The Medieval Sickle

The Medieval Sickle

A sickle was the main tool used by medieval farmers for cutting corn. The iron blade was angled backwards from the handle to allow a smooth cutting motion. The sickle enabled the corn to be cut without too much strain on the wrist. The blade could either be saw-toothed or smooth-edged.

Medieval Sickle, Hand-Forged Steel

The sickle ranks among the oldest agricultural tools in the world. With earliest traces reaching far back to the Neolithic, it still continues to see service to this very day, for example to cut smaller quantities of cereals, herbs or grass. In the Middle Ages, this tool with crescent-shaped blade, sharp inside edge and backwards angled handle was an indispensable farming implement to every peasant. It was typically used for reaping crops or gathering livestock feed for the cold months.

In addition, the sickle is often associated with witches, healers and ancient Celtic druids, said to have been known for ranging the woods with sickle (or Boline) in hand, collecting mistletoe and medicinal herbs and plants for their potions.

Our medieval sickle is made of high carbon steel. The hand-forged 2 mm flat steel blade has a rounded point and a just slightly sharpened, hammered (or peened) edge. The forging marks were intentionally left on the blade, lending a rustic, authentic character to the sickle. The 5 mm square steel handle is elegantly curved and terminates in a small spiral. It is partially twisted, which does not only make for visual appeal, but also improves grip. Its particular shape allows for easy fastening to your garment and also leaves room for customisation, for example your own leather-wrapping.

This fine blacksmithing piece is perfectly suited for camp life at medieval re-enactment events and will make your portrayal of a peasant, a herb woman or even a druid look all the more genuine.

- Material: forged high carbon steel (not stainless)
- Overall length: approx. 28 cm
- Blade length: approx. 16 cm
- Blade width: approx. 3 cm
- Blade thickness: approx. 2 mm
- Handle length: approx. 12 cm
- Weight: approx. 170 g

This is an original ULFBERTH®product.

Please note:
Above specs may slightly vary from piece to piece. As this is a hand-forged product, each sickle is a very unique piece and slight variations in shape and/or surface finish are quite normal. Above pictures are thus for reference only.
The steel used here is not rust-proof and might show slight surface tarnishing in places. We recommend you to maintain the sickle on a regular basis, for example by using Ballistol Universal Oil, which is ideally suited for steel care.

Defining a Khopesh

A khopesh is defined by a curved blade where the cutting edge of the blade is usually on the blade’s convex edge. The khopesh has a sickle-like shape so that the part of the blade opposite the handle has a slight hook. That’s why some scholars classify the khopesh as a sickle-sword, a type of sword found across the Nile valley, east Africa, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent.

Medieval America Mark III

Scratch that - maybe it can only be grown by the Church and Federal Agencies, to keep it from being used as a narcotic.

The middle of the west is largelyy tribal hunter-gatherers, shepherds and camel-jockeys that fall under the sphere of influence of one power or another. Groups include the Nevadans. the Beelem, the tribes of the Jeffsin Marches, and the Hilljacks (Mormons outside of Salt Lake's direct control).

By the middle of the east, I suppose you mean the Great Plains. If so, it's dominated by Cowboy clans, who are essentially steppe nomads. Major groups include the Rizzinis (between Deseret and Iowa, the larget Cowboy horde), the Rosebud, the Sioux, the Danvurs, the Pecos Cowboys, the Broncos, the Andersons, the Okies, the Kanadi, and the Hillians.


System of Government: Feudal State
Head of State: Sheriff, selected from sons and nephews of ruling Sheriffprior to his death
Population: 370,000
Religion: American Non-Denominational Church
Totemic Symbol: Apple Blossom

Despite its location along the Mississippi, Dyer County remains relatively isolated. The circumstances of the meander of the river has ensured that kilometers of swamp and forest lie in between the river and the highlands. The bottomlands are poorly populated and incredibly swampy and difficult to traverse. And the Sheriffs of Dyer County like to keep it that way. The swamps and forests ensure that merchants lack the opportunity to build a city within their county and thus a foot hold from which their influence can spread. This policy originates from the early half of the new Medieval era.

