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Kenneth Enroth




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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2005 3:20 am    Post subject: Why only cutting swords in the age of maille?         Reply with quote

Why is it that during the viking age up to the high middle age swords are so biased toward cutting? I'm under the impression that maille and cloth armour is very hard to cut through but more vulnerable to thrusts. So why weren't thrusting swords more common before the age of plate? I recall the reinforced points on roman gladii to split maille rings. The medieval solution to heavy maille and cloth seems to have been heavier cutting swords with spatulate points instead of strong thrusting points.
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Martin Wallgren




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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2005 3:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Maybe they cut mostly at unarmoured foes! And stabed the armoured ones with spears and daggers, and clubbed them with hammers or blunt objects...

Just a thought

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Mikko Kuusirati




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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2005 4:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Because spears were considered better for thrusting? Happy
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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Steve Fabert





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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2005 4:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Perhaps you have described the question using an erroneous assumption. Was it the 'age of mail' , or was it the 'age of shields' that coincided with swords useful primarily for cutting rather than thrusting? There was more than one change in battle gear occurring at the time of the shift from cutters to thrusters. The age of plate is also the age of no shields.

If a thrusting sword would be stopped from contacting the opponent's mail by an intervening shield, it makes little difference that it might do a better job of piercing unprotected mail. But a cutting sword can remove the relatively unprotected leg of the other fellow just fine.
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Aaron Schnatterly




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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2005 5:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Steve Fabert wrote:
But a cutting sword can remove the relatively unprotected leg of the other fellow just fine.


Exactly - cut where the armour isn't. If I recall correctly (think there's a post around here somewhere...) from the forensic data from Visby, a staggering percentage of the dead had 1+ serious wounds to the leg (pardon the pun!). A significant portion had wounds to the forearms/hands. I want to say that evidence was more for blunt trauma to the core (chest, abdomen).

Another issue is the misconception that everyone was sporting the most current and effective armour in a premium grade. This was not the case. Often, these were lesser forms that were affordable, hand-me-downs, or what was scavenged.

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Jesse Frank
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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2005 5:35 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I agree. Especially when you consider that most of the troops were simply conscripted farmers or fishermen.
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Kenneth Enroth




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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2005 6:38 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I wonder if tradition did play a large part. The tradition of cutting sword and shield was passed down through centuries. It is natural to work within that rather than concoct something new unless you have to. The knights might have been pretty conservative fellows too. Reluctant to change unless they had to.
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Aaron Schnatterly




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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2005 7:02 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'd say that reluctance to change possibly was a factor. One of my favorite anecdotes in lectures on changing an industiral safety culture is this:

    I had dinner at a friend's house the other day. His wife prepared a roast. It was pretty good, I must admit, but what I found odd was that, when preparing it, she cut the ends off and leaned them against the sides of the roast. These pieces were so tough that the only the dog would eat them. Thinking this odd, I asked my buddy later why this was the case. Not knowing, he asked his wife, who replied: "I don't know... it's how mom always did it."

    Now curious, she called her mom, asking why this was done. Her mom's reply: "I'm not sure, honey... it's how your grandmother always did it."

    Unsatisfied, she then called her grandmother. This time the reply was: "Because we had a large family, but a small oven. It was the only way we could manage to get that meat into the oven."


Humans resist change.

Other factors do contribute, though. Technology drives a lot of things - they didn't have guided bombs then, because they couldn't make them. Service life and supply/demand probably had a lot to do as well - look at money. Digging though my change bucket, I will regularly find coins from before I was born. Not tons of them, but a few. Lots from a couple to 10 years ago, but not many from 2004 or 2005. The focus in modern day has been on the sword - that "knight in shining armour" image that almost invariably involves cap-a-pie coverage, beginning with a plumed close helm, and ending with sabatons, a heater-style shield, and a cruciform sword. Most people's concept of warfare in the days long gone must include a sword. Axes, spears, other polearms were quite common, however.

-Aaron Schnatterly
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Jesse Frank
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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2005 9:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Don't forget that there was a rich history of pointy stick 'em swords from the romans......
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2005 9:41 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Avete!

