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Greyson Brown




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PostPosted: Tue 30 Jun, 2020 12:19 pm    Post subject: 13th-14th (c. 1250-1350) fighting knives         Reply with quote

It has been a long time since I posted anything here (even had to reset my password), but I was hoping folks here could help me out with a question that has been on my mind lately. I am curious about what I guess I will call "fighting" knives in the late 13th and early 14th century. Specifically, I am looking at items like seaxes, ballock daggers, and bauernwehr/rugger that are either tools that have been weaponized or weapons with tool sensibilities. Things the common man or poorer warrior could have used for normal cutting tasks while also using for self defence or pressing into military service. To my mind, this category of weapon/tool would be single edged and fairly stout, so single edged daggers could fit, but I just don't see double edged daggers being a good option for daily cutting tasks.

My understanding is that the seaxe fell out of use around the 12th century or so and the ballock dagger came into use in the later half of the 14th century (with the bauernwehr/rugger being later still). I have trouble believing that something so popular in other times was completely unused in the 13th and early 14th centuries, but I haven't see any really evidence for them, either. My main interest is in the period of about 1250-1350. Does anyone know of evidence for such tools during this period?

Thanks for your help.

-- Greyson

"So long as I can keep the path of honor I am well content."
-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The White Company
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Mark Millman





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PostPosted: Tue 30 Jun, 2020 5:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dear Greyson,

I'm sure that there are several threads about this, but on searching I was able to find only two, both about cleaver-like items that span your period of interest:

La Beidana - Italian peasant weapon by a famous maker
Medieval butcher "machete"

As I say, I'm convinced that there are more threads on this, but a forum search on the keywords "tool", "knife", and "weapon" in Historical Arms Talk doesn't turn up any others that I recognized as obviously relevant from the thread titles.

I hope this proves helpful.

Best,

Mark
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Greyson Brown




Location: Windsor, Colorado
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PostPosted: Tue 30 Jun, 2020 6:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mark,

Agreed! I would have sworn that this topic would have been discussed already, but I didn't find anything with my search either. Most of the time, if I search for something on here, not only do I find it, but I discover that I participated in the discussion at some point. Not so with this topic.

Thank you for the links. Those machetes/choppers are a little more specific than what I had in mind (I was thinking of a more everyday, general purpose, kind of knife with martial potential), but they are still interesting examples.

-- Greyson

"So long as I can keep the path of honor I am well content."
-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The White Company
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Mark Millman





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PostPosted: Tue 30 Jun, 2020 9:59 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dear Greyson,

It's true that between the cleaver-like butchers' versions and the machete-like or bill-like agricultural versions they do seem to fall toward the more specialized end of the spectrum, but I can't help but think of the wide range of uses that modern machetes have where they remain everyday tools.

Certainly, however, a feature that these seem to share, and that probably wasn't in your initial conception, is the lack of a point.

Have you been able to find any likely candidates in iconographic sources like those compiled at Manuscript Miniatures? I confess that at the moment I don't have the patience to do a proper search through and serious evaluation of the 1250-1350 examples.

Best,

Mark
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Greyson Brown




Location: Windsor, Colorado
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PostPosted: Wed 01 Jul, 2020 8:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I had done a Google search for knives from the Morgan/Maciejowski Bible and the Romance of Alexander, but those mostly turned up small eating knives. Based on your suggestion, I searched Manuscript Miniatures for "knife" in the 1250-1350 date range and actually found a few things that fit what I am looking for (images link to the Manuscript Miniatures page with more details).

