Maybe Don’t Carry a Big Sword on Your Back

Why do characters in fantasy always carry longswords on their back? Then pluck them off to fight like the only thing holding the sword on his magnets or something. I cannot figure out how this works. It seems like it’d be rlly difficult to get a sword in and out of a scabbard that’s carried across the back. So how are longswords actually carried? Is the sword on back thing actually real? And if it is, how on earth does it work?

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It’s real, but it is unusual. Normally, you would carry a scabbard on your hip. This has the downside of the sword hanging off your belt and potentially getting in the way (especially as a longsword is likely to protrude out in some direction, usually to the back), but it is extremely accessible.

As for why it’s so popular in fantasy, I’m not completely sure, and I suspect there isn’t a single, universal answer. In some cases, I’m sure it’s simply chosen because it looks cool. In others (particularly games) it gives the player the opportunity to see the weapon they’re carrying and about to draw. It also allows a character to sheathe a greatsword, which would be fairly difficult otherwise.

You can pull a longsword off your back, however it’s awkward. If the scabbard is articulated, and can swing away off the back, you can pull the sword forward, directed across your shoulder. In an emergency you could certainly get to it, but it would be less convenient than if you carried it on your hip. Putting it away is a similarly awkward process.

So, why is this a thing? Because in some situations you’d want to keep your sword on your person, but wouldn’t need to access it on short notice, and you may not have wanted the scabbard flapping about.

For example: If someone was traveling, they may sling their sword over their shoulder (they’d want it when they got to their destination), but when moving through crowds, having the scabbard bashing into members of the crowd could create an awkward situation. If they expected trouble, they’d be likely to unsling their sword and either return it to their hip, or carry it openly (depending on the situation.)

I know it’s real, but I’m not sure how widespread it ever was. I remember running across a historical manuscript which told readers that they should instruct their students not to carry their sword across the back. This sounds like the practice was fashionable at some point, but it could have been a singular example that pissed off the author.

If you were traveling, then you might carry your sword on your back, otherwise, you would be unlikely to do so, unless you were making some ill advised fashion statement.

-Starke

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