early medieval ~10th C russian flails research/ DIY project
just putting a callout to see if anyone knows anyone who has made reconstructions of medieval, particularly 10th century, rus flails.
these appear to be almost nonexistant in google searches, many have recreated the heads, but not the whole object
i know theres a topic on flails generally, but im planning on using this thread as an evential place to showcase my attempt to recreate one of those flails. and multiple kinds of heads

one of the biggest mysteries was the question of how long/ short the actual strap and the handle were,

these heads were fairly small some of the bronze ones only about 4cm in diameter so chains might have been counterproductive to adding momentum to the head.

since theres very little in the way of either archaeological or pictoral evidence, im going to have to wing it in terms of deciding these factors

ind ill do this based on the principle of 'what have others done in the nearest times and/ or places to my current focus and 'what design "works" '
I have seen recreations of these with short, baton length shafts, and a 20-30 cm strap.
In this incarnation, they could be placed in the same category as the traditional boyars mace; A item for showing status and beating up unfortunate peasants.

The presence of a helmet or strudy cap would drasticaly reduce their effect.
though they could have some effect against unarmoured men, striking over shield edges. But their limited use sugests that they where not particularly effective.

This said, they are pretty cool.
A bronze sphere with 4cm diameter would weigh about 250 grams which is quite a lot. I have once been hit with a mace with a head of about same weight, maybe even lighter. While I didn't feel the hit at that time the dent left was deeper than any dent left by a sword though the blow was very weak. So I wouldn't say that such flail would be ineffective against armor. At least not against lighter armor. Though as far as I remember some heads weighed as little as 150 grams. Not 100% sure though.

I never made a reproduction though I have been wanting to make it for a long time. Some 12 years ago when I was introduced to LARP flail was one of my favorite weapons. My flail had a shaft about 50 cm long and a flexible part (rope + head) about 15 cm shorter so that the head would have no chances of hitting my hand.

I think that two strong points of flails were ease of manufacturing and that they were light and compact weapons yet had reach of larger and heavier weapons of the same niche such as swords and axes. And their weak points are that they are very dangerous to the wielder and that they can wrap around something and thus become useless.

I have seen at least drawings of flails that consisted of the head attached to a piece of rope with a loop on its end. Don't know how historically accurate these are, at least to me they seem to be very impractical compared to those with a solid shaft.

For your reproduction I would advise you to use rope or leather. Don't know if chains were very wide-spread, especially considering that even some heads were made of organic material.

If you want to find more info, A.N. Kirpichnikov wrote a book on Russian medieval weapons. But I don't think it has ever been translated into English :-(
Just found some of A.N. Kirpichnikov's works online. Looks like flails appeared in the X century and became really popular in XII-XIII centuries. In the X and XI centuries bone heads were very popular, later mostly metal heads were used. Some heads starting from the X century were made of bronze and filled with lead so they might be heavier than their size suggests. Same technology was actually used in mace heads. Quite a lot of flail heads were pear shaped. Looks like bone heads were usually around 4cm in diameter and 5-6 cm in length. Metal ones were smaller, around 3-3.5 cm in diameter and 4 cm in length (+ loop if there was one, some heads didn't have loops but instead had holes going through them lengthwise). Average weight of a a flail head seems to be around 150-200 grams. Just as I thought, chains were not very popular, ropes or leather strips were used much more often. Wooden handles were obviously used as they are mentioned in written sources, sizes mentioned are also very close to what I used on my LARP glails, though flails consisting of a head and a flexible part without a solid handle seem to have existed as well. Now when I think about it, these make an excellent concealed weapon.
interestingly, elling, the flail, according to archaeology was more common than the mace in the 10th century, we have around 20-25 flail weights dated between the 9th and 11th century

