What is a Katzbalger?

by Niklas Feurstein
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Katzbalger
Katzbalger by Tigrisnaga, [CC BY-SA 3.0]

The Katzbalger is one of the most understudied sword types. This article presents all available information on this mysterious weapon.

The Katzbalger is a short double-edged sword, that was used as a side-arm in the late Renaissance period. Its prominent features are the s-shaped or figure-8 shaped guard, the broad blade and the elongated mushroom pommel. They have a gradual taper or rounded tip. he Katzbalger measures 70-80 cm (27.6-31.5 in) and weighs around 1 kg (2.2 lbs).

Now let us explore the features of this special weapon in a bit more detail.

Katzbalger Characteristics

Landsknecht With Stapped On Katzbalger

The Katzbalger was the signature blade of the Landsknecht and used between the 16th and 17th century.

While the main weapon of a Landsknecht was either a pike, a two-handed sword or an arquebus almost all of them used the Katzbalger as a side-arm.

Consequently, this short sword was used as a last resort weapon in case the enemy got too close so that their superior main weapons became unusable.

The blade was typically worn almost horizontally on the back slightly above the hips. The pommel was facing in the left direction, making it easy to draw the sword with the right hand.

The Landsknecht most likely wore the Katzbalger in this way to prevent enemies from drawing his sword and thus disarming him.

Landsknechte With Stapped On Katzbalger
Soldier number 2 and 4 are wearing the sword under their lower back. Number 5 wears it on the side.

As the Katzbalger only had a gradual taper and sometimes even a rounded tip it was generally used as a cutting weapon. Thrusts were only useable when fighting unarmored targets.

The broader blade may have been advantageous when blocking strikes from heavier weapons like a Zweihänder.

On the other hand, it is really difficult to make sense of its thick s-shaped guard, which didn’t offer any protection against thrusts.

The only benefit that comes to mind is the protection against strong cutting attacks while being a lightweight solution.

A lot of Katzbalger have a fuller to decrease its weight. Another noteworthy feature of this short sword is the characteristic elongated mushroom pommel.

Furthermore, the weapon wasn’t stored in a scabbard. This will be covered in more detail in the Name Origin section of this post.

What is the weight and length of a Katzbalger?

The overall length of a Katzbalger ranges from 70 to 80 cm (27.6 to 31.5 in), of which the blade measures around 50-60 cm (19.7-23.6 in).

Depending on the size and the materials used the mass of a Katzbalger encompasses 0.8 to 1.5 kg (1.8 to 3.3 lbs). The average Katzbalger has a weight of 1 kg (2.2 lbs).

Two Handed Katzbalger

Two Handed Katzbalger

Even though most Katzbalgers usually are short swords there are some exceptions.

Two-handed versions of the Katzbalger were used as well (however they are extremely rare). In terms of length, they were very similar to longswords, measuring around 140 cm (55.1 inches).

Very few two-handed Katzbalger were preserved. Take a look at the following historic drawing of a Landsknecht carrying a giant Katzbalger.

Landsknecht Two Handed Katzbalger
“Heimkehrender Landsknecht” by Urs Graf

Katzbalger Name Origin

There are two different theories on the origin of the name Katzbalger.

The first one is that the sword usually wasn’t carried in a scabbard but was only attached to the soldier’s waist by a cat’s skin (The German word “Katze” means cat and “Balg” translates to the skin of an animal)

The second theory is that the sword’s name is derived from the German word “balgen” which describes an intense close-quarter battle. In this case a fight between “Katzen” (cats).

Most people think the first definition to be the most likely. This is due to the fact that it makes some sense when combined with the other knowledge we’ve got.

The Katzbalger’s point may have been round simply because it wasn’t carried in a proper scabbard, but only attached via cat skin. As the Landsknechte used very tight formations a sword with an acute taper would cause harm to one’s allies.

Conclusion

I hope you found this article about the Katzbalger helpful. It should contain all available information on this rare weapon type.

In case you have additional information like historic books containing more details about this sword make sure to share it in the comments.

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