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Douglas Huxtable





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PostPosted: Sun 02 Dec, 2007 5:15 am    Post subject: Assassins And Their Role In Medieval Conflict?         Reply with quote

I basically decided to create this post because another post got me thinking about assassins in medieval times.
I know there isnt much evidence to suggest that assassins were very important in medieval conflict but the game assassins creed got me thinking.
Would assassins have got much work after the crusades? They were obviously quite important in the crusades for certain groups to take out specific targets, perhaps not as important as the gameplay suggests Big Grin but..... My questions are as follows: hopefully someone can help with one or all of these:

.Would an assassin have found ANY work any later than say the 11th century? Was their method seen as cowardly or un-honourable?

.Would there be any assassins atall (trained ones) any later than the early 15th century?

Obviously they werent very popular in eastern europe but more-so in the middle east after and durign the 2nd and 3rd crusades. I heard from a friend that he had done some digging on this and found something about a couple of assassins being trained in germany? dates unfortunately not known nor their objectives Cry

ALSO: .Would a king hiring an assassin to pinpoint and kill a specific target be absolutely unheard of?

To me, an assassin would be a logical solution to exterminating a particular target when most arguements which resulted in battles all seem to have been solved with large-scale all out battles or even sieges throughout history etc.

http://www.straightdope.com/mailbag/massassin.html
sorry about the name of the website above hehe, stumbled upon it whilst digging around on the WWW

Any information anyone has on any of this will be greatly enjoyed Razz thanks for reading.



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medieval assassin.jpg
altair from the game assassins creed- possibly not a true representation of what they would look like IF they did exist.

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azincourt2.jpg
I would amagine a medieval assassin to be a cross between altair and this scary fellow.

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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Sun 02 Dec, 2007 7:02 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Assassin is basically a 16th century term. You might appreciate what you find if you research the origin of the term "hassasin", and look into the Nizari. There supposed base was destroyed in 1256, but activities seemed to continue for a time anyway. Marco Polo even made mention of them. They were credited with a wide range of killings over a surprising range of territory up through the 14th century! The historical record seems to indicate that a lot of people were eager to pay for their services.

There is a good Science Fiction novel that narrates a story based on a prisoner who had to escape from their fortress. I have forgotten the Title and author, but remember it because it was excellent and well researched. The author had several pages prologue of historical references showing the basis for it.

Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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Joe Fults




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PostPosted: Sun 02 Dec, 2007 7:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think we have a glamorized super weapon vision of assassins thanks to computer games and popular culture today which is honestly a bit disturbing to me. However, I suspect that an assassin could probably be just about any murdering thug that decided to specialize in killing important people (instead of just peasants and folks low on the social ladder like the blue bloods) and then make a go at paying the bills. In that respect, I'm somewhat doubtful that there really would be an assassin archetype.
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Last edited by Joe Fults on Sun 02 Dec, 2007 5:58 pm; edited 3 times in total
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R D Moore




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PostPosted: Sun 02 Dec, 2007 8:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Joe Fults wrote:
I think we have a glamorized super weapon vision assassins thanks to computer games and popular culture today which is honestly a bit disturbing to me. However, I suspect that an assassin could probably be just about any murdering thug that decided to take specialization in killing important people (instead of just peasants and folks low on the social ladder like the blue bloods) and then make a go at paying the bills. In that respect, I'm somewhat doubtful that there really would be an assassin archetype.


I agree! I read an interview quite a while ago in which a Mafia hitman was interviewed, and I think we could conceivably apply his modus operandi to ancient assasins-methods making the best use of the weapons available, of course. What he did was to watch his victim until a pattern of behaviors could be established then merely walk up behind this person at the most "opportune" time and shoot them in the back of the head. So, to me, the word "assasin" here, conjures up visions of a person stepping from the shadows to stab you in the heart or some other vital area. One minute you're walking confidently along and in the next instant your mortally wounded by some thug too cowardly to face you in battle. I may be wrong. Maybe they appearewd out of nowhere dressed in black and performed the dance of death in front of you before they cut off your head with a sharp katana.
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George Hill




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PostPosted: Sun 02 Dec, 2007 8:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Literal assassination was used in most times. Secret orders of highly trained assassins were however, extraordinarily rare.

