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Sean Smith





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PostPosted: Thu 03 Apr, 2008 7:32 pm    Post subject: High Medieval Sword Usage         Reply with quote

So I am having a discussion on another forum, and someone brought up the usage of thrusting with a sword in the High Medieval Age. I am unaware of any research showing that the thrust was used. His main arguement is the tip shape of the XI and XII with having an acute point, as well as the percussive damage caused through maille (as well as possibly piercing it). Is anyone aware of iconographic or other evidence showing a thrust by a one-handed sword during this era?
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Dan Dickinson
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PostPosted: Thu 03 Apr, 2008 7:45 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well, "The Victory of Humility over Pride", found in the Jungfrauenspiegel (c.1200) certainly seems to show a thrust through mail.
Hope this helps,
Dan
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Thu 03 Apr, 2008 7:52 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

At least near the end of the "high age", manuscripts for cut and thrust, and accounts of some events seem to suggest thrusting was done. Although it is really a hybrid style sword, I consider my Albion Knight to be most lethal in the thrust (going through thick industrial plastic garbage cans, wood, etc. much easier than it can cut through those same materials) You may want to read the poem written by Philippe de Remy roughly mid 13th century. He lived in a house on the edge of one of the busiest tournament fields of the 13th century. His account has been described (Norman Cantor, David Crouch, several other respected authors who have researched period literature extensively) as one of the most realistic ones, and most qualified (in terms of eye witness first hand experience) of the era. I have forgotten which one, but the account is considered a description of a real tournament with the names and nationalities changed so that no participant would quarrel with his telling of it. The cut and thrust element is clearly present in his account of the king .("He put his whole heart into the fighting and is so wrapped up in the cut and thrust that he was the object of everyone's attention that day". ). Bear in mind, thrusting is useful for distancing an opponent, even if the point does not draw blood. The tournament contests were not intended for deliberately killing.

http://www.deremilitari.org/resources/sources/philippederemy.htm

Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!


Last edited by Jared Smith on Thu 03 Apr, 2008 7:59 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Shawn Henthorn




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PostPosted: Thu 03 Apr, 2008 7:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Or take even a brief look at I:33 and see many thrusts.
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Jeremy V. Krause




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PostPosted: Thu 03 Apr, 2008 9:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I:33 gives ample depictions of the thrust but as it is dated 1300 it falls at the very end of the High Medieval Ages.

The High Medieval period (or at least as we contemporaries define it) declined with the advent of the organized guild system, the emergence of the bourgeois class, and the lessening of the Church's power. Thus, the High Medieval period is often said to run 1066-1300 CE./AD.

Jeremy
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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Thu 03 Apr, 2008 10:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jeremy V. Krause wrote:
I:33 gives ample depictions of the thrust but as it is dated 1300 it falls at the very end of the High Medieval Ages.


On the other hand, the system didn't appear out of nowhere. It is a pretty complete system, so I think it is safe to say the techniques pre-date the manuscript by a reasonable time frame.

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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Thu 03 Apr, 2008 11:20 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bill Grandy wrote:
Jeremy V. Krause wrote:
I:33 gives ample depictions of the thrust


The system didn't appear out of nowhere. It is a pretty complete system, so I think it is safe to say the techniques pre-date the manuscript by a reasonable time frame.


That is the point of the poem I referenced. It is considered to be authored at approximately 1240, believed to describe an actual event occurring closer to 1230 A.D. It characterizes the hero's (admired by all) style as "cut and thrust" around 50 years before we accept this as established technique documented in surviving instructional manuscripts.. If you combine this with some of the surviving art, implications of more acutely pointed sword tips, etc. it seems probable that thrusting was utilized before the end of the high medieval age. I admit it is highly speculative... but the period accounts of action certainly do not exclude thrusting as inneffective. The English statutes of arms forbidding sharply pointed swords in tournament (around 1260 for the early version if I remember it right) seem to beg an explanation if no one was actually thrusting with sharp tips, and such practice posed no credible threat to maille clad opponents.

Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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Richard Hare




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PostPosted: Fri 04 Apr, 2008 6:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Just a few years ago, some remains were found from the battleof Stamford Bridge, and I remember that on the inner pelvice of one victim, there was a very clear stab mark.
This mark was as wide as deep, and verry narrow, lust like would be expected from the round-tipped sword of the day, and not at all like the mark left by a spear.
I am not saying thrusting through maille was attempted at this time, as it appaers to have been fairly common practice to try and thrust up under a maille shirt if opportunity allowed. (I think even the Iclandic sagas mention this, but I'd have to check.)
Also, when you think about it, in a fight any and all tactics would be employed, or any possible opportunity taken. the warrior of the time would not be crippled by what we see as conventional.

FWIW, I was recently Very surprised when testing a sharp Viking age sword on a well-packed bale of hay. (!)
I found that a thrust went through it with a little Less difficulty than a type XV did, though the XV is not as sharp edged, but of course much more pointed.
All I could think, is that the rounded tip cut like a wood chisel, whereas the type XV penetraded without cutting, and therefore wedged in as penetration continued.

