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Evolution Of Medieval European Sword Combat
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The sword is perhaps the most lethal killing weapon ever created. From the time of the Romans up until the late 1500's, medieval swords dominated the battlefield for over a millennium. The weapon itself has gone through many evolutions over the years. It has seen scores shapes and sizes, each being perfected for a specific style of combat, and utilized expertly to this end. Together we shall be examining some of the most iconic medieval swords to be utilized upon the battlefield.

The Roman gladius, the first notable sword to be used widely throughout Europe, is a short, thrusting blade. The reduced length made it perfect for wielding from within the battle formation, allowing for maximum maneuverability in the midst of crushing masses of soldiers in the midst of a frenzied melee. In tandem with his scutum (shield) Roman soldiers would shove their opponent back, before thrusting with their gladius. However gradually the gladius lost favor as longer swords began to become more popular due to the increasing superiority of mounted troops.

By the time of the crusades in 1095, swords had taken on the cruciform shape commonly attributed to the classic medieval swords. Being single-handed, they were still employed with a shield, however knights now fought in mail-hauberks from horseback, becoming the most powerful threats upon the battlefield. A mounted knight, armed with a lance could bring all 2,000 pounds of inertia to bear at the point of his lance. This devastating power would be unmatched for for centuries.

The most iconic of medieval swords, the longsword, made its appearance in the 1300's a century after the crusades ended. This weapon evolved due in part to increasingly sturdy armor encountered upon the battlefield. A quality suit of armor could withstand all but the hardest slashing strikes, making thrusting the preferred offensive tactic. In medieval sword combat against armored opponents, it became necessary to utilize what came to be called 'half-swording'. Essentially grasping the blade with the left gauntlet to increase the accuracy of thrusts at weak joints in the armor. Due to the close distance this technique also provides excellent leverage for grappling throws and pins.

Medieval swords continued evolving along with the techniques associated with them. By the 1500's, the great-sword emerged as a not uncommon weapon. While the longsword retained its status as central to medieval sword combat techniques, the great-sword found use on the front lines as a weapon of choice to be employed against formations of pikes. However due to its extremely long length, it proved to be useless in close-quarters combat, thus the reason it is thought to have been relegated from the battlefield into primarily ceremonial use.

This is the last of the most popularly recognized medieval swords known to the general public. During the Renaissance, the rapier is developed and by the 1600's the famous dueling weapon, the smallsword begin to gradually replace the classic medieval combat swords of the previous thousand years.


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