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Swiss longsword, 15th or early 16th century (Morges museum)
|In service||ca. 1350 - 1550|
|Weight||avg. 1.4 kg (3.1 lb)|
|Length||avg. 105–120 cm (41–47 in)|
|Blade length||avg. 90–92 cm (35–36 in)|
|Width||4.14cm-3.1cm then sharp point|
|Blade type||Double-edged, straight bladed|
|Hilt type||Two-handed cruciform, with pommel|
The Longsword is a type of European sword used during the late medieval period, approximately 1350 to 1550 (with early and late use reaching into the 13th and 17th centuries, respectively). Longswords have long cruciform hilts with grips over 10 to 15 cm length (providing room for two hands). Straight double-edged blades are often over 1 m to 1.2 m (40" to 48") length, and weigh typically between 1.2 and 2.4 kg (2½ to 5 lb), with light specimens just below 1 kg (2.2 lb), and heavy specimens just above 2 kg (4½ lb).
The longsword is commonly held in combat with both hands, though some may be used single-handed. Longswords are used for hewing, slicing, and stabbing. The specific offensive purpose of an individual longsword is derived from its physical shape. All parts of the sword are used for offensive purposes, including the pommel and crossguard.
With regard to the Medieval Period, the Oakeshott typology  mentions the sword subtypes XIIa and XIIIa from the latter part of the High Middle Ages, c. 1250-1350, as the forerunners of the later longswords. Calling these two subtypes 'great swords', it lists their hand-and-half grip (with enough room for the off-hand to hold the pommel securely) and relatively large blade (roughly 36 inches), for the most part longer and broader than contemporary arming swords. Later, in the Late Middle Ages, c. 1350-1550, various longsword subtypes emerge with their hand-and-half grip:
- average blade length about 32 inches: subtype XVIa (early 14c)
- average blade length about 34 inches: subtype XVIIIc (mid 15c to early 16c)
- average blade length roughly 34 inches with averages about 30 to 38 inches: type XX (14c and 15c), subtypes XXa (14c and 15c),
- average blade length about 35 inches: subtype XVa (end of 13c to early 16c), XVIIa (mid 14c to early 15c)
- average blade length roughly 39 inches with averages about 36 to 42 inches: subtypes XVIIIa (mid 14c to early 15c), XVIIIb (early 15c to mid 16c), XVIIId (mid 15c to early 16c), XVIIIe (mid 15c to early 16c).
Notably, this last subtype XVIIIe sometimes exhibits a proper two-handed grip. While all of the above subtypes of the Late Middle Age can count as 'longswords', the Oakeshott typology does not go on to list the properly two-handed longswords of the Renaissance Age, whose blades are truly huge, such as the Scottish claymore (blade length roughly 42 inches) and the German zweihänder (blade length roughly 53 inches).
Thus generalizations about the 'longsword' can vary wildly, depending on whether the Late Medieval hand-and-halfers or the Renaissance two-handers, or both, are taken into account.
Contemporary terminology includes the Dutch grootzwaard, German Langschwert, Spanish espadón or mandoble, Italian spadone or spada longa (lunga) and Portuguese montante. The French épée bâtarde references the bastard sword, a type of longsword. English Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts refer to the longsword as the two hand sword. The terms "hand-and-a-half sword", "greatsword", and "bastard sword" are used colloquially to refer to longswords in general.
The evolution of the sword before and after the development of the longsword was not entirely linear. Swords of an older type may have coexisted with newer variants for quite some time, making it difficult to trace a single path of sword evolution. Instead, the course of sword development is layered with some swords evolving from a previous type of sword, acting as its able contemporary, and eventually being abandoned while the original design continued in use for some time afterward. Similarly, variants of a particular type of sword may have come about not to replace it, but to simply coexist with it until a new evolution brought a close to both older types of weapons. Such situations present both the path of sword development as a whole and the encompassed rise and fall of the longsword as chronologically nebulous and confused by broad definitions, both modern and contemporary.
The relatively comprehensive Oakeshott typology was created by historian and illustrator Ewart Oakeshott as a way to define and catalogue swords based on physical form, though a rough sense of chronology is apparent. This typology does not set forth a prototypical definition for the longsword, however. Instead, it separates the broad field of weaponry into many exclusive types based on their predominant physical characteristics including blade shape and hilt configuration. The typology also focuses on the smaller, and in some cases contemporary, single-handed swords like the arming sword.
