Stumbled on this reddit page about medieval fighting techniques, in particular “busting myths” about them. Excerpts:
THE BIG MYTH: Swords are the main weapon of a medieval/ancient society.
THE TRUTH: Swords are always a secondary or tertiary weapon for warriors, meaning that you would only use your sword if your main weapon was lost/broken/inappropriate. Main weapons would almost exclusively be pole based weapons (lance, spear, polearm, javelin, pike etc) or a missile weapon (bow, crossbow, sling, firearm etc).
Swords are at a big disadvantage against pole weapons in most situations but usually in both battlefield formations and 1v1 situations.
Spears were THE medieval and ancient weapon. They were used in some format by every army from the beginning of history to modern day – even professional soldiers have bayonets, turning their gun into a spear. They are so underrepresented in fantasy that the only notable wielders that spring to mind are Kaladin in Way of Kings and Oberyn Martell in Game of Thrones. That’s not many for such an important weapon.
An inexperienced spearman will often beat an experienced swordsman because the spear has a huge advantage in reach over the sword.
A spear thrust could penetrate mail but will not penetrate plate.
Swinging the whole pole around your head is a totally legitimate historical technique.
The one handed axe is a weapon that is used because it is cheap and easy to obtain, not because it is an especially good weapon.
Axe heads need to be pretty small. The huge axe that Gimli has in the LOTR films is far, far too large to be used practically (and must require him to have enormous strength to wield). An axe made specifically for war should be far smaller because in combat, speed is what matters.
If someone chooses to use an axe over a sword for non-armoured fighting then they need a very strange reason to do so. A sword has huge advantages over any single handed axe.
Axes were seldom favoured but they did have their uses. The Vikings made good use of the Dane Axe, a huge double handed weapon – but its purpose was to hew at enemy shield walls more than it was for personal combat.
If you don’t have plate armour, you want a shield. Shields are awesome.
If you do have plate armour, shields become redundant and you’re better off with a two handed pole type weapon.
Shields are also very inconvenient to carry around with you.
Unlike a sword, a medium sized shield is actually pretty heavy. Training for 2 hours with a Viking style shield will leave your shield arm tired. Since shields varied between being little bucklers that just protect the sword hand and massive tower shields that covered the whole body, it’s not really possible to give a ‘standard weight.’
More at the link.