The Oakeshott typology was created by historian and illustrator Ewart Oakeshott as a way to define and catalogue the medieval sword based on physical form. It categorizes the swords of the European Middle Ages (roughly 11th to 15th centuries) into 13 main types labelled X to XXII. Oakeshott introduced it in his treatise The Archaeology of Weapons: Arms and Armour from Prehistory to the Age of Chivalry in 1960.
The system is a continuation of Jan Petersen's typology of the Viking sword, introduced in De Norske Vikingsverd ("The Norwegian Viking Swords", 1919), modified in 1927 by R. E. M. Wheeler into a typology of nine types labelled I to IX.
Oakeshott X describes the type of sword common in the late Viking age, remaining in use up to the 13th century. It features a broad and flat blade with an average length of 80 centimetres (2.6 ft) with a very wide and shallow fuller running almost the entire length of the blade but fading out just before the point (which is typically rounded). The grip has the same average length as earlier Viking swords of about 9 centimetres (3.5 in). The tang is usually very flat and broad, and tapers sharply towards the pommel. The cross or cross-guard is of square section, about 18–20 centimetres (7.1–7.9 in), tapering towards the tips,[clarification needed] in some rare cases slightly curved.[which?] The type X is narrower and longer than the typical Viking sword, representing a transitional type to the knightly sword of the High Middle Ages. Tenth century Norsemen referred to this type of sword as gaddhjalt (meaning spike hilt). The pommel usually takes an oval Brazil-nut form or a disk-shape. The inlaid ULFBERHT mark is characteristic of the type X sword.
In 1981 Oakeshott introduced the a subtype Xa including swords with similar blades but narrower fuller, originally classified under type XI.
Tapering point, in use c. 1100–1175. Features a short grip similar to type X but a longer, more slender blade suitable for slashing from horseback. Often features an acute point but generally too flexible for effective thrusting. Subtype XIa has a broader, shorter blade.
Typical of the High Middle Ages, these swords begin to show a tapering of the blade with a shortened fuller, resulting in improved thrusting characteristics while maintaining good cutting capabilities. A large number of Medieval examples of this type survive. It certainly existed in the later 13th century, and perhaps considerably earlier, since the Schweizerisches Landesmuseum in Zurich possesses an example that has a Viking Age-type hilt but clearly a type XII blade. The subtype XIIa (originally classified as XIIIa) consists of the longer, more massive greatswords that appear in the mid-13th century, probably designed to counter the improved mail armour of the time, and the predecessor of the later longswords. The earliest known depiction of a type XII sword in art can be seen in the statue of the Archangel Michael in Bamberg Cathedral dating to c. 1200. The Maciejowski Bible (c. 1245) depicts other examples.
Single-handed transitional type XII swords have a grip about 4.5 inches (11 cm) in length.
Type XIIa has a long grip similar to that of XIIIa. The XIIa was originally a part of the XIIIa classification, but Oakeshott decided they "taper[ed] too strongly" and were "too acutely pointed" to fit appropriately.
This typifies the classical knightly sword that developed during the age of the Crusades. Typically, examples date to the second half of the 13th century. Type XIII swords feature as a defining characteristic a long, wide blade with parallel edges, ending in a rounded or spatulate tip. The blade cross section has the shape of a lens. The grips, longer than in the earlier types, typically some 15 cm (almost 6 inches), allow occasional two-handed use. The cross-guards are usually straight, and the pommels Brazil-nut or disk-shaped (Oakeshott pommel types D, E and I).
Subtype XIIIa features longer blades and grips. They correspond to the knightly greatswords, or Grans espées d'Allemagne, appearing frequently in 14th century German, but also in Spanish and English art. Early examples of the type appear in the 12th century, and it remained popular until the 15th century. Subtype XIIIb describes smaller single-handed swords of similar shape.
Very few examples of the parent type XIII exist, while more examples of the subtype XIIIa survive. A depiction of two-handed use appears in the Tenison psalter. Another depiction of the type appears in the Apocalypse of St. John manuscript of c. 1300.
The "greatsword", within the context of the late medieval longsword, is a type of "outsize(d) specimen", specifically the Type XIIIa. The weapons were referred to by a variety of names, as in Grans espées d'Allemagne or "big swords of Germany".
The larger subtype XIIIa sword has a grip approximately 6.5–9 in (17–23 cm) long.
Ewart Oakeshott describes swords of Type XIV classification as "...short, broad and sharply-pointed blade, tapering strongly from the hilt, of flat section (the point end of the blade may, in some examples, have a slight though perceptible mid-rib, with a fuller running about half, or a little over, of its length. This may be single and quite broad or multiple and narrow. The grip is generally short (average 3.75") though some as long as 4.5"; the tang is thick and parallel-sided, often with the fuller extending half-way up it. The pommel is always of "wheel" form, sometimes very wide and flat. The cross is generally rather long and curved (very rarely straight)."
Straight tapering blade with diamond cross-section and a sharp point. In use c. 1300–1500. Type XVa have longer, narrower blades and grips sufficiently long for two-handed use, for example the fencing swords of the school of Johannes Liechtenauer.
A flat cutting blade which tapers to an acute point reinforced by a clearly defined ridge, making it equally effective for thrusting. This type somewhat resembles a more slender version of type XIV. Blade length c. 70–80cm. Subtype XVIa have a longer blade with a shorter fuller (usually running down 1/3 and rarely exceeding 1/2 of the blade). The grip is often extended to accommodate one and a half or two hands.
Long, tapering blade, hexagonal cross section, two-handed grip. Heavy swords, some examples weighing more than 2 kg, used for armoured combat. In use c. 1360–1420.
Tapering blades with broad base, short grip, diamond cross-section. The subtype XVIIIa have narrow blades with a longer grip. Subtype XVIIIb have a longer blade and long grip and were in use c. 1450–1520. Subtype XVIIIc: broad blade of c. 90 cm.
15th century swords, often for one-handed use though two-handed examples exist, with broad flat blades of hexagonal cross-section, nearly parallel edges (little profile taper), narrow fullers, and a pronounced ricasso.
14th to 15th century "hand and a half" swords, often with two fullers. Subtype XXa have narrower blades.
Cinquedea-like swords, late 15th century. Somewhat longer and less broad than the cinquedea.
Broad flat blades, two short, narrow fullers, around 1500.
- Oakeshott, Ewart. The Sword in the Age of Chivalry. Boydell Press 1994. Page 37.
- Oakeshott, Ewart. Records of the Medieval Sword. Boydell Press 1991. Page 89.
- Oakeshott, Ewart. The Sword in the Age of Chivalry. Boydell Press 1994. Page 43.
- Oakeshott, Ewart. The Sword in the Age of Chivalry. Boydell Press 1994. Page 42.