Is there any evidence for dual-wielding in the 12th Century?

Is there any evidence for dual-wielding in the 12th Century?

To settle an office debate - I was wondering if there was any evidence for any soldier or knight in the 12th Century using two weapons at once - for instance, if a shield was dropped or wasn't available.

Is there anything that could confirm this? A lot of searching hasn't turned anything up yet.

Well, depends on where in the 12th century… some Indian and East Asian fencing weapons were meant to be deployed as a pair. I am assuming you mean medeval Europe.

The earliest tome on swordsmanship is an untitled work known simply as I.33, and dates to 1300. It concerns itself only with buckler and longsword, which were in fashion at the time. Later into the 14th century, the aphorisms of Johannes Liechtenauer were recorded by contemporaries… but they made no mention of dual-weapon technique.

Any fighting technique used by feudal knights or soldiery earlier than this is not documented by history - accounts of battle generally notes who killed who, not blow-by-blow reconstructions of the melee. Likewise, art depicting battle usually modelled the knights in their finest regalia, not in the disarray of actual combat.

Considering a shield is a weapon in its own right, and one the medeval combatant had likely trained with, they'd go for an abandoned or improvised shield before a spare sword if they found their shield hand empty.

Alfred the Great

Alfred the Great (848/49 – 26 October 899) was king of the West Saxons from 871 to c. 886 and king of the Anglo-Saxons from c. 886 to 899. He was the youngest son of King Æthelwulf, who died when Alfred was young. Three of Alfred's brothers, Æthelbald, Æthelberht and Æthelred, reigned in turn before him.

After ascending the throne, Alfred spent several years fighting Viking invasions. He won a decisive victory in the Battle of Edington in 878 and made an agreement with the Vikings, creating what was known as the Danelaw in the North of England. Alfred also oversaw the conversion of Viking leader Guthrum to Christianity. He defended his kingdom against the Viking attempt at conquest, becoming the dominant ruler in England. [2] Details of his life are described in a work by 9th-century Welsh scholar and bishop Asser.

Alfred had a reputation as a learned and merciful man of a gracious and level-headed nature who encouraged education, proposing that primary education be conducted in Old English rather than Latin and improving the legal system and military structure and his people's quality of life. He was given the epithet "the Great" in the 16th century.

What is a village green and market cross?

I've just started reading Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman, and it mentions a village "green and market cross". What exactly is that? (I'm not from the UK.) Thanks.

The village green is simply an area of grass, for recreation and community events - houses are usually arranged around it like this:

The market cross is a structure used to Mark a marketplace:

Boston Common is basically a village green, for those of you who are familiar with it.

So the village green would be like the town square?

The village green is usually the remnant of medieval commons (communally owned land, farmed by the peasantry).

In the C18th (particularly), much of the common land was Enclosed (grabbed by the local aristocracy). The village green was usually the bit left over, where villagers could graze a few of their own animals.

The market cross appeared in larger towns. It was (usually) a stone cross, in the middle of a circle of steps. A weekly market would be held on and around those steps. (Note that a market required a charter townees couldn't just set one up if they fancied it.)

Thanks. I think I have my head around the market cross. What would the village green have been like in the late 12th century?

A village green is a park-like area in the center of a village. These days they're where the local War Memorial is located and many local events happen -- like a town square in the US. They weren't really things in the Middle Ages. A market cross is a Christian cross erected to commemorate the granting of the right to hold a market or fair in the town at certain times of the year. These were not only big money makers, but sometimes came with certain rights of self-government and that the place was a borough, which meant a degree of independence from the local lords or church establishments (or even a guild or Inn of Court in London).

Bad Greco-Persian History Part One, or how ByzantineBasileus has convinced Karl Marx he is better suited to writing fantasy fiction.

Greetings Badhistoriers! Today I have the day off from work, and since I am cleaning, vacuuming and washing clothes, I thought it an excellent time to add another chore to the list and complete a documentary review. The title of this one is called Judgement Day at Marathon:

As I am blatantly pro-Iranian in my sympathies, I have an imaginary bottle of Persian wine called Mey. So let us view the heroic attempt by the Achaemenids to bring civilization to Ancient Greece!

0.09: Ah, good to see the movie 300 has had such a positive effect on the study of history. ಠ_ಠ

0.12: The "Persian" army here is using the wrong equipment, weapons and EVERYTHING ELSE! The costumes are completely incorrect, the shields would have either been the wicker spara, the violin-shaped dipylon or the crescent-shaped pelta used by skirmishers or light infantry. There are no bronze or iron scale and no bows. DRINK!

0.25: Another incorrect Persian shield DRINK!

0.36: The narrator states that Marathon was a battle for the supremacy of the ancient world. Except not really. Despite being defeated, the Achaemenid Empire was still a "world power" for another 150 years. DRINK!

0.42: Annnnnnnd we have the scene where the Greeks kick a Persian emmisary into a well from 300. ಠ益ಠ


1.04: Oh. My. God. A dipylon! RELUCTANT PRAISE DRINK!



1.42: And now we have the Immortals. Now, the documentary does at least get one thing right in calling them heavy infantry, but there is doubt within academic circles if the Immortals actually existed as Herodotus described them. A very plausible theory is that their name in Persian was actually Anusiya (Companions) as opposed to Anusa (Immortals), and Herodotus merely confused their name. It is also likely that they were not elite guard units that popular culture portrays. The reason is that Herodotus already recorded the Achaemenid King of Kings as having an elite guard, the Apple-Bearers, as well as a 1000-strong unit of cavalry. The Immortals were probably a full time military force based around the capital that could quickly be deployed for campaigns. Also, Immortals were never recorded as being involved in the Battle of Marathon. DRINK!

1.52: "Six hundred Persian warships had set sail on the Aegean Sea and swallowed every Greek island in their path". Hehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehehe.

2.03 – 3.40: WTF. This was a section from a comletely different documentary just spliced in there!

5.08: Typical, he chooses the Schoinias Beach. #STOPFATSHAMING! #ENDFULLFIGUREHATRED!


9.46: All the Athenians have the lambada symbol on them. Athenian shields would not have been so uniform in appearance, and it was the Spartans, not the Athenians, who decorated their shields in such a manner. DRINK!

9.52: Another totally inaccurate Persian army. DRINK!

9.59: I have no idea where the narrator gets the size of the army from. Herodotus does not provide the number of men in the Persian force, and other primary sources give the standard 100,000+ oriental horde amount. Although modern estimates are around 25,000, the exact proportion of different troops are not known. Also, given that it was the standard Persian tactic to fight with infantry equipped with spears and bows from behind a shield-wall, there would have been way more than 2000 archers. POORLY SOURCED CLAIM DRINK!

10.17: Yet another totally inaccurate Persian army. DRINK!

10.22: "Even if the Athenians can hold back the Persian infantry, they have no way to counter the Persian war-horses". Wrong! Spearmen get a bonus against cavalry.

10.25: "It's a massive mismatch". Bah! Just take the hoplites out of phalanx formation, set the soldiers to run and rush the eastern spearmen. Always works.



11.42: They have an anthropologist as one of their ɾxperts'. If they wanted someone unqualified to speak talk about Greek history, could they have not chosen someone from the disciplines that actually require intelligence, like Engineering?

12.12: The academic states if the US Marines had their own country, it would be Sparta. I find this difficult to believe as many Spartans could actually read.

12.22: Okay, this formation marching scene is bad-ass.

12.49: The academic here is listed as a ɽistinguished professor'. Now I am thinking of other possible titles such as "somewhat adequate professor".

14.28: The academic states the Greeks invented logic, mathematics and philosophy. That's a funny way of describing Babylon. DRINK!

15.40: The academic states the whole cause of the conflict was Athens telling the Persians "We are not allies anymore" and Darius deciding to punish them. Not even Chomskius, the God of Misinformed and Deliberately Duplicitous Scholars, could be more wrong. It was the Athenians sending ships to assist the Ionian revolt against Persia which was the spark for the Greco-Persian Wars. Herodotus himself wrote:

"The Athenians then, I say, being persuaded, voted a resolution to despatch twenty ships to help the Ionians, and appointed to command them Melanthios one of their citizens, who was in all things highly reputed. These ships proved to be the beginning of evils for the Hellenes and the Barbarians".

The scale of the mistake needs four drinks. DRINK! DRINK! DRINK DRINK!

15.50: Lovely, another 300 reference. ヽ(`Д´)ノ

16.12: Another academic falsely stating it was the initial alliance between Athens and Persia which started the Greco-Persian Wars. DRINK!

16.37: More Athenian warriors with Spartan shields. DRINK!

18.04: The documentary is stating the Athenians positions themselves in a narrow valley mouth to fight the Persians. Herodotus makes no mention of this. In fact, he specifically states that the Greeks thinned out their centre, both to equal the length of the Persian front and to reinforce their flanks. This communicates the site was the wide plain, not the valley entrance. DRINK!

18.17: Yet more Athenian warriors with Spartan shields. DRINK!

That is all for today. Stay tuned for the second and final part next week!

