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Kirk K.





Joined: 24 May 2016

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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2016 2:13 am    Post subject: Pole arms         Reply with quote

I recently became very interested in European Medieval and Rennisance pole arms. I quickly became overwhelmed with the variety of types. Further, types that look pretty much the same have different functions (cutters versus choppers, etc.). To add to the fun, they even have combination weapons with compound names.

So I came up with a sort of a 'pole arms for idiots' guide for myself, and decided to post it here. The descriptions are far from precise, but allow one to visualize the general form and function of the weapon. I left out the most obvious ones like 'spear' and 'pike'.

Pollaxe/Poleaxe = Battleaxe on a pole, with the axe blade on one side, a spike or hammer face on the opposite side, and usually a thrusting spike in the center
Pole Hammer = Just what it sound like
Pole Flail = pole with a short section of chain on the end attached to a heavy object (spiked ball, short iron rod or iron-shod piece of wood staff)
Halberd = poleaxe with a hooked instead of straight spike on the back
Glaive = big butcher knife on a pole
Military Fork = two-tined hay fork
Bill = brush hook on a pole with a thrusting spike and sideways-facing spike on the opposite side from the hook
Voulge = curved meat cleaver on a pole
Guisarme = spear with a pruning hook attached to the head
Fauchard = giant carpet knife on a pole, sometimes with a thusting spike
Svardstav = straight sword blade on a pole
Sovnya = curved sword blade on a pole
Partisan, Ranseur, Corseque, Spetum, Winged Spear = spear with forward-swept points on both sides of the spearpoint, almost like a trident
Bec de Corbin, Lucerne Hammer = warhammer on a pole with a short thrusting spike
Bardiche, Lochbar Axe = large curved axe blade on a pole
Goedendag = club on a heavy pole with a spearpoint on top
Morningstar = spiked mace head on a pole

Note: I am using the term 'hammer' in the modern sense; a heavy striking head designed for impact.

Hope this is helpful.


Last edited by Kirk K. on Wed 25 May, 2016 10:51 am; edited 1 time in total
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2016 3:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Every weapon is on a pole. The correct term is "pollaxe", not "poleaxe". What we call a "hammer" used to be called a "poll". A pollaxe is an axe with a poll on the back, it has nothing to do with the shaft.

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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2016 4:48 am    Post subject: warhammer and pollaxe         Reply with quote

What we call a "spike" or "pick" used to be called a "hammer". This is a good photo.



The weapon on the right is a warhammer. The hammer is the spikey part. The flat bludgeoning part is called a poll. Another name for this weapon is a pollhammer - a hammer with a poll.

The weapon on the left is a pollaxe - an axe with a poll.

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Leo Todeschini
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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2016 6:25 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Kirk,

Thanks very much for becoming part of the myArmoury community, a great place to find out to share information and thank you for starting with the sharing - Its always nice to give!

Dan could have been a little less terse and a bit more welcoming to a new guy on the block and to be balanced his assertions as to the nomenclature of hammers are not entirely held by all, so just add it to the growing pot of your knowledge and see what happens. I would agree though that it should be pollaxe, that said a nice 'idiots guide'

Tod

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Kirk K.





Joined: 24 May 2016

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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2016 10:45 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
Every weapon is on a pole. The correct term is "pollaxe", not "poleaxe". What we call a "hammer" used to be called a "poll". A pollaxe is an axe with a poll on the back, it has nothing to do with the shaft.
I looked into this.
Quote:
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pollaxe

^ The Oxford English Dictionary gives the following etymology, s.v. Poleaxe:

[ME. pollax, polax, Sc. powax = MDu. polaex, pollaex, MLG. and LG. polexe, pollexe (whence MSw. 15th c. polyxe, pulyxe, MDa. polöxe), f. pol, POLL n.1, Sc. pow, MDu., MLG. polle, pol head + AXE: cf. MDu. polhamer = poll-hammer, also a weapon of war. It does not appear whether the combination denoted an axe with a special kind of head, or one for cutting off or splitting the head of an enemy. In the 16th c. the word began to be written by some pole-axe (which after 1625 became the usual spelling), as if an axe upon a pole or long handle. This may have been connected with the rise of sense 2. Similarly, mod.Sw. pålyxa and Westphalian dial. pålexe have their first element = pole. Sense 3 may be a substitute for the earlier bole-axe, which was applied to a butcher's axe.]
If Whackapedia correctly quoted OD, then:

- 'Poleaxe' is in fact a correct historical term; one of several.
- 'Poll' meant 'head of the weapon', not an impact hammer face.
- A poleaxe/pollaxe is not limited to pole-mounted axes with an impact hammer face on the backside.

