The Weight of Medieval Swords

When it comes to the use of swords then most movies make a crucial mistake. They portray swords as heavy weapons that have to be wielded with brute strength rather than with a sophisticated technique. So in the following, I would like to answer the question of how heavy medieval swords were and whether or not it really took a physically strong man to effectively use a sword.

There was a wide variety of swords in the Middle Ages but for the purpose of simplicity, I would like to differentiate them into the one-handed swords of the Early and High Middle Ages (like the Viking age sword, the Ulfberth, or the knightly arming sword) and the hand-and-a-half swords (bastard swords) and the two-handed swords of the Late Middle Ages.

Most medieval swords weighed between 1,7 and 3,5 pounds (0,8-1,6 kg). The one-handed swords of the Early and High Middle Ages like the Ulfberth, the Viking Age swords, or the knightly arming sword that were best used for cutting and chopping were at the lower end of that range while the two-handed swords of the Late Middle Ages that were ideal for thrusting were at the upper end of the range.

So it shows that despite the depiction of medieval swords in movies these swords were not that heavy. It did not need a lot of brute strength but rather good technique and a lot of training to effectively use a sword! Here you can find a video depicting a reenactment of the so-called Half-sword technique, an elaborate technique used to fight men in full plate armor with a Longsword.

So the image of the bulky swordsman and the skinny archer that is often portrayed in video games must not be seen as historically accurate. Indeed it took a lot more physical strength to repeatedly shoot arrows from a Longbow than it took to effectively wield a sword.

That also shows when we look at the stature (and height) of medieval knights. More on that topic in my article here.

Do you want to find out more about how the early-and high medieval one-handed swords were used compared to the late medieval two-handed swords? Then I would like to recommend you my article here where I do not only go into the effectiveness of medieval swords against different types of armor but also into how the different types of swords were used and why the one-handed sword was partially replaced by two-handed swords during the Late Middle Ages.

And here you can find out more about how common swords were during the Middle Ages and whether or not they were really a battle-deciding weapon.

Take care of yourself because you deserve it. You really do.

Until next time

Yours truly

Luke Reitzer


Malte Prietzel: Krieg im Mittelalter (Darmstadt 2006).

Johannes Kromayer: Heerwesen und Kriegsführung der Griechen und Römer (München 1963).

Richard F. Burton: The Book of the Sword (London 1884).