Sir Balin
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Sir Balin: The Knight with Two Swords

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In the Arthurian legends, a relatively minor knight at King Arthur’s court was Sir Balin. Although he only has a brief appearance in the legends, he was an exceptional person and had an extremely important role.

In this article, we will learn:

  • Who Balin was
  • What he did
  • What impact he had on the Arthurian world
  • Which sources mention him


Sir Balin was a knight at King Arthur’s court and the brother of Sir Balan. He is known for his tragic life, which ended in him killing his own brother by mistake. 

Yet, despite his poor fortune, Balin was an extremely virtuous knight. Had he lived longer, he would have become Arthur’s best and bravest knight.

Although he was overall a thoroughly good and virtuous person, he did have at least one unfortunate quality – impetuousness.

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Sir Balin is called Sir Balin le Savage by Thomas Malory in Le Morte d’Arthur. The reason why Balin is known as savage is because he was prone to outbursts of anger.

Sir Balin was also known as the Knight of Two Swords. 

The reason for this, unsurprisingly, is that he was a knight with two swords. One was his normal sword, and the other was one that he won due to his virtuousness.


Sir Balin is described as a poor knight from Northumberland. His was ‘of high birth’, so he was evidently a prince of some importance. Beyond this, his family background is more or less left unexplained.


At some point early in King Arthur’s reign, before the formation of the Round Table, Sir Balin had killed a cousin of the king. The details of this event are not provided, but King Arthur imprisons Balin for a year and a half. 

After this time, some nobles plead with Arthur to set him free. Arthur is apparently happy to do this. Balin is a free man again, but he feels insecure with his status in comparison to the other nobles, since he is poorly dressed.


Soon, a mysterious damsel bearing a sword appears at Camelot with a challenge for those present. She tells them that her sword can only be drawn from its scabbard by the most virtuous knight. 

All the knights try to draw the sword. Even Arthur tries. But no one is able to do it.

At first, Balin declines to attempt the challenge, due to his insecurity. But as the damsel starts walking away, he gets the courage to try.

Balin calls out to the damsel and asks for a go at drawing the sword. She initially refuses based on his appearance, but he points out that clothing does not equal virtue.

 At this, the damsel allows him to try. Balin draws this sword easily. 

The damsel is impressed, but then she tells him to return the sword. Balin refuses, despite the damsel’s objections.

Before she leaves, the damsel warns him that by keeping the sword, he will become destined to kill his greatest friend, the person he loves the most. Nonetheless, Balin keeps the sword.


Shortly after this, the Lade of the Lake arrives at Arthur’s court, demanding Balin’s head as payment for the sword that she had earlier given to Arthur. She claims that Balin killed her brother.

Arthur agrees to pay for the sword, but he refuses to give her his knight’s head. 

Balin hears about the Lady’s demands, so he storms into the court and swiftly cuts off her head.

Justifying himself, Balin explains that this was the woman who had caused his mother to be burned to death.

Arthur tells Balin that even if this were true, it would not justify him drawing the sword in the royal court, especially against such a woman. Therefore, he dismisses Balin from the court.


Merlin then arrives and explains to everyone present the truth behind the damsel whose sword Balin had taken.

Her brother, a good knight, had killed her beloved, so she plotted with the lady Lily of Avalon to get revenge. 

The sword was cursed so that whoever wielded it (and this could only be a virtuous knight) would be destined to kill their own brother.


One of Arthur’s knights, Sir Lanceor of Ireland, is jealous that he was not the one who drew the sword. With Arthur’s approval, he sets out in pursuit of Balin to slay him. 

When the two knights clash, Balin is the victor. After Lanceor’s death, his lover Colombe kills herself out of grief.


After this, Balin encounters his brother, Balan, who is also out of Arthur’s favor. Together, they devise a plan to defeat King Rience to win back Arthur’s approval, since Rience is their king’s enemy.

Before they set off, a dwarf appears and tells Balin that the brother of the knight he killed will seek to avenge him.

Merlin himself then appears and foretells that because he killed Lanceor, Balin will deliver the most Dolorous (or painful) Stroke ever committed since the piercing of the side of Christ.

Undeterred, Balin and his brother set off to capture King Rience. With Merlin’s help, they succeed, and bring the captured Rience into Arthur’s presence.

Although this results in a large war between Arthur and various rebel kings, Balin and Balan are indeed restored to favor.


Shortly after this, Balin sets off to avenge a knight who was killed while in his protection. The killer is the brother of King Pellam.

Balin finds him and kills him in Pellam’s castle. Pellam retaliates, breaking Balin’s weapon. Searching for a new weapon, Balin grabs a spear and pierces Pellam’s side.

As it happens, this spear is the Spear of Longinus, the very spear that pierced the side of Christ.  

As a result of this Dolorous Stroke, the entire region around Pellam’s castle is turned into a desolate wasteland.

This lays the foundation for the quest for the Holy Grail, which is sought for the purpose of healing the king and thus his kingdom.


Balin leaves the castle and is chastises by passers-by for the devastation he has caused. Eventually, after several days’ travel, he reaches healthier land.

He comes across a castle and engages in battle against its defender. Unbeknownst to him, the defender is his brother. He does not recognize him, since his brother is wearing new red armor.

Balin, meanwhile, changed his shield just before the combat. The two brothers thus engage in battle and mortally wound each other, with Balin outliving his brother by just a few hours. They are then buried together in a single tomb.


The primary source for the tale of Balin is Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur.

However, he also appears earlier, in the second book of the Post-Vulgate Cycle. This book is called Suite de Merlin, dating to the 13th century.


Balin has appeared in a few pieces of modern media, though not many. Examples include:

  • The Sword in the Stone: This 1938 novel by T. H. White includes the Balin as a hawk, along with his brother Balan.
  • Pendragon: This 1977 novel by Douglas Carmichael features a version of the story of Balin.
  • The Fisher King: This 1991 movie by Terry Gilliam features an allegorical version of the story of the Grail quest, where Balin and his brother are represented by two thugs who beat up homeless people.

See our complete list of Arthurian characters for more entries like this one.

Arthurian Bibliography

See also my ever-expanding list of primary and secondary sources.



Balin was tragically killed by his own brother, Balan.  


It was secured in a rock by Merlin, where it was later drawn by Sir Galahad at the start of the Grail quest.

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Jason is a Mythic Fantasy Author and creator of MythBank. He loves mythology, history, and geek culture. When he's not writing, his favorite hobbies include hiking, chilling with his wife, spouting nonsense words at his baby daughter, and developing this (and other) websites.

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