The longsword, with its longer grip and blade, appears to have become popular during the 14th century and remained in common use, as shown through period art and tale, from 1250 to 1550. The longsword was a powerful and versatile weapon, but was not considered the only weapon needed for learning the arts of war. Johannes Lichtenauer, an influential Fechtbuch (combat manual) author, writes that young knights should learn to "wrestle well, (and) skilfully wield spear, sword, and dagger in a manly way." It is apparent that even to a master swordsman, other weapons and techniques are of great importance for battle. For close personal infantry combat, however, the longsword was prized for its versatility and killing capability.
It is in the Types XIIa and XIIIa that the first early variants of the longsword arise as simply longer versions of the single-handed sword. There are rare archeological findings of swords of this type from as early as the late 12th century. Boasting both increased grip length and increased blade lengths, these weapons would have been powerful hewing swords, perhaps developed to further combat the prevalence of mail and plate armour. These weapons also firmly fit the modern colloquial term "hand-and-a-half sword", as Oakeshott notes, because they do not provide a full two-hand grip as do some early extant specimens and the 16th century Bidenhänder. Hand and a half swords were so called because they could be either a one or two handed sword.
While nearly every longsword is in some way different from one another, most contain a few essential parts. The blade of the sword forms the cutting portion of the weapon and is usually double-edged. Blades came in a variety of shapes and sizes. Broad and thin blades are more effective for cutting-oriented longswords while thick tapering blades are found on varieties more effective at thrusting. However, all longswords were effective at cutting, slicing and thrusting and variations in form made only minor alterations in use. The hilt comprises the portion of the sword that is not the blade. Like the blade, hilts evolved and changed over time in response to fashion and as the swords were designed for different specific purposes.
The blade of the medieval longsword is straight and predominantly double edged. The construction of the blade is relatively thin, with strength provided by careful blade geometry. Over time, as is evidenced in the Oakeshott typology and other similar systems, the blades of longswords become slightly longer, thicker in cross-section, less wide, and considerably more pointed. This design change is largely attributed to the use of plate armour as an effective defense, more or less nullifying the ability of a sword cut to break through the armour system. Instead of cutting, long swords were then used more to thrust against opponents in plate armour, requiring a more acute point and a more rigid blade. However, the cutting capability of the longsword was never entirely removed, as in some later rapiers, but was supplanted in importance by thrusting capability.
Blades differ considerably in cross-section, as well as in length and width. The two most basic forms of blade cross-section are the lenticular and diamond. Lenticular blades are shaped like thin doubly convex lenses, providing adequate thickness for strength in the center of the weapon while maintaining a thin enough edge geometry to allow a proper cutting edge to be ground. The diamond shaped blade slopes directly up from the edges, without the curved elements of the lenticular blade. The central ridge produced by this angular geometry is known as a riser, the thickest portion of the blade that provides ample rigidity. These basic designs are supplemented by additional forging techniques that incorporated slightly different variations of these cross-sections.
The most common among these variations is the use of fullers and hollow-ground blades. While both of these elements concern themselves with the removal of material from the blade, they differ primarily in location and final result. Fullers are grooves or channels that are removed from the blade, in longswords, usually running along the center of the blade and originating at or slightly before the hilt. The removal of this material allows the smith to significantly lighten the weapon without compromising the strength to the same extent, much as in the engineering of steel I-beams. Though colloquially called "blood-grooves", fullers were not designed, nor do they function, to allow blood to flow out of a wound more easily, nor to run off the sword. Fullers differ in number and thickness on swords, with some incredibly broad fullers spanning nearly the entire width of the weapon while smaller more numerous fullers are usually thinner. The length of fullers also displays variation - on some cutting blades the fuller may run nearly the entire length of the weapon, while the fuller stops one-third or half-way down other blades. Hollow-ground blades have concave portions of steel removed from each side of the riser, thinning the edge geometry while keeping a thickened area at the center to provide strength for the blade.
A variety of hilt styles exist for longswords, with the style of pommel and quillion (crossguard) changing over time to accommodate different blade properties and to fit emerging stylistic trends.
