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Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > The Lasso/Lariat/Rope as a Weapon of War Reply to topic
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S Ghajar




Location: Fort Collins
Joined: 14 Jun 2013

Posts: 12

PostPosted: Fri 14 Jun, 2013 2:32 pm    Post subject: The Lasso/Lariat/Rope as a Weapon of War         Reply with quote

Hi everyone,

First, let me say it's a joy to join these forums after just reading for so long. I've learned so much more here than anywhere else about historical arms and armor.

One topic I've only seen mentioned about a dozen times in the entire archives is the use of the lariat/lasso/rope as a weapon of war. Many cultures used lassos or a variant throughout history in combat, so I thought it would be interesting to start a thread about it and see what primary sources pop up.

I know more about Iranian and Turkish use of the lasso than I do about other cultures, so I'll start with that.

The lasso in Iran is called the "kamand," and it shows up in a number of primary sources, from Sassanian equipment lists to poetry from a thousand years ago in the Shahnameh. In European sources, it shows up in references from Herodotus and Pausanias discussing the use of the lasso by Scythians and Sarmatians (both Iranian tribes) respectively.

Pausanias on the Sarmatians:

"They throw a lasso round any enemy they meet, and then turning round their horses upset the enemy caught in the lasso."
Description of Greece, 1.21.5


Herodotus on the Scythians:

"They use ropes twisted of leather thongs, and trust to these when they go into war: and the manner of fighting of these men is as follows:—when they come to conflict with the enemy, they throw the ropes with nooses at the end of them, and whatsoever the man catches by the throw, whether horse or man, he draws to himself, and they being entangled in toils are thus destroyed." The Histories, 7:85.

The Encyclopedia Iranica also lists it as being among the required weapons for noble horsemen in Iran during the reign of King Khosrow I under the command of the military leader Babak, and even earlier as an optional weapon during the Achaemenid era for elite horsemen. From the Encyclopedia Iranica:

"According to the Iranian sources mentioned above, the martial equipments of a heavily-armed Sasanian horseman were as follows: helmet, hauberk (Pahlavi grīwbān), breastplate, mail, gauntlet (Pahlavi abdast), girdle, thigh-guards (Pahlavi rān-ban), lance, sword, battle-axe, mace, bowcase with two bows and two bowstrings, quiver with 30 arrows, two extra bowstrings, spear, and horse armor (zēn-abzār); to these some have added a lasso (kamand), or a sling with slingstones (Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser, pp. 248f.; Jackson, op. cit., pp. 108ff.)."
Source
: http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/army-i

Ferdowsi's epic poetry makes it clear the kamand was considered useful for livestock handling, hunting, and warfare equally. The main hero of the Shahnameh, Rostam, uses a kamand again and again in combat to defeat his enemies.

چو از دست رستم رها شد کمند
سر شهریار اندرآمد به بند.

Loose translation: "When the lasso left Rostam's hand
It encircled and bound the head of Shahriar."

همی تاخت سهراب چون پیل مست
کمندی به بازو کمانی به دست .

"Ever Sohrab [Rostam's son] attacked like a crazed elephant
Lasso on his forearm and bow in his hand."

چنین است کردار چرخ بلند
به دستی کلاه و به دیگر کمند.

"And thus are performed the great deeds of the world:
Hat in one hand, lasso in the other."

That last one could almost be cowboy poetry!

From the McGill Digital Library, Rostam pulling the Khaqan of China off his war elephant with a lasso:



Source: http://digital.library.mcgill.ca/shahnameh/fullrecord.php


Aside from just the Shahnameh, we see the lasso in many hunting scenes in miniatures as well as in combat scenes, and see it mentioned in some histories as well. The Encyclopedia Iranica article on the armies of Iran between the Islamic invasions and Mongol invasions states that a lasso, mace, and battle axe were common weapons during the Umayyad and Abbasid eras. Typically its use against humans is depicted when both men are wearing heavy armor, which highlights the oft-mentioned use of the lasso by the Mongols against the knighthood of Eastern Europe (using the arkan rather than the thrown loop lasso). Does anyone have more information on the Mongolian use of it by the way?

Here is the only miniature I can find presently (though I've seen others) of its use in a non-fictional battle, depicting an Ottoman Akinci in the Battle of Kosovo roping a Hungarian knight around the neck and presumably dragging him til unconsciousness or death. This would be in the 15th century, so we know that the lasso was used as recently as that, and not just in the first millennium AD.


Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sueleymanname_akinci.png

If anyone has more information on the use of lassos in warfare, please share! I'll post any additional information I find.

On a side note, I do some recreational roping on my horse. It's much harder than it looks, but someone who is good at it (not me) can rope a rank steer at a full gallop from a bad angle. I can only imagine what it would be like to face someone in combat who has done it their whole lives.

"This skill," asked Kazan, "is it the horse's or the man's?" "The man's, lord," they said. "No! If the horse did not play its part the man could not vaunt himself; the skill belongs to the horse."
Kitabi Dede Korkut
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Harry Marinakis




PostPosted: Sat 15 Jun, 2013 7:10 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As far as rope weapons are concerned, the ancient Hawaiian warriors used tripping weapons, called pikoi.



These weapons had long cords attached to a weight, and were thrown at the legs and feet of their opponents to cause then to trip and fall down.
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S Ghajar




Location: Fort Collins
Joined: 14 Jun 2013

Posts: 12

PostPosted: Sat 15 Jun, 2013 12:31 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Very interesting--were they thrown like bolas? I'd never heard of pikoi before. Thanks!

