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Thread: Historical accuracy again...

  1. #1
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    Historical accuracy again...

    'Tis the spring of 1376, and Sir Geoffrey and Sir Martin are at the great fair at Shrewsbury Abbey. Upon sighting the wares of a sword vendor they examine the offerings. Sir Martin puts an arming sword through it's paces and hands it to Sir Goeffrey who sights down the blade, flexes it gently, feels the balance and admires it's edge geometry. But wait- something is wrong! Sir Martin is staring at the sword, transfixed with horror! A fine sweat beads his forehead and he stammers to his friend, "G-G-Geoffrey! For the love of God, put it down! The fuller stops short of the guard!"
    Sir Geoffrey drops the sword as if it's burning him. "God's tears! This is the devil's work for certain!" As one the knights turn on the hapless purveyor of swords and demand an explanation, but he cannot answer the charge. Pandemonium errupts- soon the fairgrounds are consumed in flames as the riot runs out of control.

    Uh... sure. Whatever. Let's try that again.

    'Tis the spring of 1376, and Sir Geoffrey and Sir Martin are at the great fair at Shrewsbury Abbey. Upon sighting the wares of a sword vendor they examine the offerings. Sir Martin puts an arming sword through it's paces and hands it to Sir Goeffrey who sights down the blade, flexes it gently, feels the balance and admires it's edge geometry. Sir Martin's brow furrows. "That's odd," he comments, "The fuller stops short of the guard." Sir Geoffrey glances at the feature disinterestedly and grunts. "It's not usual," says Martin, "Usually the fuller runs off under the guard." "Whatever." Geoffrey says then turns to the seller, "Fine Sword! How much is it?"

    Which scenario do you think would be more likely?

    In point of fact the concept of historical accuracy isn't historically accurate. Swords were made the way they were made, generally changing only as fashion and need dictated. Today how important it is- or isn't- is entirely in the eye of the beholder.

    Sabered blades, uneven fullers, wavy edge bevels, asymetrical profiles, crooked guards, blades with a hardness ranging anywhere from Rc38-50, blades with large inclusions of slag in them- each of these things is demonstrably period. But boy do we scream when they show up in modern swords!

    Some folks look at a sword and say, "Boy! Look how period this sword is! It looks just right." If you point out that it's too heavy, the the blade is too thick, that it doesn't balance right and has incorrectly located nodes and bad edge geometry they poo-poo your quibbles. It looks just like the one in the book- how could it be wrong?

    Some folks examine a sword and say, "Wow- this feels just like an actual antique! The weight is right, the balance is right, the edge geometry is wonderfull!" If you point out that the guard isn't quite the right shape, or that you haven't seen that sort of pommel on that sort of sword or even that the fuller stops short of the cross, they shrug and could care less. They are more concerned that the sword feel like an antique- that it behave correctly.

    Still other folks demand that the sword not only look right but that the materials and manner of construction be as close to their historic equivelants as possible. "It doesn't matter how it balances or cuts- it's not as if we're going to use it for anything important!"

    In a sense historical accuracy is an elephant and we're all blind men describing only the portion that is relevant to us.

    Sure, there is such a thing as an absolute historical standard- but in terms of modern history no one has yet achieved it on a European-style sword. None of us scarf-weld a wrought-iron tang and shoulder onto a shear-steel blade. Or make only the blade and leave the heat-treatment, mounting, embellishing, scabbard and scabbard furniture all to different crafters.

    Given that there is such a spectrum of features and opinions as to their relative importance should we denounce swords that are meant to represent a historical type out of hand as 'Not historically accurate?' Or should we perhaps inquire as to the makers intent and what qualities they felt were important; what qualities they emphasized.

    This might keep people from answering defensively. It might de-fuse some of the need to be the one who is 'right.' It might lead to reasoned discourse and- say it softly- learning something. Instead of, for example, engaging in a thinly veiled series of challenges and implied slights and insults that ends with everyone unhappy, hurt feelings and strained friendships.

    It's a radical suggestion- that we approach such issues with humility, tolerance and civility. But it just might work. I'd welcome your thoughts, good forumites.
    Last edited by Michael Tinker Pearce; 10-23-2007 at 10:32 PM.
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    I guess this is related to some negative comments on an earlier thread but the main issue is still worth a serious discussion.

    Obviously there are several ways to approach your question. The market is relatively large and many, possibly most customers aren't necessarily looking for authentic replicas, can't afford a really good one or simply lack the knowledge to say what is historically accurate and what isn't.

