Our Pages

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Is the Pen mightier than the Sword? Part Two

*Please note the photos in this post have been removed. I will update with new photos once I have more time. Thank you.*

So is the pen mightier than the sword?

How about the axe? By the 9th century, the Vikings adopted a formidable weapon - the battle-axe, with its trumpet-shaped blade. They wreaked all sorts of havoc with these heavy axes. It could be used in hand-to-hand combat or hurled as a missile. Can you imagine the precision it would take to hurl such a weapon and hit the intended target? Incredible. The wooden handle could be as long as 150 cm and the crescent-shaped blade measured about 25 cm. Made of steel, the blade was capable of cutting off a limb or a head in a single blow. There were both single and double handed weapons, although double handed axes were more common. It was wielded with both hands so the warrior was unable to carry a shield and defend himself.

Maintenance on such a weapon was necessary. Can you imagine the damage to the flesh caused by a dull blade? Each warrior was responsible for caring for and keeping his weapon sharpened.

The mace could crush though armor and damage the tissue underneath. The battle-axe took this one step further. By concentrating the weight on a wedge, it crushed through armor and easily cut flesh.

The battle-axe was the main weapon used by King Harold’s housecarls during the battle of Hastings.

So is the pen mightier than the sword? Well, as a writer I like to think so, but it certainly does have some big shoes to fill. The sword is the most durable, the most maneuverable hand held weapon in history. Interestingly, the Saxons considered the value of a sword to be the equivalent of 120 oxen or 15 male slaves, and any man possessing a sword had great status. Simple to construct and easy to wield, these weapons remained popular in various forms throughout the Middle Ages.

There are as many variations of the medieval sword as there are years in history, it seems. You’ve got single-handed, double-handed, single-edged, double-edged, longswords, and broad swords. You can get an idea of the many different types of swords here in Wikipedia. The list is long and varied. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Types_of_swords

The word sword comes from old English sweord.

A sword consists of a blade, a hilt and a scabbard. It’s a long, edged piece of metal connected to a “handle.” It was used throughout the world as either a cutting or thrusting weapon, and occasionally for clubbing. Three types of attacks can be performed with the blade: striking, cutting, and thrusting. The blade can be double-edged or single-edged, the latter often having a secondary "false edge" near the tip.

Humans have manufactured and used metal bladed weapons from the Bronze Age onwards. The Aztecs used a sword that is wooden with obsidian shards in the blade called the Macana.

Around the 13th century BC, iron working skills brought forth the iron sword. And although it is mostly inferior to the well made bronze sword, it was an easier sword to make and could be produced in mass quantities.

Around the 11th to 13th century AD, the sword had its first major change. The quillion or cross guard was added. The swords of this period were both single-edged and double-edged and were predominantly used as cutting weapons.

In the late Middle Ages after the 13th century, as armor made advances in its ability to protect, the sword also made advances in its ability to thwart the defenses. Some of the advances during this time are the longer handle, which allowed for two-handed use, and a variety of specialized swords that could cut and thrust, seeking out weaknesses in armor.

By honing in your research and learning the different types of swords and weapons of your intended time period, you lend credibility to your writing. So take the time to specify your weapon to its time period and draw the reader fully into the world you’ve created. I wish I could go over every type of sword, but we don’t have that long. So do your research. Sometimes learning the differences between a broad sword and long sword is all it takes to make your writing much more vivid and realistic to your reader. I’ve left a few resources with which to get you started in your quest for medieval weaponry. I hope this helps some and yes, I truly believe the pen can be much mightier than the sword. The worlds we create in our imaginations can make the reader forget for just a little while their everyday problems. What can be more powerful than that?

Websites: Wikipedia is of course always an option.

Life in the Middle Ages http://www.kyrene.k12.az.us/schools/Brisas/sunda/ma/mahome.htm




—With arrow, sword, and spear: a history of warfare in the ancient world By Alfred S. Bradford, Pamela M. Bradford

— Medieval Swordsmanship: Illustrated Methods and Techniques by John Clements

— A Knight and His Weapons by R. Ewart Oakeshott

— Viking Weapons and Combat Techniques [Hardcover] William R. Short


1. SCA Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc.

The SCA is an international organization dedicated to researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th-century Europe. Our "Known World" consists of 19 kingdoms, with over 30,000 members residing in countries around the world. Members, dressed in clothing of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, attend events which feature tournaments, royal courts, feasts, dancing, various classes & workshops, and more.”

Dungeons and Dragons http://www.wizards.com/dnd/ 
Surprisingly, a lot of information can be found on gaming websites.

So what about you? Have you run across some interesting resources, websites or books that give some great information on medieval warfare and weapons? I'd love to know where you get your research from.


  1. Once again, this is a very informative post, Melissa. I love all the pictures. They help me to have a better idea of what we're talking about. Thanks so much!

  2. Great post, Melissa. I learnt a lot about medieval swords when I did medieval re-enactment. It's fascinating stuff! Thanks for posting such detailed information.

  3. Cool! Wikipedia is certainly a useful resource, and memories of games played with the kids.

  4. Cool blog. Thanks for this Melissa!