we have maybe 5 mace headsfrom the same era

but we have a couple of dedicated 10th/ 11th C flail heads from a fortress in the balkans or southern russia, i forget, but we have clear evidence that the fortrsss was destroyed, presumably durng a raid of some sort, around the mdd 11th century, or round about that time.
And maybe theres the chance these flails may have had multiple weights on a single shaft
like later medieval flails
http://www.swordsofmight.com/medieval-military-flail.aspx like this example
I don't think these ever had multiple heads. I made one such LARP flail, it was a total crap. Ropes were constantly entangling with each other. I haven't seen many late medieval flails with multiple heads either, and late medieval flails usually had chains that are far less prone to entangling than a rope. One 400g head would hit much harder than 2 200g heads.
but the rus flails are usually fairly light as you point out, especially in the 10th Century which is my area of interest btw look up the steckman collection itll liink you to a guy from alaska who carves antlers for a living, he might be able to source the antler bone needed to make the bone flail weights, its likely these would have been made of the toughest part of the antler, also the most dense piece of bone...
Actually, these Rus flails are part of a long line of weapons going back to Scythian times. While they may seem small in comparison to their later European cousins, I would not underestimate them. Over 2 thousand years of use suggests that they are quite effective within the context of steppe-style cavalry warfare. I know I saw a thread here once about Scythian flails, I'll see if I can find it. The Scythian version at least may have been primarily a projectile weapon. Perhaps these are more bola than flail?
heres some measurements i did of some of the russian flails made of bone, theire not huge, but nor are they all that small either, some of them anyway.
Very interesting! I wonder which bones those are made from. I want to make a bone or antler pommel of almost the exact same size and shape as those flail heads, but I can't find a bone of the right size, shape and density. Femur balls are too spongy in the middle, otherwise they would be perfect. Could these possibly be antler?
Scott Woodruff wrote:
Very interesting! I wonder which bones those are made from. I want to make a bone or antler pommel of almost the exact same size and shape as those flail heads, but I can't find a bone of the right size, shape and density. Femur balls are too spongy in the middle, otherwise they would be perfect. Could these possibly be antler?

they are definately antler, according to one alaskn antler carver, the densest and hardest antler comes from the tines i.e the prongs of the antler.
antler flail weights dominate the archaeological record for flails until we it the 12th centry. the we see a lot more bronze and iron ones.
and another update,

i did a few tests swinging my flail at coconut shells (still full of flesh and milk, that were hung from my clothesline at about my head height.

the flail has a 48cm shaft from the position of the rope to the butt of the handle.
the string and weight are similar to alekseis dimensions, aka about 15cm shorter than the handle overall,

here were the test results
first test was with a 75 gram lead spherical fishing sinker, the results were laughable, several hits failed to do any significant damage (though if it hit you in the face itd hurt like hell) and severely dented the lead weight itself to the point that it looks more like a jewllery cut diamond than a ball,

after that embarrasing attempt, i switched to the second try which was with a 115 gram, diamond profile snapper sinker, (they look kinda like heavy bodkin arrowheads) and started hitting the same cocnut since i failed to crack it with the first weight, i think after the second hit, this weight made a large crack in the shell.

the third attempt involved using the same 115 gram weight as before but this time i spun the clothesline holding the coconut to possibly give an idea of how much difference the momentum of running at/ charging on horseback at your opponent, effects the damage potential
(this is due to the fact this weapons were primarily used by mounted troops, aka the khazars and the druzhina of the kievan rus, so the extra height and momentum of being on a horse should somehow be accounted for.
but im not sure f it had much more of an effect., it took about the same amount of force to cause a significant crack in the coconut,
while iwas doing this i was posting the results
and reccomendations immediately came through that one thing i noticed and reccomended was that leaad naturally is quite soft (surprise surprise and that the reason my earlier tests were so difficult to cause signifiicant damage was the fact that the lead was deforming and therefore absorbing the impact. this meant the coconut wasnt taking much damage, (and indeed both lead weights were heavily deformed as a result of hitting the coconuts
the reccomendation was to get something harder