    However, speaking of true replicas, that is swords that are supposed to be copies or at least based on medieval designs historical accuracy becomes extremely important IMHO. That's not to say that a smith is not allowed to play with different designs and introduce some variation in his work that is not seen in the surviving originals. But the moment you do that you can no longer honestly call your work historically accurate. You may label it experimental or "in the style of" but it cannot be representative of a certain period and hence is not a true replica.

    Clearly there were many more swords made in the middle ages than those that have survived to the present day. Nonetheless, the number of original swords still in existence today is quite sufficient enough to give a good understanding of what swords were like back then. Plus there are other sources, such as artwork and carved effigies. Perhaps there may have been more variation back then as far as different designs are concerned, perhaps not. Perhaps fullers did terminate in front of the guard more often but then again, based on the available evidence that was more likely not the case.

    The problem with such conjectures and "what if" line of thinking is that one can create an infinite number of design variations that for what we know may never have existed in the period (at least not in any significant number). From a historian's point of view that is not acceptable.

    As far as construction methods are concerned I would love to get my hands on a completely authentic replica, made of heterogenous steel, with wildly varying Rockwell numbers along the blade... Not exactly what most people would prefer to buy nowadays but testing such replicas would give a much better idea of what the medieval swords were in fact capable of. Still, all things considered (IMHO again) using modern steels for replicas is much less controversial than ahistoric designs. After all, an exact copy of a medieval sword will still look right and handle exactly like the original though it's made of superior steel. On the other hand, modern steels offer the advantage of low cost and better physical properties, which is a big plus for anyone who participates in WMA.

    At least that's one point of view...

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    Thanks Tomaz- I was looking for thoughtful answers and you have certainly met my expectations in that regard. It was a mistake for me to make an example of a feature that was the subject of recent controversy- let me just say 'mea culpa' and move on without reopening that particular can of worms any farther!

    One thing to consider- all modern medieval swords that are not copies of specific existing antique swords are 'in the style of' medieval swords. On the other hand, I have seen swords that were copied from specific existing examples that were done with such poor attention to detail that they were less authentic than swords that were merely 'in the style of' a general type of medieval sword- even though the so-called 'reproduction' looked great as a two-dimensional photo.

    Certainly if one is trying to create a 'typical' example of a type of sword one should stick to common features and forms. However- addressing even one type of Oakeshotts typology one finds significant variation. Take Oakeshott's type XII for example- if you take six randomly selected examples you'd do well to get two of them that will resemble each other at the level of fine details. They will vary in profile, type and amount of distal and profile taper, thickness at the base, thickness behind the tip, rigidity, center of gravity and details of the hilt and even the thickness, width and profile of the tang. Yet they are all type XII's- all are historical. Despite this I have heard a sword being damned as not being "volumetrically correct for a sword of it's type." No, it was not a sword that I made and yes, it did closely resemble (in the very terms that it was criticised in) at least one historic example that I had personally handled of it's type.

    So- which is less historically accurate? A sword that looks 'right' but handles like a baseball bat (while the original handled 'well') or a sword that looks generally 'right' but has simplified furniture and a plain hardwood handle, but that has exactly the dynamic characteristics of an original sword of it's type? (note that the presence or absence of fullers and any specific features thereof was omitted from the example. )

    The point is that while neither sword is entirely historically accurate, both possess elements of historical accuracy. Both could be damned as 'historically innacurate.' Both could claim a level of 'historical acccuracy.' It would depend, a bit, on perspective, wouldn't it?
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    It's clear that absolute historical accuracy is more important to some than to others.

    It's hard to speculate how the medieval knights in your example would have reacted. I think both are possible, and I'd add "Hmm, nice feeling sword, but I think it looks weird. If I bought it, I could never wear it at court." Fashion was (is?) perhaps the most important motivator for innovation of weapons, and unusual aspects wouldn't have done for many.

    Sabered blades, uneven fullers, wavy edge bevels, asymetrical profiles, crooked guards, blades with a hardness ranging anywhere from Rc38-50, blades with large inclusions of slag in them- each of these things is demonstrably period. But boy do we scream when they show up in modern swords!
    Not for me. That's why I have a fairly large collection of bronze swords, made by Neil Burridge, of an historically accurate alloy in mostly historically accurate way.

