medieval knife types

Medieval Knives: A Guide to Various Types

Welcome to our comprehensive guide to medieval knives! In this article, we will delve into the fascinating world of the different types of knives used during the medieval era. From their historical significance to their modern-day use, we will explore the various types of knives that were prevalent during this time period. Whether you are an avid collector or simply curious about the history of knives, this guide will provide you with a wealth of information.

Key Takeaways:

  • Medieval knives were diverse and served specific purposes in society
  • The different types of knives include daggers, seax knives, hunting knives, kitchen knives, dirks, misericordes, throwing knives, craftsmen’s knives, and decorative knives
  • Each type of knife played a significant role in medieval society and can provide us with a deeper appreciation for their craftsmanship and cultural significance

Introduction to Medieval Knives

Medieval knives hold a special place in the world of cutlery. Their historical significance and unique designs make them an intriguing subject to explore. To truly appreciate the various types of medieval knives, it is important to understand their history and development.

Knives have been in use for thousands of years, and medieval knives were no exception. While some of the earliest knives were made from flint and obsidian, medieval knives were typically crafted from metal. Their designs evolved over time, shaped by cultural, societal, and technological influences.

During the medieval period, knives served as essential tools for everyday activities such as hunting, cooking, and crafting. They were also used as weapons in combat, with some designs specifically tailored for this purpose.

As a result, medieval knives were crafted with great skill and attention to detail. They often featured ornate handles and intricate blade designs, showcasing the craftsmanship and artistry of medieval cutlers.

By exploring the history of medieval knives, we can gain a deeper understanding of their significance and appreciate their beauty and functionality. Let’s take a closer look at the different types of medieval knives and what makes them unique.

Dagger: A Versatile Weapon

Daggers were an essential part of medieval times, serving both as weapons and tools. They were versatile weapons that could be used in close combat or thrown from a distance. Medieval daggers came in various shapes and sizes, each with its unique design and functionality.

The types of medieval daggers included the baselard, a short, broad-bladed dagger with a hilt and pommel, which was a popular weapon for knights. The rondel, a narrow-bladed dagger with a circular guard, was favored by foot soldiers for its ability to penetrate through gaps in armor. Other popular types of medieval daggers included the stiletto, a long, thin-bladed weapon designed for thrusting attacks, and the bollock dagger, named for its distinctive pommel that resembled male anatomy.

Daggers were not only used for combat but also for daily tasks such as cutting food, leather, and rope. They were commonly worn by all levels of society, from peasants to nobles, and their designs varied accordingly. Daggers were often elaborately decorated, with precious metals and gems adorning the hilt and pommel.

Overall, daggers were an important part of medieval life, serving both practical and symbolic purposes. Their versatility and functionality made them an indispensable tool in combat and everyday life, and their intricate designs reflected the craftsmanship and artistry of medieval society.

Seax: The Viking Knife

The seax knife is a type of Viking knife that was widely used in Scandinavia during the early medieval period. Although it was primarily a weapon, it also served as a multi-purpose tool for daily activities.

Derived from the Old English word “seax” or “sax,” which means “knife,” seax knives were typically single-edged and had a blade length of 3 to 30 inches. The design of the seax knife varied depending on the region and purpose of its use.

Seax knives were an essential tool for Viking warriors and were often carried with them on their raids and conquests. They were used in close combat, and their weight and shape made them an effective weapon for thrusting and cutting.

Types of Seax Knives

There were various types of seax knives, each with their unique features and uses. The three primary seax knife types were:

Type of Seax Knife Description
Broken-back Seax Characterized by a sharp angle near the blade’s tip and a “broken back” edge, this type of seax knife was primarily used as a weapon. It had a long blade, which made it effective for thrusting and cutting, and its design allowed for a secure grip.
Langseax A long, narrow seax knife with a blade length ranging from 20 to 30 inches. It was primarily used as a slashing weapon and was often carried by Viking warriors. Its length provided the wielder with extra reach and leverage.
Scramaseax A shorter seax knife with a blade length ranging from 3 to 6 inches. It was used as a utility knife for daily activities such as woodworking, leatherworking, and cooking. Its compact size made it easy to carry around.

