Wish to Study Swords

by Sean Sullivan
(Denton, TX)

QUESTION: Hi, before asking this I went through all the questions before asking so you don't have to repeat yourself.

I have always been interested in swords however I have come to realize, that for someone who loves swords so much, I can't really distinguish between swords (other than being able to say that it is a european or asian sword and even then there is some difficulty). So I have decided to try and learn about all the different styles and histories of swords. This has been a more daunting task than I originally concieved. For one, there aren't really college courses on the subject save for going to medieval history classes and that would only cover swords in footnotes. the Internet is only helpful when you know EXACTLY which swords you are looking for and then the answers are seldom trustworthy.

So basically, I'm wondering if you know of a book that gives a fairly good education in swords with histories, development, origins, and general uses? I am not looking for books on a specific period or country of sword (unless there is a complete series on the subject, for example if the set covered medieval in one book then japanese in another as long as they were all covered at some point, that would be fine).

Sean Sullivan

P.S. Thanks for the site, it helps to know that people are still making genuine swords. Almost worried that all I would ever have is cheap remakes.


You've pretty much hit the nail on the head there. Studying the field of 'swords' is so broad, as it covers so many different time periods, cultures and styles that it is truly impossible to become an 'expert' on the subject. Even the legendary 20th Century Scholars, Ewart Oakeshott and Hank Reinhardt only even considered themselves to be 'students'.

Anyway, for an overview of swords through the ages and across all cultures, the very best starting point is Swords and Hilt Weapons by Victor Harris, et al.

To go a little deeper into Western swords, from Sumerian to the late medieval period, you MUST check out Ewart Oakeshott's Archaeology of Weapons

These two books would give you a solid foundation to build upon, and fill out a lot of the details.

Hope this helps.

- Paul

Comments for Wish to Study Swords

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Adam Pendragwn
by: Spathology

As the world’s foremost leading authority on Western European swords between AD 900 and AD 1200, who has helped scientists and archeologists to solve the riddle of the origin of the famous Ulfberht swords and the first to decipher the name Ulfberht (which were neither made by "Vikings" nor is it even a Scandinavian word) I’d like to offer a really good piece of advice: Instead of reading-up on all swords of all nations and all time periods, try narrowing your field of study. Choose a culture and time period you’re interested in, and start there. Later your search will expand naturally to include other cultures and earlier and later time periods. I didn’t start out wanting to know so much about swords of the Great Crusades period, I was interested in the Crusaders themselves. I later became more interested in their swords; and much of that was due to my desire to debunk all the myths about Medieval swords in general, Ulfberht swords in particular. What I eventually discovered was that Vikings never even existed! It wasn’t until I moved to Germany and became interested in Medieval German swords that I discovered Ulfberht wasn’t even a Scandinavian word (nor is the word Viking) but a Frankish word, where German comes from, meaning white (or bright) wolf.

The point is, I don’t think I would have discovered any of this if I had taken an interest in just Medieval swords in general—let alone all swords in general. As far as books go, try to avoid the newest ones, and avoid the internet all together. Read the older books, written before 2000–before the internet took off—most new books just perpetuate the same myths you’ll find on the internet. Most importantly, older books were not self-published like new ones. In the past, people actually fact-checked claims made by authors, and wouldn’t publish them unless the facts were true. Today, books are no different than internet articles—no one checks the facts. That’s why you’ll read all over the net that Ulfberht swords were made by Vikings—people who never really existed! The best scientists will tell you the Germans made them—and that’s the truth!

Good luck!

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