Ancient Persia: A Concise History of the Achaemenid Empire, by Matt Waters

The Greco-Persian Wars, by Peter Green

Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War, by Kaveh Farrokh

A Storm of Spears: Understanding the Greek Hoplite at War, by Christopher Matthew

How swords were used in surviving fechtbücher matters

Regardless of whether you study Fiore or Liechtenauer based traditions, all of the plays basically boil down to one of three main scenarios.

  1. What to do after winning a bind.
  2. What to do if both fencers are equally strong in the bind.
  3. What to do if you lose the bind.

Depending on the circumstances of the specific situation you are in, both traditions have generally similar types of answers for these questions. The plays are techniques but the purpose in showcasing them is to teach concepts that can be applied in other scenarios. There are similarities between plays across traditions, and from different masters within them, but there are differences as well. These differences may result from slightly different blade characteristics.

For example swords with wider length in the ricasso above the crossguard provided more hand protection by deflecting blows away from the hands and arms, which became less necessary as steel gauntlets became common to protect the hands and importance was placed on grabbing the blade to spear an opponent using half-swording. Using our example from The Flower of Battle again, suppose that Fiore really did intend his art to be used with a sword sporting a wide ricasso and triangular shaped blade. If this is the kind of sword Fiore intended his style to be used with then should those studying Fiore not try to use a simulator that best models this type of blade typology in order to fully appreciate the details of his plays?

By contrast later fechtbücher in the Liechtenauer tradition depict a longer sword with a more narrow ricasso. So a sword of this type might be more appropriate for a Liechtenauer fencer.

Ultimately the long sword tradition source material we have today ends with Meyer and Jakob Sutor von Baden, and with Meyer we see the introduction of techniques specifically designed to take advantage of the characteristics of what we call today a federschwert. This should also be considered, that Meyer developed techniques to take advantage of the federschwert design. Would prior masters also not have done the same for the types of sword typologies they used?

So what then is a ‘long sword’ in HEMA?

The answer we conclude with is that there isn’t precisely one type of sword that can be rightfully stereotyped as the ‘proper long sword for HEMA’, as each generation of master had himself a slightly different kind of weapon that while might be used fundamentally the same as one another, did possess characteristics that influenced the specifics of how that weapon was used in actual practice. So when virtually all contemporary fencers utilize federschwert designed to replicate the kind depicted in Meyer, some key details of older traditions may be lost by not using a sword simulator that better mimics the characteristics of the sword originally intended to be used by the treatise author the HEMA fencer is actually studying.

Furthermore it may not be accurate to suggest that all swords with long handles should be labeled as a ‘long sword’ for the purposes of understanding these treatises. Certainly the kind of sword depicted in Fiore’s mounted combat section would not best be able to deliver the kind of specialty blows that Meyer later shows that depend upon certain qualities that Fiore’s sword would not possess. It is therefore confusing and largely inaccurate to suggest any and all swords that have extended handles should be “long swords” and are interchangeable with any tradition manuscript rather the specific types of swords that can be assigned to the period of time the master lived and best able to utilize the techniques they describe (evident through the practice of their art) is what should be focused on when studying that master’s tradition in order to reconstruct their arts as close to their original intentions as possible.

Tell me about medieval armies!

For D&D-specific reading, you may want to look for "Raising the . fyrd ?" in the Dragon Magazine archive CD rom. This article discusses the various options a local lord has for defending his/her lands.. standing armies, yeoman-class, a fyrd, levies, and so on. Although written in the 1st Edition period, there were no rules then, either, so it is probably 99% compatible with 3rd Edition.

A Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe has a chapter on detailing Manors, and discusses the distribution of land in a feudal society. I think the book hits every one of the main points mentioned here. I would consider it "must" reading for anyone who wants to do a pseudo-historical campaign.


First Post


Community Supporter

The type of army is dictated more by politics and economics than time period/technology. Just look at modern Somalia's feudalism and contrast it to the armies of Rome or Sparta.

The more powerful a leader is the more the army will represent a modern army in terms of consistent chains of command. A powerful ruler can have consistent regiments/cohorts/whatevers and assign them around the country as necessary. The important thing is they are his troops. If the troops belong to lesser leaders the organization will break down along the lines of politics. For weaker rulers, and especially in feudalism troops will be controlled by local lords. Units are most often small, though in battle they may be combined in an "Archers over there, nobles here, and you guys with the pointy sticks behind them" sort of way.

As to housing, economics is the most important thing. Troops in barracks are great but expensive. Some rulers can afford to do so always, other rulers will do so only when expecting war or perhaps only for a core of units. If the troops are safe from attack and don't need to be instantly ready they will more closely resemble what we would think of as the modern national guard.

Troops that are allowed to marry and have kids will want their own homes whenever possible. Roman soldiers were often allowed gardens to supplement their garrioson incomes. Just prior to the american revolution many british soldiers were expected to have a second job - especially in times of inflation wages barely covered expenses. And it often wasn't pay+ board. From the sixteenth century on costs of room, board, uniforms, and even weapons would be deducted from the soldiers pay. Add in graft and it could be unpleasant indeed for the common soldier. During peacetime most rulers would attempt to reduce the number of troops to the minimum. Extra troops might be chased out, allowed to take on extra jobs, simply leave or hired out en masse to friendly foreign powers.

All of this is rambling. First decide what kind of country you want. Now just be consistent with that. If you have a strong emperor with a centralized govt. go with a standing army. If you later decide it was to small, new troops can be recruited or return from foreign campaigns. If you want a dying king barely holding on to a realm on the verge of collapse go with a feudal kingdom with each village fortifed and every noble hording as many troops as he can.

Use the politics to explain what you want. Nations and their armies have changed rapidly over history, and there is no one model to use.



The knightly orders who fought in the holy landwere some kind of standing army in the era of the crusades. They had big castles for troopsas far as I know but most castles were designed by smaller lords with a small amount of troops.

The feudal lords were fighting each other most of the time. Small lords were the norm in the early middle ages, bigger ones in later times. The advent of a better transportation and information infrastructure enabled the grand lords to keep their vassals under control and to make them real dependant servants instead of more or less independant lords.


First Post

The Roman legions are the example of a professional army. Renaissance armies tried to recreate the legions in many ways.

The Spartans you're thinking of, the highly disciplined heavy infantry, were the aristocratic elite of their society -- in some ways like the later medieval cavalry, but in their disciplined drilling and infantry tactics quite different.



There were precious few standing armies. The exceptions are roughly:

(1) The Holy Fighting Orders, especially in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Iberian Peninsula, and the Baltic

(2) The households of nobles and

(3) 'Free' mercenary companies.

(1) The armies of the holy fighting orders were generally well-organised and well-disciplined. They consisted of a core of knights (aristocratic members) and sergeants (second-class members), plus archers, servants &c. who were salaried permanent emplyers, but had generally not taken vows. Each commandery had a permanent commander, a drapier (quartermaster) etc. Commanderies were grouped into territories with permanent 'preceptors' or 'priors', and those were grouped into 'langues' (national groups) with grand priors/grand preceptors in permanent charge. And ech order had a permanent Master with a staff, commissariat, treasury, regular revenues &c.

(2) Each knight or baron generally led his household himself, or perhaps deputised his eldest son. They were pretty much a mob. A great baron's military contingent would consist of his own household knights plus the households of his vassals, each household acting as a contingent. At war the army might be divided into three or four 'battles' (battalions) each including the contingents of the various barons, organised according to the prestige, alliances, and ages of the barons, and commanded by a 'captain' or 'general' appointed for the nonce, for political reasons, and often on the eve of battle. The king, his eldest son, or one of the great officers of the Royal houshold (the Constable of France, the Earl Marshal of England etc.) was in overall command. There is some evidence that in the best period Frankish and Norman knights were trained to co-ordinate with a small group of comrades called a 'lance', and some that the leader of a lance was denoted by the 'bannerette' on his lance. But on the whole command and control was a schemozzle. The infantry levies were separate, commanded by the 'sergeant-major general'. Individual local contingents of the infantry levy were probably led by prominent citizens elected from their districts.

(3) A mercenary company was led by its captain, who took orders from the person who hired him and gave orders to his troops. Sometimes the captain had an assistant/deputy called his 'lieutenant', and sometimes he would put his lieutenant in temporary charge of a detatched command.

Knights spent their youth in training, sometimes while fostered in the household of one of their fathers' overlords, allies, or friends.

Depending on time and place, members of the lower classes may have had compulsory weapons training and practise as part of the fyrd or wapentake. But there would not have been very much of it. Otherwise, no.

Mostly this seems to have depended on their social class. The rich gots trained as knights, the not-quite so rich as mounted sergeants, the middle-class as foot sergeants, the poor as various forms of light infantry. But things were slightly different in places where livestock was cheap (eg. Spain.

When they weren't in camps, soldiers often lived in castles. The household of a landed knight would live in his castle, usually sleeping in the hall while the family slept in the chamber. A king or great baron might have a big enough castle that it had truly separate quarters for the garrison. The holy fighting orders had commanderies that ranged from a fortified manor house with a garrison of two or three up to great castles with a permanent garrison of two hundred knights, plus sergeants and turcopoles (light missile cavalry).

