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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Sun 30 Dec, 2007 9:04 pm    Post subject: Origins of a Medieval Myth         Reply with quote

One of the myths of the Middle Ages, commonly depicted in Hollywood films, is that the "ball and chain" was a knightly weapon, despite massive evidence to the contrary. It's quite possible that David Nicolle, in his book Arms and Armor of the Crusading Era Volume I, has discovered the origin of this myth. In a carved doorway of San Miguel de Uncastillo, Aragon, dating from the 12th century, there is an image of a ball and chain being used. However, as Nicolle notes, the ball and chain is also being used in conjunction with an apparent crowbar, and he points out that both devices were probably wall-breaking or demolition tools, rather than weapons. So, a military implement that many have commonly assumed was used as a weapon was probably just one of the many instruments for conducting siege warfare.

Nicolle, David. Arms and Armor of the Crusading Era 1050-1350 Volume I: Western Europe and the Crusader States. London: Greenhill Books, 1999, p. 130.
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Grayson C.




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PostPosted: Mon 31 Dec, 2007 6:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

When you say "ball and chain" this refers to all flails, right?

So what you're saying is that flails really are not weapons at all, but that it's been contrued by modern perception and distortion of the facts?

It's not that I find it hard to believe, on the contrary, it's explains quite a bit - I just want you to be really clear on this, it is a pretty monumental find if true.
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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Mon 31 Dec, 2007 6:45 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Flails were most definitely used by the Hussites (15th Century) in large numbers, but they are more like heavy numchuks than a ball and chain, actually threshing staves with the striking part being about a foot long wooden stick chained to themain haft, with iron bands or spikes bolted on the business end. Nasty looking weapon I saw some real ones in Chesky Kromlov, in the Czech Republic in 2004.

I would suspect that, given the astounding military success of the Hussites, their weapons would have been emulated in some form by the Knightly classes, if the flail hadn't already been around before that. Certainly this is what happened with the similarly successful Swiss, their Halberd was adopted by the Knights and eventually, an aristocratic version was created in the Poll Axe, which became very popular for tournaments.

J

System D'Armes Historical European fencing in New Orleans

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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Mon 31 Dec, 2007 8:22 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I doubt the intent here was to say that flails were not real weapons. It is the hollywood "ball and chain" form of the flail that is being questioned. There are definitely club like implements, maces, and other similar weapons.
Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Mon 31 Dec, 2007 11:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well they may not have been real weapons during the Crusades, I really don't know.

What I have wondered about though is how and where and when the threshing-stick type flail you see the Hussites using, which is an obvious weaponizing of a common agricultural implement that you see all over the world, evolved into the more "ball and chain" type form which you did see later in Europe.

EDIT: What I mean is how did they get from this



To this



J

System D'Armes Historical European fencing in New Orleans

Essays on Hroarr

Introducing the Codex Guide to the Medieval Baltic
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P. Cha




PostPosted: Mon 31 Dec, 2007 3:50 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

You know that ball and chain picture looks more like an asparillium or whatever that incese holder the catholic church use is more then a weapon.
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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Mon 31 Dec, 2007 4:05 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

P. Cha wrote:
You know that ball and chain picture looks more like an asparillium or whatever that incese holder the catholic church use is more then a weapon.


Do you mean a thurible? I've never seen a thurible with such a massive, sturdy chain, which makes me believe the pictured flail is a weapon of war. But that does make me wonder if there is any symbolic connection between the two, just as between the scepter and the mace.

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P. Cha




PostPosted: Mon 31 Dec, 2007 4:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bill Grandy wrote:
P. Cha wrote:
You know that ball and chain picture looks more like an asparillium or whatever that incese holder the catholic church use is more then a weapon.


Do you mean a thurible? I've never seen a thurible with such a massive, sturdy chain, which makes me believe the pictured flail is a weapon of war. But that does make me wonder if there is any symbolic connection between the two, just as between the scepter and the mace.


No, what I'm refering is bigger then the thurible. The incese holder is about 5-8 inces in diameter and usually held two handed on a long ornate staff...but you know, the legend of the ball and chain and the religious item might very well be connected.
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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Mon 31 Dec, 2007 8:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

You know one of the euphemisms for those weapons was "Holy Water Sprinkler" for exactly that reason, or at least so the legend goes.

But there were without a doubt real functional weapons of this type in the late Renaissance I've seen some myself in Castles in France.

J

System D'Armes Historical European fencing in New Orleans

Essays on Hroarr

Introducing the Codex Guide to the Medieval Baltic
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Mon 31 Dec, 2007 8:16 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Grayson C. wrote:
When you say "ball and chain" this refers to all flails, right?

So what you're saying is that flails really are not weapons at all, but that it's been contrued by modern perception and distortion of the facts?

It's not that I find it hard to believe, on the contrary, it's explains quite a bit - I just want you to be really clear on this, it is a pretty monumental find if true.


Grayson,

Oddly enough, your question is a bit tricky to answer. The reason is that David Nicolle uses the phrase "ball and chain" specifically, and in regards to the carving he's referring to, it's the most accurate term. That is to say, the implement depicted is quite literally a ball attached to a chain, fixed to a shaft. There's no spikes, flanges, or knobs of any sort. Presumably, Nicolle is also referring to flails, but he doesn't specify. Based upon what I know, it seems unlikely that flails were employed as weapons much before the 15th century.
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