[This is an article from Cariadoc's Miscellany. The Miscellany is Copyright (c) by David Friedman and Elizabeth Cook, 1988, 1990, 1992. For copying details, see the Miscellany Introduction.]

Shield and Weapon Weights

In Caid, as in some other kingdoms, there are minimum weight requirements for weapons and shields; in Caid, swords (including basket hilt and gauntlet) are to weigh at least one pound per foot and a 24" round shield is to weigh at least ten pounds. The latter requirement may, as I understand it, be waived in some circumstances.

I can see only two legitimate grounds for such weight requirements: safety and authenticity. So far as safety is concerned, minimum sword weight requirements tend if anything to make fighting more dangerous. Injuries are most likely to be inflicted by strong fighters, and in the hands of a strong fighter a heavy weapon is more dangerous than a light one. Heavy shields may protect somewhat better than light ones, provided the shield is not too heavy for the user to control. On the other hand, a heavy shield is more dangerous to the opponent, in case of accidents, than a light one. All things considered, I find it hard to see how such rules can be justified in terms of safety.

What about authenticity? One purpose of the Society is "to study the past by selective re-creation." To the extent that our rules permit, or still worse encourage, weapons whose handling characteristics are different from those of the real weapons they are intended to imitate, we fail in that purpose. If, for example, the swords which are most effective in our fighting are so light that real medieval swords of similar weight and balance would either break or fail to penetrate mail, or if our shields are so light that in real combat they would survive only a few blows, it is reasonable to forbid both light swords and light shields and require something more authentic. So far as I know, however, those who support weight limits have never provided any evidence of what the characteristics of early medieval swords and shields really were.


Table 1 shows all of the broadswords for which length and weight are given in the three sources in which I have found such figures. Most are from the catalog of the Wallace collection in London; three are from Cut and Thrust Weapons by Eduard Wagner and 3 are from Treasures From the Tower of London, a catalog compiled by A.V.B. Norman and G.M. Wilson. The final column gives the weight in pounds divided by the length in feet; a weapon for which this figure is below 1 is illegal in Caid unless the fighter's gauntlet adds enough weight to make up the difference.

Examining table 1, we find that a majority of the swords are too light to be legal in Caid; the average weight per foot is .89 pounds, also too light to be legal. If we add in a half pound gauntlet (many medieval gauntlets would have been lighter; remember that our fighting rules are based on medieval combat prior to the adoption of plate) we bring the average up to 1.05 lb/foot; even with this addition a third of the swords in the table fail to meet the requirement. The requirement corresponds more nearly to the average weight of period swords than to its minimum, hence it cannot be justified on grounds of authenticity.

Not only is the requirement unjustified, it also has at least two undesirable consequences. It provides an unreasonable barrier to the weaker fighters, especially (but not exclusively) women, by forcing them to use equipment that is too heavy for them. In addition, the requirement encourages weapons that are realistic in weight but unrealistic in balance. Since the weight of a basket hilt or counterweight counts towards satisfying the requirement, fighters can and do make swords which have light blades and heavy hilts; such swords handle quite differently from real medieval swords, which are typically blade heavy. Since it is the strength of the blade which determines whether a sword can cut armor without breaking, weight requirements, if any, should apply to the blade not to the whole sword. The present rule encourages unrealistic weapons (heavy swords balancing near the hilt) while forbidding some realistic ones (lighter swords balancing farther towards the point) thus defeating the whole idea of making rules that re-create actual medieval fighting.

What should be done? Lowering the weight requirement is only a partial solution; as long as the restriction is defined in terms of the total weight of the sword it encourges swords with unrealistic balance. The simplest solution, and the one I am inclined to favor, is to eliminate the rule; fighters will be discouraged from using unreasonably light swords by the difficulty of killing anyone with them. If that is not satisfactory, we should at least state the limit in terms of weight per foot for the blade, not for the sword; I would suggest about half a pound per foot. While it is usually impractical for the marshallate to measure blade weight directly by weighing the sword before the basket hilt, cross, or pommel weight is attached, the linear density of the blade (its weight divided by its length) can be estimated fairly easily by weighing the finished sword, locating the point on the blade at which it balances, and measuring the distance from the point of balance to the tip (P), from the point of balance to the hilt (H), and from the point of balance to the point where the additional weight (the basket hilt, cross, or cross plus pommel weight) is attached to the blade (W). In the case of a sword with a basket hilt or with both a cross and a pommel weight this point would be at about the center of the handle-see figure 1. In the case of a sword with a cross and no pommel weight it would be at the cross. The formula is: Density of blade x (1+(P-H)/2W) = Density of sword = weight of sword divided by length of sword.

