List of Swords of the Renaissance [Updated]

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List of Swords from the European Renaissance & Early Modern Period

While the medieval sword is one of the most popular weapons in history, the European Renaissance and corresponding early modern period saw the development and use of powerful and innovative sword types that are worth studying. 

Many swords of the Renaissance evolved from the medieval longsword and similar weapons. As armor and fighting styles changed in the 1400s and onwards, sword makers altered their designs to provide better results against opponents.  

The popularity of dueling and the need for self defense in cities also led to the widespread use of swords by civilians for the first time in European history.

The swords listed below are some of the most popular and unique swords of the Renaissance and early modern period. Although scholars have differing viewpoints on when these periods started and ended, for the purposes of this article, we will be including swords used from around 1400 to 1700. 

1) Bastard Sword (Hand and a Half Sword)

bastard sword
The bastard sword had a one or two handed grip and long, tapered blade. Metropolitan Museum of Art, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The bastard sword was first introduced in the 1400s as a similar but alternate form of the longsword. The bastard sword gets its name from the fact that it was neither a one handed sword or a true great sword. Because it did not fit in either category, it earned the nickname “bastard.”

Bastard swords possess grips for one or two handed use. Most feature tapered blades that are flat or hexagonal. Some bastard swords were developed for primarily cutting or thrusting depending on the user’s preference. 

Today, the bastard sword is commonly referred to as a “hand and a half sword”. This terminology was not used when the sword was first introduced. The term can be found in texts dating to the late 1500s. It is assumed, however, that the name “bastard sword” continued to be the most popular term for this versatile weapon during the Renaissance period. 

2) Estoc

estoc swords
Estoc swords were thrusting weapons that had edgeless, sharply pointed blades. Metropolitan Museum of Art, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The estoc, or tuck, is a thrusting weapon designed for use against sophisticated plate armor. The sword features a long and edgeless blade with a point for thrusting. 

Blades could be triangular or square depending on the bladesmith’s style. The sword’s two handed grip allowed for extra leverage when making thrusting maneuvers. 

3) Falchion

falchion sword
Two knights fight using falchion swords. These short swords featured wide, curved blades. AnonymousUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The falchion was common during both the medieval and early modern periods. The falchion is a short sword with a wide and slightly curved blade. 

While similar in style to eastern swords, experts consider the falchion a fully European invention. The falchion likely gets its name from the French word “fauchon,” which means “sickle.” 

Falchions used by professional soldiers evolved from everyday kitchen and farm tools. Its design may have also been based on the seax of the early Middle Ages. 

Because of their simple design, falchion blades could be made quickly and cheaply. Infantrymen carried falchions to battle but also found them useful for camp chores. 

Falchions possessed a single edge that was practical for both cutting and chopping. 

4) Claymore

scottish claymore
A claymore’s decorative, angled cross guard. Metropolitan Museum of Art, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Scottish claymore first appeared in the Middle Ages but reached its peak popularity during the Renaissance. The claymore’s large proportions and unique cross guard make it one of the most iconic swords of the time period.

The claymore is a large two-handed broadsword that features an angled and decorated cross guard, as shown above. 

Scottish fighters carried these large swords to battle throughout the 16th century as they defended their borders against the British.

While we often associate this sword with the Wars of Scottish Independence and the conflicts of the 1500s, clans across Scotland continued to wield the opposing claymore until around 1700. 

5) Cut and Thrust Sword

cut and thrust sword
Cut and thrust swords existed alongside rapiers. They could be used for several styles of dueling. National Gallery of Art, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Cut and thrust swords are unique to the Renaissance and early modern periods. While this sword is often misidentified as a rapier, it is actually a completely different sword altogether. Not only did cut and thrust swords and rapiers exist simultaneously, the cut and thrust sword actually has a longer history of use than the rapier. 

Considered a quintessential Renaissance military weapon, the cut and thrust sword featured a swept or compound hilt and a narrow blade. 

The cut and thrust sword is thought to have evolved directly from the knightly sword. It was carried by foot soldiers and civilians during the 16th and 17th centuries. 

