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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Tue 14 Oct, 2008 9:00 am    Post subject: Cutting through helmets         Reply with quote

I often see medieval art depicting a sword's wraith cut going through an unlucky sap's helmet in a powerful blow to the top of the head. Simply put, how likely is that scenario? Assuming a helmet is made of iron, would the contemporary swords of any period in the middle ages be strong enough in relation to the strength of the helmets to actually cut through my helm, my coif, and my skull? It seems a little far fetched to me, but I might be wrong, which is why I'm asking.

M.

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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Tue 14 Oct, 2008 9:19 am    Post subject: Re: Cutting through helmets         Reply with quote

M. Eversberg II wrote:
I often see medieval art depicting a sword's wraith cut going through an unlucky sap's helmet in a powerful blow to the top of the head. Simply put, how likely is that scenario? Assuming a helmet is made of iron, would the contemporary swords of any period in the middle ages be strong enough in relation to the strength of the helmets to actually cut through my helm, my coif, and my skull? It seems a little far fetched to me, but I might be wrong, which is why I'm asking.

M.


I recommend using the search function. Wink This topic has come up quite a lot.

Virginia Academy of Fencing Historical Swordsmanship
--German Longsword & Italian Rapier in the DC Area--


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Reece Nelson




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PostPosted: Tue 14 Oct, 2008 9:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-h0e0NSwYNg
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Darren Tully




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PostPosted: Tue 14 Oct, 2008 10:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The hurstwic reinactment group do tests on viking battle techniques
they found a sword quite capable to penetrating a helmet
the Gjermundbu helmet shows evidence of battle damage caused by a sword


also the rise in popularity of conical shaped helmets was due to the fact
that the slant caused a blow to slide off saving the wearer a from a full force blow
the great helm design changed from flat top to sugar loaf shaped to prevent
full force blows to the top from penetrating
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Tue 14 Oct, 2008 2:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

ARMA tests show that it is virtually impossible to cut through a helmet far enough to injure the wearer in battle conditions. It is far easier if the helmet is placed on a rigid support which is not realistic. A helmet showing "battle damage" is not the same as the wearing being injured from the blow.

How about this:
http://www.shinkendo.com/kabuto.html

A "world record" cut against a helmet.
A 500 year old helmet was placed at waist height on a rigid surface and was cut by a master swordsman wielding a blade that was specifically made for the task using a technique that would never have been employed in battle (i.e. the test was HEAVILY biased against the armour) and the best he could do was a shallow 13cm cut that wouldn't have scratched the scalp of someone who was wearing it.

The chances of a sword cutting through a helmet under battlefield conditions are so low as to be statistically negligible. It happened on occasion. There are Napoleonic eyewitness accounts mentioning brass helmets being cleaved. I can't think of any medieval accounts though.
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Darren Tully




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PostPosted: Tue 14 Oct, 2008 4:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I agree with you there I have not heard any accounts of it happening but battle damaged helmets have been found
even if the wearers head wasnt cut the blunt force that broke the helmet coud have been enough to crack his skull
on foot the chances of landing a blow strong enough to do that damage are slim you'd be more likely to score a
glancing hit or one strong enough to disorientate your oponent long enough to kill him on the follow up. Someone
on horse back would have the best odds of pulling it off given tht he had the height and the power of a downward
strike coupled with the momentum of his horse
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Bill Tsafa




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PostPosted: Tue 14 Oct, 2008 5:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

For everyone else's benefit here are some links to the Maciejowski Bible bible pictures that we are referring too.


http://www.medievaltymes.com/courtyard/images...&b.gif

http://www.medievaltymes.com/courtyard/images...&d.gif

http://www.medievaltymes.com/courtyard/images...tm45va.gif
(This third picture even shows a great helm being cleaved in the back)

http://www.medievaltymes.com/courtyard/images...&d.gif

If anyone has any other sources, please post them.

I think the helmet cleaving was probably an exaggeration to make one side look more powerful and the victory that more impressive. It does however show with certainty that armored heads were a good target to aim for. Having recently done some experiments on armor I can say that armor is not likely going to be penetrated with a sword. A sword blow does transfer an amazing amount of force through the armor. You might be able to take a sword blow on your chest over a breastplate, but you can not take it on your head and not see some stars. The question then becomes, what purpose to warhammers and maces serve. Well they transfer even more force so you can hit over a spalder and break the shoulder underneath. With the head, you only need to stun.

Medieval nasal-helms weighted about 2 lbs. You don't have to even dent the helm to knock a man out when the sword tip from a Type X is moving at about 160 mph and is delivering about 160 lbs of concentrated force on the edge.

Modern SCA helms weight about 8 lbs in order to absorb the impact safely. The rattan swords we use also give more and spread the impact over a wider surface then a steel sword.