    Personally I'd love to own a medieval sword with an uneven fuller, wavy edge bevels, asymetrical profile, crooked guard, and a sabered blade with large inclusions of slag and a hardness ranging anywhere from Rc38-50 along the blade.

    Why? Because THAT's a medieval sword! And in my opinion, if someone wants to learn about medieval swords without owning antiques (with which one can't cut, for instance) it's preferable to have those things and/or in other ways stay as close to the originals as possible.

    Unfortunately, there aren't many people who (try to) make historically correct swords. But there are some, both professional makers as well as amateurs.

    Also unfortunately, there is still a lot of misconception with people as to what a medieval sword is. Many don't accept historical flaws in a sword (such as the ones you mentioned). Whether this is a type of ignorance: (Hey, that 16th C. sword replica has a screw-on pommel! That can't be right! But as a matter of fact, it would have been historically correct.) or as a type of elitism: (I just want the ultimate sword), I don't know. Probably a bit of both.

    Given that there is such a spectrum of features and opinions as to their relative importance should we denounce swords that are meant to represent a historical type out of hand as 'Not historically accurate?' Or should we perhaps inquire as to the makers intent and what qualities they felt were important; what qualities they emphasized.
    Obviously there are many different preferences. My personal preference is for as much historical accuracy as (also financially) possible.

    That doesn't mean that I'm not also interested in swords with a more modern flavour though. I just don't see them as "medieval" swords.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Hansen View Post
    Personally I'd love to own a medieval sword with an uneven fuller, wavy edge bevels, asymetrical profile, crooked guard, and a sabered blade with large inclusions of slag and a hardness ranging anywhere from Rc38-50 along the blade.

    Why? Because THAT's a medieval sword! And in my opinion, if someone wants to learn about medieval swords without owning antiques (with which one can't cut, for instance) it's preferable to have those things and/or in other ways stay as close to the originals as possible.
    True- but a sword with nearly ruler-straight fullers of consistant depth and an almost perfectly symetrical blade with no visible inclusions is also historically correct. I guess that part of my point is that 'historically correct' is a broader and more shaded thing than many imagine and should be approached with a bit less certainty than is often expressed.

    Oh crap- I mentioned fullers...
    Tinkerswords.com Fine knives, swords and daggers in the style of the European Middle Ages and Viking Era

    "Then, one night as my car was going backwards through a cornfield an ninety miles per hour, I had an epiphany..."

    Luke 22:36 Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.

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    Tinker, it seems we cross-posted, so to reply to your last post:

    I agree with you that if one copies a sword, one should do it well. I'm convinced it's possible though. Look at some of Patrick Barta's swords, for instance.

    Creating a "typical" sword from a wide range of historical swords is difficult. Especially since Oakeshott's typology is not specific enough for this. Geibig's typology is more detailed, but also lacks many of the details a sword designer / maker needs. So I guess the only option left is to do a lot of research yourself. If you try to see as many old swords as possible, even behind glass, but preferably being able to measure and handle them, then eventually one get's an understanding of historical design. And it will continue to get better and better if you see more. That's the fascinating part!

    As for dynamic characteristics, I think there is too much focus on what "feels right", because the question is "feels right for what?". For instance I have this sword:

    which is a very accurate replica of a late bronze age Mindelheim sword. According to Neil Burridge's site, it's 82.5cm long, and weighs 1000g. Which is very long and heavy for a bronze age sword. Since all that weight is in the blade, and since there won't be a pommel as a counterweight, this is a very slow and cumbersome sword. But I have no doubt that it would be devastatingly effective as a cavalry sword.

    Similarly, if one sees some medieval swords, with tiny pommels and massive blades, then I guess it probably won't handle as nice as most modern made swords. But it's definately historical.
    Last edited by Paul Hansen; 10-24-2007 at 01:06 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Tinker Pearce View Post
    True- but a sword with nearly ruler-straight fullers of consistant depth and an almost perfectly symetrical blade with no visible inclusions is also historically correct. I guess that part of my point is that 'historically correct' is a broader and more shaded thing than many imagine and should be approached with a bit less certainty than is often expressed.
    Cross posted again.

    Yes, there were also "good" swords. But it would be logical to assume (and this is supported by medieval manuscripts) that these would have been more expensive, and therefore more likely to have had hilts adorned with precious metals etc. But not always.

    This variation is what makes it fun for me. And you are absolutely correct that many things aren't as certain as one would think.
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    Degree of historical accuracy is clearly debatable. However, as long as we are speaking of quality replicas I would expect a good one to have both the looks and feel of the original. Anything less than that means that the replica is not going to be representative of the original.

