One of the great things about the last decade is the widespread availability of authoritative books detailing how to fight with medieval and renaissance weapons, but knowledge about those weapons as physical and historical objects sometimes takes a back seat. In this blog we dig into our library at Arms and Armor to recommend three books that offer in-depth information on European polearms as physical objects and historical artifacts.
As makers of historical arms we have assembled a very extensive library over the past forty years. We draw on these texts extensively in designing and building our historical replicas. In combination with our first hand experience with hundreds of original pieces, the knowledge contained in this library is foundational to our ongoing mission of creating high quality, historically accurate arms. Many of the most important reference texts are out of print and difficult to find, but they can be obtained via interlibrary loan if your local library does not have them.
If you want to learn about the history, construction, and use of these iconic weapons the following three books will give you a very solid foundation to start on.
Hafted Weapons in Medieval and Renaissance Europe: The Evolution of European Staff Weapons Between 1200 and 1650, By John Waldman 2005, Brill Press, Boston, MA.
In addition to a general historical overview in which he describes the social and historical context of hafted weapons in European society he also provides a useful discussion of the evolution of hafted weapons from the basic spear and axe into a very wide variety of specialized weapons optimized for particular martial applications. He gives particular attention to the halberd as the most widespread pole arm from which many others evolved, locating its early evolution among the free Swiss peasantry around the first millennium AD. He then provides detailed descriptions and high quality photos of dozens of extant examples, with a particular focus on how they were crafted, the types of sockets utilized, and the methods of attaching langets. Of particular interest is his discussion of the methods of securing the head to the shaft, along with useful illustrations such as the below x-ray of a halberd showing the use of clinch nails to attach the langets to the shaft. Waldman also includes chapters on the Glaive, Bill, Partizan, Morgenstern, Ahlspeisse, Axe, Guisarme and Bardiche, Coreseke, Vouge, Military Scythe, Lochaber Axe, and Doloir, respectively. In sum, this is the single most important and accessible source for scientific and historical information on polearms for English speaking audiences.
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.