Knights apparently had up to seven years of formal training as squires in the household of a baron.

In England at lest, commoners were obliged by law to own weapons appropriate to their wealth and to train with them every now and again: presumably the institutions that organised the training (parish wapentake, hundred moot and so forth) organised some training for youngsters.

A knight in service often died in service. Otherwise he might be lucky enough to be granted a manor or to marry an heiress.

A knight or sergeant in one of the Holy Fighting Orders was bound to the order for life, and leaving it under any circumstances was both a crime and an sin. But after specified tours of duty at the front he could expect to be put out to grass in a commanderies in a safe rear zone. This might be a big place where he got to live like a monk (under laxer or stricter discipline depending on time and place) or a little country manor where he got to live like a landed knight and mingle with the aristocracy (or at least gentry).

Mercenaries were generally free to quit at will, and companies often (butnot alway) broke up when their employment ended.


First Post

My two pence, in order to complicate matters even further :

Guilds : In medieval flanders, (nope, nothing to do with the simpsons) city guilds trained their members to be proficient in a certain weapon, the weavers would train as crossbowmen, the butchers would train with a pike, etc, in order to defend their town if it was under attack. They would take up "guard duty" as well. There still are "scuttersgilde" as of today, a remnant of the gunpowder training guilds, and they still hold competitions. It was the first army composed entirely out of non-knights ever to defeat a "traditional" army, in this case the french. OK, I admit, it was because the french knights charged their own troops because they thought their own peasants would win the battle, and they didn't know the flank that was left open was a swamp, but hey, we won.

Longbowmen : The english longbow can only be pulled today by olympic bowmen. They trained from an early age, and X-rays and CT-scans of the corpses from the graves at agincourt show that their shoulder-joint on their right(or left, can't remember) is massively developed, indicating years of stress. They'd get payed by the amount of arrows they could fire accurately in one minute.
There were 3000 archers at agincourt, firing 6 arrows a minute at the french. Thats 18000 arrows a minute. That might sting a little.


First Post

The slaughter at Agincourt had more to do with the arogance and stupidity of the French knights, they did not believe that the flower of French chilvalry could be defeated by some english farmers with sticks

the French started the battle at the bottom of a muddy hill (by muddy I mean you could sink 2 feet into it). When the Genoesse crossbow men were cut down by the longer range of the longbow the french knights ran them down as they charged over them. Unfortunately for the french, knights on horse do not do well when marching slowly up a muddy hill with no infantry support. So they got slaughtered as well, then they turned and fled riding down the infantry who were desperately trying to catch up.

Agincourt would have been completely different if the french had taken the "defeated english peseants" seriously. But then that could be said about most battles.


First Post

The english were required to train in the use of the longbow for the defence of the realm on Sundays and Feastdays. The penalty was the stocks, or a fine of tuppance.

The usual starting age for archery practice was 5 and the average age to first go to war was about 16. So you were practicing for 11 years.

You can get fairly good with a longbow in a short period of time, however one of the major reasons to spend so long training was to build up the muscles. The starting draw weight for a war bow was 120 lbs and it went up to about 180lbs (there have been bows found on the Mary Rose that were 205lbs but they were the kings elite). Being able to draw 180lbs 12 times a minute for 15 minutes takes a lot of training. The shoulder bone structure of a Medieval archer would be "deformed" by the forces upon it.

What the english were famous for was putting thousands of archers together. If you have 6000 archers each shooting 12 shafts a minute that is 72000 shafts landing up on the enemy from up to 300 yards away.

At cracy there were 6,000 english archers and in 8 minutes they shot over half a million arrows

The effective accuracy of the individual arrow is not that great, half a million arrows against 10,000 men is a kill ratio of 1 in 100, but the psycological effect of having up to 18,000 arrows in the air at any one time is devestating. Each archer could have one leaving the bow, one landing and one at the top of the traectory at any one time. So there would be between 12,000 and 18,000 arrows in the air for a period of 8 minutes. They wer not called arrow storms for nothing.

Only if you were the butt

Interesting note, in a lot of old villages there is a lane called Butt Lane or The Butts that runs beside or behind the church. This was so that the men could come out of church and go stright to the butts to practice.

Hmmm. This has turned into a bit of a lecture about how cool archers were One last fact: The Balista Bodkin is exactly the same shape as a modern armour piercing round. I have seen medieval bodkins put completely through a full suit of armour and the dummy that was wearing it through kevlar body armour and through bulletproof glass.

Dr. Strangemonkey

First Post

Military Organization During the War of the Roses

Right, first off I would like to say that this has been a pretty incredible thread in terms of the quality and variety of responses.

My take on military matters is pretty much entirely in terms of how it affects political stability so I'm generally less concerned about tactics and individual training as I am about who pays for it and how.

As a result, for instance, I would not qualify the Roman legions as a professional army in the sense by which we think of one. They came close to that, at times, but mostly the whole situation was very very confused. Thus the emperor.

So I'm really excited about this thread.

In terms of most of the original questions, everything was pretty well negotiated on an individual basis though there were market, cultural, political, and real guidelines. Many of which did not apply to the War of the Roses in the way that you might think. There were too many Knights in England so they were cheap and Longbowmen had done well in Europe so they got essentially the same pay contract with different duties.

In terms of the War of the Roses, and remember this is a period when things are and have been coming apart for some time, there are more or less two things at work:

School, or rather your whole life, taught you a method for being a soldier, caring for one, hiring one, or avoiding one. There are plenty of people to be hired of professional quality in England at this time.

You are a professional soldier. You are paid by institutions. This means you do your job. You could work for any number of authorities and you are not hired to be a soldier, you are hired and kept alive to perform a specific task. Say, protect Calais or put down Welsh Rebellions. You do not, as a general rule, therefore join armies. This takes time away from your real job. You do, however, often fight armies and may accompany them for a while as part of your job.

You are an entrepeneur. You are paid by people, governments, which are not institutions at this point, and markets, of various sorts and types. This means you join an army or retinue. You hire other people and are in turn hired until you are large enough to profit and survive from either joining or starting a war.

The second method is the only method by which armies were formed in the War of the Roses. War was a very free enterprise sort of a venture with plenty of willing contractors. The first method was the way the feudal system worked and it had its uses.

Because of the use of the second method there was almost no regularity and it was all negotiated and personality really shown through. There were a good number of honest to goodness heroes, villains, and noble lords and almost no generals and all too few meaningful titles or ranks.

There are a lot of VERY good reasons to do things this way, and bad reasons as well. But this was the way things were done.

Dr. Strangemonkey

First Post

They were also famous for mixing troops, knights and pike men, in with their archers. When they didn't do that the longbowmen would get overrun.

Someone also mentioned the development of the personal firearm as the end of the Swiss style pike formation.

Actually it stuck around for a good few centuries after massed firearm fire. The Spanish and Turks were the first to develop both massed firearm fire and pike formations that complemented it.

This type formation in turn doomed the governments that discovered how to use them as it's way too expensive for any reasonable or, rather, legal sort of government to really sustain very well.

The result is either tyranny or revolution and either way the death of local power or the development of empire.


First Post

How did standing armies work from a soldier's point of view? I know how America's army works now, though I imagine it was much different long ago.

A few specific questions to get brains rolling. All of this assumes a feudal European setting, since that most closely resembles my D&D campaigns.

Lots of other posters have said bits and pieces of this, but here are my thoughts:

This following consists of a number of gross generalisations, but you can’t cover two millennia of European History in one post without generalising and simplifying.

Many people have mentioned Imperial Rome as a model for a standing army. It’s not a bad model. Troops (IIRC) served for 20 years and on mustering out (if they survived) they were granted land. (This means that the empire needs land to grant to them, and therefore must expand.) They were also organised into Centuries and had a formal command structure. You could check out some of the re-enactors’ sites such as for more information

Also the Roman army predated the Empire, Unfortunately for the Senators, the army got much to powerful and popular. Eventually some general called Julius Caesar took control of Rome. This undermined the republic and paved the way for a system of monarchy headed by Emperors (Caesar was not himself a Roman Emperor). After his death, his name was adopted as a title by all the Roman Emperors, as well as by later monarchs. (The Russian word 'Tsar' and the German 'Kaiser' are corruptions of the word Caesar).

So, you could have a pre-imperial or imperial standing army without to much trouble but this requires an aggressive and expanding kingdom. When expansion halted, the Roman Empire fell. (gross oversimplification)

The Feudal model is extremely complicated, but basically, the King owns everything and governs using a pyramid structure of rights and responsibilities.

GOM’s Feudalism for Dummies
Very simply, the King can’t run everything by himself. He gives bits of his kingdom away to others (this bit is very rough & ready).
‘Okay, you’re the Duke of Northland, all of Northland is yours to do what you want with, provided you send me 40 knights, 400 archers and 800 footmen for my army, you pay for them, oh, and I’ll have £50 in cash too, Oh, and I reserve the right to appoint the Sheriffs of West Northlandshire and East Northlandshire (and a bit of Eastland) to carry out Royal Justice on my behalf, After all, I’m still the boss.’

