Boarding sword

Until the end of the 1500s, naval warfare largely consisted of ramming an enemy vessel, then capturing it in hand-to-hand combat. This sword is one of only two known examples of a type evidently developed specifically for shipboard use. Its short length made it suitable for close-quarter fighting, the flat profile was ideal for storage in a sea-chest, and the saw-toothed edge may have been intended for use against heavy lines and cables. The reinforced point would have been effective against the light body armor often used at sea.


Broad straight, single-edged blade. It is drawn into a double-edged, elongated, ogival central point which terminates in a reinforced thrusting spike of quadrangular section. The back edge is finished in a series of 45-degree bevels that reverse direction from the blade shoulder to the top. The cutting edge is formed with six deep "sawteeth", each of which has beveled cutting edges; their spacing is overall broader toward the hilt, narrower toward the tip. Both the beveled edges of the teeth and the back edge retain traces of finely hatched lines. At the shoulder of the blade, the tang is formed as a long, thick ricasso of rectangular section. There are no visible bladesmith’s marks. The polished iron or steel hilt is rather simple, with a bifurcated forward crossguard extending straight from the quillon-block, one branch curved down to form a semi-circular arm of the hilt, and the other curving outward and upward to form a knuckle guard. These branches are of more-or-less elliptical section, that of the arm having a five-sided, squared-off terminal notched to rest against the edge of the blade at the shoulder, and the other finished as beveled bilobated “fish tails.” The rear guard is straight nearly to its end, where it is sharply turned at a right angle toward the blade. The knuckle-guard terminal rests in a shallow notch cut into the lower side of the pommel. In profile, the pommel is irregularly shield-shaped, reminiscent of the early forms associated with schiavone. It has a flat bottom with a moulded, necked base, convex sides, and is drawn up in a medial, blunted cusp at the top, through which the tang of the blade passes and is peened over. It is lenticular in section. The short, single-handed grip appears to be original. It has a spiraled, wooden core tapering to the pommel, and is wire-wrapped with twisted iron wire, over which a pair of twisted wires is spirally wrapped. There are braided Turks heads at top and bottom. The inner side of the arm of the hilt terminal retains traces of copper or brass braising, which may be an old repair to a broken guard. JLF 2011: Possibly later description by WJK suggested that the hilt was “probably associated” and that the wrapping was later than the grip. The hilt seems ok to me, although the sword seems to have been disassembled and reassembled in modern times; the fit seems very good. I agree that the wire wrapping is later, as it stands too proud of the hilt. There is a good deal of cracking on the pommel, especially along the midline at the proximal end, and there has also been some braised repairing on the pommel at the distal end. There is some curious cracking at the bifurcation of the knuckle-guard from the arm of the hilt, perhaps from old damage, and there may have been an attempt to deliberately scribe along this line to turn it into a decorative feature, extending an original light scribing running inward from the bifurcation point.

Curator's Comments

Hilt form reminiscent of that on a series of L 15th/E 16th c. swords in Venice, Brescia, & Vienna. Sword appears to be near-unique. The only other known to the cataloguer is A 290 "Saege-Cortellagio, Venice c1560-70" in the Hofjagd-und Rustkammer, Vienna (see digital files for a photo). This has pretty much the same features as ours, except that the hilt bars seem a bit heavier, and there is a hand-guard that extends over the knuckles, so that the sword is not actually flat (perhaps a later addition?). The hilt is reminiscent of those on a series of infantry swords in Venice, Brescia, and Vienna (see Boccia and Coelho figs. 150-58, 163, 164). Our sword is nearly identical to A.390 in Vienna (see Leitner, Die Waffensammlung, pl. LXIII(5), described on p. 36 when in Army History Museum). This is now given as c. 1560-70. I feel that this is too late, and that a date in the first quarter of the 1500s is appropriate. The Vienna sword has a very similar pommel to ours. This seems to be perhaps and early combination of the elongated tear-drop-shaped type found on A.658 in Vienna and CX557 in Venice (Veneto, c.1490—Boccia), the egg-shaped profile of A.777 (ibid, c. 1480-90—Boccia), and the so-called schiavona type (eg CX1836 ibid.).


Victor Gay, "Glossaire archéologique du moyen age et de la renaissance", Vol. 1, (Paris), p. 213, our sword shown as fig. 1488 ©. See hardcopy files.
On the Vienna example, see Boeheim 1890: 270-71, fig. 308.


Return to Search

Ask a Question