Figure 2 shows this formula graphically; to find out whether a sword has a blade density of at least half a pound per foot one measures P,H, and W (shown on figure 1), calculates d=P-H, locates the corresponding values of d and W on figure 2, and looks at the nearest line to see what the density of the sword (its weight divided by its length) must be in order that its blade density be at least half a pound per foot. Once you have done it a few times it becomes quite easy.


Table 2 shows all of the circular or almost circular shields from before 1650 that are listed in the Wallace Collection catalog. They are all from the sixteenth or seventeenth century and most are described as "pageant" or "parade" shields (presumably ornamented shields are more likely to survive in collections than plain ones). Sixteenth century shields are in period for the Society but out of period for our sort of fighting. They give us some idea of what weight shields it is possible to make but they do not tell us what shields were or could be used in early medieval combat.

Unfortunately, early shields are either rare or non-existent. I have discussed the question of shield weights with the curator of one of the largest arms and armor collections in the country and the assistant curator of another; neither was willing to commit himself beyond the suggestion that one could use the surviving metal fittings from early shields to design a reconstruction and weigh that. Hence while the fact that the average weight per square foot for the historical shields is less than the minimum permitted by Caidan rules suggests that the Caidan shield requirements are too high, I do not think the table justifies much more than the conclusion that, absent evidence on the other side, the burden of proof is on those who claim that a medieval shield could not weigh less than 3.2 pounds per square foot.

Fighting Style

I have so far ignored one argument for weapon limits unrelated to issues of safety or authenticity. It is sometimes said that some type of weapon (most commonly a large shield) encourages "bad" style. Sometimes the claim is that the style really does not work, but novices adopt it because it is easier than learning to fight better and gives good results against other novices. In other cases the claim is that the "bad" style does work, but should not, that somehow it defeats and drives out "better" styles. It is rarely explained in what sense the losing style is better.

Both of these arguments seem to me to be attempts by some fighters to use the rules to impose their views of how to fight on others, and as such indefensible. So far as novices are concerned, it is up to whoever is training them to advise them as to what weapons and fighting style work; if they choose to ignore the advice that is their concern. They might turn out to be right. I can easily enough imagine myself or others some years back informing a new fighter by the name of Paul of Bellatrix that he was doing it all wrong ("shields are for hiding behind"); perhaps if one of us had been King or Earl Marshall we could have come up with rules capable of dealing with someone who not only insisted on fighting all wrong but had the effrontery to kill us while doing so.

What about those who concede the effectiveness of the styles they dislike and wish to ban them anyway? This attitude seems to me to be based on a misunderstanding of what fighting is about. It is true that good fighting is beautiful, but its beauty comes from the fighter pursuing a particular objective (killing his opponent) in an elegant, ingenious, and effective way. To claim that because certain styles of fighting are elegant they should be required even when they do not work is ultimately to argue for converting fighting into a form of dance. This seems to me entirely undesirable. It is also directly contrary to the idea of the Society as a group of people discovering how things were done by trying to do them.

There is one exception. Our fighting corresponds in part to real medieval combat and in part to medieval tourney fighting done with blunt weapons under restrictive rules. To the extent that we are interested in reproducing the latter, it is appropriate to introduce restrictions based on the rules actually used in medieval tournament. Since these rules varied from time to time and from place to place, such restrictions are probably most appropriate in special tournies held under rules based on the rules of particular historical tournaments.

