a-half or two-hand grip and usually a more pronounced profile taper. Blades range from 35 to 45 inches. Fullers seem to commonly run from 1/2 to 3/4 of the length of the blade. These swords often exhibit somewhat less distal taper than Type XIIs though I have viewed too few of them to be certain that this is the general rule. Guards are typically straight and variants of the wheel pommel predominate. Their major period of use seems to have been from the 13th Century until the dawn of the 15th century.

Type XIII and XIIIa: These are the Middle Ages two-handed swords referred to as “Greatswords” or ‘Gran Espee de Guerre (Great sword of War.) These swords possess a broad, spatulate blade with little profile taper, a rounded point and a fuller running 1/3 to 3/4 of the blades length. The main difference is that the XIIIb has a shorter hilt. Blades lengths can range from 30 to as much as 50 inches though in practice they seldom exceed 40 inches. Their period of use began as early as the 12th Century and ran to the end of the 14th Century, perhaps even into the 15th Century.

Type XIIIb: These are a shorter version of the Type XIII with a single-hand hilt.

Type XIV: These blades range from 26 to 34 inches with the bulk of surviving examples weighted towards the shorter end of the range. They are characterized by a blade that is very broad at the base which then tapers rapidly to an acute point. Fullers ran from 2/3 to 3/4 of the length of the blade. These swords seem to have been in use between the mid-13th to the mid-14th Centuries.


The Flower of Battle

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By , January 31, 2013

One of our favorite medieval sword masters is Fiore die Liberi, who wrote the 14th century treatise known as Fior di Battaglia (The Flower of Battle) for longsword. There are four known copies of this manuscript, and part of the delightful rush of scholasticism on Western Martial Arts has been the translation of this manuscript and subsequent fervent interpretive discussions (sometimes with swords in hand, of course).

Fiore wrote the manual to an audience that was versed in basic mechanics of sword fighting, and there is a deficit of instruction in the Sword Fighting 101 regard, which has put scholars in the position of relying on the line art to assist in the canonical plays. Some, like this one which is based on the Remedy Master of the first play of the dagger, are pretty easy to figure out.

Others, like the counter to this play, get a little more complicated. Somehow you get from the above to the below in a couple of steps. It’s like a medieval version of Twister, but with sharp pointy objects.

There are a number of excellent books on Fiore’s treatise (including Ken Mondschein’s The Knight Art of Battle). What has made Fiore afficiandos worldwide very happy these last few weeks is that the Getty Center has finally released high quality scans of every page of their copy of the Fior di Battaglia to the public.

The Flower of Battle – Getty Center – MS. LUDWIG XV 13

When we gather and nerd out about sword fighting, it’s old hand-worn copies of these pages that we’re passing around.

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