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Vytautas Z





Joined: 14 Jun 2010

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PostPosted: Wed 08 Dec, 2010 9:23 am    Post subject: Information on medieval combat injuries         Reply with quote

Hello,

I am looking for any information (preferably with a serious analysis) about the injuries found in bones of the soldiers (or any documented injuries of warriors who survived the battles). I know a little about Visby, that leg injuries were common (any suggestions why ?).

Would be nice to compare, say, anything up to XIIc in Europe and the XIV-XVc. What I am particularly interested is the frequency of thrusting/stabbing wounds. I do not expect much, but have to give it a try...

Any books, journals or other sources of information would be much appreciated.

Cheers,
V
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Dustin R. Reagan





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PostPosted: Wed 08 Dec, 2010 10:15 am    Post subject: Re: Information on medieval combat injuries         Reply with quote

Vytautas Z wrote:
Hello,
I know a little about Visby, that leg injuries were common (any suggestions why ?).


The most parsimonious suggestions are that:

1) In combat with shields, the leg is the most exposed part of the body.
2) Legs are typically the least armoured part of the body ( usually, it goes Head, Torso, Hands, Arms, Legs, in order of most to least likely to be armoured -- this is a gross generalization, by the way, and i'm sure there are many counter-examples ).
3) The somato-topic cortical mapping (brain map that represents our mental model of our bodies in space) of the legs is typically much smaller, per area, than that of other body parts (except for the back). Practically speaking, this means that we are consciously less aware of, and less sure of the exact state (position, etc) of our legs. This means that attacks to the legs are less likely to be noticed and reacted to appropriately, than, say, attacks to the upper quadrants of the body.

Dustin
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Craig Shackleton




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PostPosted: Wed 08 Dec, 2010 11:06 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here is one site that has some info about excavations from Towton:

http://www.the-exiles.org/Article%20Towton.htm

I know there is more information out there on that one particularly, but it's a start.

Ottawa Swordplay
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Vytautas Z





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PostPosted: Wed 08 Dec, 2010 11:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hmm,

Yes, they indeed are most exposed, but attacking the legs exposes your upper body: if looking at a man on man situation for, say, Viking age, assuming right handed warriors, if the two keep the distance, one would have to lean a bit to reach the other's legs, thus exposing his head which would be very likely blocked with a shield in the expense of vision, and an experienced opponent would read the lean pretty well and could either 'drop block' it with a shield (fully extending your shield arm downwards, the construction of the round shield allows to do that while keeping the shield almost perpendicular to the Earth's surface, hence fully using the area of the shield) and then thrusting over/under the opponents shield (or any other counter attack). Also experience would let one to block the sword with ones sword as well, and having such a good vision with no visors in that era would make that plausible.

BTW I have read (do not know how reliable the source is, at least it stated that Visby was dominated with leg injuries) stating that at Towton arm injuries were much more common than in Visby, there is a difference of 100 years though...
According to that source, no torso wound were found in either of these battles. I suppose you can stab one into the stomach without reaching his spine, or just missing it would not leave anything on the bones but would surely kill one...
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Vytautas Z





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PostPosted: Wed 08 Dec, 2010 11:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

@Craig:

Yeah, I have seen that one.

I was getting carried away there with the leg part, I am more interested the early centuries sword fighting styles. Was stabbing with swords a useful technique ? I mean, looking at the say XV century swords, they have a very narrow tip, and the sword itself is more of a stabbing weapon.
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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Wed 08 Dec, 2010 11:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

See Blood Red Roses for forensic details of the Towton remains.
-Sean

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Tjarand Matre




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PostPosted: Wed 08 Dec, 2010 1:46 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Not sure if you've seen this page: http://homepage.ntlworld.com/peter.fairweather/docs/visby.htm
Not a lot of info but interesting nonetheless. As a warbow archer I'm intrigued by the skull with 3 bodkin arrowheads in it. Brutal ...
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Dustin R. Reagan





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PostPosted: Wed 08 Dec, 2010 3:16 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Vytautas Z wrote:
Yes, they indeed are most exposed, but attacking the legs exposes your upper body: if looking at a man on man situation for, say, Viking age, assuming right handed warriors, if the two keep the distance, one would have to lean a bit to reach the other's legs, thus exposing his head which would be very likely blocked with a shield in the expense of vision, and an experienced opponent would read the lean pretty well and could either 'drop block' it with a shield (fully extending your shield arm downwards, the construction of the round shield allows to do that while keeping the shield almost perpendicular to the Earth's surface, hence fully using the area of the shield) and then thrusting over/under the opponents shield (or any other counter attack). Also experience would let one to block the sword with ones sword as well, and having such a good vision with no visors in that era would make that plausible.