No athlete/youth can fight tenaciously who has never received any blows: he must see his blood flow and hear his teeth crack... then he will be ready for battle.
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William R. Short




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PostPosted: Wed 15 Oct, 2008 7:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Darren Tully wrote:
The hurstwic reinactment group do tests on viking battle techniques
they found a sword quite capable to penetrating a helmet
the Gjermundbu helmet shows evidence of battle damage caused by a sword


Begging your pardon, but I don't believe I said that in any of the articles on the Hurstwic site. Hurstwic has never conducted any test cuts against a helmet.

I did say that the Gjermundbu helmet has signs of battle damage, which surprised me when I learned of it, since the helmet seems ill-suited for use in combat.

Saga evidence suggests that at least some blows were expected to penetrate a helmet, and that the combatant was surprised when it didn't. As always, saga evidence must be used with caution, but some recent research makes me give it more credibility than I once did.

[shameless book plug] More information about both of these topics is in my new book, Viking Weapons and Combat Techniques, due out next month from Westholme Publishing. More information about the book is here:
http://www.williamrshort.com/vik_wpn/

Best regards,
Bill
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Wed 15 Oct, 2008 7:51 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

While a full force sword blow in the helmet might concuss, helmets would naturally be made thick enough to stop penetration.
If a 1mm helmet did not stop a sword blow, get a 2mm helmet, and so on.

There are noumerous literary or pictoral sources of helmets being cleaved. However, there are also noumerous litterary and pictoral sources on dragons. Probably drawing or stating that helmets where cleaved would be a way to say "they are REALLY hitting hard", because its not something that will commonly happen.

"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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Darren Tully




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PostPosted: Wed 15 Oct, 2008 8:04 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

William R. Short wrote:
Begging your pardon, but I don't believe I said that in any of the articles on the Hurstwic site. Hurstwic has never conducted any test cuts against a helmet.

sorry if I caused offence but I was going by what a guy claiming to be from your group told me
he even directed me to your websites article on helmets http://www.valhs.org/history/articles/manufac...elmets.htm
the referece to the Gjermundbu helmet and the this line
Quote:
Even a sword could penetrate a helmet when wielded by a powerful combatant.

Lead me to believe that what he said was true
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James Arlen Gillaspie
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PostPosted: Wed 15 Oct, 2008 8:41 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Something that is rarely taken into account is the tremendous difference in force achieved by wielding a weapon from horseback as opposed to on foot. A horseman's mace is typically a very lightweight, small weapon (I've handled a fair selection of real ones in the RA's reserve collection) which one would be foolish to use on a fully armed man, particularly if his plate was of good quality. Mounted, it hits like a bus! If you want to cleave a helm, a mounted charge is the way to do it. On foot, I prefer a halberd. It takes that much more lever arm on foot to approach the force levels achieved while mounted.
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Adam Bodorics
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PostPosted: Fri 17 Oct, 2008 12:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Other thing is that it's fine and good that we test modern helmets with modern swords, but can we be 100% sure that there weren't very low quality armour back then? The article here dealing with sword hardnesses shows a great variety - isn't it possible that this same variety was present in armours as well? A good strike that might not even concuss the opponent in a top quality helmet could cleave through a crappy piece in my opinion.

James Arlen Gillaspie: I like the idea about the horses... someone should do some testing.
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James Arlen Gillaspie
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PostPosted: Fri 17 Oct, 2008 5:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As Dr. Alan Williams' data show in 'The Knight and the Blast Furnace', the quality of armour, like weapons, was all over the map. The cheapest munitions armour, however, was typically of a highly refined wrought iron, which was about as strong as modern mild steel. The quality goes up from there. I would say that the cheapest swords would be typified by those worn by English longbowmen, which were not their primary weapon, but more of a backup (the quality of any particular longbowman's weapon could, of course, vary considerably). Dr. Williams once presented analysis of one from the 'Mary Rose', if memory serves, that was wrought iron with a couple of slivers of higher carbon steel forge welded onto the edges!
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Blaz Berlec




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PostPosted: Fri 17 Oct, 2008 11:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dr. Alan Williams pointed out that any large slag inclusions in wrought iron would be elongated when making a thin plate for armour and helmets, thus making a relatively weak spot. Iron for armour was not pattern welded or folded over again and again, so some of his cross-sections of armour can show more slag than iron on a particular bad spot, and this was by no means reserved only for "bad and cheap armour" - fine iron and steel making was apparently hit and miss affair up to late 14. century in Italy and even longer in the rest of the world. Some of the nice 15th century "Italian" helmets in Leeds' Armoury are quite certainly locally made, or Italians sold them second grade armour, because helmets of that time from Italian museums show consistently more slag-free refined heat treated steel.

So, could these representations of weapons cleaving through iron show us just that plate could fail if struck on a unlucky "perforated with slag" spot? I could imagine that they would try to strike their opponent on every opening in fight, and if the weapon wouldn't come through armour, the strike would at least daze them a bit and give an attacker a second chance.

