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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Fri 28 Feb, 2014 4:03 pm    Post subject: Striking with the Back Spike or Beak         Reply with quote

Hello all. I'm looking for historical evidence of strikes with the back spikes or beaks of halberds and similar weapons. Folks today at times theorize that these spikes perpendicular to the shaft functioned as picks for piercing armor, while others insist this wasn't their purpose. I recall seeing an image of soldiers on the battlefield swinging halberds with beaks forward in apparently pick fashion. Does anyone know of this image? I believe I saw it on this site.
Read my historically inspired fantasy fiction in here. I walk along a winding path set by Ludovico Ariosto, William Morris, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Ursula Le Guin.

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
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Marik C.S.




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PostPosted: Sat 01 Mar, 2014 12:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Does the spike on a lucerne hammer count? Images of that can be found for example in Talhoffers manuscripts, but that - unlike your other examples - os not a spike opposite a blade
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Mark Griffin




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PostPosted: Sat 01 Mar, 2014 3:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

well if a sharp beak/fluke on a weapon isn't designed for doing a target in front of you some damage, no matter what they are wearing, what is it for? Opening beer bottles around the campfire? What are the alternatives being suggested? My take is that it delivers the same force in a smaller area so ideal for bringing down on helmets and shoulders etc.
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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Sat 01 Mar, 2014 5:43 am    Post subject: Re: Striking with the Back Spike or Beak         Reply with quote

Benjamin H. Abbott wrote:
Hello all. I'm looking for historical evidence of strikes with the back spikes or beaks of halberds and similar weapons. Folks today at times theorize that these spikes perpendicular to the shaft functioned as picks for piercing armor, while others insist this wasn't their purpose. I recall seeing an image of soldiers on the battlefield swinging halberds with beaks forward in apparently pick fashion. Does anyone know of this image? I believe I saw it on this site.


Hmm not really what your searching for I believe but on some pictures it appears as if the the disabled opponent tried to use the spike.

http://www.angelfire.com/planet/megalophias/thottcounter.jpg

If your strike is blocked you could potentially twist your halberd and use the spike/hook to jerk and grab the weapon of the enemy. I think it was primarily used in this fashion to grab or hook something like a billhook.

http://www.angelfire.com/planet/megalophias/talbindbehind.jpg


This is historical but somewhat late

This vintage woodcut engraving depicts two medieval knights in combat. Made by an unknown artist, this facsimile was published in an 1879 history of costume and is now in the public domain. Digital restoration by Steven Wynn Photography.

http://images.tribe.net/tribe/upload/photo/ab...fdbf4c547d
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Sat 01 Mar, 2014 7:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mark Griffin wrote:
well if a sharp beak/fluke on a weapon isn't designed for doing a target in front of you some damage, no matter what they are wearing, what is it for? Opening beer bottles around the campfire? What are the alternatives being suggested? My take is that it delivers the same force in a smaller area so ideal for bringing down on helmets and shoulders etc.


Hooking and tearing, which appear in at least Talhoffer, Paulus Kal, and di Grassi. Hugh Knight and at least one other member here have argued in the past that back spikes weren't used for strikes intended to punch through armor.

Read my historically inspired fantasy fiction in here. I walk along a winding path set by Ludovico Ariosto, William Morris, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Ursula Le Guin.

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
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Victor R.




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PostPosted: Sat 01 Mar, 2014 12:36 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Having never fought with such a weapon, I can only give reasoned speculation. However, with a multi-faceted weapon such as a halberd, as with any multi-purpose tool, each aspect has its "best use". In a melee situation, when you're fighting for that next split-second to escape a bad scenario or to gain advantage over your opponent, you will strike with whatever portion of the weapon is poised to give the blow, whether blade, beak, spike, flat or butt. Whether a strike of the beak will penetrate your opponent's armor is, I believe, more dependent upon the shape of the beak and whether the point is perpendicular to the force of the blow or not.