Arras BM MS.863 Chronicle Badouin d'Avesnes (1275-1299) France
Assuming that this knife is being held correctly, the straight side is the edge, so this retains a lot of similarities with a seax:


BNF Français 2164 (1275-1325) France
Without context, my assumption is that the sharp edge of this knife is the curved side, but that could be wrong. The grip appears to have a pommel cap very similar to knife #1 from Chad's review of the Tod's Stuff Trio of Medieval Knives and probably an impact plate or small guard. The blade is about twice the length of the handle, so that would give a decent sized blade for fighting/defensive use (I would estimate about 6-7 inches):


Escorial MS T.I.1 Les Cantiques de Sainte Marie (1285) Spain
The knife being held by the guy coming through the door on the far left looks like the same basic shape as the one in the above image. It looks a little bit like this knife has the I-shaped hilt of a baselard, but there is not enough detail to be sure; it could just be a straight grip that the artist made a little wide. The knife being used by the soldier to the right looks like the grip is even more baselard-like to me. This blade is getting into the larger machete/chopper range to my eye, but it does still retain a usable point, so I wouldn't completely rule it out for every day use. That knife reminds me a lot of modern bowie knives (maybe Jim Bowie was secretly a fan of 13th century Spanish knives):


BL Royal 2 B VII Queen Mary Psalter (1310-1320) England
I am not entirely certain how much of the knife this image is intended to show. David (in the green surcoat), is pretty clearly holding a knife with a simple handle, but is the image intending to show the full blade or do some of the folds in Saul's robe just happen to line up with the visible portion of the blade? I'm inclined to believe that the full blade (or at least a good portion) was drawn and then the artist tried to "convert" part of the blade into folds of the robe. That said, I base that on nothing more than my own poor artistic ability and mistakes. If I am correct, it looks like this knife was meant to have a clipped blade or possibly even a broken back seax blade profile:


Morgan M.360 Hungarian Anjou legendary (1325-1335) Italy
The knife in this image reminds me a bit of the "bullnose" butcher knives that my grandmother had (though it may have a more abrupt transition to the wide tip). It almost looks like the grip might have small ballock dagger-esque lobes, but I certainly wouldn't want to swear to that.


BL Yates Thompson 13 The Taymouth Hours (1325-1350) England
This one also has some details that are hard to make out. It has a fairly long and slender blade that looks like it could have the straight edge and long tapered point of some seaxes. That said, it could be intended to be a fairly parallel-sided blade with the cloak overlapping the top of the blade.


Besançon BM MS.579 Mystere du Jour du Jugement (1326-1350) France
The soldier with the axe has a very long (appears to be sword length) knife with a blade shape similar to those in the previous images. The handle might be shaped a bit like a modern butcher's knife, but it is hard to be certain. This might be getting too large for everyday cutting tasks, but is still interesting:


I'd still love to see anything that anyone else has found or hear thoughts on my comments above, but this definitely gives me more info than I had before.

-- Greyson

"So long as I can keep the path of honor I am well content."
-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The White Company
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Paul Hansen




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PostPosted: Wed 01 Jul, 2020 1:23 pm    Post subject: Re: 13th-14th (c. 1250-1350) fighting knives         Reply with quote

Greyson Brown wrote:
My understanding is that the seaxe fell out of use around the 12th century or so and the ballock dagger came into use in the later half of the 14th century (with the bauernwehr/rugger being later still). I have trouble believing that something so popular in other times was completely unused in the 13th and early 14th centuries, but I haven't see any really evidence for them, either.


I think your reasoning is somewhat flawed.

The sax, ballock dagger and the bauernwehr are completely different weapons for completely different circumstances.

I would say that the sax was a secondary weapon (after the spear) for people who couldn't afford a sword. When swords became more affordable (in Continental Europe from, say, the 8th C onwards, in Scandinavia a bit later), the sax lost ground.

The bauernwehr/messer on the other hand was a weapon specifically designed to bypass the local weapons laws at that time. Probably due to the black plague, the later parts of the middle ages saw an increase of wealth of the middle classes. Rich farmers needed protection on the road and in the city, but wearing a sword would be a legal hassle. For protection, a bauernwehr was probably "just enough" to dissuade attackers, but it was not a battlefield weapon.

