Sometimes our modern eyes will deceive us about medieval swords. We see something we attribute to age or damage and do not realize it may well have been the intention of the original maker or user. In the scholarship of the medieval sword the research of historians, material scientist, scholars of the combat arts and the study of the craft of manufacturing the weapons have all contributed to a deeper understanding of details which where missed by earlier generations of scholars.
Today we will look at one of these aspects of early medieval swords. The pommel that is slightly askew from symmetrical alignment. This is something that has been noticed and discussed over the last 20 or so years but with the growth of detailed info about the specific artifacts that have survived and the understanding of the how the pieces were used in combat it has become more obvious that there is some intent by the user and maker of these pieces.
A pommel aligned with edge plane on the left, a pommel off set by about 3 degrees on the right.
The adjustment is quite subtle and usually is done just a few degrees off of alignment with the plane of the two edges of the sword. Most seem to fall in the 2 to 4 degree range though a few are as much as 7 degrees off the 0 line. Why they would do such an adjustment becomes clear when we look at the swords use. The pommel on the sword presses against the ball of the thumb in a slightly extended grip where the hand is able to move in a dynamic fashion to adjust attack and defense with the blade.
Iron tang and shoulder stub forged by hand. Hilt parts of our Shifford Sword
These hilts of the early medieval period are often thought of as Nordic though much of Europe used similar style hilts and even the early versions of disc and wheel pommels can be found with this cant to their alignment.
The materials used for the tang portion of the blade was most often iron and the specifics of that material allow for some ease in adjusting the sword blade in this matter. In the video below we have constructed such a hilt and show how the alignment of the pommel to facilitate this lean and allow the alignment of the cutting edge to work more closely with the hand and wrist position with this adjustment.
Here are the resources mentioned in the video
Nathan Clough, Ph.D. is Vice President of Arms and Armor and a member of the governing board of The Oakeshott Institute. He is a historical martial artist and a former university professor of cultural geography. He has given presentations on historical arms at events including Longpoint and Combatcon, and presented scholarly papers at, among others, The International Congress on Medieval Studies.
Craig Johnson is the Production Manager of Arms and Armor and Secretary of The Oakeshott Institute. He has taught and published on the history of arms, armor and western martial arts for over 30 years. He has lectured at several schools and Universities, WMAW, HEMAC, 4W, and ICMS at Kalamazoo. His experiences include iron smelting, jousting, theatrical combat instruction and choreography, historical research, European martial arts and crafting weapons and armor since 1985.