Kriegsmesser

The Kriegsmesser (War Knife) or Grosse Messer (Great Knife) of the late medieval period was a weapon of soldiers in the many wars that plagued that time.

Surviving examples can be found in several museum and armory collections. The styles vary from straight narrow bladed pieces to some large curved swords with blades that can be quite wide near the point. They can have a variety of tip shapes from clipped points too long narrow tapers of heavy cross section. The main characteristic amongst all the pieces are scale style grips usually applied with rivets and butt plates or caps as pommels. Many will have a nagel (side post or shell) at the center of the guard, though some do have side rings and other hilt elements like knuckle-bows.

 Kreigsmessers and Langes messers Image provided by Nathan Robinson at myArmoury.com

A variety of Kriegsmessers and Langes messers Image provided by Nathan Robinson at myArmoury.com

We have done a couple different styles of these swords over the years but one of the most popular is one based on an original the sold at auction a while back.

Original sword that our reproduction is based on.

Here is a video looking at the piece and some of the particular aspects of these large swords.

 

This was a great sword to work on and one that is truly impressive when you handle it. In the video we mention the active rotational point (arp) and a quick definition might be in order.

This is a term we coined to communicate an important aspect of weapon design but one that is by definition difficult to quantify. It is the point on a weapon were it wants to move around itself in an active combat situation. It is not the center of gravity for the object, but the point the piece is inclined to move around with all factors of a fight being considered. This would include how it is being gripped, how the sword is in contact with other weapons and the energy imparted by any of the above actions. As you can see it is probably an unsolvable problem to quantify, but at any given moment of the fight it is an important aspect of the weapon that the user can use to advantage. We will look at this characteristic in more detail in the future.

Grosse messers are not depicted in art very often, the images we do have range from the gruesome job of beheading

Beheading with a messer St Bartholomew

To the fanciful of dragon combat

Messer used in combat against dragon from the British Library

Kriegsmesser in combat against dragon, British Library image.

To looking good when on a walk.

Soldier with kriegesmesser on belt. 

Also it seems that according to some wood cut evidence having a nice kriegsmesser is a way to attract romantic encounters!

Woodcut of couple with man armed with Kriegsmesser

 

Nathan Clough, Ph.D. is Vice President of Arms and Armor and a member of the governing board of The Oakeshott Institute. 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.

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