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George Hill




Location: Atlanta Ga
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PostPosted: Sat 01 Dec, 2007 10:13 pm    Post subject: Torches?         Reply with quote

I'm curious about Torches.

Now, torches aren't actually weapons, but were important nonetheless as a part of the equipment for providing light, and we've certainly had enough stories where a fellow has a sword in one hand, and a torch in the other. (Though if anyone has any specifically historical stories where this is true, please provide them.)

So how were torches made? I'm seen a number of designs in the movies, but what is truth?

Also, I'm sure that there will several variations according to period, but I'm particularly interested in the Age of Mail, and the Age of Plate.

Also, according to wikipedia "If a torch is made of sulfur mixed with lime, the fire will not diminish after being plunged into water. Such torches were used by the ancient Romans." <-- has anyone experimented with this?

To abandon your shield is the basest of crimes. - --Tacitus on Germania
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sun 02 Dec, 2007 1:04 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I can't find anything about the sulphur and lime thing but it sounds bollocks to me. As far as I know the majority of Roman lighting was done with braziers and oil lamps. Torches were made in many ways. The easiest is to simply light a piece of resinous wood. A "splint torch" is more advanced. It involved an iron clamp on a pole. The clamp holds a splinter of resinous timber, which is lit. Another method is to cover the end of a stick with a flammable material (rope, rags, etc dipped in fuel) and light it. A sapling torch involved beating the end of a sapling into a fibrous state and then impregnate the fibrous end with fuel. Fuels included vegetable oils, animal fats, tree resin, wax, tar and asphalt.
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Mon 03 Dec, 2007 7:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

When my wife was a kid, she and her siblings tried making a few torches for filming their own little fantasy movies and such. I believe they used the method of wrapping cloth or string around a stick. They found that the flames in front of your face made it impossible to see anything, there was a good chance of setting your hair on fire, and the end of the torch would quickly burn through and fall off, igniting anything it bounced off of... So I expect the whole concept of using any torch of that sort for indoor lighting is fantasy! If nothing else, they just burn down too quickly. Lamps or candles are much safer and more efficient.

I have seen an experiment of torches used by prehistoric people in caves (doing cave paintings and such). They used a bundle of reeds (as I recall), simply held together in the hand or maybe tied at the bottom. They burned well, and the charred ends were knocked off simply by bumping the torch into the ceiling or wall now and then. Apparently the remains of such torches have been found in those caves.

And presumably if you learn the knack of holding the torch above and behind yourself, you're less likely to blind or ignite yourself! Kind of awkward, though.

Be careful!

Matthew
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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Mon 03 Dec, 2007 12:30 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I wonder if we overestimate the need for torches before the advent of electric light. Spend some time outside at night, away from lights, and you'll be surprised by how well you can see once your eyes adjust. And get up at dawn, do tough manual labor all day and stop working at dusk. You probably aren't going to stay up very long past dark in that case. Plus, I would guess that carrying a lit fire at eye level might be worse than simply letting your eyes adjust to the dark (outside). Inside, I suppose you'd need fire.
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Ed Toton




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PostPosted: Mon 03 Dec, 2007 1:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I believe, as usual, Hollywood has created a variety of falsehoods in our understandings. Movies depict people holding torches and lanterns at head-height, which as has been pointed out, is rather blinding. I suspect torches were more useful for groups of people for short-duration use.
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Jonathan Blair




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PostPosted: Tue 04 Dec, 2007 4:21 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ed Toton wrote:
I believe, as usual, Hollywood has created a variety of falsehoods in our understandings. Movies depict people holding torches and lanterns at head-height, which as has been pointed out, is rather blinding. I suspect torches were more useful for groups of people for short-duration use.

Like the occasional mob of frightened villagers.

"Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword." - The Lord Jesus Christ, from The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, chapter x, verse 34, Authorized Version of 1611
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Fri 07 Dec, 2007 1:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Or for keeping station in nocturnal marches, especially when very large numbers of people are involved. Used in this way, they substitute for the standards and flags that would have guided the march during the day.
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Ed Toton




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PostPosted: Fri 07 Dec, 2007 7:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jonathan Blair wrote:

Like the occasional mob of frightened villagers.


Oh, is that what all that noise is outside my gate? Happy

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Pamela Muir




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PostPosted: Fri 07 Dec, 2007 10:16 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I wonder if the Hollywood version of a torch held by the face was to have a reason to light the actor's face?
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Ed Toton




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PostPosted: Fri 07 Dec, 2007 1:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Pamela Muir wrote:
I wonder if the Hollywood version of a torch held by the face was to have a reason to light the actor's face?


That's what I suspect. In reality you'd probably want to keep it above head-level... and lanterns probably closer to the ground, especially since they cast a large shadow from their own base.

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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Fri 14 Dec, 2007 12:16 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

And we still have to remember that you should only hold a torch above your head if it's not the kind that would drop ash and cinders on your hair! Wink
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George Hill




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PostPosted: Mon 24 Dec, 2007 11:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This is most interisting, espeically the parts about Torches being used less often then we presume.

But, assuming a person was to use a torch, and further assuming said torch was crafted as a torch well in advance, I should most like to hear from those who know on it's actual construction.

Let us assume I go out and make us a grand movie wherein there is a knight with a torch in onehand, and a sword in tthe other. This would allow for excellent motivated lighting, and I have several ideas in this regaurd.

