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Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > Viking Halberd Reply to topic
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David Martin




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PostPosted: Mon 23 Jan, 2006 11:00 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Information obtained from: http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/egil/egil54.htm: Egil's Saga:

"Thorolf was thus armed. He had a shield ample and stout, a right strong helmet on his head; he was girded with the sword that he called Long, a weapon large and good. If his hand he had a halberd, whereof the feather-formed blade was two ells long, ending in a four-edged spike; the blade was broad above, the socket both long and thick. The shaft stood just high enough for the hand to grasp the socket, and was remarkably thick. The socket fitted with iron prong on the shaft, which was also wound round with iron. Such weapons were called mail-piercers."

"Then Thorolf became so furious that he cast his shield on his back, and, grasping his halberd with both hands, bounded forward dealing cut and thrust on either side. Men sprang away from him both ways, but he slew many. Thus he cleared the way forward to earl Hring's standard, and then nothing could stop him. He slew the man who bore the earl's standard, and cut down the standard-pole. After that he lunged with his halberd at the earl's breast, driving it right through mail-coat and body, so that it came out at the shoulders; and he lifted him up on the halberd over his head, and planted the butt-end in the ground. There on the weapon the earl breathed out his life in sight of all, both friends and foes. "

An ell, according to my sources, is the distance between the end of the elbow and the tip of the middle finger - the same as a cubit: 17 to 22 inches according to my dictionary.

The "Mail Piercer" sounds like a fearsome weapon, though I'm having difficulty conceptualizing what it would look like. It certainly doesn't sound like a typical hewing spear, at least to me.

"When war-gods meet to match their might,
who can tell the bravest born?
Many a hero never made a hole
in another man's breast."

- Sigurd, The Lay of Fafnir
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Jean Thibodeau




PostPosted: Mon 23 Jan, 2006 11:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

David;

Quote:
" If his hand he had a halberd, whereof the feather-formed blade was two ells long, ending in a four-edged spike; the blade was broad above, the socket both long and thick. "

Sound a lot like a description of the Langue de Boeuf I am having made: Doesn't mean that the Hewing spear / Viking Halberd was like my Langue de Boeuf but the description does describe mine awfully well. Eek! Laughing Out Loud

http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=4397&start=40

I wonder if this specific style of the Langue de Boeuf is a descendant of the Viking halberd. ( Vikings to Norman to French Medieval ??? )

Other kinds of Langue de Boeuf are more like Partizans without the hooks at the bottom of the head of the spears: Just very oversized triangular blades.

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David Martin




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PostPosted: Mon 23 Jan, 2006 11:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean,

Well, that's a brutal-looking beast if I've ever seen one! It could be a permutation of the mail piercer, though it would be very difficult (in my opinion) to impale someone through the shoulders with such a device.

After thinking about this a bit, I think the original weapon Wolfgang posted would come even closer to fitting the bill. If the blade were a bit more leaf-shaped and the tip of the weapon made into a more defined diamond cross-section, all it would need is a socket to coming close to a perfect fit of the description in Egil's Saga.

A little conjecture here: The spike on the socket must have been significant - moreso than standard lugs, in order to be mentioned. It also specifies a single spike, rather than two, which makes the weapon different from a standard lugged spear of any size.

Ah, but this is fun, isn't it? Wink

David

"When war-gods meet to match their might,
who can tell the bravest born?
Many a hero never made a hole
in another man's breast."

- Sigurd, The Lay of Fafnir
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David Martin




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PostPosted: Mon 23 Jan, 2006 11:57 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Not to take us off on a tangent, but I did a search on "Mail Piercer" and came up with this. It has a feather-formed blade and ends in a diamond cross section. Of course the name fits:

http://www.oriental-arms.co.il/item.php?id=54

If the blade were greatly enlarged and hafted (with a large spike), it would make an impressive weapon.

"When war-gods meet to match their might,
who can tell the bravest born?
Many a hero never made a hole
in another man's breast."

- Sigurd, The Lay of Fafnir
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Jean Thibodeau




PostPosted: Mon 23 Jan, 2006 12:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

David;

I guess you are saying that the spike is a lateral spike in the sense of the hooks on the Partizan and maybe on only one side.

I read the spike to be like the one extending from my Langue de Boeuf which is a thick diamond section and should be a good armour piercer in a thrust. A side spike would pierce in a slash / cut and the leverage would probably give it more power.

So I guess it depends on if the spike description fits one extending as the point of the weapon: Here a single spike makes perfect sense ! Or a single side spike ???