Speaking of bolas, though not lasso-ish they definitely serve the same function as a heel rope when roping, which is the rope used by the cowboy to wrap around the hind legs and trip up the animal. I can't find any firsthand accounts of bola use, but I recall that it was used against the Spanish by the Mapuche during the War of Arauco, and greatly hampered the usefulness of Spanish cavalry.

I'm going to post a link to a calf roping event at a rodeo, because I believe it does a great job illustrating how a roper can ensnare, debilitate, and capture with great speed and skill. Substitute the calf for a foe roped off his horse or a footman pulled off his feet, and substitute the tying at the end for spearing, shooting with an arrow, or even just dragging them. I think anyone roped like that would be hard-pressed to cut the rope and free themselves before having serious damage done to them.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fM4okaamV2o

"This skill," asked Kazan, "is it the horse's or the man's?" "The man's, lord," they said. "No! If the horse did not play its part the man could not vaunt himself; the skill belongs to the horse."
Kitabi Dede Korkut
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Ruel A. Macaraeg





Joined: 25 Aug 2003

Posts: 306

PostPosted: Sat 15 Jun, 2013 2:20 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

According to Zamoyski (1987), the "wings" of the Polish hussar cavalry "had the added advantage of preventing Tatars eager for ransom from lassoing the Polish riders in a melee" (p56). If accurate, this would be evidence of lasso use as late as the close of the 17th century.

http://www.forensicfashion.com/1683PolishNoble.html , s.v. "Armor"

Re: The Mongols, Heath (1978) says, when describing 13th century heavy cavalry, "Other arms were lasso, dagger, and lance, the latter often with a small hook below the head to pull enemy horsemen from the saddle" (p105).

http://www.forensicfashion.com/1234MongolHeavyCavalry.html , s.v. "Spear"

Hope this helps, r

http://ForensicFashion.com/CostumeStudies.html
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S Ghajar




Location: Fort Collins
Joined: 14 Jun 2013

Posts: 12

PostPosted: Sat 15 Jun, 2013 2:46 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks Mr. Macaraeg, that page on Mongolian armaments was really, really interesting. Let me also say that as a Qajar, I very much enjoyed your Forensic Fashion page on Qajar cavalry!

I looked for firsthand accounts of Mongol horsemen using the lasso against knights, but the most I found was a tangential mention of Mameluke training having included ways to make oneself less rope-able. I'm sure there's a primary source somewhere about it but I haven't found one yet.

Regarding hussars, I've always thought the lasso argument was a bit dubious--adding two large vertical appendages to a target just means there are two more things for the rope to snag and pull, though it is a bit more difficult to aim shots upwards than downwards when roping (but not enough to thwart someone with more than mediocre skill). Perhaps if they were sharpened or detachable it would work against ropes to an extent, but otherwise it wouldn't do a whole lot against someone who presumably has been roping for years.

Thanks again for the references, and feel free to PM me anytime about Qajar topics Big Grin

"This skill," asked Kazan, "is it the horse's or the man's?" "The man's, lord," they said. "No! If the horse did not play its part the man could not vaunt himself; the skill belongs to the horse."
Kitabi Dede Korkut
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Ruel A. Macaraeg





Joined: 25 Aug 2003

Posts: 306

PostPosted: Sun 16 Jun, 2013 9:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you for your kind words! I hope my modest Qajar efforts don't strain credibility too far; much of my kit is still rather speculative. After a few events it's suffered some wear&tear, and I've had to take it out of circulation for some much-needed repairs.

I agree with you in doubting the wings' function as anti-lasso defenses. If Polish hussars functioned tactically as cuirassiers, only charging in formation, there wouldn't have been many opportunities for light cavalry opponents to rope them in any event.

I'll try to think of other situations where the lasso was used as a weapon, as I'm sure they're out there, and it's an understudied weapon. Bolas were mentioned above, and there's this famous image of an Argentine gaucho reproduced on the cover of Slatta 1992:

http://ForensicFashion.com/CostumeStudies.html
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Lewis Ballard




Location: Houston, TX
Joined: 27 Dec 2009

Posts: 66

PostPosted: Sun 16 Jun, 2013 12:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This is just from a novel, or a series of novels, and thus not direct evidence, but in Henryk Sienkewicz' "Trilogy" (composed of "With Fire and Sword," "The Deluge" and "Col. Wolodyjowski"), set in the 17th century (during the Khmelnitsky rebellion, the Swedish invasion, and the Turkish invasion of 1671), Tatar troops are frequently described as using the lasso or lariat.
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Ruel A. Macaraeg





Joined: 25 Aug 2003

Posts: 306

PostPosted: Mon 17 Jun, 2013 11:52 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lewis, did any of those described passages make it into the film adaptations of those novels? It would be interesting to see, as those movies have a great reputation for their cinematography and attention to historical detail.
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Lewis Ballard




Location: Houston, TX
Joined: 27 Dec 2009

Posts: 66

PostPosted: Mon 17 Jun, 2013 4:35 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I know that the opening scene of "With Fire and Sword" featured Khmelnitsky being lassoed several times by faux Tatars, and I think (but am not certain) that there was some lasso action in "The Deluge" and "Col. Wolydowjski." (I am an unabashed fan of both the novels and Jerzy Hoffman's films based upon them.)
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Iagoba Ferreira





Joined: 15 Sep 2008

Posts: 154

PostPosted: Tue 18 Jun, 2013 10:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Fiore's roped pole weapon...
http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=6217

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