5% WELCOME DISCOUNT ON ALL PRODUCTS

Check our Sword Shop

4 Arming Sword Types, Characteristics, and Uses

Written By: David Mickov
Published On: August 22, 2022
Edited by: Juliana Cummings

The medieval arming sword was also known as the white arm during the Middle Ages, slang for the hand of God, as one was thought to be able to spread God’s power and will through the weapon. It is a blade that influenced most  European swords. 

When somebody mentions the Middle Ages, a vision of armed knights yielding swords often comes to mind. And often, the sword depicted with the knight was the arming sword. 

This article will explore the arming sword’s beginnings and evolution throughout the centuries to its final form.  We will also clear any confusion between the arming sword and other swords.

Term Understanding: The Arming Sword – What is it?

Medieval Knights
Medieval Knights with arming swords sheathed on their belts

As seen in medieval text, the arming sword was initially called the sword in the Middle Ages, as the term arming was added much later.  The name comes from the Latin word arma, meaning weapon. 

When the term arming is added to the word sword, it means a weapon by/in your arm. This term came about as the arming sword was often carried in one’s hand at the beginning of the Middle Ages, but by the late Middle Ages, it was by the arm as it was carried on the belt.

It was referred to as the knightly sword because it was the primary melee blade and the most reliable secondary sidearm of the knight.

Today, the term arming sword is used for the early cruciform-hilted European swords used by the earlier class of rising knights. Though the sword evolved in design, its characteristics make it a group of its own. 

The term broadsword is wrongly associated with a sword with a broader blade. It is instead a 16th and 17th-century basket-hilted Scottish sword named for its broader blade.

Types of Arming Swords

Oakeshott s Sword Types
The different types of arming swords through the centuries – Credits: Ewart Oakeshott

These arming sword types correspond to the Oakeshott Types, a crucial typology of European medieval swords that helps folks understand the evolution of swords in response to combat needs.  

  • Type X – During the 11th century, the Norman sword evolved from the early medieval Viking sword with a broad tip for cutting and slashing.
  • Type XII – A lightly tapered blade with a shorter fuller, used primarily for cutting, was commonly used during the Crusades through the 12th century.
  • Type XIII – Common in the late 13th century, this sword had long, broad blades with parallel edges, ending in a similar rounded or spatulated tip with the mark of a slight taper. The hilts are lengthened roughly 15 cm to allow for occasional two-handed usage.
  • Type XIV – The iconic arming sword that bridged the gap between cutting and thrusting European swords by featuring a broad width near the hilt with a gradual taper toward the edge that was used well until the mid-14th century.

Characteristics and Design

Arming Sword Detailed
A type of arming sword and its characteristics – Credits: The Illustrated World Encyclopedia of Knives, Swords, Spears and Daggers

The arming sword is an iconic European sword style that inspired many other double-edged swords in European, African, and Middle Eastern history and even influenced other curved blades.

 Blade

How a Sword Should Look Like
The strength and composition of a battle-ready arming sword – Credits: Ewart Oakeshott

The blade of the arming sword is double-edged and dually sharpened. With a straight form, its strength composition becomes lighter from the guard toward the tip, allowing for flexibility that differs for each type.

Arming swords usually feature a fuller or multiple fullers in their center, which lowers their overall weight. The balance is usually near the hilt, but some types are tip-heavy, especially when used for cutting purposes.

The blades can differ drastically in cross section and profile, ranging from broad parallel edges, light to sharp taper, and some with acute tips with reinforced diamond-cross sections for penetrating light armor.

The blade length varies, but generally, it is around 24 to 31 inches (60 to 78 cm).

Functional arming swords are made from high-carbon steel, while decorative models are made from stainless steel due to their higher resistance to rust and corrosion.

Hilt

Main River Witham Sword by Paul Chen Hanwei Sword with Scabbard
The “Inscribed River Witham Sword” with a very broad blade for cutting actions (Check Product)

Arming swords are one-handed melee weapons featuring slim, straight handles held together by a peened pommel on the back and a hand guard on the front. It is usually wooden and wrapped with smooth leather on top of the tang, and its average handle length is around 4 inches (10 cm).

The pommels for arming swords can also vary, differing from the form of a brazil-nut or a  mushroom. The pommel can also be in the form of a cocked hat, concave, lobed, disc-form, boat-shaped, or a simple rounded design. 

The guard of an arming sword is cruciform. It features two long quillons, usually straight and made of metal. With its evolution, this guard narrowed toward the blade, with turned quillons,  in a bow-tie fashion, or was very slim.

Scabbard

Main Arming Sword Atrim Design Type XIV by Kingston Arms Sword with Scabbard
“13th-century Atrim Design Type XIV” with a pointy blade for effective cut and thrust (Check Product)

At times, the scabbard was more important than the blade of the arming sword because it represented the status of its wielder, which is why one may see intricately decorated scabbards in festivals, ceremonies, and other public events.

However, some scabbards are used to protect the blade from physical damage, rust, and corrosion. Arming sword scabbards can be made from leather, which is easily carried, or wood, another viable option.  

Size and Weight

Main Lionheart Sword by Paul Chen Hanwei Sword with Scabbard
The “Lionheart Sword of the Crusading Knights” was a popular Crusader sword (Check Product)

While the arming sword’s hilt and blade evolved over the centuries, its size and weight generally followed a basic standard.

