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Dashiell Harrison




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PostPosted: Thu 03 Aug, 2017 5:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

That's a good question and I can only speculate as to the answer. My guess would be that the sparth was optimized for cutting to such an extent that adding a point would just add a bit of extra weight in the wrong place on the axe, and maybe lead to it getting caught it stuff, or breaking off, as mentioned with halberds earlier in the thread, without really adding much to the effectiveness of the weapon. A sparth with a point would still loose out to a halberd or bill in foining play, while the broad horn at the top of the axe was probably good enough for dealing with unarmored Kern. That's just my guess, though, I've never gotten to handle an accurate reproduction of a two-handed axe; I'm generally more of a swordsman. Wink
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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Fri 04 Aug, 2017 4:42 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dashiell Harrison wrote:
I suspect gallowglass fought in a similar manner to the famed Highland charge that their cousins would perfect a century or so later..... I think a bill would be a better weapon for fighting in a phalanx-like formation than an axe, which is why I think gallowglass would have avoided going up against a well formed phalanx of billmen and instead relied on missile troops to disorder them and then charged in, perhaps on the flanks, once the billmen faltered, or else withdrawn completely and then ambushed the billmen when the were crossing a river or marching through a dense wood.


Elsewhere on this site I've argued why gallowglass probably didn't charge into combat like later highlanders. But if and when they had to fight a formation of billmen, I can see why they might sometimes choose to charge. However I suspect more often than not they would probably try to ambush the billmen if possible.

Dashiell Harrison wrote:
I think the utility of an armored axeman is that he can cover ground a bit faster than troops who have to stay in close order, shrug off missile attacks on the way, and then do terrible damage very quickly once he gets there. This seems to be a very useful ability in a world where kerns throwing javelins are one of the primary adversaries one is liable to face, and where terrain makes fighting in close order a relative rarity.


I can see how gallowglass could charge a short distance to take advantage of a disordered formation, but chasing after kern would be another story. I doubt that gallowglass would be able to keep up with the speed and mobility of a light footed kern.

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Dashiell Harrison




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PostPosted: Sat 05 Aug, 2017 1:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Stephen Curtin wrote:


Elsewhere on this site I've argued why gallowglass probably didn't charge into combat like later highlanders. But if and when they had to fight a formation of billmen, I can see why they might sometimes choose to charge. However I suspect more often than not they would probably try to ambush the billmen if possible.


I mean, if you're main weapon is an axe, I would imagine that ambushing someone would probably take the form of charging them from behind a rock or a tree, would it not?

Stephen Curtin wrote:

I can see how gallowglass could charge a short distance to take advantage of a disordered formation, but chasing after kern would be another story. I doubt that gallowglass would be able to keep up with the speed and mobility of a light footed kern.


If your goal is to stop the kern from pursuing cattle raiders, chasing them away might be all you need to accomplish.

In any case, I just can't see gallowglass stopping to slug it out with a spearman or billman. That just seems like a good way to get killed.
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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Sat 05 Aug, 2017 9:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Stephen Curtin wrote:
Henry O. wrote:
In the same way, I suspect that rather than all being armed identically, a formation of gallowglasses in the 15th century would fight more like typical mixed infantry, some with various designs of axes, some with spears, and some with two-handed swords all working together.


I'd love to see evidence of this. I've looked and so far the evidence I've seen suggests that gallowglass were uniformly axe-men before the 16th century, by which time some adopted the two handed sword.


There are occasional references in the various Irish annals of dismounted cavalry and gallowglass fighting together in one large infantry unit. One example of this can be seen in an entry for 1570 in the Annals of the Four Masters, where the MacWilliam Burkes of Mayo and their allies, fought the forces of Sir Edward Fitton, Lord President of Connaught, and Richard Burke, Earl of Clanricarde, near Shrule Castle, Co. Mayo. This is the closest example I can think of for "mixed infantry" amongst the Irish, however it's difficult to know how often this kind of thing happened as the annals don't mention it very often.

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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Sat 05 Aug, 2017 10:10 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dashiell. It seems we are in agreement on halberds and bills being better weapons for fighting in formation, and on how a battalion of gallowglass might have approached attacking a formation of billmen.

