Research « Peter Johnsson | Swordsmith


Where it all begins…

The study of original swords is central to the way I approach the craft. Over the years I have had the privilege to see and handle hundreds of swords dating from the early bronze age to the late renaissance on my study trips to museums around Europe. Photos, drawings and measurements of dimensions and dynamic properties is crucial for understanding the sword smiths craft and the function of swords. I believe it is important for a swordsmith to be familiar with the feel and presence of original swords and sword types from different time periods. You cannot replace this experience with second hand information of measurements from books or the internet.

While documenting original swords you will not only collect measurements and get a direct feel for their heft and function. Marks from hammer and file can tell us about the practical nature of the craft. Looking at the design, we may gain some insights to the thoughts and ideas of the old masters.

The coherence and harmony of proportions was important to medieval aesthetic ideals. This is something that is clearly expressed in the high medieval sword. Its stark beauty is largely reliant on a careful balance of its austere and elegant shape. To paraphrase Thomas of Aquino, 1225-1274:

“…When the parts are arranged in this way, they all combine into the whole; so that out of all the parts (…) there emerges one single wholeness of things.”

Since the summer of 2010 I have been working on a hypotheses on principles of design for the medieval sword. I believe that geometric drawing was used to establish the overall form and proportions of swords, in a way similar to how architects and artists of the period worked. The use of geometry in design has several benefits. It is a practical way to establish specifications for work that is divided between several expert craftsmen, as was the case in the production of swords. Geometry and number were to the medieval mind also charged with symbolic meaning and this may be important for a weapon that was an emblem for worldly power and martial prowess but also a symbol of the spiritual fight against evil.



In January of 2012 I was given an opportunity to document several swords from the National Museum of Slovenia that was on loan to the Army Museum in Stockholm. One of these is a 15th century long sword of handsome proportions with the inventory number N4516. A rewarding object of study as it is masterfully made and a fine example of ingenious design in the Gothic tradition.