The ballock dagger, was just part of everyday attire. Everyone carried a knife or dagger. Mostly for eating, secondarily as a tool or weapon. Such daggers / knives had different forms but I don't think that's significant besides fashion. Largish knives/daggers have been carried throughout history but usually they are not very noteworthy.
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Greyson Brown




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PostPosted: Wed 01 Jul, 2020 3:21 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Paul,

I'm not sure I understand your point. I wasn't trying to claim that the seax, ballock dagger, or bauernwehr were related, if that is what you understood me to mean. My point was simply that all of them were viable as both everyday tools and as military or defensive items. Obviously some of these lean more towards the tool side of the equation and other are more weaponized, but they all straddle that line.

-- Greyson

"So long as I can keep the path of honor I am well content."
-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The White Company
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Greyson Brown




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PostPosted: Wed 01 Jul, 2020 4:03 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I went ahead and also checked Manuscript Miniatures for daggers, and a little earlier and later for knives. Between 1350 and 1370, there were no results that seemed relevant, but going back to 1200, there were a few more results that I found interesting.

ONB Han. Cod. 2554 Bible Moralisee (1225-1249) France
The first image shows what looks very strongly like a single edged knife/dagger. The image is tagged with "basilard" as one of the terms, but I am not entirely convinced. I think this could be a simple turned handle with a waisted center. It does appear to have a metal plate at either end. The second image shows two knives of a similar style (though with much narrower blades or blades that are turned more spine-on to the viewer). Of particular interest to me is the knife being dropped on the left, as it shows the grip shape more fully and seems to fit my theory of a simple turned handle that flares at either end. Again, metal plates may be present at either end of the handle. If so, this seems more like a proto-rondel than a basilard.



BNF Arsenal 1186 Psalter of St. Louis and Blanche of Castile (1225) France
This one I find interesting because the knife show at the top center has a blade that looks very seax-like (or, yes, seaxy, if you prefer). At least to me, when I look at that image at full size, it really looks like the artist deliberately included a very gentle curve on the bottom with a spine that is parallel at first and then angles sharply down to the edge for the last third or so. I could be wrong, but that is what it looks like to me.


-- Greyson

"So long as I can keep the path of honor I am well content."
-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The White Company
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Paul Hansen




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PostPosted: Sat 04 Jul, 2020 1:16 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Maybe the knife on the bottom left of this auction picture is interesting:

https://www.hermann-historica.de/en/auctions/lot/id/91684



The auction text:
Mittelalterliches Messer, 12./13. Jhdt., zweifach gekehlte Rückenklinge, eiserner, geschwungener Zierknauf.

My translation:
Medieval knife, 12/13th C. Double fullered single edged blade, iron, curved pommel
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Paul Hansen




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PostPosted: Sat 04 Jul, 2020 1:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Greyson Brown wrote:
I'm not sure I understand your point. I wasn't trying to claim that the seax, ballock dagger, or bauernwehr were related, if that is what you understood me to mean. My point was simply that all of them were viable as both everyday tools and as military or defensive items. Obviously some of these lean more towards the tool side of the equation and other are more weaponized, but they all straddle that line.


I get it. Not sure if I agree about the utility value of a sax, or even a bauernwehr (those are separate topics in their own right) but I get your point.

Greyson Brown wrote:
ONB Han. Cod. 2554 Bible Moralisee (1225-1249) France

I think in the first picture I would go with the basilard interpretation, but the second picture is more interesting.
The dagger on the right side seems curved, almost like an Arab jambiya.
The sword on the bottom is also interesting, like a single-edged Viking type G, but with a curved blade???


Greyson Brown wrote:
BNF Arsenal 1186 Psalter of St. Louis and Blanche of Castile (1225) France

That does look like a sax! But why is the guy holding it in reverse grip, with the edge up? That doesn't make sense to me.
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Jeremy V. Krause




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PostPosted: Sun 05 Jul, 2020 7:21 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

What about early rondel daggers? They show up around 1300.
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Greyson Brown




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PostPosted: Sun 05 Jul, 2020 10:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Paul,

Thanks for the auction picture. The single edged (antenna?) dagger is the kind of thing that I figure has to exist, but is really hard to spot in art (at lest for me). The blade in the lower right also looks like those in several of the pictures I found. I don't know what the date on that one is, but, if it is later, I would be curious to see how much later (my German is poor, but it didn't look like there was a date for that item on the Hermann Historica page).

