Iconic Weapons: Falchion

The falchion is a one-handed, single-edged sword of European design which saw widespread use in the 13th and 14th centuries. It was noted to have seen service as late as the 16th century, but then began to fall out of use. The blade of the falchion is similar in design to the Persian scimitar and the Chinese dadao, but with a cruciform hilt which was iconic of medieval European arming swords. With a hefty blade, it is said to combine the strengths of an sword and axe into one tool, making the falchion both versatile and strong. Some versions may have had a false edge, which is a partially sharpened back edge to help facilitate thrusting. However, the weapon was primarily a cutting tool.

Very few falchions have survived into the modern day. Only about a dozen have been found and preserved. However, they are depicted in artwork and included in some manuscripts. This, combined with the few which have been discovered by archeologists, show the falchion did indeed exist. Falchions are said to have weighed less than two pounds with blades between 37-40 inches in length. This is about half the length of a classic longsword, making the falchion rather short by comparison. It was a common sword used during the Crusades by both knights and commoners alike. However, it is speculated there may have been some stigma surrounding the falchion as a “poor man’s weapon.”

An Italian falchion from the 15th century. The falchion saw use as late as the 16th century.

As a one-handed, single-edged sword, the falchion was cheaper to produce than two-handed, double-edged swords such as the classic European longsword. Also, longswords may often have been ornate with decorated hilts and engravings in the blade, whereas the falchion is said to have been mass-produced and crude in its construction. Still, knights were known to carry the weapon, likely due to the appeal of its versatile design. Not only was the falchion an effective weapon which could severe limbs and heads with a single strike, but it was also useful for non-combat applications. Some sources claim certain falchions were great tools for chopping wood do to their large and hefty blade. Carrying a single tool which could be used effectively both in and out of combat for a variety of tasks would have convinced some knights to carry the weapon in favor of other, more expensive swords.

There are said to have been two different types of falchions: “cleaver” falchions and “cusped” falchions. The cleaver falchions were broader and more like a machete, while the cusped falchions were thinner and more akin to a saber. Of the surviving falchions, they do vary greatly in thickness and in how ornate they are. As with most swords, many variations were created by different sword makers separated by time and space, all trying to design the best sword for the challenges faced in that era.

A 21st century sword constructed in the historical design of a falchion.

What I find most inspiring about the falchion is the versatility and simplicity of its design. While the single-edged blade arguably makes it less versatile in sword-on-sword combat compared to a double-edged blade, it did make the weapon much cheaper because it required less time and effort to grind out the edge. This, combined with the shorter length of the blade, allowed many more to be produced, putting them into the hands of more warriors than the more expensive longswords. While generally speaking, more range in better, the falchion could also be paired with a shield to mitigate the weakness of the shorter length of the blade. Additionally, it should be said that while a longer weapon is generally better, a shorter weapon does become more effective as the distance is closed, eventually eclipsing longer weapons which cannot be used effectively at very close ranges.

The cleaver-type falchions are also said to have had applications outside combat. They could be used in place of an axe, allowing someone to carry a falchion as a multipurpose tool instead of bringing multiple tools. On long campaigns, this could be tremendously valuable to a soldier or traveler. This is also where the smaller size would be a boon as well. If one is going to be spending a lot of time marching long distances and making camp away from towns or cities, a smaller weapon will be easier to carry. As long as it is not too small so as to be ineffective in combat, a more compact sword like the falchion may be preferable to many seeking to lighten the load they are carrying.

The falchion is a type of backsword, a single-edged sword with a one-handed hilt.

The falchion is an interesting sword design combining the classic cruciform hilt of other medieval European swords with the simpler, single-edged blade. Simplicity, practicality, and versatility are always appealing to me. While the shorter length and single edge are arguably less versatile, the heft of the sword and its subsequent utility outside of combat do give the falchion other perks which make it appealing. I also love the aesthetic of the falchion as a sort of mean-looking saber. Many backswords are thin and seem frail by visual comparison to the falchion, which is a chunky little sword. I am glad at least some survived to be on display in museums today.

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All posts by The Pen and Sword are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Published by Louis

I am a freelance writer and English tutor from the United States.

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