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Dan Kary





Joined: 12 Dec 2017

Posts: 126

PostPosted: Tue 21 Jun, 2022 8:44 am    Post subject: Foreign gear in the middle ages         Reply with quote

Hi everybody,

I'm wondering what sort of evidence there is of weapons and armor entering the domain of a foreign culture and seeing use. Just as an example, there are lots of swords from (I think) Italy making their way to the armories of Alexandra (via Cyprus?). Were these just basically wall hangers or would these swords have seen actual use? I imagine that a Mamluk warrior in Egypt would be trained to use something like a kilij, or something else, and would prefer not to use an Italian sword.

I imagine that sometimes, when there were cultural clashes, weapons and armor would have been lifted from a battlefield and if you were poor you might take a foreign weapon and use it because you couldn't afford to have anything else - but surely it wouldn't be your preference, would it? Maybe it would happen that it would be carried around as a sort of trophy, but surely not the preference on the battlefield unless there was just a clear difference in quality between what you have and what you pillage.

Of course this is a different question than one culture adopting practices, weapons, etc. from another culture because of the perception that it is worth while. In these cases, its a slower creep and you see an evolution of arms and armor from outside influences. But maybe this is how the adoption happened - people importing or otherwise acquiring foreign weaponry?

Maybe I'm wrong about this - I kind of hope so, because it would be neat if adopting foreign weapons armor was common.

Thanks!

Dan
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Sean Manning




Location: Austria
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PostPosted: Tue 21 Jun, 2022 8:00 pm    Post subject: Re: Foreign gear in the middle ages         Reply with quote

Dan Kary wrote:
if you were poor you might take a foreign weapon and use it because you couldn't afford to have anything else - but surely it wouldn't be your preference, would it? Maybe it would happen that it would be carried around as a sort of trophy, but surely not the preference on the battlefield unless there was just a clear difference in quality between what you have and what you pillage.

Whenever we have good evidence, we see warriors fetishizing foreign kit. Often this goes both ways, like Vikings and Franks exporting their sword blades to the Arab world and Arabs and Persians exporting their sword blades to the Franks and each charging a high price. If its rare and exotic, it must be good! There are many examples of this during the Second World War, but the Romans borrowed almost all their kit from their neighbours and subjects. Western European swords in the 18th and 19th century have a lot of Hungarian, Ottoman, and Mamluk influence while many Indian swords in the same period were European blades in local hilts.

If you want examples from medieval Europe, look at places like Hungary and the Baltic where different cultures intermixed. Many parts of Europe were much more diverse than England and northern France. But even in late medieval England, records tell us that someone was killed with "an Irish knife called scian" or "a Turkish bow of Spanish yew".

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Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
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PostPosted: Wed 22 Jun, 2022 3:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'd be a *little* careful. Yes, there was certainly trade and influence in all directions. But remember that most people fought people who lived very close to them, and were typically very similar, culturally. And of course we don't always know what the differences were, or how subtle they were. A Samnite *might* look at a helmet and say "Definitely Etruscan", while we look at it and shrug and say, "Probably Italian?" On the other hand, we might say, "This one is Etruscan, while this one is Samnite", while the Samnites and Etruscans look at us in confusion and say, "It's a helmet..."

The Romans are the popular ones to bring up, in a topic like this. And sure, with more and more contacts with cultures farther and farther away, something at one end of the empire could look bizarre to someone at the other end. SOMEtimes! Items found in distant places can be surprisingly similar. But most of what they used was *Roman*, even if derived from something from Gaul or Spain, etc. An early Imperial legionary is not actually carrying a "Spanish" sword or "Gallic" helmet, they are distinctly Roman items with distant foreign ancestors.

Similarly, yes, Scandinavians love imported Frankish blades, but their swords aren't Frankish in style--they aren't using *foreign* weapons. (American cars have plenty of parts that aren't made in the USA, if I'm not mistaken.) English soldiers in the 16th century are carrying "Morris" or "Moorish" pikes, which probably had nothing to do with actual Moors.