Of course popular usage may well vary among weapons experts, but when it comes to word definitions and their entymology, OD is the gold standard by Royal Decree. As they say, you can have your own opinions but you cannot have your own word definitions. Those are in the dicitionary. I did edit my first post for further clarity on terminology.


Last edited by Kirk K. on Wed 25 May, 2016 11:22 am; edited 2 times in total
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Kirk K.





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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2016 11:03 am    Post subject: Re: warhammer and pollaxe         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
What we call a "spike" or "pick" used to be called a "hammer". This is a good photo.



The weapon on the right is a warhammer. The hammer is the spikey part. The flat bludgeoning part is called a poll. Another name for this weapon is a pollhammer - a hammer with a poll.

The weapon on the left is a pollaxe - an axe with a poll.
From what I just read poking around the web, the definition you gave was the original one, but soon thereafter the definition expanded to encompass any pole weapon with a small axe blade on one side and a spike or impact hammer on the opposite side. Do you disagree with this?

Also, do you know at what time common terminology for a spike on the head of a weapon set at a right angle to the shaft changed from 'hammer' to 'spike' or 'pick', and when the term 'hammer' changed to its modern definition of an impact weapon? Just curious.

And since a hammer was a pick-like spike, then what was the proper Medieval term for a pole hammer (a sledgehammer-like head on a pole)? Would that be called a maul?
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Kirk K.





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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2016 11:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Leo Todeschini wrote:
Hi Kirk,

Thanks very much for becoming part of the myArmoury community, a great place to find out to share information and thank you for starting with the sharing - Its always nice to give!
Thanks! I have already learned much just reading a few threads.
----------
Quote:
Dan could have been a little less terse and a bit more welcoming to a new guy on the block and to be balanced his assertions as to the nomenclature of hammers are not entirely held by all, so just add it to the growing pot of your knowledge and see what happens.
No worries. I am a big boy, and I will not go into the corner to cry. Cool
----------
Quote:
I would agree though that it should be pollaxe
See my reponse to Dan above.
----------
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that said a nice 'idiots guide'
Tod
Thank you. I know I have much, much more to learn.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2016 4:21 pm    Post subject: Re: warhammer and pollaxe         Reply with quote

Kirk K. wrote:
From what I just read poking around the web, the definition you gave was the original one, but soon thereafter the definition expanded to encompass any pole weapon with a small axe blade on one side and a spike or impact hammer on the opposite side. Do you disagree with this?

Yes. The word "poll" has never changed in meaning. It literally means "head" even today. Most of the weapons that people think are pollaxes should really be classed as halberds. Once you get the original meaning of "hammer" and "poll" straight in your head, a lot of weird weapon terms start to make sense.

Quote:
Also, do you know at what time common terminology for a spike on the head of a weapon set at a right angle to the shaft changed from 'hammer' to 'spike' or 'pick', and when the term 'hammer' changed to its modern definition of an impact weapon? Just curious.

Nope. Would be interesting to find out.

Quote:
And since a hammer was a pick-like spike, then what was the proper Medieval term for a pole hammer (a sledgehammer-like head on a pole)? Would that be called a maul?

Yep. The word "mallet" literally means "little maul".

FWIW I never intended to be rude. I'm just an old grumpy guy who doesn't like typing so I tend to be terse with my posts. Welcome to myArmoury.

Author: Bronze Age Military Equipment, Pen and Sword Books


Last edited by Dan Howard on Wed 25 May, 2016 4:42 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Kirk K.





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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2016 4:35 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan, thanks for the replies and no worries. After decades on the internet I have skin as thick as a buff coat.

Dan Howard wrote:
Kirk K. wrote:
From what I just read poking around the web, the definition you gave was the original one, but soon thereafter the definition expanded to encompass any pole weapon with a small axe blade on one side and a spike or impact hammer on the opposite side. Do you disagree with this?

Yes. The word "poll" has never changed in meaning. It literally means "head" even today. Most of the weapons that people think are pollaxes should really be classed as halberds.
So if 'poll' means 'head' then 'pollaxe' would then mean literally 'head axe' or 'axehead', not 'axe with a hammer face on the back'.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2016 5:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Poll had a secondary meaning that specifically referred to what we would call a "hammer head". Once you get the original meaning of "poll" and "hammer" straight in your head, a lot of weird weapon terms start to make sense.
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Kirk K.





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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2016 5:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Okay, thanks. That makes sense.

