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Quackcast 681 - Swords and armour

Ozoneocean at 12:00AM, April 2, 2024

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Today we're talking about swords and armour, the reality of those things and their use in fiction. I've always had a bit of an interest in swords since I was a little kid because I loved them in fairy-tales, comics and fantasy: The Three musketeers, puss in boots, Zorro, the Narnia books, Robin Hood, Errol Flynn movies, King Arthur, Conan, Asterix and more.

I only started seriously collecting them as an adult though when I needed the correct costume sabre to go with the hussar uniform I put together. I started with replicas and very quickly moved to buying expensive antiques. So I have a collection of real military sabres now, some over 200 years old and i've learned a lot about swords in general in the mean time.

A sword is a long piece of sharp metal with a handle at one end, it's ancient technology that's been constantly updated over the centuries. Most cultures developed their own versions, starting with bronze and then moving to steel. Swords are heavily symbolic of power, royalty, command, control, action, chivalry, and nobility.

There are many sword myths: A popular modern internet myth is to say swords were always “secondary weapons” or “side arms” in history while pole-arms with the “primary” weapon. Which is a silly simplification, the use and importance of the sword was always context based, they were “primary” weapons in many instances and situations; on the battlefield by Roman legionaries, by Hungarian hussars, Landsknechts and their giant swords, sailors and their cutlasses, by any solder who fought in a confined space, and the sword was the main civilian weapon for centuries.

Another silly myth is that Japanese katana swords were the best, lightest, sharpest, most sophisticated swords, of course none of that is true. Swords are much the same the world over with none being really better than any other, they're just better for their own particular geographical, cultural and historical contexts. “Folding” the steel in a katana is just a clever yet primitive solution to reducing the concentration of impurities in the metal, there are other, easier, better ways to do that but that method stuck because it became a tradition. And no, “European” swords were not heavier, clumsier or blunter.

Then there's the modern myth of swords being worn on the back for use, which was never done in history because any sword the size of your arm or longer is impossible to draw from the back, unless you do weird things. Swords were worn on the hip, waist, or carried on a horse generally. it looks cool but it's useless.

Another myth is that the straight swords that knights used were called “broadswords”. That term came about much later when skinny swords like rapiers, smallswords, and spadroons were popular It was a way of differentiating swords that were a bit wider than the more popular thin swords, and they usually had basket hilts.

I could nerd out much deeper and talk about pattern welding, Ulfbert swords, crucible steel, Damascus swords, tempering, differential hardening, tangs, grips, guards, rapiers, sideswords, pala, Kilij, small swords etc, but I won't! What is your favourite sword or favourite swordsperson? My fave has to be Nothung, the sword of Beowulf, just because it has such a cool name. And my fave swordsperson has to be Inigo Montoya

This week Gunwallace made up a theme inspired by Soulmates by SirMollington - A contemplative, dreamy, floaty, trip through clouds of muted colour, in a world of quiet stasis against a slow, jazzy background.

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Featured music:
Soulmates by SirMollington - - by Sir_Mollington, rated M.

Special thanks to:
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Ozoneocean -
Tantz Aerine -
Banes -

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Ozoneocean at 6:40PM, April 3, 2024

@Bravo- you mean like from a bladric or corssbelt? Yup, that was done a lot :) The only historical image of a sword carried on a back is from a Japanese ink painting of a soldier in amongst a group. I've never seen any other. The thing is that if you were on foot generally your sword wasn't that long so it wouldn't get in the way too much, unless it was a rapier... Gawd that must have been a weird time when it was fashionable for everyone to wear rapiers in public XD Long, heavy 40 inch swords sticking out behind people like a big beesting tail. We know the Landsnechts carried their giant swords in their hands on their shoulders or in the baggage.

