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Poryg
Poryg
They were around for centuries, but between Roman empire and Renaissance they were definitely not everywhere. The reason was, you could not make a peasant army with swords. It was way too expensive and skill dependent. So until Renaissance swords stood with nobility and were used more for ceremonial purposes and arena combat.
Poryg
Poryg
In medieval times it was extremely difficult to get through armor with a sword. Slashing attacks did nothing to someone equipped with a padded armor, which limits the sword to merely stabbing, in other words nothing more than an oversized ice pick. For this purpose even a spear was better, because not only you could stab, you could also use the blunt side of the spear.
The Mighty Palm
The Mighty Palm
again, I'd like to see a source for the claim that they werent prevalent throughout the medieval period. As metallurgy got better, swords became more available. It took 1-2 months for someone to get a sword from a smith, not because they were hard to make, but because they were made a dozen or so at a time as to not waste material.
The Mighty Palm
The Mighty Palm
You see them all throughout artwork of these periods, they're mentioned in books such as Le Jeu de la Hache alongside axes and polearms, and other historical literature as well. The sword may not have been the optimal weapon for every situation, but it was easily the most versatile weapon.
The Mighty Palm
The Mighty Palm
Finally, NEARLY EVERY culture used swords! Even the Aztecs had swords made of wood and obsidian shards, and they didn't even know how to smith!
As for why it's prevalent in fantasy, probably because fantasy combat isn't warfare. it's duels between small groups of individuals, and those kinds of combat is where the sword shines the most in practicality.
The Mighty Palm
The Mighty Palm
I'm a spear fanboy myself. I love polearms to death, and I sing their praises wherever I go, but I'm not about to pretend the sword wasn't just as important historically.
The Mighty Palm
The Mighty Palm
Poryg
Poryg
Swords have survived through millenia, but they aren't called a weapon of nobility for nothing. Swords were considered the pinnacle of metallurgy and it really was not cheap to make a sword. Not to mention, swordsmen (and later men at arms) had their dedicated squadrons, because you needed training to be able to use it properly.
The Mighty Palm
The Mighty Palm
That's not what your status says though, you said swords were "a historically impractical weapon" and that is absolutely false. Swords are dripping with practicality.
Poryg
Poryg
The most widespread weapons through medieval times were spears and polearms, because they were cheaper to manufacture (and hence maintain) and deadly even without training. Just stab where there's no defence. As for close combat, swords were mostly for dedicated use. But the large scale peasantry had to do with mostly blunt weapons.
Poryg
Poryg
Oh. I didn't mean like impractical like actually useless. They had their place in history. But impractical, because they were costly, not the easiest to use and inefficient against the most common type of armor - padded armor. In fact even falchions, which were made specifically to combat padded armor, were far from a perfect solution against it.
Poryg
Poryg
In fantasy you combat heavily armored enemies with swords, which, unless you want to use half swording or reverse grip, is not a good solution. If you used maces instead, it would be more understandable - they were easier to manufacture, because they didn't require fine steel, easy to use and deadly effective even with little training.
Poryg
Poryg
I apologize for the misunderstanding.
The Stranger
The Stranger
No. Historically, not every man in an army was heavily armoured. Armour was very expensive, and even knights had to buy their own gear. The common folk used mostly repurposed tools (axes, scythes, etc), and wouldn't have much in the way of armour beyond a quilted gambeson; armour which wasn't all that great aginst swords or other sharp weapons. Where are you getting your info from?
The Stranger
The Stranger
Just need to clarify my comment about quilted gambesons a bit. Effectiveness depended on the thickness of the quilting. A thick jacket could stop mace blows, sword strikes, and even arrows, but not all were that thick.
Poryg
Poryg
I got the most important info about sword effectiveness from sword tests. Gambesons were effective enough to save you from slashes for the most part. Skallagrim showed in one of the tests that even a very sharp sword had problems inflicting a serious cut. It took an insanely sharp sword to cut through whole fabric. Something not possible to maintain on the battlefield.
Poryg
Poryg
Hacking wouldn't pass through the fabric, because swords weren't made for hacking and the blunt trauma from a sword could not match blunt force trauma from an axe.
The Stranger
The Stranger
What's not possible on the battlefield? Wielding a sharp sword? And, as I said, not every quilted\padded jacket was equal in thickness. Medieval armies weren't kitted out professional armies.
Poryg
Poryg
Piercing could work. And arming swords, quite common among noblety, could pierce. But if you buy a sword for piercing, you are already not going to exploit its potential.
Poryg
Poryg
But if piercing had been tremendously efficient, why would falchions be developed, which are swords with thin, but wide blade for greater cutting power... and no point for stabbing.

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