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Ask me about swords.

Discussion in 'Research' started by Anders Ämting, Jan 20, 2012.

  1. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    Not a normal machete, no. Typically, machete blades are very thin. They are designed to be lightweight tools & not necessarily weapons.

    They can slice flesh easily enough but probably wouldn't have much effect on armies. Their narrow blades would likely break under impact from another combat blade.
     
  2. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

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    Machetes are the modern version of the medieval tool/swords called Falchions, and even though they are normally used as tools for a variety of purposes (I have used mine to cut grass, cut plants, slice water bottles for fun and split my Halloween pumpkins!!) when used as weapons they are just as effective and deadly as other types of sword...

    All swords have strengths and weaknesses, and the Falchion/machete strength is to deliver heavy, devastating blows that can easily decapitate a person or slice off limbs if used as a weapon- They were used in combat by American troops in the Pacific in WW2.

    The weakness of the Falchion is that they are not good to stab (at least, not with the classic machete-style blade) but believe me: I own a really big machete, I practice with it and I can tell you that they are not a joke and they would be a fearsome weapon in any medieval battle =)
     
  3. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    Yes this is true of older machete designs and the few that are still made for heavy use. I think the WW2 machetes were Bolo Machetes and fairly stout, different blade style than a typical falchion tho. There are about 20 different machete blade styles (that I'm aware of).

    Most of the modern machetes you will find are very thin & light camp machetes. But, as machete blade styles aren't really standardized; thickness, weighting, and things of this nature are very hard to describe in definite terms.
     
  4. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

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    The other advantage of machetes is that they can be used to cut down vegetation, even small trees in case that your army needs to advance through a dense forest, a jungle or something like that- They can take this kind of abuse and resist it well, while other swords would not be so effective when used in the same situation.

    They are not as romantic as a Longsword or a Katana, but I am quite an admirer of that rough, sheer destructive power of machetes =)

    Machetes also have certain psychological impact... maybe because they are crude, brutal weapons and also uglier than other swords??
     
  5. MorganSorrell

    MorganSorrell Acolyte

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    I'm just now posting, but I read through all fifteen pages first both for learning purposes and to make sure my question hasn't already been asked. Anders and other various people have discussed bronze and iron/steel swords, which was extremely helpful, but I have a few more questions that are time period specific.

    My book is roughly set around the fifth and/or sixth centuries when King Arthur might have lived, but since it's fantasy, it can be a bit more flexible. Unfortunately, that's during the Dark Ages, which are aptly named. So far, I haven't been able to find anyone who knows anything (at all) about swords, armor, bows, et cetera in that time period. Romans? Sure. Vikings? Yep! In between? Ummm...?

    So right now, my main male character has a double edged bronze Spatha, similar to those carried by the Romans (their empire hasn't quite fallen yet). He also wears little to no armor (leather armor when he does wear it), and he does not carry a shield.

    Because bronze is heavier than iron, would I have to make his sword shorter? (I do plan on having other characters mention that his sword is much heavier than theirs.)

    Also, would the “double edged bronze Spatha” even be realistic in the first place?

    From what I've read, the last two parts seem like a fairly typical sword that could have been carried by Romans within that time. But the handle is long enough that he wields it with two hands. I know two handed swords didn't evolve until later, when plate armor began to replace shields and knights therefore had two free hands.

    So just how historically inaccurate would the double edged and two handed parts be?

    The book is based on the legends of King Arthur, which were written centuries later and thus historically inaccurate themselves. I mainly just don't want to write something horribly inaccurate, and I would like to learn as much as I can about the weapons typical to that time period.

    PS: Thank you so much for simply staring this thread! It's wonderful to finally find someone who knows what they're talking about! :D
     
  6. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    I'm not an expert on Roman weaponry by any means. However, I think that the Spatha was developed sometime in the iron age and incorporated some steel in their design. It may have been similar to how modern bladesmiths imitate Damascus steel which is a pattern welding design that gives a rippled effect on the blade (very attractive looking in my opinion).