Of course any combat situation has a counter, which has a counter, which has a counter (ad infinitum). Giving me the counter to an attack to the legs is rather pointless...

Also, what does this have to do with Visby (not Viking age)?
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Wed 08 Dec, 2010 5:36 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As far as I remember, the most frequent wound at visby was strikes to the left arm, followed by head blows, then legs, torso, and the right arm with almost no hits. While some of the leg wounds are spectacular, they where not the most common.

This would sugest that the pesants where armed with spears, and not using shields, as the hit distribution is consistent with a left-leg forward spear stance.
The analysis is of course made more difficult that the bones where sorted after type, rather than as complete skeletons.

One must also keep in mind that the recorded wounds are those that have actually damaged bone. Some areas, like the shin, have almost no covering muscle, and even light, non fatal wounds would thus show up, while deadly blows to the abdomen or thighs would not show at all, since there is a lot more soft tissue.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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David Clark





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PostPosted: Wed 08 Dec, 2010 6:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Going by experience fighting freestyle using wooden wasters and SCA heavy combat using rattan, a strike to the shins using a one handed weapon (sword, mace, etc) is relatively easy to accomplish without exposing one's self to a counter strike, if one lowers their stance whilst doing so, rather than leaning forward. In fact, the ease of striking this area is my main gripe regarding SCA combat, as shin strikes are not allowed. Sad
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Vytautas Z





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PostPosted: Thu 09 Dec, 2010 2:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

@Dustin

Directly, has nothing to do with Viking age, and the legs part was just a question I had was why the most dominant injuries in Visby were to the legs (according to some source, which now looks incorrect according to Elling).

I am most interested in two things here, the difference between injuries in the two age limits (say IX-XI and XIV-XV). Of course the latter is heavy cavalry dominant, but I am most interested in infantry vs infantry injuries (sorry for being very specific). And thus the fighting technique (sword and shield in particular).

I suppose that the easiest target for stabbing would be the stomach and chest (dues to big area and relative easy of hitting the target) but taking the shield into the consideration (early periods) the head would be another prime target, though harder to hit. I do not expect to find any evidence of stab wounds in the stomach, unless the sword penetrated all the way to the spine and left a mark there or there is any surviving armour/textile with a penetration mark on it. Chest would show these more easily I think. Anyway, I do not want to get carried away with these subtopics.

The early version of sword were wide and looks not as suitable for a swift combination of thrusts.

@David

I would say it depends on the stance. If both are right handed what I normally see is left knee first, but I tend to hold my right net first as it gives me more reach and the shield protects the leg better and gives you a wee bit more time to cover your left leg from a slash. Lowering one's stance is a way to expose yourself less, but, makes more room for an overshield stab for the opponent provided he blocked your slash to the shin (Again, I think it is a bit pointless to discuss particular techniques as Dustin said there is always a counter action.)
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Martin Wallgren




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PostPosted: Thu 09 Dec, 2010 2:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Vytautas Z wrote:


The early version of sword were wide and looks not as suitable for a swift combination of thrusts.



This is kind of a missconception! The pointy later swords are pointy to be able to penetrate maille and gaps in armour. The spatulated tips on an earlier sword is very good at stabbing at unprotected bodies or soft armour (textile and leather). The early swords are extremly agile and perfect to use aroud a large roundshield,

Here is a quite serious try to reconstruct techniques by using crossreferences from the norse sagas with nolage from later medieval and renaissans fightingtechniques...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWSTx0tZHCU

There is several videos from the same group there!

In the documentary Weapons that made Brittain, The Sword, hosted by Mike Loads, there is a few interesting test done with swords with different stule of point.

Swordsman, Archer and Dad
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Vytautas Z





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PostPosted: Thu 09 Dec, 2010 4:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

@Martin,

Yeah, I have seen those videos. I have a very similar type of early sword they have and it is agile but not as something from XIV-XVc (well I suppose it also depends on the skill of the smith in making the sword).

