How were swords used during medieval times

A sword can mean many things in many contexts. Sometimes, the term may denote a type of knife with a flat blade that is typically used for slashing, cut & thrust attacks, or trapping and grappling techniques. Other times, it may also refer to any bladed weapon such as knives or axes. 

Swords were historically used as both thrusting and cutting weapons and some real swords are adapted from other tools from the agricultural world such as sickles. In performance art fights or combat demonstrations of folk fighting styles, swords may be utilized for juggling stunts like the sword-balancing act popularized by jugglers like Thom Stites.

Long ago, medieval swords were the only defense for knights and soldiers. They were symbols of rank and power, as well as formidable weapons. Many warriors from different kingdoms crafted their own sword that was designed to work best with their style in battle and with the other weapons they carried.

Interesting Facts About Medieval Swords

In the Middle Ages, handmade swords served as a symbol of status and power. But what were the qualities of these weapons? Let’s take a look at five important facts that are relevant to this question.

  • The sword was used in hand-to-hand combat. This means it served primarily as a slashing weapon, not a stabbing one. 
  • It had great reach because the blade could be swung much further than your arm could stretch. This meant it was the ideal weapon for fighting horsemen, who could be attacked from a safer distance. 
  • Swords didn’t just serve as weapons in medieval warfare. They were also used for hunting as well as self-defense. The tradition of carrying swords on belts even survived the Renaissance. 
  • There were two types of swords in the Middle Ages – straight or curved. Medieval swords were straight and had an average length of 80–100 cm (31–39 inches). Curved blades appeared later and they can be distinguished by their shape and patterned hilts. These swords have an average length of 70–90 cm (27¾-35½ inches).
  • The first sword to be manufactured was in China, but it didn’t reach Europe until around 400 AD. This means that the weapon was not used in European warfare until a century later.

How Were Medieval Swords Used?

Knights and swords, the two go hand in hand. A knight would not be complete without their sword. The knights of old used full tang swords for many purposes, from fighting to tournaments to ceremonies. Here are some interesting facts about these swords and the knights that wielded them so fiercely and valiantly.

  • Fighting

The first use of a sword was for fighting. A long sword was great for this purpose because of its reach and penetrating power. The long sword had a triangular tip that prevented it from getting stuck or missing when stabbing an opponent. 

When fighting with a knight, you could never be sure what kind of weapon he had or what length it was. This made it very dangerous to stand toe to toe with them in battle, so most opponents tried to use other techniques to defeat them.

Medieval swords

  • Tournaments

A sword was also used for tournaments and ceremonies. Sometimes games were held on the battlefield where knights competed against each other in combat before the war began. Tournaments were also held in one location where each knight would try to do the other out. In some tournaments, knights had to complete tasks like killing their opponent or capturing something valuable. 

Some jousting tournaments consisted of knights riding towards each other at full speed and striking their lance against the opposing knight's shield. One of the most popular tournament swords was called a Tutbury sword or a broad sword. It was used in many battles as well as tournaments.

  • Ceremony

The last use of medieval swords that I will discuss is ceremony. Knights were allowed to carry weapons into the church after they had been ordained. This was done so the people would know who they were and keep them from harm outside of battle. Swords also served a purpose in the ceremony as well. 

Many ceremonies and prayers had to do with bringing down the Devil or protecting people from him. Tying a sword to a church steeple would ensure that no evil spirits could get into the church. This was very important in medieval England because all religions were persecuted until the Reformation.

  • Sword in Hand-to-Hand Combat

A sword was mainly used to cut through armored opponents and shields, but wealthy warriors often had a special fighting sword (called a knight’s sword) with an inset jaw guard that could pierce armor. 

Medieval swords

These swords were made of high-quality steel, usually laminated with several layers of steel sheets (numerous hardening and tempering processes were used), and the blade itself was made from hand-forged steel for increased strength.

Popular Medieval Weapons

Just like knights and medieval swords, knights wore armor as well, except for the head and face. Knights were very conscious about their appearance so they made sure they looked good on their horses or in battle. The gear they wore varied depending on where they fought and what time period they lived in. 

Knights wore medieval armor, a shirt of rings, a gambeson that was a stiffened linen or cotton shirt, or even gambesons made of steel. The most popular was the chain mail because it was much stronger and heavier than normal clothing. You could also wear different types of armor depending on what time period you were in. 

A knight would have to move around too much to be stuck in one armor outfit. A knight's sword was his most prized possession. Before they would fight they would charge their weapons with holy water and test their strength against each other so they wouldn't accidentally injure each other on the battlefield.