Let's start this off right. The quintessential sword, the image of the Dark Ages. Badassery. I think when everyone was a kid they beat the crap out of each other with a stick or a rolled newspaper. My friends and I used oak ax handles (I never claimed I was smart!). I think we all grew up with swords in some way, whether they were in our playtime, books, movies, or shows. They are embedded in our culture now as much as they ever were in the past. Of course, they were once used for more than showpieces.
Swords were thought to be invented in the 3rd millennium BC somewhere in the Middle East. They were originally made with copper and later in bronze, bringing about the Bronze Age. Swords can vary in sizes and shapes, but they are generally longer than the longest daggers and consist of the typical cutting edge, guard, handle, and pommel.
Despite their prevalence in books and movies, swords were actually rather rare. They were very expensive and difficult to smith, and as a result, the common soldier did not have access to one. They also required years of training to master, another factor that limited their widespread use. As a result, swords were mostly limited to the wealthy, as they were the only ones who could afford them and could spend the time required to train with them, instead of laboring like soldiers or commoners. The evolution of armor also hindered the spread of the sword, as eventually steel plate became virtually impossible to cut or stab through.
The appeal of the sword is perhaps in part to due its historical rarity. Perhaps it is due to the simple elegance of the weapon. Swords have become cultural icons, from legends like Excalibur to Tolkien's Anduril.
Long sword: The term "long sword" was used in historic texts, especially in the 14th and 15th centuries, but the documents never describe what they are refering to. As a result, "long sword" has become ambiguous with anything longer than a "short sword". In fact, the German langes Schwert ("long sword") of the 15th century did not define a weapon, but rather the technique of fencing with both hands at the hilt. Today, we are very interested in categorizing swords and we tend to follow the Oakeshott typology.
The typical modern-day defined long sword tends to average 33 to 43 in. in length. They have a cruciform hilt, a straight blade, and a handle used almost exclusively for two hand use. They are called "long" because they are longer than most swords in typical use at the same period and were often hung from a saddle as opposed to the belt. They were popular in the late medieval to Renaissance periods.
Bastard/Hand and a half sword:
Again, modern day scholars and nerds alike lament over classification. Historical manuscripts do not describe a bastard sword, and today, our best guess is that it was generally a type of sword with a shorter handle and a specific type of blade. The term bastard sword originates from the French "epee batarde", meaning a sword of uncertain origin. This gave way to naming any sword that did not fit into a category, or, a bastard. Bastard swords, or hand and a half swords, were recorded in medieval texts and treatises as being wielded with one hand, whether on horse back, on foot, or with/without a shield. They were also recorded as effective with two hands. Their smaller size allowed for more flexibility in battle, perhaps granting the sword its popularity.
The sword. Contrary to movies and popular belief, long swords and giant two-hand swords were not the most common place blades on the battlefield. It was the arming sword. The arming sword was a lightweight, double-edged weapon with a single-handed handle and cruciform crossguard. It was the most common sword, used frequently throughout the Middle Ages by footmen and knights alike. It is depicted on period artwork and there are numerous antique pieces preserved.
The sword developed from the Viking swords from around the 11th century. It became a popular weapon, and saw changes, but maintained its general size and style. It continued to be the main weapon of choice until around the 15th century, when longer swords became prevalent. The arming sword eventually moved to the role of a secondary weapon. Soldiers and knights would wear the sword opposite their main weapon or on their saddle, giving us the term arming sword, war sword, side sword, or knight sword.
"Broadsword" has become a popular term in modern language to refer to virtually any sword. This has become especially prevalent in video games and books and tabletop games. While the term has become confused with any sharp object, the word can actually be traced back to a certain typology of blade.
The term "broadsword" can be linked to wide, double-bladed swords used mostly by cavalry in the 1700's to 1800's. They began as a branch off from the Renaissance gentleman's rapier's, long, slender blades meant for duels and defense. These broadswords were for military use, featuring the same style of the rapiers, usually with basket hilts and the same straight blades, but a wider face for greater cutting and thrusting force.
The back sword developed along the same period as the broadsword and grew to prominence in the 16th and 17th centuries. The back sword has a very similar typology to the broadsword, featuring a long, wide, single blade. They often have a basket hilt or wide guard. Some back swords had a "false edge" near the tip, that were sharpened to allow for greater cutting and thrusting. Back swords became a popular weapon of choice for the common infantryman (especially cavalry), as they were light, easy to wield, and cheaper to produce than double-edged swords.
The term "short sword" became popular in the Victorian era, when categorizing everything from birds and flowers became an obsession. Swords were no different, but their many different forms proved difficult as difficult for Victorians to classify as it is for us today. Therefore, swords that seemed shorter than the average tended to be lumped into the category "short sword". This stuck, and today, with books and games using the term, it has become ingrained in our vocabulary.
Grosse Messer - Shorter blades were often used in combat however, as they were easier to produce. A popular German weapon, the Grosse Messer (great knife), was a dual purpose utility and combat knife. Also, Isroc Braygon's weapon of choice in my books! Most extant pieces remaining from the late medieval period are around 30 overall inches with a 24.5 in. blade. The hilts are generally straight and often have a protrusion to protect the thumb, usually a ring or "nail".
(Not to be confused with the German Kriegsmesser, which is of similar typology, however at a length that averaged around 44 in. to match a long sword).
Falchion- Another short blade intended for one hand use. This weapon is of European origin though it is reminiscent of the Persian shamshir. These weapons varied widely in blade design but retained its one hand use and single edge. These swords were often associated with lower quality and status, with use by peasants, footmen, and pirates. However, falchions were popular with the higher classes as well and many high-class families used them as weapons and in their arms.
Yatagan- is a type of Ottoman short sabre used from the 16th to 19th centuries. They were used exclusively in Ottoman Turkey and controlled areas like the Balkans. They were popular weapons, and ranged from plain and serviceable for soldiers to highly decorated for officers and the upper class. Oh, and did I mention the yatagan is also one of Ada's weapons?
The Great sword, or two-hand sword, were well, big ass swords. They were much larger than any other swords, often measuring 60-70 in. or more. Although massive, they were not as cumbersome as they looked, weighing in at 5-8 lbs. They were deadly effective in the hands of Swiss and German infantry and mercenaries. It is also Cain and Malecai's weapon of choice!
Zwiehander- German for "great sword" or beidenhander (two-hander). These were the late Renaissance morphology of the sword, used primarily by mercenaries or infantry among pike ranks. These swordsmen would use these weapons primarily to fend off pikes and break the front lines of attack. They typically had enlarged crossguards with side rings and an extra crossguard on the blade that would serve as a "parrying hook", increasing the weapon's defense and catching opponent's blades. Because of the weapon's size and limited effective use, they became difficult to wield in battle once the opposing forces met, and sometime in the late 16th century they became primarily ceremonial pieces. The great swords became larger and heavier and more ornate, some topping at 11 lbs.
Note: some great swords were used for executions.