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Charles E Nicklies




Location: Barony of the Flame
Joined: 26 Oct 2013

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PostPosted: Sat 02 Nov, 2013 11:11 am    Post subject: Daggers for everyday carry?         Reply with quote

Greetings! I just joined this forum and I'm putting the finishing touches of my soft kit for a 12th-century Norman in Sicily. Although I have a PhD in Medieval art and architecture, I'm a relative newbie to the areas of historical arms and clothing.

My question today is about the use of daggers. Does anyone know of any literary or visual evidence of a dagger being carried or used in non-military venues? I'm thinking alonf the lines of something used for personsal protection, similar to how a civilian might carry a handgun today. From what I've been able to piece together from my research (which includes some of the other links on this forum), is that our knowledge of daggers before the 13th century is very scant. And it seems that every mention of them that I've been able to find suggests that daggers were used in purely military cotexts as a supplement to the sword. However, considering the relatviely violent character of rhe medieval period, it just seems reasonable to me that a dagger would have been an attactive option for everyday carry.

But what do you think?
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Mark Griffin




Location: The Welsh Marches, in the hills above Newtown, Powys.
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PostPosted: Sat 02 Nov, 2013 1:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

My gut feeling is that it would be pretty unusual not to carry a side knife/dagger if you were a male out and about in the early medieval period. Not just for defence but for everything else it lends itself to. They are not just defensive, they are utilitarian all rounders.

For that period a simle whittel tang would do nicely. I'm not that up on the med but the Museum of london 'knives and scabbards' book has a few early examples and Toby Capwell's book on knives etc is probably worth a look. Think osprey cover the period too as does Dr David Nicolle in his volumes on crusader arms and armour, that certainly covers Italy and its surroundings.
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Bjorn Hagstrom




Location: Höör, Skane
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PostPosted: Sat 02 Nov, 2013 2:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

For that specific time period, daggers seem rahter scarce.
I would respectfully like to oppose you Mark.

The wearing of a dagger (as opposed to a smaller knife) would be considered offensive, in the same manner as it is today. While legal in some places, walking about wearing a 10 inch blade or a sidearm signals that you are expecting or seeking trouble. And unless in a inherent violent setting, that will always be frowned upon by the community around you.

I think we are way too focused on the martial aspects of the medieval society (but naturally, since we are here just becaues of our interest in arms, armour, combat and conflict) and while violence and conflict was probably more common then, than it is now, violence would still be exception to the norm. Otherwise society would have collapsed. And the 11th-12th century in western Europe sees a boom of progress that I would assume would not be possible in a thoroughly violent society..

There is nothing quite as sad as a one man conga-line...
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Mark Moore




Location: East backwoods-assed Texas
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PostPosted: Sat 02 Nov, 2013 4:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here's another Mark who would politely oppose you, Bjorn. I think most any early person would have carried a blade of some type. Not necessarily a dagger, but a good strong knife. They were not looking for a fight, they were looking for a meal. It's almost 2014, and I personally carry a lockblade pocket knife and usually a substancial fixed blade with me whenever I go into an urban area. I'm not looking to hurt anyone, but I,m not looking to get hurt either. Most early commoners would not be able to afford a dagger of any note. They would most likely be carrying something like a simple seax. ..........McM
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Charles E Nicklies




Location: Barony of the Flame
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PostPosted: Sat 02 Nov, 2013 5:23 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks, Mark and Bjorn.

You both make good points. I understand the ubiquity of the small utility knife (in fact, I've already purchased one for my kit). And I do agree with Bjorn that Hollywood and romances have probably made us believe that violence was much more rampant in the Middle Ages that it really was (sort of like the way many Europeans think that the US is a much more violent place than it really is). But it also seems indisputable that people--including the elite--were more likely to resolve their difference through violence than we are accustomed to. From this perspective alone, I do wonder why nobles did not arm themselves with something like a dagger on a daily basis; however, the evidence I have encountered suggests that they did not. (Perhaps Bjorn is correct in assuming that medieval societies would have look unfavorably on armed citizens walking around during times of peace.)