    The variation in blade profile, distal taper etc. in medieval swords of the same Oakeshott type is to be expected given that they were made by hand and not by following one single pattern. However, there is a real risk of missing the forest for the trees. It's exactly why making a replica "in the style of" a particular Oakeshott type can be so problematic. By attempting to copy features from similar but nonetheless inherently different swords you end up throwing together elements that don't match exactly. So the replica isn't going to look or handle like any of the swords that inspired it.

    By the way, there is also a real problem with sword typology in general. I very much agree with Paul - while popular in the English-speaking world Oakeshott's typology is in many regards highly subjective, so much so that classifying a particular sword to a certain type may sometimes become a matter of personal taste. I would second the recommendation to look into Alfred Geibig's work as it relies much more heavily on metrical ratios and measurements.

  10. #10
    I think part of the problem is that we have only the dimmest idea of how antique swords that we find now would have been appreciated in the past. As your hypothetic dialogue shows, really...

    The fact that swords can be found that have such and such particularities does not say that they were considered good at the time. For some reason there seems to be the assumption that if an antique exists, then it must have been good. Frankly I cannot see why the majority of antiques couldn't be of just more or less average quality, with many odd examples being not so representative of the ideal of the time.

    Of course you could turn that idea on its head and use it to say that a rare feature is the sign of a superior sword

    And then there is probably the issue of some modern maker that would build a Frankensword by selectively picking features on antiques that were never meant to be used together. Will it be good in the historical sense? We have no way to know...

    You stress the qualities necessary for use, and I share this point of view. However, I have never seen any comprehensive study of what these qualities are exactly, how they interplay together, and how the poor consumer that has never handled an antique is able to tell whether it's right or wrong. Just on the subject of balance, most of what I've seen so far is makers saying it "feels good" or "like an antique" or "as it should". No one is willing to give out hard facts about antiques, so basically we have to take the word of the maker for it.

    For as long as all the makers will say that their swords are well balanced without anyone being able to tell if it's true or not, people will rely on what they see. If people see unusual shapes or features, they will have doubts about the balance, even if it is in fact satisfying. Basically, historically common and coherent visual features establish a superior confidence in the rest of the qualities of the weapon. For good or ill...

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    Much variety existed throughout history, far more than most people realize... I think the controversy occurs with people who have only a passing familiarity with one or more genres, and don't make an effort to explore further, or even worse... they find a few examples, and make an assumption that those few represent some sort of standard, which is poor reasoning.

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    the craftsman's Interpretation

    I believe it would be more prudent to look at a piece from the perspective of the artisans intent and what he was trying to convey and which parts he was wanting to draw focus to ,

    rather than just dismiss a modern piece out of hand if it doesnt comply exactly to what we may think is historically accurate
    it would be more rewarding to view the piece with an eye to understanding what was in the smiths heart when he hit on that particular concept,

    my 2 penn'orth


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  13. #13
    I don't know how far off this subject this is, but I use stainless for the guards and pommels of my stage swords, simply to eliminate the need to clean the guard and pommels after every use, which is a pain for reenactors who use there blades often, especially if it is an intricate guard. But I get people all the time saying, "thats not accurate" blah be blahh blah. If I hadn't of told them it was stainless, they would of never known, so what does it matter? Some people say stainless is heavier than normal steel.... no it isn't, the density of stainless falls in the average for all steels. Some people say it's too weak.... no it isn't... it is much stronger than the iron, bronze or brass, that is used alot in guards and pommels. Again, I just use to so the customer doesn't have to do as much work to keep there blade pretty.

    As for the fullers, I have gotten both reactions, I stop them before the guard, to leave more meat on the tang at the shoulder to give the stage blade's tang a little more strenght, thats all. I don't really see a benefit to run it into the guard, though most originals do.

    And where is that conversation? I must have missed it.

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    Agreed Tomaz.

    Quote Originally Posted by Vincent Le Chevalier View Post
    I think part of the problem is that we have only the dimmest idea of how antique swords that we find now would have been appreciated in the past. As your hypothetic dialogue shows, really...

    The fact that swords can be found that have such and such particularities does not say that they were considered good at the time. For some reason there seems to be the assumption that if an antique exists, then it must have been good. Frankly I cannot see why the majority of antiques couldn't be of just more or less average quality, with many odd examples being not so representative of the ideal of the time.
    Well, I think that although we don't know for sure, there are plenty of written sources from the middle ages which can give us a clue. Price is one of them. Mentions in legends etc. should probably be taken with a grain of salt, but there might also be a bit of truth inside.