Seax knives played a crucial role in Viking culture and were prevalent throughout the early medieval period. They were symbols of status and were often adorned with intricate designs and patterns.

Today, seax knives are still popular amongst collectors and enthusiasts, and their historical significance continues to captivate people’s imaginations.

Hunting Knives: Game and Survival

During the medieval period, hunting was not just a leisure activity but also a necessity for survival. Hunters relied on specific knives that were designed for the task at hand. These knives came in different shapes and sizes, each tailored to meet the needs of a particular hunt. Let’s take a closer look at some of the common hunting knives used during the medieval era.

1. Skinner Knife: As the name suggests, the skinner knife was used to skin and dress game. It typically had a curved blade that made it easier to separate the skin from the meat without damaging the flesh.

2. Caping Knife: This knife was used to remove the head and neck of a game animal, a process known as caping. Caping was necessary for creating trophies and mounting animal heads as decorative pieces.

3. Bowie Knife: Originally designed as a fighting knife, the bowie knife soon found its way into hunting circles. With its sharp blade and sturdy handle, it was an excellent choice for hunters who needed a versatile knife that could be used for game processing and self-defense.

4. Camp Knife: The camp knife was a multi-purpose tool that was used for various tasks, including preparing food, building shelter, and chopping wood. Its wide blade and robust handle made it ideal for heavy-duty work in the wilderness.

5. Folding Knife: The folding knife was a compact and versatile tool that could be easily carried in a pocket or a sheath. It was perfect for hunters who needed a reliable knife that could be deployed quickly and efficiently.

Hunting knives played a crucial role in medieval society, providing food, clothing, and essential tools for survival. Even today, these knives are still used by hunters and outdoor enthusiasts who appreciate their functional design and historical significance.

Kitchen Knives: Essential Culinary Tools

The preparation of food was an integral part of medieval life, and different knives were tailored for kitchen use. These knives were designed to cut, chop, and slice various foods, making cooking an efficient and easier task. Let’s take a closer look at the different types of medieval kitchen knives and their functions.

Type of Knife Description and Function
Chef’s Knife The chef’s knife was a versatile and indispensable tool in a medieval kitchen. Its long, curved blade allowed for a rocking motion that made chopping and slicing vegetables, fruits, and meats a breeze.
Boning Knife The boning knife was designed to fillet and trim various meats. Its slim, sharp blade allowed for precise cutting around bones and joints, making it an ideal tool for preparing poultry, beef, and game.
Bread Knife The bread knife had a serrated edge that made it excellent for slicing bread without crushing it. Its sharp teeth allowed for a clean cut through crusty loaves, making it a popular tool in medieval bakeries.
Paring Knife The paring knife was a small, versatile blade that was used for peeling and trimming fruits and vegetables. Its sharp tip made it useful for cutting small, delicate foods like strawberries and mushrooms.

As cooking methods and techniques evolved, so did the design of kitchen knives. Knives with curved blades were replaced with shorter, flatter blades that allowed for efficient chopping and mincing. Handles became more ergonomic and comfortable to hold for extended periods of time.

In conclusion, medieval kitchen knives were essential tools for cooking and food preparation. From the versatile chef’s knife to the precise boning knife, each type of knife had a unique function and played an important role in medieval culinary traditions. Today’s modern kitchen knives still reflect the design and functionality of their medieval counterparts, proving that good design truly stands the test of time.

Dirk: The Scottish Knife

The dirk is a traditional Scottish knife that holds significant cultural and historical value. It is a long, double-edged blade with a crossguard and a grip made of wood, bone, or horn. The dirk was a symbol of Highland dress and a weapon used by Scottish warriors. It was also used for everyday tasks like cutting food and leather.

The dirk has evolved over time and different versions have been developed for specific purposes. For example, the sgian-dubh is a smaller, single-edged knife that is worn with the kilt as part of formal Scottish dress. It was traditionally concealed in the sock and used as a last resort weapon, or for cutting meat and peat.

The dirk also had a ceremonial role and was presented as a gift to mark special occasions, such as weddings or as a symbol of friendship. It was also given as an honor to soldiers and officers for their bravery and service.

