What Is A Medieval Knife & Dagger? | Jonas Blade

What Is A Medieval Knife & Dagger?

Almost nobody agrees on what actually distinguishes a knife from a dagger. Generally speaking, a dagger is a type of knife. In most cases, a dagger has a symmetrical blade with two edges while a knife only has one. This is not a sufficient definition though, as there are “knives” with two edges and “daggers” with only one. Over time, and particularly during the Medieval era, “dagger” indicated a knife meant for thrusting, while a medieval “knife” was a much broader category.


The term “arms race” carries with it a decidedly modern connotation, conjuring images of powerful explosives, long range aircraft, and unstoppable missiles. But the arms race—“the” because it is essentially one continuous process, not many, though separated at times by region or geography—has been an ongoing march of technological one-upmanship since one early hominid first hurled a stone at another.


It is not hard to imagine that the target of that stone, upon being struck, might have had the impulse to not be struck by the next one. Thus, it can be assumed he took shelter the next time he perceived a threat, perhaps ducking behind a tree or a bolder. His attacker, in turn, needed to adapt his tactics. Perhaps he saw the merits of approaching by stealth, or with a weapon more deadly than a stone. 


So it has gone throughout history, with weapons and defenses evolving side by side, each to defeat the other as warring peoples sought ascendancy over one another. One such people, the Romans, formed what is still considered today one of the most ascendant empires in human history. But nothing lasts forever, and eventually the Roman Empire fell and gave way to the Middle Ages. Often called the Medieval period, this epoch of Western history lasted for nearly 1000 years, roughly counted from the year 500 CE until the dawn of the Renaissance around the year 1500. Though most people are more familiar with medieval swords, the knife and dagger played a prominent role both on the battlefield and in daily life.


The medieval arms race followed the same immutable pattern it always had, with weapons and defenses leapfrogging one another in order to gain an edge in combat. While daggers (and certainly knives) had already existed in some form or another for thousands of years, the knife and dagger from this medieval time period coalesced into an array of tools and weapons ideal for both daily life and for combat against heavily armored opponents. 


Types of medieval daggers include the poingard, baselard, anelace, mesericorde, ballock dagger, quillon dagger, main gauche, and many, many more. The defining characteristic of this dagger type, as mentioned above, is that it was a type of knife used primarily for thrusting. Plate and mail armors are rather difficult to get a weapon through—this, after all, being their primary virtue and raison d’etre. The medieval dagger evolved to solve just this problem. 

The Medieval knife, speaking more generally, differed from the medieval dagger in that it was a much more broadly varied implement. While many had a point capable of delivering an effective thrust if the need arose, these were typically better suited to the sort of cutting and slicing operations one might still see on a daily basis today in a more rural lifestyle. 


The Medieval knife generally featured a keen, sturdy blade and what we would call a “full tang” construction in the parlance of modern knife makers—a sandwiched handle featuring two separate scales or pieces of wood, bone, or antler, fastened by rivets on either side of the knife’s tang.


About The Author

Zack Jonas was born and raised in Massachusetts in the 1980’s and is still a New Englander today. With his growing love for art over the years, he took an introductory bladesmithing class at MASSart. It was there that he learned one of his most valuable lessons, which is that everyone has some insight worth learning. Today, he is a full-time bladesmith and feels incredibly fortunate to have found his calling.