Falchion

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A falchion (pronounced /ˈfɔːlʃən/, from Old French fauchon, ultimately from Latin falx "sickle") is a one-handed, single-edged sword of European origin, whose design is reminiscent of the Persian scimitar and the Chinese dao.

The weapon combined the weight and power of an axe with the versatility of a sword. Falchions are found in different forms from around the 11th century up to and including the sixteenth century. In some versions the falchion looks rather like the scramasax and later the sabre, and in some versions the form is irregular or (as is the case in the picture to the right) like a machete with a crossguard.

While some propose that encounters with the Islamic shamshir inspired its creation, these "scimitars" of Persia were not developed until long after the falchion. More likely, it was developed from farmer's and butcher's knives of the seax type[1] or in the manner of the larger Messer. The shape concentrates more weight near the end, thus making it more effective for chopping strikes like an axe or cleaver.

Types of Falchion

The blade designs of falchions varied widely across the continent and through the ages. They 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 in the manner of the contemporary long-swords. Unlike the double-edged swords of Europe, few actual swords of this type have survived to the present day; fewer than a dozen specimens are currently known.[2] Two basic types can be identified

  • Cleaver falchions : One of the few surviving falchions (the Conyers falchion) is shaped very much like a large meat cleaver, or large bladed machete. This type is also illustrated in art (e.g. the Westminster Hall mural, shown to the right) The type seems to be confined to the 13th. and 14th. Centuries.[3]
  • Cusped falchions : The majority of the depictions in art reflect a design similar to that of the großes Messer. A surviving example from England's thirteenth century (The Thorpe Falchion) was just under two pounds in weight. Of its 37.5 inches (95.25 cm) in length, 31.5 inches (80.01 cm) are the straight blade which bears a cusped or flare-clipped tip similar to the much later kilij of Turkey.[4] This blade style may have been influenced by the Turko-Mongol sabres that had reached the borders of Europe by the thirteenth century. This type of sword continues in use into the 16th. century[5]

In addition, there are a group of 13th. and early 14th. century weapons sometimes identified with the falchion. These have a falchion-like blade mounted on a wooden haft 1–2 ft (30–61 cm) long, sometimes ending in a curve like an umbrella. These are seen in numerous illustration in the mid-13th. century Maciejowski Bible.[6]

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