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Joshua R




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PostPosted: Mon 10 May, 2010 12:18 pm    Post subject: Tactical Application of Two-Handed Weapons in the Mail Age?         Reply with quote

My apologies for the truncated topic title, there wasn't quite enough space for the whole thing. I also apologize if this has been covered elsewhere, but an hour of searching has not turned anything up, so here goes.

Given that it's considered by many to be suicide to have fought on the battlefield, as a line infantryman without a shield, from the closing days of the Viking Age to the rise of plate armor, what were the tactical applications of two-handed weapons on the battlefield, both from the stand-point of the specialist using the weapon and the army or unit commander? I am thinking, primarily of the "Danish" axe and the great sword, although I'm sure there were others. Were they used exclusively by bodyguards and those protecting the colors? Were they primarily the realm of infantry skirmishers? Both? Neither and something else?

One of the reasons I ask is due to the prevalence of large axes and infantry combat in Northern Medieval Scandinavia, particularly Norway. The other is the usage of similar axes with mail by Galloglas, who appear to have used the two from the end of the shield wall through to the first days of pike-and-shot.

Thanks!

" For Augustus, and after him Tiberius, more interested in establishing and increasing their own power than in promoting the public good, began to disarm the Roman people (in order to make them more passive under their tyranny).... "
-N. Machiavelli, The Art of War
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Mon 10 May, 2010 2:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In the last couple of months or so there have been some posts about differences between combat axes versus axes intended as tools for applications like felling work. The combat axe heads often were not as heavy as similar proportion "tool" counterparts. It makes it difficult for me to say if it really took two hands or just one until factual weight and handle length is known. I only recently started studying them, and would be interested in example images of these "two handed" Danish axes, associated with the time period of mail armour, with factual head weights.

If discussing "pole axes", then I guess the application would be similar to pike work.

Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Tue 11 May, 2010 8:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The actual length and usage of the axes in medieval scandinavia is subject to a bit of uncertainty.

There where several types of axe. The "handaxe" seems to have been the lightest type. They where sometimes used as walking sticks, or carried in the belt.

The Broad axe is the type most commonly identified with the "Danish" or two handed long axe. It has a a long, curved edge, and a very thin blade profile. Nothing is said about length, but it is listed as a replacement for the sword in the laws, sugesting that at least some of them are "hand weapon" length. The design is more or less identical to the late viking age types, spesificaly Pettersens types L and M.

There is also mentions of "wedge" axes, which are also quite common in the viking age material. these have a broader profile and thinner edges, and are more similar to a modern wood splitting axe.

The Kingsmirror mentions a "long hafted bearded axe" as a good weapon on shipboard. This would probably be the 6-7 ft two handed variety we see on depictions and reenactment battlefields today.

The Nose/scottish Sparth axe, which is the weapon used by the galloglass, are of a different design. Norwegian sources mention them in the description of scottish infantry at Largs in 1263; "There where a great host of footmen, but they where poorly equiped, mostly with bows and sparths." This could probably be atributed to the norwegian leavies beeing armed with shields, spears and axes, at a minimum, and that the scottish elite was on horseback. (which in turn scared the crap out norwegians, who after an initial rout ended up in a shieldwall with their backs to the sea, where they held out untill the ongoing storm died down enough for reinforcements to land.)

Based on renactment experience, short two handed weapons (l.e longswords or short daneaxes) in a spear heavy line tend to be chewed up very quickly. As demonstrated by the Galloglass, you need all the armour you can get your hands on, a good helmet, and preferably a shield slung on the sholder to stand with a short pole in the line.
Incidentaly this is how I usually fight these days. Wink
I've tried daneaxe vs two handed spear with full body target, and found myself beeing stabbed in the head with frustrating frequency. A helmet would definitely help.
However, in a enviroment where lightly armed, shieldless troops are the norm, a heavy infantryman will kick ass under most circumstances.

My conclusion is that most broadaxes where probably in the "longsword" length range, with 90-120 cm (3-4 ft) shafts. They would be used in two hands in a civilan or skirmishing setting, or one handed in the shield wall, to be dropped in favour of the sword for single combat. Some heavily armoured troops might use the longer variety instead of a spear.



 Attachment: 198.54 KB
The Death of St. Olav, Norwegian altar front, ca 1260.
Though the proportions are a bit arbitary, note the relatively long hafted one handed axes, wich are either held all the way at the end, or two handed.
[ Download ]

"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."
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Joshua R




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PostPosted: Tue 11 May, 2010 7:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks, Elling!

It seems somewhat odd to think of something like A&A's Danish War Axe being used in one hand. I don't suppose it would be that hard, though, depending on the balance, as it weighs in somewhat under three pounds. Although it's also longer than what you've described by about 24 cm (being 4'8" long).

