The Truth About Sword Weight

Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Drakken, Apr 6, 2014.

  1. I don't know how common this misconception still is in this day and age, with the power of Google at our fingertips, but apparently there are still people that have very wrong preconceptions or notions about swords. Specifically, about how much they weighed. This also feeds into how people thought fighting back in ye olden days looked, but this thread won't be covering that. As such, this will be kept brief.

    The Most Common Misconception of Swords:
    Swords are super heavy and can weigh up to 15-40 pounds!
    This is the one I see the absolute most, and by far the most heinously wrong. People seem to forget that warriors/soldiers back then weren't actually that different from our soldiers today. They had the same concerns for practicality that we do today, with the flashy, impractical weapons and armor usually reserved for officers. So why, then, would anyone carry a 40 pound hunk of metal into a close-quarters fight, something that would wear down even the most fit of men very quickly? Heck, even 15 pounds would wipe a soldier out in very little time. If swords really weighed this much, no one would use them, because they'd be useless!
    In Reality:
    Swords mostly weighed 2 to 3 pounds.

    That's right! Swords, even the big two-handers like bastard swords and Zweihanders rarely weighed more than 4 pounds. Swords were light and fast weapons that could move fast as lightning if need be. Only ceremonial swords weighed more than is practical, and those never saw actual use in combat. To see actual swords in use, and the fighting styles often used, go check out the videos in this thread:

    You can also look up videos on YouTube. If you're interested, I recommend checking out 'Reclaiming the Blade,' a documentary about sword combat.
    That said! If you are playing in an RP or a story where characters are super strong, then feel free to ignore this point, or even take advantage of it! Imagine how lethal combat would be if the combatants were swinging around huge swords that could serve as shields unto themselves, weapons that would render most armor completely useless.

    One last minor point: Yes, armor was fairly heavy and could weigh 40 pounds, but the point people seem to miss is that the weight is evenly distributed across the body. As a result, no particular body part is overburdened, and does not encumber your movements at all. A guy in full-plate can do cartwheels. Have fun imagining that! Or better yet, here's a video!

    It's true there were times where warriors in history went into fights, without armor, like the Gauls [supposedly] sometimes did against the Romans (although the only accounts we have on this are from Romans, so take that with a grain of salt). You'll also notice they lost.

    (I think this is about it... I may edit or add to this as time goes on)
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  2. Surprisingly, despite the sheer size of the weapon and weight distribution, even one-handed mauls and polearms such as glaives and even the naginata didn't weigh much more than three pounds. Just because a weapon appears to be large, it doesn't mean it's going to be heavy.

    When creating a weapon, a blacksmith would take the weight into account knowing full well that a guard would be carrying the said weapon throughout his entire shift or a soldier would be running whilst hauling his weapon with him. Even if you are simply holding something five pounds in weight for an extended period of time, your arm WILL become tired.

    A fascinating reference regarding other weapons throughout the ages is 'WEAPON: A Visual History of Arms and Armor'. The featured arsenal dates from the sharpened stones of Prehistoric times to the assault rifles of the early 2000's. The average length, weight, and region of various weapons is also featured in this book. Check it out when you can.
    #2 Shenorai, Apr 23, 2014
    Last edited by a moderator: May 28, 2014
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  3. On the armour point, players shouldn't feel limited to making their armour steel or chain; leather armour was also common for an average footsoldier; and not every soldier had full armour, either; you may limit yourself to a breastplate, gloves, and shoulder guards if your character also carries a shield :)
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  4. Speaking of shields and armor, something else to keep in mind: if you're using a big, round Viking-style shield and sword combo, you don't really need gauntlets to protect your hand. If you're fighting competently, your hand is usually safely protected by the shield anyway. The only situations in which it would be vulnerable, a gauntlet isn't going to save you anyway. That's why the swords typically used with such shields had such short grips, ones that you wouldn't be able to hold with a gauntlet. This point is covered in one of the videos in the linked thread above.
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  5. Let's not forget the Spartans, who actually used their massive shields as a secondary weapon. A good shield bash with a large, tempered sheet of metal can knock most people flat on their rear. The momentum that carries through one such attack can easily be used to quickly follow up with a good stab from a sword, axe, or spear.

    Now with alternate armor, there were warriors in early Egypt who actually wore Crocodile skin as their protective gear:


    That's the remains of one such suit of armor. Using the tough hide of a creature (dragon skin, chitin, etc.) can also act as alternate armor, depending upon the era of the RP.
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  6. I enjoyed this thread. Thanks to all who contributed but I would like to add that just because a weapon isn't necessarily heavy, it still creates fatigue.

    A standard wooden baseball bat weighs around 33 oz. Swing it ten times in a row and tell me how your arm feels.

    I have noticed that on longer battle scenes, players tend to ignore fatigue altogether. Weapons, armor, technique, terrain and nearly everything else in the environment can create battle fatigue.
  7. That is an excellent point and something I see fairly often as well. It's something I remind myself of whenever I go to write a battle scene.