One of things I used to think was that an axe mounted on a 6 foot haft would be awkward to run with, but after playing around with a 6 foot wooden staff I no longer think this. If you hold the haft near middle, with your right hand on the head side and your left hand on the butt side, with this grip you can run easily enough with the haft parallel to the ground down by the left hip. From this position as you approach the enemy you can lift the axe overhead, parry their bills with the butt of your haft, and then strike with the head. If the enemy formation had been sufficiently disordered and the above technique had been successful, a gallowglass would find himself in the middle the enemy formation. In this situation a relatively short cut oriented weapon would have the advantage over longer halberds and bills. Many fencing masters advise to use primary cuts when faced with multiple opponents, so in this scenario adding a thrusting point to a sparth axe would be unnecessary. Also I f the gallowglass continued holding his axe near the middle of the haft it would have an even bigger manoeuvrability advantage over halberds and bills in close quarters, and he could use both ends for striking with.

Dashiell Harrison wrote:
If your goal is to stop the kern from pursuing cattle raiders, chasing them away might be all you need to accomplish.


Yes but wouldn't friendly kern and especially cavalry be more suited to this task? In this scenario I imagine the gallowglass' job would be to form a defensive screen (holding the hafts of their axes near the butt end and using big swings to keep the enemy at bay), behind which your cavalry and kern could regroup and counterattack.

Dashiell Harrison wrote:
In any case, I just can't see gallowglass stopping to slug it out with a spearman or billman. That just seems like a good way to get killed.


This is what John Dymmok (writing in about the year 1600) had to say: The Galloglass ar pycked and seelected men of great and mightie bodies, crewell without compassion. The greatest force of the battell consisteth in them, chosinge rather to dye then to yeelde, so that when yt cometh to handy blowes they are quickly slayne or win the feilde.

So if we are correct that one of the gallowglass' tactics for taking on English infantry was to charge, then it seems that when it worked it routed the English quickly, but when it didn't work the gallowglass did indeed slug it out and die.

Éirinn go Brách


Last edited by Stephen Curtin on Sat 05 Aug, 2017 2:14 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Dashiell Harrison




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PostPosted: Sat 05 Aug, 2017 10:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

All good points, Stephen! I think that's probably as close to the truth of the thing as we are going to get, unless somebody turns up a 16th century manual on gallowglass warfare in a church basement or something.
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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Sat 05 Aug, 2017 12:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Yes I believe we've worked out some plausible ideas on why gallowglass chose to use axes rather than other weapons. Thanks everyone for your contributions.
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Jason O C





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PostPosted: Mon 07 Aug, 2017 4:11 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Stephen Curtin wrote:
Dashiell Harrison wrote:
I suspect gallowglass fought in a similar manner to the famed Highland charge that their cousins would perfect a century or so later..... I think a bill would be a better weapon for fighting in a phalanx-like formation than an axe, which is why I think gallowglass would have avoided going up against a well formed phalanx of billmen and instead relied on missile troops to disorder them and then charged in, perhaps on the flanks, once the billmen faltered, or else withdrawn completely and then ambushed the billmen when the were crossing a river or marching through a dense wood.


Elsewhere on this site I've argued why gallowglass probably didn't charge into combat like later highlanders. But if and when they had to fight a formation of billmen, I can see why they might sometimes choose to charge. However I suspect more often than not they would probably try to ambush the billmen if possible.


Yes this is a plausible scenario where gallowglasses might do something similar to the highland charge, but how often did gallowglasses actually fight the English in pitched battles? I suspect not very often. Shouldn't an analysis of gallowglass weapons and tactics concentrate on the comtext of gallowglass vs Irish cavalry, kerns, and other gallowglasses?

Would the highland charge be an effective tactic against an opposing battalion of gallowglass? If not how do you think that scenario would play out?

Jason
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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Mon 07 Aug, 2017 8:08 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

First I think I need to clarify something. Earlier I said that gallowglass would need a good bit of space (5 or 6 feet) between each man. This much space is only needed if they held their axes with both hands near the butt, and use big sweeping cuts like those used with a two handed sword. This is how I imagine a battalion of gallowglass might have fought defensively to repel a charge form enemy cavalry or kern. If I'm correct about how gallowglass fought offensively (holding the axe with both hands near the middle of the haft and using both ends to strike with), I think about 3 feet between men was probably enough space.

Jason O C wrote:
how often did gallowglasses actually fight the English in pitched battles? I suspect not very often.


We don't know how often gallowglass would have fought in "pitched battles" against the English or even against other gallowglass. Many conflicts are recorded in the various annals of Ireland, but they don't usually tell us if it was a large "battle" or a small "skirmish". Instead the annals tend to focus on telling us about how heroically people fought, and the men of noble blood who died.

Jason O C wrote:
Shouldn't an analysis of gallowglass weapons and tactics concentrate on the comtext of gallowglass vs Irish cavalry, kerns, and other gallowglasses?


Well I've basically laid out how I think gallowglass fought against Irish cavalry and kern, and against English billmen, so I suppose I should put more thought into gallowglass vs gallowglass.

Jason O C wrote:
Would the highland charge be an effective tactic against an opposing battalion of gallowglass? If not how do you think that scenario would play out?


The highland charge was a risky manoeuvre at the best of times. Such risks may have at times been effective (or even necessary ) against English billmen, but against other gallowglass It may not have been as effective. Remember the opposing gallowglass would have had an equal level of mobility on rough terrain, and be just as comfortable fighting in close quarters with their axes.

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Richard Worthington





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PostPosted: Mon 07 Aug, 2017 1:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The downhill Highland charge essentially gave infantry some of the advantages of cavalry, i.e. speed and shock of impact. Once those temporary assets were spent, they reverted to ordinary infantry.

In my humble opinion, the shock value of the Gallowglass was in his weapon, not the speed of his formation. After the initial shock of impact, he was backed up by his light supporters in melée.

Just a thought...
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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Thu 10 Aug, 2017 7:25 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Richard Worthington wrote:
In my humble opinion, the shock value of the Gallowglass was in his weapon, not the speed of his formation.


Right the sparth was a good weapon for fighting multiple foes at relatively close quarters, but against English billmen, a charge (speed) may have been a good way to get into those close quarters.

Against opposing gallowglass (who were also well suited to fighting in a loose formation on rough terrain) a charge might have been less effective and so less worth the risk.

My best guess is that two battalions of gallowglass fighting each other probably ended up looking like a series of individual duels as Gabriele said earlier in this thread.

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Jason O C





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PostPosted: Thu 10 Aug, 2017 7:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Stephen Curtin wrote:
Earlier I said that gallowglass would need a good bit of space (5 or 6 feet) between each man. This much space is only needed if they held their axes with both hands near the butt, and use big sweeping cuts like those used with a two handed sword. This is how I imagine a battalion of gallowglass might have fought defensively to repel a charge form enemy cavalry or kern.


Leaving this much space between each man would also make it possible for friendly kern to; run out, throw a few javelins, then run back again behind their better armoured comrades.

Jason
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Richard Worthington





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PostPosted: Thu 10 Aug, 2017 11:19 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks Stephen. Do you have a recommended reading list for this period, beyond MacCulloch's Wars of the Irish Kings, and the Osprey Gallowglass? The Irish portion of my library is skewed towards Cuchullan, Fionn, and the Vikings.
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Henry O.





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PostPosted: Thu 10 Aug, 2017 2:31 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Stephen Curtin wrote:
This is what I was saying. On open ground, an orderly formation of English billmen would have a big advantage against a battalion of gallowglass. For the gallowglass to tip the odds in their favour, they would have to use rough ground and try to disrupt the billmen with missile weapons.


The point I was trying to get at was that neither the axe nor the black bill were intended for fighting in orderly formations like the pike was. The average english levy armed with a bill wouldn't really have been that disciplined anyways.

the more pronounced spike on the bill might give it some advantage over the Irish axes depending on the situation, but I'd hardly call it a big one. If a battalion of English billmen ever went up against a battalion of Irish galloglasses the outcome would depend far more on individual skill, experience, armor, and a myriad of other factors than on the fact that one side is using bills and the other is using battleaxes.
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Philip Dyer





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PostPosted: Thu 10 Aug, 2017 4:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Henry O. wrote:
Stephen Curtin wrote:
This is what I was saying. On open ground, an orderly formation of English billmen would have a big advantage against a battalion of gallowglass. For the gallowglass to tip the odds in their favour, they would have to use rough ground and try to disrupt the billmen with missile weapons.


The point I was trying to get at was that neither the axe nor the black bill were intended for fighting in orderly formations like the pike was. The average english levy armed with a bill wouldn't really have been that disciplined anyways.

the more pronounced spike on the bill might give it some advantage over the Irish axes depending on the situation, but I'd hardly call it a big one. If a battalion of English billmen ever went up against a battalion of Irish galloglasses the outcome would depend far more on individual skill, experience, armor, and a myriad of other factors than on the fact that one side is using bills and the other is using battleaxes.

