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Thread: Debunking European Sword Myths.

  1. #26
    2 Glen
    I'll try to do more research on the subject "sword Vs. plate". My comment was indeed based on claims from the website I got the pictures from.


    Recently, I found something astonising. There are misconceptions and popular opinions which can be traced back... well not to 19th century romantics or fencers, 20th century stage combat instructors, but particular Hollywood movies! There are two good examples...

    "Viking swords are heavy" - I've never seen a viking movie before 1999 where viking swords were portrayed that heavy and crude, knights in plate armor were rather "known" for their "heavy swords" which they needed to "crush armor" - a feature Vikings were not associated with. But when "13th Warrior" by MacTiernan came out, the image of a overweighted Viking sword swung with brute strength spread rapidly around the mass media in the 2000-s. Woodward at his "Conquest", "Pathfinder" (2007), "Outlander", diverse Infotainment documentaries, even serious japanese sword researchers and fencer/reenactors picked up this idea without any criticism.

    "Folded steel was unknown until the Middle Ages and was discovered by Japanese" - comes from the movie "Highlander"! Brenda claims that folded steel was not known until the Middle Ages and the one particular sword was folded 200 times. European pattern welding and other techniques were known in the mid 1980's, metallographic research papers of antiques were also available. The state of the scientific and technical knowledge at this time was more than enough to know how ancient european swords were made; even Celtic and Roman swords were laminated from refined steels long before the Middle Ages. Those fantasies were probably inspired by the famous BBC documentary about Katori Shinto Ryu and japanese swordsmithing from the early 1980's, which states that folding was used to add steel "strength and lightness" (source). The tale of Masamune the "genius swordsmith" told by Ramirez is also a fairy tale, which unfortunately was taken literally by masses, creating an opinion that japanese swords always were somehow "superior".

    "European swords were cast in molds" - Conan the Barbarian was the movie which shows this kind of "swordmaking", and the only "source" I could find to support the claim above.

    All the myths can be traced to a movie... It is simply weird how easy a fantasy (not even pseudohistory) can spread around the globe and believed even by academics who should know it better.

  2. #27
    Now I have some pics, which show some average measurements of a typical 13th century and 15th century swords. Sources this data is based on is shown in the pics.

    And there an another thread of mine, an authentic 12th century specimen:

    This post is intended to make sword data easy available. It is a pretty common problem in sword discussions; when it comes to such things as blade thickness and blade geometry, very little is known about those things.

  3. #28
    Join Date
    Feb 2002
    Nova Scotia, Canada
    Quote Originally Posted by Greg Volevach View Post
    Why do old myths still perpetuate? I think I know the answer: AwS (Actors with SLO's)!
    What I try to say - it is not the glorification of japanese swords which is inacceptable (mythic super swords are cool! ), but the undeserved denigration of european weapons which is quite annoying. Those myths are repeated thousands of times and finally become "truth" - creating pseudohistory! Taking actors who never wielded any real swords, cheap SLO's, and then make conclusions which sword is "better" - That's the real problem!
    Au contraire, the glorification of Japanese swords is unacceptable to a connoisseur as there are still plenty of idiots out there with more money than brains who will buy authentic antique blades, then destroy them trying to cut things noone should try to cut.

  4. #29
    Join Date
    Feb 2002
    Nipmuc USA
    Keep in mind that Greg's appreciation of the facts is still growing, hence posted to the beginner's FAQ section.

    Again, this thread needs posts approved but nothing is being deleted. It may take as much as a day for a post to appear and if longer than that, holler at one of the other moderators or



  5. #30
    Here's the source I used in my first post about Arabs and their opinion about european swords:
    Hilda Roderick Ellis Davidson: The Sword in Anglo-Saxon England: Its Archaeology and Literature. Boydell & Brewer Inc; Reprint © 1998 (page 114-118)

    This one is also avialable on Google Books.

    Despite the popular myth that swords from Muslim World were inherently "superior" to european ones (thanks to Walter Scott and his famous Richard Lionheart VS Saladin fantasy) it seems that european swords between 9 and 13th centuries were known and desired for their quality. It is "said" that Crusaders payed huge amounts of gold to get a "superior damascus sword", but I could not find any historical record proving this. But here we have historical evidence provided by Nasireddin al-Tusi that european swords were bought by Muslims for a thousand egyptian dinar (p. 118). Sounds not very cheap to me...


  6. #31
    There is something about "sharpness" I'd like to add.

    The question 'How sharp european swords were' is a pervasive one, you still keep hearing/reading same stories again and again. But what do we really know about medeival blade sharpness?

    At first here are some original swords carefully measured by a German HEMA group.

    12th century "Norman sword":

    10th century Viking sword:

    15th century hand-and-a-half sword:

    15th century longsword:

    15th century longsword:

    If we look at 2/3 of the blade, we seen that cutting oriented blades are usually around 40mm, having a blade thickness around 3mm. Point of Percussion is also usually near this point. Thrust-oriented longswords at the same part of the blade seem to be some 25mm wide and 5,5-6mm thick. The widespread myth which says european swords were incredibly thick is clearly fictious, european swords are indeed on the thinnest part.

    Sharpness is mostly determined by cross section and edge bevels. From the information above everyone can determine the possible bevel angle of these particular swords. But since there is no information about cross sections we can take a look at other papers:
    More or less decent pics of edge cross sections. And it seems they were around 20-30°. The italian 12th century sword has only 20° - I tried to draw a cross section by myself on paper (40mm width, 3mm thick) and it automatically took an edge of ca. 20°. Same width, same thickness but a forced 60° bevel (blunt chisel bevels are commonly assumed to be "historical") -- the blade would completely lose it's 'lenticularity'. The other way is sacrifice width and "round up" the edge, which automatically affects the cross section. In both cases, a european sword blade having a 60° edge bevel wouldn't be really lenticular at all. So my experience is, you can not really make a sword with authentic width, thickness and cross section having a "chisel bevel" at the same time.
    Diamond cross sections are even more suprising; 25mm wide and 5,5mm thick, having a perfect diamond cross section will automatically have 22° (my results on paper). If we try to force 60°, we will once again sacrifice the given cross section, turning it into a double edge chisel.

    Peter Johnsson in his comments on edge bevels (Swordforum, Bladesmith forum, MyArmoury) basically confirms my observations, according to him some Viking swords have 20° or even less. He's generally speaking of 20-30° which are found on antiques.

    This should entirely put aside the everlasting myth that european swords were not sharp because they COULD not be sharp, be it because of bad metallurgy or horrendous thickness and weight. The actual sharpness varied greatly, but was determined by the intended use and not "by design". There are relatively blunt longswords in museums (edges corroded, bold edge bevels or even secondary ones) but there are swords which even today retain most of their initial sharpness, as P. Johnsson also stated (Source).

    My observations should be taken with a grain of salt, I'm not an expert. My intention is to encourage dear forumites to do more research and give more attention to the edges, especially when someone is lucky to handle an antique.


  7. #32
    interesting, although I do think the current trend in hollywood is to have any sword cut through armor as if it is butter. Also, I noticed your example swords are medieval, while I think many samurai swords around today date from the Edo period. So is comparing a 17th century Katana with a 15th century longsword even a good comparison?

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