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Paul Hansen




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PostPosted: Mon 20 Jul, 2020 5:50 am    Post subject: Historical use of weapons as tools?         Reply with quote

This thread is inspired by this one: http://myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=38694 but I thought it would be too far off topic.

My question is, is there evidence for certain types of weapons that were regularly also used as tools?

The use of weapons as tools seems to be a popular concept (I recently heard a museum guide say that axes were popular among Vikings because they could also be used to chop wood) but it seems false to me.

An item is generally designed in accordance with it's intended use. An axe for felling is different than one for splitting, let alone one that is intended as a weapon. A chef's knife is intended for slicing vegetables, not for combat. A bayonet is not intended for butchering animals.

Also, generally we can say that weapons are more highly valued than everyday tools. It would not make sense to risk damaging your elaborately decorated sax while clearing some brushes on your farm.

But, even though it may be logical (to me at least, counter arguments welcome! Happy), is there any evidence for the historical use of weapons as tools?
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Glen A Cleeton




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PostPosted: Mon 20 Jul, 2020 7:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There were certainly dozens of sidearms meant, and capable of both being a weapon and fascine work (or other chopping/slicing use).


To easily turn the query around would be the number of tools used as weapons.

I don't know that the former is the best example but by the 19th century, quite a regular process in design.

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Hadrian Coffin
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PostPosted: Mon 20 Jul, 2020 7:52 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think Mr. Cleeton's argument that the obverse is more provable is something that is quite true. There are loads of descriptions of peasants taking their tools out into battle in the English risings.. the Peasants Revolt of 1381 and and Jack Cade's rebellion in 1450.

There are definitely examples, some sagas for example, that mention non-military use of small arms like swords.. but the commonality of this is hard to define. It might be notable solely for the actual rarity of it. There are, of course, once we get into a Christian context, allegorical 'turning swords into plowshares' and 'spears into pruning hooks'. I recall that Bede references this at least once. Again, however, it might be the novelty which causes mention.

There are perhaps fewer multi-use designed weapon/tools.. but certain messers, for example, definitely are.

I think that your comment about the 'elaborately decorated sax' is worth picking up on. There is a tendency in the secondary literature to assume that the wealthy/elite in society were somehow frequently (or occasionally) out in the field --in part because the primary sources frequently mention activities like farming. What the original writer means by 'out in the fields' or 'farming' is, perhaps, very different from our modern understanding of working the fields. One thing we have to keep in mind, is that the sort of person who would have an elaborate sax, would have also had a load of slaves and people of lower socio-economic status as servants. No one was wandering about regularly on his own as a 'lone ranger'. If our hypothetical man with an elaborate sax had to clear some bushes on his farm, he would not use his sax.. he would order a slave to do it. The slave would likely have a specific tool to do so.. but that tool could be used as a weapon against our hypothetical sax owner!


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Hadrian

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Paul Hansen




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PostPosted: Mon 20 Jul, 2020 7:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Glen A Cleeton wrote:
There were certainly dozens of sidearms meant, and capable of both being a weapon and fascine work (or other chopping/slicing use).


Yes, in a 18th-20th C military context that's clear. But then we are talking about standardised army use, which I think is a bit different.

My question is more aimed at earlier periods, say, up to 1500. Sorry for not being clear.

Glen A Cleeton wrote:
To easily turn the query around would be the number of tools used as weapons.

While that query seems similar, I think it is generally speaking not similar at all. Some tools, e.g. machete's are easily weaponised and vice versa (e.g. various Indonesian short swords can be very elaborate and high status, but still essentially similar to their plain sisters). But most tools-used-as-weapons, such as pitchforks, wood cutting axes, hammers etc are a serious disadvantage against real weapons.
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Mikko Kuusirati




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PostPosted: Mon 20 Jul, 2020 9:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

On first instinct I'd go as far as to say that almost all traditional knives, at least in their most popular forms worn by regular people as a matter of custom and everyday use, are either tools-cum-sidearms or sidearms-cum-tools. Norse seaxes, German messers, English bollock knives, American bowies, Nepalese kukri, Finnish puukko, Saami leuku...
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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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Tue 21 Jul, 2020 7:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Paul Hansen wrote:
This thread is inspired by this one: http://myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=38694 but I thought it would be too far off topic.