I think it is interesting to compare our interpretations of these images, especially when it comes to things like handles. That is part of the reason that I like to be able to get input from other folks. Similarly, I see the Psalter of St. Louis and Blanche image as showing the seax-like knife with the cutting edge down. I'm not sure which it is, but that difference in interpretation is interesting. As far as why the knife would be held the way it is: in a reverse grip I think there are arguments for both edge up/forward and down/back. I'm no knife fighter, but I see edge down/back as being used when the intent is to stab into the target and then pull down/back to create a bigger wound. Edge up/forward allows the spine to be held along the forearm defensively while being able to make relatively fast slashes/cuts with a modified punching motion. Also, assuming that the knife sheath is orientated like a modern sheath (edge to the rear when worn on the right side), then edge up/forward ends up being the natural position if a knife is grabbed with an icepick/reverse grip and drawn with the left hand.

Jeremy,

Most of the info I have for rondel daggers shows a later date (about 1360-ish). There are some images on the Manuscript Miniatures site that are earlier and have been tagged as showing rondel daggers, but I think most of those should be taken with a grain of salt. Most of them could just as easily be early ballock daggers, basic turned handles like I think the Bible Moralisee images show, baselards, or even quillon daggers with short stubby quillons. That said, the early single-edged rondel daggers could be very viable tools in my opinion, so they are certainly in the spirit of what I am looking for.

-- Greyson

"So long as I can keep the path of honor I am well content."
-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The White Company
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Jeremy V. Krause




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PostPosted: Thu 09 Jul, 2020 10:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

What about an aunlaz or “antennae” dagger? You would have seen these in the 13th and into the 14th c.

An aunlaz does seem like more of a military implement but I would think someone could use as a tool in a pinch.

Just a thought
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Thu 09 Jul, 2020 11:13 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Greyson,
Good to see you again. I know you’re primarily interested in “fighting knives” by which I’m assuming you mean single-edged things like the sax and eventually single edged ballock knives (there were, of course, double-edged versions). It’s hard to say what was out there as a combo knife and tool. We do know that there were single-edged daggers, specifically made for military use.

Tod made a single-edged quillon dagger that fits the time period. I’d be curious about his inspiration behind it.

From the Royal Armouries website:
Fragment of a ring dagger

From the German Historical Museum (their main database has been inaccessible for months, but there is an older source with ludicrously small pics that gets close):
Quillon Dagger
Quillon Dagger
Rondel dagger - Dating on this one might fall outside your range. I’ve seen some sources date it to 1400 or later.
Rondel dagger
Quillon dagger
Quillon dagger fragment

There are double edged daggers, too, but they’re outside your scope:

12th Century Daggers
Crusade-era daggers

Happy

ChadA

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Greyson Brown




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PostPosted: Thu 09 Jul, 2020 5:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jeremy,

Antennae daggers definitely fit the period and single edged ones would fit what I am looking for because I think single-edged daggers would still make viable tools.

Chad,
Thanks. I had seen the dagger from Tod, but the pieces you linked from the German Historical Museum were new to me (except the first rondel dagger; I'm pretty sure I have seen that elsewhere). Based on what I am finding and what others have found, it seems like a single-edged version of just about any dagger type can be justified. Items that are more specifically knives during this period seem to (generally) have a fairly straight spine with a curved edge and a handle of somewhat indeterminate shape. I have an old knife that I found (I think it was a slicing knife from a kitchen set, so the shape isn't perfect, but it is still a decent carbon steel blade); I might have to try making a few interpretations of the handles shown in manuscripts to see if I can't find what I like best.

-- Greyson

"So long as I can keep the path of honor I am well content."
-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The White Company
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Thu 09 Jul, 2020 5:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The Livre de chasse (hunting book) of Gaston Phoebus may be a good source for utility knives. It’s late 14th century.
Happy

ChadA

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