In May 2018 – almost 100 years after the abdication of the last prince of the house of Schwarzburg – the Schwarzburger Zeughaus, the armoury of the Schwarzburg castle, is to be re-opened to visitors. It will be presenting a unique collection of arms and armour of over 4000 objects which have accumulated over a period of 500 years and date as far back as the Late Middle Ages. Mentioned in historical sources as early as the 14th century, the Schwarzburger Zeughaus is the oldest and only surviving princely armoury collection in Germany. As such, the collection, which is to be on display in the original freestanding building, is an exceptional source of information on historical weaponry and warfare in Europe. In this series of blog posts, I will present a few of the main pieces of the collection which I examined as the main researcher for the Armouries catalogue.
Contrary to common belief, it is not the sword but the “Messer” – German for knife – that should be considered the most widespread bladed weapon in medieval and early modern Germany. It existed in many varieties and had a number of different functions. Depending on the circumstances of its use, the Messer was also called “Langes Messer” (long knife), “Großes Messer” (Great Knife), Bauernwehr or Hauswehr (peasant’s or household arm) and Kriegsmesser (war knife).
Sizes range from less than 30 cm to more than 150 cm in length.
It is generally defined by a single-edged blade with a knife-like hilt construction. The single-edged blade provides a higher sturdiness. Along with the sturdiness, the weight of the blade – compared to a double-edged weapon – makes the Messer not only a weapon but also a good tool.
The hilt construction of the Messer usually shows a slab tang covered with pegged wooden grip plates. In addition to the common straight cross-guard, Messer hilts often include a “Nagel” (nail) – a simple or decorated third parry on the side of the cross-guard.
Like early swords, Messers were also used as hunting weapons without differentiating between their purposes. Although later hunting-swords developed a specific blade design, the major difference in later Messers for hunting, civilian and war use is to be found in the decoration and material of the hilts.
Depending on its use, the Messer can also combine additional functions, most commonly a saw back, which, besides, also can be observed on hunting knives as well as Messer-type weapons for engineers in military use.
The Großmesser (Oss 307) in the Schwarzburg-collection is equipped with a hilt for one and a half hand. The wooden grip ends in a birds head shape and carries remnants of a black leather cover. It has a straight crossguard with shell-shaped parry (mail). The blade is single-edged and slightly curved with saw back and rounded tip. The blade is pierced with a circular hole above the Ort (point), probably for better use as a saw. The type is one which was used in both in hunting and warfare. The significantly lower quality of the toothing and the distal tip compared to the processing of the blade suggest that the weapon was later converted into a tool. Originally, a scabbard containing a drill and a rasp were part of the object.
Dating: Around 1500
Total length: 1 085 mm
Blade length: 867 mm
Handle length: 52 mm
Length of the quillons: 195 mm
Weight: 1 225 g
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Konrad holds an MA degree in Modern History. He studied in Jena, Germany, and Leiden, Netherlands. He has published several books on castles in Germany and Israel as well as on sword fighting. Lately, Konrad had done a major research project on the weapons in the Schwarzburg Armory. From his childhood on Konrad has been fencing and for the last 20 years focusing on longsword and dagger fighting. He is the Head of the German section of KDF International and a senior instructor in Historical Weapons Combat. He has been teaching at national as well as international events and gives a regular course at the University Sports Centre of the University of Applied Sciences Jena.