EARLY LONGSWORDS, PART I
On one of the forums I came across this question:: 'What evidence do we have for the existence of long swords in the 13th century?'
Well, there is no simple answer. At that time, there was no 'long sword' in the sense of later, eg 15th century or modern terminology. That's why I used to call these 13th century long-handled swords 'early longsword'. I know, a better name would be useful, but there is no other one, and this way we know what it's about right away.
Let`s see about that topic.
First we need to distinguish what is an 'early longsword' with a slightly extended grip (where there is extra room for 2-3 fingers), from a classic longsword, where we can put both hands on the hilt, sometimes slightly apart. Because the length of the grip in the context of anatomy and fencing, is a significant feature in the design of the sword. A deliberate change resulting from the additional possibilities of the sword.
So: when does that start to change?
I will try to show it in a simplified form with examples.
The first sword in the picture is for comparison of proportions, it is a typical one-handed sword, from the same period when people started to think about a longer hilt. Such an extension (additional space for 2-3 fingers) appears in historical sources in the middle of the 13th century. The blade is not much longer, but it is also quickly extended a bit for extra reach, which is made possible by extending the handle. This relationship seems to be gaining ground and leading to the creation of a place for both hands on the hilt sometime around the end of the 13th century. So we already have the proportions and size of the longsword, but the form of the sword, typologically, is still similar to the 13th century swords. Changes in geometry, cross-sections and style lead to the long sword, the first types of which can be found in the mid-14th century. Of course, this is also a consequence of the development of plate armor and other factors.
We should remember that in the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries, both one-handed and these longer swords were fought. We meet them in historical sources sometimes next to each other, despite the fact that the illustrators of e.g. manuscripts showed a personal manner of repeating similar swords in each of their illustrations.
However, a comparison of manuscripts from the same years, finds and tombstones, paintings, etc. gives a fuller picture of the parallel use of many different types of swords on European battlefields during the same periods.
Let us also remember that there was no standardization in this matter, each sword was made to individual order and needs. That's why we meet different lengths, and today we can only talk about ranges and try to find continuity and purpose in it.
So what is the answer to this question? What evidence do we have for the existence of long swords in the 13th century?
In the form of evolution, we have transiently long swords as far back as the 13th century. But in the classic form and proportions that we call the Longsword today, it does not appear until 100 years later, in the second half of the 14th century.
The emergence of the longsword should be seen as a PROCESS spanning about 100 years, not a sudden event or revolutionary change.
It is also worth to mention that the techniques we call 'two-handed, longsword techniques' have also evolved. They didn't suddenly appear. They evolved together with the length of the handle. The thing is that we don't have any fencing treatises written for longswords before 15th century. Which does not mean that they did not know how to fight with such swords before the appearance of treaties. This way, this topic cannot be reduced to a simple division according to the techniques of fencing.
There are also long swords, grips over 160mm, with brazil-nut shape pommels. They are mainly dated to the second half of the 12th century / first half of the 13th century.
These would be exceptions, rather individual cases of no general trend, and here I am writing about a general trend. On the other hand, we have to consider the option that these may be late the 13th century swords, they just STILL have older style pommels.