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Adam M.M.





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PostPosted: Sun 06 Sep, 2015 11:14 am    Post subject: Spear vs. Spear and shield in single combat         Reply with quote

This is something I've been pondering for a while; in unarmoured single combat with spears, is it worth giving up the leverage of a two-handed grip for the protection of a shield? I know that spears were predominantly used with shields in battle but that's obviously quite a different context.
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Sun 06 Sep, 2015 7:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

If you mean using the same spear one-handed or two-handed, then it depends on the details (including the kind of shield). E.g., for an iklwa (the short Zulu close-combat spear), stay one-handed and use a shield. For a long heavy spear, stay two-handed. But mostly, I think two-handed.

If it's a choice between a spear designed for one-handed use with a shield, and a spear designed for two-handed use, I'd bet on the two-handed spear.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Adam M.M.





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PostPosted: Mon 07 Sep, 2015 4:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Timo Nieminen wrote:
If you mean using the same spear one-handed or two-handed, then it depends on the details (including the kind of shield). E.g., for an iklwa (the short Zulu close-combat spear), stay one-handed and use a shield. For a long heavy spear, stay two-handed. But mostly, I think two-handed.


Ah, right, should've specified that. I was thinking of a 6-8' spear that can be used either one- or two-handed. For shields I was thinking of the kind usually used with spears in the Early Middle Ages. Round shields and kite shields basically.

Timo Nieminen wrote:
If it's a choice between a spear designed for one-handed use with a shield, and a spear designed for two-handed use, I'd bet on the two-handed spear.


Can you elaborate on why? From what I've heard and seen two-handed spear is roughly equal to sword and shield, and assegai and shield seems to me like it'd be much the same.
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Andrew Gill





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PostPosted: Mon 07 Sep, 2015 5:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

[quote="Adam M.M."]
Timo Nieminen wrote:


Timo Nieminen wrote:
If it's a choice between a spear designed for one-handed use with a shield, and a spear designed for two-handed use, I'd bet on the two-handed spear.


Can you elaborate on why? From what I've heard and seen two-handed spear is roughly equal to sword and shield, and assegai and shield seems to me like it'd be much the same.


Adam: I would also like to know how Timo came to this conclusion; I In the meanwhile, here's what I could figure out myself.

From George Silver's point of view, the argument in favour of the two-handed spearman would probably run along these lines (I think):
The two-handed spearman has essentially got a quarterstaff of roughly the true length (8 feet) with which he can both strike and thrust, with the advantage of a pointy bit to thrust more effectively with. He also has the ability to strike more powerful blows, and has better leverage as already noted. The spear-and-shield man cannot use his spear to strike blows effectively (or to parry with it) with because he's using it one-handed, nor can he attack from as many angles as the two-handed spearman, because the shield gets in the way, and as already mentioned, he is limited to thrusting attacks. The piece of the spear haft sticking out behind his weapon hand (probably nearly half of it, for the sake of balance - certainly hopolites on greek vases seem to have about this much) could also get in the way. Certainly, the spear and shield is a much less versatile combination than a sword and shield (although it may offer slightly greater reach than most one-handed swords), and lacks the reach of the two-handed weapon.

Now leaving George Silver behind for a moment, I think that there are some factors which might improve the chances for the spear-and-shield man. I think that one advantage would be that early medieval shields were usually a bit larger than early 17th century targets, so they'd probably cover more than one opening effectively. Another is that unlike the targets which Silver refers to, the roundshields and early kite shields are probably center-gripped, so they can probably be used with somewhat more versatility than a strapped shield - especially for offensive techniques like shield-bashes, or for trapping and controlling the enemy weapon. If the spear-and-shield man can control his opponent's weapon with his shield, and close distance enough to use his spear, he will probably be in the better position (although the butt of the two-handed spear will be useful in close-quarter fighting). If the two-handed spearman manages to control either one of his opponent's weapons, he will still have to consider the other while making his attack (although his greater reach will help somewhat).

A last point: spears can be thrown, and the shield will do a rather better job of deflecting a thrown spear than another spear (although the latter is not impossible).

Timo (and others): Please pull my above arguments apart if necessary.
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Mon 07 Sep, 2015 8:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Adam M.M. wrote:
Timo Nieminen wrote:
If it's a choice between a spear designed for one-handed use with a shield, and a spear designed for two-handed use, I'd bet on the two-handed spear.


Can you elaborate on why? From what I've heard and seen two-handed spear is roughly equal to sword and shield, and assegai and shield seems to me like it'd be much the same.


Unarmoured, I'd rate two-handed spear as superior to sword and shield. Not overwhelmingly superior (as it is compared to single sword), but still better. Like Andrew said, reach and leverage. Unarmoured, spear-and-shield's feet and head are vulnerable, and a two-handed spear can switch very quickly between such high and low targets. Thrust at (or feint at) the face, and then cut to the lower leg. Blocking with the shield in such a way as to cover the face means that line-of-sight will be lost; blocking without covering the face will leave openings.

To quote Silver, from "Paradoxes":
Quote:
The short staff or half pike, forest bill, partisan, or glaive, or such like weapons of perfect length, have the advantage against the battle axe, the halberd, the black bill, the two handed sword, the sword and target

(The half pike is our two-handed spear.)

Ideally, the two-handed spear should have wings or a crossbar or similar.

I wasn't considering throwing.

On the battlefield, you would want the shield, to stop arrows, etc.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Adam M.M.





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PostPosted: Tue 08 Sep, 2015 4:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Timo Nieminen wrote:
Adam M.M. wrote:
Timo Nieminen wrote:
If it's a choice between a spear designed for one-handed use with a shield, and a spear designed for two-handed use, I'd bet on the two-handed spear.


