The Truth about Medieval Swords

Okay, A.S. Akkalon and Thomas Weaver busted me. I have been researching many things in the Middle Ages and the Roman era. I’ve studied a lot about politics and daily life. One thing I did not think to question was my belief in large, heavy swords being the norm for knights.

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She’s got nothing on any paladin I’ve ever played. And I’ve played a lot of them.

I am going to blame it on years and years of D&D, video games, and some bad information from the History Channel. I stupidly thought these were researched. I know. Stop laughing.

Here is the truth.

The weapons of the Middle Ages were light, strong, and well-designed. They were agile weapons designed to kill, and they did a fine job of it. They were not clumsy or heavy. They were not “clubs with edges”.

According to the Wallace Collection Museum in London that has dozens of actual swords from the Middle Ages, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any that weight more than four pounds. Most weigh less than three.

sword2
Perhaps a bit more accurate. Picture from Pixabay.

Yeah. Three pounds.

Even the large “hand-and-a-half” swords rarely weighed more than 4.5 pounds.

All of these swords would be easily handled by a man who’d been training with them since the age of seven.

Perhaps popular media (and my RPGs) were thinking of special “parade” swords when they came up their weights. However, they only weighed up to eight or nine pounds, not the forty you regularly see in popular culture (or on the History Channel). Even so, you’d really have to be stretching to make this mistake. These swords were show pieces, not fighting weapons. Their blunt edges should bring home that point.

This idea is perhaps older than Hollywood. Hey, misinformation isn’t just for TV and movies.

hollywood
Land of more misinformation than even the Mythbusters can bust.

In a fencing booklet from 1746, the author already talked about how heavy and unwieldy earlier swords were, stating they were designed basically for brute force. Perhaps the author felt that way as he was used to using a foil instead of a sword, but I’m going to guess a foil isn’t nearly as deadly on a battlefield or more soldiers would’ve used them.

In the 1870s, a historian describes earlier weapons as ponderous and requiring both hands. Getting back to the Victorian hubris Thomas Weaver spoke of where the Victorians assumed all things that came before them must be inferior.

There are other example, but the one thing we have to remember is that much of this was documented by people who were not swordsmen or otherwise trained in battle. Perhaps a man who has survived a half-dozen battles will find a certain sword light, well-balanced and agile when the scholar who has never left his library will find it heavy and unwieldy compared to his quill.

When I step back and look at this logically, of course it makes sense that knights and soldiers of the Middle Ages had finely-crafted blades that were light, sturdy and agile. War tends to bring about inventiveness as nothing drives innovation like survival.

I admit my ignorance on this, but I’ve learned and will go back and rewrite accordingly. Reminds me again to question everything.

How about you? Ever believe something you later learned was Hollywood magic? Any other common misconceptions held by the general public that could make me go back and rewrite?

 

When Hollywood Gets It Wrong

I recently read this post by Eric Goebelbecker, and he links to an article where Hollywood attacks the movie rating site Rotten Tomatoes.

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Too much truth here.

If you aren’t familiar with it, Rotten Tomatoes is an online site where they aggregate critic reviews and give a total rank. The NY Times article above goes into more detail as to how they choose who is and isn’t included in the reviews they aggregate, but it sounds to me like Rotten Tomatoes does a pretty good job. Especially as they try to include a more diverse group of reviews that the traditional middle-aged white male perspective.

Still, the whole things does reinforces the term “la la land” for Hollywood.

Because, rather than them taking a hard look at the movies they’re making and asking themselves why they’re flops, they’re blaming a rating agency for giving those who go to their site the truth as a wider array of critics, and eventually viewers themselves, sees it.

And this is what people want.

Rotten Tomatoes gets more than 13 million unique visitors every day.

If Hollywood were honest with themselves, they’d take a hard look at the competition. And I don’t mean just other movies.

They are competing with so many other forms of entertainment that they really have to bring their top game.

 

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Too much truth here, too.

Let’s face it, our choices are more expansive that ever:

  • Reading books
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Snapchat
  • Instagram
  • Video Games – whether phone, console or PC
  • On Demand TV – Netflix, Amazon, Hulu etc.
  • Whatever the heck it is millennials do on their phones

Many of these forms of entertainment are “free”. Once I pay for my Netflix subscription, I can watch what I want when I wish.

For my husband and I to go to the movies to see a single movie costs more than my monthly Netflix subscription. Add to that the cost of a babysitter, and the fact if I wait a few months, I can rent it or buy it for less than the cost of going to the theater, and we just don’t go. Especially as home theater systems and big screen TVs have become a whole lot more affordable.

Movie
Way too much truth.

And while Hollywood is bemoaning their “plight” with Rotten Tomatoes, HBO was laughing all the way to the bank as they cashed in on Game of Thrones.

So yes, people are watching “TV”, although the seventy-plus minute final episode of season 7 bordered on movie-length.

Yet, people were lining up to watch it. Waiting in eager anticipation. Talking about it all week before and after the episode. Building enough anticipation that the show has only gotten more popular, despite the gap of a year or more between seasons.

Yes, Game of Thrones has Drogon, and that’s hard to beat.

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But there’s a lot more to the show than Drogon. There’s a list of characters pages long that viewers have come to care about. Come to love. That we tune in to see what happens to them even they aren’t fire-breathing reptiles.

And yes, HBO spent a lot of money of those special effects. But it wasn’t all about special effects. How many of us were right there with Tyrion as he cursed Jamie for being an idiot as he charges Dany?

Perhaps if Hollywood could distill that and give it to us, they could make movies we want to see.

All in, I hope places like Rotten Tomatoes stick around. They give us what we want. If Hollywood would do the same, they wouldn’t have such an issue.

 

How about you? Do you go to movies? Ever used Rotten Tomatoes guides?