The Duke of Northland then gathers five of his men.
‘You’re now the Barons of Eastnorthland Westnorthland Northnorthland Southnorthland and Middlenorthland, Your Baronies are yours to do what you want with, provided you send me 10 knights, 100 archers and 200 footmen for my army, you pay for them, oh, and I’ll have £12 in cash too. So the Duke gets the men for the king (plus some for himself), plus some cash. The line continues down to the lords of individual manors who have to provide one (or more) knight(s). The men at arms are the Yeomen. Free men, not peasants (as has already been pointed out) They pay little (or no) rent on their land in return for providing military service. Bottom of the pile is the peasant militia, unarmoured poorly trained (if trained at all) and likely to bugger of home to harvest the crops or just because they don’t want to get killed (after all, who does?).

I’ve no idea how medieval a campaign you’re trying for, but for feudal background information I’ve never found anything better than HârnWorld from Columbia Games. Although Columbia Games also produce a rule system (HârnMaster) the HârnWorld module and kingdom modules are completely rules free and systemless and have a rich feudal background.

Schools of European Swordsmanship

Medieval combat experts such as Tobias Capwell and Roland Warzecha believe that Early Medieval civilizations such as the Vikings and Anglo Saxons must have had refined fighting techniques to match the finely crafted weapons which have been discovered by archaeology, but unfortunately we do not know and may not ever know for sure exactly how they fought. Tantalizing descriptions of combat appear in epic poetry and the sagas, but besides the fact that the sagas were composed long after the events they describe and may contain artistic license, they only offer glimpses without laying down a comprehensive and organized system. The fact that human biomechanics remain the same throughout history and that the form of weapons can offer clues about how to use them has encouraged many who seek to reconstruct Viking Era combat or high medieval sword and shield as an exercise in experimental archaeology. These groups and individuals have offered compelling theories about what such combat may have been like, but that is beyond the scope of this article. Instead, we will deal with the fighting systems for which we have actual instructive texts.

By the end of the 12th century and the beginning of the 13th, we see the first references in chronicles to the practice of fencing outside of the landed warrior aristocracy. There began to be men of lower nobility or common birth who made a living off their skills, either by starting their own schools to teach pupils or by fighting on behalf of others as hired champions in judicial duels. Suspicious nobles and city governments viewed these individuals as unsavory troublemakers or even criminals, and repeatedly tried to crack down on schools for spreading knowledge of fencing among those who were considered liable to abuse it, but the fact that these bans against unlicensed schools were repeatedly renewed implies that they were broken very often. The weapon combination that these early masters were teaching was sword and buckler, and it is probably no coincidence that the first manual that can actually be used to reconstruct medieval fighting, Royal Armouries Manuscript I.33, deals with this subject.

Royal Armouries Manuscript I.33 (pronounced "one-thirty-three"), also known as the Walpurgis Fechtbuch, is a sword and buckler manual of anonymous authorship from Franconia, Germany and dates from ca. 1300. The manual is written in Latin with certain fencing terms in German, and consists of 64 pages illustrating wards, counters, and plays with sword and buckler between a priest and his student. The last part features a woman named Walpurgis demonstrating a certain counter, hence the alternate title. The instructions are for the most part clear and well organized, but there are some problems of interpretation. While the sword, buckler, and hand positions are clearly illustrated, accurate depiction of footwork and distance between the combatants is largely neglected by the artist. To some degree those details have to be conjectured from other period artwork as well as later manuals. There is nothing undeveloped or primitive about this system of fighting, and it has all the ingredients of the later systems: footwork, guards, counters, tempo, measure, techniques from the bind, a combination of cuts and thrusts, and integration of sword fighting with wrestling and unarmed combat.

The combatants wear simple robes with the hem tucked into their belts (so as to avoid tripping) and wield simple cross-hilted arming swords with round bucklers. The buckler may have a spike on it to make it more dangerous as a punching weapon. They wear thin-soled leather shoes, putting most of their weight on the balls of their feet. The correct stance is to start with one's feet about shoulder width apart and take a generous step back with the rear foot, sinking into a stable stance with both knees bent. The lead foot and knee face toward the opponent, while the back foot and knee are turned about forty-five degrees outward for balance. An attack is made with a passing step forward, where you bring your back foot into the lead position, and then turn your new back foot outward, all in one smooth motion. Like other forms of fighting, there are essentially three distances: close distance, where the opponents could hit each other without taking a step forward wide distance, where you cannot reach your opponent without taking a step forward and out of distance, which is any distance farther than that. Generally the combatants approach each other until they are in wide distance, at which point they adopt a ward or counter, and the ensuing attack or bind will bring them into close distance.

There are seven wards (custodiae) or guard positions from which to launch attacks. Rather than lying in these positions for any length of time, one should adopt a ward once in distance and attack immediately, so that the opponent has less time to counter. Note that these guards assume the fencer is right-handed:

  • Under the arm (sub brach), in which the buckler is held in front of the body while the sword is held point back and tucked under the buckler arm. This is probably the most basic and generally useful ward, and the natural attack from it is a cut from below.
  • Right shoulder (humero dextrali), where the buckler is held out in front while the sword is chambered over the right shoulder. The natural attack from this ward is a descending diagonal cut from right to left.
  • Left shoulder (humero sinistro), where the buckler is held out in front while the sword is chambered over the left shoulder. The natural attack from this ward is a descending diagonal cut from left to right.
  • Head (capiti), where the buckler is held out in front and the sword high above the head with the point back. This is chambered for a vertical descending strike.
  • Right side (latere dextro), where the buckler is held out in front and the sword held off to the side with the point back. The natural attack from this ward is a horizontal cut.
  • Breast (pectori), where the buckler is held out in front while the sword is drawn back close to the chest with the point towards the opponent. The natural attack from this ward is the thrust.
  • Long-point (langort), in which the sword and buckler are held out at arms length with the point at the opponent. This is in a sense the ward that the system is built around, since any cut or thrust initiated from the other wards will end in this position.

There are also a series of defensive postures (obsessiones) each of which is used to counter one of the seven wards by defending against the most obvious attack from that ward, and usually allowing an advantageous attack . The first example is Half-shield, in which the sword and buckler are held out together with the point 45 degrees up. It is the position from which to counter Under-arm, but it is so versatile that it can also be used against most of the seven wards. Some of the other counters are more specific.

The first task for the buckler is to protect the sword hand, which is the most forward and vulnerable target when you attack. The buckler should follow the sword hand into the initial attack so that you have a unified defense, not allowing the opponent to slip their blade between your blade and buckler. If neither of the initial attacks connect, then the opponents will generally be in a bind: their swords and/or bucklers are bound together, and they are trying to get around or through the opponent's defense while preventing their opponent from doing the same. You want to make your opponent over-commit to the defense of one opening so that you can attack the one that they necessarily leave vulnerable, and the only way to know what your opponent is going to do is to pay close attention to the pressure you're feeling through the bind. Which direction are they pushing in, and how hard? Are they preparing to disengage and attack the opening you've left vulnerable, or are they doubling down on their defense? You cannot just deal with your opponent's sword or buckler in isolation, but have to think of how you are going to get around them both without leaving yourself open to attack.

The buckler is a multi-purpose tool for defense, attack, and binding. You have to know the advantages and disadvantages of its small size, which mean you cannot use it exactly as you would a full-sized shield. Counter-intuitively, you should not just lift up your buckler to protect whatever part of your body your opponent attacks, because separating your sword and buckler without first immobilizing your opponent's weapons opens you up even more. Instead you have to use your buckler as a tool to intercept, knock around, bind, and control your opponent's weapons. You can perform a shield-knock against their weapons to create an opening for yourself, or bind against both your opponent's sword and buckler using your own buckler so that you can slip your sword out of the bind and attack their vulnerability. If there is an opening for it, you can use your buckler to punch your opponent in the face. In regards to grappling, one's own buckler arm can actually be passed over and under the opponent's sword and buckler arm to trap them both at once, leaving one's own sword hand free to finish off the opponent. This is one move that can actually only be performed by a small buckler, since any shield much greater than a foot in diameter will not be able to slip through. If you get to grips with your opponent you can potentially perform a wrestling throw.

Although there were masters and schools of fence all over Europe in the years 1300-1500, most of whom left no record of their techniques to posterity, the German school is by far the tradition for which we have the largest number of surviving texts. This bibliographic richness makes it one of the most straightforward to reconstruct, hence its high popularity among medieval fencing groups.

What grew to become the most influential school of fence in late medieval Central Europe sprang out of the teachings of Johannes Liechtenauer, a master born in the late 13th or early 14th century who synthesized a highly effective system out of the various traditions he encountered in his travels. At first Liechtenauer's teachings were only written or recited in the form of coded poetry or Merkverse, known as the Zettel note Meaning Recital , and only a select few picked by Liechtenauer or his students could learn this art. The function of the Zettel was twofold: firstly to prevent outsiders to the art from gleaning its secrets, and secondly to provide a mnemonic aid to help Liechtenauer's students remember the teachings. We would have very little idea what these verses were supposed to mean if not for a number of masters, some of whom remain anonymous, who effectively ended the secrecy by writing the earliest glosses or explanations of Liechtenauer's poem in the 15th century. Not only did Liechtenauer's successors perpetuate his work, but they also added their own techniques and ideas to the system.

