Ways to maim people, Hussar-style!: The Mace

It’s nice to be back at school and talking about my favorite eastern-European horsemen again! Today’s subject is the ancient, brutal mass-weapon known as the mace.

The Hussar of the late medieval period was known to carry an arsenal of weapons on their person at any time in combat. Each death-dealing device generally had a specialized use and situation in mind. The mace is an ancient weapon, perhaps one of the original weapons from the beginning of mankind. It is literally a reinforced club meant for smashing things…usually peoples various vital areas. Now smashing is a very generic term, but it pretty much describes what a mace is used for at it’s very core.

During the time period of the early Hussar, the mace was one of, if not the most popular weapon in eastern Europe, a product of the trend towards heavy plate armor. The thing about plate armor is that a cutting weapon such as a sword will have an incredibly difficult time penetrating it. To damage the man inside, you need to apply percussive force strong enough to damage the internal organs through the wonderful fluting and creasing that gave gothic plate it’s strength. A mace will do exactly this, it’s heavy metal head more or less giving the unfortunate person inside an organ-damaging concussion, as well as crumpled metal armor, which would impede the functioning of the person inside. Think about getting hit with a metal baseball bat while wearing a thin cooking pot over your head and you get the idea. Now multiply the force by several fold, factoring in the Hussar striking from a horse moving 35mph. Painful ending? Guaranteed.

The mace was a simply devastating weapon…there’s a reason why the Hussar used it.

How to maim people Hussar-style: The Sabre

 

Continuing this series of the fantastic things that Hussars had to kill people, we move now to the sabre.  The cavalry sabre, as used by the early Hussars, was a single-edged sword with a crescent-shaped blade, curving back towards the user, it’s origins being middle-eastern. The tip was quite sharp, but was not the primary useful surface of the weapon. Rather, the blade itself was used from horseback to slash the fronts and backs of the necks of infantry passing below the Hussar. The curved blade made this slicing action easy to perform as the force of the blade was concentrated on a smaller section of the sword at once, effectively multiplying the power of the strike.

The horseman’s hand was relatively unprotected, the distinctive curled quillions merely stopping a pole or sword from riding down onto the rider’s hand, leaving the fingers and back of the hand exposed. Later derivatives of this weapon became the standard cavalry weapon for close-quarters combat all the way up to modern day.

Ways to maim people, Hussar-style!: The koncerz

So, as promised, I’ve returned to talk about another of the Hussars’ sick, twisted, highly effective weapons. Today, I wanna talk about the ugly duckling of the family, the historically unimportant koncerz!

The koncerz was more or less a four- to five-foot-long “sword”(really more like a spike, as there were no traditional cutting, hacking, or slashing edges…) employed by light cavalry of the day in order to equalize the riders’ chances against more heavily armored opponents(seeing a trend yet?) The grip had a small amount of protection over the fingers on some types, it’s closed nature providing a solid handhold for the user. Think of a 5-ft metal shishkebob skewer and you pretty much have the koncerz down.  The thin and sharp tip of the weapon could easily run through men in the thickest of chainmaille, had little problem with brigandines and jacks of plate and would just stick into most thin plate armor, it’s velocity from horseback providing extreme pressure at it’s tapered tip. The horseman would abandon the weapon in his target once “stuck,” making it a one-time use weapon per battle.

Effective? You betcha! Now….who wants barbecue?

Ways to maim people, Hussar-style!: The Horseman’s Pick

Well, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls! Welcome to my new series which will detail the many and varied ways Hussars took care of problems(read:people) on the battlefield! I enjoyed writing about the flamberge so much, I’ve decided to do a whole set on the topic. Anywho…

The Horseman’s Pick was a special variant of the classic warhammer, a weapon popular in its own right in the Gothic era, where even the lowliest of professional soldiers was apt to have at least a coat of plates(a cloth jacket with metal plates riveted inside) to protect them. Everyone had armor, and swords were no longer an effective means of killing a man, its slashes and hacks ineffective against the masterfully fluted and creased plate armor appearing on the battlefield. The horseman’s pick was designed specifically to defeat this armor.

