Classification of swords
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The English-language terminology used in the classification of swords is imprecise, and has varied widely over time, with terms such as "broadsword", "long sword", "short-sword", and "two-handed sword" being used to describe weapons with no particular relation to one another. However in modern times many of these have been given specific meanings (although sometimes quite arbitrarily). Some of these terms originate contemporary with the weapon they refer to, others are modern or early modern terms used by antiquarians, curators, and modern-day sword enthusiasts for historical swords.
Terminology was further complicated by terms introduced (i.e. "hand-and-a-half sword", "single-handed sword", "Pappenheimer", "Walloon sword", "Sinclair Sabre", "Mortuary sword", "spada da lato", "town sword", etc.) or misinterpreted (i.e. bastard sword, broadsword, rapier, estoc, flamberge, etc.) in the 19th century by antiquarians, and in 20th century pop culture (sword and sorcery, role playing games, video games, etc.); and by various Western martial arts associations (HEMAC, EHCG, KDF, ARMA, etc.) in the 21st century whose general misinterpretation of the term "long sword" used by George Silver and Joseph Swetnam (where it is wrongly equated to the German Schwert), and adding new terms to the mix such as "great sword", "zweihänder" (instead of Bidenhänder), and "cut-and-thrust sword". These Western martial arts associations then reconstructed the German term for having both hands on the hilt known as langes Schwert into "longsword", and the spada da lato, a term that was coined by Italian curators, into "side-sword". Furthermore, there is a disregard for the use of the term broadsword by these associations. All these newly introduced or redefined sword terms are far from being historical especially in the English sense of the classification of swords and only add to the confusion of the matter.
The most well known systematic typology of blade types of the European medieval sword is the Oakeshott typology (although this is a modern classification and not a medieval one, and has many overlaps). Elizabethans used descriptive terms such as "short", "bastard", and "long" which emphasized the length of the blade, and "two-handed" for any sword that could be wielded as such.
Size or shape 
Terms classifying swords as "great", "long", "broad", "bastard", "small", "short" or "two-handed" have different meanings in different contexts and may be ambiguous.
In the Elizabethan context the size of swords from smallest to biggest would be as follows:
- Short-sword (arming sword), backsword --> bastard sword, broadsword (two-handed sword) --> long sword --> two-hander ("great sword" although this is a recently coined term).
In the German context the size of swords from smallest to biggest would be:
In the French context the size of swords from smallest to biggest would be:
- Épée --> épée batarde (épée de passot), espadon --> longue épée --> épée à deux mains.
In the Italian context the size of swords from smallest to biggest would be:
- Spada --> spada bastarda, spadone --> spada lunga --> spada a due mani.
Great sword 
These include the long swords in both the Middle Ages and Renaissance, like the "outsized specimens" - between 90 cm and 120 cm - such as the Oakeshott type XIIIa. These swords can be wielded with either one hand or with two hands, but their grip may be designed specifically for one hand, two hands, or the “hand-and-half” grip where the off-hand grips the pommel, depending on the preference of the wielder.
The Scottish name Claymore (Gaelic claidheamh mor, lit. "great sword") can refer to either the hand-and-half long sword with a distinctive two-handed grip, or the basket-hilted sword developing from a rapier.
Long sword and bastard sword 
The term longsword since the early 2000s, most frequently refers to a late Medieval and Renaissance weapon designed for use with two hands, but the term is not unambiguous. The German langes Schwert ("long sword") in 15th-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 half-sword).
The French épée bâtarde as well as the English bastard sword originates in the 15th or 16th century, originally as having the general sense of "irregular sword or sword of uncertain origin". 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 longer than any of these sturdy swords.") Espée bastarde could also historically refer to a single-handed sword with a fairly long blade compared to other short swords.
Joseph Swetnam states that the bastard sword is a sword that is midway in length between a short-sword and a long sword, and Randall Cotgrave's definition seems to imply this as well. The French épée de passot, was also known as épée bâtarde (i.e. bastard sword) and also coustille à croix. (literally a cross-hilted blade), referred to a medieval single-handed sword optimized for thrusting The épée de passot was the sidearm of the franc-archers (French / Breton bowmen of the 15th and 16th centuries). The term passot comes from the fact that these swords passed (passaient) the length of a "normal" short-sword. The German term for a bastard sword was Reitschwert (literally a riding sword), "...in the early Renaissance the term bastard-sword was also sometimes used to refer to single-hand arming-swords with compound-hilts. A form of German arming sword with a bastard-style compound hilt was called a "Reitschwert" ("cavalry sword") or a "Degen" ("knight's sword")". The French definition of passot is the same as the definition given by Joseph Swetnam in regards to the bastard sword, "The Bastard Sword, the which Sword is something shorter than a long Sword, and yet longer than a Short sword.".
