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Grayson C.




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PostPosted: Tue 07 Aug, 2007 8:24 pm    Post subject: Dirtying Weapons?         Reply with quote

Hey guys, quick question - Is there any evidence of soldiers dipping their weapons into latrine pits or rubbing them in dirt in order to make them more lethal? Or cause more damage?

Just curious, thanks for any responses.
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Robin Smith




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PostPosted: Tue 07 Aug, 2007 9:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Not sure, but I would think that a very unchristian thing to do. I know poisoning weapons is considered unchristian, and I would assume the same prohibition existed for deliberately fouling your weapon...
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Hugh Knight




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PostPosted: Tue 07 Aug, 2007 9:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I never heard of that, but I've read they occasionally tossed diseased animal carcasses over the walls of cities in sieges as bio-weapons, and it doesn't seem like a very big leap from one to the other. My strong suspicion, however, is that they didn't know that a dirty blade would cause more harm.
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Tue 07 Aug, 2007 9:36 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Punji stakes? Not really weapons, but rather bamboo stakes dipped in human excrement and then fixed onto the bottom of pit traps. I have a somewhat harder time imagining it being done against weapons as such but it's conceivable that desperate soldiers wouldn't mind getting their hands soiled if it'd save their lives.

Now, the English longbowmen of Hundred Years' War fame are known for sticking their first few arrows into the ground, but this was for the sake of easy access rather than for infectious effect or anything like that. Moreover, an infected wound wouldn't bring an enemy down any faster within the context of the battle at hand.
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Oliver Wiegand




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PostPosted: Wed 08 Aug, 2007 9:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think there was no need for dirtying weapons.
For example in the "thirty years' war" in the 17th century even a light injury could be lethal due to blood poisoning.
There was no notable medical care on battlefields at that time. So a lot of injured soldiers died a few weeks later...
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Robin Smith




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PostPosted: Wed 08 Aug, 2007 10:11 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Oliver Wiegand wrote:
I think there was no need for dirtying weapons.
For example in the "thirty years' war" in the 17th century even a light injury could be lethal due to blood poisoning.
There was no notable medical care on battlefields at that time. So a lot of injured soldiers died a few weeks later...

Sorry, but I have to disagree. This is a commonly held misconception. I am going to repost something I read on another forum:

Piers D. Mitchell, Medicine in the Crusades: Warfare, Wounds and the Medieval Surgeon (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2004)

Here's a summary paragraph from Rogers, _Soldiers' Lives through History: The Middle Ages_:

Basic knowledge of practical wound-treatment was widespread among medieval soldiers, and indeed among aristocratic women. Arrows and javelins that had not gone in too deep were usually pulled out as quickly as possible, often by the injured person. Wounds were washed with vinegar or wine—effective antiseptics-- to remove any possible source of infection (dirt, cloth, etc.), then covered with moistened lint, plasters, egg, or lard-based ointments, then bandaged, often with strips cut from a shirt. Sometimes herbal poultices would also be used. Later, the wounds would be washed and re-bandaged frequently, with any corrupted flesh being cut away. This was quite effective; in one sample of over 300 skulls dating from the sixth through the eighth century, only 12% of the wounds showed any evidence of infection.
Armies in the field were usually accompanied by physicians, surgeons, and barbers (who provided basic medical care). Great lords typically brought such men as part of their retinues, and infantry contingents often did the same. Medical personnel doubtless gave first priority to their own employers, but it was normally expected that wounded soldiers would eventually be tended by a physician if necessary: to say someone had been struck with such force that he would have no need of a doctor was to say that they had been killed outright. Despite the common belief to the contrary, Western European surgeons of the Middle Ages seem to have been roughly on a par with their Islamic, Byzantine and Jewish contemporaries. They could stop the bleeding of a cut artery with pressure and cauterization; they were skilled at treating broken skulls using trepanning; they could draw out barbed arrows using metal tubes or goose quills to cover the barbs; they knew how to splint smashed arms or legs. They could even suture intestines or severed jugular veins. They had analgesics and anesthetics made with opium, cannabis, and other less powerful substances.