Bloßfechten (Unarmoured Combat)

Most German fencing manuals at least include Liechtenauer's Bloßfechten, which is the most fundamental part of the martial art. It means "unarmoured fighting", being at its most effective when used against an adversary with light or no armour. The Bloßfechten is not quite that limited, however, as the techniques and concepts taught reappear throughout later sections and students are encouraged not to use just one part of the manual, but to use concepts from different parts together. Prime examples of masters who wrote based on Liechtenauer's merkverse are pseudo-Hans Dobringer, Sigmund Ringeck, and Hans Talhoffer.

German manuals mostly deal with the longsword and messer, although sometimes sword and buckler techniques are also included. While they also include spear, dagger, wrestling and general unarmed techniques, they are directly related to the teachings on swordsmanship, working in unison to produce a holistic martial art for combat with any weapon or none at all. Remember, however, that it is necessary to comprehend and practise the unarmed aspects of the martial art for true competence, as sword fights were often resolved with the assistance of wrestling and grappling.

Liechtenauer's philosophy is based on taking the shortest possible path to victory and keeping up the pressure on your enemy with a proactive offense. There are no techniques in the manuals that are purely defensive in nature, as the Germans advocated either responding to an incoming attack with a move that contains a simultaneous defense and attack (in modern terms, a single-time counterattack), or responding with a defensive void or parry that enables one to follow up with an immediate counterattack (in modern terms, a double-time counterattack). Ideally, one strikes before the adversary, takes initiative and presses that advantage to end the fight quickly. This is called fighting in the vor or "before". However, this cannot be relied upon, so there are various techniques for binds note Whenever sword blades meet, be it for an instant or in the case of Blade Lock , voids note Dodges, essentially, although they can be as simple as stepping out rather than committing oneself to a hop and other occurrences. In any sword fight, the most "perfect" action to the least "perfect" action is as follows:

  1. Strike in such a way that you close off their line of attack while hitting them with your own attack. If you attack first and keep the initiative, you fight in the "vor". If your opponent attacks you first, and your response is a move where you defend and attack in the same motion, you are fighting in indes, which in this context means "in-the-moment".
  2. Void or parry your opponent's strike in a way that creates an opportunity for you to hit your opponent with a counterattack in the next moment, thus regaining the initiative. This is defending in the nach or "after".
  3. Void or parry in a way that merely neutralizes the immediate threat, without threatening your opponent or taking the initiative from him. (It is him who should be pushed onto the defensive.)

If a fighter is overly defensive, and only wards off their opponent's blows without threatening them in return, Chritian Tobler notes that they will be vulnerable to feints. If you are attacking a person who is always trying to anticipate where you're going to strike so they can block that opening, then all you have to do is feint at an opening so that they move to defend there, but redirect your attack to instead strike a different opening which they've exposed in the process. If someone is attacking you, you want to make sure that your defensive move includes a threat towards your opponent which they will have no choice but to react to. This way they will not get a chance to attempt mind games or manipulation against you, and your knowledge of which techniques can counter the threat you're presenting will help you avoid being caught by surprise.

German swordsmanship also has a tendency to feature the false edge note On a double-edged sword, the false edge is the edge that faces yourself if held out in front of your body. The true edge is the one that faces the opponent. Sometimes, the "false" is called the "short" and the "true" is called the "long". as an offensive tool more often than its foreign equivalents. Generally, the true edge is a superior offensive tool, but the false edge is marvelous for sneak attacks and other, more tactical applications. For instance, one may employ the false edge under the assumption that their strike will be parried. If this is the case, one's hand is held differently to when a true edge strike is made, allowing for different options when it comes to binds and redoubled strikes.

One core concept is that all practitioners should move from guard position to guard position. A guard position is not necessarily a defensive position, although some may act in this way. Instead, guard positions are stances from which one can begin techniques and thereby threaten an adversary. This way, Liechtenauer's art of swordsmanship begins and ends all techniques in guards this ensures that all practitioners are ready to defend themselves at all times unless they are already attacking an adversary, in which case they are forcing said adversary to respond. Following are the four main guards:

  • Vom Tag ("from the roof" using the old german translation)
    • Middle: Held at the left or right side, at the chest or shoulder, with the sword pointing directly upwards or up to forty-five degrees backwards. This is the most versatile guard from which to launch attacks, as any strike can come from this guard with near equal efficiency. An Unterhau requires a transitional Nebenhut to confirm the right force.
    • High: Held above the head with the sword angled no more than forty-five degrees backwards. From this position, descending strikes are powerful and fast.

    A strike should come from your stronger side (ie. right if you are right-handed), either from above (oberhau) or below (unterhau) and go together with footwork. There are four openings at which you can aim your strikes, which can be visualized if you imagine your opponent divided into quadrants: The first is the upper-right side of the opponent's body (upper-left from our perspective), the second is the upper-left of the opponent's body (upper-right from our perspective), the third is the lower-right of the opponent's body (lower-left from our perspective), the fourth is the lower-left of the opponent's body (lower-right from our perspective). In all fights, it is your goal to cause your adversary to over-commit to the defense of an opening and strike at whichever opening is both closest and undefended.

    There are five special strikes within the German school referred to as the Meisterhau, or "Master Strikes". These can be performed as "single time" attacks designed to attack and defend in the same movement while displacing the most common and useful guards, the best form of defense as mentioned above. However, some of the strikes such as krumphau can also be used in "double time" where your parry and counter attack consist of two movements. The design of these strikes are such that, even if done imperfectly, they aim to lend you advantage for further techniques. Following are the five strikes:

    • Zornhau: A descending diagonal strike that closes off the centre. What separates the zornhau from being a common oberhau is that it is made with the intention of facilitating other techniques from the resulting bind which is generally expected to occur.
    • Zwerchhau: A horizontal strike with a raised hilt and hanging point, aimed at the adversary's neck or head. It displaces high strikes and guards, aiming to close off the high line of attack.
    • Krumphau: A variable strike made with crossed hands that attacks the hands or blade of one's adversary, forcing an opening for a follow-up attack.
    • Schielhau: A descending strike with the false edge, used to break low pointing guards and defeat adversaries that rely on strength.
    • Scheitelhau: A descending vertical strike performed with the arms outstretched, using geometry to defeat low guards and strikes at the lower targets.

    Except for the Zornhau, each of the above strikes have a corresponding guard position which they are designed to 'break', or defeat.

    Both combatants are attempting to land a hit while covering the opening that is likely to be attacked by their opponent. For this reason, it is inevitable that often the swords will cross and neither combatant will immediately hit what they were aiming at. This creates a bind between the swords, and actions that proceed from this stage of the bind make up most of the plays and advanced techniques in the system. The correct way of dealing with a bind is not for both combatants to engage in a pushing match as you often see in the movies, hoping to stagger the other and strike when his guard is down. That reduces the fight to a mere contest of brute strength, which is not in either combatants' interest. Instead you must use strength against weakness, and weakness against strength. This means both understanding what the strong and weak parts of your blade are useful for, and sensing your opponent's intention through the pressure signals that you are feeling through the bind between your swords, the concept of "feeling" (fühlen).
    Firstly, leverage. The strong (starcke) is the half of the blade closest to the hand, while the weak (schwech) is the half closest to the point. They are so named because of their relative strength in the bind. The farther away from your own hand you make contact, the less you will be able to exert leverage. If you bind against his weak with your strong and start to push his point aside, he will not be able to push you back no matter how physically strong he is. Conversely, if you bind against his strong with your weak and try with all your might, you will not be able to budge him an inch. Sometimes winning is as simple as realizing you have an advantage and pressing it. If you strike zornhau against your opponent's oberhau and feel that he's soft in the bind, you can simply thrust to his face from the bind as you close the line with your strong against his weak. One technique for gaining leverage over an opponent who is trying to push you around is winden, meaning "winding". That technique involves raising your hilt and twisting your blade without leaving the bind so that your strong has been brought to bear against his weak, leaving your point free to thrust him in the chest or face. However, if he knows what he’s doing he may counter-wind, using his strong to push down your weak and thrusting you in the belly.

    You have to know how to deal with an opponent who's trying to push you around, either by pushing hard against you in an attempt to overwhelm your defense or by resisting your attack with a hard displacement. The axiom of Judo that you should use your opponent's strength against him is also true in a sword fight. The weak of the sword may have less leverage, but it moves much faster than the strong and can be easily disengaged from the bind either by snapping back or making a small circle under your opponent's blade. In the former case, you can let your opponent's blade slide off your weak as you step to the side, harmlessly redirecting his attack past you and charging your sword with momentum for a counter strike, which he will be vulnerable to as he recovers from his over-committed attack. If you are trying to thrust at him from the bind and he is committed to displacing strongly, you can "change through" (durchwechseln) with your point, slipping out of the bind and thrusting the opening on the opposite side of his blade before he has time to get his sword back in motion. Over-committing in either attack or defense is something you should avoid, and which you should exploit if your opponent does it.

