He took up the shield, sliding his arm through the loops, and drew the long double-edged sword. It glittered in the firelight as he twitched it back and forth easily, making the whisssht sound of cloven air.
— S. M. Stirling, Dies the Fire
Affordable light-medium infantry, suitable for taking down pikemen and archers, but average performance against light cavalry and definitely unsuited for fighting ranged cavalry or heavy cavalry.
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Small defensive bonus versus missile infantry.
The first of two mainstream medium infantry units, swordsmen make up the rank and file of Castle Age armies. With their large kiteshields and chainmail armour, swordsmen constitute a force to be reckoned with against your opponents' archers and undefended flanks. Like all light infantry, however, they have a serious problem with heavy cavalry units and frontal assaults by units in numbers equal to them - 20 knights will easily vanquish 20 swordsmen in a single match.
Thus, your swordsmen like all light infantry should always be placed on the wings of your army, or used as a flanking force at all time. This is feasible given their fleetness of foot. Another feasible but far more risky tactic using swordsmen is the sword rush, given the relative cheap cost for producing swordsmen: in the time that it takes to create 1 pikeman, you could easily create at least 2 bodies of swordsmen.
Swordsmen, however, are not the only light infantry types that anyone may hope to use — Castle Age light infantry make up the largest number of unique units, insofar as equipment and tactics are concerned. As usual, most Asian nations however prefer to use overwhelming numbers as opposed to individual skill and discipline to crush their foes. In Europe and Africa, regional variations have resulted in different areas of specialisation. For instance, German states have the ability to train knightly infantry known as Palatinate Burgmänner (German, "castellans"). These are heavily armoured warriors, bearing sword and shield whose specialty is taking down mercenaries. Similar units can also be found in Sicily, where they are not known instead as Milites (Latin miles, "soldier") and enjoy and even witer range of targets.
On the other side of the Oder, the Poles are also known for Lithuanian axemen, warriors who are trained slower but have immense amounts of hitpoints, making them literally meat shields, while the Moors are known for recruiting Muslim Africans with poor armour and hitpoints, but a keen ability to survive in harsh environments, while the Danes of the far north are known for their prowess in demolishing buildings.
- Hack is the New Black — Versatility is key to using Swordsmen — they do exceedingly well against archers and possibly fortifications, and will perform well in melee against cavalry too but only if they enjoy crushing superiority.
- Conscript Swordsmen — Asian factions instead employ Conscript Swordsmen, which are weaker but substantially cheaper versions of the swordsman. This makes them almost unsuited towards attacking anything unless they have crushing numerical superiority, thanks to their poor stats.
- Ceithernn — Thanks to internecine conflict in Ireland, countless scores of men have taken up the task of being semi-mercenary warbands. As a result, the two nations closest to Ireland, Wales and Scotland, can raise detachments of Irish javelineers, whose specialty is a weaker ranged attack which is nevertheless still sufficiently devastating in numbers.
- Lithuanian Axe Retinue — Poland sports a type of medium infantryman known as the Lithuanian Axemen which distinguish themselves well against most other infantry, thanks to their substantial hitpoints.
- Palatinate Burgmänner — The Germans are able to train knightly Palatinate Burgmänner. Recruited from the nobility, these men are the elite of the German military aristocracy, and while they are often tied to a code of Christian-inspired chivalry, their more pagan roots can be seen in the dedication and fervour expected of from their service. Which often involves felling your opponents' mercenaries.
- Hasham Guards — The Moors are capable of recruiting a variety of African tribesmen from across the Straits of Gibraltar to serve. While they are not as strong as Christian swordsmen, their ability to cover large distances of hostile territory is a valuable asset that however requires some proper use to be mastered.
- Milites — Sicily has access to Milites, which are a powerful melee unit with attack bonuses against regional melee infantry units shared between different factions, thus being very effective against most factions' other infantry.
Depending on your faction, Swordsmen have several distinct appearances:
The first few centuries of the post-Roman era were highly turbulent times for many communities throughout Europe, which often found themselves at the mercy of several different enemies, and it was thus natural that sooner or later a body of chosen men would be required to supply the strong arms which was needed to ensure survival. Unlike common conscripted levies which were called up only for a single campaign, militias were fulltime, semi-professional armed men who were supposed to be ready for combat at all times, even in peace. The most famous of these institutions was the Anglo-Saxon fyrd, which was first introduced by Alfred the Great, and which continued to survive in some form or the other well throughout the Mediaeval Era.
Swords were amongst some of the more popular weapons in the Middle Ages and enjoyed a level of importance akin to that of a revolver in our times. A good swordsman would have been able to cut off the arms or legs of his enemies with a single stroke and still keep going on in defeating many of his enemies in a short period of time. While swords were very commonplace in the richer Middle East and Asia, Mediaeval Europe was fairly poor and so swords usually were borne in battle only by those who had the financial means of purchasing them, and only a select elite few could achieve proficiency in swordsmanship.