What do cutting tests teach us about medieval weapons?

Folks interested in medieval weapons see a lot of posts of videos with stuff getting cut, smashed, and chopped.  But it's sometimes unclear what exactly we learn from these examples. This is because it is often somewhat unclear what particular weapons were supposed to be able to accomplish in period, and what people at the time would consider a good test of a weapon. Should a sword cut through armor? Would a bill or halberd penetrate plate armor? Did medieval infantry have any chance against a knight in state of the art harness?

In today's video we hope to clarify some of the many variables in such demonstrations and add a few data points of what we feel are appropriate comparisons of period armor and weapons in some context. 

Knight attacked with pollaxes

Infantry beating up an armored knight 

In previous blogs we've often used various types of our weapons to cut tatami, smash boards, and destroy pumpkins. In today's blog we set out to start answering some of these questions using an English Bill and a Horseman's Axe to attack a piece of hot dished mild 14 gauge steel meant to simulate mild steel plate armor, and a pair of hardened steel pauldrons made by our friend, former Arms and Armor employee, and expert armorer, Josh Davis of Davis Reproductions.

The interaction of these items, we hope will help inform and add to the information one can draw on to access how medieval weapons where used and their devastating effect.

Polearms on rack with excellently dressed fellow trying one out.

It might also help answer the age old? Do polearm wielders have better style?

What do tests tell us about the weapon and the cutter?

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

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