Polearms

Polearms are long, hafted weapons were developed in warfare for combatting mounted soldiers and those with heavy armor. The instrument developed from an agricultural implement but evolved into a weapon style of its own.

» Medieval Polearms

A pole arm is a weapon on the end of a stick and is specifically an infantry weapon. The additional reach the pole gives affords the wielder of the weapon the advantage of striking the enemy before he himself can be struck, or holding the enemy at a distance. The ultimate pole arm was the 18-21 foot pike – but an axe blade attached to a 5-foot-long haft is just as much a pole arm.

The polearms increased leverage for cutting the armor and increased reach for reaching above the horse. The pole arm was developed in order to put infantry on even terms with cavalry. The evolution of the pole arm reflects the trends in armor and tactics in medieval warfare. Various types of weapons were employed during the medieval period. While the general use of weapon types is the same, they differed sufficiently to make it important to distinguish between them. Most weapons employed during the Middle Ages were either developments of hunting weapons or adaptations of agricultural implements. Arms developed from simple, basic forms into more sophisticated ones as the art of warfare developed over the centuries. Weapons from the late medieval period were either far more specialized than the models from which they sprang, or else were combination weapons trying to combine the strengths of the more specialized arms.

The different types of polearms common during the Middle Ages include:

  • Spears, primarily the thrusting weapons are daggers set atop a pole. They are ancient pole arms that can have a secondary cutting function, especially when the blade is lengthened considerably.
  • Pike is a very long weapon with a small iron head; the ranseur, spetum, and partisan are shorter weapons with side blades. Usually a spear with a shaft of 15′ or longer is considered to be a pike and is designed to deliver a thrusting attack at an opponent at a long range. A common form of pike is the awl pike, a strictly piercing weapon, although there are many other forms of blades which were used.
  • Lance is a long spear carried by a mounted man. During the Middle Ages the weapon grew to an average length of about 14′. Different types of heads were attached to the end of the lance shaft to meet the requirements of varying opponents armor. It was generally a horseman’s weapon and not a true footman’s weapon.
  • Pole axes are heavy weapons with axe-like heads that are designed for maximum striking power and include the bardiche, halberd and the voulge or Lochaber axe. Many pole arms in the axe and cleaver families also had spear points to provide some secondary thrusting capability, but the primary use of these weapons was chopping at one’s opponent rather than thrusting toward him. Pole axes can be double-bitted, backed by a spike, and/or topped off by a dagger (spear) point.
  • Fauchard is a development of the sickle and its curving blade could be used for both cutting and thrusting. The weapon offered little in the way of parrying or catching/holding and had no provision for dismounting opponents in its early and more common form.
  • Glaive is a knife-bladed spear having the thrusting function of the spear and the secondary cutting function of the convex blade of the knife. The increase in the size of the blade of these weapons brought them to the point where they nearly used by merging with cleaver-type weapons.
  • Guisarme belonged to a specific type Pole arms that got modified into highly efficient combination weapons. The guisarme was furnished with a sharp cutting edge along its convex side, probably from reverse spike to hook. It was soon combined with other forms of peasant weapons to make a second generation of highly effective, all-purpose pole arms.
  • Bill hook was almost same as the French guisarme, but its concave (hook) edge was the sharp one and had an L-shaped tine projecting forward. This arrangement was slightly more effective than the European guisarme. Being multi-function polearms, thye included a cutting surface, a spearlike spike, and hooks or curved blades on the back for dismounting riders. Bills, bill-guisarmes, glaive-guisarmes, and guisarmes are further extensions of this category of pole arms.
  • Military Fork had two efficient piercing points, for holding off an enemy, and sometimes a shorter third tine in the crotch of the fork, so that opponents were channeled into a third attack. But it lacked effective penetrating power with respect to heavily armored targets.

» Japa nese Polearms

Polearms are long, hafted weapons designed for two-handed use. Polearms were introduced to give the foot solider a weapon capable of dealing with the heavily armored knight and were developed in warfare for combatting mounted soldiers and those with heavy armor.

The Japanese polearm, commonly called the “Naginata” is considered one of the fiercest polearms in history. The instrument developed from an agricultural implement but evolved into a weapon style of its own. Japanese warriors studied naginatajutsu (the art of the curved blade), a martial art devoted exclusively to the employment of the naginata in combat.

The Japanese polearm or the Naginata, uses a top-quality samurai sword at the end of the pole, and the weapon is backed up by a long-developed and rigorous martial art. When combined with this expertise it was a formidable weapon. The naginata consisted of a katana quality blade attached to a wooden staff. Like other Japanese blades, the naginata was crafted of the highest quality materials and workmanship. The blade tang (portion which fits into the staff) was sometimes as long as the blade itself; thus, it was nearly impossible to break the blade off the staff.

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