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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Mon 23 Jan, 2006 12:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

David Martin wrote:

"Thorolf was thus armed. He had a shield ample and stout, a right strong helmet on his head; he was girded with the sword that he called Long, a weapon large and good. If his hand he had a halberd, whereof the feather-formed blade was two ells long, ending in a four-edged spike; the blade was broad above, the socket both long and thick. The shaft stood just high enough for the hand to grasp the socket, and was remarkably thick. The socket fitted with iron prong on the shaft, which was also wound round with iron. Such weapons were called mail-piercers."


The orignal text reads:
rlfur var svo binn, a hann hafi skjld van og ykkvan,hjlm hfi allsterkan, gyrur sveri v, er hann kallai Lang, miki vopn og gott; kesju hafi hann hendi; fjrin var tveggja lna lng og sleginn fram broddur ferstrendur, en upp var fjrin brei, falurinn bi langur og digur, skafti var eigi hrra en taka mtti hendi til fals og furulega digurt; jrnteinn var falnum og skafti allt jrnvafi; au spjt voru kllu brynvarar

The word translated as "Helbard" is Kesje (Kesju). The last sentence states "Thus a spear(spjt) is called Mailpiercer (brynvarar)"

Quote:
"Then Thorolf became so furious that he cast his shield on his back, and, grasping his halberd with both hands, bounded forward dealing cut and thrust on either side. Men sprang away from him both ways, but he slew many. Thus he cleared the way forward to earl Hring's standard, and then nothing could stop him. He slew the man who bore the earl's standard, and cut down the standard-pole. After that he lunged with his halberd at the earl's breast, driving it right through mail-coat and body, so that it came out at the shoulders; and he lifted him up on the halberd over his head, and planted the butt-end in the ground. There on the weapon the earl breathed out his life in sight of all, both friends and foes. "


The original text reads:
rlfur gerist svo ur, a hann kastai skildinum bak sr, en tk spjti tveim hndum; hljp hann fram og hj ea lagi til beggja handa; stukku menn fr tveggja vegna, en hann drap marga. Ruddi hann svo stginn fram a merki jarlsins Hrings, og hlst ekki vi honum; hann drap ann mann, er bar merki Hrings jarls, og hj niur merkistngina. San lagi hann spjtinu fyrir brjst jarlinum, gegnum brynjuna og bkinn, svo a t gekk um herarnar, og hf hann upp kesjunni yfir hfu sr og skaut niur spjtshalanum jrina, en jarlinn sfist spjtinu, og su a allir, bi hans menn og svo hans vinir. San br rlfur sverinu, og hj hann til beggja handa; sttu og a hans menn. Fllu mjg Bretar og Skotar, en sumir snerust fltta.

Again, the weapon is described as a spear. (spjti, spjtinu,) or Kesje (kesjunni).

So it definitively is a spear type weapon. The similarities to a Langue de Beuf is quite clear; a sturdy mail piercing spike, with a hewing blade on either side.
Interesting that it's so long, though... My sumary lists them as beeing short. "so tall that you can just touch the socket" is the standard maximum length guideline. (I guess it's written in the Hirdskraa, but I dont have that book... Yet.)

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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David Martin




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PostPosted: Mon 23 Jan, 2006 12:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean,

Your guess is as good as mine. Assuming the author and translator of Egil's saga wrote the description carefully, my guess is that we're talking about a weapon with two spikes: One on the tip of the weapon and another on the half.

Looking at the description, what I get from this is a weapon with a relatively short half: "The shaft stood just high enough for the hand to grasp the socket". This leads me to believe that the shaft was in the 3 1/2 foot to 4 foot range - much shorter than a typical spear, but the blade on the weapon would have been fearsome, at about 34 to 44 inches long. With such a long blade, it makes sense that the shaft would be short in order for it to be functional. It also seems to me that this is why such a weapon could be confused with a more typical axe. That the shaft was described as "...remarkably thick" leads me to believe that the weapon was meant to be capable of axe-like swings.

Of course I could be all wet. I make no claims of being an expert.

David

"When war-gods meet to match their might,
who can tell the bravest born?
Many a hero never made a hole
in another man's breast."

- Sigurd, The Lay of Fafnir
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Greyson Brown




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PostPosted: Mon 23 Jan, 2006 12:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I could see an arguement for either. A central spike coming out of the blade, like Jean's piece, would be good for penetrating mail, and the change in blade width might account for the blade supporting a body. At the same time, I believe that Oakeshott said that the atgeir had a spike on the back (a single spike like David was thinking of?). Again, I don't have my books with me, but that should be the first sentence of the first or second complete paragraph on page 120 in Archaeology of Weapons (the paragraph about Graisda should end at the top of that page). Maybe Craig can see if I've managed to pull another one out of my hat.