Of course, once we get into those later centuries, it's a lot easier to determine exactly where an item was made, and whether it was made for domestic use or export, etc. How much of that do we want to call "foreign"?

So, yes, it's quite possible that someone could pick up a nice new sword off a battlefield that didn't look like the local ones. Might turn a few heads, might not. I'm not sure I'd say that was "common", though, again since more often you'd be fighting people who looked a lot like you. Or that battlefield loot was considered the property of your commander, or was scooped up by professional scavengers before you even finished the battle, or was piled up as a trophy or an offering to the gods, etc.

Bottom line, most of what we see in artwork or dig up as artifacts is going to align with local fashions, so using exotic weaponry couldn't have been all *that* common. We can see that it did happen, though.

I think I might have lost my train of thought somewhere in there...

Matthew
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Sean Manning




Location: Austria
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PostPosted: Wed 22 Jun, 2022 12:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew Amt wrote:
Similarly, yes, Scandinavians love imported Frankish blades, but their swords aren't Frankish in style--they aren't using *foreign* weapons.

I think that depends whether you count the 80% of the sword which is the blade, or the 20% which is the hilt! Albion is happy to place the same blade in a Norman style hilt with a disc pommel and long cross and a Norse style hilt with a tea-cozy pommel and a short cross.

Likewise, how much the people you fought were like you depended a lot on where and who you were. The medieval English rarely fought anyone more exotic than the Irish, but they were homebodies (except for the ones who became Varangians!) In Hungary there were people who fought like Swabians and people who fought like Cumans and that was just how people fought. I imagine that kit was very mixed as the East Roman Empire disintegrated.

Maybe what we have in common is that people often alter the foreign kit they adopt or copy? Like including a small boss on the East Roman style shields with the pointed bottoms you make, because your father taught you that shields need bosses, or having the cutler put a proper Shirazi hilt on that Frankish sword before you buy it.

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Dan Kary





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PostPosted: Thu 23 Jun, 2022 7:19 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for the responses. I have two things to add for consideration, upon a bit of reflection:

I think it is an interesting philosophical question, similar to the ship the Theseus problem, when one weapon can be attributed to one culture or another. Sean's point about Albions is interesting. There is decoration on their Type XIX blades (except the Doge) which I think is from an Italian design (from a sword that went to the armory of Alexandria), which might be especially well suited for the Condottiere, and maybe the Machiavelli, but they have it on the Kern. But maybe it's not that implausible that such a blade made it to Ireland and then had the hilt made by an Irish smith. Would it an Irish sword or an Italian one?

I think that the term "fetishizing" is probably a good one to talk about foreign kit in many cases. I find it really implausible, from my own intuitive perspective, that you'd adopt kit that you weren't trained to use when you had access to kit you were trained to use. The (or some?) exceptions, of course, would be is that if you didn't intend to use it and it was for decoration, if you couldn't access kit you were trained in, or that you planned to train to use that kit (I imagine this would be very uncommon depending on the time/place).
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Ryan S.




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PostPosted: Thu 23 Jun, 2022 8:26 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think that it depends on what you consider a culture. I think the reason why English and French kits were so similar, was because of the cultural exchange. This is especially true if there is a lot of trade and other cultural exchange between two cultures. Now we have a lot of global culture and everyone has the same drinking glasses from Ikea.

I am not sure when it happened, but at some point almost all sword blades were produced mainly in a few centers of production. The hilts were then made locally. So we have a lot more variety of hilts than blades. I think stylistically, warriors would have preferred their own culture’s products. However, if something was obtainable and practically better, then they would adapt it. Tactics and technology have to be considered. For example, does the one culture know how to maintain and repair the item?

I think it is important to differentiate between collectables and trophies and actually using the armor and weapons.
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Dan Kary





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PostPosted: Thu 23 Jun, 2022 9:02 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ryan S. wrote:

I think it is important to differentiate between collectables and trophies and actually using the armor and weapons.


