The swords in question are basically machetes, being built for toughness and as a slashing weapon. The army that is using these swords is a professional force of pikemen and crossbowmen, but is relatively small.

  • Would an army that had standardized shortswords as the side arm for its army fare better against infantry who have a variety of sidearms

  • Could these swords be useful as camp tools used for cutting brush and other tasks? Would an axe be better as a sidearm?

  • Would having swords as a sidearm be helpful in a push of pike?

Specs for the sword: 45 centimeter blade, single edged

Note: Yes I know that pikes and crossbows are more early modern than medieval, but there’s not a tag for it and it makes sense in story because this army is part of a smaller but more advanced nation

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    $\begingroup$ How short exactly are these swords? $\endgroup$ – Ryan_L Jan 25 '20 at 5:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Ryan_L 45 centimeters on the blade $\endgroup$ – NixonCranium Jan 25 '20 at 5:54
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    $\begingroup$ @NixonCranium keep important details in the question, please. Comments are easily overlooked, and may be removed in future for various reasons. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Jan 25 '20 at 8:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Starfish Prime Understood, I will edit $\endgroup$ – NixonCranium Jan 25 '20 at 9:52
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    $\begingroup$ Those swords with 45 cm long blades were the standard issue Roman gladii. The Roman army armed with said gladii is rather famous for having fared very well indeed against a large variety of other armies. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jan 25 '20 at 13:37

Why standardize?

  • Logistics
    The weapons smiths have to manufacture only one pattern. The supply clerks have to order only one pattern. The armories have to store only one pattern. If the army needs more skirmishers and fewer pikemen, at least the sidearms are readily available.
  • Training
    You need to turn a pikeman into a crossbowman? You have to teach him the crossbow, not a new sidearm as well.

Why not standardize?

  • Different uses, different shapes
    A junior officer needs the sword to point on the battlefield, and perhaps to defend himself as a courier beset by enemies. A cavalryman needs it for the mounted charge. A pikeman or crossbowman needs it in close quarters when the main weapon cannot be used.
  • Each is unique, anyway
    With guns, interchangeable parts and ammunition become a big issue. With swords, not so much. There is little likelihood that a cavalryman asks the supply sergeant of a pike company for a new scabbard because the old one is lost.

Things to look at

  • $\begingroup$ Excellent breakdown on the logistics. The Smatchet is exactly what I want. $\endgroup$ – NixonCranium Jan 25 '20 at 9:51
  • $\begingroup$ smatchet looks a lot like what ended up in the original Traveler game as the weapon called "Blade" (great example) $\endgroup$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 26 '20 at 2:58
  • $\begingroup$ @KorvinStarmast, I would have thought the Traveller blade would be closer to a naval cutlass. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Jan 26 '20 at 5:47
  • $\begingroup$ Note that many early firearms are hand-fitted, which means that you simply can't exchange parts easily. $\endgroup$ – Trish Jan 27 '20 at 15:13

It's worth noting that the standard offensive weapon of the Roman legions was the Gladius: a sword right around your 45cm mark. That is a self-evidently effective weapon against light armor infantry with a variety of weapons. Swords became larger and heavier (and slower) as a response to stronger armor; pikes were primarily anti-cavalry weapons, and are not something to fight a swordsman with (a pike is too clumsy in close quarters). Axes — while in some ways superior to swords — are better suited to disorganized skirmishes than regimented combat, because they need a wide arc to swing.

Roman soldiers also carried a dagger, and they would have used that for any camp needs. No soldier is likely to use his primary weapon for mundane tasks, because every time a blade is used it dulls a bit and receives stresses that can (in the long run) weaken the metal, which can mean the difference between life and death. Any organized group would have a wagon or pack-animal loaded with wood-axes and such.

If we preclude armor heavy enough to stop a short sword, and provide shields strong enough to stop a crossbow quarrel, then a short sword would (still) be a remarkably effective weapon for an organized fighting force.


Equip your crossbowmen with archer's mauls.

archers maul


Apparently the sidearm of choice for English archer was a 5 foot leaden maul.

Toxophilus, 1545

And herein our archers of Englande far paffe the Parthians, which for fuche a purpofe, when they fhall come to hande ftrokes, hath ever redy, either at his backe hangyng, or els in his next felowes hande a leaden maule, or fuche lyke weapon, to beate downe his enemyes withal..

I think that these mauls were useful for driving in stakes, which were set up as a defense against cavalry charges. That should go for crossbowmen too at least; pikes are their own anticavalry weapon. I thought the archers cut the stakes on site but no - they were made in advance, like the arrows but then had to be deployed.

I guess people were using mauls for war in those days. This site is great https://willscommonplacebook.blogspot.com/2010/01/archers-mauls.html and describes French rioters as breaking into an armory wherein were stored 3000 battle mauls. The rioters proceeded to beate downe rich folks, but in French.

I am picturing me and my pike and crossbow buddies without our regular stuff, but with shortswords. We are facing a bunch of dudes built much like us, but with 5 foot long lead sledgehammers. I am not sure which side has the advantage but we are going to try to get in close as quick as we can.

  • $\begingroup$ The maul seems like a cheap but effective tool. Would such a heavy bludgeon be effective against well armored enemies? $\endgroup$ – NixonCranium Jan 25 '20 at 21:57
  • $\begingroup$ @NixonCranium - heck ya. Better than an edge or a point. All that energy has to go somewhere. Mallets are what the English archers at Agincourt used to finish off French knights who had fallen off their horses and were rolling around in the mud. $\endgroup$ – Willk Jan 25 '20 at 22:14

Historically, the swords were actually handled by professional swordsmen who were part of the combined arms "Pike" team. The pikes provided the solid hedge against cavalry and the ability to "push" against opposing forces, crossbows provided ranged firepower without needing highly trained archers like English and Welsh longbowmen (who trained since childhood to become deadly archers) and the swordsmen protected the pike squares from enemy swordsmen trying to come in under the pike hedge to attack the pikemen, or alternatively to attempt to infiltrate the enemy pike hedge. Swordsmen also served too protect the flanks of the formation.

While pikemen often carried sidearms as well, given the size and bulk of the pike, it seems that the pikemen would be far more likely to carry daggers or utility knives, and were not expected to drop pikes and fight with swords (indeed that would be counterproductive to the use of pike squares). The sword being described seems to be the right size for protecting the pike squares, although perhaps the swordsmen might prefer something with the ability to stab as well. These swords are not, however, large or heavy enough to beat down a pike hedge; that would be the job of the huge two handed swords (Zweihänder), or bill-men using bladed polearms.

So while it is unlikely that the pikemen themselves are likely to carry these sorts of swords in great numbers, there should be a corps of swordsmen as part of the formation to protect the pike squares.


Crossbows and pikes make sense as weapons because they allow the bearer to hit the target from a distance.

A short sword doesn't make sense in this use case, because if the target is close past the range of the main weapon it means your lines are broken.

Moreover, for both crossbow and pike the bearer needs to use both hands to use them, so there is no way for him to handle the short sword, which would then be just a ballast. Again, not useful.

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    $\begingroup$ The short sword is a sidearm. It’s sheathed until they need it $\endgroup$ – NixonCranium Jan 25 '20 at 6:56

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