Greatsword

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The Greatsword or grete Swerd is referenced today mostly as an extremely large or powerful weapon, like the Zweihänder, in comparison with less sizable weapons like the falchion. In history, the sword had the same relative use as a comparative term between one smaller weapon and another considerably larger. In this case, the comparison was not between longswords and the even longer Bihänder as is the modern one, but between the smaller single handed variants of the spatha, the so-called “transition swords”[1], and larger variants thereof, with longer blades and hilts. For comparison, single handed transitional swords of Type XII have a grip about 4.5 inches (11 cm) in length,[2] while the larger subtype XIIIa sword has a grip approximately 6.5–9 inches (17–23 cm) long.[3] A similarly long grip is found on the XIIa, another early great sword. The XIIa was originally a part of the XIIIa classification, but was decided to “taper too strongly” and to be “too acutely pointed” to fit appropriately.[4]

In his book The Sword in the Age of Chivalry, Ewart Oakeshott takes time to explain the concept of these great swords, most specifically the Type XIIIa, and their manifestation in history. The weapons fall between the line of the 16th century two-handed swords wielded by the landsknecht and the shorter arming sword of the knights and the spatha of the Romans and Vikings. The greatsword, and perhaps longswords in this manner, were not a form of “specialized weapon” as much as they were “outsize(d) specimens”[3]. Indeed, the weapons were referred to by a variety of names none of which, however, related to espée deuz mains, or twahandswerd, both meaning the huge Renaissance two-handed sword. Instead, the weapons were referred to as simply notably large weapons as in Grans espées d’Allemagne or “big swords of Germany”.[5] As time went on and swords on the whole increased in length, these swords remained among the largest, even losing their ability to be handled with ease on horseback leaving smaller longswords to the task[6]. Like most swords, great swords began, as is shown in Oakeshotte’s sketches of the XIIa and XIIIa subtypes, with a long broad blade accompanied by a rather obtuse point. Over time, however, the great sword followed the general evolution of the sword in becoming thicker and more profoundly tapered.