My question is, is there evidence for certain types of weapons that were regularly also used as tools?

The use of weapons as tools seems to be a popular concept (I recently heard a museum guide say that axes were popular among Vikings because they could also be used to chop wood) but it seems false to me.

Axes are difficult because someone interested in warfare can look at an early medieval axehead and call it a battle axe, and someone interested in woodworking can look at the same axehead and name the woodworking tasks it was good for. Big single-edged knives with a 6" to 10" blade are often hard to interpret too.

If you read the coroner's reports from 14th century London, or Rezin Bowie's version of the Sandbar Fight as remembered in 1838, you will see that murder weapons are often just a knife. Just like today! Most people before 1900 could not afford more than one big knife.

What I would say is that west of the Hindu Kush, the more 'weapon features' a sword or knife has (long blade, double-edged blade, big handguard, fancy decorated scabbard), the less likely that it was used for working tasks. I can't think of any medieval European sources for a cross-hilted falchion being used to chop wood, or a bollock knife being used to slaughter a sheep.

Edit: The cultures where farmers commonly carry long bushcuttung knives tend to be in the tropics, not temperate Europe.

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Paul Hansen




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PostPosted: Tue 21 Jul, 2020 12:45 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mikko Kuusirati wrote:
On first instinct I'd go as far as to say that almost all traditional knives, at least in their most popular forms worn by regular people as a matter of custom and everyday use, are either tools-cum-sidearms or sidearms-cum-tools. Norse seaxes, German messers, English bollock knives, American bowies, Nepalese kukri, Finnish puukko, Saami leuku...

You are heaping a lot of blades together there...

Puukko / leuku, yes, those are EDC kind of knives, so most of the time working knives but of course could be used as a weapon if needed. To some extent, the same for bollock daggers and bowies.

I don't know enough about kukhri's or Nepalese culture but I think there are different versions which may be geared more towards "bushcraft" (short and thick) or more towards "martial arts" (long and thin). For the Gurkha's it's both but again, modern military context.

Saxes and messers, I doubt it. See my reasoning in the OP.

Sean Manning wrote:
Axes are difficult because someone interested in warfare can look at an early medieval axehead and call it a battle axe, and someone interested in woodworking can look at the same axehead and name the woodworking tasks it was good for.
Perhaps but I still think that form follows function. In modern production axes, this is pretty clear at least.

Sean Manning wrote:
If you read the coroner's reports from 14th century London, or Rezin Bowie's version of the Sandbar Fight as remembered in 1838, you will see that murder weapons are often just a knife. Just like today! Most people before 1900 could not afford more than one big knife.

I think it is also a matter of opportunity. If you feel the need to defend yourself, you'll take what you have. If you feel the sudden need to murder someone I guess the same applies. Also, knives are common, explainable and easy to conceal.

But for warfare, there is generally a bit more time to plan. Several early to high medieval legal documents regulate how men shall prepare themselves for war and also prescribe the kit that they should bring with them, depending on their wealth and social position etc. I don't recall any of them mentioning saxes (probably too early) or messers (probably too late) but I would imagine that that prescribed kit would be used only in the event of war and / or mustering / training, similar how present day Swiss Reservists handle their assault rifles.

Sean Manning wrote:
What I would say is that west of the Hindu Kush, the more 'weapon features' a sword or knife has (long blade, double-edged blade, big handguard, fancy decorated scabbard), the less likely that it was used for working tasks. I can't think of any medieval European sources for a cross-hilted falchion being used to chop wood, or a bollock knife being used to slaughter a sheep.

That's my reasoning as well. Happy Thanks for posting that!
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Greyson Brown




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PostPosted: Tue 21 Jul, 2020 7:30 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Paul,

What are you referring to when you say sax? I know the term sax or seax to refer to single edged knives with blades from small knife size up to sword length. I think a seax with a shorter blade (say 8 inches or less) is very easily classified as a tool. Longer seaxes (14 inch or longer blade, maybe) are pretty clearly weapons, and there is room for overlap in the middle. Your response here and in my other post makes me think that you are using the term seax to refer to the larger examples, while Mikko and I are referring to the more moderate-to-small versions (though I freely admit that I did a poor job of specifying that). The differing opinions that we have on this matter may actually be more a failure to define terms than an actual disagreement.