    For instance, I recall reading a legal document specifying penalties for theft, where there were differences in values between different types of swords. IIRC, one mentioned "swords of Spanish steel" which was valued higher than others.

    This is not the source I was thinking of, but is interesting nonetheless:
    http://www.keesn.nl/price/index.html

    Obviously, there were price differences. Then it seems logical that the price would be determined by several factors, like:
    - Brandname (like Ulfbehrt)
    - Quality/origin of the steel
    - Quality/workmanship of the blade
    - Quality/materials/workmanship of the fittings
    - Etc.

    It would be logical to assume that these would be related. But like there are Hyundai cars with leather interiors (i.e. fairly basic cars with luxury options), there were probably also nice looking swords made from bad steels. Or plain looking swords made properly from good steel.

    It would be very interesting to see a large scale statistical study between quality of fittings, quality of steel and handling characteristics.

    Quote Originally Posted by Vincent Le Chevalier View Post
    Of course you could turn that idea on its head and use it to say that a rare feature is the sign of a superior sword
    That depends on the feature. I think that a sword with a gilded hilt would be more likely to be either a "superior sword" or a dedicated parade sword-like-object, than a simple sword with a strange pommel shape. Context and time period would also be very important.

    Quote Originally Posted by Vincent Le Chevalier View Post
    And then there is probably the issue of some modern maker that would build a Frankensword by selectively picking features on antiques that were never meant to be used together. Will it be good in the historical sense? We have no way to know...
    Agreed, but I tend to think that the probability of getting it wrong is much greater than getting it right. And it'll still look weird to most.

    Quote Originally Posted by Vincent Le Chevalier View Post
    You stress the qualities necessary for use, and I share this point of view. However, I have never seen any comprehensive study of what these qualities are exactly, how they interplay together, and how the poor consumer that has never handled an antique is able to tell whether it's right or wrong. Just on the subject of balance, most of what I've seen so far is makers saying it "feels good" or "like an antique" or "as it should". No one is willing to give out hard facts about antiques, so basically we have to take the word of the maker for it.
    Agreed again, but it's not so much a question of willing. It's more of a lack of knowledge on the part of the archeologists. I don't think they either don't understand the engineering principles behind swords, or just aren't interested in them.

    But I think that while makers nowadays are focussed on making "well handling" swords, as you say, there is also too little understanding, at least by most sword buyers, about how a sword should handle historically. For instance, many people (in answer to the massively overweight "replica's" of earlier times) still think that, for instance, "Viking style" swords should be light. Say 1,2 kg max. But the reality is that, while there were "Viking style" swords in the region of 1 to 1,2 kgs, there are also similarly styled swords weighing as much as 1,6 kg. Yet these are almost never reproduced because they are "too heavy" in the eyes of the sword buying public.

    I have never handled such a heavy "Viking style" sword, but I can't imagine that it would handle very pleasingly compared to a similar sword weighing 1 kg. Apparently the previous owner cared less about pleasing handling characteristics than about some other aspects.
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    Quote Originally Posted by michael wilson View Post
    I believe it would be more prudent to look at a piece from the perspective of the artisans intent and what he was trying to convey and which parts he was wanting to draw focus to ,

    rather than just dismiss a modern piece out of hand if it doesnt comply exactly to what we may think is historically accurate
    it would be more rewarding to view the piece with an eye to understanding what was in the smiths heart when he hit on that particular concept,
    I don't neccessarily disagree, but what one then gets is a modern interpretation loosely based on an historical style.

    Nothing wrong with that, but it's not a reproduction of a medieval sword. It's a modern sword.

    Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of room for creativity when one wants to make a historically accurate sword. Unless one can think like a medieval designer, which is very difficult. Some do a reasonably good job though.
    Last edited by Paul Hansen; 10-24-2007 at 05:30 AM.
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  16. #16

    Talking

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Hansen View Post
    I don't neccessarily disagree, but what one then gets is a modern interpretation loosely based on an historical style.

    Nothing wrong with that, but it's not a reproduction of a medieval sword. It's a modern sword.

    Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of room for creativity when one wants to make a historically accurate sword. Unless one can think like a medieval designer, which is very difficult. Some do a reasonably good job though.