    They were also near the same length as contemporary swords and ranged from 2 1/2' to 3' in length (approximately).

    If my memory serves then the timeline would be wrong to have a bronze Spatha. If the weapon was developed in the iron age then we're talking about a huge jump in time and technology (iron being the more advanced and a thousand or more years later).

    Why bronze?
     
  7. MorganSorrell

    MorganSorrell Acolyte

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    It has been mentioned in this thread several times that bronze is harder than steel, and steel only replaced bronze because it was easier to work with. I want my character to have a very heavy, hard sword. I also want it to be hard enough to be brittle, specifically because it needs to break later on in the novel.

    And while 400-600AD is at the end of the Iron Age for Britain, there was also a short mini debate about how the time periods had a lot of overlap, so I'm not all that concerned about the bronze part unless I get too much negative feedback about that part specifically.

    I'm mainly concerned with the fact that it's doubled edged and two handed, both qualities that I would really like to keep. I just want to know if and how inaccurate that is.

    Also, if Anders or anyone else in this thread knows ANYTHING about the swords, armor, bows, clothing, anything at all about this time period (400-600AD Britain), I would love to know about it. As I mentioned before, I've had a really tough time finding accurate resources that deal with that time period in particular.
     
  8. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi,

    I can't imagine that steel would be less hard then bronze, unless it was badly prepared. Iron however is. There is a reason that steel replaced bronze, but also a reason that it took time. To make steel requires a fairly good carbon recipe. Usually about half a percent. Plus of course modern steel is alloyed with other metals. But steel unlike bronze can only be worked when its hot, thus requiring an entirely new technology, and if the recipe is wrong, you'll get something else. Too little carbon and you'll get wrought iron, which is quite soft. Too much and you'll get a steel which is very hard and can take an edge, but is also brittle. A well made bronze weapon would be superior to both of these.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  9. MorganSorrell

    MorganSorrell Acolyte

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    Oh, I'm sorry if I was unclear. I sort of accidentally said both iron AND steel, didn't I? No, the other, regular swords I'm talking about would be made of iron. I might have one sword (Excalibur, obviously) be made from steel and explain it as a metal obtained from a meteorite. I doubt bladesmiths had the ability to forge steel in my time period other than by accident.

    So, quick recap. Bronze sword heavier and harder than regular iron swords. Iron swords are softer and may be dented/bent out of shape from heavy repeated use. A bronze sword would be more brittle and therefore more likely to shatter. If Excalibur was forged from steel, a higher quality metal than both bronze and iron for making swords, other swords might shatter or bend when crossed against it. Thus the legend of all other swords breaking before the might Excalibur. :)

    If any of the above is wrong, please let me know. I hope that explained exactly what I was meaning to do with the different types of swords.
     
  10. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi,

    Not sure if its actually been used or just a fantasy myth, but have you considered meteoric iron. Often its an alloy that you get and can then smelt, nickel iron or something of that nature. Its likely to be somewhere between iron and steel in terms of all those characteristics of hardness durability, brittleness etc, comes with its own mythology (steel of the Gods etc), and doesn't require an advanced knowledge of steel making. Of course first you have to find a meteorite.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  11. MorganSorrell

    MorganSorrell Acolyte

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    Yes, that's exactly how I plan to make my novel's Excalibur! That's a long time coming though, so I'm not too worried about that sword. Just interested about swords and medieval weapons in general, and this thread has been really informative :)
     
  12. That depends on what you mean by "as a sword" and "against other swords."

    Obviously you can use machetes as weapons, especially against lightly armored opponents. There have even been specific military machetes designed to double as weapons. A regular machete isn't actually designed for fencing, granted, so they don't make good substitute for, say, a cutlass. Then again, some fighting styles make use of weapons that tend to resemble machetes, for example escrima and related martial arts from the Philipines.

    I'd say it's at least partly a contextual thing: If the blade in question is made with the intent of being used as a weapon, it's probably a sword.