    None of this is much use unless you can sense what your opponent is trying to do to you, and the way you do that is fühlen. When you are bound with your opponent's weapon, you can feel through your own hands and blade what he is going to do with his, whether he is soft or hard in the bind and in which direction he's exerting force. A bind between two sharp swords is not easily replicated by wooden wasters or blunt steel simulators. The edges of the swords actually bite into each other on a microscopic level, creating a sticky sensation very unlike the sliding that usually occurs with simulators, and it is very easy to feel subtle changes in pressure from your opponent's weapon. This is why some HEMA instructors such as Guy Windsor urge advanced practitioners to engage in controlled practice with sharps, although for safety reasons this stance remains controversial. As of this writing, a company has introduced a line of serrated synthetic simulator blades which aims to reproduce the feel of binding with sharp weapons to a greater degree.

    Harnischfechten (Armoured Combat)

    While few people today are familiar with bloßfechten techniques, which were meant to be used on an unarmored or lightly armored adversary, even fewer are aware that there was a separate repertoire of techniques specifically for fighting a well-armored opponent. By the end of the 14th century&mdashwhich is around the time when the first manuscript of Liechtenauer's verse is thought to have been created&mdashfull plate armor had developed to cover almost the entire body of the wearer. Full plate is basically impervious to strikes or cuts with the sword's edges, removing this from one's list of options. However, the longsword can do more than just cut. Not only does it have a point, but the crossguard and pommel are weapons as well. Better still, it is essentially a length of metal about four feet long that you can grip in several different ways and use as a short staff or spear to wind and compete for leverage, potentially setting your opponent up for a nasty fall.

    Halbschwert, or "half-sword" where the off hand grasps the blade at the middle of its length while the dominant hand remains on the grip, is the primary method of using the sword in harnischfechten. Four basic half-sword guards are used in Ringeck's version of Liechtenauer's harnischfechten, which resemble the four guards of bloßfechten in purpose if not always in appearance. Unlike in bloßfechten, where attacks are made with a passing step and there are right and left versions of each guard, the harnischfechten guards are only held on your dominant-hand side, and you must keep the same foot forward as you advance and retreat.

    • First: In this guard, the hilt is held high over the head while the point hangs down to threaten your opponent's face. A high thrusting guard, it resembles Ochs.
    • Second: In this guard, the hilt is held at your side below your waist, with the point upward towards your opponent's face. A low thrusting guard, it resembles pflug.
    • Third: In this guard, the sword is held horizontally over your forward knee with the point going to your offhand side. A low guard that invites attack, it is like Alber.
    • Fourth: In this guard, the hilt is raised to the side of the chest near the armpit while the point is held forward. It is analagous to Vom Tag in that, while not a cutting guard, it is the most aggressive of the four. In purpose it is like a mounted knight couching his lance in a braced position so that his whole body is behind the point. If your point finds a gap while working from one of the preceding three guards, you should transition into the fourth guard and push your opponent back mercilessly.

    From these guards, the following techniques are possible:

    • The face. Many men in armor would open their visors while fighting on foot in order to get improved vision and ventilation, accepting the tradeoff that the face would be an obvious target. Even a closed visor might have vision slits large enough to stick a blade into, and there might be a gap where it meets the chin defense. Also, one could come to grips with the opponent and hold his visor open with one hand while stabbing with the other.
    • The throat, which depending on the armor may have a gap between the neck defense and the helmet, or between the helmet and breastplate.
    • The armpits, usually protected by the mail shirt or by mail voiders/gussets. Some armors also had floating plates called besagews to provide additional protection to the armpit.
    • The groin, usually protected by mail breeches, the hem of the mail shirt, or a seperate skirt of mail. To get around a mail skirt, one could stab up from below, or grab and lift the skirt using one hand while stabbing with the other. The same solution would work on a long fauld or skirt of plates.
    • The rump, usually protected by mail breeches, the hem of the mail shirt, or a seperate skirt of mail. The advice about dealing with a skirt of mail or plate applies to this target as well.
    • The back of the thighs and knee, which are usually uncovered by plate in order to improve one's ability to ride a horse these parts could be protected by mail leggings, but very often the fabric hose beneath the leg armor were simply left exposed there. Some foot combat armors had cuisses that wrapped around the back of the thigh, but most of those were still open at the back of the knee.
    • The top of the foot. Even if the opponent is wearing sabatons, there is normally a bit of a gap between the top of the sabaton and the bottom of the greave, which may have a small mail patch inside it if the man in armor is well-prepared. Certain groups such as the Italians preferred to wear mail-covered shoes instead of plate sabatons, and still others wore unprotected leather shoes.
    • The inside of the elbow joint, which could be protected by a mail sleeve or gusset.
    • The inside of the gauntlet cuff, which overlaps the vambrace at the wrist in a way that leaves an opening for a blade.
    • The palm of the hand, where the leather glove inside the gauntlet is exposed to allow a proper grip on one's weapon.

    A point can potentially force its way between two plates and wound the person inside. A stiff point with a lot of force behind it can penetrate mail by entering a ring and bursting it open, and even if the rings hold, a very narrow point might be able to poke through far enough to draw blood. Mail also doesn't protect as well against blunt trauma as plate does, and a sword point can deliver a lot of that through the mail, especially to a sensitive area like the throat or groin.

    There were many different kinds of armors, which may or may not have had any given one of these vulnerabilities, but most armors for the "field" or battlefield had at least several such weak points. Because tournament armor was worn for short periods and used in sporting contests that were regulated for safety, it could afford to be more heavy and restrictive of movement and vision than field armors were. In contrast, field armors were worn for long periods by men who were fighting for their lives, and eschewed complete protection in order to ensure adequate sensory awareness, freedom of movement, and reasonably light weight. One should never underestimate an armor just because it has some weaknesses, or think that just because an armor has a perceptible weak spot, it will be easy to exploit: the gaps of the joints were sometimes located in places that were difficult to reach (good luck stabbing your opponent in the back of the thigh unless you've snuck up behind him or are practically wrestling with him), and tended to be surrounded by pieces shaped to divert a weapon point away from those gaps, so when you add in the fact that the person wearing the armor is moving around and fighting back, targeting these weak points is easier said than done.

      Blunt Strikes, where the pommel is used to bludgeon the opponent, preferably on the skull or in the face. The blunt force from a pommel strike can give your opponent a concussion even through his helmet, severely impacting his ability to defend himself. One way to do this is from the regular half-sword position or with both hands on the grip, which might be expedient if your pommel gets close to the opponent's face while you attempt a more complicated technique. The other is using the mordschlag note "murder blow," also known as mordhau ("murder stroke") or mordstreich ("murder strike") technique, where the sword is gripped with both hands on the blade and swung so the pommel or crossguard (or both) strikes your adversary. This way, the sword imitates a mace or warhammer. Furthermore, the crossguard can be used as a hook for controlling an adversary's neck or limbs.

    Half-swording and other techniques for fighting in armor can also be useful against unarmoured adversaries at short distances or in confined spaces where swinging a sword is not possible. There are also a variety of miscellaneous instances where such techniques may be useful, even in an area where regular sword technique is entirely applicable. For instance, a sword may imitate a staff with half-swording by pulling on one's own blade with the off hand during a bind, they can make a second strike to the same side of their adversary, this time with the pommel. While risky, such a technique can also take one "inside" the enemy's sword, a range too close in for their adversary to effectively wield it. Manipulating range like this is also an important technique against polearms, which are generally better at defeating armour than swords.

    By examining armoured and unarmoured techniques, it becomes apparent that the martial art is meant to be implemented as a whole rather than strictly following the headings set out in the historical combat manuals. As such, we may take the separation between techniques as recommendations. Even Blossfechten techniques, with the sword reversed so as to use mordschlag, become applicable to armoured combat. Conversely, the armoured half-swording techniques can find application outside armoured combat as discussed above.

    Ringen (Wrestling)

    The wrestling element of the German system covers the whole spectrum of unarmed techniques, including strikes, grapples, throws and locks. In general, though, there is far more grappling than striking. The explanation is probably that almost everybody in the 14th-16th century carried some kind of knife or dagger: punching was of no use to a person using or defending against a knife, such that it didn't make sense to train in a whole elaborate system based on it, but being trained in wrestling could help you in almost any situation either in the street or on the battlefield. Being predominantly a warlike martial art for the knightly class, most unarmed techniques in the German system are grapples that end in throws. These can even allow an unarmed combatant to floor an adversary in full plate armour if they can get in close.

    Almost all offensive techniques aim to take hold of and manipulate the following points:

    All the above locations are excellent points of control, as it is most difficult to resist an adversary's strength when they are manipulated. It is not, however, good enough to take control of an adversary's body they must then be subject to a lock, break or throw. Given the difficulty of locking or breaking the limb of a fully-armoured adversary, most techniques opt for a throw, which in turn sets up a killing technique. To adequately throw an adversary, a combatant must take control of two of the above points, although three is preferable.

