A two-handed sword, used as a general term, is any large sword that requires two hands to use.
When dealing with European sword history, the word has a double meaning. The first refers to any type of sword which was long enough to require two hands to use (including the great sword). The second, is also used when referring to a specific weapon of the European renaissance. Used as early as 1500, this kind of sword was often nearly of the same length as the person wielding it, and had a very long hilt for better balance and leverage. It was a typical weapon of the swashbuckling Landsknechts of 16th century Germany (zweihänder) and the Scottish highlanders (Claymore) , although its actual military usefulness remains disputed, and many specimens now on display in museums were never used in battle.
Two-handed swords made for combat use are actually quite light, averaging around 2.5 to 3 kilograms (5.5 to 7 pounds), with the heaviest examples reaching 5 kilograms (11 pounds). Even so, with the mass distributed over a length of close to two metres, effective use would have required considerable strength. The swords have hilt-mounted side-rings and enlarged cross-guards of up to 30 centimeters (12 inches) across. Along the blade, some 10 to 20 centimeter (4-8 inches) from the upper guard, parrierhaken ("parrying hooks") shaped like lugs or flanges acted as a guard for the ricasso to prevent other weapons from sliding down the blade. These could be used in the attack of an opponent.
The manner of fencing with a renaissance great sword differs radically from the earlier types of two-handed swords (such as the long-sword, the bastard-sword, and great sword ). Because of the inertia of the sword and its length, use of the weapon as a spear becomes feasible, while increased inertia due to blade length renders swings much slower. Indeed, some scholars have theorized that the weapon was primarily used to attack pike formations, using the great weight to cleave the tips off of the long polearms. However true renissance two-handed swords could be gripped on the ricasso to "speed up" the blade and are extensively depicted being used in juridical duels.
In a related article regarding the Two-Handed Great Sword, the myth of excessively heavy weapons and how the weapon was deployed in combat is addressed.
Non-European blades that might be categorized as two-handed swords include:
- Journal of Western Martial Art (http://www.ejmas.com/jwma/jwmaframe.htm)