Table One

Date(aprox) 	Length 	  Weight    Origin 	Wt/Lgth	Source
			  (lb/oz)		(lb/ft)

9th-10th c.  	30 1/8"    2/8      Scand? 	1.0 	Wallace
1150-1200     	32 3/8"    2/10     German   	.97 	Wallace
13th c.      	33 3/8"    1/8          	.53 	Wallace
1340          	33 3/4"    2/9      French?	.98 	Wallace
1375-1400     	30"        3/0      French  	1.2 	Wallace
14th c. 	29 3/8"    2/1          	.84 	Wallace
1350-1400     	29 3/16"   3/3      French  	1.31 	Wallace
1375-1400     	23 5/8" *  2/8         		1.27 	Wallace
1380          	31 1/8"    2/1          	.8 	Wallace
1400          	34 3/8"    2/12         	.96 	Wallace
1460          	34 3/4"    2/15     Italian?	1.01 	Wallace
early 16th c. 	36 1/8"    3/2      German  	1.04 	Wallace
9th-10th c.  	75.5 cm.   .5 Kg.   Nordic   	.44 	Wagner
9th-11th c?   	89.5 cm.   1.42 Kg.    		1.06 	Wagner
11th-13th c. 	92 cm.     1 Kg.    Prague?  	.73 	Wagner
Before 1432	41"	   1/11	    Italian?	.49	Tower
about 1480	43.2"	   2/12	    German?	.76	Tower (Hand and a half?)
about 1500	35.4"	   1/15	    Swiss 	.66	Tower
                                    or Swabian
* Aproximately 5" of tip missing
c. means century.

Table Two: Shields and Bucklers

Date(aprox)  Size   	Weight   	Origin  	Wt/Area
               		(lb/oz)				(lb/sq ft)

Leather Targets for Parade

1560         22 1/2 "  	5/2.5   	Italian   	1.9
1560         22 11/16" 	5/8     	Italian  	2.0
1560         22 3/16"  	5/14    	Italian  	2.2

Wooden Pageant Shields

1580         22 5/8"   	4/6     	Italian   	1.6
1590         18 27/32" 	3/10.5  	Italian   	1.9

Wooden Bucklers

1600         17 1/2"   	3/7     	German    	2.1
1600         20 3/4"   	3/3     	Italian?  	1.4

Steel Bucklers

16th c.      15 1/2"   	4/9     	Italian   	3.5
1600         21 1/4"   	7/3.5   	Italian   	2.9

Steel "Shield or Bucklers"

1560         23 3/8"   	9/4     	Span/Ger  	3.1	
1560         22 1/4"   	7/14    	Italian   	2.9
1580         22 1/4"   	12/4    	Italian  	4.5

Steel "Pageant Shields or Bucklers"

16th c.      21 3/8"   	7/1     	Flem/Fr   	2.8
16th c.      24 7/16"  	9/.5    	Flem/Fr   	2.8
1570         24 7/8"   	6/9.5   	Ger/Fl    	2.0
1590         22 7/32"  	8/12.5  	German   	3.3
1560         23 1/8"   	9/0     	Italian   	3.1
1560         23"       	8/1     	Italian   	2.8
1570         21 3/4"   	7/4.5   	Italian   	2.8
1570         22 1/2"   	7/1.5   	Italian  	2.6
1570         22 1/4"   	9/3.5   	Italian   	3.4
1580-1600    23"       	7/4     	Italian   	2.5
Post 1556    22 3/4"   	10/4.5  	Italian   	3.9
1580         19 1/2"   	7/1     	Italian   	3.4
1590         22 3/16"  	7/7.5   	Italian   	2.8
1590         23 1/2"   	8/2     	Italian   	2.7
1620         23 3/8"   	10/14   	Ger/Fl    	3.6

Average of Historical Shields is 2.75 lb/sq ft, which corresponds to a 24" round weighing 8lb 10 oz.

A.S. XVI     24"       	10/0		Caid Minimum	3.2
A.S. XVI     24"       	8/0     	Illegal   	2.5
A.S. XVI     24"       	6/0     	Illegal   	1.9
Note: Some of the shields were slightly oval; the average radius is shown. The last three shields are given for purposes of comparison.