Soldiers could use the cut and thrust sword on its own or for sword and dagger fighting. 

6) Backsword

english backsword
The backsword featured a single-edged blade perfect for cutting maneuvers. J.Alm, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Renaissance backsword gained popularity in England in the 1500s. This style was less common in mainland Europe.

The single-edged blade and compound hilt made this sword a favorite of both cavalrymen and infantrymen. The blade design made the backsword an excellent cutting weapon from horseback or on foot. 

7) Schiavona

schiavona sword
A close up of a Schiavona sword’s cage hilt and “cat head” pommel. Rama, CC BY-SA 2.0 FR, via Wikimedia Commons

The first record of the Schiavona sword dates to between 1580 and 1590. This sword style continued to be popular into the late 1700s. 

The Schiavona is characterized by its cage or basket hilt and “cat head” pommel. Schiavoni mercenaries favored this sword style. 

Schiavona swords could have single or double-edged blades depending on their maker and intended use. Double-edged Schiavona blades tend to be wider than single-edged versions. 

8) Rapier

rapier hilt
The ornate hilts and guards of Renaissance rapiers distinguished gentlemen from lower classes. Metropolitan Museum of Art, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The rapier is one of the most popular Renaissance and early modern weapons and holds great appeal with enthusiasts and collectors today. 

Rapiers first appeared in Spain in the 1400s but reached their peak popularity in the 16th and 17th centuries. Rapiers evolved as self-defense weapons for urban civilians.

While highly functional for self-defense and dueling, the aesthetic appeal of rapiers also made them fashion accessories. Men showed off their status through the wearing of ornate rapiers. 

Rapiers are characterized by their intricate guards and narrow, pointed blades. They proved effective for stabbing and thrusting. 

9) Zweihänder and Flammard

zweihander sword
A landsknecht mercenary holding a large zweihänder.Allen & Ginter, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Another popular sword of the Renaissance is the zweihänder. This massive sword was first used in the 1400s but gained popularity in the 1500s and 1600s. 

The sword was a favorite weapon of the Landsknecht mercenaries in Germany. Zweihänders were effective weapons against the feared Swiss pikemen. 

Zweihänders featured compound hilts that and cross guards that could measure twelve inches across.

flammard sword
Flammard swords are still featured in ceremonial events today. Abaddon1337, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A sword closely related to the giant zweihänder is the flammard. This unique sword is characterized by its wavy blade. The sword is visually interesting and is therefore featured in many reenactments and ceremonies today. 

10) Katzbalger

katzbalger sword
The katzbalger was a popular sidearm for Landsknecht mercenaries and other German soldiers of the early modern period. Tigrisnaga, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Another favorite weapon of the Landsknecht was the katzbalger. This sword features a short to mid-sized blade and an “S” shaped guard. 

Katzbalgers are one-handed weapons that could be used in close quarter fighting. 

This sword is believed to have been cut down and remounted from longer, wider blades.

11) Flamberge

flamberge sword blade
Details of the flamberge’s signature wavy blade. Walters Art Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Renaissance flamberge is often confused with the flammard described above. While both possess a wavy blade, the flamberge is a smaller weapon. 

The flamberge was popular in the 1600s among officers and the upper class. The shape of the sword’s blade proved both fashionable and menacing. 

While scholars agree that the flamberge’s blade did no more damage than a regular straight blade, the waves of the flamberge would create an alarming amount of vibration in an opponent’s blade when struck. 

The waves of the blade are also thought to slightly slow down an opponent’s sword, giving the wielder of the flamberge a slight advantage. 

12) Ceremonial Swords

ceremonial swords
Ceremonial swords of England. Many countries adopted ceremonial swords during the Renaissance period or upheld their traditional use. Cyril Davenport (1848 – 1941), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Ceremonial swords have long been used by royalty and are symbols of a leader’s power and position. Ceremonial swords became especially popular in the Renaissance and early modern periods. 

As sword styles evolved and became fashionable symbols of status, governments adopted swords for their own uses in coronations and other important events. 

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