Saturday, 28 June 2014

The Halberd: Medieval Weaponry and Accoutrements

Today we’re looking at the halberd – basically because a conversation I had on Twitter turned to this weapon as a curiosity and remarked on its under-appreciation.

The halberd is a two-handed pole weapon which features both a spear point and an axe head – talk about bang for your buck! A hook on the opposite side of the axe head helped to balance the weapon and could be used to pull enemy soldiers from their saddles. How can you go past such versatility?

The word ‘halberd’ is believed to be German in origin and essentially boils down ‘staff axe’. Well, yeah. I can see that it literally is an axe on a staff. This puts the halberd in the ‘polearm’ category, with other weapons mounted on ‘poles’ that could vary between 4 and 14 feet in length, although generally the halberd ranged from 5 to 6 feet. I’m not sure I'd want to try and carry a weapon 14 feet long!

Halberd for the Guard of Emperor Maximilian II
The weapon was most effective against mounted knights, as the long pole allowed sufficient force to be applied with the axe head to cause injury to a knight in full plate armour, or his horse. To combat this, armour for horses was developed, but even so couldn’t offer much protection against a blow from a halberd.

The halberd underwent constant improvements, including the addition of steel rims around the pole to deflect swords, or lengthening the haft to better combat pikes, or improving the point to fight pikes and spears and to push back oncoming horsemen. 

The weapon was that of a foot soldier and was relatively cheap to make. It was most effective as an offensive weapon, and was used most when pikes fought other pikes. When the units were increasingly used to defend others, such as artillery positions, the proportion of halberds in the pike units began to fall.

Halberdiers from a modern
day reenactor troupe.
Expert halberdiers were deadly. A peasant armed with a halberd killed The Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold, and it’s suspected that a halberd put Richard III to his end as well. In modern times, the halberd is still the weapon carried by the Swiss Guard in the Vatican.

Next month I’m considering looking at the Lochaber axe, the glaive, or the khopesh. What do you think I should choose? Or offer your own suggestion! 

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Will Hahn said...

Fabulous! I knew the relationship with my soon-to-be-lovely wife was serious when she gave me a halberd for my birthday! You can see it in my bio photos. I like the khopesh next, or if you're really up for a challenge, tell me once and for all the diff between a mace, flail and morningstar- I can never get those right.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Weaponry from a loved one is a sure sign of affection *nods* My hsuabnd hailed me from across a craft market this yaer to signal his discovery of a dagger he thought I might like!

The mace, the flail, and the morningstar... a challenge for sure!

A M Guynes-Annikka Woods said...

I'd heard the term halberd but could never picture one in my mind. Thanks for the better description than the one I found a few years ago and the picture to go with it.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Halberd was always something I only had a vague mental image of too. Strangely enough, the real thing looked a lot like what I imagined, just more detailed.

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