Oh, and this is interesting:
After his leg was pierced through by an arrow, Pero Niño was warned by his doctors not to go back to sea until the wound was fully healed, as the wet air and the wearing of armor were likely to aggravate it. He ignored their advice, the wound became badly infected, and by the time he got back to Seville two months later the best surgeons of the city considered amputating his foot. When he refused to allow that, the doctors prepared a cauterizing iron, “big as a [crossbow] quarrel, white hot.” Pero Niño,

who was already used to such work, took the glowing iron in his hand and himself moved it all over his leg, from one end of the wound to the other. Without stopping, they gave him a second like it, and he applied it for the second time….Thenceforward his wound was well dressed, and it pleased God that each day it should mend.


Honey was a preferred wound-dressing, and both modern science and the US army survival manual agree it was very effective.


Battlefield medicine was more advanced than most suppose. However, that doesn't change the fact that fouling the weapon has no real military value. In war, your aim is not to kill through infection over the course of a few weeks, but to incapacitate immediately so that your opponent cannot continue the fight.

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Nathan Keysor




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PostPosted: Wed 08 Aug, 2007 10:31 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks Robin for that very informative post!

I have heard something about the dirtying of weapons by sticking a sword into an animal carcass but I don't remember where. It may have been with the Moro Kris but I could be mistaken. I don't see it being a military tactic in Europe but maybe more of a dirty dueling trick...

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Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!"
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J. Pav




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PostPosted: Wed 08 Aug, 2007 10:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Yeah, doesn't make a lot of sense on a battlefield setting. If you've only wounded someone enough that you are hoping they die of infection later, they are still a threat and you're probably going to continue dealing with them until you put them down for good.


Poisoning a blade is only going to be effective in assassination. When you have one individual whom you've deemed as an important target and MUST be dispatched, the idea of a poisoned/infected blade is a fantastic secondary effect, should the initial attack fail to be fatal. In this case the assassin is dispensable, as they are generally working toward a greater goal, so their safety isn't so much a direct worry after the attack, allowing for a slow kill to still be as(or at least nearly as) effective as a quick one.

Just my $0.02.
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Mike Harris




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PostPosted: Wed 08 Aug, 2007 10:52 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I agree with the assertion that this would not be an effective tactic on the battlefield, where a single day battle is expected. However, in a prolonged campaign or especially in siege warfare this could definitely be effective when used with arrows and similar projectile weapons. It follows along the lines of "a seriously wounded enemy occupies two more of their cadre to care for him" theory of warfare. I would not be surprised to learn of this being used by both attackers and defenders in the situation of a prolonged siege.
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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Wed 08 Aug, 2007 11:02 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A weapon that passes through clothing before entering the body is going to drag all kinds of nasty bugs into the wound anyway.
-Sean

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Dan P




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PostPosted: Wed 08 Aug, 2007 1:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mike Harris wrote:
I would not be surprised to learn of this being used by both attackers and defenders in the situation of a prolonged siege.

I wonder where they would GET all that poison.
It would have to be real poison, and not just dirt and septic matter, at least in the scenario I am picturing, which is siegers and defenders shooting arrows back and forth and wanting wounds that would be less than crippling or lethal to be more effective. As Robin said, they knew how to clean and disinfect dirty injuries back then, especially since the person hit by a dirty arrow in this case would have immediate assistance.

