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Best Medieval Sword Types and Their History

Written By: Abigail Cambal
Published On: August 12, 2022
Edited by: Juliana Cummings

NO AI USED This Article has been written and edited by our team with no help of the AI

In the Middle Ages, swords served as a symbol of the status and prestige of medieval knights. Medieval sword and blade designs adapted to military tactics of the time, with some that were more suited for thrusting and others for cutting. Throughout the crusading period, many wars were fought in the name of the religions of Christianity and Islam, and swords played a significant role in combat.

Let’s explore the history of medieval swords, how they evolved into different types, and where you can get them online.

Types of Medieval Swords

The Middle Ages began in the 5th century after the fall of the Western Roman Empire and ended at the beginning of the Renaissance period, commonly interpreted as the 14th or 15th century. It is impossible to talk about a single type of sword defining the medieval period, as it took a variety of designs.

Here are the different types of medieval swords:

1. Viking Sword

Viking Sword 10th century
( Source)

From the 9th to 11th centuries, the Scandinavian Vikings plundered areas across Europe and beyond. Their primary weapons were axes and spears, though some carried long, straight, double-edged swords with a rounded tip. The Viking sword evolved from the Roman sword spatha, but there were many variations, especially in the guard, hilt, and pommel. The so-called Ulfberht swords featured crucible steel blades.

The Vikings used their swords for slashing or hacking. Early sword blades were straight and single-edged, but by the 10th century, double-edged swords became common. The warriors carried the sword on the left side and a fighting knife across the waist. Since swords were items of great value, only successful Viking raiders owned them and handed them down through generations.

2. Arming Sword

Arming Sword, 1520/30, Probably Italian
( Source)

Named because the men-of-arms wore them, the arming swords, sometimes called knightly swords, were cut-and-thrust weapons used with one hand. Hence, the other hand could use a small buckler shield for parrying. The sword-and-buckler fighting was common among foot soldiers and its techniques are not uncommon in many medieval manuscripts.

Most popular from about 1000 to 1300, the arming swords have a single-handed grip, a long, double-edged blade, and a sharp tip. They follow the cruciform pattern of many medieval swords. Early arming swords had simple straight crossguards, but later swords had quillons, or arms of the crossguard, that curve toward the blade.

The early Irish swords were the typical knightly swords, which the Irish likely adopted from the Anglo-Norman knights. However, some examples already existed in the region, even before the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland in the 12th century.

Arming swords with sharply tapering blades penetrated better when used for thrusting. The relatively large pommels also shifted the weight towards the hilt, making the sword more maneuverable at the cost of reduced weight in the cut.

Crusader Sword

French Crusader Sword, 13th century
French Crusader Sword, 13th century ( Source)

During the crusading era, the sword served as the knight’s most valuable weapon in close-quarters combat. The Crusades spanned from the late 11th century to the 13th century, so the typical crusader sword or Knights Templar sword was the arming sword. Generally straight and double-edged, it was suited for use against mail armor. 

The early crusader swords generally had straight quillons and a broad blade with a fuller, almost reaching the point. Swords of the late crusading period typically had slightly curved quillons and a blade that tapered to the tip. Later, the daggers accompanied the sword in the Levant. By the 13th century, knights used it with maces, axes, and flails.

3. Falchion

falchion rotated
( Source)

Other single-handed swords evolved into falchions with heavy blades that swelled toward the point. These swords were single-edged and efficient for cutting and were too unbalanced to thrust well. However, their blade shape varied over time—some versions were similar to a modern machete, while others to a saber blade.

Some scholars suggest that the falchion developed from the old Norse sax, especially the Norwegian long sax, which was popular during the 11th and 12th centuries. On the other hand, the saber blade shape likely developed under an Eastern European influence, resembling the Sword of Charlemagne in Vienna.

The English archers often used the falchion on the battlefield. The medieval knights also used the falchion in a tournament melee, a mock battle between mounted and dismounted knights, to capture or disable competing knights. The machete-like blades fell out of use after about 1300, while the saber-like blade shape remained in use from the early 14th century to the mid-18th century. 

4. Longsword

practice logsword
( Source)

Characterized by its long grip, the longsword allowed the knight to use it single-handed while on horseback and two-handed when fighting on foot. Using two hands delivered more power and made the weapon more maneuverable. Longswords emerged during the 1250s but became most widespread from 1370 to 1440 and continued until after 1500. 

Before 1300, early longswords had broad, parallel-sided, or slightly tapered blades, which delivered powerful cuts against mail armor. After 1350, longswords tapered throughout their length to a sharp point. Later versions of the longswords also had diamond-shaped blade sections, making them rigid thrusting weapons against opponents in plate armor. By the 1400s, cut-and-thrust types emerged, with blades that cut well and a sharp point efficient for thrusting.

