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Title: The practical and symbolic dimensions of edged weapons for the Hospitallers, in particular swords, 1530-1798
Authors: Davies, Franco
Keywords: Swords -- History -- Malta
Weapons -- Malta -- History
Knights and knighthood -- Malta
Military history
Issue Date: 2014
Abstract: The theme of this dissertation stems from my interest in the European martial arts, triggered by a fairly modern revival of the study of the fight techniques of medieval and early modern Europeans. The sword, being a central element for the Hospitaller Order was a common side-arm in early modern Europe. Interest in the martial arts of the knights brings certain aspects of history back to life where a sword is used again for its original purpose, albeit in a controlled and non-lethal environment. As a physiotherapist, my knowledge on human movement helped me look at this facet of history from a different angle. Studying objects from the past, like Hospitaller swords from the angle of a practitioner (through the practice of historical fencing) helps give insights to the characteristics of the weapons and the persons who wielded them. This form of historical study turned out to be multifaceted, including the study of the objects themselves, Hospitaller swords, in their various forms. Some of them were purely ceremonial while others were actual weapons designed to pierce flesh. This also necessitated research in the fields of metallurgy, weapons classification and museum conservation. The swords' use in their social form as icons of freedom, masculinity, justice and nobility led to another facet of the study: their social history through the study of objects used in the past. This aspect of the symbolism of swords is closer to the grassroots of Hospitaller society, reflecting in its own way a slowly changing early modern Europe. The symbolism of swords proved to be challenging to cover in such a short study because of the wide spectrum of the Order's religious and chivalric nature as well as the nobility of its members. Thus, the studying of visual art as evidence involved using pictures as subjects of metaphoric study but also as visual windows into the past where anything from fashion trends to fighting techniques involving swords complemented textual research. The symbolic power of a sword also led to the investigation of the literary functions of the sword as a concept with various representations and meanings where the sword was used as a metaphor, to inspire, swear upon or make peace. The attempt to study so many facets of a historical object has uncovered a vast range of dimensions which for convenience's sake can be grouped into the practical and symbolic, but in reality fan out into multiple levels many of which have been explored here.
Appears in Collections:Dissertations - FacArt - 2014
Dissertations - FacArtHis - 2014

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