A beak whose point is generally perpendicular to the shaft would be more likely to act as a punch to penetrate armor than one that curves downward. While the curved beak would deliver concussive force, I would suspect that penetrative force would be unlikely - much like striking sheet steel with a ball-peen hammer.

As has been noted in other posts and throughout other discussions, one of the primary benefits ("the" primary benefit?) of the beak is hooking: you could hook an opponent off of a horse, an elevated position, take him off of his feet or, in the context of damaging his armor, by hitting a gap in the plates and ripping forward, potentially creating a larger gap, cutting a strap or pulling the bit of armor off altogether - especially if other damage has already been sustained.

While I wouldn't expect the beak of my halberd to be the most effective of the various aspects of the weapon against well-made plate armor, I suspect part of my training would be to exploit every aspect of my weapon to achieve the greatest damage on my opponent, and that I would know how to spot the opportunities to use each of those aspects. And, as I noted at the beginning, regardless of "intended" purpose, when you're fighting for your life, you use what you have and strike as best you can, whether it be with the beak or the blade. Taking that extra split second to turn the "better" portion of the weapon to strike with the surface primarily intended for the purpose could be the difference between life and death: "Today we mourn Sir Technical, horrifically dismembered in battle. He was unable to survive the fight, but his form was impeccable!"
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Ben Coomer




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PostPosted: Sat 01 Mar, 2014 1:27 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Note that I am pretty new with them, but I have been going over Paulus Hector Mair's polearms and was kind of struck by how little the back spike of the halberds and poleaxes are actually used.

Now it might be that its particular use wasn't considered radically different than the blade in hooking or piercing or strikes so Mair didn't feel it necessary to include. This would fit his manual that starts with staffs (short and long) and builds on to spears and polearms from those techniques. If he didn't consider there was anything "new" with the spikes, then I doubt he would have included it.

Or maybe, the spike is just a counter balance to the blade and actually rarely used. The blade part of a halberd in particular is much heavier than its spike which may make it hard to deliver strikes with it. It would tend to twist away as the center of gravity is in the blade. This probably wouldn't be such a deal with the poleaxes I've seen, but may be something to consider.
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Sun 02 Mar, 2014 6:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ben,

I guess the biggest issue I see is what about the ones that one have the spikes? Only spikes. Two of them. The RA has quite a few. They have no other offensive faces. What good is a weapon that is only good for hooking or damaging armour if you cannot finish the fight?

They could have made a far more useful second face if it was just for balance.

Ben A,

I am not convinced it was not something it could be used for but I think usually the business end is the axe or hammer face. Less room for error.

RPM
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Sun 02 Mar, 2014 7:13 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Could you post an image of one of these polearms with two spikes?

According to Sydney Anglo, Massario wrote that the spikes on cavalry hammers and axes could damage armor and were effective against armor, but that hammers and axes were mainly used in personal fighting because of the difficulty of both making a blow and recovering the weapon after a blow. It'd love to see the original text or a good English translation, but it sounds as if pick blows with spikes tended to get stuck if they penetrated armor.

Read my historically inspired fantasy fiction in here. I walk along a winding path set by Ludovico Ariosto, William Morris, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Ursula Le Guin.

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
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Phil D.




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PostPosted: Sun 02 Mar, 2014 8:25 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hammers at least (not halberds) seem to be illustrated as being used for piercing...
"A bottle of wine contains more philosophy than all the books in the world." -- Louis Pasteur

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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Sun 02 Mar, 2014 9:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Phil D. wrote:
Hammers at least (not halberds) seem to be illustrated as being used for piercing...