That is what I am saying, if you can use a sword with such an accuracy to get through the gaps (such as an armpit say), they must be very suitable for speed and accuracy. I have no doubts that the early sword is rather good for stabbing through soft armour. When it comes to leather it really depends on the leather. There was a discussion on leather armour in one of the forums I participate in and some of the leather proved to be very very hard to penetrate, but that is another topic (again Happy ).

Assuming the rich/noble fighting in the Viking era (i.e. helmet, maille, possibly even those early splinted versions of limb protection) the killing zone would be the face/neck are, but as you can see from the vid's is relatively easy to block a stab in the face (besides, the defender in the video was barely moving)
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Iagoba Ferreira





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PostPosted: Thu 09 Dec, 2010 4:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I've got data on several combats of the petty nobility from my area (north of Castilla) from the XV century. It's biased because most named and described deaths are of "captains" or from renamed family members. Most of them are crossbow bolt hits (deadly ones to head or neck, some to the chest). The near majority of the other are from spears (thrown or hand held, on foot or on horse) with a few mentions to swords or firearms, roughly (and from memory) giving 60% bolts, 30% spears and 10% other

So, as far as I've got with the lance, nearly all the injuries (explained with enough detail) are on the exposed areas (face, armpit, crotch) of the plate armour, althrough its not explicitly said that they were wearing one...

The time from the injury to the death is also of your interest? It's given some times, too.

I cannot be more precise or complete at this moment, sorry Blush
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Vytautas Z





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PostPosted: Thu 09 Dec, 2010 6:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

@ lagoba

Thanks, that was interesting. It is no surprise that in later centuries XV onwards, the sword was probably more of a status symbol as a mace or a lance or especially a pole-axe would do much better for defeating fully armoured soldiers. But not all soldiers had full plate armour...

As for time from injury to death it would be interesting to read something about that:)

Generalising, are face/neck injuries are they most common ? And is it stab wounds to the face in the Viking age, say ? And more of crushing injuries in the later eras ?
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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Thu 09 Dec, 2010 6:40 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Iagoba Ferreira wrote:
I've got data on several combats of the petty nobility from my area (north of Castilla) from the XV century. It's biased because most named and described deaths are of "captains" or from renamed family members. Most of them are crossbow bolt hits (deadly ones to head or neck, some to the chest). The near majority of the other are from spears (thrown or hand held, on foot or on horse) with a few mentions to swords or firearms, roughly (and from memory) giving 60% bolts, 30% spears and 10% other

So, as far as I've got with the lance, nearly all the injuries (explained with enough detail) are on the exposed areas (face, armpit, crotch) of the plate armour, althrough its not explicitly said that they were wearing one...

The time from the injury to the death is also of your interest? It's given some times, too.

I cannot be more precise or complete at this moment, sorry Blush


That is very interesting I'd like to see more about that when you have some time, with your sources. Thanks for posting.

J

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S. Jansone




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PostPosted: Thu 09 Dec, 2010 10:02 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Regarding wound with broken bones, I remember one person from Latvia (I think it was XII or XIII century burial) with a very severe wound - his leg was almost separated with a sword cut and besides he has other injuries gotten at the same time (according to experts). If interested I can maybe obtain more information...
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Vytautas Z





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PostPosted: Thu 09 Dec, 2010 1:23 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

@ Jansone

Of course ! I am from Lithuania so info from Latvia is more than appreciated:) .
Any info from any region from anything in IX-XVc at all, this is interesting stuff. Of course for now IX-XI and XIV-XV would be best for comparison,

What I was told (do not know how reliable this info is) that most likely combination was shin-head (makes sense, but if it was common it must have been known how to counter that combo)
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Thu 09 Dec, 2010 4:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The head-shin feint works very well, provided you cover your head with the shield as you go down. the counter is simply slipping the front leg back and blocking with the shield. However, sometimes you are caught of guard or are simply to slow. Knowing the counter is NOT the same thing as doing the counter every time...
this is in single combat, however, In a battle, with spears everywhere, and closed ranks, it is less viable.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Vytautas Z





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PostPosted: Thu 09 Dec, 2010 5:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

@Elling

Couldn't agree more that knowing how to counter will NOT guarantee a successful counter:) And yeah in the midst of battle spears were dominant, at least until the formations did not go too crazy...

I sometimes wonder, why the hell did they not even try to protect their legs, knees or elbows (in the early era, except for a (few?) odd splint armour findings), I mean relatively lots of leather items are recovered from those ages, but not a single peace of leather armour for the limbs...Crazy...
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