The flow of the river was different then and it's path took it near Dyersburg. By the time of Sheriff Dale II in 2456 , Dyersburg had grown into a great city of nearly 40,000. The merchant guilds had carved out vast tracts of land for themselves. Special Business Districts they were called. Most of the land was a part of these Special Business Districts. On these lands the merchant guilds grew vast fields of tobacco and cotton. And they paid no tax, had no levy, were totally free to do whatever they pleased. In essence, they were independent. Like his father and great-grandfather before him, Dale had little influence over the merchants, but unlike his predecessors he was not dependent on them either. The merchant guilds had gotten his ancestors addicted to their foul cocaine but Dale was free of its hold. However, when a popular revolt against the landowners began, Dale seized on the opportunity. He assembled men, many of whom were disposed Ohioan lancers and helped the serfs revolt against the merchants, promising them their own land in return. By the end of the year, Dale and his army had retaken the vast majority of land held under Special Business Districts. Dale however reneged upon some of his promises, handing out seized land to his strongest supporters, though many serfs did end up as free farmers.

Since that time, a handful of mercenary armies have been assembled to try and retake Dyer County but those attempts have been stopped by the lancers of Dyer County. Using Midwestern armor and tactics, the lancers have been able to beat back the southern mercenaries. These resources have been provided by the President of Ohio, knowing that a thorn in the sides of Shelby County keeps them from trying to exert influence in Ohio. Recently, under direction from Cincinnati, Dyer County and some Kentucky lancers raided P-G County and the State of Tennessee. The raiders forced the two countries to pledge allegiance to the President in Cincinnati to prevent similar raids from occurring again.


Imperial Inkstand-filler



System of Government: Feudal State
Head of State: Governor, selected from sons and nephews of ruling Governor, prior to his death
Population: 425,000
Religion: American Non-Denominational Church
Totemic Symbol: Yellowhammer (Northern Flicker)

In the early years of the new medieval Era, the Governor of Mississippi was extremely powerful. Along with his counter part in Georgia they were undoubtedly the kings of the South. The Governors of Alabama had little such luck. Hobbled by constant rebellion and invasions from all sides the state was nibbled away at until nothing remained and it was completely absorbed into the now Commonwealths of Georgia and Mississippi. For the next 300-400 years, the border between Georgia and Mississippi was an area in flux, with border lords raiding and taking over villages from each other. Occasionally these lords would stop paying their taxes and rebel, citing some obscure nonsense about taxation without representation as though they knew anything about the old American Constitution. However, as the central authority of the Mississippian governor eroded over time these rebellions would last longer and take more effort to put down.

This came to a head when the Golden Circle took charge in Mississippi and the Governor's power really took a nosedive. Unfortunately, the Golden Circle seized power in a time when their own control over the remaining warlords of the Commonwealth was shaky. Sensing an opportunity, and locked out of the corridors of power, many landlords in what was once Alabama and Northern Mississippi schemed to wrestled power away from the Golden Circle. This new group, who called themselves the Men of the Red Cross banded together and declared themselves independent. They gathered in Birmingham and marched on Meridian to either split the Commonwealth in two or usurp power from the Golden Circle. At Meridian they managed to capture the puppet Governor Robert IV Maddox and used him as a hostage against the Golden Circle. However, what they did not count on was the Governor of Georgia getting involved. Sensing an opportunity to expand the size of his own lands to shore up his own power-base he invaded from the east. Quickly the Men of the Red Cross marched east and fought the Georgians to a stalemate at Sylacauga. Then they marched back west to the Mississippi River to protect their lands which were being ravaged by Shelby County mercenaries. It was there they met the armies of the Golden Circle.

Battle did not immediately commence though. Knights were sent to parlay. The Alabamian delegation threatened the Mississippians by stating "If pitched battle should ensue, y'all gonna regret it. We have the governor". The Mississippians responded with "If the governor dies, we'll have the new governor and all y'all going be left with is a stinking body."

Obviously parlay talks were at an impasse. With violence being the only answer, the Battle of Batesville would ensue. Tired from weeks of marching in the dying heat of summer and grinding down the Georgians, the Alabamian army was defeated but managed a semi-orderly withdrawal. From there they fought a fighting retreat all the way to Montgomery where storms forced an end to the fighting. The seizure of most rebel holdings ensured the integrity of Mississippi was intact and so the Golden Circle stopped and disbanded their armies, personal power secured. Further treaties between the Men of the Red Cross and the Golden Circle would have the Men of the Red Cross rescind their claims over the land they no longer held and for the return of the puppet Governor.