Using the spike side to hit someone in the head would solve the problem of it getting stuck since the opponent would not prove much of a resistance with his brain smashed to pulp. However if you use it against something like the breast plate the thick padded gambeson and the natural curvature of of the breastplate would probably neutralize the blow or prevent it from outright killing/incapacitating someone. I could see someone use a hammer with pick when fighting in a grappling manner or when you are on horseback and get to trade about one or two blows with the other person. If you want to hit someone with the pick side you better make sure it kills him outright or disables his arms by hitting him in the collarbone area.
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Kel Rekuta




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PostPosted: Sun 02 Mar, 2014 2:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Its a short dagger on a stick. Target the joints in plate, where there is mail. If it skips off, hook with the return stroke.
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Ben Coomer




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PostPosted: Sun 02 Mar, 2014 7:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Randall Moffett wrote:
Ben,

I guess the biggest issue I see is what about the ones that one have the spikes? Only spikes. Two of them. The RA has quite a few. They have no other offensive faces. What good is a weapon that is only good for hooking or damaging armour if you cannot finish the fight?

RPM


If it didn't have anything but spikes, it wouldn't have a blade to throw it off...

Personally I think that on halberds, the spikes were useful offensive parts, but I don't think they were the anti-armor part of the weapon and am throwing out an alternative explanations. Just going by the halberds I've seen, the back spike doesn't strike me as really armor piercing. Usually pretty flat, wide, and not reinforced, while the spike on top fits that bill a lot better. Hooking and dragging, or piercing cloth armored fighters, but anti-armor? Not really.

Of course, I am only going by my limited experience, and certainly halberd designs were pretty varied, so I will gladly bow to greater expertise.
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E.B. Erickson
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PostPosted: Mon 03 Mar, 2014 4:06 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Just thought I'd throw this info into the stew: some halberds, especially those of the late 1500s -early 1600s, have their backspikes thickened at the point. This same treatment is seen on pikes of the same time frame. Both intended for piercing armor.

Interestingly, sometimes the upper points of the axe blade on these halberds is also thickened as well.

--ElJay
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Thu 10 Jul, 2014 2:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here is the image I was looking for, from the Chronicon Helvetiae.


Read my historically inspired fantasy fiction in here. I walk along a winding path set by Ludovico Ariosto, William Morris, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Ursula Le Guin.

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
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John Hardy




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PostPosted: Thu 10 Jul, 2014 6:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Victor R. wrote:
Having never fought with such a weapon, I can only give reasoned speculation. However, with a multi-faceted weapon such as a halberd, as with any multi-purpose tool, each aspect has its "best use". In a melee situation, when you're fighting for that next split-second to escape a bad scenario or to gain advantage over your opponent, you will strike with whatever portion of the weapon is poised to give the blow, whether blade, beak, spike, flat or butt. Whether a strike of the beak will penetrate your opponent's armor is, I believe, more dependent upon the shape of the beak and whether the point is perpendicular to the force of the blow or not.

A beak whose point is generally perpendicular to the shaft would be more likely to act as a punch to penetrate armor than one that curves downward. While the curved beak would deliver concussive force, I would suspect that penetrative force would be unlikely - much like striking sheet steel with a ball-peen hammer.

As has been noted in other posts and throughout other discussions, one of the primary benefits ("the" primary benefit?) of the beak is hooking: you could hook an opponent off of a horse, an elevated position, take him off of his feet or, in the context of damaging his armor, by hitting a gap in the plates and ripping forward, potentially creating a larger gap, cutting a strap or pulling the bit of armor off altogether - especially if other damage has already been sustained.

While I wouldn't expect the beak of my halberd to be the most effective of the various aspects of the weapon against well-made plate armor, I suspect part of my training would be to exploit every aspect of my weapon to achieve the greatest damage on my opponent, and that I would know how to spot the opportunities to use each of those aspects. And, as I noted at the beginning, regardless of "intended" purpose, when you're fighting for your life, you use what you have and strike as best you can, whether it be with the beak or the blade. Taking that extra split second to turn the "better" portion of the weapon to strike with the surface primarily intended for the purpose could be the difference between life and death: "Today we mourn Sir Technical, horrifically dismembered in battle. He was unable to survive the fight, but his form was impeccable!"


Actually, the downward pointing spike may well be more effective than one that is directly perpendicular to the haft. The reason is that most blows with a long polearm are NOT struck directly at right angles to the target - they hit at a 45 degree angle or less due to the length of the pole and the fact the blow is being directed either overhand from above or possibly underarm and up. The result is that 'downward pointing' beak actually ends up hitting almost square on, while a 'perpendicular spike' would in fact impact at an angle.