    Once two or three points have been taken control of, a combatant may push one end of the body while pulling the other, turning their adversary's body into a natural fulcrum and throwing them via their own imbalance. This is easiest with three points of control, which one may take with only two hands. One example may be to place one's forearm against the collarbone of an adversary so that the elbow is near to one shoulder and the hand near the other. At the same time, the free hand takes control of a knee. Once both hands have taken points of control, the upper arm pushes while the lower hand pulls. With control of three points, it is possible to throw even a large adversary to the ground.

    The second of the primary "schools" of longsword being practiced today, the Italian school is best codified by the fencing master Fiore dei Liberi. In addition to his occupation as a fencing instructor, Fiore was a 14th century knight, mercenary and diplomat. In his own writings he mentions having widely travelled and studied with 'countless' Italian and German fencing masters, and on several occasions fighting duels against such men or their students due to arguments over his or their teachings. He reports that all of these occasions were fought with sharp swords and without any form of steel armour, and that he won each such encounter without injury.

    There is some historical evidence of his students and their impressive performances in arrangements of single combat. One such pupil, Galeazzo Gonzaga of Mantua, is known to have twice beaten the famous French marshal Jean II le Maingre, also known as "Boucicaut" note The same Boucicaut who commanded the French vanguard at the Battle of Agincourt, where he was captured by the English .

    One of the marked differences between Johannes Liechtenauer's Kunst des Fechtens and Fiore dei Liberi's Fior di Battaglia note Meaning 'The Flower of Battle' is the scope and differences in layout. Whereas Liechtenauer's Zettel provides a short summary of his teachings of unarmoured longsword, mounted combat and armoured spear and longsword, Fiore's manuscripts provide a painstakingly detailed and orderly overview first of wrestling and the use of the dagger note Wrestling and dagger-usage are said to be the foundational aspects of Fiore's art , out of which then arises the use of the longsword. The longsword and the dagger are the two principle weapons of Fiore's system, comprising the largest sections. Also present are sections detailing use of the baton, spear, pollaxe, mounted fighting and fighting in armour, as well as numerous unequal circumstances such as spear against sword or sword against dagger.

    Tactically, Fiore's and Liechtenauer's longsword systems appear extremely similar to the layman. This is largely a result of physics and human biomechanics given the same weapon and a similar cultural context for its use, battle-tested martial systems will naturally develop along similar lines. Nonetheless, there are key differences in the systems. Fiore's material prefers to perform a parry against incoming attacks before transitioning to a counter after having dealt with the immediate threat, whereas the Liechtenauer tradition generally expresses the desire that all techniques should strike in such a way as presenting a strong offence while also simultaneously defending by closing off lines of attack. Some instructors, such as Matt Easton of Schola Gladiatoria, have expressed the opinion that Fiore's approach is generally more practical due to the inherent difficulty of simultaneously employing a strong attack and defence in the chaos of a fight.

    Another key difference between the two systems is the approach to a bind. Whereas the German traditions make great use of the principle of winden, Fiore's characteristic response to such a situation is often some manner of close-in grappling technique or disarm, whereby the practitioner rushes in to close-range where an effective cut or thrust becomes more difficult to execute. Guy Windsor, chief instructor of the School of European Swordsmanship, has suggested that these preferences might be the result of sword length with even just very slightly shorter blades, it becomes easier to successfully close the necessary distance with an opponent after a bind, whereas with longer weapons the prospect becomes much riskier.

    Does HEMA have Katas?

    Does HEMA have Kata you can do by yourself? I always see HEMA with other people or drilling. Some of the other martial arts disciplines that have more fluid dance-like movements they practice alone? If you do have them what are they called? I am sorry to bother but I have no one else to ask the aforementioned question. I am hopeful that your community might answer my question. Thank you.

    Some HEMA traditions do, like the Bolognese. Montante is also largely taught through forms - in Godinho, Figueyredo, etc. Even early German longsword has one such form - the Doebringer florish.

    Also, when you know basic cuts and thrusts, inventing your own exercises or simply free-flowing through guards and positions is easy.

    So you would call it forms not kata's?

    Sidesword does a bit. There are routines that you do that are very reminiscent of katas.

    Bolognese tradition has forms. But don't be fooled, bolognese is far from being only "sidesword", that's a common misconception.

    You have forms for single sword, sword and buckler, 2 handed sword, partisan.

    The Bolongese love using "assalti" for teaching, and they make good practice drills and are made up of many little plays.

    Godinho especially makes use of reglas, which other Iberian Montante masters do aswell, but Godinho also uses them for other weapons like dual swords.

    The English longsword tradition is laid out as solo and paired forms. I know there are a few groups are working on interpreting them, however it is a bit more speculative since there is only a few extant manuscripts surviving and the terminology is very different than continental styles, so it is not clear how each of the named actions are performed.

    The Bolognese have probably my favorite.

    Dallɺggochie has the best single sword form imo.

    In terms of personal enjoyment, Marozzo and Manciolino both are tied for spada sola forms after that. As they are both just small sequences of short actions. Of all of Marozzos forms, his sword alone is probably amongst my least favorite.

    Marozzo and Manciolino both have very similar sword and buckler forms. Both for small buckler, large buckler, and targa. They are all of high quality, detailed description, and relatively enjoyable to do.

    Manciolinio wins the "worst assault to memorize" award with the sword and rotella. It just feels like a physical run on sentence.

    On that last one, I'm convinced that it's a footwork drill where you just happen to be holding weapons.

    Meyer's Squire is not exactly a Kata, but it is similar. And it's a very important thing to practice, so you can open up an enemy with any opening they give you.

    Meyer has no katas but a nice system to practice strikes

    Are you kidding? Longsword chapters 9, 10, and 11 are nothing but katas.

    It's not until Part 3 (really the 12th chapter) that we get into what we normally think of as plays.

    you pick a side, (top left) then for your second strike you would choose the exact opposite (bottom right) then the side next to that (bottom left) then the side opposite to that (top right). It’s called the Meyer square.

    You are missing two-thirds of the base routine. There's a series of slashes to get safely into range and thwart cuts to leave range.

    Furthermore, the rest of chapter ten are replacements for this middle part. You still do the opening and withdrawal part of the routine he's just adding more options.

    I don't understand why so many people only focus on the middle part of the first exercise and ignores the rest of what he's teaching in that chapter.

    Why were teutoian knights the cancer of medieval age?

    This is extremely vague and I aplogize for that, it's just been on my mind for years now.

    Years ago, I stumbled across some post about knights and read the comments, but the site refreshed/crashed and it was lost. The comment I tead was some guy, referring to teutonian knights (which were in the post), saying that "these guys were cancer". that's it. Ever since, I've been asking myself why and couldn't find anything about it on the internet.

    Were teutonian knights seen as honorless or did people have a condescending view on them for something about them? Their fighting techniques maybe? Was there something abiut this? Were they fighting unfair?

    This has been like a bug in my head since that moment. Why would people hate teutonian knights, what was so bad about them? I live in Germany and have been going to a sword fighting technique club years ago, and this thing has given me insecurities like "Am I currently learning techniques that were seen as unfair or terrible or cruel or maybe just bad, back then?"

    So, what is it about these guys? Why would someone say that teutonian knights were the cancer or medieval age?

    Why would someone say that teutonian knights were the cancer or medieval age?

    Because they were religious fanatics conquering native peoples, forcibly converting them to Christianity, and whilst doing so establishing a myth of German expansionism and entitlement to land in the East that would ultimately evolve into the concept of lebensraum and lead to Operation Barbarossa.

    Now you might come back to me and say all that is nonsense, and you would be right, but Iɽ be 99% certain that the person who says "the Teutonic Knights were cancer" believes something similar to my first paragraph. Anyone who describes a historical group or movement or idea as "cancer" is probably not someone to be taken seriously.

    On the other hand, someone who struggles with the idea that knights might be seen as "honorless" or "unfair or terrible or cruel or maybe just bad" also isn't worth taking very seriously. Knights across Europe did not exist to promote ideas of honour or chivalry. The purpose of knights was to be professional soldiers and/or administrators who were primarily concerned with fighting efficiently and extracting the required return from the people and lands they were ruling or administering, no different from any soldier or administrator throughout history. If you were Lithuanian, or Wendish, or Livonian you almost certainly saw the Teutonic Order as "bad" (to put it extremely mildly) since their main purpose was to destroy your culture and religion and force you to adopt theirs.


    This has been done to death on the internet, but: Don’t spin around in a sword fight. As with the reverse grip, there are potentially some very specific scenarios where you can pull a 360. If you followed that link to the montante (Portuguese greatsword) demonstration under complaint number six, you may have noticed some spinning. That dude can do that because his montante has a clear reach advantage, and you’ve gotta keep those big swords moving constantly when you’re outnumbered.