As far as I know, a "Moro Kris" is a stout, broad-bladed Phillipine weapon made to chop, cut, and smash, not really the kind of weapon that poison would enhance the immediate deadliness of. The traditional Kris from Indonesia is a shorter, more delicate weapon, and there are lots of myths about magically poisoned kris. Since its the kind of weapon an assasin might use (like a stiletto), it wouldn't be unreasonable to assume lots of them WERE poisoned. I've heard stories too about how some were made of an alloy containing arsenic, making the metal itself poisonous, but its a little hard to believe that could really be effective.
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Michael Clark




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PostPosted: Wed 08 Aug, 2007 3:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

From what I've heard, the usage of a kris as an assassin's weapon is an exaggerated claim, merely because it "looks" deadly. It holds much more significance as a religious symbol than anything.
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Raymond Deancona





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PostPosted: Wed 08 Aug, 2007 5:02 pm    Post subject: dirty weapons         Reply with quote

The dirtying may have been unintentional: English archers, when defending a fortified position often placed arrows point down into the dirt near their position for faster loading. If they were in camp, or suffering from "common" camp ailments, (as the case with the English host marching with Henry V) would just add to the mix. Here's a link that may help to shed some light on what soldiers and siege engineers knew: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/bioterror/hist_nf.html
So, at least in siege warfare, "dirty" weapons were used, and known to add misery to the figthing.
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Wed 08 Aug, 2007 5:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

[quote="Robin Smith"]
Oliver Wiegand wrote:
I
Sorry, but I have to disagree. This is a commonly held misconception. I am going to repost something I read on another forum:[


Sincere thanks Robin. That was a fantastic post!

Medical terminology among the European populace as a whole was pretty poor, giving the impression that there was no medical skill, rather more a lot of superstition. I was aware that there are some pretty interesting surviving herbal lore manuscripts from the medieval era, but had no idea the actual knowledge of European doctors was this good.

Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Wed 08 Aug, 2007 6:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Michael Clark wrote:
From what I've heard, the usage of a kris as an assassin's weapon is an exaggerated claim, merely because it "looks" deadly. It holds much more significance as a religious symbol than anything.


Well, there are two sides of the equation. Generally speaking, it's true that the keris, at least in Java, is more a ceremonial weapon than anything else. The construction of the tang and the blade/tang junction isn't as strong as what one would expect from a fighting knife, and there are some indications that it has been designed in this way so that it wouldn't be used for fighting.

All the same, there are several instances where the keris was used for assassinations, back in the 12th-15th centuries; Ken Angrok's murder of Tunggul Ametung comes to mind, as well as the assassination of the Majapahit king Jayanegara by a palace slave called Tanca. These all happened long before the forging of most antique keris blades that survive today, though, and there is evidence to suppose that the tangs at that time were longer and sturdier than those found in today's examples. The blades were also likely to have been of a much more utilitarian form.

Note that many keris/kris/whatever from other regions have more utilitarian blades and stronger tangs compared to Javanese ones, and these may be more appropriately considered to be ornate fighting weapons instead of purely ceremonial ones. The Filipino kris is a different weapon altogether.

(Oh, and I've never heard of particular examples of keris blades being poisoned. It seems like the users relied more on the mystical properties of the blade than any sort of poison when they had to use it in assassinations.)
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Robin Smith




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PostPosted: Wed 08 Aug, 2007 6:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jared Smith wrote:
Robin Smith wrote:
Sorry, but I have to disagree. This is a commonly held misconception. I am going to repost something I read on another forum:[

Sincere thanks Robin. That was a fantastic post!

Medical terminology among the European populace as a whole was pretty poor, giving the impression that there was no medical skill, rather more a lot of superstition. I was aware that there are some pretty interesting surviving herbal lore manuscripts from the medieval era, but had no idea the actual knowledge of European doctors was this good.

No, all credit belongs to Cliff Rogers. I was merely reposting his original post...

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Oliver Wiegand




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PostPosted: Thu 09 Aug, 2007 3:25 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

[quote="Robin Smith"]
Oliver Wiegand wrote:

Sorry, but I have to disagree. This is a commonly held misconception. I am going to repost something I read on another forum:

[i]Piers D. Mitchell, Medicine in the Crusades: Warfare, Wounds and the Medieval Surgeon (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2004)



Hi Robin,

Thank you very much for your informative post.

