Witcher fans will recognize this handsome fellow immediately:
One striking thing about Geralt of Rivia is the way he carries his swords on his back. While it looks pretty cool, though, how accurate is it? Can you, indeed, carry around your sword like this?
Murphy Barrett has the answer on Quora! As he explains, yes you can carry it on your back. However, it is impossible to draw a sword from your back if the blade is longer than your arm without some kind of trick-scabbard. It is also slow, cumbersome, and God help you to resheath it without stabbing yourself in the back.
People wore swords on their hips instead:
But somehow it got into people’s heads that some folks wore swords on their backs. Maybe it started with the modern, and completely false, depiction of ninjas (which is taken from stagehands doing kabuki theater, not historical ninjas), and propagated from there.
And now we have this nonsense, where the staff is just sort of magically stuck to her back by no visible means (well, she is a witch after all):
Carrying your sword vs. fighting with it
There are some exceptions to the rule, of course. Historical paintings sometimes show servants carrying a sword on their backs for their knights. Which, really, was their job: to carry the entire kit.
This makes sense, actually. The main advantage of a back scabbard is that it’s mounted higher, so you could carry even a very long sword without dragging it on the floor.
The main disadvantage is that you can’t draw it. So the only viable application of a back scabbard is as a “sword backpack”. A way to carry the sword where there is no need to draw it at a moment’s notice.
So, the whole sword-at-the-back trope was in fact “transportation mode” — not meant to be taken out quickly. That is why fencing masters like Godinho specifically say not to carry a sword on the back if you expect any trouble:
“I suggest that an night, the montante is carried without a sheath, and the wielder without a cloak, and the montante in the left hand, tilted diagonally, and not on the back as many carry it.”
Iberian Swordplay: Godinho’s Art of Fencing 1599; p99
So, and unless your hero is named Geralt and happens to be from Rivia, only have your knight travel with a longsword on his back if he’s not marching into battle. Even better, have his servant do so and hand his master the sword while preparing him for war.