Top 5 Medieval Swords Available Online

Medieval swords remain popular in martial arts, historical reenactment, cosplay, and live-action role-playing games or LARP. We rounded up the top medieval swords to help you find the best one that suits your needs:

1. Best Battle-Ready Sword: Darksword Armory Crusader Sword

Crusader Sword with Brown Scabbard

If you’re looking for a medieval sword for test cutting, this crusader sword comes with sharpened edges that can cut through tatami mats and bamboo. It features a high carbon steel blade with a fuller that runs along its length, making it a balanced and sturdy weapon.

The crusader sword also comes with a leather-wrapped wooden scabbard with a steel chape, preventing the blade’s tip from piercing its end. Since it has a sharpened sword blade, it is not advisable for HEMA sparring practice and cosplay.

2. Best for HEMA: Federschwert Fencing Longsword

Federschwert Fencing Longsword

In Historical European Martial Arts or HEMA, practitioners use the federschwert to demonstrate longsword techniques. As a training sword, it features blunted edges and a rolled tip for safety. This federschwert features a high carbon steel blade which would hold up very well in sparring. Instead of leather-wrapped, the grip has cord wrapping and features a stainless steel pommel to counterbalance the blade.

3. Best for LARP: Epic Armory Viking Sword

Viking Foam Sword

Viking combat is one of the most popular themes in historical reenactments, stage performances, and LARP. Both reenactments and LARP require safety, making this foam sword a perfect choice, though some re-enactors may still choose blunt blades. The foam sword consists of a fiberglass core and a closed cell foam, finished with a latex coating.

This Viking sword is hand-painted to look like a real sword which complements your iron helmet, chain mail armor, and leather cuirasses. It is also a suitable option for cosplay, as some pop culture events do not allow metal swords. However, all latex-coated swords require maintenance such as silicone spray-on application to prevent them from dying out.

4. Best for Cosplay: Windlass SteelCrafts Medieval Falchion

Medieval Falchion

If you want to channel your inner medieval knight, this falchion with a saber-like blade is perfect for you. It was one of the weapons used in medieval tournaments, along with maces and broadswords. Even if the sword does not feature a sharpened edge, its blade is constructed from high carbon steel which makes it durable enough for lifetime use.

5. Best for Collection: Damascus Knightly Sword

Knightly Sword

Sword collectors often opt for swords with damascus steel blades, due to their watered, streaked appearance. The sword hilt features a brass pommel and crossguard while the grip has decorative inlay, making it a decorative piece.

This knightly sword also features sharpened edges, so it doubles as a battle-ready sword for test-cutting practice. Instead of a full-tang blade, it features a tapered tang with layers of wood riveted to the grip.

Facts About Medieval Swords

From around 1000 to 1500, swords evolved from the Viking swords into a classic cruciform design with straight crossguards resembling a cross. However, they were generally expensive and only accessible to wealthy knights.

Here are the things you need to know about medieval swords:

Swords were expensive weapons, so many relied on fighting knives called seax.

Iron seax, with a straight cutting edge
( Source)

Sometimes spelled sax, the seax doubled as a fighting dagger and a working tool, providing those who could not afford a sword with a long blade. In Britain and other parts of Northern Europe, seax often featured a “broken-back” shape. The Vikings likely utilized the weapon for cutting, though its sharply angled tip was also suitable for thrusting. Other warriors of the Viking era such as the Anglo-Saxons and Franks also used the weapon.

Chain-mail and plate armor influenced sword and blade designs.

Kight chain mail and plate armor
( Sources 1; 2)

An 11th-century knight typically wore chain-mail armor, but by the 15th century, high-quality plate armor became popular. Slashing swords were inefficient against full plate armor, so sharply pointed thrusting swords became the preferred weapon. The blades usually had diamond cross-sections, thicker in the middle, and more rigid. Historian Ewart Oakeshott even established the typology of medieval swords based on their blade form and function. 

Some crusader swords featured the crusader badge and family arms on the pommel.

Sword Pommel with the Arms of Pierre de Dreux (ca. 1187–1250), Duke of Brittany and Earl of Richmond
Sword Pommel with the Arms of Pierre de Dreux (ca. 1187–1250), Duke of Brittany and Earl of Richmond ( Source)

The Crusades were a series of religious wars between Christians and Muslims, primarily to establish Christian kingdoms and recapture old Christian territories. During the Crusading period, the knights varied in their military organizations. 

The Knights Templar was founded by crusader knights in the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem in 1119. On the other hand, the Teutonic Knights military order was founded by German crusaders in 1198. Peter of Dreux, duke of Brittany, fought alongside Louis IX of France during the Seventh Crusade, and his sword featured his crusader badge and family arms.

Some fencing masters call short longswords bastard swords.