I think that it should also be pointed out that, at least in my post that you referenced originally, I was talking specifically about knives/daggers. As far as I am aware those are generally not specified in required equipment, so it is easy for me to believe that someone would use the knife they already own rather than buying a dagger that they weren't required to own (though I'm sure both happened). Trying to have a primary weapon (sword, messer, or even, debatibly, an axe - I'm not referring to tools pressed into service as weapons here) that is also a tool, seems a lot less viable to me than a knife/dagger that is both tool and weapon.

I also specifically referred to civilians and poorer soldiers in my post, and I think the demographic in question makes a big difference. Is a knight or lord going to carry a simple knife when they can have a dagger that reflects their status? Very unlikely, but the math doesn't necessarily work the same for a very low income individual. Like the definition of seax, the type of individual being discussed has the opportunity to twist the discussion quite a bit.

-- Greyson

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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Wed 22 Jul, 2020 4:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Isn't seax just the Old English word for "knife"? Messer just means "knife" too. My understanding is that if you look at the excavation reports, you find most seaxes with a 3" to 10" blade and plain handle just like working knives in other cultures, and a few long murdrin' irons that are popular with modern customers.
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Paul Hansen




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PostPosted: Thu 23 Jul, 2020 2:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Greyson Brown wrote:
What are you referring to when you say sax?
With sax I mean a single edged short sword / long knife. Length and width varied with time (see attachments), but in my view, they were definately bigger than a knife, although perhaps the largest bowies may come close. A broken-back or wharncliffe knife is not a sax. In my opinion.

With regards to knives, it is clear that they are multi-purpose, except maybe for some special types, like daggers and kerambits vs stanley knives / boxcutters on both ends of the spectrum.

Still, someone once said on a knife forum: "I don't carry a knife for self defense, but if I did, I'd make it as sharp as I could get it and hope to never use it." Which I think makes a lot of sense. If you use it, you also dull it and unless you want to sharpen it every evening, it's better to carry a second knife for the everyday cutting tasks.

Wih regards to wealth, one could argue both ways. I think the archeological record shows reason to believe that at least for some, a sax was for people who could not afford a sword. Those who could afford a sword, also often carried a sax (and a knife). But for a lot of people, any iron implement would be a very high value object. Off topic, but flint remained in use for various cutting tasks well into the iron age, at least in north-west Europe. But if you could afford only one (or two) iron weapon(s), say a spear and a sax, would you use the sax as a tool, as a way to get as much use of it as you could? Or would you not use it, unless you had to, out of concern of damaging it?

Sean Manning wrote:
Isn't seax just the Old English word for "knife"? Messer just means "knife" too.

You are right, but the difference between a Messer and a "Messer" was very clear to the old fencing masters. Wink

For instance, the presence of a nagel (one of the defining characteristics of a "Messer") would make absolutely no sense except for fencing. At least I've never seen one on a kitchen knife, nor would it make sense to parry an attack with the hilt of a kitchen knife.



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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Fri 24 Jul, 2020 1:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Paul Hansen wrote:
Greyson Brown wrote:
What are you referring to when you say sax?
With sax I mean a single edged short sword / long knife. Length and width varied with time (see attachments), but in my view, they were definately bigger than a knife, although perhaps the largest bowies may come close. A broken-back or wharncliffe knife is not a sax. In my opinion.

Well, seaxes come in all lengths from a 3" blade to a 30" blade, so where do you draw the line? My understanding is that the vast majority of seaxes are the size you might use to whittle some wood or take a chicken apart. And people who carry a big knife, say a 7" to 12" blade, often tell themselves that its for some practical task, but mostly it makes them feel tough and outdoorsy.

Paul Hansen wrote:
the difference between a Messer and a "Messer" was very clear to the old fencing masters. Wink

For instance, the presence of a nagel (one of the defining characteristics of a "Messer") would make absolutely no sense except for fencing. At least I've never seen one on a kitchen knife, nor would it make sense to parry an attack with the hilt of a kitchen knife.

