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Dashiell Harrison




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PostPosted: Sun 29 Apr, 2018 11:38 am    Post subject: Sea service swords in the Middle Ages?         Reply with quote

Does anyone know if there was a medieval equivalent of the cutlass used in boarding actions? Do we know anything about special considerations that might have come up with swordsmanship at sea in general? I have a vague sense that the sword and buckler might have been an especially attractive weapon-set on the tight confines of a ship's deck, although I don't know that I've ever seen any artistic depictions or records of them being used this way.
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Roger Hooper




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PostPosted: Sun 29 Apr, 2018 11:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm just guessing here, but it seems to me that falchions would be useful naval weapons.
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Geoffroy Gautier





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PostPosted: Sun 29 Apr, 2018 5:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

That is a very good question actually.
After a quick search, it seems from contemporary depictions that there was no difference with foot equipment. But as with any depiction, we can always question how reliable the artist is, as he's unlikely to have first hand experience and a keen interest in absolute precision and naturalism.


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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Sun 29 Apr, 2018 5:42 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Wouldn't the soldiers on the ships just be soldiers who got on the ships for that action? Would there be any reason to force them to rearm at some expense, or for someone else to foot the bill? What advantage would there be for different weapons than those known to be effective on land?

Matthew
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Philip Dyer





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PostPosted: Sun 29 Apr, 2018 5:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew Amt wrote:
Wouldn't the soldiers on the ships just be soldiers who got on the ships for that action? Would there be any reason to force them to rearm at some expense, or for someone else to foot the bill? What advantage would there be for different weapons than those known to be effective on land?

Matthew

Also,I don't think sword were cheap enough yet to have a land sword and sea sword and wasn't it the norm for people to have to pay for their arms out of their own pocket? The cutlass was made in a time were sword were allot cheaper and governments were centralized enough to provide soldiers with their own equipment, hence infranty and naval weapons stored in armories instead of maintained by individuals.
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Steve Fabert





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PostPosted: Sun 29 Apr, 2018 6:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm mystified by this query. Why would there be any reason whatever to employ a different sword for fighting on land versus fighting on board a ship? Do seasick people use their swords differently, or what?
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Glen A Cleeton




Location: Nipmuc USA
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PostPosted: Sun 29 Apr, 2018 7:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It seems naval specific swords in the western theaters become more standardized by the end of the 18th century. We have Gilkerson's Boarders Away and Neumann's titles on colonial era swords that kind of pave the way showing the trends. Pikes and cutlasses remain even into the coal fired steam era. Standardized, as meant to be racked or stowed away. Not carried or held all the time.

I would think those medieval armoured depictions likely include that they were transporting infantry, or had quite a bevy of "marines" but my hunch is the former.

Cheers

GC

In addendum, Gillkerson references the British Royal Navy with the first real contract for "hangers" in 1677. With hangers itself a bit of ambiguous, we are still left with short infantry swords ordered for the navy. Similarly the French and other countries.
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James Rogers





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PostPosted: Mon 30 Apr, 2018 4:31 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Didn't the use of specialized naval weapons in the colonial period have to do with the amount of rigging you didn't want to inadvertently cut? I'd think Medieval ships would be less demanding, as IIRC their sail designs weren't as elaborate at the time.
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Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
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PostPosted: Mon 30 Apr, 2018 5:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

James Rogers wrote:
Didn't the use of specialized naval weapons in the colonial period have to do with the amount of rigging you didn't want to inadvertently cut? I'd think Medieval ships would be less demanding, as IIRC their sail designs weren't as elaborate at the time.


From what I've seen naval cutlasses were functionally identical to infantry hangers. Same blade length, similar curvature, etc. They're just made to be handy in close quarters, and a minimal nuissance when worn at the hip. Of course, by that point, soldiers on land were ditching the things whenever they could get away with it! Or maybe swapping swords for hatchets. Sailors didn't have that problem, their cutlasses were all stored away and not worn on a regular basis.