As others have suggested, cutting swords were effective in the "Age of Mail" because at least 80 percent of the men on a battlefield didn't have armor. As I understand it, swords were very much a secondary weapon in the middle ages, particularly for fighting armored men.

Similarly, most of Rome's opponents were unarmored. I've seen a couple gladii with reinforced or thickened points, but there is no reason to assume that they were made that way to pierce armor. Modern tests have shown that mail is much better at resisting thrusts than was once thought, and I'm sure the Romans already knew that. More likely, they simply found that some points were just too thin and had a problem bending no matter what they hit (especially if the blades were crappy metal!). Hitting a bone or even a belt buckle, for instance.

In one description of a revolt in Gaul, legionaries found themselves facing heavily armored gladiators called crupellarii. The Romans knocked them down with poles (maybe tent poles?) and killed them with pickaxes. The implication is that armor like this was both unusual and pretty much sword-proof.

And like Aaron said, hit the soft juicy bits, not the hard crunchy parts!

Valete,

Matthew
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Jesse Frank
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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2005 9:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Also, look to the iron technology available at the time. Many of the iron implements weren't hardened, potentially necessitating the reinforcement of the tip. The Romans had figured out how to harden and temper by then, but I don't believe that it was universally used.
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Steve Grisetti




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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2005 2:50 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kenneth Enroth wrote:
I wonder if tradition did play a large part. The tradition of cutting sword and shield was passed down through centuries. It is natural to work within that rather than concoct something new unless you have to. The knights might have been pretty conservative fellows too. Reluctant to change unless they had to.

IMHO, most traditions arise for very sensible reasons. This is not always the case, and, also, those sensible reasons may disappear long before the resultant tradition. A significant factor in human conservatism is that change is a risk factor. When people have a tool or technique that they KNOW (or at least, think) works, and need to choose between that and some "new" technology that MIGHT be a little better, they will tend to choose what they know. Especially when the new technology has some tradeoffs compared to the old, and if there might be bad consequences (e.g., death), if the new thing doesn't meet expectations.
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Fri 27 May, 2005 6:33 pm    Post subject: Unarmored vs mail         Reply with quote

There are some professional archeological reviews of the battle of Towton (1461.) This is not the age of mail, but I point it out because throughtout most of medieval warfare the heavy fighting and casulaties were performed by mostly unarmored troops.

Battle field mass graves generally consist of soldiers that are basically unarmored. There are traces of metal (buckles, buttons, etc.) but most weapons would be removed from the dead infantry and (according to custom) collected at an armoury. Hence, main weapons of the battle were recylcled, not buried with the dead. Amazingly, most corposes showed multiple serious injuries, and one Towton skeleton showed signs of having 13 major injuries. Furthermore, most of the indivduals who fought on with such wounds are of comparable size to modern males (5'6" to 6'.) It is intereresting to note that those who showed the most numerous injuries were actually not judged to have died standing there ground (i.e. not retreating or repeatedly bludgeoned after falling.) You can read some of the details at several web sites including; http://www.shef.ac.uk/assem/issue6/Roses_web.html.

Some websites I have reviewed indicate that based on detailed accounts, Knight's heavy charges were not the mainstay of fighting forces in a large force (post 1000 AD, although considered critical to flanking stragtegies), and did not suffer casualties comparable to mercenaries and regular infantry. Knights would be called upon to slaughter infantry in retreat, flank and throw or lance edges of the lines, counter other knightly cavalry flanking manuevers, or finish scattered combat. For scattered combat against mostly unarmored forces, or slaughter of retreating infantry, a cutting sword would be ideal. The reality is that except for tournament or dueling knight on knight situations, a cutter makes the most sense for a knight to wield throughout dark and medieval ages.
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Alexi Goranov
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PostPosted: Fri 27 May, 2005 8:45 pm    Post subject: Re: Unarmored vs mail         Reply with quote

Jared Smith wrote:

Some websites I have reviewed indicate that based on detailed accounts, Knight's heavy charges were not the mainstay of fighting forces in a large force (post 1000 AD, although considered critical to flanking stragtegies), and did not suffer casualties comparable to mercenaries and regular infantry. Knights would be called upon to slaughter infantry in retreat, flank and throw or lance edges of the lines, counter other knightly cavalry flanking manuevers, or finish scattered combat. For scattered combat against mostly unarmored forces, or slaughter of retreating infantry, a cutting sword would be ideal. The reality is that except for tournament or dueling knight on knight situations, a cutter makes the most sense for a knight to wield throughout dark and medieval ages.


