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We all know this common trope in fantasy that expert swordmen and heroes wear their swords sheathed on their backs.

Question is: how?!

I do own a longsword, blade length about 30 inches. The typical Katana blade seems to be about the same length. The average man's arm is 25 inches, probably used to be shorter back in the days as people used to be shorter.

Thus, no chance that it is feasible to draw or even resheath a longsword (European or Asian or whatever make) which is strapped to our backs and people seem to agree that this was used for carrying it, if at all, not for fighting....or am missing something here?

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  • @MacacoBranco I should have specified closed sheath, but good find for sure! Dec 8 '21 at 13:57
  • Interestingly, swords were rarely (if ever) worn on the back, but shields frequently were! Look at medieval house carls: they are frequently depicted (in period sources) as wearing a shield on their back with a big dane axe in their hands.
    – PipperChip
    Dec 8 '21 at 20:00
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The short answer is that, for a closed sheath, it is not very feasible to draw anything longer than your arm from your back for the mechanical reasons you mention. As per the Shadiversity link I provided, it is feasible if you provide an opening on the side, although as others have leveled as a criticism to his video, it partially defeats one of the primary purposes of a scabbard, protecting the sword from the elements. A similar method is sometimes seen for Scottish greatswords where only the bottom part of the sword is sheathed with some of the same drawbacks. As you note, a sheath might have been slung across the back for carrying in a situation where you did not expect have to unsheathe the sword in combat (although the artwork seems to depict that most warriors would just lean the flat of the blade against their shoulder for shorter distances, and would resort to a cart or strapping the blade to a horse for longer distances.

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    This! Very this! The fantasy trope is commonly attributed to the difficulties of animations and communicating what someone had equipped. Additionally, programmers are a lazy bunch and thought "well, we can take this back-sheathe system and apply it to ALL weapons!"
    – PipperChip
    Dec 8 '21 at 19:48
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Shadaversity did just this thing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EWi2DnDoaI

All in all, the best swords for being carried in the back should be Short.

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    I would suggest you add information that had not already been part of other answers or you live up to your nickname. Dec 14 '21 at 12:50

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