Perfectly put! Yes, what I am asking is about the latter. It seems that trophies were likely common but actually using them, was probably rare. I don't think, for example, that Mamluks were using the European swords in the Armory of Alexandria...weren't they just trophies in the sense that they were tributes to the Sultan?
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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Fri 24 Jun, 2022 6:35 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ryan S. wrote:
Tactics and technology have to be considered. For example, does the one culture know how to maintain and repair the item?

Although its important not to overthink that. Once a culture has ironworking, a helmet is a helmet and a sword is a sword and a shield board is a shield board. Occasionally you get a technology like Indian crucible steel or Chinese cast bronze crossbow-locks which is hard to copy, but mostly its not a big deal to copy or maintain arms and armour. Give a competent master an example to copy, and he and his journeymen can start making their own version. So for example, Chinese cutlers started to make copies of Japanese katana when those came into fashion. At about the same time armourers in Austra and Bohemia were making their own interpretation of Ottoman helmets.

So if you study any given place and time, I think you will find a few specific pieces of foreign kit which were commonly used. That does not mean that its a good idea to imagine a random person in Yorkshire in 1240 using a Turkish sword or a Lithuanian shield - you have to do the work to see what foreign things were fashionable and who used them for what- but he might have a Flemish-style kettle hat or an Irish knife. And definitely, what someone in England thought was a "Turkish bow" or "Saracen shield" might not be the same thing a Turk or an Arab understood by those concepts!

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Ryan S.




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PostPosted: Sun 26 Jun, 2022 12:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sean Manning wrote:

Although its important not to overthink that. Once a culture has ironworking, a helmet is a helmet and a sword is a sword and a shield board is a shield board. Occasionally you get a technology like Indian crucible steel or Chinese cast bronze crossbow-locks which is hard to copy, but mostly its not a big deal to copy or maintain arms and armour. Give a competent master an example to copy, and he and his journeymen can start making their own version. So for example, Chinese cutlers started to make copies of Japanese katana when those came into fashion. At about the same time armourers in Austra and Bohemia were making their own interpretation of Ottoman helmets.

So if you study any given place and time, I think you will find a few specific pieces of foreign kit which were commonly used. That does not mean that its a good idea to imagine a random person in Yorkshire in 1240 using a Turkish sword or a Lithuanian shield - you have to do the work to see what foreign things were fashionable and who used them for what- but he might have a Flemish-style kettle hat or an Irish knife. And definitely, what someone in England thought was a "Turkish bow" or "Saracen shield" might not be the same thing a Turk or an Arab understood by those concepts!


Good point, but I think the technology and tactical considerations apply more on an individual level. For example, there are several reasons a bow archer who found an enemy crossbow might not use it. First, it is much more valuable than his bow, and therefore worth more as loot. Second, he is trained on the bow and not the crossbow, and therefore has a comparative advantage. Third, his role in the army is as bowman, and although a single crossbowman with a group of bowmen shooting together probably won't create too many tactical problems, but the lack of uniformity might be uncomfortable for the crossbowman, and not approved of by the military leadership. Fourth, he might not know how to properly care for the crossbow, lack the right kind of ammo and not know how to restring it if the string breaks.

I picked bows and crossbows not because I am aware of a culture without crossbows fighting a culture with crossbows (even the English had crossbows at Agincourt). Rather, because they are functionally similar without being perfect substitutes. I think that it would be unlikely that a soldier on campaign would switch his weapon, if it effected how he would fit in as part of the formation. I think that in general, a soldier would keep his old gear, unless the gear was seen as better in a way that wasn't purely cosmetic. An interesting historical case is Vikings and the Byzantines, often discussed is the usage of lamellar by the vikings. That is, that although the vikings had contact with Byzantines, there is little evidence that they brought back lamellar armor to Scandinavia. If it was better, why didn´t they adopt it, and if it was worse, why did the Byzantines use it. Unless the reason has to do with climate, it might just be that the Byzantines could afford it.

Sun Tzu also strongly recommends taking enemy supplies and equipment, which would of course apply to weapons and armor. He also recommends incorporating the troops of defeated armies into your army. Foreign troops, either as allied or conquered people, often maintained distinctive fighting styles and equipment. This is probably the because the foreign troops such as Roman auxiliaries supplied their own equipment. However, over time a the cultural change might take place where both sides adopt aspects of their cultures.

