Where can I find 13th century combat descriptions?

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Where can I find 13th century combat descriptions?

Postby Snap » 13 Aug 2015 12:32

Always been very interested in European armed combat in the 12th and 13th centuries. I realise written accounts of this period are scarce but I want to see what there is. Where should I start looking?
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Re: Where can I find 13th century combat descriptions?

Postby the underground man » 15 Aug 2015 22:53

I think it depends on what kinds of accounts you're looking for. Generally speaking, the later middle ages and early modern period have more written accounts of combat, in wars or otherwise, but you can still find chronicles, annals, and other written accounts that may discuss battles. There is a fairly accessible collection called Chronicles of the Crusades translated by Caroline Smith and published by Penguin that's pretty good. Deremilitari.org has a number of translated primary sources discussing battles as well, but I haven't been there in some time. There are also a number of readers (edit volumes usually accompanied by some description) that you can get through your local/university library if it's large enough or from Amazon.com if you're looking to buy. I'm not super familiar with this stuff though, since my historical research was situated within early modernity, specifically the latter half of the 16th century and the first half of the 17th century. Hopefully this helps out a bit.

If you're looking for descriptions of personal combat that might be harder, but it would certainly be interesting. I've always been interested in how a swordsman would have used an arming sword without a buckler since I'm sure it happened and some treatises show pretty simplistic hilts even in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Good luck with the source hunt. I know it can be tough without access to good translations/databases/archives!
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Re: Where can I find 13th century combat descriptions?

Postby Cosmoline » 24 Aug 2015 18:12

The earliest detailed illustrated sword fighting treatise is Royal Armories Ms. I.33 and dates to the early 14th century. But it's describing a sword-and-buckler style that was apparently well established by 1300. Which puts it back into the 1200's at least. It's as close as we have to knowing in detail how people may have fought in the high middle ages. Rather than bashing each other, the swords tend to wind and dance around each other a lot. It's a very "sticky" art that uses tight rotations and often ends up with a short edge cut or oberschtit thrust. You don't find a lot of big long edge swings the way we do it. One of the most popular approaches to this style is advocated by Roland, and you can see his videos here:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnXjzh ... R3XVpT2XTQ

I've been working with a local I.33 school for the past year and I find it to be both mind-bending and rewarding. It certainly explodes the idea that people of that era were limited to crude techniques as the Victorian sword experts claimed. I've had smoke coming out of my ears more than once trying to remember some of the training sequences. Each move can be addressed with a series of counters that branch off into more options. If you're going to be at WMAW next month there will be a number of classes on this subject.

Roland is also working on an illustrated guide that will incorporate some of his more speculative theories about pre I.33 combat. Back to the sword and shield methods of the Viking era through the curved triangular shields of the later middle ages.

Personally I've come to believe that very little if anything about any particular sword design is a matter of mere fashion or ignorance. For example, the lack of a protected hilt on period swords is often seen as simply people not knowing any better. Having worked with this stuff for awhile now, I no longer believe that. Nor the theory that it's supposed to keep the sword a "true Cross." I think they were designed for the style they were used in. And a lack of protected hilt gives you enormous freedom to rotate and manipulate the sword. The short edge comes into play constantly, and the hand is always shifting around. If I'm right, that would mean earlier sword designs were also made that way for a reason. We just don't know for sure what that reason was. Presumably Type Xa blades were for a mix of long edge cuts and blade-on-blade winden. Their form suggests a need for longer reach than a XIV and greater cutting force but less ability to dominate the bind. If no shield was used, it's likely the hand was used instead as a grabber. But this is getting highly speculative :D
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Re: Where can I find 13th century combat descriptions?

Postby Mink » 24 Aug 2015 21:35

I think the OP wanted primary sources, not just knowing how someone's interpretation of a later source looks like :)

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Re: Where can I find 13th century combat descriptions?

Postby Cosmoline » 24 Aug 2015 22:05

I don't think he limited to primary sources, but I.33 is here:


Which, granted, is early 14th. But I think you'd agree it's referring to an established S&B art and falls within the ambit of 13th century sword fighting. It's the best we've got to my knowledge. I for one would sell a kidney to see an illustrated fighting tutorial from 1200 or 1100, and both kidneys for something from 800 in Norway.

And of course all of the interpretation of I.33 described above is opinion. Nobody knows exactly how they fought, and nobody ever will. It's possible other interpretations are closer to the truth. As we discussed over on the HEMA board, trying to sort these things out on line is all but impossible. I would *highly* recommend that anyone looking to learn more about this get involved in a local group and attend conferences. More can be learned in a single class than in weeks of arguing on line. The upcoming WMAW in Racine will have multiple classes in S&B alone from various instructors and had some openings at least a few weeks back.
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Re: Where can I find 13th century combat descriptions?

Postby janner » 26 Aug 2015 16:48

I remember attending a paper at Leeds by Tim Dawson, which compared positions depicted in 1.33 with earlier East Roman/Byzantine ivory carvings. His argument that it derived from Byzantine practice was interesting and was published in Arms and Armour, as was James Hester's considered response. I would recommend both articles :D

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