Medieval Sword Vocabulary - Sarah Woodbury

Medieval Sword Vocabulary

Following up on the post about medieval swords, here’s an extensive vocabulary list for swords from  From all us medieval-obsessed people, thank you for posting it!



MedievalSwordPartsMany sword types are closely identified with a particular style of hilt.  Yet hilts were very often replaced on blades over time a weapon. Thus, a sword cannot be classified or categorized by whatever kind of cross, pommel, or grip it has, but by the length, form, and geometry of its blade.

Hilt – The upper portion of a sword consisting of the cross-guard, handle/grip, and pommel (most Medieval swords have a straight cross or cruciform-hilt). Called the Handhabe in German. In Old French the crosspiece was called helz, the grip called poing, the pommel called pom, and the handle might be bound with metal rings called mangon.

Cross – The typically straight bar or “guard” of a Medieval sword, also called a “cross-guard.” A Renaissance term for the straight or curved cross-guard was the quillons (possibly from an old French or Latin term for a type of reed). Fiore Dei Liberi in 1410 referred to it as the crucibus. Fillipo Vadi in the 1480s termed it the cross-guard or “crosses,” Elza term. Called the Gehiltz or Gehultz in German. Called the Kreuz in German and Croce in Italian.

Quillons: A Renaissance term for the two cross-guards (forward and back) whether straight or curved. It is likely from an old French or Latin term for a reed. On Medieval swords the cross guard may be called simply the “cross,” or just the “guard.”

Forte’: A Renaissance term for the upper portion on a sword blade which has more control and strength and which does most 

Foible: A Renaissance term for the lower portion on a sword blade which is weaker (or “feeble”) but has more agility and speed and which does most of the attacking.

Fuller – A shallow central-groove or channel on a blade which lightens it as well as improves strength and flex. Sometimes mistakenly called a “blood-run” or “blood-groove,” it has nothing to do with blood flow, cutting power, or a blade sticking. A sword might have one, none, or several fullers running a portion of its length, on either one or both sides. Narrow deep fullers are also sometimes referred to as flukes. The opposite of a fuller is a riser, which improves rigidity.

Grip – The handle of a sword, usually made of leather, wire, bone, horn, or ivory (also, a term for the method of holding the sword).

Lower end – the tip portion or final quarter of blade on a sword

Pommel – Latin for “little apple,” the counter-weight which secures the hilt to the blade and allows the hand to either rest on it or grip it. Sometimes it includes a small rivet (capstan rivet) called a pommel nut, pommel bolt, or tang nut. On some Medieval swords the pommel may be partially or fully gripped and handled.

Ricasso – The dull portion of a blade just above the hilt. It is intended for wrapping the index finger around to give greater tip control (called “fingering”). Not all sword forms had ricasso. They can be found on many Bastard-swords, most cut & thrust swords and later rapiers. Those on Two-Handed swords are sometimes called a “false-grip,” and usually allow the entire second had to grip and hold on. The origin of the term is obscure.

Shoulder – The corner portion of a sword separating the blade from the tang.

Tang – The un-edged hidden portion or (“tongue”) of a blade running through the handle and to which the pommel is attached. The place where the tang connects to the blade is called the “shoulder.” A sword’s tang is sometimes of a different temper than the blade itself. The origin of the term is obscure.

Upper end – The hilt portion of a Medieval sword

Waisted-grip – A specially shaped handle on some bastard or hand-and-a-half swords, consisting of a slightly wider middle and tapering towards the pommel.

Annellet/Finger-Ring: The small loops extending toward the blade from the quillons intended to protect a finger wrapped over the guard. They developed in the middle-ages and can be found on many styles of Late-Medieval swords. They are common on Renaissance cut & thrust swords and rapiers they and also small-swords. For some time they have been incorrectly called the “pas d`ane.”

Compound-Hilt/Complex-Guard: A term used for the various forms of hilt found on Renaissance and some late-Medieval swords. They consist typically of finger-rings, side-rings or ports, a knuckle-bar, and counter-guard or back-guard. Swept-hilts, ring-hilts, cage-hilts, and some basket-hilts are forms of complex-guard.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *