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Danny F.




Location: USA
Joined: 16 Jun 2016

Posts: 3

PostPosted: Thu 16 Jun, 2016 11:51 pm    Post subject: Why did the European halberd change shape over time?         Reply with quote

I've long been fascinated with arms and have recently begun educating myself in earnest, with a goal of becoming knowledgeable enough to purchase some historical examples confidently in due time. However, as with anything, the more you learn, the more questions you have! Big Grin I've included my questions below, italicized.

I have come to wonder: why does the European halberd change shape, from a fairly simple two-eyed axe (with hook/beak and spike, of course), first towards a forward-canted straight edge and then towards a concave crescent shape?

I recently read Dr. Snook's article here in which he discusses the change from straight bit to a forward cant (or, as he calls it, "oblique") angle straight bit, which he ascribes to the desire to slash or slice more than to chop. First: why was this desire present?

He goes on to discuss the change thereafter towards a crescent shape. Although he notes the evolution of the weapon toward the crescent shape, and notes the reinforced profile these points were given, he doesn't explain why it happened. Am I wrong to assume this change is due to the proliferation of armor? Is there another explanation?

Another question: why do so many historical examples show holes in the axe bit and/or beak? Are they purely decorative, or was there some other cause?

(I have a gallery of images I can link if anyone is unclear as to what I mean, but I list the source of the images there as an auction site, because disclosing sources is important, and I don't want to run afoul of the rules of this lovely board without being certain that linking to an imgur gallery of halberd photos is alright even if they make mention of an auction site to whom I have no relation, professional or otherwise.)

Thank you kindly for your expertise on this subject, ladies and gentlemen!
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Timo Nieminen




Location: Brisbane, Australia
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PostPosted: Fri 17 Jun, 2016 2:06 pm    Post subject: Re: Why did the European halberd change shape over time?         Reply with quote

Danny F. wrote:
I have come to wonder: why does the European halberd change shape, from a fairly simple two-eyed axe (with hook/beak and spike, of course), first towards a forward-canted straight edge and then towards a concave crescent shape?

I recently read Dr. Snook's article here in which he discusses the change from straight bit to a forward cant (or, as he calls it, "oblique") angle straight bit, which he ascribes to the desire to slash or slice more than to chop. First: why was this desire present?


This evolution of blade shape accompanies an evolution towards lighter heads. Thinner blades, thinner langets. Longer, but more slender, thrusting spikes. The last point suggests that this might be partly driven by a desire for more reach - if you want a longer haft, a lighter head is nice.

Wanting to slash/slice more than before might be due to more of the expected enemy being unarmoured. Three possible reasons for this:
(a) More unarmoured infantry in armies.
(b) More guns on the battlefield, so halberds spend less of their time facing armoured opponents, leaving them for the guns.
(c) More use of halberds off the battlefield, e.g., for urban policing, guard duty, etc.

Danny F. wrote:
He goes on to discuss the change thereafter towards a crescent shape. Although he notes the evolution of the weapon toward the crescent shape, and notes the reinforced profile these points were given, he doesn't explain why it happened. Am I wrong to assume this change is due to the proliferation of armor? Is there another explanation?


I thin it might just be to stop the points breaking. Again, this accompanies evolution towards lighter heads - the concave edge ones can be quite light, and are delicate compared to older halberds.

Danny F. wrote:
Another question: why do so many historical examples show holes in the axe bit and/or beak? Are they purely decorative, or was there some other cause?


If there's a functional use, it's so that the weapons can be hung using the hole.

"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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Mikko Kuusirati




Location: Finland
Joined: 16 Nov 2004
Reading list: 13 books

Posts: 960

PostPosted: Fri 17 Jun, 2016 3:23 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well, holes and cutouts do also make the blade lighter.
The subtle tongue, the sophist guile, they fail when the broadswords sing;
Rush in and die, dogs -- I was a man before I was a king.
-- R. E. Howard, The Road of Kings
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Danny F.




Location: USA
Joined: 16 Jun 2016

Posts: 3

PostPosted: Fri 17 Jun, 2016 7:36 pm    Post subject: Re: Why did the European halberd change shape over time?         Reply with quote

Timo Nieminen wrote:

This evolution of blade shape accompanies an evolution towards lighter heads. Thinner blades, thinner langets. Longer, but more slender, thrusting spikes. The last point suggests that this might be partly driven by a desire for more reach - if you want a longer haft, a lighter head is nice.

