How were Medieval scabbards made? - a new resource
Here at Arms and Armor we are always on the look out for new research and resources on historical weapons. Over the decades we have collected an extensive library on weapons and armor that informs all aspects of our work. This week we were very excited to receive a copy of the new volume, "Covering The Blade: Archaeological leather sheaths and scabbards"
by Marquita Volken and Olaf Goubitz. This is an extraordinary resource for both makers, and aficionados, of historical European swords and knives, especially given the relatively limited information that has heretofore been available to the wider public not well versed in scholarly research.
Previous work on sheaths and scabbards has largely been confined to a more limited scope, such as "Knives and Scabbards"
, which primarily examines civilian tools rather than weapons. Covering the Blade, on the other hand, draws on finds from the city of Dordrecht to provide a fairly comprehensive look at the construction and decoration of leather sheaths and wood-core scabbards from Pre-history through the 17th century. Of particular interest are new details on the lining, wrapping, and styles of stitching on medieval wood-core scabbards, and the use of fur and parchment to inhibit rust on iron blades.
The book includes a useful introduction that defines terminology and gives a very brief literature review, and chapters on sheaths and scabbards during major periods spanning two millennia. In addition to details on sword and dagger coverings, the book also has information on sheaths for scissors, knives, and agricultural implements, though sheaths and scabbards for weapons are its primary focus. One of the most useful and interesting aspects of the book is the copious and highly detailed illustrations that accompany the text on almost every page. These examples provide an excellent overview of medieval decorative techniques and designs that are well preserved in many of the finds discussed.
Worked scabbard of medieval hunting knife by Arms and Armor
Covering the Blade places archaeological finds within a broader context, and builds on a body of knowledge drawn from art and history, such as this illustration from an inventory for Maximilian I showing scabbard details from the early 16th century, effigies, and paintings.
While this volume appropriate for anyone interested in the topic, and is probably the best stand-alone guide to sheaths and scabbards, it is especially useful in combination with previous work, such as the excellent two volume set "Weapons of Warre: The Armaments of the Mary Rose"
, which details other examples, such as that below.
Scabbard buried beneath the Mary Rose
We heartily recommend this book as a valuable resource for anyone interested in medieval weaponry. If you'd like to learn more about sheaths and scabbards that we make at Arms and Armor check out this blog.
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.