The only problem is that apparently even the weapons seem to be as "hit and miss" when it comes to quality of steel, heat treatment and hardness.


Like this sword from Slovenian National museum. Recently when Dr. Alan Williams travelled to Slovenia and made a lecture on iron production and weapons in medieval times, he also made some quick hardness tests on various weapons from our collection. This sword is one of the nicest here and in quite excellent state of preservation for a river find. Surprisingly it only showed about 100 on Vickers scale with the small portable non-destructive hardness tester, on several parts of the blade. That's softer than non heat treated steel, that's even softer than modern day "iron", Rockwell hardness scale only starts (with value 23) at Vickers 230, so I guess this would be around Rockwell 10 or even less. One quarter or one fifth of what we now consider a proper heat treated steel for swords.

Sword No. 22, T. 6:22.

Founding place: River Ljubljanica, year 1832. length = 116,1 cm, weight = 1695 g, blade length = 90,9 cm, blade length at cross = 4,9 cm, at half of blade = 3,0 cm, thickness of blade = 1,0 cm at cross - 0,7 cm at half of blade.





It was only a quick test, so we talked with Curator of Slovenian National museum Tomaz Nabergoj of the possibilities. Apparently the edge itself wasn't tested, and some blades have a very large difference in hardness between steel edge and softer body, and hard edge can be very narrow. The other possibility is that the portable tester which measures only the top layer got fooled by "Renaissance Wax" coating, or the electrolytic cleaning method (or some other chemical cleaning) changed the properties of the top layer of material. This sword was a river find and was cleaned quite aggresively, later finds are kept much more in "as found" state.

But it's still a beautyful weapon, I had a chance to hold it again last weekend when we had Western Martial Arts Workshop with Canadian David M. Cvet from AEMMA, Petr Matoušek and Martin Fabian from Chezch and Slovak Republic (Společnost pro výskum a praktické provádení vznešeného umění šermířského) and local instructors Igor Sancin and Roman Vucajnk. But I'm getting off-topic...[/img]


Extant 15th Century German Gothic Armour
Extant 15th century Milanese armour
Arming doublet of the 15th century
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Bruno Giordan





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PostPosted: Sat 18 Oct, 2008 1:31 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Elling Polden wrote:
While a full force sword blow in the helmet might concuss, helmets would naturally be made thick enough to stop penetration.
If a 1mm helmet did not stop a sword blow, get a 2mm helmet, and so on.

There are noumerous literary or pictoral sources of helmets being cleaved. However, there are also noumerous litterary and pictoral sources on dragons. Probably drawing or stating that helmets where cleaved would be a way to say "they are REALLY hitting hard", because its not something that will commonly happen.


The norman style helmet is aw once in person (original I mean) is 2.2 mm thick, on average, ever more than 2 anyway.
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James Arlen Gillaspie
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PostPosted: Sat 18 Oct, 2008 4:35 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have read that electrolytic reduction leaves a porous, pure iron surface on a cleaned object. If true, it would certainly explain the results.
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James R.Fox




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PostPosted: Sat 18 Oct, 2008 6:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sirs-I was always under the impression that this is why axes were so popular-to cut through heavy armour such as helmets, breastplates, and so on.
Ja68ms
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Bill Tsafa




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PostPosted: Sat 18 Oct, 2008 7:45 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think cutting through or even attempting to hit hard enough to cut through is just overkill on a nasal helm. Kind like getting punched in the face... do you need to get you skull crushed in order to be knocked out?
No athlete/youth can fight tenaciously who has never received any blows: he must see his blood flow and hear his teeth crack... then he will be ready for battle.
Roger of Hoveden, 1174-1201
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Aleksei Sosnovski





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PostPosted: Sun 19 Oct, 2008 11:22 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As my practice of full force steel on steel fighting shows, it is really, and I mean REALLY difficult to hit somebody hard enough in the head to knock him down in a duel if he wears a bascinet made of 2 mm steel. And "down" is not "out". In a mass battle it is easier because one can get hit from the back, which is much worse then being hit in the forehead. I've heared of people being knocked out by halberds, but in order to rely on behind-the-armour effect of the impact of one-handed weapon one needs at least an axe, and preferably a mace or a war hammer when fighting on foot. Things may be different when fighting from horseback though.
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Marc Pengryffyn




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PostPosted: Sun 19 Oct, 2008 2:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ok, accepting that its unlikely that swords could regularly cut through helmets, why all the depictions of them doing so? To me it seems a bit like all the movies that show people being blown backwards when hit by bullets. Doesn't happen and couldn't happen, according to the laws of physics, but every action movie shows it. This sort of thing starts as dramatic hyperbole, and over time becomes a regular part of the artistic lexicon, accepted by the viewing public despite its improbability. Fantasy is more exciting than reality- Who knew? Wink
Tradition is the illusion of permanence.
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