Dispelling the Myth of Sword Weights

Bronwyn moved off to the side. “To make a firm stance, move this leg back like this. And put the other like this.” With Anna’s feet in position, he slowly moved his hands in an exercise motion to get her to handle the sword efficiently.

After a few tries, she lowered it. “It’s heavy. Your sword is not appropriate to my body mass.”

He picked up a fair-sized stick. “What you need is a slim sword, one weighing about a pound. It looks similar to a long dagger, but you wield it the same as you would a sword. The next chance we get, I’ll show you what I mean. Until then,” he exchanged the stick for the sword, “you can practise the movements with this.”

So how heavy were those swords back in the dark ages? One popular writer, who I won’t name, claimed the sword her character used was ten pounds.

Really? When I read that, I gazed off into space and wondered why —  after her thorough research of everything else in the novel —  did she fail to research actual weights of one-handed swords used in Scotland in the early 1700s.sword

Then I began to question other facts in the novel. That happens when readers discover something that’s not true; they go in search of other incorrect facts and question the research.

Turning his attention back to the weapons, Bronwyn picked up a sword, a little shorter and about half the weight of his own; the perfect size for Anna. He admired the shiny grey stone in the hilt and the simple design of loops carved around it. He gripped the well-crafted weapon in his left hand, turning it in a circle then balancing its mass across his index finger. It weighed about a pound and half.

Although I don’t have a scale to weigh my sword, I believe it to be less than two pounds. Mines a replica and not true to what soldiers would have wielded 150 years ago. Still, I couldn’t imagine swinging a ten-pound piece of steal again, and again and again in the heat of battle. My enemy would certainly win after I tired.

Just because the movies and television depict a warrior toting a mammoth sword strapped to his back, doesn’t mean soldiers in the field in real life actually used them. Go pick up a ten-pound weight – stop! I don’t want you to hurt yourself; get a five-pound weight instead – and start swinging your arm around as if attacking with a ten-pound sword. See how long you last before your arm muscles beg you to stop.

Of course, those Highland men were trained for battle, had the muscles to back them up, but do you think they were crazy enough to fight with a ten-pound weapon to deplete their strength while their English enemy wielded a sword weighing less than half that?

To learn more about actual weights of swords in history, visit The Association for Renaissance Martial Arts website where they discuss swords from the Middle Ages and Renaisance. There you’ll read: “never overlay thy selfe with a heavy weapon, for nimblenesse of bodie, and nimblenesse of weapon are two chief helpes for thy advantage” – Joseph Swetnam, The Schoole of the Noble and Worthy Science of Defence, 1617.

The website states the average sword weighed between 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 pounds. If well-crafted, as most were, they could be wielded with grace and agility, making an experienced swordsman a dangerous adversary.

Another informative websites about swords is Albion Swords – History in your Hand which summarizes Oakeshott’s Trypology of the Medieval Sword. Weights were not listed for any of the weapons detailed.

If you’re writing fantasy or Highland tales or any story with sword play, be careful of your sword weights. Though not common knowledge, there are readers who will pick up on weapons too heavy for even the brawniest of Scotsman to wield.

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5 thoughts on “Dispelling the Myth of Sword Weights

  1. First time I got a real grasp of how much swords weighed was when I bought one. Nothing answers that question better than a real blade and a scale. My short sword came out to two and a half pounds. It’s a modern 5160 tempered spring steel job, totally ignoring ancient sword building techniques in favor of maximum strength. As a result, it is likely a bit heavier and thicker than the historical swords of the same length (30 inches).

    • I agree. I’ve never weighed my sword, but I know it’s not five pounds, and no where near ten pounds. If I had to guess, I think it’s around two pounds.

      Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment.

  2. You’re so right, DIane. I was an extra in the Outlander movie shot in Nine Mile River. We constantly ran around with swords in our hands. At the time, I gave no thought to the weight and probably wouldn’t have questioned a story claiming it weighed ten pounds. When I stop and give it some serious thought, I realize it comes no where near what my six pound splitting mall weighs. Two pounds, maybe. Three pounds, not likely. And these were the real thing.

    • You know, I probably grew up thinking swords were heavy. I really can’t remember because I gave it no thought. When I began researching swords for my fantasy novels, I found they were light weight, which made perfect sense. Until I stumbled upon The Association for Renaissance Martial Arts website, I hadn’t realised even the experts were confused about sword weights.

      Ah, you were an extra for the Outlander movie. That must have been quite an experience. I was on a website which designed armour and other equipment for the set. I believe the company who made the replicas is on the South Shore. The website was very informative. Great for writers like me.

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