All best,
Richard.
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Sean Smith





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PostPosted: Fri 04 Apr, 2008 6:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for the info, guys. It seems it was more prevalent than I realized. I forgot to mention I was looking for maille-clad opponents in the OP, or I:33 would have already come into the discussion. It seems like everything coming out so far is weighted heavily towards the 13th century. Anyone have anything from before that?

BTW, sorry about the forum move.
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Tim May




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PostPosted: Fri 04 Apr, 2008 9:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In Le Chanson de Roland, Pinabel stabs at Thierry's face with his sword, and the poem dates to the late 11th century

Quote:

Then with the point at Thierry's face he drives.


This seems to be a stabbing motion. I'd bet (though I'm not sure) that the Bayeux Tapestry has examples of thrusting in addition to the more common slashing attacks. The Icelandic sagas give accounts of stabbing, though these are notably written later in the 13th century.
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Vincent Le Chevalier




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PostPosted: Fri 04 Apr, 2008 10:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm a bit puzzled by the question itself:
Sean Smith wrote:
I am unaware of any research showing that the thrust was used.


Do we really need to research it? I mean it's a natural motion... Even if there were no written proof that it was done it would seem impossible to me not to use the thrust. Especially so since the spear was a primary weapon... Even with a staff you can thrust pretty efficiently.

I can't imagine a warrior of any time being given a sword and wondering if he could do a thrust, really. Even with a rounded tip. And the prevalence of the spear seems to indicate that a thrust is always useful...

Barring a written source saying explicitely "we do not use thrusts in combat" (sport being another matter), I think it's safe to consider that they were indeed used.

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Greg Mele
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PostPosted: Fri 04 Apr, 2008 10:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bill Grandy wrote:
Jeremy V. Krause wrote:
I:33 gives ample depictions of the thrust but as it is dated 1300 it falls at the very end of the High Medieval Ages.


On the other hand, the system didn't appear out of nowhere. It is a pretty complete system, so I think it is safe to say the techniques pre-date the manuscript by a reasonable time frame.


Absolutely. We can assume that any documented martial art is at least a generation (20 years) older than its date of creation. And on January 1, 1300, people didn't wake up in the "Late" Middle Ages. Indeed, many scholars also break the time period a little later, with the sweeping changes of the Black Death being the final catalyst. Thus 1000 - 1350. I have an old email from the late Ewart Oakeshott where he mentions the use of both "great swords" and a reliance on the thrust, being described in the account of a fight outside the town of Civitate in Southern Italy, in (I think) 1158 between the famous Robert Guiscard de Hauteville and his Normans and a papal army. This is the same fight where William of Apulia's recounting discusses the Germans taking their swords up in two hands. Really, the Victory of Pride Over Humility could almost be an illustration for the recounting.

So the thrust may have been less common, but it was certainly used.

Greg

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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Fri 04 Apr, 2008 10:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Medieval warriors where not cross-eyed idiots. They knew they could stab with their weapon, and did where appropriate.

M.

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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Fri 04 Apr, 2008 4:24 pm    Post subject: Re: High Medieval Sword Usage         Reply with quote

Sean Smith wrote:
So I am having a discussion on another forum, and someone brought up the usage of thrusting with a sword in the High Medieval Age. I am unaware of any research showing that the thrust was used. His main arguement is the tip shape of the XI and XII with having an acute point, as well as the percussive damage caused through maille (as well as possibly piercing it). Is anyone aware of iconographic or other evidence showing a thrust by a one-handed sword during this era?


This question strikes me as odd. Even without reference to a single piece of iconographic evidence or a manuscript like MS I.33, we can answer without hesitation that one handed swords were used for thrusting. Why? Because you can. No, seriously, it's not much more complicated than this. Swords were used by men in wars, in judicial duels, and in life and death encounters, and that means that any capacity in a weapon to cause harm or injury will be exploited. Any time you've got a sword that has some sort of point, it will be used for thrusting. It's common sense.
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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Fri 04 Apr, 2008 5:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

From my own readings, the Viking Sagas (which sometimes actually ran into the early medieval period) suggest that duals consisted mainly of cuts, but they also make specific references to thrusting a sword through the belly of an un-armed, unsuspecting victim. (i.e., murder).

On another note, the post about thrusting through hay reminded me of the Sword episode of the TV series 'Weapons that made Britain'. The host comparatively test thrust and cut a Saxon type X, a falchion, an XIII war sword, and a late medieval one-hand cut/thrust sword against forensic putty.

Not surprisingly, the war sword cut the best, followed by the Falchion.

The host was surprised that the round tipped, parallel bladed type X performed equally to the strongly tapered cut&thrust at BOTH the cut and the thrust. He concluded that 600 years of sword development had not made much difference.