The dirk holds deep cultural significance in Scottish history and is still considered an iconic symbol of Scotland today. It represents the bravery, honor, and heritage of the Scottish people.

Scottish Knives

Scottish knives were not limited to the dirk and the sgian-dubh. There were also other knives that were crafted and used by the Scottish people. For instance, the bannock knife was used for cutting bread and the skean was used for skinning animals. These knives were an essential part of everyday life and were used by Scottish people for various tasks.

Name Description
Bannock Knife A small knife used for cutting bread and other food items.
Skean A knife used for skinning animals.

Scottish knives were an extension of the Scottish culture and their design and use were influenced by their way of life. They were crafted with care and precision and were used by different people, from warriors to farmers, for different tasks. Even today, Scottish knives hold a special place in Scottish culture and are revered for their design, craftsmanship, and historical significance.

Misericorde: The Mercy-Killing Blade

The misericorde, or the mercy-killing blade, was a unique type of medieval knife that served a specific, albeit morbid, purpose. This small dagger was used to deliver a coup de grace, a merciful strike that ended the suffering of a wounded knight.

In medieval battles, the wounded were often left to suffer on the battlefield for days, sometimes even weeks, before they succumbed to their injuries. The misericorde provided knights with a way to end their comrades’ suffering quickly and humanely. This practice was considered honorable and compassionate, and it was believed that delivering a merciful death would help the wounded knight achieve a peaceful afterlife.

The misericorde was specifically designed for this purpose, with a sharp, pointed blade that could penetrate armor and inflict a fatal wound. It was also small enough to be concealed easily, making it ideal for use in close combat. The grip of the misericorde was often shaped like a crucifix, emphasizing its association with mercy and compassion.

Despite its association with death, the misericorde was a revered weapon among knights. It was a symbol of honor and chivalry, exemplifying the virtues of courage, compassion, and mercy. The misericorde was also a popular gift among knights, who would often exchange these knives as a way of demonstrating their bond of brotherhood.

Today, misericordes are rare and highly prized among collectors and historians. They provide a unique glimpse into the medieval mindset and the values that guided knights in battle. The misericorde remains a poignant reminder of the human cost of war, and the need for compassion in even the most brutal of conflicts.

Throwing Knives: Precision and Accuracy

Throwing knives were an essential tool for medieval warriors, serving as both weapons and entertainment. These versatile knives were designed for precision and accuracy, making them an important part of combat and hunting.

Medieval throwing knives were typically lightweight and balanced, with a sharp tip for sticking into targets. They were often made of durable materials such as steel or iron, and were commonly used by soldiers, hunters, and performers.

While some throwing knives were specifically designed for combat, others were used mainly for entertainment. Jugglers and performers would showcase their skills by throwing knives at various targets, often performing dangerous and impressive feats.

Medieval throwing knives were also used for hunting, particularly for small game. The knife’s sharp tip and balanced weight made it ideal for a quick and accurate kill.

Today, throwing knives remain popular in certain circles, with enthusiasts practicing their skills and participating in competitions. While the use of throwing knives has evolved over time, their importance in medieval society cannot be underestimated.

Tools of the Trade: Craftsmen’s Knives

Medieval craftsmen relied heavily on knives for their trades, whether they were blacksmiths, woodworkers, leatherworkers, or other skilled tradespeople. These knives were not only essential tools but also works of art in their own right.

The medieval craftsmen’s knives were designed with specific tasks in mind. For example, a blacksmith’s knife had a shorter blade for better control in precision cutting of iron and steel. Woodworkers’ knives often had longer blades for making long, smooth cuts with ease. Leatherworkers’ knives had unique characteristics like a curved blade for cutting complex shapes like belts and bags.

One of the most important features of these knives was their durability. Craftsmen needed knives that could withstand the wear and tear of everyday use and still last for years. Medieval craftsmen’s knives were made with high-quality materials, such as forged steel and durable wooden handles, to ensure they could withstand the test of time and be passed down from generation to generation.

Trade Knife Type Description
Blacksmith Smithing Knife A short blade for quick, precise cuts in metalworking.
Woodworker Chip Carving Knife A longer blade for making long, smooth cuts in wood carving.
Leatherworker Curved Blade Knife A curved blade for cutting complex shapes in leatherworking.