That is the reason that the famous knightly poleaxe that is number A926 in the Wallace Collection - the one reproduced almost exactly by Arms & Armour among others - has a hammerhead on the back that actually angles slightly downwards instead of straight out: when a blow is struck, that downward angled hammer hits perfectly flat on.

As for the use of the backspikes on poleaxes and halberds - according to some veteran soldiers from the Battle of Towton, they were used for striking as well as hooking. A few years ago, archaeologists excavated a mass grave dating from that War of the Roses battle. Detailed forensic examinations were performed on the bodies, which are discussed both in a book and in documentaries that can be found on YouTube. The cuts and punctures on the bones were compared to the blade profiles of period weapons from the RA's collections.

A number of the skulls, in particular, displayed very distinctive diamond-shaped punctures, which were found to match almost perfectly to the size and shape of the backspikes on two-handed poleaxes. Smaller puncture wounds were found to match the smaller spikes on single-handed warhammers.

Now, the circumstances of the burial strongly suggest that the soldiers in the grave were prisoners massacred after the battle rather than men killed in combat. Nevertheless, it seems to me that professionally-trained veteran soldiers are not going to kill prisoners by hitting them in the head with the back spikes on their weapons unless they are already trained to use those spikes in that fashion - as striking rather than hooking tools.
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Thu 10 Jul, 2014 6:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The image below from the same Chronicon Helvetiae interestingly shows halberds held both blade first and beak first:



Various other period images depict halberds blade first, such as this piece by Luzerner Schilling:



I'm not sure what to conclude. Artwork stands out as notoriously difficult source. The weight of the evidence suggests that historical warriors used both the blade and the beak to strike against armored foes. At the end of the sixteenth century, Sir John Smythe repeatedly emphasized that his ideal halberds would have long straight edges and that halberdiers would carry all to the ground via blow at the head and thrust at the face. In one sentence he also mentioned that ideal halberds would have "good piques backward." It's possible he envisioned halberdiers striking at the head with both the blade and the beak.

Read my historically inspired fantasy fiction in here. I walk along a winding path set by Ludovico Ariosto, William Morris, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Ursula Le Guin.

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
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John Hardy




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PostPosted: Thu 10 Jul, 2014 7:47 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Benjamin H. Abbott wrote:
The image below from the same Chronicon Helvetiae interestingly shows halberds held both blade first and beak first:



Various other period images depict halberds blade first, such as this piece by Luzerner Schilling:



I'm not sure what to conclude. Artwork stands out as notoriously difficult source. The weight of the evidence suggests that historical warriors used both the blade and the beak to strike against armored foes. At the end of the sixteenth century, Sir John Smythe repeatedly emphasized that his ideal halberds would have long straight edges and that halberdiers would carry all to the ground via blow at the head and thrust at the face. In one sentence he also mentioned that ideal halberds would have "good piques backward." It's possible he envisioned halberdiers striking at the head with both the blade and the beak.


This all sort of reminds me of a Western movie I saw (I can't remember the name). Two characters are talking:

#1: "You shot him in the back!"
#2: "Well, his back was to me...."

Maybe the use of a halberd/poleaxe was much the same...
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Robert Leach




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PostPosted: Fri 11 Jul, 2014 3:05 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I've seen pictures on the 'net said to be from Visby of skulls with neat, diamond shaped holes in them.........

(ouch)

Apparently finishing hits on the wounded.
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John Hardy




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PostPosted: Fri 11 Jul, 2014 3:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Robert Leach wrote:
I've seen pictures on the 'net said to be from Visby of skulls with neat, diamond shaped holes in them.........

(ouch)

Apparently finishing hits on the wounded.


"Oh well ... chivalry, don't you know?"

Actually, I'm pretty sure those skulls are from Towton. IIRC, most of the dead from Visby were recovered still wearing their armour, including mail coifs.
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