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Lafayette C Curtis




Location: Indonesia
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PostPosted: Wed 25 Nov, 2009 5:25 am    Post subject: War scythes: how early?         Reply with quote

It's fairly common knowledge that Polish insurrections used war scythes in the 18th and 19th centuries, and similarly modified scythes may have been present as early as in the Potop (Deluge) and the Battle of Sedgemoor, both of which are late 17th-century events. However, is there any evidence of war scythes being employed in, say, the 16th century or even in the medieval period? The Maciejowski Bible illustrations don't seem to show any, but it's certainly not the only source so I'm curious if there are other written or pictorial sources that may hint at the availability of war scythes in the medieval era.
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Johan S. Moen




Location: Kristiansand, Norway
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PostPosted: Wed 25 Nov, 2009 12:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Norwegian sources from the high middle ages talk about "langorvsljå", "ljå" being Norwegian for scythe. As far as I remember, they're recomennded for ship-to-ship combat.

Johan Schubert Moen
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Josh Brown




Location: Renton, WA
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PostPosted: Thu 26 Nov, 2009 2:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well, if you consider the Rhomphaia and Dacian Falx, they are recorded back at least the second century BCE, during the Roman conquests of Thrace and Dacia.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falx
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhomphaia

Ironicly, the scythe didn't appear in europe as a replacement to the sickle until around the 12th century AD, though they may have been known earlier in central asia.
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Lafayette C Curtis




Location: Indonesia
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PostPosted: Fri 04 Dec, 2009 5:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Johan S. Moen wrote:
Norwegian sources from the high middle ages talk about "langorvsljå", "ljå" being Norwegian for scythe. As far as I remember, they're recomennded for ship-to-ship combat.


Hmm. So the whole thing means "long scythe?" And did the second word formerly have a different meaning (just in case that it's actually a more conventional weapon like a glaive or a long spear)?


Josh Brown wrote:
Well, if you consider the Rhomphaia and Dacian Falx


Don't the finds of these weapons tend to come up with tanged blades that appear to have been designed as battlefield weapons in the first place? What I'm looking for, actually, is an example or two of agricultural scythes being tinkered with to provide a makeshift weapon, though it would certainly be interesting if I'm wrong and the ancient falces turn out to be modified agricultural sickles too!
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Matthew Fedele




Location: Auburn, NY USA
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PostPosted: Fri 04 Dec, 2009 9:16 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Stone's Glossary has 3 examples, two are 17th century and 1 French specimen dated to 1580. He states:

"In the middle ages the scythe was frequently used as a weapon, the blade being mounted in line with a long, straight shaft. It does not appear to have given rise to any important modifications, especially adapted for fighting. It was used as an improvised weapon by peasants as late as the end of the 18th century."

Hafted Weapons in Medieval and Rennaissance Europe has one dated 16th to 17th century and states:

"The military scythe is perhaps, next to the military fork, the most simple and primitive
of the staff weapons, but one which is active over a large time span. It was, like the military
fork; used by Polish peasants against the Russians early in the twentieth century.
Far from being weak or ineffectual, however, it was a deadly arm. Over the centuries
of its use, it was the weapon of the peasant (again like the military fork) and easily converted
from the tool by the farmer himself, or by the local blacksmith, to its military
equivalent. It was called the kriegssense in German, faux de guerre in French, and falce da
guerre in Italian.

Relatively large numbers of these scythes have survived, some appearing so similar to
each other as to suggest a serial manufacture by a relatively experienced smith. Impressive
quantities are displayed in the castle of Kyburg in Switzerland, and are in storage in the
Landesmuseum in Zurich. These weapons, whether or not converted from a tool, also
show no attempt at refinement, either of the technique or the finish. Although the hammer
marks on the blade are still obvious, some of those suggesting serial manufacture do
show punctate or incised patterns of crude decoration (fig. 156). The weapon was questionably
useful for thrusting, and was doubtlessly only successful against unarmored soldiers,
having only a thin blade without great mass. As it was very sharp, however, the
cut inflicted by it into an unarmored part, would have been deep and deadly."

also of note in Hafted Weapons:
"A war scythe with a special purpose is depicted in use in a scene from one of the
Caesar Tapestries in the Historical Museum of Berne at the bottom of fig. 157, cutting
the rigging of a ship of war. As opposed to the common variety of war scythes, this
weapon’s blade is set, like the farm tool, at right angles to the shaft, which is, as in all
war scythes; straight. The purpose of this weapon would seem to be to hook and cut by
pulling back rather than to slash."

So like the pitchfork, probably every farm had a razor sharp scythe, and when war was over it could be turned back into a farm tool although they were also purposely built for war as well. I'm sure there's more medieval examples out there.

Matt
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Vaclav Homan




Location: Hradec, Czech
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PostPosted: Fri 04 Dec, 2009 12:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Scythe was common for folk army like early hussits and german upriding. Straighten scythe was accessories serious field army.
There is only one art of fence yet many ways to reach it
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Fri 04 Dec, 2009 1:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I've seen a war sickle, dating from the 16th century, for sale online before from an antiquariat. So they go back at least that far.
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Lafayette C Curtis




Location: Indonesia
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PostPosted: Wed 09 Dec, 2009 5:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Interesting. So we can push back the war scythe into the 16th century with a fair degree of confidence. I'm still curious about just how far back it goes, though--or, in other words, how soon people began to convert scythes into weapons after the scythe itself became a reasonably widespread farming tool.
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