Christopher MArlowe, the author of Faustus, was assassinated under the orders of Sir Francis Walsingham, for the offence of being involved in an intrigue against the Queen's interest. He was lured to a house where an agent shoved a poniard through his eye.

Pope Borgia was widely believed to have been poisoned, due to his corpse's particular color. Borgia was however extremely fat, and modern scholars maintain it is most likely he was not poisoned, but rather that the reports were the result of the process of decomposition of an extremely fat man. Nonetheless, the belief that he was poisoned says much about the times. His Daughter was also said to be an excellent poisoner.

In one of the Viking Sagas, a fellow bursts into a house with a spear, and settles a dispute by ramming the spear through his sleeping enemy, before vanishing back out into the storm.

in 1478 there was the Pazzi conspiracy where the Pazzi family attempted to assassinate Lorenzo de' Medici, (who got away) and his brother Giuliano, (who didn't) during Mass at a cathedral. I understand they used daggers.

To abandon your shield is the basest of crimes. - --Tacitus on Germania
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George Hill




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PostPosted: Sun 02 Dec, 2007 8:53 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

See also:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hashshashin

To abandon your shield is the basest of crimes. - --Tacitus on Germania
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Douglas Huxtable





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PostPosted: Sun 02 Dec, 2007 10:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for all the interesting points of view ppl, and I agree with you R D Moore I think it is a cowardly way to kill a man that requires no skill in actually killing them but maybe it should be considered that if they existed as different sources describe them that they had plenty of skill in other areas such as following or planning, and then escaping or killing someone and drawing not too much attention etc.

Would it be seen as cowardly' for a king to order an assassin to kill another knight or king?

-To me it seems the answer would most likely be yes in the middle ages but whats everyone else's opinion?

Humans trail a path of light, all land and space that hasnt been trodden by man is dark, all dark must be trodden to bring illumination, so that all others can follow the light that we bring.
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R D Moore




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PostPosted: Sun 02 Dec, 2007 10:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

You're right, Douglas, assasins had to be extremely skilled in what they did. And I'd like to go on record here that I don't consider modern snipers as assasins. The difference between murder and war-time killing is a subjective thing, and the definitions of each will have to come from within the ponderer. Good thread...I'm eager to read other responses.
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Sun 02 Dec, 2007 11:05 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There were a number of assassinations during the middle ages. The idea of a professional assassin like we see in movies/video games may be a stretch, though. Often the people doing the killings were simply knights (retainers,etc.) or others, perhaps of dubious character, doing their master's bidding. Many of the people ordering the killings covered their tracks well enough that history cannot firmly link the killing to that person despite suspicions of their guilt.
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Russ Ellis
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PostPosted: Mon 03 Dec, 2007 6:25 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

George Hill wrote:

in 1478 there was the Pazzi conspiracy where the Pazzi family attempted to assassinate Lorenzo de' Medici, (who got away) and his brother Giuliano, (who didn't) during Mass at a cathedral. I understand they used daggers.


I read a book about that called April Blood. A fascinating read. The retribution against the Pazzi was... significant.

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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Mon 03 Dec, 2007 7:53 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Assassination was largely the medevial equalient of modern day, third world political murders.
These are largely carried out without any subtillity what so ever, by generic goons, in the kick down the door and kill guy fashion.

Take for instance the assasination of Thomas a Becket, carried out by a group of knights simply walking into a cathedral and cutting the mark down where he stood.

Up to the 1300's, the Norwegian kings had a dedicated secret police/death squad as part of his court. The mission statement of the "Guests", where "To search the realm for enemies of the king, and kill them.