I think we have managed to find more questions, rather than more answers. Big Grin

-Grey

"So long as I can keep the path of honor I am well content."
-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The White Company
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Jean Thibodeau




PostPosted: Mon 23 Jan, 2006 12:30 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Elling;

Thanks for the translation and I think that we are somewhat on the right track here although the exact stylistic look of the weapon would be anyone' s guess until we actually did one up.

Grayson;

Well not to criticizes M. Oakeshott but I'm sure that if he was still among us he might find our speculations interesting and the small passage in his book might be based on a vague / inaccurate translation he used as a source.

No disrespect intended to M. Oakeshott's memory: But maybe Craig who actually knew M, Oakeshott well would agree that he would have had a very open mind discussing the possibilities. Everything I have read about M. Oakeshott is that he was a true gentleman and not dogmatic or close minded. ( Grayson: Oh, no criticism of you here also. Cool Big Grin )

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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Mon 23 Jan, 2006 12:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Seems part of the problem is that the translators name all kinds of weapons a helbard; Atgeir, Kesje, Bryntroll...
So unless you look up every occurance, you don't really know what they are talking about... Sad

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Greyson Brown




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PostPosted: Mon 23 Jan, 2006 12:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean,

Don't worry about it. I didn't think you were calling me closed minded; even if you had been, I've been called worse things. I admit that I am having trouble parting with some previously concieved ideas on this one (I don't like change; I don't even move my furniture). I would agree that Oakeshott would probably open to other suggestions, as well. I was simply trying to incorporate some of the other evidence we have into your suggestion. Some of that evidence may be missinterurted, and some of it may be down right wrong. Then again, it might be right on. I don't know if we can really say at this point.

By the way, there seems to be some bizarreness going on with my computer and/or internet conection. When I posted my comment, I could not see some of the comments. David's reading of the "just high enough" comment is particularly interesting. I have read that same interpertation else where (but can't for the life of me remember; sorry no third reference from thin air). Elling might be able to help us on that one. I think either reading could be equally accurate.

I am also fascinated Elling's statement about translators using halberd for multiple original terms. It certainly makes things interesting.

-Grey

"So long as I can keep the path of honor I am well content."
-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The White Company
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Jean Thibodeau




PostPosted: Mon 23 Jan, 2006 1:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Greyson;

Oh, I didn't think you would have taken offence, but if I write something that could possibly be misunderstood, after I re-read myself, I usually try to make sure that my intent matches what I wrote, and I do appreciate your courtesy in return.

When people read between the lines they are just filling the space with thoughts that never crossed the writer's mind, but a clumsy phrase can create ambiguities that start a lot of stupid " flame wars " The usual problem with written communication that fails to express the tone of a statement.

Oh, lets get back to the topic now. Big Grin

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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Mon 23 Jan, 2006 1:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm not good at old norse; Kind of like a italian trying to read latin.

"skafti var eigi hrra en taka mtti hendi til fals"

the Shaft was not higher than... take had hands to socket

Old norse had "casus", like german; the words change to denote position and use. Modern scandinavian does not...

So, if the shaft wasn't longer than that you had to hold it by the socket when it was standing on the ground, it would in deed be quite short.

This would put it in the same length range as the atgeir that could be carried in the belt.

As previously mentioned, I've got a shortish hewing spear blade mounted on a 1 m (3ft 4in) stick, wich I'm currently "field testing" for skirmish fighting.
This weapon can in deed be used in one hand, wich gives meaning to the part about throwing his shield on his back. A longer hewing weapon would be to heavy and ungainly for this...

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Greyson Brown




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PostPosted: Mon 23 Jan, 2006 1:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Elling reminded me of something. I had kind of relegated it to the fanciful, and had thus not mentioned it here, but I took one of MRL's "Winged Partisan" heads and mounted it on a relatively short shaft (about 48 inches). Obviously that is longer than what we are discussing here, but it would be suitable for use as either a large axe or short spear, I suppose. I have not sharpened it or tried to cut with it, but for dry handling it seems like it could be pretty good in a fray.

Such a short shaft would be feasible, I think, but I don't know if there is any other evidence to support it. On the other hand (sorry typing as I think, this might get sidetracked), I suppose someone at some time has to have fought with a shortened polearm. It may not be as common as in the movies, but wood does still break. Maybe Egil had a "full sized weapon" (or what we normally think of when using terms like that) break on him, and he decided he liked the shorter length better. Of course, with a head that size, it could just as easilly have been intentional.

I don't know if any of that is useful; I'm just throwing my thoughts out there for posterity sake. Regardless, I think it's time for bed. Maybe my thoughts will be more useful after some rest.