But what should the torch actually look like? I've seen dozens of possible designs, such as the 'big oil soaked wad on a stick' to the 'tiki torch interlaced candle'

Now I want to know which designs are most historical. This also assumes a purpose build torch of reatlively good quality, rather then a makeshift 'stick on fire. '

To abandon your shield is the basest of crimes. - --Tacitus on Germania
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Jeremy V. Krause




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PostPosted: Mon 24 Dec, 2007 2:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I mean they had candles- wouldn't that be more useful- albeit with less light.

Does anyone have an idea as to what kind of lanterns would have been used in the 11th, 12th, and 13th, centuries?
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George Hill




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PostPosted: Mon 24 Dec, 2007 2:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Candles blow out quite easily. I've actually used a torch for illumination, and it's not too hard. It was modern made, and not a historical design mind you.
To abandon your shield is the basest of crimes. - --Tacitus on Germania
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Mon 24 Dec, 2007 3:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Didn't they use oil lamps in Ancient times and Medieval period/Renaissance ? Something looking somewhat like the classic
" Aladdin's " lamp.

Not sure how much use this would be outdoors in a stiff breeze and the amount of light would be limited.

Lanterns using some sort of glass and mirrors I have no idea how early these would have been around ?

We have all seen " in movies " an improvised torch were someone wraps an oil soaked rag on a stick or a large clump of spider web ( or whatever IT was supposed to be ? ).

I would guess that a purpose made torch might resemble in principle, if not scale, a huge slow match like one used on a matchlock musket maybe ? You want something that will give a decent amount of light but won't go " woooooooosh " and be out in 5 seconds or dribble burning oil on the hand holding the torch ! Eek!

Slow burning fat or oil ?

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Gavin Kisebach




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PostPosted: Mon 24 Dec, 2007 3:16 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Perhaps something like this? I believe a Czech company makes these. Constructed of linen dipped in wax, then wrapped around a hardwood dowel. They claim it burns brightly for 95 minutes. Personally I'd like to see a leather tsuba to keep burning linen off my digits.


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George Hill




Location: Atlanta Ga
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PostPosted: Mon 24 Dec, 2007 3:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

On the subject of dripping and whatnot,

When you hold the torch, if you hold it at an angle, so that the tip is not directly over the hand, dripping isn't much of an issue.

Gavin, that's quite a good bit of information you have there. Does anyone know if that's how they made them back in the old days?

To abandon your shield is the basest of crimes. - --Tacitus on Germania
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Mark Shier
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PostPosted: Mon 24 Dec, 2007 8:36 pm    Post subject: lighting         Reply with quote

Torches are the most uncommon way to produce light in the Middle Ages, and the most common in role-playing-games and movies.
http://www.markland.org/lettherebelight.php is a good source for medieval lighting information, if you don't have access to a library. If you do, check out Iron and Brass Implements of the English House, by J.S. Lindsay, or the Medieval Household by Geoff Egan.
Most people simply went to bed when it got dark. If you had to travel by night, it was best to wait for a full or nearly full moon (I believe that the meetings of the early Royal Society were scheduled to take advantage of the full moon). If you had need,and could afford artificial light, you used solid fat on a wick, liquid fat in a lamp, or wood.
Candles used a wick with a solid fat for fuel- tallow being the most common and beeswax the most expensive. Rushlights are a variant of candles. There are two circa 14C lanterns in the Museum of London, which originally had horn doors.
Ceramic oil lamps fell out of fashion in London in the 14C,and were replaced by glass and later, metal lamps. They burned whatever oil was cheapest- olive oil in the Mediterranean, and fish oil in the north. I've used the ceramic style for events, and they provide quite a bit of safe light (they go out if they are knocked over, unlike candles).
Splints of resinous wood can be burned to produce light, but all of the splint holders I've seen are post-medieval
The only surviving medieval torch I can find a reference to is in Lindsay, and it is a Tudor cresset on a long staff, probably for processions.
If I had to fight with a sword and light, I'd use a lantern shield. these were used (rarely) in 16th and 17thC Italy: http://medieval.stormthecastle.com/essays/the...weapon.htm . On the whole, though, I'd rather not fight in the dark, and I'd really rather not fight with a dripping, flaming torch in my hand. It's more likely to burn me than anyone else:)
mark
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Gavin Kisebach




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PostPosted: Mon 24 Dec, 2007 9:42 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

If I had to fight in the dark (eschewing modern technology) I would use Greek fire, and let my enemy hold the flame for me Laughing Out Loud

Seriously, I don't think a torch is the way to go if a lantern can be had, but there may be situations in which a lantern is just too fragile; i.e. on a long journey. The torch looks like I could put it in a ruck without worryling about horn panels breaking.

As far as fighting at night? I agree with Mark, mostly if not entirely dramatic fodder for fantasy. Moonlight serves better unless you are under trees. Fire just ruins your nightvision and limits your world to a few yards.

[Edit] the price of cloth might also outweigh the benefits of a durable lightsource.
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Robin Palmer




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PostPosted: Wed 26 Dec, 2007 8:21 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The one certain reference I can find of a night battle involved landesknehtes the general ordered his men to wear their shirts over their armour as an identification there was no mention of torches or lanterns.
I agree that the use of torch in a fight is unlikely not least because trying to focus on fighting while also avoiding the flames is liable to get you killed. While fiction the best night fight i have seen using shielded lanterns was in the three musketeers it also illustrated how dangerous night fights can be. The bulk of torches I have seen used in re-enactment are either reeds or tow soaked in pitch both are effective provide good light and have reasonable life spans. I have also seen a miniature cresset it was mounted in a Y shaped fork on a pole so it could level it could be used either static pole stuck in the ground. Or carried around it's advantage was it could be refilled as needed.

Happy new year
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