so i tried 2 other things,
the frst was a steel 3/4 " hex nut, each weighed about 68 grams each, initially i was going to use them both at once , using duct tape to make them very tight and unable to be seperated, to better transfer the impact,
but i figured that just one would be enough,
and sure enough, the first strike that made contact was a glancing blow, the corner of the hex nut gouges a furrow into the shell of the coconut,
the second hit made a deep dent in the shell and made some hairline cracks, the next hit, a slightly harder hit and i think a more direct impact, caused a massive crack to erupt in the shell of the coconut,

the last test was the most surprising, it composed of 2 pieces of bone, taped together so that they acted like a single larger piece of bone (im not sure what bone source it was though, ) but the 2 pieces tied together weighed 58 grams,

this test , was the most surprising, it caused a massive crack fissure-like crack in the coconut on the very first hit

these are extremely interesting results, particularly the last one.

i was very sceptical of how much damage 58 grams of bone might be able to do to someones skull,

that said, human cranial bones have thicknesses of around 5-10mm, these coconuts were around 4mm thick at the thickest spot.

clearly, one thing to be learned is that hardness, as well as possibly angularity naturally trump density and pure weight,
for their use in flails

a notable design of flail that emerged also was the jacketed lead weight, where a thin hollow bronze shell was filled with lead, this of course had the advantage that lead adds speed and density, but its soft, bronze and iron were hard, but slightly less dense,

that said one historian seemed to suggest that some flail weights were used without a handle at all and simply were on a rope abit like a bola, but the evidence against bolas is that there wasnt a second weight,in most of the burials where flails had been found.
These are very interesting results indeed. However your tests are biased against the flail. Coconuts are small and light (at least the ones sold in my country :) ) and I am pretty sure that when hung from a clothesline and hit they move quite a bit, absorbing the shock. I wonder what would happen if you hit it with a sharp sword? Or an axe, which is much easier to sharpen if you nick the edge.
Aleksei Sosnovski wrote:
These are very interesting results indeed. However your tests are biased against the flail. Coconuts are small and light (at least the ones sold in my country :) ) and I am pretty sure that when hung from a clothesline and hit they move quite a bit, absorbing the shock. I wonder what would happen if you hit it with a sharp sword? Or an axe, which is much easier to sharpen if you nick the edge.

the way i see it, if something succeeds in a test thats biased against it, then thats \even better proof that it can do damage,

but i think that the thickness and mechanical toughness of skull bone will by far outweigh that of coconut shell so in my opinion its biased towards the flail, by hitting a much easier target. and besides, bodies by nature are moved as they are hit, so it all works out.

also, there might be confounding in my technique, it might be that my angle of attack was different against the cocobnut in the various tests, the test with the bone flail i think struckit slightly on an upper angle, meaning its slightly forced downwards, and the coconuts were hung from the clothesline from a basic sling, this fact that theyre forced downwards

the question is what the lower threshold of damage was for these weapons. and at what point that they exclusively become ceremonial,

but at the same time, this makes the assumption that these were designed to be outright killers of men on the battlefield and not for some other purposem, or merely to hurt and stunn but not kill or that maybe some were meant for killing and others were indeed ceremonial.

they werealso known as wolf beaters. and herbastein, when talking about the muscovites in the 15th century, mentioned that the flails sometimes used them to repel wolves, he also noted that the handle was supposedly 2 ''units( i mean a russian unit that apparently equalled something like ~17.5cm) and the rope was 1 unit. so were looking at, for that time, at a flail with a handle of 35cm, and a rope of 17.5cm, plus the length of the weight itself, rather than the 50cm shaft and 30cm string,

this would significantly change the dynamics, battlefield uses, and striking power/ range of the weapon, considering that the weapon is nearly a whole foot shorter in its reach (17cm string instead of 30, and 35cm handle instead of 50, therefore a weapon of about 55cm instead of one of about 80-85cm, not including any extra length provided by the length of the weight itself.)

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