I would call in big advantage because the billmen could fight in a tighter more cohesive formation and more cohesive units of men tend to waste groups fighting more like individuals even if each individual fighters are more skilled.
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Henry O.





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PostPosted: Thu 10 Aug, 2017 5:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Philip Dyer wrote:
Henry O. wrote:
The point I was trying to get at was that neither the axe nor the black bill were intended for fighting in orderly formations like the pike was. The average english levy armed with a bill wouldn't really have been that disciplined anyways.

the more pronounced spike on the bill might give it some advantage over the Irish axes depending on the situation, but I'd hardly call it a big one. If a battalion of English billmen ever went up against a battalion of Irish galloglasses the outcome would depend far more on individual skill, experience, armor, and a myriad of other factors than on the fact that one side is using bills and the other is using battleaxes.

I would call in big advantage because the billmen could fight in a tighter more cohesive formation and more cohesive units of men tend to waste groups fighting more like individuals even if each individual fighters are more skilled.


According to Silver, the advantage of using short "weapons of weight" is that they are useful in very close quarters. If you have plenty of room to move around and keep your distance you might be better off with a spear or a long, lightweight halberd.

It's a mistake to conflate "tighter" with "more cohesion", instead the most close quarters fighting often seems to have occurred when cohesion breaks down, as seen in Hans Holbein's sketch. This is where weapons like battleaxes, two-handed swords, and sword&target are described as being most effective, and that's if the combatants aren't reduced to stabbing at each other with daggers.

By the way, we also probably shouldn't assume that the average bill was making use of the best technology available at the time. Even in 1590, sir Roger Williams was complaining that few English bills were made of "good stuffe" and that instead most were "lightlie for the most part all yron, with a little steele or none at all".
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Philip Dyer





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PostPosted: Thu 10 Aug, 2017 6:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Henry O. wrote:
Philip Dyer wrote:
Henry O. wrote:
The point I was trying to get at was that neither the axe nor the black bill were intended for fighting in orderly formations like the pike was. The average english levy armed with a bill wouldn't really have been that disciplined anyways.

the more pronounced spike on the bill might give it some advantage over the Irish axes depending on the situation, but I'd hardly call it a big one. If a battalion of English billmen ever went up against a battalion of Irish galloglasses the outcome would depend far more on individual skill, experience, armor, and a myriad of other factors than on the fact that one side is using bills and the other is using battleaxes.

I would call in big advantage because the billmen could fight in a tighter more cohesive formation and more cohesive units of men tend to waste groups fighting more like individuals even if each individual fighters are more skilled.


According to Silver, the advantage of using short "weapons of weight" is that they are useful in very close quarters. If you have plenty of room to move around and keep your distance you might be better off with a spear or a long, lightweight halberd.

It's a mistake to conflate "tighter" with "more cohesion", instead the most close quarters fighting often seems to have occurred when cohesion breaks down, as seen in Hans Holbein's sketch. This is where weapons like battleaxes, two-handed swords, and sword&target are described as being most effective, and that's if the combatants aren't reduced to stabbing at each other with daggers.

By the way, we also probably shouldn't assume that the average bill was making use of the best technology available at the time. Even in 1590, sir Roger Williams was complaining that few English bills were made of "good stuffe" and that instead most were "lightlie for the most part all yron, with a little steele or none at all".

But tighter unit (not was far as close to the enemy but close to each other) can present several threats to individual in front of looser formation ( mean more distance between himself and his friends) so that one man of the loose could potentially be facing two or more threats at a time. In that situation, where multiple men are able to isolate and focus on individual because the sparth formation is looser, the sparth formation is at massive disadvantage. There just for you ca do as a unit with a point and poking motion than a swinging motion. Hence why the standard weapon of infranty all over the world was spears, not clubs, or long axes. That is assuming that the sparth formation was charging head on without softening the formation up somehow.
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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Fri 11 Aug, 2017 7:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Richard. I've haven't the biggest book collection myself, but I'd recommend the following.

The World of the Gallowglass: Kings, Warlords, and Warriors in Ireland and Scotland, 1200-1600 by Sean Duffy.

Galloglas: Hebridean and West Highland Warrior Kindreds in Medieval Ireland by John Marsden

The Nine Years War, 1593-1603: O'Neill, Mountjoy and the military revolution by James O'Neill

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Henry O.