There are certain other housecarles at the king's court, who, in addition to the housecarle's title, have a by-name and are called "gests." They have this name from their manifold duties; for they visit the homes of many, though not always with friendly intent. These men are also in the king's pay and get half the wages of "hirdmen." These are the duties that belong to the office of these men: they serve as spies throughout the king's domain to make sure whether he has any enemies in his kingdom; and if such are found, the gests are to slay them, if they are able to do so. But if the king sends his gests upon his enemies and those against whom they are sent are slain, they are to have for their trouble as much of the enemies' wealth as they can carry away at the time, only no gold, for that is the king's, as is all the rest that the gests are unable to bring away. And whenever the king becomes aware of an enemy, it is the gest's duty to pursue the foeman and thus to cleanse the realm.
-the kingsmirror, 1260

The middle ages where a brutal age, where the use of violence against political foes where seen as largely legitimate. Only when the state becomes totally dominant can they allow their citizens to protection from their own use of violence.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Jonathan Blair




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PostPosted: Mon 03 Dec, 2007 9:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

George Hill wrote:
Christopher MArlowe, the author of Faustus, was assassinated under the orders of Sir Francis Walsingham, for the offence of being involved in an intrigue against the Queen's interest. He was lured to a house where an agent shoved a poniard through his eye.

Actually, we aren't sure what happened to Marlowe. Per the report of William Danby, the coroner:
Quote:
INQUISITION indented taken at Deptford Strand in the aforesaid County of Kent within the verge on the first day of June in the thirty-fifth year of the reign of Elizabeth, by the grace of God of England France & Ireland Queen defender of the faith, etc thirty-fifth, in the presence of William Danby, Gentleman, Coroner of the household of the Queen, upon view of the body of Christopher Morley, there lying dead and slain, upon oath of sixteen jurors who say upon their oath that when a certain Ingram Frizer, late of London, Gentleman, and the aforesaid Christopher Morley and one Nicholas Skeres, late of London, Gentleman, and Robert Poley of London, Gentleman, on the thirtieth day of May in the thirty-fifth year above named, at Deptford Strand about the tenth hour before noon of the same day, the four men met together in a room in the house of a certain Eleanor Bull, widow; & there passed the time together & dined & after dinner were in quiet sort together there & walked in the garden belonging to the said house until the sixth hour after noon of the same day & then returned from the said garden to the room & there together and in company supped; & after supper the said Ingram & Christoper Morley were in speech & uttered one to the other divers malicious words for the reason that they could not be at one nor agree about the payment of the sum of pence, that is, le recknynge, there; & the said Christoper Morley was then lying upon a bed in the room where they supped, & moved with anger against the said Ingram Frizer upon the words as spoken between them, And the said Ingram then & there sitting in the room aforesaid with his back towards the bed where the said Christopher Morley was then lying, sitting near the bed, that is, nere the bed & with the front part of his body towards the table & the aforesaid Nicholas Skeres & Robert Poley sitting on either side of the said Ingram in such a manner that the same Ingram Frizer in no wise could take flight: it so befell that the said Christopher Morley then & there maliciously drew the dagger of the said Ingram which was at his back, and with the same dagger the said Christopher Morley then & there gave the aforesaid Ingram two wounds on his head of the length of two inches & of the depth of a quarter of an inch; whereupon the said Ingram, in fear of being slain, & sitting in the manner aforesaid between said Nicholas Skeres and Robert Poley so that he could not in any wise get away, in his own defence & for the saving of his life, then & there struggled with the said Christopher Morley to get back from him his dagger aforesaid; in which affray the same Ingram could not get away from the said Christopher Morley; and so it befell in the affray that the said Ingram, in defence of his life, with the dagger aforesaid of the value of 12d. gave the said Christopher then & there a mortal wound over his right eye of the depth of two inches & the width of one inch; of which mortal wound the aforesaid Christopher Morley then & there instantly died.

Marlowe was staying with his friend, Thomas Walsingham, the nephew of Francis Walsingham. Frizer was a servant of Thomas Walsingham. While it is possible that Francis Walsingham was acting in what he perceived to be his nephew's interests of "separating him from the scoundrel Marlowe," there is no firm evidence. Rumor of Marlowe's death as a plot against the queen is likely not accurate; however, Marlowe had been recently arrested on a charge of heresy, having turned himself in to the Privy Council on 20 May 1593. There is even , according to some, a weak possibility that Marlowe survived the attack, if he was even attacked, and continued his career under the nom d'plume William Shakespeare, although I do not think that is likely as again no evidence can prove this.