Here is a review of a.m. article by "historycooperative.org" (but the review is more focused to the medical care of crusades)
It seems, that the mortality rate was still high and medical care was a question of patient's social ranking.

Piers D. Mitchell. Medicine in the Crusades: Warfare, Wounds and the Medieval Surgeon. New York: Cambridge University Press. 2004. Pp. ix, 293. $75.00.

Every crusader took huge risks. Battle wounds, accidents, disease, malnutrition, and sometimes complete collapse were integral parts of the crusade experience. Death rates were high, even among the nobility, who were better fed and protected than the foot soldiers and ordinary pilgrims. In any expedition that lasted two to three years Piers D. Mitchell suggests a mortality rate of twenty-five to thirty-five percent for the upper classes, divided almost equally between deaths from injuries and deaths from malnutrition and disease. Although armor improved over the two centuries covered by this book, weaponry remained fearfully effective. The mace, for example, could crush bones and soft tissue beneath the hauberk without actually penetrating the mail, and even if the blows did not kill, they rendered the recipient incapable of resisting a following thrust with a sword or spear. (In this context, the survival of an overweight knight whose abundant flesh had protected his vital organs from a blow by a lance provides one of the few recent examples of a good press for obesity.) As well as battle injuries, accidents were frequent: Godfrey of Bouillon nearly bled to death when he severed an artery in his leg with his own sword; Fulk of Anjou was killed by his saddle after he had been pitched off his horse; John Comnenus caught his hand on the head of an arrow he was about to fire; Henry of Champagne fell out of a window. Moreover, there is no knowing how many survived yet suffered the effects for the rest of their lives. Kicks from horses or domestic animals often led to osteomyelitis as a result of the introduction of bacteria into the bone marrow. Richard de Templo's bitter denunciation of the critics of the participants in the Third Crusade rings true, for they gave no thought to those who returned to England crippled or debilitated for life.
From: http://www.historycooperative.org/cgi-bin/jus...r_134.html

I think medical care in history was a question of culturel enviroment.
For example at mediaval time the science has forgot (exept maybe in old books in monasteries) the medical knowledge of the ancient world which was quite progessive. (surgical tools for cataract surgery found in the ancient ruins of Pompeii are looking quite similar to the tools of today.) In Europe (especial in Germany) at the time of inquisition, woman were burned as witch due to the suspicious that they have done experiments with herbal essences...
The european science retreived/used the ancient knowlede not until the renaissance.

But I think I 'm too Off Topic now.
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Hugh Fuller




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PostPosted: Thu 09 Aug, 2007 2:53 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

At the time of the First Crusade, the Moslem medical practice was far in advance of anything that the Franks had, but they were very quick to catch up once exposed to Moslem practices. I suspect that, back in Europe, sperstiton and the Church may have acted as a inhibition upon the use of such practices. Remember that the Church inveighed against regular bathing as a heathenish practice even though most of Europe who could afford it were relatively regular bathers.

One bit of field medicine that I picked up along the re-enacting road was that of feeding an onion broth to men with stomach wounds. if the wound smelled of onions a couple of hours later, the fellow was set side to be given last rites and to die as it was certain that his intestines were pieced and that he was due for what we now know as peritonitis.

But do remember that the works of Galen, Trajan's great surgeon general, remained available throughout the Age of Migrations and the Middle Ages and were used by those who could read and understand them.

Hugh
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Ken Osolinski





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PostPosted: Thu 09 Aug, 2007 3:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think that if weapons were ever fouled then it was through sheer malice towards the foe rather than to gain any tactical advantage.
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Thu 09 Aug, 2007 9:20 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ken Osolinski wrote:
I think that if weapons were ever fouled then it was through sheer malice towards the foe rather than to gain any tactical advantage.


I'd rather say through sheer accident. Say, a captain dropped his sword on the ground just after he drew it whie preparing for a charge. Would he bother to wipe it first before sticking it into the enemy?
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