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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Tue 23 Dec, 2008 2:19 pm    Post subject: What happened to most Medieval Weapons?         Reply with quote

This question occurred to me while re-reading the first few chapters of Oakeshott's 'Archeology of Weapons' last night.

Oakeshott mentions several times that pre-Christian European weapons are more often found as archeological artifacts because they were often ritually buried, in contrast to the practice (?) in Christian countries. First of all, is this really true? Are there more non-Christian European weapons out there in museums somewhere on display or in storage, or at least a higher proportion of them? It would not seem so from the museums I've visited, but this is difficult for an amateur to quantify.

Second, if this is true, what happened to most of the Christian weapons? Is the inference that they were disposed in places where they would be less likely to be preserved or places they would be less likely found like a river? Or would it be that upon becoming obsolete, swords were beaten into the proverbial plowshares or re-forged into newer weapons? (I don't know enough about sword smithing to know how feasible this would be).

- JD

PS - apologies if this is an old topic - it's a hard one to search.
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Tue 23 Dec, 2008 2:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The post-christian weapons where either preserved indoors, as decorational items and such, stashed and forgotten, or lost.
After about 1500, when kings started to supply their armies with weapons rather than the soldier buying their own kit, (comparatively) huge quantities of weapons where preserved in armouries, like Gratz, the Royal Armouries, the french armouries now displayed in les Invalides, and so on.

Most weapons where probably reused or reforged, or simply rusted to pieces and disappeared. Unless the conditions for preservation is good, a sword can rust away to nothing in a few decades.

"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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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Wed 24 Dec, 2008 3:16 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

So, what I'm really looking for is a) a critical evaluation of Oakeshott's statements, and b) any hard historical or archeological evidence what obsolete medieval weapons were re-used or reformed in a way that would destroy their original appearance.

Alternatively, what properties caused certain weapons to be carefully preserved? Their importance as status symbols (bearing swords and coronation swords are obvious examples but would only account for a small %)? This may have colored our view of what is the typical medieval sword. For example, why are there so few falchions in museum collections compared to the number of references to them in medieval manuscripts and art? Where did they end up?
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Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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PostPosted: Wed 24 Dec, 2008 4:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

J.D. Crawford wrote:
So, what I'm really looking for is a) a critical evaluation of Oakeshott's statements, and b) any hard historical or archeological evidence what obsolete medieval weapons were re-used or reformed in a way that would destroy their original appearance.
Probably a lot of them ended up as knives, where it will be very difficult to tell if it was made from a sword or not.

Quote:
Alternatively, what properties caused certain weapons to be carefully preserved? Their importance as status symbols (bearing swords and coronation swords are obvious examples but would only account for a small %)? This may have colored our view of what is the typical medieval sword. For example, why are there so few falchions in museum collections compared to the number of references to them in medieval manuscripts and art? Where did they end up?
I don't know about the reasons why some swords were preserved, but a lot of swords I know are river finds. There was a lot of action on the rivers, so quite a few swords ended up there. And due to the favorable conditions, swords from rivers are often in a fairly good condition. There's no difference there with earlier periods though, where just as frequently weapons ended up in rivers.
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Wed 24 Dec, 2008 5:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In ancient times, up through the Roman era, many swords and other items were thrown in rivers, lakes, and bogs as votive offerings. If conditions on the river bottom are right, that can preserve a sword pretty nicely. Mostly the practice died out with Christianity, but not entirely. I found out not long ago (on this board, I think) that there are documented cases of votive offerings in water even into the 14th century! One of those pagan practices that held on in a few places.

Since bronze generally preserves better than iron and steel, finds of Bronze Age weaponry is pretty common. Votive hoards of axes are the most prolific, to the point where we think they may have been used as currency as well as tools. As I understand it, there's hardly a small-town local museum in England or Ireland that doesn't have at least a couple bronze swords, but preserved medieval swords are much rarer.

Rah, rah, back to the Bronze Age! Give up this silly ferrous alloy fad!

(Ahem...)


Matthew
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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Wed 24 Dec, 2008 2:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Many may also exist in the hands of private collectors, or stashed in some back room in museums. If you've ever seen the "uncategorized" sections on some large museums (it's a back room area), many of them have a huge collection of items that exist in their catalogues, but are never displayed, or even studied.

M.

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Bruno Giordan





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PostPosted: Thu 25 Dec, 2008 12:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

J.D. Crawford wrote:
So, what I'm really looking for is a) a critical evaluation of Oakeshott's statements, and b) any hard historical or archeological evidence what obsolete medieval weapons were re-used or reformed in a way that would destroy their original appearance.

Alternatively, what properties caused certain weapons to be carefully preserved? Their importance as status symbols (bearing swords and coronation swords are obvious examples but would only account for a small %)? This may have colored our view of what is the typical medieval sword. For example, why are there so few falchions in museum collections compared to the number of references to them in medieval manuscripts and art? Where did they end up?


It is not easy, as such matters were of no such importance as to justify written records.

Think, there are documents attesting that in the Grazie Sanctuary outside Mantua, where the famous Gonzaga armours were found by Mann, some centuries ago walls were literally covered up to a significant height with piles of votive offering swords.

