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Halberds and other polearms.

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Sadurian Mike
575757.  Sun Jun 28, 2009 11:19 am Reply with quote

The halberd is a fairly familiar weapon even today as it is seen in ceremonial applications such as here in use by the Vatican Swiss Guard. They were, and still are, popular with ceremonial guards because they can be made into elegant weapons without detracting from their usefulness.

The halberd is a deceptively complex weapon. The basis is a spear; a long pole (or haft) with a spike on the end with which to thrust and keep opponents at bay. In this application, and used en masse, it is an excellent defence against cavalry as even a war horse will not voluntarily charge onto a row of spikes.

Onto the spear is an axe blade. This is useful when fighting in packed formations for chopping downwards onto opponents in front, often several ranks in front. The momentum created by the long haft means that the halberd can cause terrible injuries and cut through steel helmets.

At the rear of the blade is a hook, or sometimes a spiked hammerhead. The hook can be used to snatch horsemen from their mounts, to pull opponents to the ground, or to trip them. A hammerhead, apart from the obvious use in striking, adds weight and therefore more momentum to the axe blade.

In addition to these uses, many halberds have notches and spaces on the head that can trap an opponent's weapon and disarm him.

Add all this to a haft that can be wielded like a quarterstaff or used to block an opponent's swung weapon, and the halberd becomes the Swiss Army Penknife of the polearm family.

Halberds came of age during the late 1400s and early 1500s, when squads of halbardiers would be employed to disrupt the opposition massed pike formations which held sway during the period. The Swiss mercenaries in particular were noted for their skill with the halberd.

Later, the halberd became a sign of rank for sergeants, and the weapon (amongst other, similar, polearms) was carried in this fashion right up to the early C19th.

Sadurian Mike
575777.  Sun Jun 28, 2009 11:52 am Reply with quote

Simpler than the halberd but just as familiar to us today is the partisan. This is a broad-headed spear with side projections. These projections are to parry and trap enemy weapons in a similar way to the halberd's notches.

The most common place the partisan is seen today is being carried by the Yeoman of the Guard.

575785.  Sun Jun 28, 2009 12:07 pm Reply with quote

Those I do not want to get stabbed by. They look, and sound, extremely dangerous.

Remind me never to cross a Vatican Swiss Guard or a Yeoman of the Guard. Ever.

576650.  Tue Jun 30, 2009 3:59 am Reply with quote

Was it to such weapons that Corporal Jones was referring when he would say, 'They don't like it up 'em'????

Sadurian Mike
576691.  Tue Jun 30, 2009 5:30 am Reply with quote

That was the bayonet, unfortunately, although given the opportunity to declare a view, I imagine that "they" would also mention that they didn't like a polearm "up 'em" either.

Sadurian Mike
576712.  Tue Jun 30, 2009 6:01 am Reply with quote

The bill, English bill, bill hook, or black bill, was a very common weapon in England for centuries; from early medieval times right up until Elizabeth I's day.

The weapon was derived from a simple agricultural billhook which can still be seen in use today.

The broad part of the blade was used like an axe, the narrow points could be used to pierce armour, and the rear hook was used to trip and pull opponents down, a combination which was standard for many polearms.

In military use, the bill (often known as a "black bill") was slightly shorter than the civilian bill (the "forest bill"), being 5'-6' instead of 7'-8'.

The English used billmen in combination with longbows in a mix known imaginatively as "bill and bow", and this replaced the standard continental mix of pike and crossbow, and even later pike and shot (early firearms).

The most famous confrontation between the two systems was at Flodden Field in 1513, when Scotland declared war on Henry VIII's England in support of Henry's war against the French. The Scot's continental-style pike formation advanced across typically wet and rough ground, being harrassed by artillery. When it reached the English it was disordered and the English billmen found enough gaps in the presented pikes to start chopping off the spearpoints with their bills, thus disarming the pikemen.

Despite its humble origins, the bill can claim to be the ancestor of many other polearms which developed along similar lines.

576727.  Tue Jun 30, 2009 6:17 am Reply with quote

Just to avoid confusion* the partisan has an axe-like blade on either side of an elongated central broad spear point whereas spetum has spiked projections which flank the central broad spear point. If the spike projections exist without the central spear element it is a military fork, if the central element is also a spike rather than a spear blade then it is a trident. Generally speaking the length of the three spikes on the trident is more uniform with the central spke being only slightly longer than the others, the shaft of a trident is also typically shorter. A ranseur is much like a spetum except that the central element is less broad (more spikey) and the side spikes tend to extend more laterally, or sometimes even backwards. The side elements on a ranseur can be as broad as the central one or little more than nail like foreward projections close to the base of the central long spear head.

I'd say numbers 2, 4, 8 and 15 were spetums but since, whilst not axe-like, the side elements are not truly spikes either this is debateable. Numbers 4 and 10 show some ranseur-like quality.

* or perhaps create some.

The agricultural use of the bill was in trimming branches from trees and training hedges.

Sadurian Mike
576789.  Tue Jun 30, 2009 7:35 am Reply with quote

If you are going to dive into classifying examples of weapons into their "correct" category then the best of British luck to you! ;o)

You're correct, of course, in the broad definitions. The problem is that there are so many sub-categories of similar polearms, we would be here until the "K" series defining them all, as well as eating happily into the forum's maximum storage with all the examples, arguments and counter-arguments.

Having said that, dive in and start throwing those polearm definitions and examples about like a toddler on cheap coloured sweets.

Don't forget the infamous Bohemian Ear Spoon!*

*Old-gamer RPG reference.

Ion Zone
576973.  Tue Jun 30, 2009 1:31 pm Reply with quote

Normal billhooks are lethal enough, you could cut a leg off with one quite easily.

576984.  Tue Jun 30, 2009 2:02 pm Reply with quote

Hmm that looks nasty, Bohemians must have big ears.

Sadurian Mike
576986.  Tue Jun 30, 2009 2:04 pm Reply with quote

Ion Zone wrote:
Normal billhooks are lethal enough, you could cut a leg off with one quite easily.

I think that was instrumental in them being adopted as weapons of war. A handful of peasants turning up with them when it was a "come with something dangerous" affair, must have impressed someone with some sway.

Sadurian Mike
576987.  Tue Jun 30, 2009 2:07 pm Reply with quote

Efros wrote:
[img]Bohemian Ear Spoon pic[/img]

Hmm that looks nasty, Bohemians must have big ears.

The weapon was listed in the old 2nd Edition Dungeons and Dragons "Players' Handbook" and nobody seemed to know what the thing actually was. This was pre-internet, of course, so we couldn't just look it up.

576990.  Tue Jun 30, 2009 2:08 pm Reply with quote

After my time, I used 1st edition and Greyhawk and Blackmoor.

Sadurian Mike
576993.  Tue Jun 30, 2009 2:10 pm Reply with quote

1979 coincided with my starting boarding school, which also just happened to be the start of my gaming.

576995.  Tue Jun 30, 2009 2:17 pm Reply with quote

I started in '77 stopped when I discovered beer in '79.


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