"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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Douglas Huxtable





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PostPosted: Mon 03 Dec, 2007 10:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There has been some very interesting stuff on here so far, thanks everyone for taking time to do so, Id like to bring something quite interesting to the table now Razz

In April 1192, the kingship was put to the vote. To Richard's consternation, the barons of the Kingdom of Jerusalem unanimously elected Conrad Of Montferrat as King.
But Conrad was never crowned.
On the afternoon of the 28th April 1192 Conrad Of Montferrat was on his way to his friend and kinsman's house, Philip, Bishop of Beauvais. It turned out the Bishop had already eaten, so Conrad set off home.
While walking home in the afternoon Conrad Of Montferrat was ambushed by two Hashshashin, who stabbed Conrad Atleast twice.
Conrad's guards were slow on the uptake, after Conrad had been stabbed the guards killed one of the Hashshashin and captured the other.
Conrad had been left for dead by the Hashshashins, some sources say he died instantly, on the spot he had fallen upon, others say he lived, and was dragged to the nearest church for help screaming leaving trails of blood on the path.
Either way, he died very quickly and their assassination had been succesful, after much hideous torture the captive assassin blubbered on about how Richard had ordered Conrad Of Montferrat's assassination.
Although it was impossible to prove this was true, there are also other possible explanations.

Lovely times eh? cant walk to your house for lunch without being amushed by Ninja-Like men who stab you repeatedly
Eek!
An interesting story, though I suspect most you already know about it, hope those of you who didnt enjoyed it Laughing Out Loud

I think it just goes to show how much hate and distrust swirling around the world at that time, although maybe if they saw earth now they would think the same eh?

Any one got any comments on it? or points of view? Big Grin

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Malcolm A




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PostPosted: Mon 03 Dec, 2007 11:57 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Good topic.
FIrst off I would have to say I am a bit sceptical at times of people going on about the almost mystical abilites of assassins to kill their victims. Smacks a bit of the computer game type superhuman characters etc etc etc.

However I would certainly give credence to the idea of people charged with the security of a king or queen employing the abilities of men who were well skilled in killing, to take care of percieved threats. Similarly, powerful nobles may well have used the skillls of their best men to do ceratin "dirty work" for them.

Specifically relating to the Conrad note in a previous post, I read in the book Dugeon, Fire and Sword by John J Robinson [ISBN 1-85479-956-8] that the two assassins had made themselves known to Conrad in the weeks leading up to the killing. This allowed them to get close to him and when one day he reached out to take a document from them, one of them grabbed his sword hand whilst the other plunged a knife deep into him.

If the above is true, then I think it demonstrates that the assassins didn't have to be highly skilled at fighting but that cleverness and guile was an asset to them.
- They reduced their perceived threat level
- They got close to their target
- They stopped him from defending himself by grabbing his sword hand

As always I am happy to be proved wrong

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PostPosted: Mon 03 Dec, 2007 1:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A favorite trick was to pose as a deserter from the other side with information to share in order to gain an audience with the victim, such as the case with the attempted assasination of Ferdinand of Aragon by a Moorish spy during the Reconquista, the assassination of William the Silent during the Dutch Revolt, or the assassination of Henri III during the French Wars of Religion. The last two were thought to be free-lance jobs by fanatics. Henri IV was assassinated by a single lunatic who simply jumped into Henri's carriage while on his way to visit a mistress, and plunged a dagger into him, so that works too.

Another favorite method, used by such luminaries as Henri III (which in fact lead to his own assassination) was to invite the victim into his chambers and have him murdered there by bodyguards. This was the fate of Henri duc de Guise. Or to send a group of bravo's to dispatch an overweening subject, such as the Kaiser did with Wallenstein when he proved to be too powerful for his own good.

As I recall, a certain Jesuit wrote of the various proper and improper ways to perform an assassination. He noted that poisoning food was unacceptable, as all men must eat. However, placing a poisoned tack in a chair was perfectly honourable, as no one NEEDS to sit at table. The joys of such thought processes, eh?

Cheers,

Gordon

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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Mon 03 Dec, 2007 5:04 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The norse classic was arson.

In scandinavia and Iceland, the farms where scattered. A favorite way of eliminating foes with minimum risk and little evidence was to seek out their homes by night, post men at all exits, and torch the house.
With luck, noone would wake up before dying from suffocation; otherwise you could cut them down as they tried to escape.