The Masters of Defence competition organised by Henry VIII in July 1540 listed two hande sworde, bastard sworde and longe sworde as separate items (as it should in Joseph Swetnam's context).
Antiquarian usage in the 19th century established the use of "bastard sword" as referring unambiguously to these large swords (ie. hand-and-a-half swords). However, George Silver and Joseph Swetnam refer to the "hand-and-a-half" type of sword merely as "two hande sworde". The term "hand-and-a-half sword" is modern (late 19th century). During the first half of the 20th century, the term "bastard sword" was used regularly to refer to this type of sword.
The Elizabethan long sword (c.f. George Silver and Joseph Swetnam) is a single-handed "cut-and-thrust" sword with a four foot long blade similar to the long rapier. "Let thy (long) Rapier or (long) Sword be foure foote at the least, and thy dagger two foote. Historical (15th to 16th century) terms for this type of sword included the Italian spada longa (lunga), and French longue épée.
The term longsword has also been used to refer to different kinds of sword depending on historical context:
- langes Schwert, the German two-handed sword from various fechtbuchs;
- Bidenhänder or two-hander, a late Renaissance sword of the 16th century Landsknechte, the longest sword of all;
- the long "cut-and-thrust sword" or "rapier" with a cutting edge (the Elizabethan long sword). Note that "cut-and-thrust sword" is a modern term and not historical; and true rapiers do not have a cutting edge.[dubious ]
So we thus have "broadsword" terms that have two meanings, 1) a two-handed and 2) an early modern military sword:
It must be noted, that the term broadsword was never used historically to describe the one-handed arming sword or short-sword. The short-sword was wrongly labelled a broadsword by antiquarians as the medieval swords were similar in blade width to the military swords of the day (that were also sometimes labeled as broadswords) and broader than the dueling swords and ceremonial dress swords.
Short sword 
In Elizabethan England, the short sword was the normal single-handed sword. The term especially refers to the medieval one-handed knightly arming sword in contrast to the hand-and-half outsized specimens, called the long sword. It is shorter than both the long sword and the long rapier. George Silver states that the short sword has a blade of perfect length and is ideal for combat unlike the long rapier and the long sword.
Compare related swords of similar bladelengths - 2 to 3 feet ( ˜ 60 to 90 cm):
- Viking sword
- Arming sword
- Swiss degen, a 15th-century Swiss weapon derived from the baselard;
- Katzbalger, the German short sword of the Renaissance;
Long knife 
Knives such as the seax and other blades of similar length - between 1 and 2 feet ( ˜ 30 cm and 60 cm) - are sometimes construed as “swords”. This is especially the case for weapons from antiquity that lack access to the technology for the high quality steel that is necessary for reliable swords of the length of a spatha or longer.
- Iron Age swords
- certain Renaissance era sidearms:
- certain fascine knives:
The Bidenhänder or two-hander is the "true" two-handed sword.
The Bidenhänder was a specialist weapon wielded by certain Landsknechte Doppelsöldners. It is highly doubtful that these two-handed swords were used to chop off the point of pikes; however, the two-handed sword was an ideal weapon for protecting the standard bearer or a breach since a Doppelsöldner armed with one could fend off many attackers by using moulinets.
Over-sized two-handers that were not practical weapons were popular as parade swords.
The term two-handed sword, used as a general term, may refer to any large sword designed to be used primarily with two hands:
- the European "langes Schwert" or broadsword, popular in the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance.
- the Scottish late medieval claymore (not to be confused with the basket-hilted claymore of the 18th century)
- the Bidenhänder sword favoured by the Landsknechte of 16th-century Germany.
The term "hand-and-a-half sword" is modern (late 19th century). 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).
The term "single-handed sword" (or "one-handed sword") is a retronym coined to disambiguate from "two-handed" or "hand-and-a-half" specimens. "Single-handed sword" is used by Sir Walter Scott. It is also used as a possible gloss of the obscure term tonsword by Nares (1822); "one-handed sword" is somewhat later, recorded from c. 1850.
Apparently, some swords were designed for left-hand use ("southpaws"), although left-handed swords have been described as "a rarity".
||The neutrality of this section is disputed. (October 2012)|
There is a great amount of confusion over edge parries in regard to medieval and Renaissance swords.
Today, the use of the flat-of-the-blade parry is widely advocated by ARMA as the only true way to parry with a sword; even though they sometimes outright admit that there were historical evidence for edge-on-edge parries: "ARMA: Ok, what then about references to 17th and 18th and 19th century manuals that advocate using edges?"
The entire argument for flat-of-the-blade parries are inferred by ARMA (and Ewart Oakeshott) in regard to ambiguous drawings in fechtbuchs or fighting manuals and not from any historical treatises. Both Giacomo di Grassi and Joseph Swetnam parry with the edge of the sword.
