Parts of a medieval sword
Parts of a medieval sword

Since much combat in the Middle Ages took place at close quarters, swords were the weapons of choice. In earlier times as well as through the age of Christianity in Europe, swords were expensive and valued by their owners, passed down through families, engraved, and often given names, as told in many a legendary tale.

Swords were made of the best iron or steel available. The blades had to be strong but flexible to withstand hitting solid objects such as armor, shields, and other swords. Early medieval swords had twisted iron rods at their core which gave the blades flexibility, but iron proved too soft to hold a sharp edge; steel strips were welded on for this reason. The blade shape of these early swords was long and straight for the purpose of cutting. Chain mail was invented to counter the slashing force, but blows from these weapons could still break bones beneath.

As steel became more available in the later Middle Ages, swords were made of it entirely. The blade shape changed to counteract chain mail, turning more pointed to both cut and thrust. Early swords up through the mid-14th century had another feature, the fuller, which is a shallow groove that ran almost the full length of the blade. People often call this the “blood groove” but that is a misnomer and a myth. The fuller’s purpose was to make the blade lighter and more flexible without compromising strength.  A cross-section of the blade resembles a holly leaf.  As blades became more tapered to a finer point to counteract plate armor, the fuller filled in; a cross-section of these blades from the later 14th through 15th centuries resembles a diamond.

Don’t believe the myth that swords weighed 20 to 30 pounds; that just makes me laugh out loud! Light and fast blades were the point, literally.

More on the pommel and hand guard next time.

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