In modern times, European militaries often adopted weapons and uniforms and gave them to their own troops. I am thinking of the hussars and uhlans (lancers), but also the Zouaves. All three regiment types were recruited from a foreign culture, but then native regiments in the same style were raised, and lastly third party nations copied the style of regiment.
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Dan Kary





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PostPosted: Sun 26 Jun, 2022 8:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I just watched a video of Matt Easton's (his videos are something I really enjoy and highly recommend) and he pointed out something interesting on this - in the middle ages, looting didn't work in the way that you'd just pick over a battlefield and keep what you wanted. Apparently, everything was collected, then sold off, and then the money distributed by the commanders to the men in the army. If you pocketed anything then that would be illegal and considered theft.

What does this mean? Well, if he is right, then it might mean that if you wanted that Mamluk kilij (or whatever), then you couldn't just take it. You'd have to buy in a sell off. I'm not sure that anybody is going to do that, other than the rich, and I'm not sure they are going to do that for any purpose other than as a showpiece.

What do you think?
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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Mon 27 Jun, 2022 10:14 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Kary wrote:
What does this mean? Well, if he is right, then it might mean that if you wanted that Mamluk kilij (or whatever), then you couldn't just take it. You'd have to buy in a sell off. I'm not sure that anybody is going to do that, other than the rich, and I'm not sure they are going to do that for any purpose other than as a showpiece.

I think you are trying to find rationalizations for a pre-existing conclusion, and you are stuck on this "found on the battlefield" scenario. A variety of arms and armour were available in any town or fair in the medieval world and circulated as gifts and payment in kind. Almost all societies before the 20th century were so poor that the dead of a battle would be naked by the coming dawn: a bloody shirt with spear holes was still precious.

If what you wanted was not on hand, any skilled worker could make you their interpretation of a foreign style. To learn to use them you played around with them (the same way most people learned to use the local weapons), or had someone teach you (that someone might be from a different culture, or might be a neighbour who swore he had learned an exotic fighting art). But you did not need special training to use a spear with a slightly different head, or a helmet with a slightly different shape. If anything, I think the biggest barrier was probably the desire to look like your buddies! But I showed you that there was a massive wholesale trade in sword blades between cultures, even cultures which often fought each other. And sometimes the exotic weapon is cool, as when the Ming started to use Japanese-style sabres.

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Dan Kary





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PostPosted: Mon 27 Jun, 2022 2:51 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

[quote="Sean Manning"]
I think you are trying to find rationalizations for a pre-existing conclusion, and you are stuck on this "found on the battlefield" scenario. quote]

Sorry, I'm just a bit confused. Is my pre-existing conclusion that the use of foreign kit wasn't common? If this isn't it, could you tell me what conclusion you're referring to? I also thought I "unstuck" the scenario by saying it seems like it didn't happen. Or did you mean that I'm stuck because I'm not considering other possibilities for how foreign kit got into people's hands? If that's what you mean, I promise I will consider other possibilities (actually I promise this anyways).

It's certainly interesting about distributing the goods as payment so I guess it could get into a lot of hands that way. Also about craftsmen making them and the selling of them could bump up the number of foreign kit users. I'm just wondering: how common all that would be? Maybe I need to rephrase the question. Let's say you took 100 soldiers from an army...how many of them would have foreign kit? I admit that's probably a bad question because it would depend on the location, the time, etc. but maybe it's a start? Certainly fashion (or the desire to look like your buddies, as you put it, Sean) is too.
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Anthony Clipsom




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PostPosted: Mon 27 Jun, 2022 11:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As has already been said, are we talking foreign with the meaning from a different state or foreign meaning from a different culture or military tradition. Sean is more an expert on this than me, but there is plenty of evidence of an international trade in arms and armour in medieval Europe. Dealers bought up stuff where it was plentiful (perhaps a war zone, perhaps a centre of manufacture) and shipped it to where there was a demand. So, for example, the accounts of the Duke of Norfolk in the Wars of the Roses period show him visited by Flemish arms merchants and obtaining sundry items from stock. In that sense, a good number of Norfolk's retainers could find themselves with foreign war gear.
To take another example, medieval Scotland does not seem to have had a particularly strong armaments industry. As an ally of France, shipments of armour were a common diplomatic gift to the King and aristocracy. Continental arms were also commercially traded up the North Sea from Flanders and probably from the Hansa. There was also a lively but illegal trade in arms from England. So, a great many Scots gentry and burgesses probably had some foreign kit.

