In a confusing and ambiguous world, nothing makes more sense than a good, old-fashioned sword fight. An object of great complexity, yet one with a singular use in mind - it is designed to kill.
The word "sword" comes from the Old English sweord, cognate to Old High German swert, Middle Dutch swaert, Old Norse sverð and Old Frisian/Old Saxon swerd, from a Proto-Indo-European root *swer- "to wound, to cut".
The Germanic peoples have manufactured and used metal bladed weapons from the Bronze Age onwards. The sword developed from the dagger when the construction of longer blades became possible. The early swords typically had long and slender shaped blades intended for thrusting. Later swords were broader and were both cutting and thrusting weapons. Swords from the Nordic Bronze Age from ca. the 13th century BCE show characteristic spiral patterns. The two swords found with the Nebra sky disc (ca. 1600 BCE) are shown to be a combination of Apa type swords and the Northern European Sögel type swords.
Swords made of iron appear from the Early Iron Age, but do not become widespread before the 8th century BCE. Eventually smiths learned that by adding an amount of carbon in the iron, they could produce an improved alloy (now known as steel). By quenching and tempering, swords could be made that would suffer much less damage, and would spring back into shape if bent.
Swords of the Migration Period show a transition from the various ancient Germanic sword types influenced by the Spatha, to the Viking sword types. The blade is normally smooth or shows a very shallow fuller, and often has multiple bands of pattern-welding within the central portion. The handles were often of perishable material and there are few surviving examples.
Surviving examples of these Germanic Iron Age swords had blades measuring between 710 and 810 mm in length and 45 to 60 mm in width. These single handed weapons of war sported a tang only 100 to 130 mm long, and had very little taper in their blades ending in a usually rounded tip.
During the Viking age, swords grew slightly in length to 930 mm and took on a slightly more acute distal taper and point. These blades had deep fullers running their length, yet still had single-handed hilts which often sported a lobed or cocked-hat style pommel. The fuller was used to increase the strength and flexibility of the sword while reducing the weight of the sword at the same time. This weight reduction and flexibility would allow the wielder to swing faster and harder strokes while, at the same time, allowing the sword to bend but not break when it hit bone. All over continental Europe between 700-1000 this design and its small variations could be found, evolving into the classical knightly sword with the emergence of larger crossguards.
The arming sword is the single handed cruciform sword of the High Middle Ages, in common use between ca. 1000 and 1350. Typically used with a shield or buckler, the arming sword was the standard military sword of the knight until technological changes led to the rise of the longsword in the late 13th century.
During the Late Middle Ages, the longsword had a position of honour among the European martial disciplines. There are no known manuals predating the Late Middle Ages (except for fragmentary instructions), although Ancient and Medieval literature (e.g. Icelandic sagas and Middle High German epics) record specific martial deeds and military knowledge; in addition, historical artwork depicts combat and weaponry (e.g. the Bayeux tapestry, the Morgan Bible).
The central figure of late Medieval martial arts, at least in Germany, is Johannes Liechtenauer. Though no manuscript written by him is known to survive, his teachings were first recorded in the late 14th century MS 3227a. From the 15th century into the 17th, numerous Fechtbücher (German "fencing-books") were produced, of which some 55 are extant; a great many of these describe methods descended from Liechtenauer's.