    See, I think this is a direct result of modern marketing. People have to sell things, and then oneupsmanship ensues. Buzz words get thrown out there. I also think more of the community are collectors rather than serious practitioners. A collector might be more accutely aware of how a thing looks, whereas a practitioner might be more accutely aware of how a thing does the job he needs it to do. Then there are people who try to do both. It makes making sense of modern swords hard. Good post Tinker! As a community of enthusiasts, we get people who all want and expect different things from our makers/suppliers. I for one am glad to have people of your knowledge around.
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    rather than just dismiss a modern piece out of hand if it doesnt comply exactly to what we may think is historically accurate it would be more rewarding to view the piece with an eye to understanding what was in the smiths heart when he hit on that particular concept,
    Well... Frankly, the number of surviving swords from the period is quite considerable. More than sufficient to be statistically significant. They have been the topic of many exhaustive studies already. There isn't basically any need to resort to conjectures. We do KNOW what a good many medieval swords were like, so we don't have to THINK what they may or may not have looked like historically. And there is not much validity in looking for excuses when trying to present one's own design as "historically accurate" IMHO. At least it won't have any credibility in scholarly circles.

    A good many pitfalls in that department can be avoided simply by copying an existing original. As for modern replicas embodying a particular concept, the problem is that we don't know for a fact what exact concepts the medieval smiths had in mind and what handling qualities the contemporary soldiers were looking for.

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    Hi Tinker,
    By your argument, it should be perfectly acceptable for a Viking reenactor to wear burkinstocks, sweatpants and a plaid flannel shirt. The problem here is that functionality is only one aspect of why modern people collect swords. Many people, myself included, are interested in the cultural aspects as well.

    To be clear: I have no issues with swords that are not historically accurate. But considering my interest in swords comes from 1) studying period martial arts as they were practiced in their historical and cultural context, and 2) preserving a part of history in modern life, historical accuracy is something that I pay attention to. And while it is definately true that historical swords came in all sorts of shapes and sizes, if a maker wants to claim historical accuracy, they need to make sure that sword fits within the known spectrum based on the current evidence. Otherwise, I can claim that bell bottom jeans are accurate for the 15th century, because there isn't any absolute evidence to prove me wrong.

    I'm a western martial artist. Have been so for years. It's important for my swords to reflect the qualities of period weapons, both form and function. Why? Because for me it isn't just about how well my sword can cut a static target. It's about preserving a lost tradition. What would a sensei of traditional JSA say if I walked into his dojo with a fully functional dragon-headed Highlander katana? He'd probably say, "When you're able to respect my tradition, then I'll be willing to teach you."

    I feel the same way about western traditions. I want my swords to be a reasonable approximation of the swords found historically. They need to handle similarly, and have similar blade geometry. But I also want them to capture the culture of the arts I'm trying to recreate. I'm not a total stickler for detail: I don't mind many modern concessions (because there are always modern concessions, no matter what). But like I said, I want to preserve the cultural spirit behind my art, and that is what historical accuracy means to me.
    Virginia Academy of Fencing Historical Swordsmanship
    --German Longsword & Italian Rapier in the DC Area--


    "A despondent heart will always be defeated regardless of all skill."

  19. #19
    Join Date
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tomaz Lazar View Post
    Well... Frankly, the number of surviving swords from the period is quite considerable. More than sufficient to be statistically significant. They have been the topic of many exhaustive studies already. There isn't basically any need to resort to conjectures. We do KNOW what a good many medieval swords were like, so we don't have to THINK what they may or may not have looked like historically. And there is not much validity in looking for excuses when trying to present one's own design as "historically accurate" IMHO.
    Absolutely!

    Again, I have no issues with any makers who choose to make modern swords as modern swords. Or makers who make historically inspired swords that are ultimately intended to be a modern take on a weapon. But if we're talking about a historical reproduction, we should not assume that "anything goes", as long as it's functional. Heck, an 18th century Japanese katana is a functional sword, but sticking a cruciform hilt on it doesn't make it accurate for a 13th century crusader.
    Virginia Academy of Fencing Historical Swordsmanship
    --German Longsword & Italian Rapier in the DC Area--


    "A despondent heart will always be defeated regardless of all skill."

