What type of sword was Excaliber/Durandal/Joyeuse??

If they had actually been made, what type of sword would these legendary weapons have been?

If you believe that “Arthur” was some sort of Romano-British warlord, then he would probably have carried a spatha.


And Durandal and Joyeuse would have been Frankish-Carolingian swords a.k.a. Viking Sword, a pattern-welded blade.
In a “ship of Theseus” sort of development, the coronation sword of the Kings of France apparently was originaly a Carolingian or near Post-Carolingian blade which got almost or completely replaced by parts and additions over 800 years, and was attributed to have been Joyeuse (Wiki says there are allegations Napoleon I replaced the blade itself).
Of course by the time they were described in the various epics of the Matter of Britain and the Matter of France, these had morphed in description into knightly swords, with crossguards – which was actually a modification done IRL for swords as they were passed down in families or courts over centuries. Excalibur was also as well known placed in the realm of magical swords, with special powers granted its bearer, besides having it become the basis for a system of government through its distribution by strange women lying in ponds. (Durendal was simply supposed to be indestructible)

But going by the internal logic of the various legends, it was supposedly forged in the magical kingdom of Avalon, and may have been wielded by various Irish/Breton/Welsh hero-kings centuries before Arthur. If one assumes it was patterned after ancient Celtic swords then it could be anything from a leaf sword to a proto-gladius

It gets a bit more complex than that, even. If you leave out all the myth and ask what kind of swords people were making in that age, there are still some pretty open questions. Is it a celtic-style sword (a style which would be functionally recreated after the Roman era for the Franks)? A late-Roman sword? A cavalry sword? Spatha and even gladius are very vague terms which cover a wide range of designs over centuries.

However, the really important bit is the technology you don’t see: the metallurgy and forging techniques. Adapting foreign techniques, and the steady improvement over the years meant that Roman swords increased in length (and average).

There is one thing we know, of course. Since it was forged by the Sidhe on Avalon, it couldn’t be cold-forged iron.
Edit: Almost any sword that would have been made in this period would be a reasonably long, around 800mm. It would taper gently and have an effective combat point.

Meurglys was the name of the sword owned by Count Ganelon, Roland’s traitorous stepfather.
Whatever it’s other characteristics, it apparently had religious relics of some sort embedded in it:

“You will swear to me that you will betray Roland.’
Ganelon replies: ‘Let it be as you please.’
On the relics in his sword Murgleis
He swore the treason and committed his crime.”

He meets a very sorry end, torn limb from limb by four warhorses…

Religious relics of some form or another were so common that it’d be remarkable if a nobleman’s sword didn’t have a few embedded in it. The most important were actual bodily remains of saints, or objects of particular significance to them, but any object ever touched by a saint was also considered a relic. And of course the count gets higher yet when one includes everything that was passed off as a relic by hucksters or the gullible.

Gram? (Which I never heard of until https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gram_(mythology))

The Arthur legend is probably a composite of a few different men, at different times. The earliest one, and the one who gave the name (if he existed), would seem to be a Briton man who lead a force fighting against the Saxons at the Battle of Badon Mound.

Whatever weapon he had during that battle would most likely have been a Spatha-like weapon, if it was of modern make.

Of course, that weapon would not have been Excalibur, since we’re talking about a (potentially) real person in the real world, not a fantasy ruler with a fantasy sword.

The core Arthurian legends are from the 12th century in Northern France. While Excalibur would have come from Celtic myth, like the Mabinogion, it would probably be reasonable to assume a 12th century French look-and-feel to the tales. That would make it a Knightly Sword.

I read that one legend claims Durandal was believed to be the sword wielded by Hector. Therefore, one might expect it to be made of bronze.

Nothung and Gram I have always imagined to be pattern welded, one-handed swords with straight blades and a minimal handguard, like other Viking swords. Perhaps they would include inlays of some other metal, like the Ulfbehrt swords.

The same type as Luke Skywalker’s-- fictional.

I hate to be “that guy”, but this is a silly statement that’s just being grumpy for its own sake. And there are two big reasons for saying so.

First, it’s entirely possible - even probable in the case of Durandal and Joyeuse - that these swords actually did exist. Even Excalibur (or Caliburn) may actually have been based on a real man’s actually sword, even shrouded in legend. Second, we actually do know within a certain margin what kind of swords were being manufactured and used by men of a certain rank in that time period. Books have been written about such research.

Meurglys looks a lot like the Middle Breton for “big sword” (in Modern Breton the compound would be meurgleze)

Moderator Note

The OP admits that they are fictional.

The question is if they had been made, what type of weapon would they have been. This boils down to basically a history question of what type of sword a king or great hero would have had during the times when these legends supposedly took place.

There’s maybe some speculation and opinion involved, but I believe that the question can be answered fairly factually by citing known high-end weapons of that time period and those locations for comparison to get a general idea of the weapon types that they would most likely be.

I’m not an expert on ancient swords, but I’m guessing we can rule out lightsabers.

There’s no need to attack the OP. There’s a perfectly valid GQ here.

Troy was at the cusp of the Iron Age - there are references to iron objects in the text. It would be entirely appropriate for a legendary sword of that era to be of iron when lesser mortals made do with bronze weaponry.

Pulling a sword from a stone in the Arthurian legend could be looked at as a metaphor for turning iron ore into steel and forging it into a sword.

Actually - wouldn’t it be a better metaphor for casting a bronze sword?

Iron swords are beaten out on an anvil. Bronze swords are cast in a mould. That process looks a lot like “pulling a sword from a stone”. Sometimes the mould was sand/clay but more often stone moulds were used. In that case, the sword is quite literally “pulled from a stone”.


Of course if that is true, it has some bearing on the antiquity of the legend!

Edit: also on the type of sword. If the “pulled from a stone” legend is an echo of the Bronze Age, then Excaliber = a typical Bronze Age sword, like the ones pictured in the link above.

Doubtful; the etymology of Excaliber is thought to derive from various names for steel. Which would fit internal evidence of the legends dating to the beginning of the Iron age in the British Isles ~500 BCE.

That’s not what this source says, so evidently that notion isn’t unanimous.

Wikipedia, for what its worth, says as follows:

[Emphasis added]


Conclusion: the etymology of “Excaliber” as “steel” dates back no further than Geoffrey of Monmouth, and so cannot be useful in dating or describing the type of sword that may have inspired the legend, as the legend dates back further than that.

“He who draweth the sword from this stone …”

To a smith the process of turning a lump or ingot into a bar or other long object is drawing. I had speculated on the events of the legend, with the meteor, and that Arthur was fostered to an armorer, to think that Excalibur could have been made of meteoric iron, which is sometimes close in alloy to stainless steel, and is certainly better than the bog iron common to that period.

An author named Jack Whyte wrote a series of books, retelling the Arthurian Legend which uses the same concept.