It could also be used on a larger scale, it was used in the classic Banquett double cross, with the doublecrossers fleeing the hall on a given signal, and blocking the exits.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Mon 03 Dec, 2007 8:20 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Most of the historical examples in the above Posts seem to be mostly variations on murder that would be done with very little skills needed in almost all cases.

The secret agent 007 or Ninja like skills seem to be rarely needed for simple taking out of political enemies.

The use of a "secretly " highly skilled fighter using some pretext to force a duel could be used as a semie legal way to do the deed in a society were duelling and personal honour was important: Trick an enemy to accept a duel with someone much more skilled. A professional fighter for hire !

Oh, being a professional would be important if getting away with it was part of the plan ! At, least for the assassin.

Suicide killers don't need even a small percentage of the skill of a professional.

As well, killers sanctioned and protected by a King or high noble need only worry about the skills of the target or the targets bodyguards if their method is an ambush of some kind.

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!
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Douglas Huxtable





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PostPosted: Tue 04 Dec, 2007 2:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean, some interesting points Big Grin
I agree with you, that an assassin who has been instructed to murder someone need not have a good escape plan Cool

An interesting thing I think is the link to the middle east all the assassins we have heard about so far apart from maybe the murder of Thomas Becket, I used to be interested alot in eastern weapons like the sai for example which im sure most of you have heard of, a cross between a sword, a large fork and a sheild, all in a small sword-like form, they are really quite interesting that the concept for such an effective weapon is so old.

good input from people on this thread, thanks everyone
Big Grin Big Grin

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PostPosted: Tue 04 Dec, 2007 3:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Thibodeau wrote:
Most of the historical examples in the above Posts seem to be mostly variations on murder that would be done with very little skills needed in almost all cases.

The secret agent 007 or Ninja like skills seem to be rarely needed for simple taking out of political enemies.


Yep, I think so too...

The absolute power of justice that the king possessed, for example, makes it easier to "execute" powerful rivals. For instance, the murder of Henri de Guise was justified basically by saying it was a decision of justice. To the modern eye it certainly does look like assassination...

And the public order was not so stable, in France at least, until absolutism, so one could get away with assassination thanks to the protection of whichever noble benefiting from the crime. Duels, in the Renaissance at least, could also be conceived as a form of murder in some cases. For example, another Guise, François (son of Henri), basically murdered the aged baron de Luz in the street of Paris in 1613, and then killed his son in a more balanced duel. This is a late example but I'm sure other "unbalanced" duels could be found.

Of course there was also the solution of finding some expendable nutcase to do the job. An example of this, not too far from the Guises again, is Jacques Clément, who murdered the French king Henri III. Using a very basic technique, at that...

Then you have, in the same period, large-scale massacres that are a form of assassination. Still from French history, St. Bartholomew's Day massacre springs to mind.

A point I'd like to add is that a specialized secret society dedicated to murder is maybe not a good thing to do in a feudal society. I mean, the people in charge have all the killing power they need, and they do not really need to hide behind an enigmatic society. In fact I think nobles would have done their best to eliminate such a threat (you don't want your assassins to start selling their services to the other guy, and presumably they will not be very efficient in open battles). As for a specialized body of murderers, serving one person, any common body guard will be plenty efficient and already trained.

Specifically trained spies would be another thing, perhaps more common. But murder was plain too easy...

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Vincent Le Chevalier




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PostPosted: Tue 04 Dec, 2007 3:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Douglas Huxtable wrote:
I used to be interested alot in eastern weapons like the sai for example which im sure most of you have heard of, a cross between a sword, a large fork and a sheild, all in a small sword-like form, they are really quite interesting that the concept for such an effective weapon is so old.


Got to wonder why it was not used much much more if it was so efficient Wink

The sai is really more a stick than a sword. It does not cut. I'm not even sure it has a sharp tip. It is a special weapon made useful in a very specific context. For an assassin the sai is perhaps one of the most unsuited weapon: you have to get close *and* hit very hard, possibly several times, and it is not any easier to conceal than any form of knife (perhaps even harder because of the wide guard). Given the choice, I'd take a dagger over a sai...

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