    Actually, modern machetes tend to be very sturdy. In fact, they are often expected to stand up to harsher treatment then most swords, precisely because they are tools. Cutting branches off trees with a sword is generally considered abuse.

    Machetes do tend to be thin, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing - most combat swords where very slim on the foible. The differance is that they had distal taper, giving them a sturdy base.

    The problem with slim blades isn't actually fragility but rather lack of rigidity, leading to "whippyness" and poor handling. This is less of a problem with a shorter blades like the machete, though, since short blades are naturally more rigid than long ones.

    I'm pretty sure this is incorrect. At least, I have never heard of any confirmed relation between the falchion and the machete. More likely, the machete developed out of similar knife-like agricultural tools, billhooks and so on.

    Unlike the machete, the falchion was a dedicated military killing weapon that was probably never used as a tool. Interestingly, tools often evolve into weapons, but rarely vice versa.

    That's pretty much the intended purpose of machetes, in fact.
     
  13. The term "dark ages" isn't really used by serious historians these days. What you are refering to is generally called the Migration Period. (Ca 400 to 800 AD.)

    European migration period swords kinda represent a transition phase between Roman era spatha and true viking-style swords, though they a usually never the less considered their own specific type. They are characterized by long, broad cutting blades and H-shaped hilts made out of metal, organic components or a combination of both, some of which where very elaborate:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    The blades of the time would have been made out of iron or steel, and the better ones would have been forged with pretty spectacular pattern welding:

    http://www.templ.net/pics-weapons/136-roman_sword/136-hilt-v.jpg
    http://www.templ.net/pics-weapons/149-sword/149_hilt-v.jpg
    http://www.templ.net/pics-weapons/137-german_spatha/137-corpus-v.jpg

    Well, by this time, bronze had pretty much been entirely phased out a long time ago. In fact, it was probably already considered old-fashioned by the time the Romans were just getting the whole Empire thing going, certainly by the time they adopted the spatha from their Gaulish and Germanic auxillaries.

    I could see him carry a bronze sword if it's very, very old, but nobody would actually make a bronze weapon in that era. This would also make it incorrect to call it a spatha, though I don't see any particular reason it would be shorter - I'm fairly sure I've seen pictures of bronze swords that were at least as long as a typical spatha.

    I don't really see why it shouldn't be double edged - spathae were universially double edged swords, as were migration era sword, and most bronze swords.

    The two-handed thing is pretty inaccurate, as is your character not carrying a shield. As you yourself mention, these things are related - at the time, fighting with a sword more or less required a shield. There may have been some kind of self-defense fencing styles that didn't require shield, but that's just me theorizing, and even then it wouldn't be a common thing. As far as we know, warriors of that time simply wouldn't head out on the battlefield without a good shield.

    Frankly, I'd say this part is just as implausible as your character still using a bronze sword, at least if you are aiming for some kind of realistic historical fiction.

    Thing is, saying bronze is harder and more brittle than steel is a bit of a sweeping generalization. It's probably generally true, but both materials are alloys, meaning they can both have different properties depending on their exact composition.

    You also have to keep in mind that a bronze sword isn't necessarily heavier than a steel sword simply because all swords are not made to the same dimensions.

    If I may make a suggestion: In steel, hardness and brittleness depends on the amount of carbon. Now, suppose the maker of this sword had an uncanny gift for metalurgy and developed a steel that was much harder than what was common at the time. This would result in a sword that could keep a much sharper edge, however it would also make the sword somewhat fragile. The swordsmith realizes that, and to offset this weakness he makes the sword extra sturdy, and thereby heavier.

    So you get a sword that is heavier than most, very sharp, and relatively fragile for its mass.

    Double edged is not a problem. Pretty much all swords were double edged back then.

    Two-handed? That's pretty much pure fantasy.

    It's not a period I know that much about, but I think I can definitely direct you to people who do.
     