However for the former rebels, this meant that they were reduced to a thin arc on the northeastern border of the Commonwealth of Mississippi. There was not nearly enough land for many lords still alive. New Governor of Alabama Adrian Henderson hosted a dinner for the remaining lords. He slaughtered all but 3 who had already pledged allegiance to him.

In the following years, the new State of Alabama would implode. When the eldest of Henderson's vassals Tobias Bringier, died, Henderson would seize all of his lands instead of giving it to Bringier's son as was expected. This would prompt Henderson's remaining vassals John Chambers and Remus Upson to win their own independence from Henderson. Facing an army larger and more organized than his own, Henderson would allow Chambers and Upson to break off. Their nation, centered on Montgomery would tear itself in two upon the death of Chambers. Montgomery would later erupt into a peasant rebellion that made the city and it's surrounding lands independent from warlords. Montgomery's independence is now upheld by both the Commonwealth of Mississippi and Georgia. Neither nation is willing to see the valuable city fall into their rival's hands and so it remains independent.

What remains of the State of Alabama is a strip of land along the Tennisy river. In it's weakened and diminished state it has come to be dominated by the State of Tennisy who have replaced governors they dislike multiple times. The current Governor Darius Allen was himself installed 20 years ago when as a young colonel he was prohibited from marrying the old Governor's only child. He stole her away in the night and declared for the throne in Huntsville. With support from Tennisy , Darius defeated his father-in-laws army. Caving into his wife's pleading, Darius spared his father-in-laws life, instead locking him away in a castle where he is of no harm to anyone.

Medieval Farming

Farming dominated the lives of most Medieval people. Many peasants in Medieval England worked the land and, as a result, farming was critically important to a peasant family in Medieval England. Most people lived in villages where there was plenty of land for farming. Medieval towns were small but still needed the food produced by surrounding villages.

Farming was a way of life for many. Medieval farming, by our standards, was very crude. Medieval farmers/peasants had no access to tractors, combine harvesters etc. Farming tools were very crude. Peasants had specific work they had to do in each month and following this “farming year” was very important.

Harvesting a crop using sickles and scythes

Farms were much smaller then and the peasants who worked the land did not own the land they worked on. This belonged to the lord of the manor. In this sense, peasants were simply tenants who worked a strip of land or maybe several strips. Hence why farming was called strip farming in Medieval times.

This reliance on the local lord of the manor was all part of the feudal system introduced by William the Conqueror.

A peasant family was unlikely to be able to own that most valuable of farming animals – an ox. An ox or horse was known as a ‘beast of burden’ as it could do a great deal of work that people would have found impossible to do. A team of oxen at ploughing time was vital and a village might club together to buy one or two and then use them on a rota basis. In fact, villagers frequently helped one another to ensure the vital farming work got done. This was especially true at ploughing time, seeding time and harvesting.

The most common tools used by farmers were metal tipped ploughs for turning over the soil and harrows to cover up the soil when seeds had been planted. The use of manure was basic and artificial fertilisers as we would know did not exist.

Growing crops was a very hit and miss affair and a successful crop was due to a lot of hard work but also the result of some luck.

In the summer (the growing season) farmers needed sun to get their crops to grow. Though weather was a lot more predictable in Medieval England, just one heavy downpour could flatten a crop and all but destroy it. With no substantial harvest, a peasant still had to find money or goods to pay his taxes. But too much sun and not enough moisture in the soil could result in the crop not reaching its full potential. A spring frost could destroy seeds if they had been recently planted.

The winter did not mean a farmer had an easy time. There were plenty of tasks to do even if he could not grow crops at that particular time.

Some estates had a reeve employed to ensure that peasants worked well and did not steal from a lord.