Studies in medieval warfare suggest that the mounted, knightly force was the core of any respectable army until sometime the 14th century. The knights often comprised a significant number of the total army and were considered to be the worthiest of the soldiers, while the infantry was regarded as useless (sometimes rightfully so). Plenty of examples about that in the early Crusading years. With the beginning of the 14th c this began to change as the foot soldiers began to learn how tho stand their ground, while the knights became too proud and careless in their attacks (this is an oversimplification of the matters as there are politics, economy, warfare strategy changes, recruitment methods, and army composition to be considered).

To get back to the point, the knights had a very "simple" and important role: to break the order/line of the opposing army through a mounted charge. (there is a variation to that as it may be a direct frontal assault or an out flanking one) If it worked (as it often did) the scattered army is easy picking for the infantry and the knights. It is worth noting that not all battles started with a knightly charge. For example, in the battle of coutrai (1302) the first French infantry attacked the Flemish and when the French almost won the battle the French knights decided to charge so that they could claim the victory.......The French ended up losing the battle. This is one of the first major 14th century victories of infantry over a mounted, knightly force.

I think there is little doubt that the knights as an army elite reached their peak during 12-13th centuries. that is when they were the most numerous and by far the best soldiers in the West. As the 14th century rolled by, the knightly class declined in its role as the soldier's elite (a position taken by the professional , mercenary armies), but arguably increased their influence in the matters of politics. Again, I am overamplifying here but I think that is the general trend that at lest some historians agree on.

Lastly, then knights were beaten they lost many. Look at the Swiss peasant revolt against the Austrians. In the battle of Sempach more than 2/3 of the Austrian army (largely knights) was destroyed by a well planned Swiss ambush. At Coutrai, between 40% and 50% of the french cavalry was killed. so knights were not immune to defeat and death. Most often they were spared for ransoms, but non-nobles (which both the Swiss and Flemish armies were) took no prisoners.

I hope that helps hint at the complexity of medieval warfare. I'd recommend J.F Verbruggen for some seminal readings regarding the Medieval warfare practices.

Alexi
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Steve Grisetti




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PostPosted: Sat 28 May, 2005 4:20 am    Post subject: Re: Unarmored vs mail         Reply with quote

Jared Smith wrote:
...Battle field mass graves generally consist of soldiers that are basically unarmored. There are traces of metal (buckles, buttons, etc.) but most weapons would be removed from the dead infantry and (according to custom) collected at an armoury. Hence, main weapons of the battle were recylcled, not buried with the dead....

Do unarmored burials necessarily indicate a lack of armor in battle? I would think that helms and armor, to the extent that they were present, would have been recycled, also?
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Aaron Schnatterly




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PostPosted: Sat 28 May, 2005 5:35 am    Post subject: Re: Unarmored vs mail         Reply with quote

Steve Grisetti wrote:
Jared Smith wrote:
...Battle field mass graves generally consist of soldiers that are basically unarmored. There are traces of metal (buckles, buttons, etc.) but most weapons would be removed from the dead infantry and (according to custom) collected at an armoury. Hence, main weapons of the battle were recylcled, not buried with the dead....

Do unarmored burials necessarily indicate a lack of armor in battle? I would think that helms and armor, to the extent that they were present, would have been recycled, also?


I would certainly think so, unless circumstances dictated otherwise (as in the case of Visby). Stripping the dead wouldn't mean leaving them "buck nekked" - anything worth the effort to salvage would have been, though. Armour was too expensive and too useful to just toss away. That buckles and buttons were found is no surprise. It's a lot faster to cut straps and replace them than try to undo them all. Garments under the armour would remain, including the fasteners.