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PostPosted: Fri 11 Aug, 2017 12:16 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Philip Dyer wrote:
But tighter unit (not was far as close to the enemy but close to each other) can present several threats to individual in front of looser formation ( mean more distance between himself and his friends) so that one man of the loose could potentially be facing two or more threats at a time. In that situation, where multiple men are able to isolate and focus on individual because the sparth formation is looser, the sparth formation is at massive disadvantage. There just for you ca do as a unit with a point and poking motion than a swinging motion. Hence why the standard weapon of infranty all over the world was spears, not clubs, or long axes. That is assuming that the sparth formation was charging head on without softening the formation up somehow.


Is there any primary evidence to support the idea that sparth axes needed to be used in a loose formation though? Sure it's limited to overhand strikes and jabs with the point in close quarters, bus so is the bill in that situation, abiet one is slightly more optimized for cutting and the other is slightly more optimized for thrusting (assuming the bill's soft iron point doesn't get bent first).

Sure the spear was the most common weapon throughout most of history, but that doesn't mean other weapons didn't also see quite a bit of use at various points in history, for instance the dacian falx, the Daneaxe, the Aztec macuahuitl, etc. Not to mention the Romans favoring the sword and shield in close combat.

During the high to late middle ages especially we start to see quite a lot of variety when it comes to infantry weapons as opposed to every single soldier being armed with a one handed sword, spear, and shield.



By the way, don't forget the earliest versions of the bill. https://myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?p=316356

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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Fri 11 Aug, 2017 7:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Good discussion guys.

Henry O. wrote:
The point I was trying to get at was that neither the axe nor the black bill were intended for fighting in orderly formations like the pike was.


Perhaps this is true of the black bill as used in the late 16th century, but what of the bills used during the wars of the roses or during the reign of Henry VIII? I could be mistaken but I was under the impression that, before the widespread adoption of the pike, English billmen did indeed fight in orderly formations.

Henry O. wrote:
the more pronounced spike on the bill might give it some advantage over the Irish axes depending on the situation, but I'd hardly call it a big one.


It's possible that the point of a halberd or bill might penetrate through the links on a mail shirt. I doubt the same could be said for the sparth. I'd call that a pretty big advantage.

Henry O. wrote:
If a battalion of English billmen ever went up against a battalion of Irish galloglasses the outcome would depend far more on individual skill, experience, armor, and a myriad of other factors than on the fact that one side is using bills and the other is using battleaxes.


There are of course other factors to consider other than what style of polearm was preferred. One of most important of these factors is, as Philip said, each gallowglass would probably be facing multiple billmen and that is a huge disadvantage. That is of course if the billmen fought standing shoulder to shoulder, and the gallowglass left some space between each man.

Henry O. wrote:
According to Silver, the advantage of using short "weapons of weight" is that they are useful in very close quarters


Yes men armed with short weapons, such as sparths or black bills, have the advantage over longer polearms when fighting at close quarters. But men armed with longer polearms have the advantage of being able to keep their opponents from closing the distance to fight in said close quarters.

Henry O. wrote:
Is there any primary evidence to support the idea that sparth axes needed to be used in a loose formation though?


Unfortunately there is no primary evidence on how gallowglass used their sparths, that's why I started this thread.

Henry O. wrote:
Sure it's limited to overhand strikes and jabs with the point in close quarters, bus so is the bill in that situation, abiet one is slightly more optimized for cutting and the other is slightly more optimized for thrusting


What length of bill are we talking about here? If it's the shorter "black" bill then perhaps you are right and there wasn't that much of a difference, but longer bills do have the reach advantage.

Incidentally am I wrong in thinking that English billmen, from let's say from about 1450 to 1550 mostly used the longer type (about 8 foot on average) of bills? If this is wrong then I may have to change my thoughts on the matter.

Henry O. wrote:
Sure the spear was the most common weapon throughout most of history, but that doesn't mean other weapons didn't also see quite a bit of use at various points in history, for instance the dacian falx, the Daneaxe, the Aztec macuahuitl......... By the way, don't forget the earliest versions of the bill.


None of these weapons were ever used by whole battalions of men in the same way that halberds, bills, or sparths were though.

Henry O. wrote:
By the way, we also probably shouldn't assume that the average bill was making use of the best technology available at the time. Even in 1590, sir Roger Williams was complaining that few English bills were made of "good stuffe" and that instead most were "lightlie for the most part all yron, with a little steele or none at all".


The same could probably be said for Irish sparths. I doubt that they were all made from good stuff either.

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