Medieval Polearms (5th-15th century)

Danish Axe

a.k.a.: English Long Axe, hafted axe, Dane Axe, broad axe and Sparth
Used by: Vikings! In 11th century it was adopted by Anglo Saxons and Normans. Later accepted by Knights (though never as popular as the sword), but originally associated with Vikings and (in England) peasants
Setup: light, sharp axehead (generally about 20-30cm/8-12in cutting surface) when used as a pole arm, the haft could be about 4-6ft (1.2-1.8m).
Variations: Sparth or Sparr axe – larger head, broader blade, rear-ward part sweeping up to contact or attach to the haft.
Good for: quick, light weapon for stabbing and chopping – more in common with a meat cleaver than a wood axe

  1. Famously used by King Stephen of England in 1141 at the battle of Lincoln.
  2. Variants continued in use into the 16th century in Scotland and Ireland.


a.k.a: chauve souris, corseca, corsèsque, korseke, runka, and rawcon
Used by: 13th century Europeans
Set up: 6–8 feet (1.8 – 2.4m) haft spear head about 12-14 inches (30- 36 cm) long, with two projections at its base about half that length, which were single edged and used for slashing many variations, but probably gave rise, in part, to the ransuer. The spetum is usually distinguished from the ranseur and partisan by its “prongs” being single edged and used for slashing.
Good for: stabbing! The main blade is long enough to destroy any significant organ in the human body with one quick thrust. The blunt backs of the side blades make the spetum useful for a variety of uses such as tripping and knocking aside shields, but more importantly they provide far more strength to the sharpened side and points than is possible with a dual-edged construction.
Negatives: a little cumbersome. Two-handed, so no shield.


Used by: Europeans, between 11th-14th centuries
Setup: Curved blade, sharpened only along the interior edge, set onto a 6-7ft (1.8-2.1m) pole. Later variants: one or more spear points at the back or top, for extra stabbing a rear spike or the opposite side of the curved blade.
Good for: Dismounting horsemen, stabbing, hacking.
Negatives: 2 handed – no shield could be used

  1. After they became obsolete, fauchards became ornamental polearms some very late ceremonial examples were almost too heavy to carry, let alone use


Used by: originally the French, but gained popularity in Europe
Set up: Essentially a sword on a stick – a roughly half-metre, sharpened blade attached to a 6-7ft/2m pole. Some were created with a reverse hook – these are called glaive-guisarme. Swedish glaives were double-edged. Great variety in blade shape.
Good for: attack with the sharp sword edge. The reverse hook, where present, was good for dismounting horsemen or disarming people, and the haft itself could be used defensively.
Negatives: somewhat cumbersome, and two handed, so no shield.
Notes: The term Glaive has been co-opted by various fantasy franchises to mean a throwing blades which return to the thrower (similar to the Chakram used by, among others, Xena, Princess Warrior). This is not related to the historical glaive.


Used by: Europeans between 1000-1400
Good for: Disarming Knights and horsemen
Negatives: lacks the stopping power of a spear
Set up: the unholy child of a pruning hook and a spear shaft – later had a small reverse spike in the back of the blade

  1. Developed by peasants
  2. Guisarme eventually became a catch-all descriptor for any weapon that included a hook on the blade, as weapon makers embraced it for its extra grabbage, stabbage and disarming power


Used by: Mounted warriors, and heavily associated with chivalry- throughout the medieval era, until around 16th century.
Set up: Long (2m or so) and balanced for one handed use, it was often couched under the arm. The lance rest appeared on armour in the late 14th century.
Good for: A full-gallop close ranked charge, to break infantry, archery or other cavalry units, and also defensive embankments formations would be either 2 lines (French method “en haie”) or a deeper, wedge-shaped formation (German method). Extreme stopping power. A company of trained, mounted warriors with lances can be considered to be the tanks of the medieval era.
Negatives: Often one use only (they could shatter on impact), so you needed another weapon for the rest of the battle, plus too cumbersome for melee fighting in any case. Requires high degree of horsemanship. Arguably more effective (the historical debate is still out ) – if you have stirrups for your horse.
Notes: The jousting lance was flat at the end and used for unseating, rather than kebab-ing, your opponent. Because – you know – chivalry and stuff…

Halbert, because nothing says “I will stab you, grab you and chop you” better than curly, razor-sharp metal. Note the decoration on the weapon to the left.