Nothing can ever be simple, can it?
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Gregg Sobocinski




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PostPosted: Thu 26 May, 2016 10:40 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Polearms do indeed come in a variety of visual differences. Most effective classifications focus on manufacturing methods and development over time, and most weapons have multiple names and definitions through history. I recommend you read a book by Waldman - "Hafted Weapons in Medieval and Renaissance Europe". It's expensive, so you might need to borrow it from a university library. Sometimes your local library can borrow university books through an interlibrary loan program.

Some naming examples: Waldman defines a war hammer as having a metal head attached using straps/lagnets, which are nailed to the haft, not using an eye, like our modern tool hammers. A morgenstern and a mace may look the same, and have the same functionality, but the assembly may be different. A winged spear and a partisan may look similar, but the wings on the partisan are forged with the blade assembly, and not welded on. Examples abound, and a room of several experts will often use different terms.

It's complicated, for sure.
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Kirk K.





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PostPosted: Thu 26 May, 2016 4:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gregg Sobocinski wrote:
Polearms do indeed come in a variety of visual differences. Most effective classifications focus on manufacturing methods and development over time, and most weapons have multiple names and definitions through history. I recommend you read a book by Waldman - "Hafted Weapons in Medieval and Renaissance Europe". It's expensive, so you might need to borrow it from a university library. Sometimes your local library can borrow university books through an interlibrary loan program.
Not in local bookstores or libraries, even university libraries. Looking at the price, it will have to wait for better financial circumstances.
----------
Quote:
Some naming examples: Waldman defines a war hammer as having a metal head attached using straps/lagnets, which are nailed to the haft, not using an eye, like our modern tool hammers. A morgenstern and a mace may look the same, and have the same functionality, but the assembly may be different. A winged spear and a partisan may look similar, but the wings on the partisan are forged with the blade assembly, and not welded on. Examples abound, and a room of several experts will often use different terms. It's complicated, for sure.
Hopefully the general descriptions in my list still hold somewhat. Humans are endlessly inventive, leading to every combination imaginable, making classification and clear deliniation a real pain.
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J. Nicolaysen




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PostPosted: Fri 27 May, 2016 5:38 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The Waldman book is good, very interesting.

In the meantime, a small pamphlet with some nice information is "The halberd and other European Polearms 1300-1650" Many outlines of unusual polearms. There's a digital copy on the net somewhere, but here is where I bought it, to support the press: https://www.armscollecting.com/38-The-Halberd-and-other-European-Polearms-1300-1650.asp?id=4
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Dave Black




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PostPosted: Sat 28 May, 2016 5:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Kirk,

I've wasted more hours than was really good for me researching the etymology of pole axe vs poll axe and this is what I came up with.

It appears likely that the term pole axe is derived from the Old Norse word bulax/bolax/bolox which entered the English language presumably via Norse settlements across eastern England and southern Scotland. The initial form of the word seems to derived from the Norse word bolr (meaning the bole of a tree) combined Norse word for axe. So it would appear to describe a large axe used for felling trees or perhaps for trimming limbs from the trunk. Doubtless axes of this type would have often been pressed into service when war threatened.

In any event the term bulax is referenced in a number of documents ranging from the 13th to as late as the 15th century. The Lay of Octavian which is thought to have been a 14th century work references potters armed with bulaxs. Presumably linguistic shifts in middle English shifted the bol sound to a pol sound giving rise to the term polax or pollaxe, which then transitioned by the 17th century into the current form of pole axe.

Kirk K. wrote:
So if 'poll' means 'head' then 'pollaxe' would then mean literally 'head axe' or 'axehead', not 'axe with a hammer face on the back'.


That would appear unlikely to be the case because the head of an axe is called an axehead or simply a head and we know that poll in relation to an axe refers specifically to the back of the axe. The problem is the multitude of meanings associated with poll. We know that it means head, but it also refers to the crown of the head, the hair and to the neck. Poll derives from the Middle Dutch/French word polle which refers specifically to the hair of the head. Its certainly used in the KJ Bible in this context.

Anyway we know that in the past people anthromorphised axes by naming parts of the axe after parts of human anatomy. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axe

So we have the beard (front of the blade), cheeks, eye (the socket), belly (underside of the haft) etc plus the head which all makes me think that poll in this instance means neck. Thats just a wild guess on my part, but it would seem to make sense since we already have the term head as a descriptor.
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Kirk K.





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PostPosted: Sat 28 May, 2016 2:43 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dave Black. wrote:
Hi Kirk,

I've wasted more hours than was really good for me researching the etymology of pole axe vs poll axe and this is what I came up with.

