Dates Back to: Bronze Age

The Falchion is a one-handed, single-edged sword of European origin. Its design is reminiscent of the Persian scimitar or the Chinese dadao and combines an ax’s weight and power with a sword’s versatility.

The medieval Falchion had a curve one-edged blade, while the European version had a short back edge. It was 37 to 40 inches in length and weighed about 1 to 2 pounds.

Falchions almost always included a single edge with a slight curve on the blade towards the point on the end, and most were also affixed with a quilloned crossguard for the hilt is similar to that of the arming swords.

Unlike Europe’s double-edged swords, few actual swords of this type have survived to the present day.

History of the Falchion

Falchions are found in different forms from around the 13th century up to and including the 16th century. It is  possible that some falchions were used as tools between wars and fights, since they were very practical pieces of equipment. Some later falchions were very ornate and used by the nobility. 

Some historical manuscripts mention that the Falchion sword may have had several influences. These swords were common among crusaders of the middle ages, while some manuscripts suggest that the Falchion was the third primary sword for Men-at-arms and the secondary sword for Knights.

Few actual swords of this type have survived to the present day; fewer than a dozen specimens are currently known.

Types of Falchions

The blade designs of falchions varied widely across the continent and through the ages. Two basic types can be identified:

  • Cleaver falchions (shaped like a large meat cleaver or large bladed machete)
  • Cusped falchions (A design similar to that of the großes Messer. Might have been influenced by Turko-Mongol sabers of the thirteenth century)

Ongoing research by James Elmslie has produced a typology covering both Falchion and Messer blade designs. Under this system, all known falchions can be described as types 1 – 5 (with subtypes a – e used for any given type) as well as 5 levels of curvature.

Types of Falchion: Cleaver Falchion

Cleaver Falchion

Cleaver falchions were shaped like a large meat cleaver or large bladed machete. These falchions seem to have become popular in the 13th and 14th centuries. They have a very thin blade with a 1.2mm thick spine. The point has a slight taper leadinug near to the edge that drops into a secondary bevel and an acute edge. It’s believed that cleaver falchions were used against cloth armour.

Types of Falchion: Cleaver Falchion

Cusped Falchion

The cusped falchion was shaped somewhat similarly to the großes Messer. An example surviving from England’s 13th century, the Thorpe Falchion, measures 956 millimetres (37.6 inches) in length and weighs just under 904 grams (1.99 lb). The majority of the blade is straight, with about 4 inches for the cusped or flare-clipped tip. Cusped falchions might have been influenced by Turko-Mongol sabres.

Using Falchions

Some historians believe that the falchion developed as a special weapon designed to penetrate armours made of leather and chain mail. The ancient falchions that have been discovered are incredibly thin and on average, lighter than a double-edged blade. These weapons were therefore not cleaving or chopping weapons similar to the machete, but quick slashing weapons more similar to shamshir or sabres despite their wide blade.

We know from the messer and dussack fight book literature that the false edge is used for striking, however 22 examples from 13 different documents show falchions being used with either the short edge or the concave side forward.  

Image Gallery: Falchions in Medieval Manuscripts & Art

A 1320s depiction of the battle of Bannockburn, from the Holkham Bible
A 1320s depiction of the battle of Bannockburn where a falchion can be seen, from the Holkham Bible. Image Couresy of Bridgeman Art Library.
The Morgan M.638 Maciejowski Bible, dating 1244-1254. Paris, France. Courtesy of Manuscript Miniatures.
Falchion swords in the Getty MS Ludwig III 1 Dyson Perrins Apocalypse, dated 1255-1260.
Falchion swords in the Getty MS Ludwig III 1 Dyson Perrins Apocalypse, dated 1255-1260. London, England. Image courtesy of Manuscript Miniatures.

Famous Falchions and Where to See Them

Medieval Weapons: Venetian Falchion

Venetian Falchion

This falchion from c. 1490 is one of the few to survive from the late fifteenth century. Its long narrow blade and interlaced decoration on the hilt suggest a Middle Eastern influence.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, Arms and Armor Room.
Medieval Weapons: Falchion or Sabre

Falchion / Sabre

This German sword is probably of the middle of the 17th century made in the ‘old Franconian’ (i.e. Gothic) style. The flat cup-shaped continuation of the grip suggests a bird’s head. 

The Wallace Collection, Manchester.
Falchion from Museo Nazionale del Bargello (Firenze)

Venetian Falchion

This falchion sword was made in Venice, Italy, in the 16th Century. It’s currently on display at the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, in Firenze.

Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Firenze.

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