10 Famous Swords of the Middle Ages

Perhaps no other item defines the Middle Ages as much as the sword. Here is our list of ten swords – real and fictional – which became famous during the Middle Ages.


In Arthurian literature, there are two versions of how King Arthur received this sword. In the first version, he obtained his throne by pulling this sword from a huge stone, while in the second it was given to Arthur by the ‘Lady of the Lake’. Chretien de Troyes described this sword, which was also known as Caledfwlch or Caliburn, as “the finest sword that there was, which sliced through iron as through wood.”


The end of Excalibur is told in Thomas Malory’s La Morte D’Arthur. As King Arthur slowly succumbs to his mortal wounds, he commands his knight Sir Bedivere to cast the sword into a lake. Sir Bedivere “beheld that noble sword, that the pommel and the haft was all of precious stones,” and tried twice to deceive Arthur that he had thrown the blade into the water. However, Arthur knew otherwise, so Sir Bedivere really had to cast Excalibur into the lake:

Then Sir Bedivere departed, and went to the sword, and lightly took it up, and went to the water side; and there he bound the girdle about the hilts, and then he threw the sword as far into the water as he might; and there came an arm and an hand above the water and met it, and caught it, and so shook it thrice and brandished, and then vanished away the hand with the sword in the water.



This is the traditional sword of Charlemagne and by the 13th century was used as the official sword for the coronation of the Kings of France. The Song of Roland describes how by Charlemagne’s “side hung Joyeuse, and never was there a sword to match it; its colour changed thirty times a day.”

Joyeuse on display at the Louvre.Photo by Loicwood / Wikimedia Commons

The sword now can be seen in The Louvre, and scientific tests show that its parts date from different times: the pommel to the 10th or 11th century, the crossguard to the 12th and the grip to the 13th century. However the blade itself dates from either the 9th or 10th century, so that part could be the same one used by the Carolingian emperor.

Wallace Sword

Hanging at the National Wallace Monument near the Scottish town of Stirling, this sword was said to belong to William Wallace. Reaching 5 feet 4 inches in length, the weapon’s blade might date to the 13th century, but most historians believe that the rest of it was made in later centuries.

The Sword of Mercy (Curtana)

One of the ceremonial swords used in the coronation of the British monarchs, this weapon dates back to the 11th century and was said to belong to King Edward the Confessor. The end of it has been broken off, and the legends surrounding the sword say that its blunt edge was meant to represent mercy.

The three coronation swords of the British monarch – the one on the right is the Sword of Mercy (Curtana). – from The Crown Jewels of England (1919)


The name of the sword belonging to Magnus III ‘Barelegs’, King of Norway from 1093 to 1103. According to the Fagrskinna, the “hand-guards, cross-bar and pommel were of walrus ivory with gold around the haft, and it was the sharpest of all swords.” However, it also helped his enemies recognize Magnus during a battle in Ireland, where the king was killed.

Colada and Tizona

These two swords were wielded by Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, El Cid, the semi-legendary Spanish military leader. They are noted in the Song of El Cid, in which the weapons have the power to strike fear into opponents. In one scene from the poem, Rodrigo has given the Colada to Martín Antolínez and he uses it in the duel against the infante Diego González:

When precious Colada has struck this blow, Diego González saw that he would not escape with his soul, he turned his horse to face his opponent. At that moment Martín Antolínez hit him with his sword, he struck him broadside, with the cutting edge he did not hit him. Diego González has sword in hand, but he does not use it, at that moment the infante began to shout, ‘Help me, God, glorious Lord, and protect me from this sword!’


A museum in Spain claims that it has the Tizona in its collection.

The Tizona sword while on exhibit in the Museo del Ejército (Salón de Reinos) in Madrid. Photo by Infinauta / Wikimedia Commons


One of the most famous swords in Icelandic literature, Skofnung first belonged to the legendary 6th-century Danish king Hrólf Kraki. The magical weapon got its power from the spirits of the king’s twelve berserker bodyguards. After it was buried with Hrólf Kraki, the weapon was removed by a plunderer and had further adventures. According to the Laxdœla Saga, the sword is not to be drawn in the presence of women, and that the sun must never shine on the sword’s hilt.

Hrunting and Nægling

The two swords wielded by Beowulf. According to the Old English poem, both weapons had great powers. Here is how the first weapon is described:

And another item lent by Unferth
at that moment of need was of no small importance:
the brehon handed him a hilted weapon,
a rare and ancient sword named Hrunting.
The iron blade with its ill-boding patterns
had been tempered in blood. It had never failed
the hand of anyone who hefted it in battle,
anyone who had fought and faced the worst
in the gap of danger. This was not the first time
it had been called to perform heroic feats.

However, each of the swords fails the hero – Hrunting proves to be ineffective against Grendel’s mother and he discards it, while Nægling breaks in half in Beowulf’s hands when he is fighting the dragon.



The legendary sword belonging to Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad and Islamic Caliph from 656 to 661. It is often depicted in art as a scissor-like double-bladed sword.

Closeup of the saw-toothed and notched point of the 19th-century Indian-made “Zulfiqar” sword once held in the Higgins Armory Collection – photo by Daderot / Wikimedia Commons


According to the Song of Roland, this legendary sword was first given to Charlemagne by an angel. It contained one tooth of Saint Peter, blood of Saint Basil, hair of Saint Denis, and a piece of the raiment of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and was supposedly the sharpest sword in all existence.

In the story of the Song of Roland, the weapon is given to Roland, and he uses it to defend himself singlehandedly against thousands of attackers. According to one 12th-century legend from the French town of Rocamadour, Roland threw the sword into a cliffside. You can still see the sword embedded into the cliff face.

Durandal at Rocamadour, France – photo by Patrick Clenet / Wikimedia Commons

Top Image: King Arthur receives Excalibur from The Lady of the Lake – The Boy’s King Arthur, published in 1880.