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The Lethal Evolution of the Medieval Longsword

History of the Medieval Longsword

The origin story of the longsword can be traced back to the ancient Roman empire. Roman military men used to wield a sword called ‘Gladius’, a short weapon designed for close combat. During the fall of Rome, the barbarian tribes that invaded Europe brought an evolved version of the Gladius, which became known as the medieval longsword.  

Over the centuries, it evolved into a lethal weapon that could both slice the enemy as well as thrust past the front lines. 

During the middle ages, the medieval longsword became the preferred choice of knights and kings. Not only did they wield it in battle, but it also became a symbol of status and power. 

The hilt of a sword was frequently embellished with valuable metals and gemstones, and some swords were even named after their owners.

Types of Medieval Longsword

The medieval longsword came in various types:

  • Longsword – It featured a short handle and was used for thrusting assaults against armoured opponents. It was a favoured weapon of horse-riding knights because of its shorter length, which made it simpler to wield while riding.
  • Hand and a half Sword – Also known as the Bastard sword, it was a multi-purpose weapon that could be used with one or two hands. Its larger handle gave it more control and leverage, making it ideal for slicing and thrusting strikes.

Medieval Longsword Guards

A guard was a defensive position a warrior would stand in before launching an attack. There were four most prominent medieval longsword guards:

  • The Plow Guard – It was named so because it resembled the position of a farmer pushing a plow. The swordsman held the sword hilt low and to the side, with the blade inclined towards the opponent. It was effective against lower body attacks such as the leg sweep.
  • The Ox Guard –  It gets its name from the idea that the swordsman uses their sword like an ox’s horns to deflect attacks. The sword is held high to the side, with the blade inclined downwards. This guard is effective for fighting overhead assaults or upper-body thrusts.
  • The Fools Guard – It was a very unusual guard as it fooled the opponent, luring him to attack. The swordsman held the sword at hip level with the hilt directly aimed at the opponent. Only the best warriors deployed this tactic, as it was difficult to mount an attack in this position.
  • The Roof Guard – Similar to the Ox Guard, except the sword was raised higher as if the swordsman was carrying an umbrella over their head. The blade was slanted downwards, which was utilised to block overhead strikes or to launch their own thrusting attack.

Medieval Longsword Fighting Techniques

Medieval longsword fighting was a highly skilled and precise art that included a variety of tactics for killing opponents and protecting oneself on the battlefield. The “Three Wounders,” as described in the Liechtenauer tradition, were one of the tenets of medieval longsword fighting:

  • The Strike was a robust percussive cut that leveraged the off-hand to produce force and accelerate the tip. The dominant hand would steer the blade, while the strength came from the off-hand.
  • The Thrust was another essential technique commonly executed from the Plow or Ox guards, where the tip pointed forward. The swordsman’s torso and feet would follow the tip straight to the target, delivering a strong thrusting strike that could pierce armour and other defences.
  • The Slice included placing the edge of the sword against an exposed region of the opponent’s body and then pulling or pushing with force to form a cut. It was used more in close-quarters fighting, where there was little space to perform a full cut.

Morphology Medieval Sword

Over its history, the medieval longsword underwent significant morphological alterations. Here are some of the most common types and when they were first used:

  • Types XIIa and XIIIa: These swords were popular in the late 12th and early 13th centuries. A straight blade with a diamond-shaped cross-section, a long fuller, and a short grip distinguished them. These were well-balanced, multipurpose swords that could be used for cutting and thrusting.
  • Types XVa: These swords first appeared in the mid-14th century and remained popular throughout the 15th century. They had a long, narrow blade with a shallow fuller and a sharp tip, which made them perfect for thrusting. They were also light and agile, making them well-suited to quick movements and attacks.
  • Types XVII: These swords first appeared in the late 16th century and remained popular throughout the 17th. They possessed a long, straight blade with a double-edged, tapered point. They were primarily used for thrusting and were frequently employed in tandem with a shield.
  • Types XVIIIb and XVIIIc: These swords first appeared in the late 16th and early 17th centuries and remained popular throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Their blades were long and slender, with a deep, fuller, sharp tip. They were commonly employed by soldiers and were mostly utilised for cutting.
  • Types XX: These swords first appeared in the late 16th and early 17th centuries and remained popular throughout the 17th. They featured a long, straight blade with a double-edged, pointy tip. They were mostly used for thrusting and were frequently combined with a buckler or small shield.

What are the uses of Medieval longswords?

The medieval longsword was a versatile weapon that could be employed for several purposes in various circumstances. These are some of its applications in various situations:

  • On the battlefield – Cavalry, spearmen, and archers primarily used the longsword as a backup weapon. They would wield the longsword in close battle if their primary weapons were lost or shattered.
  • In tournaments – Tournaments were battle-like activities, and the longsword was a standard weapon among contestants. These tournaments were frequently staged to showcase the combat abilities of knights and other warriors. Knights wielded sharp longswords and lances in the early tournaments, but as the contests became more ceremonial, the weapons used were softened to prevent serious harm.
  • In judicial duels – Judicial duels were fought between 2 individuals to settle legal disputes. The longsword was a prevalent weapon used by both commoners and nobles in these duels. These duels were usually fought to the death, although some were fought until one of the combatants surrendered.
  • In honour duels – Individuals fought honour duels to defend their honour. The longsword was a favourite weapon among medieval nobles in these non-death duels. Combatants frequently donned armour and battled on horseback or foot, using spears, longswords, or axes.

Medieval Longsword Interesting Facts

Here are some interesting facts about the medieval longsword:

  • Excalibur, the famous legendary longsword, is believed to be handed to King Arthur by The Lady of the Lake. According to legend, only one true king of England could wield the Excalibur.
  • Longswords in medieval times were frequently named after their owners. For example, William Wallace’s sword was named “Braveheart” after the Scottish warrior who led the fight for independence against England.
  • Longswords were frequently seen as magical objects endowed with mystical abilities during the Middle Ages. They were thought to bring good luck, fend off evil spirits, and even cure disease.


The medieval longsword originated from the Roman Gladius and evolved into a lethal weapon popular among knights and kings. The sword was embellished with valuable metals and gemstones; some were named after their owners. The longsword had different types, including the longsword, hand and a-half sword, and medieval longsword guards, such as the Plow Guard, Ox Guard, Fools Guard, and Roof Guard. The medieval longsword fighting techniques included the Strike, Thrust, and Slice. The medieval longsword underwent significant morphological alterations throughout history, and its uses were versatile, including on the battlefield, duelling, and judicial combat.

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