Sword taxonomy

The 1960 Oakeshott typology is a military historian’s attempt to classify the full range of European medieval swords.

Oakeshott typology
Ewart Oakeshott / Public domain

Archaeologists generally like to classify objects by date and location. This makes sense for many things, but those two data points are difficult for swords because they were often traded widely, carried far, and passed from owner to owner for many years.

Ewart Oakeshott, an amateur historian and weapons enthusiast, wanted to create a better way to categorise swords. He developed a system based on an earlier classification of Viking swords, but encompassing all Medieval European swords. It classifies swords according to several significant features:

  • the cross-section of the blade (is it a diamond, a flattened hexagon, lenticular?)
  • the length of the blade (bronze swords rarely got beyond 60cm, for example, because they’d bend if they were any longer)
  • the length of the “fuller” (the groove running from the hilt up the side of the blade; this reduced the weight of the sword without compromising its strength)
  • the taper (are the edges straight, coming together to form an elongated triangle, or do they run parallel until a little curve brings them together at the end?)

Oakeshott’s typology lists twenty-two different types of sword. But, to be honest, they all look the same to me and I bet they all hurt just as much.

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