These knives were not only functional but also aesthetically pleasing. Medieval craftsmen’s knives were often adorned with intricate patterns and designs, making them objects of art in their own right. The handles were often made from exotic woods or inlaid with precious metals like gold or silver.

Overall, medieval craftsmen’s knives were essential trade tools and works of art. They were designed for specific tasks in mind and were built to last, making them valuable assets for craftsmen in the medieval era.

Knives as Symbols: Decorative and Ceremonial

Knives served not only practical purposes but also held symbolic and decorative value during the medieval era. From intricate designs to ornate engravings, decorative medieval knives were used for religious ceremonies, royalty, and other special occasions. Ceremonial blades were often displayed as symbols of power and wealth, showcasing exquisite craftsmanship and attention to detail.

One example of a decorative medieval knife is the ballock dagger, which featured a distinctive hilt in the shape of male genitalia. This type of dagger was popular among the aristocracy and was often adorned with precious metals and gems. Another example is the misericorde, which was used not only for mercy killings but also as a symbol of chivalry and honor.

Over time, the design of decorative and ceremonial knives evolved to reflect changes in culture and society. In the Renaissance era, for example, ornate knives featuring intricate filigree and detailed etchings were highly prized.

Today, decorative medieval knives are highly sought after by collectors and history enthusiasts. Many of these knives are displayed in museums and private collections, showcasing the artistry and skill of medieval craftsmen.


Medieval knives played an essential role in society, serving as both tools and weapons. From the versatile dagger to the specialized misericorde, each type of knife had its unique features and significance. Through this guide, we have gained a deeper understanding of the history and development of medieval knives, exploring their context and cultural implications.

While the use of knives has evolved over time, they remain a crucial part of daily life, serving various purposes in different contexts. The craftsmanship and functionality of medieval knives continue to influence modern-day knife design, reminding us of their enduring legacy.

By exploring the various types of knives used during medieval times, we can gain a new appreciation for their artistic and functional value. Whether as tools, weapons, or symbols, they offer a fascinating glimpse into the past and present of knife-making and usage.


Q: What is the significance of medieval knives?

A: Medieval knives were essential tools and weapons that played a crucial role in various aspects of medieval life, including combat, hunting, food preparation, and craftsmanship.

Q: How were medieval knives used in combat?

A: Medieval knives, such as daggers and dirks, were used as close-quarter weapons for self-defense and offense during battles. They were often carried by knights and warriors as backup weapons or for specific combat techniques.

Q: Did medieval knives have any symbolic or cultural significance?

A: Yes, some medieval knives held symbolic value and were used in religious ceremonies, royal events, and other special occasions. They were often intricately designed and decorated to reflect the status and importance of the individual or event.

Q: What were the main types of medieval hunting knives?

A: The main types of medieval hunting knives included skinner knives, utility knives, and boning knives. These knives were designed with specific features and blade shapes to aid in the field dressing and preparation of game.

Q: How were medieval kitchen knives different from modern ones?

A: Medieval kitchen knives were typically larger and heavier compared to modern ones. They were used for a variety of tasks, including butchering, slicing, and chopping, and were essential tools in medieval kitchens for food preparation.

Q: Were throwing knives popular in medieval times?

A: Yes, throwing knives were popular among certain groups, such as assassins and entertainers. They were designed for precision and accuracy when thrown at targets, and their use was both practical and for entertainment purposes.

Q: How were misericordes used in medieval times?

A: Misericordes, also known as mercy-killing blades, were used by knights to grant mercy to wounded soldiers on the battlefield. They were designed with a short, wide blade that could penetrate armor, providing a swift and humane death.

Q: What were the craftsmen’s knives used for?

A: Craftsmen’s knives were specialized tools used by various tradesmen, such as blacksmiths, woodworkers, and leatherworkers. These knives had specific blade shapes and features to aid in their respective crafts, such as shaping metal, carving wood, or cutting leather.

Q: Can I still find and purchase medieval-style knives today?

A: Yes, there are many artisanal knife makers and collectors who create and sell medieval-style knives today. You can find them through online marketplaces, specialty stores, or at knife shows and exhibitions.