Crusader Swords: A Look Into Its Characteristics and History
BY Abigail Cambal
updated August 22nd, 2022
The crusader sword, commonly known as an arming sword or knightly sword was the weapon the medieval knights used throughout the crusading era from 1095 to 1291. Generally straight and double-edged, it was efficient against the chain mail armor of the time. Apart from being a deadly weapon, it eventually became a religious symbol.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at this iconic weapon that played an important role during a pivotal moment in history.
What did a Crusader Sword Look Like?
The early and late crusader swords had a simple crossguard and short hilt, which are the characteristics of arming swords. They also featured a double-edged blade that tapered to a point which was adapted for use against the chain mail armor. However, its blade configuration and sword mounting may vary.
Like other weapons of the time, the crusader sword’s blade was made from steel. According to the Oakeshott typology, medieval sword blades could be classified into 13 different types. So, while there’s no exact definition for what constituted a crusader sword blade, there are certain characteristics all of them shared.
A crusader sword had a double-edged blade with a blade length of anywhere between 58 to 100 centimeters. The blade was more tapering than the typical Norman or Viking sword and featured a wide and shallow fuller down the middle.
Knightly swords typically fell under Type X or Type XII blades. Type X blades had a fuller that ran nearly the entire length of the sword while Type XII blades had a fuller that ran most of the way. The blade had a tang that was flat, wide, and tapers sharply towards the pommel.
The earliest crusader swords had one-handed hilts that gradually became longer throughout the medieval period. The hilts were typically wrapped in leather without much ornamentation. With the grip originally around 9cm long, similar to earlier Viking swords, later variations with 15cm-long grips allowed for occasional two-handed use.
The first crusader swords had an oval or conical pommel, but by the 12th century, brazil-nut-shaped pommels became popular. However, swords of the late crusading period typically had a flattened cone-shaped pommel.
A simple wheel-shaped pommel was particularly popular among crusaders, such as the Knights Templar. While most pommels were unadorned, groups like the Knights Templar often decorated them with religious badges or symbols.
Some pommels were enameled, such as the sword of Peter de Dreux, Duke of Brittany. During the Seventh Crusade, he fought with Louis IX of France at the Battle of Mansourah in 1250. His sword pommel featured the Dreux family arms.
The introduction of the crossguard was one of the major advancements that separated the crusader sword from earlier sword types as it made the sword more versatile. Not only because it protected the fingers and improved the grip, but also because it could be used to counter enemy attacks.
Early crossguards took the shape of simple straight metal bars. Crossguards were typically 18-20 cm long with a square section and tapered edges. Like other medieval weapons, more elaborate designs started emerging in the 12th century. Swords of the late crusading period commonly had slightly curved quillons—arms of the crossguard.
In later times, a chappe or rain guard was almost universally used. A chappe is a leather flap that overlaps with the scabbard to prevent rain from pooling inside the blade.
Religious Attributes of the Crusader Sword
The simple yet elegant shape of the crusader sword was important for a number of reasons. For many, it represented Christianity and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Its appearance played a role in its widespread use during the Crusades.
Some sources speak of the sword’s design in terms of “divine proportions.” At the time, these were considered proportions of perfection that represented the harmony of nature. The same proportions were used in architecture to create ”golden triangles” and ”golden rectangles.” Therefore, the sword design had both practical, symbolic, and spiritual value.
How were crusader swords wielded?
When referring to arming swords, crusader swords were primarily single-handed swords. Featuring a large fuller and a more slender blade, these elements ensured its lighter weight. Its tapered design also meant that the point of balance was closer to the hilt, an important factor as a properly balanced sword felt like an extension of one’s arm and was highly practical to wield.
Knights would typically wield the crusader sword in one hand with a shield or buckler in the other. The knight could also leave their other arm free in order to grab their opponents’ shield, armor, or weapons.
Later variations of the crusader sword with a longer hilt could occasionally be used double-handed. During the late medieval period, two-handed longswords took over as the weapon of choice. However, some knights would still carry a one-handed crusader sword as a sidearm. This led to it becoming more commonly known as an “arming sword.”
History of the Crusader Sword
Like many medieval weapons, the crusader sword continued to evolve with the times. The versatile base design could be modified to work well under various circumstances. The crusader sword itself emerged from earlier weapons and evolved into new ones as the battlefield changed.
9th to 11th Century – Early Medieval Period
The first crusader swords appeared during the early 11th century. They evolved from the earlier Viking Age and Norman Swords, or “Ulfberht”-type swords. Ulfberht swords during the 9th century already started featuring more slender and tapered blades.
11th to 13th Century – The Crusades
The use of the knightly sword peaked during the 11th to 15th centuries. As a result, they were prominently used during the Crusades, a series of religious wars fought mostly in the Middle East between 1096 and 1291. The Crusades were launched as an attempt to recapture the “Holy Land” and Jerusalem from Muslim control.
Anyone that participated in these wars on behalf of the Christian powers at the time were called “Crusaders.”
Because of the shape of the cruciform sword, they were strongly associated with the Christian cause. Thanks to the influence of the Catholic Church, nearly all men at arms were bound to use this sword during the Crusades, making the sword a religious symbol and a constant reminder of what the Crusaders were fighting for.
Religious fanatics of the time like the Knights Templar felt a strong affinity with the sword. It’s through this close association with the crusading knights that the knightly sword also became known as the “Templar sword” or “Crusader sword.”
14th to 15th Century – Late Medieval Period
During the late medieval period, improvements in armor and especially chainmail made these swords less effective. This resulted in heavier two-handed longswords becoming the preferred main weapon. However, knightly swords continued to be used as sidearms which is why the term “arming sword” started to be used.
15th Century – Renaissance
After the medieval period, the knightly sword evolved into other types of one-handed straight swords. Some examples from the early 15th century took inspiration from the two-handed French Estoc. Later versions of the ”arming sword” evolved into broadsword, side-sword, and rapier.
Many of these later swords evolved into different types of “cut and thrust” swords that were popular during the Renaissance.
Today, the knightly sword is still a popular choice for LARP-ing, medieval reenactment, and stage combat events. It is relatively easy to wield, can be effectively used alongside a sword or shield, and also an iconic weapon thanks to its close association with the Crusades.
The crusader sword’s minimalist design made it a versatile and practical weapon with many possible variations. Its elegant form captured the imagination of the people in that era, reflecting their ideas on nature and religion.
It was also arguably the most influential weapon during the Crusades where some of the largest and most consequential military operations occurred in human history. Until today, the crusader sword is inextricably tied in our minds to a time of crusading knights and iconic fighting units like the Knights Templar.
As a history enthusiast, Abigail loves learning about the events that shaped the world. She’s particularly interested in the rise and fall of empires, accounts of war and conquest, and ancient and classical history. Apart from being a writer, she also dabbles in fashion modeling and acting.