In today’s blog we take a look at our Bec de Corbyn, a replica of an original 16th century knightly weapon. We also quickly examine our Knightly Pollaxe and Italian Pole Hammer to put the “Bec” in context, and discuss the history of the terminology that is used to describe this whole category of weapons. In particular, we discuss the difference between the history of the word “pole” as compared to “poll”, and what it means for how these weapons are understood.
Bec de Corbyn literally translates as “raven’s beak”, in clear reference to the shape of the spike opposite the hammer head on these weapons. This is a common aspect of medieval weapon terminology were the users of the day named pieces with nicknames that referred to the world around them and their trade as soldiers and knights.
As is the case with many of these names for medieval arms, the term that was occasionally used in period to refer to some weapons becomes a synonym for the type. So here we see Bec de Corbyn being used for the more generic “pollaxe”, and could equally be applied to many other weapons, such as our Italian Pole Hammer (pic), which has a similarly shaped striking surface.
#232 Italian Pole Hammer by Arms & Armor
Image of combat from Talhoffer via Wiktenauer
Probably the most common term for this form used by scholars today is "Lucerne Hammer". This is used to define such pieces with spikes on the face of the hammer. These can be in groups of three or four and vary in length. Weapons of similar form were used across several cultures and would have been referred to differently in different times and places. That being said, the Arms and Armor Bec de Corbyn is a particularly fine example of a beaked pollaxe. Our piece is constructed from tool steel elements molded from an original hammer in a private collection.
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.