a.k.a.: Halbard, Halbert or Swiss Voulge. Not to be confused with hippoglossus hippoglassus (Halibut)
Used by: Especially by Swiss and German armies 14-15th century, and generally until mid 16th century
Set up: Two handed pole, topped with axe blade, spear spike and reverse hook or thorn haft usually 1.5 to 1.8 metres (5 to 6 feet)
Good for: Hook for grappling (and dismounting) mounted combatants, spear for pushing back horsemen, axe for chopping inexpensive to make good for pikemen vs. pikemen action
Negatives: Better for attack than defence

  1. Similar in design and function to some voulges
  2. A Swiss peasant used a halberd to kill Charles the Bold, the Duke of Burgundy—decisively ending the Burgundian Wars, literally in a single stroke.
  3. Researchers from the University of Leicester theorise that a halberd or a bill sliced through the back of King Richard III’s skull at the Battle of Bosworth.

a.k.a.: English bill/Italian bill (variants), Bill hook or Bill-guisarme.
Used by: Europeans, throughout Medieval era, though use in England extended into 1500s
Set up: A billhook (originally an agricultural tool) plus long pole, with a spear spike on top. English – short and rounded: Italians – long thrusting points
Good for: stopping power of a spear, chopping power of an axe dismounting Cavalrymen, finding chinks or crevices in armour. English bills had a focus on chopping, therefore tended to be shorter Italian bills had an extended spike and focused on thrusting.


a.k.a: Partizan, espontono,
Used by: Medieval europe, became obsolete in the gunpowder age
Set up: Essentially a spear head, but with 2 short-but-broad, curved, sharpened side pieces. Mounted on a long shaft, 6-8 feet (1.8-2.4m) long.
Good for: Parrying swords, esp. with the side pieces.
Negatives: not especially flexible.

  1. Partisans are now carried ceremonially by the Yeomen of the Guard – the bodyguard of the British Monarch.
  2. I’m sure there will be outcry that I categorized these two weapons together, but there seems to be no practical difference between them. Perhaps our lovely readers can comment on this?

Ranseur of exceptional quality | Grandmaster’s Palace Armoury, Valletta, Malta


a.k.a. Runkah, Runka or a Rawcon, Rawcuer
Set up: A long spike/spearhead with two symmetrical side pieces which take various profiles – they may be thin and pointed, as a trident, or broader, bladed and more similar to a partisan/spontoon.
Good for: Parrying bows, stabbing. Dismounting riders (depending on the side pieces)
Negatives: 2 handed (no shield)
Notes: The Ranseur is based on the trident – a fishing spear, which was also used as a weapon in ancient Rome in conjunction with a net, which trapped opponents.


The eastern dagger by the curve of its blade, is an obvious imitation of the cow’s horn. This makes us think that the primitive daggers were nothing more than real horns – a hypothesis reinforced by the fact that in the sediments of the Paleolithic epoch (in France) branches of deer horns, decorated in the form of a dagger were found. Horns served as weapons. This could be traced in the later ages. One example being India where in the 19th century weapons of two sharp horns, connected by their bases and covered with a round metal plaque for the protection of their hands were used.

In the Neolithic era, straight daggers were made of flint, sometimes even with a distinct grip, all from one piece of flint. The flint daggers were, apparently, the prototype of copper, many of which were found in Siberia.

In Western Europe, among the antiquities of the Bronze Age, daggers almost never took their full effect. They were instantly replaced by swords, adapted to stab, not chop. However, the distinction between a sword and a dagger isn’t always simple. One example being a short sword and a long dagger. The sword, however, is worn on the thigh while the dagger is on the front (at the waist or behind the belt). Typical daggers are peculiar, mainly, to the East, from India to Turkey here they represent the greatest variety of forms and names. Some types of daggers originate from weapons with a concave blade (like a sickle).

Jobs in the Middle Ages

Want to know what kind of jobs there were in the Middle Ages? A unique source from 15th century Germany gives us some beautiful images of medieval people at work. Known the House Books of the Nuremberg Twelve Brothers Foundation, these were records of a charitable foundation started in the city of Nuremberg in 1388. The foundation would take 12 poor and needy people and provide them with training in a trade.

Starting around 1425 their books would contain one-page illustration of the people they had helped, usually giving their name and what profession they were in. Here are twenty examples of medieval jobs from around the mid-15th century.