It appears likely that the term pole axe is derived from the Old Norse word bulax/bolax/bolox which entered the English language presumably via Norse settlements across eastern England and southern Scotland. The initial form of the word seems to derived from the Norse word bolr (meaning the bole of a tree) combined Norse word for axe. So it would appear to describe a large axe used for felling trees or perhaps for trimming limbs from the trunk. Doubtless axes of this type would have often been pressed into service when war threatened.

In any event the term bulax is referenced in a number of documents ranging from the 13th to as late as the 15th century. The Lay of Octavian which is thought to have been a 14th century work references potters armed with bulaxs. Presumably linguistic shifts in middle English shifted the bol sound to a pol sound giving rise to the term polax or pollaxe, which then transitioned by the 17th century into the current form of pole axe.

Kirk K. wrote:
So if 'poll' means 'head' then 'pollaxe' would then mean literally 'head axe' or 'axehead', not 'axe with a hammer face on the back'.


That would appear unlikely to be the case because the head of an axe is called an axehead or simply a head and we know that poll in relation to an axe refers specifically to the back of the axe. The problem is the multitude of meanings associated with poll. We know that it means head, but it also refers to the crown of the head, the hair and to the neck. Poll derives from the Middle Dutch/French word polle which refers specifically to the hair of the head. Its certainly used in the KJ Bible in this context.

Anyway we know that in the past people anthromorphised axes by naming parts of the axe after parts of human anatomy. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axe

So we have the beard (front of the blade), cheeks, eye (the socket), belly (underside of the haft) etc plus the head which all makes me think that poll in this instance means neck. Thats just a wild guess on my part, but it would seem to make sense since we already have the term head as a descriptor.
Great research, thanks! It is also possible that usage varied regionally. What an Englishman called a pollaxe or poleax may be somewhat different than a weapon described with the same terms by an Italian. With geographically conflicting jargon that changes with time, trying to figure it all out makes my brain hurt.
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Tue 31 May, 2016 12:05 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I prefer to just ignore the distinction between "poleaxe," "pole-hammer," "pollaxe," "poll-hammer" or whatever since it doesn't really mean much from a martial arts perspective. The historical accounts and fighting manuals that mention or teach the use of these weapons generally called them "battle-axe," "hache," "azza," "Streitaxt," or the like, ignoring the distinction between the axe and the hammer and the spike; as a matter of fact, the vast majority of manuals for the "hache," "azza," or "Streitaxt" show weapons with a hammer-head, a spike, and a top spike/spearhead with no axe-head in sight despite the name.

Of course, if you're collecting weapons, you might have some use for a more detailed and more clearly (or rather rigidly) defined classification scheme. But I'm more interested in learning how they were used so such detailed classifications are frankly just irrelevant since they muddle things up more than they clarify.
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Terry Thompson




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PostPosted: Tue 31 May, 2016 1:27 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

To add to the complexity of your list, the voulge (or sometimes vouge), swiss voulge? is not simply a "curved meat cleaver", but has a concave blade extending beyond and parallel with the haft as part of the main chopping blade. And it's not just a spear point or spike, but an sharpened concave edge with a point.



Also, a bill is technically a chopping blade with a curved hook mounted perpendicular to the haft. (A farming implement for used for pruning limbs from trees, primarily). What you describe above with the extra pointy bits sounds like a guisarme-voulge or a bill-guisarme.

And as a point of discussion, bills could be confused or perhaps interchangeable with what someone else would refer to as a guisarme or bisarme. If you were English, you'd probably call a bill, what a Frenchman would probably call a guisarme. I personally find the term bill-guisarme to be redundant (like pizza-pies)

I don't personally find guisarme-voulge or glaive-guisarme to be redundant, as they imply different weapon characteristics. Though, I don't know that I care so much about the intricate details of a pole-arm to be pedantic about the multiple naming convention.
Also, talking about French vs. English nomenclature, when speaking about the bardiche; Early in the middle ages, I don't know that either the French or English would know the weapon in that context since the term didn't appear until the 15th century. But weapons of seemingly similar construction (a large crescent bladed weapon, as an axe with the lower tail of the crescent mounted to/or in contact with the haft) appear in illustrations much earlier than that time. They may have simply called it "a big axe" for all I know.

The list of names above stretch not only over a few hundred years, but also native to various locations over Europe. When you narrow down the time period and location, you may find that there isn't much need to have 25 names for a blade on a pole. And the two to five terms that were in use at that period and place were just fine for figuring out what weapon you were talking about.
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