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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Sat 28 May, 2005 7:11 am    Post subject: The Heavy Charge?         Reply with quote

I agree with logic on all of the above points. Foot soldiers would have had some basic armour pieces (helms, greaves, gorget, etc.) and are generally descirbed as being provided with padded jacks or gambesons. These would have been recycled, and were not their personal property. I doubt they would have had mail, since reportedly this takes a long time to make, even today! Equipping an army of several thousand new recruits with high quality armor does not seem likely. Besides, sometimes infantry had to march. Heavy armour would most likely be impracticle for foot travelers on an extended campaign.

It is difficult to find accurate and trustworthy historical accounts of militia composition, but some current authors assert that well armored knights comprised less than 20% of the forces in large scale conflicts. Common sense dictates that there was probably a lot of variations in composition, and some battles would have had a single man deep wall, while others may have had several lines. A heavy cavalry charge into infantry would not be a wise idea if the opposing forces were several lines deep. I expect it would be heroic and effective against a single man depth opposing wall. I found an essay speaking to the issue of army composition by Ian Yunker, https://portfolio.oit.duke.edu/retrieve/3143/middle+ages+art+of+war+essay.doc. I have seen similar articles claiming that the battlefield logistics were not dominated as prominently as most of use believe by the knights.

With regard to the heavy charge, a some historians advocated the idea that this really requires the use of a stirrup. China is credited with having the stirrup first (around 500AD?) which spread to Europe by late 1000's. http://www.dicksonc.act.edu.au/Showcase/ClioC...rrup.html. A theory exists that this is what led to the rise of armored calvalry. I believe this is a controversial topic, but having been involved in Equestrian Eventing (my daughter has trained and competed a little), I would say that heavy charge combat would go much better with stirrups! Period artwork examples showing knights charging directly into infantry are actually in the minority. A couple of tapestries show this, but more commonly knights are shown engaging other knights. Other accounts (not sure of their source and validity as I got this off the internet) have stated that when victorious, knights would dismount and join in the conclusion of scattered infantry combat. I have seen similar statements that survival rate of mounted knights was usually good, while the majority of footsoldiers died.



Jared Smith
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Jason Daub




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PostPosted: Sat 28 May, 2005 1:59 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jared,
The earliest mention of a stirrup in a written record is a Chinese source dating to AD 477. The introduction of the stirrup to Europe has been claimed as early as the 4th century, but most historians regard that as too early. The widely accepted theory is that the Persians adopted the stirrup in the 7th century and it made it's way into Europe somewhere in the 8th century.
As for using artwork as a guide to how the battles are fought, remember that the artwork from this time is full of conventions that dictate how things are to be shown and the lack of illustrations could be a reflection of the fact that mounted armoured warriors are usually shown in combat with others of their same class.
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Sun 29 May, 2005 8:59 am    Post subject: Additional datapoint ...         Reply with quote

I found on the Oakshotte web site a statement that german king/ holy roman emperor Charles IV (1316-1378) ordered his armies' armour from the Nuremburg shops. In 1362/63 he placed an order for 1816 sets of armors (he was essentially rearranging the political structure of the german empire at this time, and creating a more organized and lawful state. This really sets up the emergence of the professional mercenary.) This order strained the capacity of the shops for several years. This particular article is at http://www.oakeshott.org/metal.html I have seen a similar statement elsewhere, but have not been able to find it (forgot what keywords were in search engine at time, and subject of article was not really about quantities..)

Given period size of armies on the order of 20,000 (have not been able to track down actual size of Charles IV's armies, but consider French / Poiters to at least be an indicator), this could correspond to roughly 10%-20% knight/ "quality armored" soldier composition. I am assumming here that a certain amount of useable armor existed prior to the order, but rapid evolution of style and quality at this time would make replacement and upgrades necessary within a period of one kings life.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sun 29 May, 2005 4:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

20% of the host might have been armoured, but considerably less would have been armoured cap a pie. For the vast majority of men on the battlefield there would be plenty of gaps and less well protected areas to exploit.
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