Ballock Daggers: Sexy and Iconic

We love ballock daggers!  Despite being one of the most common and iconic weapons of the medieval period, they are also carry some pretty funny allusions. Carried by fighting men and peasants alike, the ballock dagger was geographically widespread across Europe and persisted in various forms from the 14th century through to the 19th century. These sidearms were named for the phallic shape of the hilt, with dual lobes where the wooden grip meets the blade.  This iconic shape is easily seen below in the photo from the ballock dagger article.  

Wallace Ballock

Ballock Dagger circa 1550, Flanders.  The Wallace Collection

The ballock dagger form emerged in the 14th century as one of five prototypical European medieval dagger types, which also included rondel daggers, ear daggers, baselards, and quillion or cruciform daggers. These were all fighting knives with broadly similar function.  As on many of these types, blade shapes on ballock daggers varied from very sharp, single-edged blades with a fine taper, to double-edged blades, to very stiff diamond or triangular sectioned spikes. Though certain forms predominated in specific times and places, several of these forms had considerable overlap in popularity both geographically and historically.  As in so much else, the primary reasons to prefer a ballock to another dagger form seem to have been primarily fashion-based.

ballock effigy

Ballock dagger worn by Sir Peter De Grandison funereal effigy 1358

One of the characteristic attributes of ballock daggers is that the hilt is usually made of a single piece of carved wood through which the tang extends.  On earlier pieces the hilt was often entirely of wood, while later and more ornate versions incorporated metal butt-caps and short, curved, quillion arms. This example from the Metropolitan Museum features a particularly ornate grip with a relatively small metal hilt and a delicate butt-cap.

met dagger  dagger butt
An ornate dagger from the Metropolitan Museum

 Although sometimes referred to as kidney daggers, this is a later term that reflects the rather prudish sentiments of Victorian collectors. Medieval aficionados of the ballock dagger were anything but shy about the phallic connotations of this style.  The dagger was often worn at the front of the belt, as in the following illustrations.  Ballocks worn like this were clearly and explicitly a sign of virility and probably a bit of dirty joke.  Check out this article about material culture and sexual metaphors in the medieval period.  The daggers were also sometimes worn at the back of the belt or through a purse.  

dagger noble
dagger woodcut
Ballock daggers were useful as well as fashionable, and were often part of an eating or tool set on the same scabbard, as in the Wallace Collection set shown above.  Sets such as this one include a utility knife and an eating pick, which was the medieval equivalent of a modern fork, this may have worked as a steel for dressing the edge as well. This suggests that these were not just weapons of war, but rather something that would be worn consistently, as in the above pictures.  The use of ballock daggers also seems to have crossed class lines and been as appropriate to rich knights in feasting attire as to peasants or woodcutters.
By the 17th century ballock daggers were changing and becoming less pervasive in European society.  The basic form persisted, however, in certain locations, though in a somewhat changed form.  An excellent example of this is the Scottish dirk, which retains the general form of the ballock, but usually with less prominent lobes.  
18th century Scottish dirk with sheath and fork,
National Museum of Scotland
Here at Arms and Armor we've loved these daggers for a long time, and we've had the opportunity to examine many of the originals in various museums and private collections.  Our Wallace Ballock Dagger Set is a replica of the Wallace Collection A732, shown as the first pic in this article.  We had the chance to examine this piece in detail back in the day, and we have faithfully reproduced the whole set.  We source the wood from hand selected pieces of burl of hardwood to get a lovely grain, which will be unique to each piece made. The scabbard is wood cored and covered in leather to match the original. The eating knife and pick both replicate details on the original set, and the scabbard is made in the traditional manner with a simple steel chape.   The dagger feels great in the hand and is both highly functional and beautiful.  
ballock dagger set
The Arms and Armor Wallace Ballock Dagger Set
Wallace ballock set
This set is the crowning jewel of many authentic 14th century kits for reenactment or for the ultimate dagger collection.  

divider swords

Nathan Clough, Ph.D. is Vice President of Arms and Armor and a member of the governing board of The Oakeshott Institute. He is a historical martial artist and a former university professor of cultural geography.  He has given presentations on historical arms at events including Longpoint and Combatcon, and presented scholarly papers at, among others, The International Congress on Medieval Studies.

Craig Johnson is the Production Manager of Arms and Armor and Secretary of The Oakeshott Institute. He has taught and published on the history of arms, armor and western martial arts for over 30 years. He has lectured at several schools and Universities, WMAW, HEMAC, 4W, and ICMS at Kalamazoo. His experiences include iron smelting, jousting, theatrical combat instruction and choreography, historical research, European martial arts and crafting weapons and armor since 1985.

Older Post
Newer Post
Close (esc)

Help us improve your online experience

You've landed on the new (soon to be released) website for Arms & Armor. After looking around, we'd appreciate 2 minutes of your time to answer 3 short questions about your experience.

Thank You!

~ The Arms & Armor Team

Take the Survey (takes 2 minutes or less)

Age verification

By clicking enter you are verifying that you are old enough to consume alcohol.


Shopping Cart

Your cart is currently empty.
Shop now