    Generally speaking, though, don’t put your back to the person trying to stab you. You don’t really generate any extra power with a spin, it takes your eyes off the prize, and it presents your most vulnerable side (your back) to the opponent. If they don’t stab you in the back while you’re spinning, well … they really should have. But hey, I get it. I’m getting slower and older every day.

    Just remember that, at the end of the day, there’s only one objective in swordfighting—don’t get hit.

    Oh, and just so nobody ever says I’m always negative, here’s an example of what choreography looks like when it’s inspired by real techniques.

    HBO, Netflix, Prime: Hire these dudes to do your medieval stunts.

    Alex Johnson
    Alex Johnson is a freelance writer who has been writing professionally for over 12 years but has been a critical geek for nearly 34. He also writes history books with curse words in them. Read Full Bio »

    Q&A: Spartan Military

    The very short answer is, it wouldn’t. Which may sound somewhat strange given the Spartans certainly enjoyed some success with their methods, so why am I saying it doesn’t work?

    It’s more accurate to say the Spartans tried a lot of different things, some intentionally, and others accidentally. Some of those factors made them more effective, while others actually undermined their ability to operate and (to varying degrees) lead to their destruction.

    The stuff that worked, has been adapted and, in many cases, become the norm. The stuff that doesn’t work gets picked up by people who don’t know what they’re doing and emulated, often with disastrous results.

    It’s also worth remembering that it is impossible to separate the Spartan military from their society as a whole. In most societies, you can segregate their military out and examine it as a distinct entity. This isn’t possible with the Spartans.

    The biggest advantage the Spartans enjoyed game from the concept of a professional soldier. This is something that should be familiar to any modern reader. You have soldiers who are, primarily, soldiers. You’re not fielding a military of craftsmen and other professions who you pressed into service, or who volunteered to form a militia when called for.

    This is true of every modern military. However, for the Greeks it was unusual. The norm was for someone to have a domestic profession, but when called they would set their daily life aside and go to war.

    Spartans would train for combat, and their entire culture revolved around preparing for war. When the time came, they were far better prepared to deal with the challenges and foes they faced.

    On the whole, their abusive training methods, particularly against their children, were a net negative. They couched it as removing the weak, and strengthening their survivors, but that’s not really true. It did impair their ability to replace lost soldiers.

    There’s a kind of sick irony here. Malnourishing kids (which the Spartans did) will permanently impair them. They’ll miss growth milestones, which you never really get back. So, the result will be smaller, weaker adults with cognitive impairment, and diminished immune systems. (This is a partial list, if you want to look it up, childhood malnutrition can result in a horrific list of symptoms.)

    Starting at age 7, Spartans would take male children from their mothers and send them to be trained in Agelai (“herds,”) at the Agoge. The individuals in a herd would be overseen by older boys in their mid-teens, who would be responsible for their discipline and training. In turn those older boys would be disciplined by adults. The important takeaway is that there was brutality all around.

    Children in the Agoge weren’t provisioned food. They were expected to forage for food from the surrounding farms, stealing what they needed. There were harsh penalties for getting caught, so the goal was to become an effective thief. This is where that malnutrition thing comes in, because no matter how skilled they became, it’s a safe bet these kids weren’t getting enough food.

    The intent was to build up toughness. There’s a certain logic there, not logic that applies to reality, but it should be familiar to anyone who’s read a tryhard YA novel which takes Nietzsche’s, “that which does not kill me,” line a little too literally.

    Take a similarly aggressive approach to training, but make sure your recruits (or kids) are well fed, and aren’t freezing to death in the night, and you’d see dramatically better results. (This also involves incentivizing the recruits, to get them actually committed to the training, but that’s another issue.)

    Training is also one of the easiest, and most useful components to emulate. Ironically, looking at something like the Boy Scouts you get a similar result without damaging the participants. Scouts (who reach Star rank or higher) have a solid background in wilderness survival, orientation, and other skills with direct paramilitary application. I’d say, you don’t teach them combat skills, but then again the Marksmanship and Archery badges exist. It’s also where I got my medical training, some of my hand to hand training, and where I first learned to shoot. It’s also where I first learned the basics of Criminal Investigation. So, kids who come out of the BSA with an upper rank do end up with a surprising skill set, even if I tend to think of it as normal.

    I’m singling out their training methods, perhaps unfairly, because it’s not the major reason their forces became irreplaceable.

    The military forces we think of as Spartan, were the full citizens, called Homoioi (I’m told this roughly translates to “Equals,” or “Similars.”) A male Spartan Homoioi would be put through the training I’m mentioning above.

    Spartans who failed in a wide varieties of ways were permanently removed from the Homoioi, and became Hypomieones (Inferiors). A Hypomieones, and their descendants, could not reascend to the Homoioi. Someone could be demoted for a wide range of transgressions, including insubordination, cowardice, showing fear in combat, failing to be recruited by a communal mess hall at the conclusion of their training, or failure to pay dues to their mess. (These last two may sound trivial, but the Syssitias were a significant component of the way Spartan society was organized. It was, however, still a very easy way for a prospective Homoioi to be removed from their culture’s elite over a relatively minor social infraction.)

    The Spartans also maintained a very strict victory or death outlook. According to Plutarch, their soldiers were told to “come back with your shield or on it,” when leaving for war. (Worth noting that Plutarch lived four centuries after the Spartan collapse. So the exact phrasing may be apocryphal, though the philosophy was accurate to Spartan philosophy. By Plutarch’s time, Sparta had been reduced to what Josiah Ober has called, “an antiquarian theme-park,” where tourists from the Greek world would come to see recreations of classic Spartan training turned spectacle.) Something really important to understand, if you’re going to learn from your mistakes, you need to actually survive those mistakes, and learn. The Spartans disagreed, if you survived a losing battle, and you could be blamed for cowardice, there was a pretty solid bet that anything you saw would be regarded as irrelevant. This kind of, “accept no failure” approach has a long term effect of crippling your ability to adapt to changing circumstances. It doesn’t matter if your character is soldier in 550BC, or 2017AD, they need to be able to learn from their mistakes, or the mistakes of others. Modern social behavior among cops, soldiers, and even martial arts predisposes you to tell stories about, how someone you knew screwed up and got severely injured or died. You may not think about why, or how, but this does serve a very real purpose. It’s normalized to the point where this is borderline instinctive behavior, but, this is one very solid way that modern combatants learn from mistakes. If your social structure penalizes this severely, that’s not going to happen, and your military force will become insular and inflexible.

    By the fifth century BC, the Spartan military did employ auxiliary units that were pulled from the Hypomieones, and other lower castes (including the Helots (serfs/slaves. Worth remembering that the Hypomieones who saw combat may not have undergone Spartan training, as it was entirely possible that their ancestor had been demoted.) This was more an act of necessity, as their military was getting into a place where there were no longer enough Homoioi to reliably field them exclusively.

    Because of the way demotion worked, and the artificial attrition the Spartans applied to the children of citizens, battlefield losses were irreplaceable. Specifically, the infants of citizens would be examined at birth for any defect or weakness, and if they failed this they would be left to die of exposure.

    There’s an application here that’s a little abstract. Having elite forces can be a major advantage in warfare. However, when the entirety of your forces are, “elite,” you’re going to have a hard time fielding enough people to actually fight. A modern comparison would be trying build an entire fighting force off of Special Forces and eliminating everyone else from the system. You would get some very effective combatants, but you wouldn’t be able to replace standing forces lost to attrition. Which was exactly one of the problems that late Sparta faced. Where battlefield victories with hundreds of Spartan casualties, set the stage for later conflicts where they couldn’t field enough soldiers to fight.

    The other major advantage the Spartans had was an illusion. In the Hellenistic world, Spartan soldiers were seen as virtually invincible. Particularly during their early campaigns, the rigorous training applied against inexperienced combatants lead to the belief that Spartan warriors were an indomitable force. There’s plenty of surviving records of enemies routing at the sight of a Spartan advance.

    To be clear, this reputation was earned. However, as the other Greek city-states became more familiar with Spartan tactics, they began to learn how to exploit them. In part, Spartan tactics were predictable, but deviated from normal Greek military doctrine, resulting in a decisive advantage against foes who were unfamiliar with their methods, but could be countered by an opponent who’d seen their approach to combat before. The end of the illusion was The Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC, when the Spartans were dealt a crushing defeat by Theban forces lead by Epaminondas.

    This particular illusion can be very potent psychological advantage for a military force. Particularly when you’re dealing with a small elite cadre that can be selectively deployed. Your foes never know where they may pop up, and will be on edge facing your conventional forces.

    It’s also, somewhat apparent (from surviving reports), that the Spartans actually believed this illusion as well. From a military standpoint this is borderline suicidal. You want your enemy to fear your forces and think you’re invincible. You don’t want your own troops, or especially your leaders, to believe the same thing.

    Sparta wanted soldiers who were absolutely loyal, with unlimited conviction. In the long run, they created an inflexible, unrelenting system that ultimately cannibalized themselves. There are a lot of lessons that can (and have) been taken from the Spartans, but those are peppered with cautionary examples of what not to do.