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The arming sword (also sometimes called a knight’s or knightly sword) is the single handed cruciform sword of the High Middle Ages, in common use between ca. 1000 and 1350, possibly remaining in rare use into the 16th century. Arming swords correspond to Oakeshott types XI, XII and XIII and are generally considered to be descendant from the migration period or Viking swords. A combination of the Oakeshott and Peterson Typologies shows a chronological progression from the Viking sword to the “transitional sword”, which incorporated elements of both Viking and arming swords. The “transitional sword” continued to evolve into to the presently defined arming sword.
Typically used with a shield or buckler, the arming sword was the standard military sword of the knight (merely called a “war sword”, an ambiguous title given to many types of swords carried for battle) until technological changes led to the rise of the longsword in the late 13th century. There are many texts and pictures depicting effective arming sword combat without the benefit of a shield. According to Medieval texts, in the absence of a shield the empty (normally left) hand could be used for grabbing or grappling opponents. The arming sword was overall a light, versatile weapon capable of both cut and thrust combat; and normally boasts excellent balance. Although a variety of designs fall under the heading of ‘arming sword’, they are most commonly recognized as single-handed double-edged swords that were designed more for cutting than thrusting. Although arming swords have been found with a variety of blade-lengths (measuring from 23 inches recorded in Ewart Oakeshott’s Records of the Medieval Sword to an impressive 39, also recorded in the aforementioned text) most 12th-14th century blades seem to vary between 30 and 32 inch blades. As a rule, arming swords began to polarize in design forms from the late 12th century, becoming either increasingly squat and heavily pointed, or longer and heavier in design. This would seem to be two separate methods of adapting the arming sword to combat increasingly tough armour; either to make the blade sufficiently heavy-duty to inflict blunt trauma through the armour, or narrow-pointed enough to pierce it with a thrust. Arguably these two forms of blade evolve into the longsword, and the cinqueda.
It is a common weapon in period artwork, and there are many surviving examples in museums. The arming sword was worn by a knight even when not in armor, and he would be considered ‘undressed’ for public if he were without it. The first longswords were actually little more than two-handed arming swords, but the difference in length grew substantially as time passed. Long after these larger weapons came into use, the arming sword was retained as a common sidearm, eventually evolving into the cut & thrust swords of the Renaissance.
Arming swords are sometimes incorrectly referred to as longswords or broadswords (the former actually refers to a long-bladed two-handed sword and the latter to a type of broad-bladed basket-hilted sword popular in the 17th and 18th centuries).
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