Can you elaborate on why? From what I've heard and seen two-handed spear is roughly equal to sword and shield, and assegai and shield seems to me like it'd be much the same.


Unarmoured, I'd rate two-handed spear as superior to sword and shield. Not overwhelmingly superior (as it is compared to single sword), but still better. Like Andrew said, reach and leverage. Unarmoured, spear-and-shield's feet and head are vulnerable, and a two-handed spear can switch very quickly between such high and low targets. Thrust at (or feint at) the face, and then cut to the lower leg. Blocking with the shield in such a way as to cover the face means that line-of-sight will be lost; blocking without covering the face will leave openings.

To quote Silver, from "Paradoxes":
Quote:
The short staff or half pike, forest bill, partisan, or glaive, or such like weapons of perfect length, have the advantage against the battle axe, the halberd, the black bill, the two handed sword, the sword and target

(The half pike is our two-handed spear.)

Ideally, the two-handed spear should have wings or a crossbar or similar.

I wasn't considering throwing.

On the battlefield, you would want the shield, to stop arrows, etc.


I've read of Silver's list of weapon advantages before, but much of it doesn't make sense to me. For example he assumes halberds will be shorter than things like glaives and partisans but they seem to have been about the same length on average. I'm also confounded by why he thinks the "forest bill" somehow has an advantage against all other weapons.

Speaking of Silver, does anyone know what exactly he's referring to by "forest bill", "black bill", "battle axe", and "two-handed sword"?
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Andrew Gill





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PostPosted: Tue 08 Sep, 2015 5:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As far as I know, the various bills he is referring to are varieties of the billhook-based polearm which the english used in the hundred-years war and some time after; something which actually looks a lot like a halberd, except with a hooked, concave cutting edge. The billhook was originally (and is still sometimes) used for cutting limbs of trees, which is probably why he calls it a forest bill. I'd also like to know exactly how a black bill differs from a forest bill, if at all. As to why it is supposed to be superior (asside from its length): like a halberd (what we understand as a halberd, anyway) it is very versatile - it can cut, thrust or hook, but part of his preference is probably because it was "a true english weapon" and he was a bit of a traditionalist and a bigot against foreigners.

Regarding the length of Silver's halberds, the fact that he groups them with battleaxes suggests to me that he was actually talking about weapons along the lines of the scots lochaber axe or the russian bardiche; these often have a shorter haft than other polearms, but have a long axe-like blade (usually with a sharp point for thrusting) and a hook at the back, so they are loosely similar to what we consider to be halberds in terms of "features" on the business end. (I think the similarity would be greatest with early halberds). Anyway, I get the impression that he wasn't too bothered by exactly what sort of head the polearm had (he says a quarterstaff with no head is very nearly as good as his beloved bill), as long as it was the right length, so he'd probably be happy with a nice 8 or 9 foot long continental halberd and group it with the other polearms of the true length.

Silver's two-handed sword is not a huge german-style zweihander; it is probably closer to a late-period longsword, as he mentions that the blade should be as long as that of his ideal one-handed sword (about one meter). In "Brief instructions" he also mentions some two-handed sword techniques in which one hand temporarily lets go for extra reach, and that it should therefore preferrably still be usable with one hand.
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Sep, 2015 2:15 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

While many halberds seem to have been seven or eight feet, others were in in the range recommended by Silver. Sir John Smythe thought halberds shouldn't be above six feet for the halberdiers intended to fight in the press. So there seems to be a school of thought in sixteenth-century England that considered around six feet the correct length for halberds, at least for fighting in formation. (Smythe recommended seven and half feet or more for the halberds of the halberdiers accompanying the shot, who often had to fight against multiple foes in loose formation.) Writing in the early sixteenth century, Machiavelli wrote that the shaft of the Swiss/German halberd was a little under six feet, which would imply a total weapon length of around seven feet, depending on the size of the head.

According to Paul Wagner, Silver's forest bill or Welsh hook looked like this. I'm not so sure about that exact head design - the forward point strikes me as too short and awkwardly positioned - but I suspect the general idea is correct.

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:
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Last edited by Benjamin H. Abbott on Wed 09 Sep, 2015 8:29 am; edited 2 times in total
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Andrew Gill





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PostPosted: Wed 09 Sep, 2015 12:52 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Benjamin: thanks for the information.

So there were shorter halberds as well. I hadn't seen them, but it makes sense. The other short axe-like polearms which I mentioned have heads functionally similar to a halberd, as already noted, and I can imagine that a shorter weapon would be handier than a long one when two opposing pike-formations made contact and what I've heard referred to as "the bad war" ensued.

Thanks for the picture of the bill. The bill replicas I've seen have generally been simpler (probably because they're earlier?), but functionally similar - there is a hooked concave blade on one side, a prong or hook on the back and a thrusting point on the end. I do know about the italian-style bills from roughly the same period as Silver, which look quite different (in detail, at least), and I know of one weapon in that style which was apparently of english manufacture - Silver must have frothed at the mouth about that! But I digress.
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Wed 09 Sep, 2015 4:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It looks like Silver's "forest bill" is lighter than the "black bill". This keeps it faster even though mounted on a longer haft. Of Silver's weapons of ideal length, it's the most versatile, being good for cutting, thrusting, hooking, trapping an opponent's weapon, hooking shields, etc., without being so heavy as to lose too much speed.

In a tight press, a shorter haft can be better. Silver notes the differences between single combat and the battlefield. The list quoted above is for single combat.

I think Silver would have liked the Italian bill. I think his main gripe was with losing students to Italian rapier teachers. If Spanish rapier was fashionable and stealing students from him and other English masters, he'd have complained about them. Economics, not nationalism.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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