In a shipboard fight, a few possible sword slices to the rigging were the least of your worries. If you've ever been on a rigged ship, you'll see how tough the rigging is, for one thing! It will take a lot more damage from the initial exchange of cannon fire, so any little sword slashes will be minor by comparison. And a fully rigged ship is hardly a birdcage, there's plenty of room to swing a blade.

Matthew
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William P




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PostPosted: Mon 30 Apr, 2018 9:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew Amt wrote:
James Rogers wrote:
Didn't the use of specialized naval weapons in the colonial period have to do with the amount of rigging you didn't want to inadvertently cut? I'd think Medieval ships would be less demanding, as IIRC their sail designs weren't as elaborate at the time.


From what I've seen naval cutlasses were functionally identical to infantry hangers. Same blade length, similar curvature, etc. They're just made to be handy in close quarters, and a minimal nuissance when worn at the hip. Of course, by that point, soldiers on land were ditching the things whenever they could get away with it! Or maybe swapping swords for hatchets. Sailors didn't have that problem, their cutlasses were all stored away and not worn on a regular basis.

In a shipboard fight, a few possible sword slices to the rigging were the least of your worries. If you've ever been on a rigged ship, you'll see how tough the rigging is, for one thing! It will take a lot more damage from the initial exchange of cannon fire, so any little sword slashes will be minor by comparison. And a fully rigged ship is hardly a birdcage, there's plenty of room to swing a blade.

Matthew


might not mess up the rigging, but might foul up the cut you were going to bring to bear
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Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
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PostPosted: Mon 30 Apr, 2018 9:52 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I should think that not hitting your surroundings would be a key part of basic swordsmanship, wherever you may be fighting, don't you? Razz There are always muskets, pistols, and pikes, for those not confident of their swinging capabilities.

Matthew
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Philip Dyer





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PostPosted: Mon 30 Apr, 2018 12:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew Amt wrote:
James Rogers wrote:
Didn't the use of specialized naval weapons in the colonial period have to do with the amount of rigging you didn't want to inadvertently cut? I'd think Medieval ships would be less demanding, as IIRC their sail designs weren't as elaborate at the time.


From what I've seen naval cutlasses were functionally identical to infantry hangers. Same blade length, similar curvature, etc. They're just made to be handy in close quarters, and a minimal nuissance when worn at the hip. Of course, by that point, soldiers on land were ditching the things whenever they could get away with it! Or maybe swapping swords for hatchets. Sailors didn't have that problem, their cutlasses were all stored away and not worn on a regular basis.

In a shipboard fight, a few possible sword slices to the rigging were the least of your worries. If you've ever been on a rigged ship, you'll see how tough the rigging is, for one thing! It will take a lot more damage from the initial exchange of cannon fire, so any little sword slashes will be minor by comparison. And a fully rigged ship is hardly a birdcage, there's plenty of room to swing a blade.

Matthew

I always thought that cutlasses were built a bit more robust, bigger, heavier guards, more sturdily built hilt and such because these things had to not break while potentially being tossed around on smallish ships traversing the Alantic and Pacific Oceans. Medieval people weren't traveling to war across the sea.
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Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
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PostPosted: Mon 30 Apr, 2018 6:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Philip Dyer wrote:

I always thought that cutlasses were built a bit more robust, bigger, heavier guards, more sturdily built hilt and such because these things had to not break while potentially being tossed around on smallish ships traversing the Alantic and Pacific Oceans. Medieval people weren't traveling to war across the sea.


All the respectable repros I've seen, and the original that I've handled, were no heavier nor substantial than any infantry swords. In fact, the sheet iron guard was probably less strong than the cast brass hilt of a 1742 or 1751 British infantry hanger.

And "tossed around"? Weren't they packed in chests for storage, properly secured (as was everything on shipboard) so as not to go sliding around the deck in rough seas? Unlike infantry swords which were strapped to abusive and neglectful infantrymen, sat on, stuck in the ground, used as hatchets or hammers or tent stakes, dragged through the mud, etc.

Matthew
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Philip Dyer





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PostPosted: Tue 01 May, 2018 7:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew Amt wrote:
Philip Dyer wrote:

I always thought that cutlasses were built a bit more robust, bigger, heavier guards, more sturdily built hilt and such because these things had to not break while potentially being tossed around on smallish ships traversing the Alantic and Pacific Oceans. Medieval people weren't traveling to war across the sea.