They had been left over years by soldiers returning safely home, as the Grazie's Madonna was a protector of soldiers.

No records of their sort have been left.
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Joe Fults




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PostPosted: Sun 28 Dec, 2008 1:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Modern military has a well established practice of recycling items as their utility diminishes. I suspect it was not all that different several hundred years ago. Hand the items down (or sell them) until their utility was gone. Valuable metal-ly things then get recycled into something new while drudge goes off to the dump. I have a dwindling number of relatives that lived through WWII who recount scrap metal drives; even war monuments went into the recycle bin in the US then.

WWI Cannon from monument sent to scrap drive:

http://www.historicmarkers.com/Missouri/Calla...ial_MO319/

Civil War Cannon sent to scrap drive:

http://www.nebraskastudies.org/0800/frameset_..._0130.html

Evidence from court cases (including hammers, knives, revolvers, daggers) and 22 tons of cannons from monuments at the National Military Home in Dayton Ohio dating to the Civil War sent to scrap drive:

http://www.daytonhistorybooks.citymax.com/page/page/1652512.htm

None of this is hard evidence that medieval weapons were reused/recycled in ways that changed their appearance. But it does suggest that the weapons, even some historically significant ones from the last 200 years in the US, have been.

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Romulus Stoica




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PostPosted: Sun 28 Dec, 2008 12:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

One of the questions you must ask yourself regarding medieval weapons is "what quality of steel was used to manufacture them?" ...
I'm fairly sure that most of the weapons of low ranking soldiers were poor quality steel so most of them broke on the battle field. Because the metal was expensive, I'm also sure that broken weapons and armor were reused to forge new weapons and armor, or any other metal tools needed at the time. In museums there are a lot of old sword blades modified to fit newer hilts and guards also.
I believe that most of the medieval weapons were reused/reforged in more modern weapons except the case when they had a ceremonial/magic/religious/sentimental value for their owners.
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Thom R.




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PostPosted: Sun 28 Dec, 2008 1:36 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In addition to the preservation issue, one thing to keep in mind is that in medieval europe, even at its peak in the early 1300s (prior to the black death epidemic and the 100 years war) , most scientists estimate total european population at about 70 million, which is less than 10% of what it is today. and the majority of those folks were serfs who probably did not own swords. seen in this context it is not surprising that so few well preserved examples of swords from the 11th-14th century still exist.

Old swords were definitely reforged and made into tools as well. Last year I posted a reference to a Victorian era Journal where it was documented that an early 16th c two hand cleighmor was found to have been reforged into a scythe shape for harvesting seaweed off the western coast of Donegal. I suspect that kind of thing was rather common.
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B. Fulton





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PostPosted: Sun 28 Dec, 2008 4:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I vote for the used to destruction theory.

In my own experience, I qualified in basic training (2005) with an M16 whose lower dated to about 1964 (no magazine button fence, overstamped and converted to A2 spec), and there were some other carbines in the armories dating the mid 60s still in use, modernized and updated.

On a giant clean-out of our supply section we found stuff 20-30 years old squirreled away by some long gone supply sergeants, and a friend deployed in 2006 with a canteen cover made in the 1950s.....

In WW2 a lot of WW1 stuff got re-issued or modified for use, and in every other war.

Not new.
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Sun 28 Dec, 2008 6:03 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Romulus Stoica wrote:
I'm fairly sure that most of the weapons of low ranking soldiers were poor quality steel so most of them broke on the battle field.


Well, even if you assume that the metal quality was poor, which I don't think is a very safe assumption, most low-ranking soldiers would be using mainly spears, axes, and knives, which would be hard to break in any case (the metal parts, that is). Low-quality iron or steel is probably going to bend than break, anyway. And even grunts would not want to go to battle with a weapon they thought was likely to give out on them! More economical to make the weapons right the first time, rather than make crappy ones and have to keep recycling the metal after each battle, eh? Remember, all this recycling and converting is forge work--you can't just chuck all the scraps in a furnace and melt them into something new.

There's a neat 17th century breastplate in the Higgins Armory Museum that is reinforced on the back with part of a 16th century breastplate! I also remember a photo of a c. 15th century helmet converted to a cookpot.

Matthew
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Richard Hare




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PostPosted: Sun 28 Dec, 2008 8:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

If of no further use, a weapon would be forged into something else.

Quite a few of you will know of the armour of Bonnie Dundee, (John Graham of Claverhouse)

After the battle of Killekrankie where he was killed, he was buried in the vault of the Dukes of Atholl, at Blair Atholl.

A tinker stole some of his armour, (Or all of it, I don't remember!)
When they caught up with the tinker, he'd made pots and pans from some of it!
Bonnie Dundee's backplate can still be seen in Blair Atholl, with a square cut out of it,.....and a hole through it made by the musket ball that killed him.

Re. Oakshott;

Hilda Ellis Davidson is in agreement with him, that more weapons are found from pagan burials, than Christian.
this is because Christian's didn't give grave goods. ...a sword would be handed down, or be given back to the deceased persons lord.... so used and re-used, then finally re-forged.
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