When the forging of a sword is portrayed in movies or video games then the sword is usually finished within a short amount of time. But was that really the case? How long did it take to forge a medieval sword? And how expensive was such a sword?
An experienced medieval blacksmith needed up to 200 hours of work to forge a sword in the 11th century. The price of such a sword was equivalent to the income that an entire large village produced within one year. Because of that medieval swords were often handed down through the generations.
Let`s find out more!
How long did it take to forge a medieval sword?
When we look at the time it took to make a sword in the Middle Ages then we first have to specify which of the 3 periods of the Middle Ages we are talking about. Especially during the Late Middle Ages but also towards the end of the High Middle Ages the production of swords (and armor) became much more efficient thanks to technical innovations. As a result of that development, plate armor became cheaper than chainmail during the 15th century. More on that here.
The same development can be seen when we look at the production (and price of swords). And as a result, swords became a lot more common on the Late medieval battlefields than they had been during the Early Middle Ages.
Ok, so the time it took to make a sword declined over the span of the Middle Ages. But how long did it take to make a sword in the Early and High Middle Ages?
It took a medieval blacksmith roughly 200 hours of work to produce a sword in the 11th century. Later, during the late High Middle Ages and the Late Middle Ages technical innovations speeded up the production of swords making swords much cheaper and more common.
So during the Early and High Middle Ages, a blacksmith (who was a highly skilled craftsman) had to put 200 hours of his time into producing one sword. That together with the fact that the production (or import) of steel was also quite time-consuming and expensive which explains the enormous price that swords had, especially during the Early Middle Ages.
Here you can find more information and examples for the price of medieval weapons and armor, especially for later periods of the Middle Ages.
The price of medieval swords & how knights could afford them
It is actually quite difficult to put a price on early medieval swords (or armor). So in the following, I would like to present the amount of land a knight needed to finance a sword.
An early medieval knight had to use the entire income that one large village could generate in one entire year to pay for his sword. His battle horse and his shirt of chainmail (the Hauberk) each also costed the annual income of a large village.
And since knights were members of a social class of warriors who were expected to train their skills they could not have a „regular“ day job. Instead, a knight did not only have to finance his weapons, his horses, and his armor but also his livelihood through the land that he owned or received as a fief from his overlord. Do you want to find out more about how many horses a medieval knight needed? Then I would like to recommend you my article here.
That high price of early medieval swords (and to a degree also high medieval swords) made the sword a valuable possession. And while swords were not that common on early medieval battlefields their high price made them an important status symbol.
Because of their high price swords (and shirts of chainmail, so-called Hauberks) were often passed down from father to son until they broke. As a result of that, knights in early medieval battles often used a variety of different variants of swords, some older, some of newer dates.
Because of that these items were usually very well maintained and regularly oiled to prevent any development of rust. Additionally, the swords were also sharpened after they were used to maintain their cutting abilities.
However, even though swords were passed down through the generations the sword was never a very common or battle-deciding weapon on an early medieval battlefield (and throughout the Middle Ages). Here you can find out more about the reasons for that and which type of weapon dominated medieval battlefields instead of the sword.
But make no mistake, even though I just wrote that swords were neither that common nor usually battle-deciding that does not mean that swords were not effective. Quite the opposite, a sword that was wielded by an experienced and well-trained swordsman was a highly effective weapon.
But the effectiveness of medieval swords and how they were used against different types of armor (like chainmail or plate armor) is a story for another time. If you are interested in that topic then I would like to recommend you my article here.
Take care of yourself because you deserve it. You really do.
Until next time
Malte Prietzel: Krieg im Mittelalter (Darmstadt 2006).
Richard F. Burton: The Book of the Sword (London 1884).
Maurice Keen (Ed.): Medieval Warfare. A History (Oxford 1999).