All the respectable repros I've seen, and the original that I've handled, were no heavier nor substantial than any infantry swords. In fact, the sheet iron guard was probably less strong than the cast brass hilt of a 1742 or 1751 British infantry hanger.

And "tossed around"? Weren't they packed in chests for storage, properly secured (as was everything on shipboard) so as not to go sliding around the deck in rough seas? Unlike infantry swords which were strapped to abusive and neglectful infantrymen, sat on, stuck in the ground, used as hatchets or hammers or tent stakes, dragged through the mud, etc.

Matthew

I don't think that it is any surprise that "lead cutters" swords designed to repeated training and test cutting are designed after cuttlasses. Also, I don't think it is coincidence British colonial sword designed with fighting Tulwars, Bolos, Firangis had sheet iron hilts. Also,wouldn't it be bloody cumbersome to have to have someone unlock a chest, have your crewmen stand in a line and hand out swords compared to it being on a weapons rack while being shot at or boarded? Space is limited and thing to improvised tools from are limited when at sea. On land, You have a supply train or you could steal what you need. In the Ocean, all you have in what you have is what you have on the ship and raiding a vessel in much more risky, your entire crew could die, even if you managed to successfully raid a enemy vessel.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Km5tWrhU-4&t=70s https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GgAAf2C90F
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Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
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PostPosted: Wed 02 May, 2018 6:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Philip Dyer wrote:

I don't think that it is any surprise that "lead cutters" swords designed to repeated training and test cutting are designed after cuttlasses. Also, I don't think it is coincidence British colonial sword designed with fighting Tulwars, Bolos, Firangis had sheet iron hilts.


No surprise at all. It's a simple and effective design, and--most importantly for the Royal Navy--cheap to make. It may even be better protection than the more open brass hanger hilts used by the army, even if the iron is pretty thin. And as far as I know, the hilts were typically left black or even painted black, to prevent rust, which is more of a consideration at sea.

Quote:
Also,wouldn't it be bloody cumbersome to have to have someone unlock a chest, have your crewmen stand in a line and hand out swords compared to it being on a weapons rack while being shot at or boarded?


Wait, what?? You spotted that ship when its topsails showed above the horizon, several hours ago, and you wait to arm your crew until the bad guys are pouring over the railing?? No, it's not "cumbersome", it's common sense! And standard procedure! It's hard enough to keep sailors from pulling knives on each other, but if you make all the other weapons on board freely available, you'll have murder on your hands a couple times a day. Or mutiny. When another ship is approaching that shouldn't be approaching, yes, you unlock the weapons and hand them out. Even at night, any lookout worth his pay can often detect a ship nearby in plenty of time to react in some way. Were ships taken by surprise sometimes? Sure! That's the whole point of surprise, to hit your target when they are not prepared to resist.

Quote:
Space is limited and thing to improvised tools from are limited when at sea. On land, You have a supply train or you could steal what you need. In the Ocean, all you have in what you have is what you have on the ship and raiding a vessel in much more risky, your entire crew could die, even if you managed to successfully raid a enemy vessel.


Not sure what you mean, here. "Improvised tools"? Stealing what you need? At sea, that's called "piracy", and presumably you already have the weapons you need to do that, properly stored or not. Sorry, I shouldn't be facetious!

Yes, space is limited on any ship, but I'm not sure what that has to do with anything. You'd have to have space for the weapons you need whether every man has his own or if they are stored together. More efficient to keep them together, and easier to inspect their condition, whether any are missing, etc. And that's true no matter what kind of weapons are involved, really. If the ship does not have space for an arms chest, it won't have arms. Sounds pretty cramped--I could fit a couple dozen cutlasses in a box that will fit under my desk.

Quote:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Km5tWrhU-4&t=70s https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GgAAf2C90F


One link doesn't work? The other looks good, says pretty much the same thing I've been saying, no *functional* difference between weapons on land and sea.

Matthew
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