rickrudge at 4:40PM, April 3, 2024

When I was younger, I practiced Kendo and Iaido. We often had people come in who were involved in the Society for Creative Anachronism to learn various asian techniques to help them with their European styles of swordsmanship. This was a lot closer to the Buhurt folks with more accurate armor; definitely a lot more hard core compared to the LARP folks. Just like the movies, TV and comics, accuracy of sword, armor and sword fighting falls behind for the sake of action and thrills. 🤺🤺

bravo1102 at 12:25AM, April 3, 2024

Not across their back, but on a cross belt worn over the shoulder as opposed to a waist belt. A sword on a shoulder belt would be swung around so it was across the butt so it didn't slap the thigh with every step. It was for long walks. And yes swords could be carried on the back with the rest of a soldier's belongings on the march when everything was packed away. Long walks when a soldier wasn't anywhere near ready for combat. Never drawn from over the back, just another thing carried in the pack when marching as opposed to slapping against the thigh.

Ozoneocean at 12:06AM, April 3, 2024

PaulEberhardt - Ancient war was very varied actually. One mistake people make about all war is that it's about killing the enemy but that's wrong, it's about taking land. So war in the old days wasn't always all dirty and bloody, that depended on a lot of factors, war could easily be won with very few deaths and little injury simply because people weren't suicidal and didn't want to die, they would run away or surrender when things were all lost. Most of the time when there was a lot of death it's because people simply killed all the prisoners rather than people dying in battle.

Ozoneocean at 12:01AM, April 3, 2024

@Bravi 1 - I've never, ever seen dragon or Carabiner wear heir swords anywhere near the back... I'd love to know what unit/country.time period that was. Because things were ver different country to country and from which time period. As far as we know people never even carried longswords over their backs. And yeas I agree that so much medieval fantasy is based on the 19th to 17th century.

Ozoneocean at 11:56PM, April 2, 2024

@dpat57 - Dread pirate Roberts... ugh, can't think of him as Westley!

dpat57 at 12:21PM, April 2, 2024

Inigo Montoya?! Westley beat him! Fun article.

bravo1102 at 7:10AM, April 2, 2024

And of course the US B-52 just reaching seventy years in service. A Star Trek meme has one escorting NCC-1701A to be scrapped in the 23rd Century.

bravo1102 at 7:07AM, April 2, 2024

Legacy armor was also used across all cultures that had personal armor. Kind of like legacy tanks (armor) are used in warfare, like WW2 T-34 still in service in Africa or a 1960 T-62 being refurbished for Russian service in the Ukraine.

bravo1102 at 7:04AM, April 2, 2024

Thing was that after a battle there were all kinds of swords and armor available for free. In the ancient world armor could often be an heirloom so a Hoplite in Peloponnesian Wars might be wearing Grandpa's armor from the Persian War. Alexander was wearing legacy armor at his first battle. It was supposed to be from the Trojan War but was probably a touch later. I doubt he was wearing a full set of Mycenean era bronze armor.

PaulEberhardt at 3:56AM, April 2, 2024

Another thing is that armour was expensive, so most people in the field didn't have any or they made do without many parts. Swords were extremely expensive, too. So many people in battles fought with something much less sophisticated. Battles must have been unbelievably dirty, messy and gruesome affairs, and fantasy never shows most soldiers dying of some disease on the way because of the poor hygiene in their camps. That's what I learned from various people who explained ancient warfare to me, anyway. What I know from the time when I used to practise a historic type of fencing is that even fights with heavier weapons were incredibly fast so it takes some skill of your own to make sense of them. I don't blame the movies for slowing them down, just like actors in a play probably did in the past.

bravo1102 at 3:23AM, April 2, 2024

A long sword goes on the back so that it's not slapping against your leg on a long walk when you're not expecting to fight anyone. Through history there have been numerous ways to keep your sword from bruising your thigh while walking a long way. Dragoons and Carabiner had unique sword belts that could be worn over the shoulder while dismounted and around the waist when mounted. Goes back to their original role as mounted infantry in the 17th century (and earlier before such mounted troops were designated as dragoon and Carabiner) A lot of what you see in pseudo Medieval settings are anachronistic for the middle ages and earlier and people see that fantasy and put it in historical works.

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