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A type of military backsword – a British 1796 heavy cavalry sword purchased by Sweden in 1808.

A backsword is a type of sword characterised by having a single-edged blade and a hilt with a single-handed grip.[1] It is so called because the triangular cross section gives a flat back edge opposite the cutting edge.[2] Later examples often have a "false edge" on the back near the tip, which was in many cases sharpened to make an actual edge and facilitate thrusting attacks. From around the early 14th century, the backsword became the first type of European sword to be fitted with a knuckle guard.[2]

The term "backsword" can also refer to the singlestick, which is used to train for fighting with the backsword, or to the sport or art of fighting in this fashion.[3] Backswording was an alternative term for singlesticking tournaments in England.[4][5]

Being easier and cheaper to make than double-edged swords, backswords became the favored sidearm of common infantry,[2] including irregulars such as the Highland Scots, which in Scottish Gaelic were called the claidheamh cuil (back sword), after one of several terms for the distinct types of weapons they used. Backswords were often the secondary weapons of European cavalrymen beginning in the 17th century.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Forms of European Edged Weaponry". MyArmoury.com.
  2. ^ a b c Loades, Mike (2010). Swords and Swordsmen. Pen & Sword Books. ISBN 978-1-84884-133-8.
  3. ^ Allanson-Winn, R. G.; Phillipps-Wolley, C. (1890). Broadsword and Single-stick. George Bell.
  4. ^ "Backswords". Oxford Journal. 29 May 1784. p. 2. Retrieved 17 September 2021 – via British Newspaper Archive. Backswords at Stow-on-the-Wold, on Thursday the l0th of June, 1784, will played for, at Backswords, a purse of ten guineas, by Thirteen a Side. To appear on the Stage at Ten o'clock, but in case no sides attend by eleven, Half a Guinea will be then given to each man who breaks a head, and Half a Crown to each Man who has his Head broken.— The blood to run one Inch. N.B. the above meeting will continued Yearly, on the second Thursday in June.
  5. ^ "the Prince Regents' Birthday". The Morning Post. 16 August 1819. p. 3. Retrieved 17 September 2021 – via British Newspaper Archive. Backswording for a gold laced hat

General references[edit]

  • Dwelly's Illustrated Gaelic to English Dictionary. Glasgow: Gairm Publications, 1988, p. 202
  • Culloden: the swords and the sorrows. Glasgow: The National Trust for Scotland, 1996

Further reading[edit]

  • Włodzimierz Kwaśniewicz, Leksykon broni białej i miotającej, Warsaw: Varsavia, 2003.
  • Pierre Goubert & Maarten Ultee, The Course of French History, London: Routledge, 1991.
  • Philippe Contamine, War in the Middle Ages, Oxford: Blackwell, 1984 ISBN 0-631-13142-6
  • R. G. Allanson-Winn & C. Phillipps-Wolley, Broad-sword and Single-stick: with chapters on quarter-staff, bayonet, cudgel, shillalah, walking-stick, umbrella, and other weapons of self-defence (All-England Series.) London: George Bell, 1890.