Today we address the idea that large two handed swords from the early Renaissance were designed to cut the heads from long pikes. These very large swords became popular in Western Europe from around the year 1450 right up into the 17th century. They are much larger than the vast majority of medieval swords with blades over 4' in length, long handles, and often quite wide quillions.
This type of large two-handed sword included examples from several nations including the Scottish Two-Handed Sword (colloquially known as a Claymore, though this term is disputed), the Spanish Montante, the Germanic Zweihander, and the Italian Spadone. All of these swords appear largely in the 16th century, with some slightly earlier and some later. The primary difference between these national variations are found in stylistic elements like hilt forms.
The late development of these swords is sometimes surprising to people who equate the early modern period with firearms, rapiers, and hangers. However, these two handed swords were an important supplement to the weaponry of the period. To be sure, it was less common to barhop in 16th century Verona with a Spadone than it was with a rapier, but such a weapon was seen as an important weapon for opposing groups of enemies.
This type of sword was particularly associated with the German Landsknecht mercenaries of the 16th century. Soldiers armed with large two-handed swords were employed as shock troops to break enemy lines that included pikemen, halberdiers, and other infantry units
Check out the video in which we try to cut through ash hafts with a two handed sword.
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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