However, not all Western martial arts societies advocate the flat-of-the-blade parry; the Cataran Society encourages the edge-on-edge parry and provides evidence as to this belief which can also be found in the book "Lannaireachd:Gaelic Swordsmanship".
Edgeless blades 
The edgeless blade category comprises weapons which are related to or labeled as “swords” but do not have any cutting edges whatsoever. These long bladed weapons were designed for thrusting blows. The merits of such blades was greatly disputed in the Renaissance with certain masters like George Silver advocating in favour of the edged short-sword, while others like Joseph Swetnam preferring the edgeless rapier. "It is much better to be armed with a sword that has two edges than with an estoc [...], which is nothing more than a stick with a point." (Master G. Morsicato Pallavicini, La Scherma Illustrata, p. 14.)
Panzerstecher and koncerz 
The Panzerstecher is a German and East European weapon with a long edgeless blade of square or triangular cross-section for penetrating armour. Early models were either two-handers or “hand-and-half” hilted, while later 16th and 17th century models (also known as koncerz) were one-handed and used by cavalry.
Tuck and Verdun 
The tuck or rapier (French estoc, épée rapière, Italian stocco, Spanish espada ropera) is an edgeless blade of square or triangular cross-section used for thrusting. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the tuck as: "n.3 arch. A slender, pointed, straight, thrusting sword; a rapier." In French, estoc also means thrust or point; and estoc et taille means cut and thrust.
The tuck may also get its name from the verb to tuck which means to shorten. Allegedly, Queen Elizabeth I passed a law that restricted the length of rapiers, therefore, making long rapiers illegal.
"That defense thou hast, betake thee to ’t. Of what nature the wrongs are thou hast done him, I know not, but thy intercepter, full of despite, bloody as the hunter, attends thee at the orchard end. Dismount thy tuck, be yare in thy preparation, for thy assailant is quick, skillful and deadly." - Shakespeare, Twelfth Night.
The rapier (French épée rapière, Spanish espada ropera) is another term for the weapons known as tucks and Verduns[dubious ]. Note that there is no historical Italian equivalent to the English word rapier.
The term rapier may have been originally a pejorative for the tuck (estoc, stocco) that appeared in the English lexicon via the French épée rapière which either compared the weapon to a rasp or file; or rapier may be a corruption of "rasping sword" which referred to the rasping sound the blade makes when it comes into contact with another blade.
The small sword or smallsword (also court sword, fr: épée de cour or dress sword) is a light one-handed sword designed for thrusting which evolved out of the longer and heavier rapier of the late Renaissance. The height of the small sword's popularity was between the mid-17th and late 18th century. It is thought to have appeared in France and spread quickly across the rest of Europe. The small sword was the immediate predecessor of the French dueling sword (from which the épée developed) and its method of use—as typified in the works of such authors as Sieur de Liancour, Domenico Angelo, Monsieur J. Olivier, and Monsieur L'Abbat—developed into the techniques of the French classical school of fencing. Small swords were also used as status symbols and fashion accessories; for most of the 18th century anyone, civilian or military, with pretensions to gentlemanly status would have worn a small sword on a daily basis.
"1606 W. Drummond Let. 6 Aug. in Wks. (1711) 233 They would have most willingly taken the Buttons off the Foils." Cited from OED.
Hangers and Sabres 
Hangers and sabres are single-edged, usually curved bladed swords.
The hanger (Obs. whinyard, whinger, cuttoe), wood-knife or hunting sword is a long knife or short sword that hangs from the belt and was popular as both a hunting tool and weapon of war. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the hanger as: "n3, A kind of short sword, originally hung from the belt." In later usage, any short infantry sabre (cf. French sabre-briquet).
Falchion and cutlass 
The cutlass or curtal-axe also known as a falchion (French badelaire, braquemart, coutelas, malchus Italian coltellaccio, storta, German messer, dussack, malchus) is a broad-bladed curved hanger or long knife. In later usage, the cutlass referred to the short naval boarding sabre. "n, A short sword with a flat wide slightly curved blade, adapted more for cutting than for thrusting; now esp. the sword with which sailors are armed." (OED)
The sabre (US saber) or shable (French sabre, Spanish sable, Italian sciabola, German sabel or säbel, Russian sablya, Hungarian szablya, Polish szabla) is a single-edged curved bladed cavalry sword.
The scimitar (French cimeterre, Italian scimitarra) is a type of sabre that came to refer in general to any sabre used by the Turks or Ottomans (kilij), Persians (shamshir) and more specifically the Stradioti (Albanian and Greek mercenaries who fought in the French-Italian Wars and were employed throughout Western Europe). The scimitar proper was the Stradioti sabre, and the term was introduced into France by Philippe de Commines (1447 – 18 October 1511) as cimeterre, Italy (especially the Venetian Republic who hired the stradioti as mercernaries) as scimitarra, and England as cimeter or scimitar via the French and Italian terms.
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See also 
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