Wanting to slash/slice more than before might be due to more of the expected enemy being unarmoured. Three possible reasons for this:
(a) More unarmoured infantry in armies.
(b) More guns on the battlefield, so halberds spend less of their time facing armoured opponents, leaving them for the guns.
(c) More use of halberds off the battlefield, e.g., for urban policing, guard duty, etc.

I thin it might just be to stop the points breaking. Again, this accompanies evolution towards lighter heads - the concave edge ones can be quite light, and are delicate compared to older halberds.

If there's a functional use, it's so that the weapons can be hung using the hole.

Timo,

Thank you very much for the extensive detail. I can follow this train of thought easily. It is interesting to see that the change might have to happened due to less armor, instead of more armor as I had assumed in my ignorance. I appreciate you sharing your knowledge of the era's history with me. I had also not considered their use in policing and rear echelon/civil guard duty -- this is definitely likely to have been a prime reason for regional (and spreading) influences in design change towards the lighter head. We can see similar trends in firearms in the modern era, which has long been my main area of study (I am only just beginning to properly study the pre-modern armaments).


Mikko Kuusirati wrote:
Well, holes and cutouts do also make the blade lighter.

Mikko,

Certainly true too! Initially I thought this was counter-intuitive in some ways, since I assumed you'd want the weight forward for gravity to assist with chopping into foes or piercing/denting armor, not to mention my assumption that holes lessen an object's strength to some degree... But I later reconsidered this since a lighter head would mean faster recovery from a swing, and faster movement of the "business end" when in the fray. Both possibilities seem plausible but very opposing and I am far too amateur to decide which is which!

This left me stumped... until Timo above mentioned the thinning of the langets and head in general and the accompanying change in the spear point. Now I see, as you point out, that a lighter bit and hook would have been appreciated, and these holes would have also lightened weight as well as the changes Timo pointed out. They clearly go hand in hand, as far as I can tell from my meager collection of photos of historical halberds... the holes are more common in later, lighter heads! Very good insight. Thank you very much!


Gentlemen, thank you very kindly for sharing your expertise with me! It is greatly appreciated.

Kindest regards,
Daniel
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Philip Dyer





Joined: 25 Jul 2013

Posts: 494

PostPosted: Fri 17 Jun, 2016 8:17 pm    Post subject: Re: Why did the European halberd change shape over time?         Reply with quote

Danny F. wrote:
Timo Nieminen wrote:

This evolution of blade shape accompanies an evolution towards lighter heads. Thinner blades, thinner langets. Longer, but more slender, thrusting spikes. The last point suggests that this might be partly driven by a desire for more reach - if you want a longer haft, a lighter head is nice.

Wanting to slash/slice more than before might be due to more of the expected enemy being unarmoured. Three possible reasons for this:
(a) More unarmoured infantry in armies.
(b) More guns on the battlefield, so halberds spend less of their time facing armoured opponents, leaving them for the guns.
(c) More use of halberds off the battlefield, e.g., for urban policing, guard duty, etc.

I thin it might just be to stop the points breaking. Again, this accompanies evolution towards lighter heads - the concave edge ones can be quite light, and are delicate compared to older halberds.

If there's a functional use, it's so that the weapons can be hung using the hole.

Timo,

Thank you very much for the extensive detail. I can follow this train of thought easily. It is interesting to see that the change might have to happened due to less armor, instead of more armor as I had assumed in my ignorance. I appreciate you sharing your knowledge of the era's history with me. I had also not considered their use in policing and rear echelon/civil guard duty -- this is definitely likely to have been a prime reason for regional (and spreading) influences in design change towards the lighter head. We can see similar trends in firearms in the modern era, which has long been my main area of study (I am only just beginning to properly study the pre-modern armaments).


Mikko Kuusirati wrote:
Well, holes and cutouts do also make the blade lighter.

Mikko,

Certainly true too! Initially I thought this was counter-intuitive in some ways, since I assumed you'd want the weight forward for gravity to assist with chopping into foes or piercing/denting armor, not to mention my assumption that holes lessen an object's strength to some degree... But I later reconsidered this since a lighter head would mean faster recovery from a swing, and faster movement of the "business end" when in the fray. Both possibilities seem plausible but very opposing and I am far too amateur to decide which is which!