  20. #20
    Join Date
    Jun 2004
    Location
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    I have two and only two questions when buying a sword...Does it cut? and does it follow the *general* lines of its type....Yes i know alot of factors come into making a good sword....Heat treat, edge geometry etc. should not be my concern.....that is the makers concern...If it fails it *will* be the makers concern because I will demand refund in full or failing that take legal action....But thats another thread...for the purposes of this thread my two above questions are what I base my purchases on.....Because strict historical accuracy is shaky ground indeed......and its damn boring to keep copying existing peices over and over again. Also with so much debate by intelligent people on both sides its a roll of the dice as to who is right and who is wrong So I'll just stick with buying what *I* want and if one day I ride to the halls of my ancestors and get laughed to scorn....I'll know I was wrong Until then internet debates are not going to stop me from buying a sword I like
    Frith,
    RDM
    ~Asatru is not what we believe...its what we are~

  21. #21
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    Location
    central CT
    Posts
    150

    just to muddy the waters a bit

    some things that strike me as I am reading this thread. One is that blades were changed... with in the working life life of the sword. the edge chould have been reshaped (to polish out a bad nick or over time from resharping or at the whim of the owner or butchered by an unskilled person) the hilt work could have been remade, replaced, repaired, or updated to a more current fashion etc. what we have now as examples could look nothing like what they did when new, a sabered blade could have bent in use (I have seen it happen) a wavy bevel could have been a bad repolish, or all of these things could have been there when the sword was new. we can't know.
    anouther thing that comes to mind is the so called odditys, an rare gard or pummel design, could have been common and by chance only one of two have been found or they could have been the whim of the smith or cuttlerer that made them, for that matter they could have been the "birght Idea" of the customer that had the sword made 700 years ago. again there is no way to know.

    on my swords when I am done working on one I hold it up feel the balance and think to my self if I went back 500 years would this sword be well liked, would it meet the standards of the day? would it be much like the other swords a knight might have handled? I never know. what I do know is that I try to make swords I would want to carry, to use, that my customers want to carry and to use, if it is historical or not is based only on what my customer or I want in that sword. at some point I would love to make a viking peice useing period materials and construction,(not any time soon though) but that sword will still not be true reproduction as I don't want to copy an existing peice, just the style.

    as I said just muddying the waters

  22. #22
    Join Date
    Jul 2004
    Location
    The Netherlands
    Posts
    4,512
    Quote Originally Posted by R.D.Metcalf View Post
    its damn boring to keep copying existing peices over and over again.
    Why? There are thousands of surviving medieval swords.

    That everybody just keeps copying a few high-profile ones, such as those pictured in Oakeshott's books is their problem...

    Of course you are entitled to your opinion re. historical accuracy, and of course it depends on the customer what he wants in a sword. That fact is probably completely historically accurate!

    But similarly, I would generally prefer swords that are as much as possible historically correct. Even up to the point of wavy edges and slag inclusions.
    Hwere r fuse feorran cwoman
    to am elinge. - Dream of the Rood


    "Ah, Blackadder. Started talking to yourself, I see."
    "Yes...it's the only way I can be assured of intelligent conversation."
    - Lord Melchett and Lord Edmund Blackadder

  23. #23
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    Louisiana
    Posts
    154
    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Grandy View Post
    Hi Tinker,
    By your argument, it should be perfectly acceptable for a Viking reenactor to wear burkinstocks, sweatpants and a plaid flannel shirt. The problem here is that functionality is only one aspect of why modern people collect swords. Many people, myself included, are interested in the cultural aspects as well.

    To be clear: I have no issues with swords that are not historically accurate. But considering my interest in swords comes from 1) studying period martial arts as they were practiced in their historical and cultural context, and 2) preserving a part of history in modern life, historical accuracy is something that I pay attention to. And while it is definately true that historical swords came in all sorts of shapes and sizes, if a maker wants to claim historical accuracy, they need to make sure that sword fits within the known spectrum based on the current evidence. Otherwise, I can claim that bell bottom jeans are accurate for the 15th century, because there isn't any absolute evidence to prove me wrong.

    I'm a western martial artist. Have been so for years. It's important for my swords to reflect the qualities of period weapons, both form and function. Why? Because for me it isn't just about how well my sword can cut a static target. It's about preserving a lost tradition. What would a sensei of traditional JSA say if I walked into his dojo with a fully functional dragon-headed Highlander katana? He'd probably say, "When you're able to respect my tradition, then I'll be willing to teach you."

