What Is the Short Sword Length?

In general, however, a short sword is considered to have a blade length that is shorter than that of a longsword, which is typically between three and four feet in length. This means that a short sword would have a blade length of less than three feet. More specifically, it was typically 12 to 20 inches (0.3 to 0.51 meters) long.

In the context of Dungeons & Dragons, a short sword is typically defined as having a blade length of 12 to 20 inches. This aligns with the general definition of a short sword, as mentioned above. However, it's important to note that the classification of swords can vary widely, and there is no universal consensus on the exact definition of a short sword.

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The blade is typically from 12 to 20 inch (30 to 50 cm) long with a sharp point. An average short sword costs 10 gp and weighs 0.9 kg. First edition D&D defined the short sword as “all pointed cutting & thrusting weapons with blade length between 15 inch (38 cm) and 24 inch (61 cm).”

Answered from Daniel Rusch

How Long is a Short Sword? The Complete Guide to Short Sword Lengths

Short swords are a ubiquitous medieval weapon known for their compact, balanced blades. But what actually constitutes a short sword, and what lengths best suit different fighting styles and wielders? This comprehensive guide will explore the ideal short sword lengths for both historical battle and imaginary RPG combat.

Table of Contents

  • Defining the Short Sword
  • Short Sword Lengths Through History
  • Short Swords in RPG Gaming
  • Factors Impacting Ideal Short Sword Length
  • How Length Affects Use and Fighting Style
  • Finding the Best Personal Short Sword Length
  • Appendix: Named Short Swords and Their Lengths

Defining the Short Sword

First, what counts as a short sword? Short swords are defined as compact one-handed melee weapons with a single-edged blade optimized for cutting and thrusting. They are distinct from daggers which have very short blades under 12 inches, and full-sized swords like longswords that require two hands and measure over 20 inches.

The key defining trait of a short sword is the length of its blade, generally between 1-2 feet. But what are the most common and effective lengths that still classify a sword as “short”? Let's survey the historical data.

Short Sword Lengths Through History

Here is an overview of common short sword lengths from different medieval cultures:

Roman Gladius

  • 18-24 inches long
  • Wide double-edged blade
  • Iconic Roman soldier's weapon

Saxon Seax

  • 12-24 inches long
  • Single-edged slashing blade
  • Also used as utility knife

Viking Sword

  • 16-28 inches long
  • Double edged blades under 24 inches
  • Evolved from Saxons' seax

Baselard Dagger-Sword

  • 12-15 inches long
  • Blade wider than a dagger
  • Popular civilian defense sidearm

Chinese Dao

  • 15-24 inches long
  • Curved single-edge blade
  • Martial arts and military use

Japanese Wakizashi

  • 12-24 inches long
  • Paired with katana in samurai class
  • Sharp double-edge blade

Here is a chart summarizing the common short sword lengths from world historical sources:

Culture Common Short Sword Lengths
Roman 18-24 inches
Saxon 12-24 inches
Viking 16-28 inches
European 12-15 inches
Chinese 15-24 inches
Japanese 12-24 inches

Across most ancient and medieval cultures, short sword blades generally fell between 12-24 inches in length. The Roman gladius at 18-24 inches became the archetypal standard.

Short Swords in RPG Gaming

In tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons, short sword lengths are precisely categorized:

D&D 5th Edition (2014)

  • No defined length
  • Martial melee weapon, 1d6 damage
  • Finesse, light properties

AD&D 1st Edition (1978)

  • Blade length 15-24 inches
  • 1d6 damage
  • Can use with shield

Pathfinder RPG

  • Blade length 12-24 inches
  • 1d6 damage, x2 critical hit
  • Light performance weapon

Here is a comparison table of short sword classifications across major RPG systems:

RPG Standard Short Sword Length Damage Properties
D&D 5E None defined 1d6 Finesse, light
AD&D 15-24 inches 1d6 Usable with shield
Pathfinder 12-24 inches 1d6 Light weapon
Warhammer None defined As full sword Standard, martial

While D&D and Pathfinder give precise short sword lengths, most RPGs leave specifics abstract and focus on game balance through damage and properties.

Factors Impacting Ideal Short Sword Length

Many factors affect the optimal short sword length for real historical combat or fictional RPG use:

Intended Use

  • Thrusting favors shorter lengths
  • Cutting/slashing requires longer blades

Wielder's Physique

  • Shorter blades suit smaller wielders
  • Longer blades provide more reach for larger wielders

Fighting Style

  • Length impacts speed, leverage, maneuverability

Combat Setting

  • Shorter in close quarters or crowded melees
  • Longer for single combat and open battle

Defense Strategy

  • Shorter aids dodging, deflecting blows
  • Longer maintains distance from foes

Dual Wielding

  • A shorter primary blade allows a secondary weapon

The ideal length balances these factors against the wielder's strengths and needs.

How Length Affects Use and Fighting Style

The length of a short sword determines the optimal welding technique:

  • Thrusting Attacks:  Shorter blades allow for quicker stabbing strikes while retaining control and accuracy. The point can precisely target armor weak points. Longer swords generate more powerful thrusts but are slower and less accurate at close quarters.
  • Slashing Maneuvers: Longer blades have greater mass and arc which translates into deep, damaging cuts. Short slashes lack reach and force against protected foes.
  • Defense: Shorter lengths provide maneuverability for parrying and evading within an opponent's guard. But longer swords maintain crucial distance.
  • Dual Wielding: A shorter sword paired with a dagger, axe, or buckler allows both offense and defense in close combat.
  • Close Quarters: In tight spaces like dungeons, boats, or shield walls, a shorter blade prevents fouling surroundings or allies.

In summary, the short sword's length should complement the preferred combat tactics of its wielder.

Finding the Best Personal Short Sword Length

So how do you determine the ideal short sword length for your needs?

  • Analyze your natural fighting style – do you rely more on speed or power in attacks? What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Consider your height, arm length, and grip strength to find a blade you can control comfortably.
  • Take your likely combat environments and scenarios into account. Will you need agility or reach?
  • Experiment with wooden wasters in training across a range of lengths to test balance and handling.
  • Err shorter until proficient – it's easier to gain reach than speed.
  • Remember you can choke up on a long hilt to dynamically adjust length as needed.

While RPG rules and historical examples set expectations, the best short sword length ultimately comes down to personal preference and practice. Optimize for your stature, preferred fighting moves, and experiences.

Appendix: Named Short Swords and Their Lengths

Here is a sampling of short swords from myth, history and fiction with their blade lengths:

  • Joyeuse (Charlemagne) – 15 inches
  • Andúril (Aragorn) – 20 inches
  • Sting (Bilbo Baggins) – 20 inches
  • Godric Gryffindor’s Sword – 18 inches
  • Yatagan (Ottomans) – 12-18 inches
  • Xiphos (Greeks) – 16-20 inches
  • Celtic Leaf blade – 12-18 inches
  • Main Gauche (France) – 12-15 inches

This shows the range of lengths considered “short” across many famous named swords.


In summary, a short sword is defined by its compact yet functional blade of 1-2 feet, with the Roman gladius setting the archetype. Factors of use, physique, and style help determine the ideal length for each individual. With training, a properly fit short sword becomes a deadly self-defense sidearm or heroic fantasy blade. This guide covers all key considerations in selecting your perfect short sword length.


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