From my reading, I can't remember any instance from the primary sources of the Byzantine or Norman periods (the periods in which I am most familiar) that describes an individual deploying a dagger (or any other sort of knife) to defend himself. For instance, in Hugo Falcandus' description of the assisination of Maio of Bari in Palermo (in 1160) by Matthew Bonellus, Maio evades the first thrust of Matthew's sword by dodging it, but he does not produce any sort of arms to defend himself, despite that fact that he had just been warned of Matthew's ambush. Moreover, Maio, who held the highest position in the Sicilian realm next to the king, is described as walking about the streets of Palermo at night accompanied only by the Archibishop of Messina! Perhaps 12th-century Palermo was a safer place than I myself can imagine.

At any rate, the real reason for my post to see if anyone here can call to mind any written description or visual portrayal of civilian magnates arming themselves with something like a dagger for personal proctection. I would have thought it to have been fairly common; but apparenlty I am wrong.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Sat 02 Nov, 2013 10:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The reality is that daggers are nearly non-existent during the 11th and 12th centuries. Primary sources make no mention of them. Even in cases where the object used might have been a dagger (like the writer who comments on how boldly a cleric joins a fray in Paris in the latter portion of the 12th C; I cannot recall who wrote this) the text only mentions a “knife”. As further evidence, look at historical artwork from this time. A good starting resource is http://manuscriptminiatures.com. Likewise, check out David Nicolle's Arms and Armour of the Crusading Era Volume One, which has line drawings of art from this time. I am sure you are aware of other resources as well.

There are a very small number surviving antique daggers dated to the 12th C, and I have found evidence of daggers in an 11th century edition of Rabanus Maurus produced in Monte Cassino. However, there's really not much else. Therefore, as much as I might like to have a dagger or even a knife for a 12th century kit, (whether dressed for war or court), the historical evidence suggests it is an anachronism.
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Bjorn Hagstrom




Location: Höör, Skane
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PostPosted: Sun 03 Nov, 2013 1:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mark Moore wrote:
Here's another Mark who would politely oppose you, Bjorn. I think most any early person would have carried a blade of some type. Not necessarily a dagger, but a good strong knife. They were not looking for a fight, they were looking for a meal. It's almost 2014, and I personally carry a lockblade pocket knife and usually a substancial fixed blade with me whenever I go into an urban area. I'm not looking to hurt anyone, but I,m not looking to get hurt either. Most early commoners would not be able to afford a dagger of any note. They would most likely be carrying something like a simple seax. ..........McM


Polite opposition is what I love about this site Happy

And I think it is useful to make the distinction between utility knife and fighting knife, even if the line may indeed be fuzzy, and vary in time place and culture. For example as a Scandinavian, my frame of reference for a utility knife is the puukko-style blade. For me a bowie-style blade just feels awkward and I would not know how to handle it properly. And around these parts, seeing someone with a puukko in the pocket does not really raise an eyebrow (unless you have it in the belt of your dress pants with a shirt and tie or something like that..) However if you saw someone with a Bowie that is not in hunting gear, that would be a notable thing.

But Knife-blades turn up in the archaeological material all the time in settlements, so where clearly accessible to "common people" And also interesting to note is that their livelihood was dependent on dagger-size blades!

Keeping livestock fed over the winters require gathering of hay, leavf-filled branches from coppiced trees and so on.
So the commoner would most certainly have valued and treasured sickles, scythes, froes and Leaf-knife.

The dagger as a fashion statement, or defense appear in later time and places though. 15th century artwork and onwards show them a lot, both in Urban settings and Hunting context. But it is interesting that there is marked lack of finds and images of daggers in the period where the viking age ends and the high middle ages.

There is nothing quite as sad as a one man conga-line...
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Harry Marinakis




PostPosted: Sun 03 Nov, 2013 4:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Charles,

I spent a great deal of time researching this very question for my 12th C persona. Truth is, the 12th C is a very difficult period to research and there is not a lot of data. You and I both picked a bad period for our persona. (:

My research concluded that daggers did not exist in the 12th C. Daggers (in the form with which we are familiar) developed in the 13th C to look like little quillon swords. As armor improved, tools were developed to penetrate that armor, and the long, thin, pointed dagger developed to breach gaps in armor and maille.

