Thursday, May 15, 2014

Blunt Weapons: Beat your opponent until he is down.

In my last blog, we started talking about weapons, particularly bow and arrows. Now it is time for us to discuss blunt weapons used during the middle ages.

A blunt weapon is designed to inflict damage by trauma. A sword or arrow is designed to cause massive blood loss by piercing the skin and damaging organs underneath, contrary a blunt weapon’s damage is to organs, bones and muscles in the body without the piercing of the skin and blood loss. Instead of going through the skin, it attacks what is below.

Probably, the first weapon mankind ever used by a blunt weapon, this was a club or a stone. This is not unusual because some animals use blunt style weapons in nature; it was natural for us to follow.

As I stated clubs might have been the first weapon man used, it was also used during the middle ages. A club is known by many other names codgel, truncheon, virge, baton or nightstick; basically, it a hand-held stick.

In my previous blogs, I have mentioned that all wars are a form of arms race, the use of the club was no different. Once a club was used, other people started invented ways to protect themselves from the blows of those clubs.

Overtime people began wearing armor, including helmets; some of this armor was metal, leather or other material. Material was sometimes worn underneath this armor to limit the force of the club as it struck the wearer, such as thick cloth coats.

Spikes were added to clubs to allow them to penetrate the armor, or at least focus the force of the blow onto several small spots. Since the power was now focused into a small area, the attack from a club was particularly effective to the cranium. A club to the head may cause your opponent to become disoriented of unconscious. On a medieval battlefield, being unconscious was as good as being dead.

The mace uses a heavy head on the end of a handle. At first, they resembled wood clubs with a ball at the end, later spikes or nails driven through or embedded into them. Later, they were made of steel or other hard metals. The mace was very effective against a knight wearing plate armor, for it could cause injury to the knight without having to penetrate his armor.

Maces, like all weapons, were modified and changed over time. One of the most popular maces used in the Middle Ages was the flanged mace. Instead of a simple weight, or a ball with knobs for the head, it was modified to have flanges (a projecting piece of metal, which narrowed outward to an edge). These flanges allowed the mace to dent or penetrate the thickest armor.

When armor got thicker, the mace and clubs got longer, which allowed the user to generate more force. One of the major weapons with a long handle was the war hammer. The war hammer consisted of a handle and a heavy head; the other side of the hammer was a narrowed tip. Long handled war hammers were used by foot soldiers against men on horseback, while the shorter ones were used in close quarters. War hammers were also used by mounted soldiers to strike down at their opponents on foot.

One variation of the war hammer was the maul. A maul resembles a sledgehammer and sometimes was made of hardened steel and iron. It has been recorded that in some battles, the posts for the army’s tents were driven in by a maul, and then used on the battle field as improvised weapons.

A mace, maul or war hammer could only generate as much force as a person could generate by swinging it. To increase the speed of the strike on its target a chain was added between the head and the handle, this was called a flail.

Some flails were modifications of an agricultural tool. It would thrash and separate grain from their husks. (A nunchaku is an oriental equivalent of the European flail). Both the club and the flail were simple weapons that were used by farmers and peasants in the middle ages, and both were very effective against a knight in his armor. The flail was a useful weapon used by both knights and foot soldiers on the medieval battlefield.

Flails could have one or several metal weights, sometimes referenced to as the ball. Some of the most famous flails were the two-handed flail and the Swiss morning star flail. The two-handed flail was a large flail which required the user to use both hands to use properly. The term “morning star” does not apply to the flail alone, any blunt object with large spikes (resembling the light or sunburst, coming from a star) protruding from the ball or club.

To properly use a flail, the ball had to be constantly moving to build up momentum. Swinging the flail around and around wore the user down. Also, since the ball is really the only functioning part of the flail, it was almost useless as a defensive weapon.

NOTHING, and I mean NOTHING, upsets me more when I hear someone call a flail a mace. Even in an episode of “The Simpsons”, Mr. Burns made a comment he had his “mace” and they showed a flail. Remember, a mace is a club, and a flail has a chain allowing the ball to ‘fly” through the air. The confusion among the two upsets me so much that in my upcoming novel, I have a knight admonishing a page that did not know the difference.

The battles in the middle ages were bloody and fierce. Knights and foot soldiers would rape and pillage villages and act as “medieval” as you could possibly imagine. Rules of war began to be implemented to direct how a soldier should act. These rules included the separation among civilians and soldiers and how each should be treated.

The Roman Catholic Church also initiated and influenced these rules of battle. The clergy were not allowed to fight in combat and draw blood. The clergy got around this rule by using maces and flails. These weapons may knock out and injure an opponent without drawing blood. (The information about clergy fighting in medieval battles is contested; and probably is NOT true. I however, like the idea of a monk or bishop using a mace on a knight). For you players of “Dungeons and Dragons” a cleric in some versions of the game can only use blunt objects as weapons.

Over a period of time, maces were also used as a symbol of nobility or power. There are many paintings from the middle ages of royalty who are holding a ceremonial mace like a scepter. There is even a Mace of the United States House of Representatives which is carried by the Sergeant of Arms to the front of the speaker, its presence means that the House is in session.

Sometimes basic items are the best, so it was in medieval warfare. A simple thing as a club, going through a weaponry evolution, eventually became a vital part of the soldier’s arsenal. Although the mace is no longer used in the military as an offensive weapon as it did in the middle ages, the mace has developed into the baton and used by police forces around the world.

Next time: Staffs and Halberds


  1. You are getting me hooked on the history of weapons and the middle ages after reading your posts these last few weeks. Who knew a clergyman could knock the crap out of you as long as he didn't draw blood; kind of harsh.

  2. As I said, it is probably not true. This rumor may have arisen from the fact that some clergy led military people in the army, almost giving them a blessing for their battle they were about to engage in. When they did, they may have used a mace to wave around and encourage the soldiers, this may where the rumor of them fighting in battle began.
    Moreover, for those of you who are a little older; you probably would want to face a bishop with a mace in battle, then a nun with a ruler at a Catholic school.

  3. I'm very sorry to admit that I've been misusing the term mace, in all my discussions of medieval weaponry. I feel I must go flail myself now, to make amends. Thank you for setting me straight! :)

  4. William, I really enjoy this series, which is surprising because I hate war and anything to do with it. I think its your writing style that keeps me reading to the end. I was intrigued by the statement that animals used clubs in nature and have been trying to think which animals that would be. Keep writing so I can keep reading.

  5. Thank you so much, I appreciate the comment. Primates not only have used clubs, they have taken sticks and sharpened them on stones to make a rudimentary spear.

  6. William- I was surprised as well to hear animals use clubs but what really surprised me was your comment to Lenie that they take sticks and sharpen them on stones to make spears.
    What we think today is unique it is really is not, just reinvented.