-Grey

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-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The White Company
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Mon 23 Jan, 2006 1:47 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In one of the later texts, the Flateyarbok, there is a guy that carries a Atgeir in his belt; I can do this comfortably with my 1m hewing spear. (140cm total length)

If you are going to use these weapons in one hand, a longer pole could acutaly just get in the way; to be able to strike with it as well as stab you can't have a shaft much longer than 3-4 feet.
I can rest mine comfortably against the back of my hand, for thrusting use. From this positon it can execute strikes after a quick turn of the hand...

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Hank Reinhardt




PostPosted: Mon 23 Jan, 2006 2:11 pm    Post subject: Viking Halberd         Reply with quote

Let me throw in some stuff about Ewart. We spent one evening talking about this, halberd and hweing spear, and came up with nothing other than we really didn't know, but it would be great if we did. One thing about Ewart you should all remember, he considered himself a serious student of arms and armor, and rejected any nonsense about experts. My real problem with all of this is the line I mentioned before,"he war armed with a small axe shaped like a halberd" In Njal"s Sagfa, Gunnar's halberd isnot described, and it is used a lot, mainly in thrusting. But I get the impresson that it could cut as well. If not, why is it called something other than a spear. Another thing, though how important this is, is problematical, it was said to ring when it was about to kill someone. Now many axes will ring, (I have one made by Jim Fikes back about "74, that has a beautiful ring to it. Used to throw it, but am getting too old now, as it weighs about 2 1/2 lbs, and is thrown with one hand) but it is unlikely that a spike shaped or narrow spear shape will ring. One comment about the spike. Many of the early halberd had a separate ring that contained a back spike. I know that Craig knows what I mean, but the halberd had two sockets, with a bare space between them. The blade extended down from the socket. As the shaft was inserted in the first socket, another socket, containing the spike, was slipped on, then the shaft was slid through the last socket. This could very well be the actual shape of the Viking Halberd, as the earliest of these halberd known go back to about the middle of the 12th century. This would also ring. These are sometimes listed as vouges and are credited by the Met as being an ancestor of the berdiche. Alas, we will know the truth until someone finds one in a grave, and then we will know of only one. I am opposed to this cookie cutter approach. This has been one great discussion. Elling your ability to even slightly translate the old Norse is of great help. Best, Hank
Hank Reinhardt
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Tue 24 Jan, 2006 4:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Where in the saga is the halberd shaped axe mentioned? I could look up the original wording.

Gunnars bill is used for hewing quite a lot. At at least one instance he throws it; He also uses it in the of hand, along with a sword, on one occasion.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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David Martin




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PostPosted: Tue 24 Jan, 2006 5:21 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

My guess is that we're now talking about two different weapons: The "Mail Piercer", which sounds like a specialized axe-spear hybrid, and a longer weapon that is referred to as a spear, halberd, or bill. I think the hewing spear, with it's long and broad head, fits the "bill" for the latter weapon, so to speak. The typography of the "Mail Piercer" apears to be more nebulous.

I was thinking about this last night. I wonder if the reason we haven't found a clear-cut example of a "Mail Piercer" is that such weapons were relatively rare (perhaps requiring greater skill to produce or considerable strength to weild), or that their design and strength lended to conversion to more mundane tools in times of peace. A weapon with a "feather-formed blade... two ells long, ending in a four-edged spike; the blade was broad above, the socket both long and thick" would probably make for a very nice plowshare.

In short, I wonder if we might have better luck looking at the tools of the Norsemen for converted weapons. Any thoughts?

"When war-gods meet to match their might,
who can tell the bravest born?
Many a hero never made a hole
in another man's breast."

- Sigurd, The Lay of Fafnir
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Gavin Kisebach




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PostPosted: Tue 24 Jan, 2006 6:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
The shaft stood just high enough for the hand to grasp the socket


Funny, this reminds me of an online article that claimed a good viking spear should be just long enough that the tips of your fingers touch the base of the socket. I'm just starting to study old norse, and can't claim to understand colloquial usage, but I took this to mean "just tall enough that you could get your outstreched hand around the socket." I gotta find a pic to explain myself.

I dont see how a man impaled on a three foot polearm would be "in sight of all", or for that matter why he couldn't effectively just stand up, it would like drowning in a wading pool. Based on my (total guess) logic, the haft for me would be seven feet long, and the image of a man used as a grizzly banner seems more potent.

At the risk of beating a dead horse, a leaf blade on a three foot shaft sounds more like a falx or rhompaia on steroids than a halberd.
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Gavin Kisebach




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PostPosted: Tue 24 Jan, 2006 6:22 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ah, it was from Hurstwic.org

Quote:
The shaft and head had a combined length of 2-3m (7- 10ft) long, although longer shafts may have been used. A passage in chapter 6 of Gisla saga suggests the spear shaft was long enough that a man's outstretched arm could touch the rivet (right). The diameter of the shaft was typically 3cm (about an inch). A strong, straight-grained wood such as ash was used.



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