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2012
  14. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    As far as two-handed goes, he could always have a longer handle attached (I don't know if this would cause problems attaching pommel to tang, as I don't know how this was done for these swords: Anders might)—but that wouldn't change the length of the blade any, just give him a bit of extra leverage on the same short weapon. Considering he'd be depriving himself of the considerable advantage of a shield in the process, it isn't a good trade to be making.

    It wasn't even a good trade to be making when steel technology advanced to the point where greatsword-length weapons started appearing semi-regularly… as witness the fact that plate-wearing knights overwhelmingly continued to use shields. Greatswords are infantry weapons, not cavalry ones (any weapon requiring two hands makes a poor horseback weapon); most of their wielders would have worn half-plate at most, and most of the time they'd be using their weapons against other infantrymen who had by then also stopped using shields in favor of pikes and polearms. Note also that true two-handed swords were a very late development; prior to the 1500s, most were hand-and-a-half swords, which could still be used in one hand in conjunction with a shield.

    As for breaking: any sword can break. It's merely a question of more or less probable… and if bronze swords broke all that often, they would have fallen out of use long before they did. So you can have it break no matter what the metal is. All that's required is sufficient force.
     
  15. KorbentMarksman

    KorbentMarksman Minstrel

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    I'm not sure if this has been asked, because there are a hell of a lot of pages in this thread and the fact that I'm quite stretched for time. My question is; What kind of swords, if any, were used commonly (for display or otherwise) in the early 1600s?
     
  16. MorganSorrell

    MorganSorrell Acolyte

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    @Anders

    Thank you so much for replying to my post and explaining a bit more of bronze vs steel!

    As for the two-handed part, I think I'm going to mark that up to the fantasy part of my novel. As much as I would like to keep EVERYTHING in my book historically accurate, sometimes that's just not feasible and/or I simply don't want to do so. I try not to just go about blatantly ignoring historical facts though, so thank you for confirming that it wouldn't be accurate. So far as I know, that should be my only major inaccuracy, and it does work very well with the story I want to have.

    I would like to keep just about everything else (minus the parts with actual magic in them) accurate, so I would love it if you could give me a few referrals!
     
  17. Well, the main issue is that this type of swords were made with short, narrow grips deliberatelly due to the way they are supposed to be gripped and swung. Also, making the hilt longer to allow two-handed use also means you have to make the pommel lighter, because a sword is essentially a lever and making it longer will change how it is balanced.

    Depends a bit on the context. The rapier would have become the fashionable civilian sword around that time, spreading from Spain to Italy and then north via France to England, replacing the heavier baskethilted swords. (Despite the best efforts of George Silver.) In the militaries, you'd still see more versatile complex-hilted cut-and-thrust swords of different types. The longsword and bastard sword may not have quite fallen out of use either, though they were probably considered old-fashioned.
     
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2012
    KorbentMarksman likes this.
  18. KorbentMarksman

    KorbentMarksman Minstrel

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    Thanks for that - I wasn't actually sure if the standard image of a rich 1600s Italian civillian with a rapier around his waist was truth or just a tale.
     
  19. Kit

    Kit Maester

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    re: Machetes/kukhri- I just got this one a few months ago:

    Ka-Bar Black Kukri Machete: Amazon.com: Sports & Outdoors

    I am enchanted with it. The balance is sublime. I would *totally* take this up against a sword-weilding opponent. This is the perfect Zombie Apocolypse weapon.


    I did away almost completely with swords in my WIP, and everybody's gonna be armed with THESE puppies.
     
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2012
  20. Galbatroth

    Galbatroth Acolyte

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    I saw that you said world war 1 was the last war swords were used for combat in.. that is not technically true, because there was a man by the name of: "Mad Jack Church Hill Jackson" (is what his team called him) he rushed into battle with a scottish sword, long bow, and bagpipe, during world war 2! :) and only had one defeat his entire military career. You can find a bunch of biographies about him on google.

    also what kind of sword is best for fighting a man with a broad shield?
     
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