" For Augustus, and after him Tiberius, more interested in establishing and increasing their own power than in promoting the public good, began to disarm the Roman people (in order to make them more passive under their tyranny).... "
-N. Machiavelli, The Art of War
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Michael Ekelmann




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PostPosted: Wed 12 May, 2010 1:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In a reenactment/bouting context, I've found that axes and longswords do best in middle range. You are close enough to make longer thrusting weapon fighters choke up, yet far enough that short weapons/grapplers have to move to engage you.
I dunno how much weight you want to give it, but the Warriors episode on Vikings has the gentleman teaching Dane axe usage much like latter manuals show poleaxe. They added the idea that the Dane axe and its cousins were specialist tools and only warriros with serious intent and training used them. Troops such as the Huscarls and the Galloglasses.

“Men prefer to fight with swords, so they can see each other's eyes!" Sean Connery as Mulay Hamid El Raisuli in The Wind and the Lion
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Thom R.




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PostPosted: Wed 12 May, 2010 10:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A couple of quick notes

Many people assume with long hafted weapons e.g. spear, that once someone gets "inside" the point of the polearm that the polearm user is hapless. that is not true. the pole can still be used to block and the butt end closer to the hands can be used to strike when distanced is closed. For reference see the manuals extent on the use of the staff, and quarter staff

Second, many medieval and rennaissance polearms, including long axes, feature a design element that can be used to hook and grab onto things, reins, shields, mail shirt, pauldrons, the back of the neck of your opponent Eek! etc.

I think all of the variety of polearm weapons can be used in a very effective manner with proper training, unfortunately we don't necessarily have many surviving training manuals on their use

however, we should not ignore the fact that the general trend in the 16th c was to larger, tighter formations of infantry and the preferred weapon for such a formation was the pike. pike supporting, and supported by shot, and a few folks carrying specialized large weapons.
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Audun Refsahl




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PostPosted: Wed 12 May, 2010 12:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

the bayeux tapestry shows the two handed axe. on the same "page" as king harold dies there is a housecarl in full maille outfit wielding a long axe with both hands, and with a shield on his back. this is early medieval period though, and all the training and equipment i have experience with is as well from this period.

to wield an axe weighing 1,5 to 2 kilos in one hand with the speed and agility needed in battle would take abnormal strength, I would like someone to show me this being done before its worth considering.
The long axe is a very good weapon in lines, even tight lines, provided proper training and experience. It is weak against the two handed spear, but the two handed spear also is not protected by a shield. against other weapons it can be very strong.
It would (to the best of my understanding) be used as a stabbing, hooking and slashing weapon, and not as much for those large sircular cuts as seen in movies.

the tactical use of long axes in reenactment battles today, if this is worth considering. they are often used as part of a cooperation between soldiers with different weapons, maybe a compination with a couple of two handed spears and some regulars with shields to hide behind. it works well as an active, agressive and offensive weapon and not as well as a passive defensive weapon, so the right time and place is important for getting the most out of the weapon.
various rules makes this more or less different from the real thing of course, though it is in some ways the closest thing we come to the real thing. perhaps a look at videos from battles like Neustadt Glewe and Wolin may be of some interest, as the long axe is popular in these battles.

as for thoms sidenote on long poles on short distance, in duels I agree that the polearm can be used effectively in close range, though not ideal. however, in tight formations you would have problems, as you have to turn the spear around, and that requires space. your friend would be in your way.

again, my views are mostly based on a focus on viking and early medieval period, and should not be applied to later periods...

just bacon...
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Jeremy V. Krause




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PostPosted: Wed 12 May, 2010 12:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Elling Polden wrote:

I've tried daneaxe vs two handed spear with full body target, and found myself beeing stabbed in the head with frustrating frequency. A helmet would definitely help.
.


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Joshua R




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PostPosted: Tue 15 Jun, 2010 7:59 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The spear vs. axe reminds me of the term "spear-axe". So I did a quick (bad) sketch of something that's essentially a spear with an axe-blade added to it. Since the weapon has a spear blade fitted to it, I figured that the traditional broad-axe blade wasn't really needed and that a bearded axe blade would look quite striking.



Of course, it didn't take a huge leap of the imagination to take that and make it into a fully-fledged pole-axe.



Now, I grant that my proportions might be off... perhaps by quite a bit, but would such a weapons as I have sketched out above be plausible in the 12th and 13th Century? While the weapons would be somewhat heavier and, thus, slower than a traditional spear or an axe with a similar-sized blade, would it not be possible to use such a weapon one-handed as part of a shield wall? I would imagine the axe-blade and back spike to be quite useful in prying holes in an opponent's shield wall.... Of course, I don't think that it would have been a particularly game-changing weapon, for the period, nor that it would be likely to replace the spear en masse, so much as serve as a more general purpose replacement for the long-axe.

Anyway... plausible? Not plausible? Is there any reason, aside from a lack of archaeological and pictorial evidence in period, to suggest that such a weapon would not have been the product of a not-particularly bright person?