This left me stumped... until Timo above mentioned the thinning of the langets and head in general and the accompanying change in the spear point. Now I see, as you point out, that a lighter bit and hook would have been appreciated, and these holes would have also lightened weight as well as the changes Timo pointed out. They clearly go hand in hand, as far as I can tell from my meager collection of photos of historical halberds... the holes are more common in later, lighter heads! Very good insight. Thank you very much!


Gentlemen, thank you very kindly for sharing your expertise with me! It is greatly appreciated.

Kindest regards,
Daniel

How could you tell the heads are lighter such by looking as the size? The things may be smaller but the heads could be thicker, which, meaning the same shape in a more concentrated package. Something that is not as broad but thick would stand a better chance of it edges not rolling or breaking when struck against armor and longer, spiker point would be better at hitting gaps it than a broader point. Also, incrase reach against what? 10 to 20 pikes? Lances? Making something to be able to outreach those would make impossible to use as a cutting implement. Anyone actually wieghted this things?
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Mikko Kuusirati




Location: Finland
Joined: 16 Nov 2004
Reading list: 13 books

Posts: 960

PostPosted: Sat 18 Jun, 2016 5:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Let's also not forget that a lighter blade on a longer pole can hit just as hard as a heavier blade on a shorter pole, so it's not at all necessarily a trade-off on impact energy. I think a more important factor than armored targets becoming less common would be that the prevalent battlefield conditions and tactics simply turned in the favor of longer weapons (although a part of that would be the halberdier himself perhaps wearing less armor, making a little more distance from the enemy a thing to be desired).
The subtle tongue, the sophist guile, they fail when the broadswords sing;
Rush in and die, dogs -- I was a man before I was a king.
-- R. E. Howard, The Road of Kings
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Timo Nieminen




Location: Brisbane, Australia
Joined: 08 May 2009
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Posts: 1,493

PostPosted: Sat 18 Jun, 2016 3:26 pm    Post subject: Re: Why did the European halberd change shape over time?         Reply with quote

Philip Dyer wrote:
How could you tell the heads are lighter such by looking as the size? [...] Anyone actually wieghted this things?


It can be difficult from profile photos. You can guess from clues like how much thicker a diamond-section spike is than the blade it is joined to, from the appearance of cut-outs and holes, etc. Ideally, you want measurements of the thickness, but those aren't usually given. I don't see any signs of the thickness increasing to maintain the weight as the blades become smaller.

Yes, people have weighed them. The Met Museum gives weights for some of its halberds. But with hafts included, so of little use for finding out the weight of the head.

Waldman, "Hafted Weapons ...", http://myArmoury.com/books/item.9004144099.html describes the evolution, including the trend towards lighter heads. (Danny F., this is a great book.)

Philip Dyer wrote:
Also, incrase reach against what? 10 to 20 pikes? Lances? Making something to be able to outreach those would make impossible to use as a cutting implement.


Perhaps against other halberds. And/or glaives, pollaxes, etc. Not against pikes. If you want to outreach a pike, get a longer pike.

"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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Danny F.




Location: USA
Joined: 16 Jun 2016

Posts: 3

PostPosted: Sun 19 Jun, 2016 11:53 am    Post subject: Re: Why did the European halberd change shape over time?         Reply with quote

I must admit I had not researched deeply when I presumed the smaller heads were lighter. It is true that they may be thicker despite appearing shorter, and retain similar weight properties. I'll have to defer to the experts on that one! Happy

Timo Nieminen wrote:

Waldman, "Hafted Weapons ...", http://myArmoury.com/books/item.9004144099.html describes the evolution, including the trend towards lighter heads. (Danny F., this is a great book.)


That looks absolutely fantastic! Thank you for this recommendation.

Regards to all, and thank you everyone for the discourse here on this topic. It has been very, very helpful and informative.
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Jeffrey Faulk




Location: Georgia
Joined: 01 Jan 2011

Posts: 578

PostPosted: Mon 20 Jun, 2016 10:41 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bear in mind that in latter years, especially towards the mid or late 17th century, halberds became far more of a decorative parade and guard item than an actual weapon. That also plays a part. When weapons start sliding towards obsolescence, they tend to become exaggerated and more ornate as a response to their increased lack of utility. Note the flashiness of the cinqueada versus the simplicity of knightly swords.

Of course, this also goes hand-in-hand with changing fashions at the time; the cinqueada was a Renaissance period sword, and the 17th century was the Baroque period (for the most part) in art, so you see concurrent increases in the decorative arts.
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