During the 10th-11th C people used the seax as fighting knife. There was no such thing as a "dagger."

The 12th C seems to be a blank spot on the map of daggers and fighting knives. If you search online museum collections and illuminated manuscripts for 12th C knives, you'll find dozens and dozens of 11th C knives and 13th C daggers - but almost nothing from the 12th C.

A search of 12th C illuminated manuscripts also reveals that there are no depictions of someone carrying a knife in addition to a sword. In fact, I was unable to find any manuscript images from the 11th C, either, that depicted a knife as a side arm. Whether this means that fighting knives were not carried, or that illuminators didn't bother to depict knives, will never be known.

You may find some references to daggers that are dated to the 12th C but if you do your homework you'll see that these references are wrong or unsubstantiated (they are really 13th C daggers).

Although swords of the 12th C were no longer being made using pattern-welding techniques, knives of the 12th C were generally made that way. Typically the better knives had a wrought iron back, a pattern-welded blade and a steel edge.

In summary - (1) Daggers did not exist in the 12th C, a seax was the knife of the times. (2) There are no depictions of warriors carrying a knife as a side arm in the 12th C.
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Charles E Nicklies




Location: Barony of the Flame
Joined: 26 Oct 2013

Posts: 3

PostPosted: Sun 03 Nov, 2013 9:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks, everyone, for your informative replies. It looks to me like you are all mostly in agreement on the basic point that there was really no equivalent to the snubby revolver in the 12th century. Wink

But you gotta love the 12th century even in this regard:. The voice inside my head is now telling me that instead of getting a dagger, I need to start saving for a nice period sword from Albion or A&A. Big Grin
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Sun 03 Nov, 2013 6:53 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Harry Marinakis wrote:
Daggers (in the form with which we are familiar) developed in the 13th C to look like little quillon swords.


There are 13th century Swiss daggers that look nothing like little quillon swords.

Happy

ChadA

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Harry Marinakis




PostPosted: Mon 04 Nov, 2013 5:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Chad Arnow wrote:
There are 13th century Swiss daggers that look nothing like little quillon swords.

I'm interested! Can you supply a reference for me to look at?

Thanks
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Mon 04 Nov, 2013 6:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Harry Marinakis wrote:
Chad Arnow wrote:
There are 13th century Swiss daggers that look nothing like little quillon swords.

I'm interested! Can you supply a reference for me to look at?

Thanks


Sure. There are a number of them in the Schweizerisches Landesmuseum. There are a couple dozen daggers in a catalogue they once published that they dated to the second half of the 13th century.

Happy

ChadA

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Radovan Geist




Location: Slovakia
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PostPosted: Mon 04 Nov, 2013 6:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

the issue of "daggers in 12th (and 11th) century has been discussed in this thread few years back: http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=11375
It includes a picture of daggers that are presumably from the 12th century - do you think they are from a later period?
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Harry Marinakis




PostPosted: Thu 07 Nov, 2013 4:59 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Radovan Geist wrote:

It includes a picture of daggers that are presumably from the 12th century - do you think they are from a later period?

Yeah, the quillon daggers in the photos are definitely 13th C - apparently the museum display had them labelled as 12 C and later changed the label to 13 C, if I recall correctly from another thread.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Thu 07 Nov, 2013 8:42 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In support of what Harry wrote, both of the pommels on the daggers appear to be similar to Oakeshott Type Ks. Pommels of this type, and similar types (Type I, Type J) are associated with the 13th century and later. I have seen some examples of what appear to be pommels of these types on swords in the 12th century found in art, but I'm not not aware of unambiguous surviving examples, save for perhaps some swords that might be from the 1190s or later. In other words, the pommels indicate a 13th century date for the daggers, rather than a 12th century date.
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Radovan Geist




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PostPosted: Thu 07 Nov, 2013 9:52 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Craig, Harry, thanks for your replies. that´s what I was thinking, but the info in that old thread puzzled me a bit
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