However I think his logic was flawed on that point. These tests were made against a substance designed to act like unprotected flesh and bone. The specific advantages of each sword design would probably come out more clearly if they were put up against the typical armor that they were designed to face.

In other words, of course you can thrust with a type X, but it is not specialized to thrust through tough materials.
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Richard Hare




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PostPosted: Fri 04 Apr, 2008 7:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mr Crawford,

I think your last sentence puts it nicely in a nut-shell!

Cheers,
R.
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Sun 06 Apr, 2008 12:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Vincent Le Chevalier wrote:
Do we really need to research it? I mean it's a natural motion... Even if there were no written proof that it was done it would seem impossible to me not to use the thrust. Especially so since the spear was a primary weapon... Even with a staff you can thrust pretty efficiently.

I can't imagine a warrior of any time being given a sword and wondering if he could do a thrust, really. Even with a rounded tip. And the prevalence of the spear seems to indicate that a thrust is always useful...

Barring a written source saying explicitely "we do not use thrusts in combat" (sport being another matter), I think it's safe to consider that they were indeed used.


I sort of agree with this sentiment--we have evidence for thrusts in Vegetius, and again evidence in I.33, and no evidence whatsoever to imply that it wasn't used in the intervening period. Its effectiveness will vary with the blade shape, the target's armor, and the skill of the user, but the thrust is a very instinctive thing that any swordsman would discover sooner or later even without instruction--assuming he could stay alive long enough....
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Sean Smith





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PostPosted: Sun 06 Apr, 2008 9:21 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

OK, there seems to be some confusion about my question. I agree that a thrust would be a natural reaction, but my comment was more directed towards period sources that talk about thrusting, and show any effectiveness towards their opponent. We know they had hauberks capable of defending the owner during a joust (hauberk de joute), so they obviously made maille that was highly resistant to thrusting.

So my question was not "Was the thrust used at all", but rather "Did an experienced fighter rely on the thrust as a primary means of attacking his opponent, through maille (and possibly gambeson) during this timeperiod". Such is why I am forced to discount I.33's impact, because it relates unarmoured combat, and the early Roman fighting, because of the differences in formations, and the use of cavalry.

Greg, is there anyway you could dig up that email, and post a bit more about that?

J.D., your reference to stabbing through the stomach is a problem I have frequently heard of regarding the Sagas. Things may be in there for literary devices, rather than common usage.

I have heard on the other forum about the spatulate tip of the Type X leading to a better thrust than was expected, but the poster also brought up the point that with an oval cross section, as opposed to the lenticular ones of the later swords, it would be far weaker along that axis, leading to problems if it encountered resistance.

Using the logic that "It must have been used, because all fighters figure out they can thrust", apparently wild flailing is also a viable attack option, as almost all fighters go through such a stage as well. Yet they progress onwards, and learn better technique, and abandon the flailing. What is to say that the thrust (in this era) was any different?

I understand that in very limited circumstances, any move may be advantageous that is not so normally. I am looking for the norm, the baseline of what was an effective fighting move during this era. Therefore I am forced to rely on period accounts and iconographic evidence, as opposed to my own speculation.
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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Sun 06 Apr, 2008 4:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

OK Sean, let's stick within the parameters of your question.

'The Victory Humility over pride', e.g., Fig. 95 in Oakeshott's 'archeology of weapons', dated 1200, shows one knight thrusting a sword (probably a XII) into the stomach of what appears to be a fully mailed knight. It creates the impression that the tip of the sword has punctured the outer tunic and the mail beneath.

This might also be artistic liscence, like the Sagas. However, once you raise this specter, it cuts both ways. One can't choose to believe the pictures and stories that agree with one point of view and then dismiss the ones that don't. Better then to go back to the archeological evidence, in which I think your opponent has a 'good point'; the evolution of the tip from X to XI to XII seems to indicate a growing emphasis on the thrust against resistant materials. That's pretty mainstream thinking, but that does not make it wrong.

By the way, there's also a recently active thread on 'the effectiveness of mail' in which some say that one cannot cut or thrust a sword through a properly made article of mail. (I am not saying that I believe this).
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Sean Smith





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PostPosted: Sun 06 Apr, 2008 7:55 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for the quick summary, J.D. The "Victory over Humility" plate is one of the few pictures I have seen that seem to definatively show a thrust, and doesn't seem to lend itself to a "deeper meaning" comparatively. The "artistic liscence" I was referring to was thrusting through the stomach of an unsuspecting victim, vs. showing a thrust happening during a fight where both fighters were cognizant of each other. As we all know, what works in practice, or when a person is simply standing there or unaware of what is happening, is far easier to accomplish than the same maneuver at full speed where both combatants are moving un-choreographed.

There are a couple of other references listed here that I am going to make an effort to track down. For those of you who posted references to period poetry or texts, if you could cite any relevant publications or such, that would be incredibly helpful for allowing me to track them down.
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