Anthony Clipsom
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Dan Kary





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PostPosted: Tue 28 Jun, 2022 8:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Anthony Clipsom wrote:
are we talking foreign with the meaning from a different state or foreign meaning from a different culture or military tradition.


I'd be interested in both, but I think the more interesting case is the latter. I understand that my question should probably have been more specific. Thanks for the clarification. Maybe some examples would help too: How common would it have been to see a Mamluk with an Italian Sword? How common would it have been to see a German with a mongol sword? etc.
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Ryan S.




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PostPosted: Tue 05 Jul, 2022 6:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Kary wrote:
Anthony Clipsom wrote:
are we talking foreign with the meaning from a different state or foreign meaning from a different culture or military tradition.


I'd be interested in both, but I think the more interesting case is the latter. I understand that my question should probably have been more specific. Thanks for the clarification. Maybe some examples would help too: How common would it have been to see a Mamluk with an Italian Sword? How common would it have been to see a German with a mongol sword? etc.


I think it is hard to say how common something was. An easier question is, is there any evidence that Mamluks used Italians swords or that a German used a Mongol sword. The time period is relevant too. My guess is that Germans didn't have much access to Mongol swords. While trade routes existed between parts of the Mongol Empire and Europe, I have never heard of sword blades being traded, probably because the coast of transportation wasn't worth it for something that Europeans could use themselves. They probably wouldn't have captured many swords in battle, because first, the Mongols won a lot, and second, when the Mongols lost, they rode away. As far as I know, there was never a large amount of Mongols captured.

That means, even if hundreds of mongol swords ended up in European hands, only a portion of those swords would end up in German hands. So, there is a possibility that a German could get a mongol sword, but a very limited one. However, would he want one? Most German knights used two-edged swords, so they probably would not have swapped that for a Mongol one edged saber. However, Germans did use Messers, which is quite similar. I don’t know enough about Messers or Mongol sabers that I could say which would be seen as better. However, a saber is more of a substitute good for a Messer than a sword. It is then possible that the blade would be rehilted with a German style hilt. Since blades were often rehilted to the current fashion.

Really, that is all speculation. It is just common sense that enemy weapons were valuable loot. Maybe somewhere there is record of weapons being looted and either sold or redistributed to soldiers? Although, in the aftermath of a battle, there is likely to be a surplus of weapons due to causalities and abandoned weapons.
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Dan Kary





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PostPosted: Tue 05 Jul, 2022 9:01 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I don't have anything additional to add, really. I just wanted to say thanks for the insight, Ryan (and to everybody else too). There is a lot to think about and I think you're probably right that it is impossible to say how common it was. There are so many factors here - proximity, trade, fashion, usability, time period, cultural attitudes, and so on. On the one hand, I was wondering if it would be head turning if somebody was wearing foreign kit (because it was uncommon), but on the other hand, that might be the point of wearing foreign it!
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T. Kew




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PostPosted: Tue 05 Jul, 2022 1:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ryan S. wrote:
Most German knights used two-edged swords, so they probably would not have swapped that for a Mongol one edged saber. However, Germans did use Messers, which is quite similar. I don’t know enough about Messers or Mongol sabers that I could say which would be seen as better. However, a saber is more of a substitute good for a Messer than a sword.


I feel this is something we tend to overstate substantially as modern commentators. Medieval fencing books treat single edged and double edged swords pretty much interchangeably. Two very relevant examples which spring to mind:

In the mid fifteenth century, Talhoffer depicts both sword and messer in his sword and buckler illustrations: 117v, 119v. Similarly in a later book, he says "these are the positions with the buckler and messer" while showing fencers using a buckler and a sword: 117r.