Hans Lengenfelder is cutting on meat on a thick table, while other products, including sausages, are for sale.

Zenner is placing bread to baked in an oven.

3. Stonemason

Konrad is using a pickaxe and other tools to work over the stone blocks.

Hans is working on a loom.

5. Winemaker

Hans is using a sickle to cut the grapes from the vine.

Werndlein Mawrer is building a wall with the use of a crane.

Reinhold is using a two-handed plough in his fields.

Peter is standing in a bell tower and blows the hourly chime.

9. Shoemaker / Cobbler

Peter Velner sits in his workshop, working on a shoe with a curved knife. Other leather shoes are on display.

10. Wheelwright

Thomas Wagner is using a hatchet to work a spoked wheel lying on the wooden frame.

Fritz is standing on a ladder, and is placing tiles on the roof with the use of a bucket of mortar and a trowel.

12. Locksmith

Albrecht is sitting by his iron anvil with a hammer and a padlock.

Peter is stepping into a tub to work on an animal skin.

14. Tax Collector

This unnamed man is at a gate house and taking payment from a merchant.

15. Belt maker

Herman Paumgartdener is using a hacksaw and anvil to punch holes in the belts.

16. Grocer / Merchant

Berthold Uslaunb is selling spices from a table he set up on a barrel. He holds a pair of scales in his hands to weigh the product.

17. Armourer

Hans Pernecker is polishing various pieces of armour, while other tools of his trade are spread around his workshop.

18. Carpenter

Rudolf Meier has finished the framework for a house. You can see some of his tools.

Wilhelm is standing in a kitchen, cooking food on a fire. There are spoons and jars around him, and a pot hanging from the ceiling.

20. Blacksmith

Fritz Hufschmied is hammering a red-hot horseshoe on the anvil.

The Nuremberg Twelve Brothers Foundation continued this practice into the nineteenth-century, giving us almost 1,200 illustrations of people in their various crafts and jobs. You can see the entire manuscript at this German website or on Wikimedia Commons.

Why would a harmful mutation spread?

To find the origin of CF in modern patients, we knew we needed to learn more about the signature mutation—F508del—in people who are carriers or have the disease.

This tiny mutation causes loss of one amino acid out of the 1,480 amino acid chain and changes the shape of a protein on the surface of the cell that moves chloride in and out of the cell. When this protein is mutated, people carrying two copies of it—one from the mother and one from the father—are plagued with thick sticky mucus in their lungs, pancreas and other organs. The mucus in their lungs allows bacteria to thrive, destroying the tissue and eventually causing the lungs to fail. In the pancreas, the thick secretions prevent the gland from delivering the enzymes the body needs to digest food.

So why would such a harmful mutation continue to be transmitted from generation to generation?

The Natural History Museum in Vienna, Austria, houses a large collection of Iron Age and Bronze Age skeletons which are curated by Dr. Maria Teschler-Nicola. These collections were the source of teeth and bones for investigation of ancient DNA and studies on ‘The Ancient Origin of Cystic Fibrosis.’ (Philip Farrell, CC BY-ND)

A mutation as harmful as F508del would never have survived among people with two copies of the mutated CFTR gene because they likely died soon after birth. On the other hand, those with one mutation may have a survival advantage, as predicted in Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” theory.

Perhaps the best example of a mutation favoring survival under stressful environmental conditions can be found in Africa, where fatal malaria has been endemic for centuries. The parasite that causes malaria infects the red blood cells in which the major constituent is the oxygen-carrying protein hemoglobin. Individuals who carry the normal hemoglobin gene are vulnerable to this mosquito-borne disease. But those who are carriers of the mutated “hemoglobin S” gene, with only one copy, are protected from severe malaria. However two copies of the hemoglobin S gene causes sickle cell disease, which can be fatal.

Here there is a clear advantage to carrying one mutant gene—in fact, about one in 10 Africans carries a single copy. Thus, for many centuries an environmental factor has favored the survival of individuals carrying a single copy of the sickle hemoglobin mutation.