    I feel the same way about western traditions. I want my swords to be a reasonable approximation of the swords found historically. They need to handle similarly, and have similar blade geometry. But I also want them to capture the culture of the arts I'm trying to recreate. I'm not a total stickler for detail: I don't mind many modern concessions (because there are always modern concessions, no matter what). But like I said, I want to preserve the cultural spirit behind my art, and that is what historical accuracy means to me.
    Absolutely! I was trying to thnk of how to summarize my feelings on the subject, but was unable to do so last night.
    Anyway, the problem with all the modern concessionist apologetics going on in here is that it more easily opens the door to poor representation. Its like the SCA. By your argument, the SCA is historically accurate, despite the fact that they are fighting in sneakers and rattan.
    Tinker, I wholely agree that a sword that doesn't feel right is just as historically inaccurate as the sword that doesn't look right. However, for a sword to be a fair approximation of a historical example, it has to have both. That is not to say that I belive that any moderen sword is truely accurate in construction. I know they are not, but to me it about keeping the appearance right. Why? Because most groups have pretty stiff standards. Hell, I make sure my tunics use patterns that fall into proper historical pattern classifications. I guess thats what it comes down to for me. Do I want a reasonable approximation of a historical tunic, or do I want a costume pattern that might look right from a distance, but in cut and design in no way resembles the original. Sure I own other tunics, but they go in my tub of garb for SCA events...
    I suppose what is important to me is to understand that everyone has different standards. The simple fact, that lines of historical authenticity HAVE BEEN DRAWN by groups that many of us are in, cannot be removed without turning many good LH groups into the SCA. No one thinks that most groups do perfect portrayals, but they are reaching for a higher standard. Thats what it comes down to for me: every group, and every individual, has different standards that they are reaching for. And sometimes, something that reaches that standard for one, doesn't meet standard to another. Just the way it is...

  24. #24
    Quote Originally Posted by R.D.Metcalf View Post
    I have two and only two questions when buying a sword...Does it cut?
    The problem can then be stated briefly:
    Define "cut".

  25. #25
    Hmm... I've been thinking about how to address this, and not come to any good conclusions. Which probably means I should just keep my mouth shut. However, that's never really stopped me before...

    First what do we mean by historical accuracy? I don't believe it's subjective. There were things that existed in period and things that did not. We may not know everything that existed in period, but until we have proof that something existed we are just speculating.

    To me historical accuracy is a question of look, feel, materials and construction (and I'm not saying that this is an exclusive list just what I've come up with to this point)... which means we need to define those terms.

    As Mr. Pierce has accurately pointed out, there are all sorts of looks that were historically extant including assymetries, sabered blades, badly ground fullers etc, so we can say that those things are all historically accurate. There are also extant examples that do not have any assymetries, sabered blades, badly ground fullers etc. So we can say that not having those things is historically accurate. What we cannot say is historically accurate are things that we have no examples of either as physical artifacts or artwork. We can speculate about them all we want, but until we find an example it is merely speculation.

    In a similar manner, there are extant examples of swords with poor dynamic handling properties. So those are historically accurate. There are also extant examples of swords with good dynamic handling properties, so those are historically accurate.

    If the materials existed in period, then we can say that they are historically accurate. If they did not, then we can not.

    So far as construction goes, there were ways that swords from any given time period were constructed. If we can find an existing example or something in period artwork we can usually safely say that the construction is historical. If we can find no such evidence then once again we are merely speculating.

    So far as I can tell, pretty much every production shop currently working makes some compromises in some of these areas, as a conscession to cost and ease of manufacture. Sometimes they produce a flattened diamond blade cross section instead of a hollow ground blade. Sometimes the pommels on their Viking style swords are one piece instead of two. No one that I know of in the production world is smelting their own ore.

    Most custom makers also make some compromises. Few of them are smelting their own ore (although there are a few that do). Many introduce anachronisms either in construction techniques, decorative motif, or material.

    The customer has to decide for themselves which of these inaccuracies they are will tolerate and which they are not, and that tolerance is typically different for each person.

    A customer can have it all, it's not an either or proposition. If they want a sword constructed using historically accurate materials, construction, and look that also exhibits good dynamic handling properties and is perfectly symmetrical, with beautifully ground fullers that's possible. (It's a 3 year wait list and a few thousand dollars but it's possible)

    If a customer is willing to compromise in some of these areas the wait time and the pricing goes down according to how much compromise they are willing to make.

    If a sword maker or production company wants to declare something as historically accurate then they need to have the documentation available to back up the claim.
    Tritonworks Custom Scabbards
    www.tritonworks.com

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