What are sword typologies? | Swordology
What are sword typologies?
Swordology* is a new series of blogposts by Malleus Martialis (swordsmiths from Florence, Italy) about sword classifications, sword anatomy and museum highlights to help you understand the sword-world in an easy way.
In detail, how you can interact with swords, what’s to know about them, “How tos” and much more. So here is our first post, in which we will talk about typologies. You might have heard of names like Oakeshott or Petersen and always wondered what people mean when, for example, they talk about a Type XVIII sword.
So, let’s dive into that!
What are sword typologies and why are they being used?
Typology is a system of dividing swords into groups based on the aesthetic and functional attributes they share. Classifications are not universal and they’re arbitrary, exactly like a language.
When looking at a sword, we rely upon different classifications left by several scholars (e.g. Ewart Oakeshott, Elis Behmer or Alfred Geibig to quote some of them) that use different systems in order to recognize groupings, types or styles through the centuries.
Typology is therefore an extremely useful tool, which allows us to describe swords in a concise manner.
By doing this correctly, the shared method is to use the name of the scholar, followed by the type of the blade and/or hilt parts.
For instance, we might use “Oakeshott Type XV with a style 8 curved guard and a J1 pommel”. Under that information we can discover that the sword we discuss is our Belladama. (See HERE)
As mentioned, there are several typologies that have been used to define and catalogue swords based on anatomy.
A main reason for that approach is that date classification might be unreliable. The dating of a weapon’s manufacture, use and retirement can be obscured by different factors like trade, warfare etc.
By introducing the sword typologies we have a way of categorising swords without the need of long explanations all the time. An important notion is that typologies are artificial constructs that are often imperfect and are not to be taken as absolutes.
There are exceptions among artefacts that are hard to categorise as they don’t fit into standard typologies. As a result, this doesn’t make these artefacts «wrong», but unique.
By using the typologies, we can also recreate swords that are in certain parameters in a given time without reproducing an extant piece.
We can make educated guesses about what a specific configuration would have looked like and opt for certain properties and functionality depending on the intended use. In addition, keeping the important parameters like ratio, point of balance, and weight close to extant examples.
To name some of the most famous and widely used typologies for swords:
• Petersen (typology of the Viking sword, introduced in 1919 and simplified by Wheeler in 1927)
• Oakeshott (categorises European swords of the Middle Ages up to the Industrial Age, introduced in 1960)
• Behmer (late antiquity to early Middle ages, only concentrates on the hilts, introduced in 1939)
• Geibig (Viking blade types, 1991)
• Elmslie (focuses on single edged blades from the 10th to the 16th century, 2015)
• Norman (only analyses the hilts, from the Rapier to the Small-swords, 1460-1820, 1980)
Why should we still look at originals when we have typologies?
Besides original swords being awesome, as stated before, typologies are no absolutes, they need to be updated, extended after new finds of artefacts. Also, typologies describe forms during a certain period of time and are on paper just 2D. So, we’d lack important data if we’d just rely on the typologies on paper, and therefore we look at originals.
What should we look for, when inspecting original swords?
The details are what we are looking for. To answer the following questions: What makes a sword special? Why was a sword built a certain way and how was it made? Besides of being a weapon, we also look at swords as pieces of art, with their different and sometimes unique styles, and we try to incorporate them into our works. Also, we collect the data not provided in the typologies: weight and point of balance, for example.
What classifications are we mostly using at Malleus Martialis?
Here at Malleus, we mostly use Oakeshott and Elmslie for medieval swords and Norman for the Renaissance swords. The typologies of Oakeshott and Elmslie are mostly covering the medieval sword types, Norman focuses on the later swords with an emphasis more on the hilts than on the blades themselves.
Would you like to go deeper and buy some books?
In conclusion, here you can find some of the best readings.
• Behmer, Elis / Meyer, E. A. (Übers.): Das zweischneidige Schwert der germanischen Völkerwanderungszeit. Stockholm, Svea, 1939.
• Geibig, Alfred: Beiträge zur morphologischen Entwicklung des Schwertes im Mittelalter : eine Analyse des Fundmaterials vom ausgehenden 8. bis zum 12. Jahrhundert aus Sammlungen der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Neumünster: K. Wachholtz, 1991.
• Grotkamp-Schepers, Barbara / Immel, Isabell / Johnsson, Peter / Wetzler, Sixt. Das Schwert – Gestalt und Gedanke : Ausstellung 26. SEP 2015-28. FEB 2016. Solingen: Deutsches Klingenmuseum, 2015.
• Norman, A. Vesey Bethune, and C.M Barne: The Rapier and Small-Sword : 1460-1820. London [etc: Arms and Armour Press [etc.], 1980.
• Oakeshott, Ewart: Records of the Medieval Sword. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1991.
• Oakeshott, Ewart: European Weapons and Armour : from the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution. Guilford ; London: Lutterworth Press, 1980.
• Petersen, Jan: De norske vikingesverd : en typologisk-kronologisk studie over vikingetidens vaaben. Kristiania: i komm. hos J. Dybwad, 1919.
• Peirce, Ian G.: Swords of the Viking Age. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2002.
• Tzouriadis, Iason- Eleftherios: “What is the Riddle of Steel?”: Problems of Classification and Terminology in the Study of Late Medieval Swords, in: Deutscher, Lisa, Sixt Wetzler, and Mirjam Kaiser. The Sword : Form and Thought : Proceedings of the Second
• Sword Conference 19/20 November 2015 Deutsches Klingenmuseum Solingen Woodbridge, UK ;: The Boydell Press, 2019, p. 3-11.
• Wheeler, Robert Eric Mortimer: London and the Vikings. London: Lancaster House, 1927.
Did you like this first Swordology episode?
Share this post with other sword enthusiasts and let them know about sword classifications!
Next time, we will take a closer look on Oakeshott and his sword classification.
See you next!
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*Swordology is not an academic word at all, but an ironic neologism that might suit our informal tone here 🙂
Photo Cover: Malleus Martialis.