Individuals who carry two copies of the sickle cell gene suffer from sickle cell anemia, in which the blood cells become rigid sickle shapes and get stuck in the blood vessels, causing pain. Normal red blood cells are flexible discs that slide easily through vessels. (Designua/

Similarly we wondered whether there was a health benefit to carrying a single copy of this specific CF mutation during exposures to environmentally stressful conditions. Perhaps, we reasoned, that’s why the F508del mutation was common among Caucasian Europeans and Europe-derived populations.

Why were curved swords more prevalent in eastern militaries while Europeans preferred straight swords?

Never, ever, underestimate the role of fashion in sword design. Long swords were elite weapons. (“Long” here refers literally to the length, and not to any particular style of weapon.) Elite weapons were desirable because they announced your status merely by wearing them, without even fighting.

And in martial cultures, you spent a lot more time standing around wearing swords than you actually spent in combat using them. So their social utility was at least as important as their martial utility in terms of understanding why they looked the way they did.

Medieval European sword design inherited from Roman antecedents, and in particular the spatha, which was a design inspired by Celtic long swords. As a long sword, the spatha was expensive and well-suited to cavalry, so it established itself as the continental sword of the aristocracy quite easily, and the aristocratic sidearms of Europe were dominated by long, straight, double-edged blades for many centuries thereafter.

Curved swords existed side-by-side with medieval long swords for most of this time, and they were, in fact, very popular, so it is untrue that European swords, in general, were in the straight, crucifix style. But curved swords were not considered “elite” weapons. They were short, cheap, practical weapons like falchions, which drew from a long tradition of agricultural or sickle-style weapons that were associated with peasantry and commoners.

They were looked down on as status symbols, even when regarded as useful weapons. Even those who could afford horses and fancy long swords would often carry a short curved sword like a falchion with them for when things got down and dirty in the melee.

The Muslim world (as encountered by Europeans) overlapped substantially with the ancient domains of the Roman Empire, and its notions of elite swords were not dissimilar. During the Crusades, Arab swords were typically long, straight, double-edged, and single-handed.

They had a bit less of the crucifix-style hilt going on, but that’s mostly just the guard design, and that didn’t come from the Romans, anyway. So there really wasn’t much in the way of “international influence” to steer western sword design away from the straight long sword.

Until the Turks. Although curved “sickle swords” were known throughout the world, their roots in agricultural labor didn’t give them a lot of social cachets. The Turks may have been the first to lengthen the curved sword into an elite cavalry weapon, somewhere around the 8th Century. (There is also a short Turkish curved sword called a yataghan, but it did not have nearly so much influence.)

But even so, the peoples of the Asian steppes were treated as barbarians by most of the cultures and empires who encountered them, so the mere existence of a long, curved sword that was useful from horseback would not have been enough to convince western aristocrats that it was a proper badge of status.

But after the Mongols and then the Turks overran much of western Asia and established their own empires, perceptions about elite weapons began to shift. What does “elite” mean, after all, other than “associated with the ruling class”? After Turks have been running the show for a while, their weapon styles began to redefine the general conception of “aristocratic cool”. (And kicking some highly respected ass all through the region certainly didn’t hurt the reputation of their weaponry, either.)

This happened earliest in lands like Persia and India (giving us weapons like the scimitar and talwar), but it eventually came to Europe as well, with Ottoman incursions into, and rule over, eastern Europe in the 14th through 19th Centuries.

This led to the European take on the Turkish sword, which is generally known as the sabre, and is so solidly ingrained into our own cultural patterns that we hardly recognize its Turkish influences anymore.

That’s partly because the sword was popularized in Western Europe by Hussar regiments, which were modeled after the forces that drove the Turks out of Eastern Europe. Part of its popularity was that it was perceived as the weapon that defeated the Turks, when in fact the opposite was closer to the truth.

So fashionable was the new curved sabre that it became the dominant style of the western military sword during the 19th Century, and although the classic straight-bladed, double-edged sword (by then called a broadsword) did manage to survive, it mostly did so by rebranding itself as a “sabre”. (See, for example, the Patton saber, and the 1908 trooper sabre, both of which are basically rapiers masquerading as broadswords, while calling themselves sabres.)

(This post covers a lot of ground, but Swords and Hilt Weapons is a good overview of the broad historical development of the sword, with Barbarians and Christians and 17th Century Europe, both by Anthony North, covering the main influences on western sword shapes.)

Watch the video: Medieval Sickle Combat 1