Table Three: Maces

   Date(aprox)	Length		Weight  	Origin

1470	 	15.5"*		2/12		South German
1560		17 1/16"**	3/11		Milanese
1560		22 1/16"	2/14.5		North Italian
1540		25 3/4"		3/5		Italian
1540		25"		3/3.75		Italian
1550		23 4/5"		2/12.75 	Italian(?)
1550		25"		3/6		German
1580		17 3/4"**	4/1.5		Milanese
1560		18 15/16"** 	3/6.5		Milanese
*From the guard

Table Four: Rapiers

Date (aprox)	Length		Weight	Origin		Wt/Lgth
				(lb/oz)			(lb/ft)

1590		46 5/8"		3/4.5	Italian(?)	0.845
1600		41 1/2"		2/13	German		0.813
1585		43 5/8"		2/5.5	Italian (Milan)	0.645
1600		39.5"		2/4.5	German		0.693
1590		42 3/8"		3/5.5	North Italian	0.947
1590		43 3/8"		3/2	Italian 	0.865
1570-1600	47 7/8"		3/6.5	Italian		0.854
1600		42 13/16"	3/5	Italain 	0.928
1600		44 7/8"		3/1	Italian		0.819
1590		41 1/4"		2/13	Italian		0.818
1580-1600	41 1/4"		2/13.5	Spanish (Toledo) 0.827
1600		40 1/4"		2/9.5	Italian (Brescia) 0.773
1600		45 7/8"		2/9.5	Italian(?) 	0.678
1600		41 3/4"		2/7	Italian (Milan) 0.701
1550-1600	44 3/8"		3/2	Italian (Milan)	0.845
1600		44 5/8"		2/15.5	Italian (Milan)	0.798
1600		41 3/16"	3/9.5	German		1.05
Average Wt/Lgth: 0.82

Table Five: Two-Handed Swords

Date (aprox)	Length			Weight	Origin		Wt/Lgth
		Blade 	Grip	Over all (lb/oz)		(lb/ft)

Mid 16th c	50 1/4"	23 3/4"	74"	8/6	German		1.36
1580		58 3/4"	19 5/8"	78 3/8"	14/3	German		2.
1580		50 1/8"	13 1/2"	63 5/8"	7/4	German		1.37
1500-10		44 5/8"	14 3/4"	59 3/8"	5/6.5	Italian		1.09
1530		48"	16 1/2"	64 1/2"	6/10	Italian		1.23
16th c.		53 1/4"	16"	69 1/4"	5/14	Spanish or German 1.02
early 16th c.	46 1/8"	17 5/8"	63 3/4"	6/6	German		1.2

Table Six: Halberds etc.

Date (aprox)	Length	  Weight Origin	Type	   Source
late 14th-
early 15th c.	14 3/4"*  4/8	Swiss	 Hallberd  Wallace
1500		16 1/4"*  4/7	German	 Hallberd  Wallace
1593		23 1/2"*  6/10	German	 Hallberd  Wallace
1580-1620** 	31 5/8"*  7/4.5	Saxon	 Hallberd  Wallace
1600-1620	21 1/8"*  5/5	Saxon	 Hallberd  Wallace
about 1500	70"	  6/7	European Pollaxe   Tower
about 1500	97"	  9/1	European Glaive	   Tower  Modern Haft
1500-1550	93.5"	  7/11	European Pollaxe   Tower  Iron butt spike
early 16th c.	83.12"	  4/12	Italian	 Partizan  Tower  Modern Haft
early 16th c.	100.75"   4/0	Italian? Partizan  Tower  Modern Haft
early 16th c.	91.5"	  5/14	Italian	 Halberd   Tower  Haft not original
16th c.		80.5"	  5/1	English	 Bill	   Tower  Modern Haft
early 16th c.	85.5"	  9/15	Italian	 Bill	   Tower  Modern Haft
about 1600	80.37"	  4/7	Italian? Partizan  Tower
* The head, in some cases including the socket. Four 17th c. halberds are listed with shafts. The overall lengths are 60 5/8, 85, 90, and 75.5 . The first is listed as an officer's halberd, and the fourth as a "Halberd or Pole-Axe."

** There are 12 of these, "Carried by the Guard of the Elector of Saxony; all of one pattern but differing slightly in details."

[Published in Crown Prints, reprinted in Tournaments Illuminated no. 64. Tables 3-6 are new.]

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