" For Augustus, and after him Tiberius, more interested in establishing and increasing their own power than in promoting the public good, began to disarm the Roman people (in order to make them more passive under their tyranny).... "
-N. Machiavelli, The Art of War
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Jared Lambert




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PostPosted: Wed 16 Jun, 2010 9:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

From what i've learned about great-swords or zweihanders over the internet the doppelsolner was a well paid mercenary (double pay) and was used in conjunction with pike formations. The massive sword allowed them to push the heads of the pikes aside and try to break the formation and cause havoc. (of course many probably got skewered on the end of pikes).
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Wed 16 Jun, 2010 10:11 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Audun Refsahl wrote:

to wield an axe weighing 1,5 to 2 kilos in one hand with the speed and agility needed in battle would take abnormal strength, I would like someone to show me this being done before its worth considering.


Well maybe for one blow but recovery would be iffy and slow unless extremely strong.

A lot depends also on the actual weigh and length of haft: A six foot long axe even with a very light head would be almost impossible to use one handed.

A short one handed axe with a two foot haft is usable one handed.

A medium length axe with a tree to four foot length haft, if light enough, could be used one handed as the shield would give some protection even if recovery was slow but not extremely slow. A medium length axe can also be held mid haft when used one handed with a shield and used closer to the end of the haft when used two handed. ( Sliding the hands to extend range and choking up on the handle would also be an easy and fluid thing to vary control versus range and power/control ).

Personal opinion here but a very long handled axe or a spear can be used defensively as well as offensively without a shield and it not be suicidal in individual combat. In formation combat in a battle a shield in the age of maille does seem almost indispensable.

Where one is in real trouble is having only a sword or short axe and no shield, the true two handed weapons are not as hopeless I think in the absence of using a shield.

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Joshua R




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PostPosted: Wed 16 Jun, 2010 12:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Just a clarification, in case anyone is thinking it, but my hypothetical spear-axe would be used as a "spear with benefits", so to speak, in a shield wall.
" For Augustus, and after him Tiberius, more interested in establishing and increasing their own power than in promoting the public good, began to disarm the Roman people (in order to make them more passive under their tyranny).... "
-N. Machiavelli, The Art of War
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Craig Shira




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PostPosted: Wed 16 Jun, 2010 10:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

.

Joshua R wrote:
The spear vs. axe reminds me of the term "spear-axe". So I did a quick (bad) sketch of something that's essentially a spear with an axe-blade added to it. Since the weapon has a spear blade fitted to it, I figured that the traditional broad-axe blade wasn't really needed and that a bearded axe blade would look quite striking.


Your sketch looks very much like a halberd. From what I understand, the halberd was a turning point in 15th century military circles because an individual Reisläufer (a soldier from Switzerland) could use it to combat a mounted night. It was also frighteningly effective for use against other ground troops. Below is an image of a 16th century Landsknecht with a halberd.



.
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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Thu 17 Jun, 2010 12:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm pretty sure the guys with the axe held in two hands would shelter themselves behind their shield-bearing mates.

M.

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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Thu 17 Jun, 2010 11:22 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Joshua R wrote:
The spear vs. axe reminds me of the term "spear-axe". So I did a quick (bad) sketch of something that's essentially a spear with an axe-blade added to it. Since the weapon has a spear blade fitted to it, I figured that the traditional broad-axe blade wasn't really needed and that a bearded axe blade would look quite striking.

Anyway... plausible? Not plausible? Is there any reason, aside from a lack of archaeological and pictorial evidence in period, to suggest that such a weapon would not have been the product of a not-particularly bright person?


Technically plausible I would say yes, any proof of something like this being common enough to be known in art or period writings I think not.

A true halberd evolved gradually into the almost ceremonial forms of the late 16 th century but I think you mean that someone in the past could have improvised a halberd by hafting an axe head below a spear head for a combination weapon !

No proof that this was ever done but some clever fellow with a spear head and an axe might have made such a weapon.

I like the idea ever if we can't really put much credence in it without some evidence. Wink Big Grin Cool

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Joshua R




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PostPosted: Thu 17 Jun, 2010 12:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hmm... I might have to shoot A&A an email about having one made, then. Happy
" For Augustus, and after him Tiberius, more interested in establishing and increasing their own power than in promoting the public good, began to disarm the Roman people (in order to make them more passive under their tyranny).... "
-N. Machiavelli, The Art of War
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Felix R.




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PostPosted: Thu 17 Jun, 2010 10:27 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Spears with hooks have been out there. Sean Flynt based one of his custom pieces on one. I´d have a look at Wagner, he has a lot of drawings even of not so often reproduced weapons, in some cases his sources are quite accurate. At least you can get an idea.
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Joshua R




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PostPosted: Fri 18 Jun, 2010 5:03 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Wagner? Horned helmet Viking Wagner?

WTF?!

" For Augustus, and after him Tiberius, more interested in establishing and increasing their own power than in promoting the public good, began to disarm the Roman people (in order to make them more passive under their tyranny).... "
-N. Machiavelli, The Art of War
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