When the Merkvers attributed to 'Johannes Liechtenauer' says "sper swert vnd messer mandleich bederben," I suspect that Messer is just a knife / dagger. The fencing manuals which mean a specific long kind of Messer with a crossguard and a nail are using slang, just like when Fiore says spada and means what we call a long sword. And today we have to worry about knives like the two long knives in Brueghel's "Peasant Dance." Are they purely intended as weapons, or something that got used every week or so? Or maybe tools for a task like hunting which does not happen very often?


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Paul Hansen




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PostPosted: Fri 24 Jul, 2020 4:38 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sean Manning wrote:
The fencing manuals which mean a specific long kind of Messer with a crossguard and a nail are using slang, just like when Fiore says spada and means what we call a long sword

And today we have to worry about knives like the two long knives in Brueghel's "Peasant Dance." Are they purely intended as weapons, or something that got used every week or so? Or maybe tools for a task like hunting which does not happen very often?

Yes, I think so. Also as I understand it, the long Messer was intended as a way to circumvent weapons laws and be able to carry a long blade inside a city. Very handy especially for people who regularly came in and out of cities with goods and/or money, like farmers.

The Bauernwehr is exactly the kind of weapon I have in mind. I happen to own an original example (with nagel). Mine has a fairly light blade of 45cm long. It could well be used for hunting as well as for self defense. The edge is quite badly corroded so I can't make out any wear marks, if any.

Brueghel depicts these blades very often, but I think they are almost always sheathed on the belt. Although Brueghel often depicted events (feasts but also every day scenes) where such blades could have been used if they were mostly intended as tools.
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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Fri 24 Jul, 2020 8:19 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Paul Hansen wrote:
as I understand it, the long Messer was intended as a way to circumvent weapons laws and be able to carry a long blade inside a city. Very handy especially for people who regularly came in and out of cities with goods and/or money, like farmers.

The other theory (maybe by J.G. Elmslie?) is that the guilds that made knives wanted to take market share from the guilds that made swords.

For what it is worth, the only medieval German laws on bearing arms which I have read applies the same restrictions to carrying swords and carrying Stechmesser "stabbing knives" and carrying "any kind of forbidden weapon and harness and arms." A 14th century English decree against people who cause disturbances during or before parliament listed all kinds of weapons which people were not supposed to carry. If medieval people did not want to leave a loophole, they did not leave a loophole!

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PostPosted: Fri 24 Jul, 2020 8:35 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Paul Hansen wrote:

Yes, I think so. Also as I understand it, the long Messer was intended as a way to circumvent weapons laws and be able to carry a long blade inside a city. Very handy especially for people who regularly came in and out of cities with goods and/or money, like farmers.


There is very little evidence for this theory. The weapon laws people have mostly found refer to a physical measurement at the city gate, and forbid carrying all weapons bigger than that measure.

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Z Wells




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PostPosted: Tue 18 Aug, 2020 6:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Without knowing too much about the specific weapons being discussed, there were a couple of things I found when I went digging into kukris and machetes a few weeks back. Not trying to argue with people, just pointing out a couple of things I didn't entirely notice til an expert brought them up.

a) longer machetes with a better grip vs shorter machetes with stout handles. Longer = more weaponised, maybe, but also potentially just a better tool for chopping long grass and brush closer to the ground. Eg -

https://youtu.be/qXZ5_THekgE

b) big thick tangs on top .. could be for chopping big thick bits of hard wood, giving inertia going through a target, displacing material as it strikes ... but maybe it's just a great way to give a big "can't miss" area and maximum chance of getting energy from the drop for batoning wood.

https://youtu.be/3vA9JrsBdBY?t=91

I'm sure this is something that could be better answered by going out into rural areas and asking people what their grand-dad used, than by anything you could read in a book.
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Paul Hansen




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PostPosted: Thu 20 Aug, 2020 11:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Z Wells wrote:
I'm sure this is something that could be better answered by going out into rural areas and asking people what their grand-dad used, than by anything you could read in a book.