Writing somewhat later in the early 1500s, Andre Paurñfeyndt says even more explicitly:

Quote:

The second chapter teaches how one shall use their messer advantageously and it has not declined by way of its diverse applicability and it is a predecessor and the chief basis of the other weapons that are used with one hand such as the dussack or dagger, wide dagger or short sword and many other one handed weapons which I will leave out for brevity.

DAS ANDER CAPITEL lernet wie man phfortail prauchen sol ym messer und hat pesunder nit vermert nemen, von wegen der manigfaltikat, und ist ein forgang und hauptursach ander weren die gpraucht werden mit ainer hand alsz ist der Tessack oder tolich, spatel oder handtegen, und ander vil mer czu ainer hand die ich von kurz wegen ausz lasz


While several of these terms are somewhat obscure/unclear, it's still evident that this is a very wide variety of one-handed weapons being described as "used basically like a messer".

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Ryan S.




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PostPosted: Thu 07 Jul, 2022 8:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

T. Kew wrote:
Ryan S. wrote:
Most German knights used two-edged swords, so they probably would not have swapped that for a Mongol one edged saber. However, Germans did use Messers, which is quite similar. I don’t know enough about Messers or Mongol sabers that I could say which would be seen as better. However, a saber is more of a substitute good for a Messer than a sword.


I feel this is something we tend to overstate substantially as modern commentators. Medieval fencing books treat single edged and double edged swords pretty much interchangeably. Two very relevant examples which spring to mind:

In the mid fifteenth century, Talhoffer depicts both sword and messer in his sword and buckler illustrations: 117v, 119v. Similarly in a later book, he says "these are the positions with the buckler and messer" while showing fencers using a buckler and a sword: 117r.

Writing somewhat later in the early 1500s, Andre Paurñfeyndt says even more explicitly:

Quote:

The second chapter teaches how one shall use their messer advantageously and it has not declined by way of its diverse applicability and it is a predecessor and the chief basis of the other weapons that are used with one hand such as the dussack or dagger, wide dagger or short sword and many other one handed weapons which I will leave out for brevity.

DAS ANDER CAPITEL lernet wie man phfortail prauchen sol ym messer und hat pesunder nit vermert nemen, von wegen der manigfaltikat, und ist ein forgang und hauptursach ander weren die gpraucht werden mit ainer hand alsz ist der Tessack oder tolich, spatel oder handtegen, und ander vil mer czu ainer hand die ich von kurz wegen ausz lasz


While several of these terms are somewhat obscure/unclear, it's still evident that this is a very wide variety of one-handed weapons being described as "used basically like a messer".
\

Thanks, that is an interesting point. I do think, though, that although one might use the same techniques, the swords function differently. My assumption is that a soldier would have a preference for one or the other, and wouldn’t swap if he preferred a double-edged sword (which most appeared to do). As far as function, I mean what type of armour they were best against and how good they were at thrusting vs. cutting. Of course, there is a lot of variation among both single edged and double-edged swords, in that respect.
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T. Kew




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PostPosted: Thu 07 Jul, 2022 8:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sure - but a short wide double edged sword and a long narrow one also function differently. A heavy sword functions differently to a light one. There is huge internal variation between both 'swords' and 'messers', so I'm very hesitant to conclude that the number of edges was some sort of overriding major difference in someone's preference for their sword.
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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Thu 07 Jul, 2022 10:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In late medeval and early modern Europe, there was a strong culture of having a variety of weapons if you could and using the best one for the task. Cavalry often carried several swords, a lance, a striking weapon, and a bow or firearm, and sixteenth-century infantry were expected to be able to make themselves useful if someone gave them a rotella and told them to break into the hole in that house. Their usual weapon might be a bill or a pike, but that was the wrong tool for the job.

If someone in 13th century England decided he liked a Turkish bow (whatever that meant exactly) better than a longbow or a crossbow, he had plenty of time to learn how to use it, because it was not very exotic and because he did not go hunting or warring every day.

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