Swiss longsword, 15th or early 16th century (Morges museum)

The late medieval longsword, also colloquially referred to as bastard-sword or hand-and-a-half sword, is a type of straight-bladed European sword. Contemporary terms included Langschwert ("long sword") in German, spadone ("large sword") in Italian and montante in Portuguese.

Use of these swords lasted from roughly 1350 to 1550, declined in the late 16th century, and they were obsolete by the early 17th century.

Terminology and DefinitionEdit

In modern use, the term "bastard-sword" refers to a specific sort of longsword, most commonly a compromise between the smaller one-handed arming sword and larger two-handed sword that was primarily used in "cut and thrust" type of sword play. Typically, the bastard sword was heavy enough for battlefield use, while still being light enough for the quick moves found commonly in cut-and-thrust fighting and/or dueling. This compromise is accomplished by a distal taper of the blade, and a carefully balanced pommel and grip.

Similarly, the term "hand-and-a-half sword" is modern, and suggests that the swords were designed equally for one and two-handed use. This is not necessarily the case: the impression probably arose in comparison with the enormous Zweihänder swords. Many types seem primarily intended for two-handed use, while even the regular "one-handed" arming swords were occasionally used two-handed, when the fighter's shield had become useless, or in the final stages of a fight, when he was too tired to continue one-handed use.

Most 15th century fechtbücher teaching use of the langes schwert show two-handed use, either with both hands on the grip, or in half-sword, with the left hand gripping the center of the blade, in combat in plate armour. The Flos Duellatorum shows the longsword being used both as a one-handed and two-handed weapon, and historical artwork outside of such manuals frequently depicts one-handed use. During predominately two-handed use, however, the left hand may be removed from the hilt in order to grapple the opponent or seize his sword.

In this article, the term "longsword" will be used, as it is correct and unambiguous in a late Medieval context.

The evolution of the sword was gradual; there is no obvious classification of various types. As the Early Medieval Spatha gradually evolves into the High Medieval arming sword, so the arming sword gradually evolves into the longsword. The decisive characteristic is the length of the grip. Indeed, some blades can be made into either a typical arming sword, or a typical longsword, depending on the hilt that is attached to it. As a general rule, if, when handling the sword with both hands, the left hand does not fit on the grip entirely, but holds part of the pommel, it is considered an arming sword. If the left hand fits entirely on the grip, it is a longsword. The grip will frequently have a distinctive 'bottle' shape to facilitate this. If the grip is as long as or longer than the wielder's lower arm (ell) it is a usually considered a two-handed sword proper, e.g. a zweihänder.


The longsword began its rise in the early 1300s, and according to Ewart Oakeshott, after 1350, about 9 out of ten swords produced were longswords (i.e. had long grips). An early depiction of the half-sword technique appears on a late 14th century drawing of the Battle of Poitiers (1356) [1]. Before the 14th century, longswords were relatively rare, due to the widespread use of shields, but they did exist. A late Viking Age (ca. 11th century) sword with a handle which could be considered untypically long for the period was found at Grobina, Latvia [2]. However, it is possible that part of the pommel may be missing, which could account for this discrepancy. [3] This seems likely, as Viking fighting style included very few two-handed weapons; usually a combination of shield and spear, one-handed axe or sword was used.

Use of the longsword thus was at its peak in the century between 1350 and 1450. From the later 15th century, it began to decline, although it remained in use well into the 1500s, before it fell out of use and was replaced by the rapier as a civilian sidearm, while on the European battlefields, it was replaced by shorter weapons such as the baselard or katzbalger among infantry, and the broadsword or sabre for cavalry.


Template:Stubsection In the basic typology of Oakeshott's classification system the Types XVa, XVIa, and XVII manifest themselves as longswords, as do certain sub-types of 15th-century Type XVIII, XIX, and XX swords.

Late medieval long-sword combat Edit


Cpg339 135r

1440s illustration of one- and two-handed use of the longsword. Note that one-handed use is not adopted in combat as such so much than in the casual slaughtering of a civilian, and sword being used one-handed is drawn shorter and may also be intended as a large knightly sword (CPG 339 fol. 135r).

Cpg359 46v

Example of two handed use vs. half-sword, dating to ca. 1418 (CPG 359, fol. 46v).

While a living tradition of long-sword fighting has not survived to our day, manuscripts written by the masters of the art still exist. Modern scholars often divide them into the German school, beginning with MS 3227a (ca. 1389, containing the system of Johannes Liechtenauer), followed by some 50 others, notably Hans Talhoffer's illustrated manuscripts of the mid 15th century of the German school, and the Italian school, with Fiore dei Liberi's Flos Duellatorum (1410) and Filippo Vadi's De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi (1485). Both schools declined in the late 16th century, with the later Italian masters focusing on rapier fencing. The last known German manual to include longsword teaching was that of Jakob Sutor, published in 1612. In Italy, spadone 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 may have survived into 19th and 20th century Italy stick fighting, e.g. with 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 was over by 1500.


  • David Lindholm & Peter Svärd, Sigmund Ringeck's Knightly Art of the Longsword, Paladin Press (2003), ISBN 1-58160-410-6
  • Christian Henry Tobler, Secrets of German Medieval Swordsmanship (2001), ISBN 1-891448-07-2
  • Christian Henry Tobler, Fighting with the German Longsword (2004), ISBN 1-891448-24-2
  • Guy Windsor, The Swordsman's Companion: A Modern Training Manual for Medieval Longsword (2004), ISBN 1-891448-41-2
  • John Clements, Medieval Swordsmanship: Illustrated Methods and Techniques. Paladin Press, 1998. ISBN 1581600046

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