In the testament of one of my ancestors (d. about 1700), who was a fairly wealthy farmer, there is a mention of a "Houwer", Dutch for "hewing knife" or, in modern language, a machete. It's listed among other household and farming items as belonging to the estate of my ancestor.

In my fantasy, this is some kind of bauernwehr or messer, but given the late date I think it is not that likely. But the testament does not specify anything further.

In The Netherlands, the time of using bauernwehr or similar blades is so long past that, to my knowledge, there are no oral traditions any more... Instead, the farmers went to use axes, saws and shears for their wood cutting needs, and pistols for defence. And pocket knives, of course: https://www.adola.nl/producten/#!/product/friedrich-herder-werkmes-19-5cm~FH0062
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JG Elmslie
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PostPosted: Fri 21 Aug, 2020 10:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sean Manning wrote:

The other theory (maybe by J.G. Elmslie?) is that the guilds that made knives wanted to take market share from the guilds that made swords.


the longer I study them, the less convinced I am that that hypothesis holds water, at least in the scope of overall industry. We're starting to find hints and indications of messer-makers doing swords, and vice versa, so I suspect its inaccurate for an overall description of the guild conflicts.
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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Sat 22 Aug, 2020 7:50 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Z Wells wrote:
Without knowing too much about the specific weapons being discussed, there were a couple of things I found when I went digging into kukris and machetes a few weeks back. Not trying to argue with people, just pointing out a couple of things I didn't entirely notice til an expert brought them up.

a) longer machetes with a better grip vs shorter machetes with stout handles. Longer = more weaponised, maybe, but also potentially just a better tool for chopping long grass and brush closer to the ground. Eg -

https://youtu.be/qXZ5_THekgE

b) big thick tangs on top .. could be for chopping big thick bits of hard wood, giving inertia going through a target, displacing material as it strikes ... but maybe it's just a great way to give a big "can't miss" area and maximum chance of getting energy from the drop for batoning wood.

https://youtu.be/3vA9JrsBdBY?t=91

I'm sure this is something that could be better answered by going out into rural areas and asking people what their grand-dad used, than by anything you could read in a book.

The kinds of tasks I see in those videos are tasks which I thought pre-20th-century Europeans did with sickles, axes, wedges and mallets, scythes, and bill-hooks. The approach to splitting wood in the second video is one I have never seen before, but it he does not have an axe handy then why not!

I would be interested to hear how far we can trace back the big brush-cutting knives in the rainy tropics, Egerton's Indian and Oriental Arms and Armour has a few travellers' accounts from the 18th and 19th centuries of nations where all the men carry a hatchet or a big knife as both a farm tool and a weapon.

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Daniel Parry




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PostPosted: Sun 23 Aug, 2020 1:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This is similar tp the chat we were having on another thread about rapiers and left hand daggers. I had noted that apart from some which were long and had features which indicated they were made for purpose, many of them I have seen at sales and in museums ( and a guy I know has over 30 of them from 16th/17th centuries) are relatively small compared to what I would expect for a weapon to parry a sword. Therefore the question is are they left hand daggers which were small for ease of carry or general use daggers which could be used as left hand daggers. We don't know, but I am inclined to think many were the latter.

Particularly in the case of knives, which could be carried commonly in daily life, you would probably incline to something of general use unless you thought you would be in danger on a regular basis.

The one below is a good example. Late 1400s I think and a riverbed/foreshore find probably as corroded but still has the wooden core and some of the leather covering on the handle.

It's a tidy size. Blade about 71/2 inches long, single edged with a thick spine, so strong, with a reinforced point on one side. The reinforced point makes it seem more like a combat weapon as could probably punch through a leather jerkin or something thicker. But equally the sharp single edged blade could have been used for utility purposes like cutting something, the point could have been used for putting a new hole in a leather belt or, as a friend pointed out, the thickened point section would probably mean a piece of meat you skewered at the table wouldn't fall off as you brought it back to your plate ! It could also be a very effective weapon in a pinch.

I think it would have been bought with all the above in mind, plus it's of a size that it could be carried at the side or back of a belt with no inconvenience.

D



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