Combat with the longsword was not so barbaric and crude as is often portrayed. Codified systems of fighting existed, with a variety of styles and teachers each providing a slightly different take on the art. The longsword was a quick, effective, and versatile weapon capable of deadly thrusts, slices, and cuts. The blade was generally used with both hands on the hilt, one resting close to or on the pommel. However, in some circumstances, the weapon may be used only with one hand. In a depiction of a duel, individuals may be seen wielding sharply pointed longswords in one hand, leaving the other hand open to manipulate the large dueling shield. Another variation of use comes from the use of armour. Half-swording was a manner of using both hands, one on the hilt and one on the blade, to better control the weapon in thrusts and jabs. This versatility was unique, as multiple works hold that the longsword provided the foundations for learning a variety of other weapons including spears, staves, and polearms. Use of the longsword in attack was not limited only to use of the blade, however, as several Fechtbücher explain and depict use of the pommel and cross as offensive weapons. The cross has been shown to be used as a hook for tripping or knocking an opponent off balance.
What is known of combat with the longsword comes from artistic depictions of battle from manuscripts and the Fechtbuch of Medieval and Renaissance Masters. Therein the basics of combat were described and, in some cases, depicted. The German school of swordsmanship includes the earliest known longsword Fechtbuch, a manual from approximately 1389 mistakenly accredited to Hanko Döbringer. This manual, unfortunately for modern scholars, was written in obscure verse. It was through students of Liechtenauer, like Sigmund Ringeck, who transcribed the work into more understandable prose that the system became notably more codified and understandable. Others provided similar work, some with a wide array of images to accompany the text.
The Italian school of swordsmanship was the other primary school of longsword use. The 1410 manuscript by Fiore dei Liberi presents a variety of uses for the longsword. Like the German manuals, the weapon is most commonly depicted and taught with both hands on the hilt. However, a section on one-handed use is among the volume and demonstrates the techniques and advantages, such as sudden additional reach, of single-handed longsword play. The manual also presents half-sword techniques as an integral part of armoured combat.
Both schools declined in the late 16th century, with the later Italian masters forgoing the longsword and focusing primarily on rapier fencing. The last known German manual to include longsword teaching was that of Jakob Sutor, published in 1612. In Italy, spadone, or longsword, instruction lingered on in spite of the popularity of the rapier, at least into the mid-17th century (Alfieri's Lo Spadone of 1653), with a late treatise of the "two handed sword" by one Giuseppe Colombani, a dentist in Venice dating to 1711. A tradition of teaching based on this has survived in contemporary French and Italian stick fighting. (See, for instance, Giuseppe Cerri's Trattato teorico e pratico della scherma di bastone of 1854.) However, there can be no doubt that the heyday of the longsword on the battlefield was over by 1500.
Bloßfechten or "bare fighting" is the technique of fighting without significant protective armour such as plate, mail or a brigandine. Vulnerable targets like the head and upper torso are totally unprotected except for normal clothing during Bloßfechten. The lack of significant torso and limb protection leads to the use of a large amount of cutting and slicing techniques in addition to thrusts. These techniques could be nearly instantly fatal or incapacitating, as a thrust to the skull, heart, or major blood vessel would cause massive trauma. Similarly, strong strikes could cut through skin and bone, effectively amputating limbs. The hands and forearms are a frequent target of some cuts and slices in a defensive or offensive maneuver, serving both to disable an opponent and align the swordsman and his weapon for the next attack.
Harnischfechten, or "armoured fighting", depicts fighting in protective gear, most specifically plate armour. The increased defensive capability of a man clad in "full harnisse" (a full suit of plate armour) caused the use of the sword to be drastically changed. While slashing attacks were still moderately effective against infantry wearing half-plate armor, cutting and slicing attacks against an opponent wearing plate armour were almost entirely ineffective in providing any sort of slashing wound as the sword simply could not cut through the steel. Instead, the energy of the cut becomes essentially pure concussive energy. The later hardened plate armours, complete with ridges and roping, actually posed quite a threat against the careless attacker. It is considered possible for strong blows of the sword against plate armour to actually damage the blade of the sword, potentially rendering it much less effective at cutting and producing only a concussive effect against the armoured opponent.
To overcome this problem, swords began to be used primarily for thrusting. The weapon was used in the half-sword, with one or both hands on the blade. This increased the accuracy and strength of thrusts and provided more leverage for Ringen am Schwert or "Wrestling at/with the sword". This technique combines the use of the sword with wrestling, providing opportunities to trip, disarm, break, or throw an opponent and place them in a less offensively and defensively capable position. During half-swording, the entirety of the sword works as a weapon, including the pommel and crossguard which function as a mace as shown in the Mordstreich.