Hand-and-a-Half Sword 15th century European or possibly British
Hand-and-a-Half Sword 15th century European or possibly British ( Source)

In the fencing treatise The Schoole of the Noble and Worthy Science of Defense, Joseph Swetnam defined bastard swords as shorter than longswords yet longer than the short swords. It was primarily used for thrusting, but its grip allowed two or three fingers from the other hand to grasp it when necessary. Also called a hand-and-a-half sword, it was neither a single-handed nor a two-handed sword.

The bastard sword seems to have emerged in the 14th century, as improvements in bows and arrows required swordsmen to develop new tactics to fight against archers using longbows and crossbows. Archers wore little armor, so knights used the one handed bastard sword against a mix of lightly armored archers from horseback.

Swords were not the primary weapons of medieval knights.

Steel Mace
( Source)

In medieval times, long lances served as shock weapons that could pierce gaps in plate armor. War hammers appeared around 1250 and were not uncommon during the Hundred Years’ War. The knights also used the mace, a club-like weapon with a metal head. After around 1470, maces had metal shafts and were popular with cavalrymen.

Longswords also served as sporting weapons.

One of the early tournament weapons were longswords and combatants wore full armors. Some fought to show their bravery without causing serious injury while others fought to the extreme until one surrendered or was incapacitated. Longsword fights had always included thrusts. When armor fell out of use, the single-handed rapier became fashionable.

The Scottish claymore is a Renaissance weapon.

Claymore 16th–17th century hilt, Scottish; blade, German, Solingen
Claymore 16th–17th century hilt, Scottish; blade, German, Solingen ( Source)

During the Middle Ages, infantry swords were relatively lightweight and easier to wield, but by the Renaissance period, two-handed swords became popular in Europe. The Scottish Highlanders used the claymore from the 15th to the early 17th century. Most recognized for its quatrefoils on the quillons, it derived from earlier medieval Scottish and Irish longswords. Its name comes from the Scottish Gaelic term “claidheamh mór”, meaning great sword.

The Excalibur sword of King Arthur remains one of the most popular swords in legends.

In Arthurian legends, the Excalibur sword’s scabbard protected King Arthur, the legendary ruler of Britain, and his knights. Like many fantasy swords, its appearance varies greatly from story to story. Some depict the sword as bejeweled while others drew inspiration from medieval swords like the longsword. Today, it remains a reflection of Celtic beliefs and tradition, as the Celts endow supernatural powers on the weapons of gods, kings, and warriors.

Early Islamic swords were straight rather than curved.

Kilij with Scabbard
( Source)

During the 11th and 16th centuries, the weapons of the Islamic world showed greater variation than those of their western counterparts. Islamic swords were generally double-edged and straight until the 11th century when cavalry sabers emerged under Turkish influence. Europeans first encountered curved blades in wars with the Ottomans and referred to them as scimitars, a collective term for curved Asian swords.

In the Far East, medieval Japan saw the emergence of samurai swords.

Katana's Saya or scabbard
( Source)

Japanese swordsmiths created swords for the samurai, the elite members of the warrior class. The samurai carried no shield, so they used the back of their sword blade to block blows. By the Edo period, from 1603 to 1867, the samurai exclusively wore the katana and paired it with the short sword wakizashi.

Longsword vs. Broadsword

Schiavona Broadsword, early 1700s
( Source)

The longsword is characterized by its long grip that allows two-handed use rather than its long blade. On the other hand, the broadsword is recognized by its broad blade, regardless of its hilt construction. However, longswords rarely acquired the complex hilts of later broadswords which would hinder the two-handed grip, making them efficient weapons.

Swords with a broad blade designed for cutting can be considered a broadsword. However, the term broadsword is often more associated with the 18th-century Scottish basket-hilted broadswords. The Venetian schiavona sometimes had a broad blade, but also featured rapier-like blades.


Early medieval swords were designed to hack through chain mail armor, but as plate armor improved, they became longer and more sharply tapered for thrusting. Today, medieval swords are among the weapons of HEMA practitioners and remain relevant in historical reenactment, cosplay, and LARP.

Sources Cited
  1. David, S. (2012). The Encyclopedia of War (S. David, Ed.). Dorling Kindersley.
  2. Grant, N. (2020). The Medieval Longsword. Bloomsbury USA.
  3. Grant, R. G. (2007). Soldier: A Visual History of the Fighting Man. Dorling Kindersley.
  4. Jones, G. (Ed.). (2015). Military History: The Definitive Visual Guide to the Objects of Warfare. DK Publishing.
  5. Lepage, J.-D. G.G. (2014). Medieval Armies and Weapons in Western Europe: An Illustrated History. McFarland, Incorporated, Publishers.
  6. McNab, C. (Ed.). (2010). Knives and Swords: A Visual History. DK Pub.
  7. Stone, G. C. (1999). A Glossary of the Construction, Decoration, and Use of Arms and Armor in All Countries and in All Times: Together with Some Closely Related Subjects. Dover Publications.
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