“Katzbalger” (infantry sword)



Infantry sword of the so-called Katzbalger type. Double-edged steel blade of hollow ground, flattened octagonal section tapering slightly to bluntly pointed spatulate tip. Ricasso of flattened rectangular section with 3 shallow, wide fullers on each face, becoming pointed & continuing as pair of fullers extending 1/3 of length of rest of blade. These are about 8" in overall length, and pointed at their ends. Pressing toward the tip, the blade becomes flat and lenticular, tapering gently and slightly to the point. One face is marked as noted under "marks". "S"-shaped octagonal section crossguard recurving in plane of blade, with domed, brass capped terminals. Quillon block, terminals of guard, brass caps have deeply incised line decoration. 1-piece briar wood grip of hexagonal section, widening towards pommel. The side faces are accented by cut axial lines at the angles. The grip is insulated at the ends by thin sheets of brass plate. There are no signs of a covering having ever been in place. Steel pommel, hexagonal at base & expanding into flattened mushroom-shape at end which is deeply cut into 3 sections. Where the blade tang passes through the pommel body there is a shallow rectangular cavity that might well have once held a finial both decorative and functional.

Curator's Comments

The swords appear widely in Germanic art of the day, depicted by famous artists such as Hans Baldung, Lukas Cranach and Urs Graf. Tip has been shortened. The cog-like brass mark on the blade is simialr to that which appears on an Italian roncone, of ca. 1510 in the Museo Poldi-Pezzoli (see Boccia and Godoy, p. 149, no. 461; this reference also notes similarly marked halberds given as German and Swiss, in Leningrad, Bern and Rome.) Katzbalger swords appear widely thoughout German art of the first half of the 16th century. Among other sources, see Lukas Cranach's woodcut of a Landsknecht, ca. 1510, at Dresden (Schade, Cranach..). The name is the source of some debate, but it was probably derived from a slang verb (katzbalgen) meaning to tussle ("mix it up"), or fight at close quarters. The open S-shape of the crossguard of our piece suggests an earlier date for the example, perhaps as early as the late 15th century. In its general form and execution it should be compared to that of a dagger given as Swiss (?) from the beginning of the 16th centuiry in the Odescalchi collection, inv. no. 1312. Rather similar hilts are depicted on the Harsdorfer gold and gem scale of 1497 (the footsoldier to the left of the arms as viewed; Gothic and Renaissance Art.., cat. no. 77) and on the St. Sebastian altarpiece by Hans Baldung Grien, 1507 (as worn by the yellow-clad archer in the right foreground of the main panel, ibid., cat. no. 178). The kriegstagesbuch discussed by Dilke and Closs shows rather similar hilts in figs. 5, 8, 9, 12; this work dates from the end of the 15th century, and in 1929 was preserved in the Thuringian State Archives, Weimar.


Claude Blair and Leonid Tarassuk (eds.), The Complete Encyclopedia of Arms and Weapons (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982), p. 294.
Lionello G. Boccia and Jose-A. Godoy, Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Armeria I (Milan: Bramante Editrice, 1985), p. 149, no. 461.
Nolfi di Carpegna, Le Armi Odescalchi (Rome: DeLuca Editore, 1976), p. 37, cat. no. 210.
Guy F. Laking, A Record of European Armour and Arms.., vol. II (London: G. Bell and Sons. Ltd., 1920), p. 299, fig. 679.
Donald J. LaRocca, "The Renaissance Spirit," in Swords and Hilt Weapons (New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1989), p. 47.
A.V.B. Norman and C.M. Barne, The Rapier and Small-sword, 1460-1820 (London: Arms and Armour Press, 1980), p. 66, hilt 3.
Werner Schade, Cranach: A Family of master Painters. Transl. Helen Sebba (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1980).
Heribert Seitz, Blankwaffen I (Munich: Klinkhardt und Biermann, 1965), pp. 134, fig. 76, no. 28; fig. 77, no. 34; 135, fig. 77, no. 40; 173; 175, fig. 111.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gothic and Renaissance Art in Nuremberg, 1300-1550 (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1986), cat. Nos. 77, 178.
Helene Dilke and Adolf Closs, "Das Kriegstagesbuch eines deutschen Landsknechts und die Wende des 15. Jahrhunderts," ZHWK, n.F. 3(12) (January 1929): 1-11.

Publication & Exhibit History

Photographed while in collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, neg. no. 26624


Return to Search

Alternate Views

Ask a Question