Understanding the sharpness of medieval swords often sparks debates among enthusiasts and historians alike. Some claim these swords were akin to laser-edged razors, while others believe they were dull. Many assume the truth lies somewhere in between but are uncertain where exactly. Let’s delve into the evidence to shed light on this matter.

The Elusive Sharpness Scale medieval swords

The Elusive Sharpness Scale medieval swords

In the Middle Ages, there was no standardized “sharpness scale” for swords. The sharpness likely varied based on the sword’s intended use.  The preferences of the user, and the abilities of the armorer. Examining surviving medieval swords today doesn’t provide definitive answers, as centuries of handling would have dulled even the sharpest blades. Conversely, any sharp swords we encounter now may have been sharpened in modern times.

Insights from Historical Combat Manuals

Medieval combat manuals, known as Fechtbücher, offer valuable insights. The Kunst des Fechtens (Art of Fighting) describes three primary attacks: the cut, the thrust, and the slice. The slice, akin to carving a turkey, involves placing the sword’s edge against a target.  and pulling or pushing it along the flesh. Experiments show that a dull sword cannot perform an effective slice, suggesting medieval swords were at least as sharp as modern kitchen knives.

Practical Considerations of Sword Sharpness

Maintaining a very sharp edge on a sword presents practical challenges. A razor-sharp edge requires constant maintenance and can quickly dull from minor handling, such as sheathing and unsheathing.Additionally, warriors often used swords for edge-on-edge parries, which could chip a fine edge. Therefore, medieval swords were likely sharpened to a level just below that of a kitchen knife to balance sharpness with durability and ease of maintenance.

Half-Swording and Sharpness medieval swords

Half-Swording and Sharpness medieval swords

Many people mistakenly believe that swords intended for halfswording (gripping the blade with one hand) in armored combat (Harnischfechten) must have been dull. However, historical techniques show warriors transitioning from slicing to half sword grips with their bare hands, indicating the blades were sharp. Swords, like knives, cut with a sliding motion; as long as the blade is held firmly, it won’t cut the hand.

The Evidence from Fechtbücher medieval swords

One notable technique involves slicing an opponent’s wrist and then gripping the blade for a thrust. This suggests that swords were sharp enough to slice effectively yet could be safely held barehanded. This aligns with the idea that medieval swords were sharp but not excessively so.

Exceptions and Variations medieval swords

Exceptions and Variations medieval swords

There are exceptions. For instance, the late-15th-century Italian manual De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi by Phillippo di Vadi suggests swords for armored combat should be dull except for the point. However, this practice seems uncommon, as no other manuals mention it, and we lack evidence of such swords outside Vadi’s book.

Conclusion medieval swords

Most medieval swords intended for combat were likely sharpened to a level just below a modern kitchen knife. This balance provided sufficient sharpness for effective slicing and cutting while ensuring the blade’s durability and ease of maintenance.In summary, while we can’t definitively measure the sharpness of medieval swords, evidence suggests they were sharp enough to perform necessary combat techniques without being excessively fragile or difficult to maintain.

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