A common length for an arming sword ranged from 25 to 41 inches (65 to 105 cm). The weight varied depending on the blade’s purpose, as the level of thickness could fluctuate to accommodate stabbing or slashing. An average weight was between 1.32 to 2.64 lbs (0.6 to 1.2 kg)

Use of the Arming Sword

Arming Sword and Buckler Painted
Arming sword vs. arming sword with the use of bucklers – Credits: Historical European Martial Artists

Arming swords were used in dueling and warfare by the common footsoldier to the higher class of the medieval knights in cavalry. 

The arming sword was built primarily for formation fighting and could be used while mounted or in close quarters. The arming sword was a  responsive weapon that felt light in the palm, and its features made it a medieval weapon of choice for all soldiers and even surfs.

The arming sword was useful against armored and unarmored opponents with equal efficiency, including cutting, thrusting, or both. It was also typically used with a shield or buckler. In the absence of a shield, the wielder’s unoccupied hand would be available to aid in the physical assault of the enemy. 

The arming sword today, thanks to its versatility and simplicity, is one of the best beginner swords used for training in HEMA (historical European martial arts). Due to its shorter dimensions, it is also an ideal LARP (live-action roleplaying) piece for re-enactments.

Summary
Arming swords were used on foot or while mounted. They allowed for responsive, versatile, one-handed, double-edged use, ideal for cutting or thrusting. It was preferred as a sidearm or a primary weapon when used with a shield or buckler.

History of The Arming Sword

Viking Sword from the X century
Viking or Carolingian sword that evolved into the Arming Sword – Credits: Weapon: A Visual History of Arms and Armor

The arming sword originated in Europe in the 10th and 11th centuries. It was a highly respected weapon linked with higher nobles and signified a knight’s chivalry that evolved from the Viking sword and the spatha. 

The spatha was the popular long sword of the Romans that became widespread throughout Europe due to its efficiency on horseback. The spatha evolved into the migration period but with a slightly longer guard design influencing the Viking or Carolingian sword. 

Carolingian swords featured a one-handed handle with a larger pommel (usually lobed) and a horizontal, straight guard. The Carolingian sword bridged the previous spatha and the later arming sword.

Development and Evolution of the Arming Sword

Renaissance Knights
Renaissance Knightly Soldiers with their Arming Swords sheathed in Scabbards

With the spread of Christianity, the symbol of the cross became prominent throughout Europe. Aside from symbolizing Christ, the cross also worked well as a cruciform crossguard, protecting the user’s hand. It also allowed for formation sword and shield fighting like the previous Viking, spatha, or gladius.

This type of sword became dominant throughout Christian Europe and beyond, becoming the weapon of choice for most troops that wielded melee blades. It was almost unheard of to see a knight without his arming sword. 

To combat the increase of armor during the 14th and 15th centuries, the arming sword would evolve from a cutting and thrusting blade to one with a greater length, eventually becoming the hand-and-a-half and longsword.

During the military revolution of the Renaissance, greatswords and rapiers would continue being used in warfare. Arming swords, however, would still be prevalent by some men at arms or simply used as ceremonial pieces. Some blades of arming swords could be mounted on new hilts, transforming them into a sidesword, or a katzbalger.

Summary
The arming sword developed from the previous Roman spatha and European Merovingian or Carolingian swords of the 10th and 11th centuries. The Carolingian or Viking sword transformed the arming sword using the iconic cruciform crossguard.  As it evolved, it became the most popular sword for peasants, and knightly orders would further evolve to accommodate contemporary armor. During the Renaissance, it was mounted with complex hilts, giving it new terms.
Sources Cited
  1. Ford, Roger. Weapon: A Visual History of Arms and Armor. DK Pub., 2006. Accessed 18 August 2022.
  2. Withers, Harvey J. S., and Tobias Capwell. The Illustrated World Encyclopedia of Knives, Swords, Spears and Daggers: Through History in Over 1500 Photographs. Anness Publishing, 2016. Accessed 18 August 2022.
  3. Nicolle, David. Arms and Armour of the Crusading Era, 1050-1350: Islam, Eastern Europe and Asia. Greenhill Books, 1999. Accessed 18 August 2022.
  4. McGlynn, Sean. By Sword and Fire. Orion Publishing Group, 2009.
  5. Norman, A. Vesey B., and Vesey Norman. The Medieval Soldier. Pen & Sword Military, 2010. 
  6. Prestwich, Michael. Knight: The Medieval Warrior’s (Unofficial) Manual. Thames & Hudson, 2018.
  7. Allfree, Joshua B., et al. Warfare in the Medieval World. Pen & Sword Military, 2012.
  8. Oakeshott, Ewart. Records of the Medieval Sword. Boydell Press, 1991.
  9. Swords of the Viking Age. Boydell Press, 2002. (Ian Peirce, Ewart Oakeshott)
  10. Brunning, Sue. The Sword in Early Medieval Northern Europe: Experience, Identity, Representation. Boydell Press, 2019.
  11. Burton, Richard Francis. The Book of the Sword: A History of Daggers, Sabers, and Scimitars from Ancient Times to the Modern Day. Skyhorse, 2014.
  12. Oakeshott, Ewart. European Weapons and Armour: From the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution. Boydell Press, 2012. 
  13. Oakeshott, Ewart. Sword in Hand: A History of the Medieval Sword. Arms & Armor Incorporated, 2001.
Get Weekly Insights on Everything Swords