The basic horseman’s pick is a shaft(wooden or metal) with a metal hammerhead and a metal spike running the opposite side. The hammerhead could inflict massive blunt trauma to a man, even through the thickest of armor. As any football player can tell you, the pads and what not will not protect you from a concussion and that is exactly what the hammer side did to someone. Woe to the man who found himself without armor in the face of this weapon(think carpenters hammer to watermelon and you begin to get the idea!)

The spike side was the truly nasty end of the weapon, though, as it was fully capable of piercing even the strongest of plate armor, burying it’s point deep inside of the target’s body. This penetration was the weapons best quality and its worst, as often times the spike would get stuck in the victim’s body, rendering the weapon useless. The spike also did not normally kill a man outright; although massive bleeding and internal punctures were bound to happen, there simply was not enough trauma from the spike to kill a man unless a critical organ (brain, heart) was struck.

Having recreated this weapon in rattan, I’ve had the pleasure of using it against other people and I have some observations to make. The pick is very unwieldly in a close combat situation, quite unlike its warhammer brethren, which are fast, light, and brutal. I repeatedly found myself telegraphing my moves to my opponents(partially my own fault) because of the weight centered around the head. However, if you can land a shot, the effect is absolutely devastating. Even in padded rattan, the mass of the weapon does its job and knocks the target absolutely silly. This heaviness in its blows can be used to tire out an opponent who has suddenly found themselves really NOT wanting to get hit with the weapon. One might say it inspires fear in your opponent, which, to a certain type of fighter, is true.

That’s it for today, folks, come back next time, where I will review another of the fine weapons of the Hussar!

The things one learns by actually doing things…

Well, over the weekend I went to Huntsville to participate in an event for the SCA(Society for Creative Anachronism), a medieval reenactment group that has quite possibly the largest amount of active memberships in the world. We’re talking like 30,000 registered members and about two to three times that number in “fringe” or unpaid members. We so all sorts of things, from recreating gold-leafed scrollwork to beating the living daylights out of each other in full-contact, unchoreographed combat that at times can involve thousands of people at one time.

There are many styles of combat that we do, but today I’d like to express some of the insight I’ve gotten from fighting with the rattan version of a short handle, long-bladed two-handed sword normally referred to as a flamberge. Fighting with one of these swords is an entirely different animal than using a single-handed arming sword(what one usually sees in movies with a shield or a torch.) One can do a quick search and find out the opinions of historians on this type of weapon, but it is a whole ‘nother manner to actually go out and try the techniques you see illustrated in 500-year-old fencing manuals on real people. It is a delight to do things from these fechtbuch manuals and see they actually work… and work well!

My favorite moment from this weekend was in a heated exchange of combat between me and my noble opponent at the time who was armed with the SCA bread and butter combo of sword and shield to my flamberge. I strung my opponent along after me(I’m pretty quick on my feet) waiting for the perfect moment to strike. The moment came as I remembered the fighting manuals in my mind…parrying the incoming blow of my opponent, I reversed directions, closing the distance between us. Bringing my sword up to my cheek, I used both hands to drive the pommel into the helmet of the fighter and snapped the head back like a punch, ending the fight.

The fluidity of this sort of attack is something that the sword seemingly wants to do when you are wielding it. It wants to move in the directions illustrated in the manuals, and it is up to the fighter to enable it.

Until next time!

-Jordan McRae

Quick Review: Hungarian Hussars

Renaissance Hungary’s military circa 1450-mid 1500s was known for two things: Mercenaries and Light Cavalry. The premier light cavalry of the region were what is now referred to as Hussars(derived from the Hungarian word gusar, derived from the word corsair, essentially meaning ‘bandit.’) This will be a quick and dirty overview of their general effectiveness.

Weapons:

Outstanding. Hussars were armed to the teeth when riding into battle, generally carrying: a light lance, a horseman’ pick, a mace, a koncerz(4-5ft stabbing sword), and a sabre along with whatever else the rider wished to take along with him. This huge assortment of weapons guaranteed having the right tool for every kind of killing that would be necessary on the battlefield. The predominance of mass weapons in their arsenal clearly shows us what these light horseman were expected to do, and that is run down infantry in full gothic plate armor and kill them. The exceptionally long 15ft hollow fir lance allowed the Hussars to be effective against the early pike square formations then being fielded by both the Swiss and German Landsknecht mercenaries.

Armor:

Horrifyingly little. The early Hungarian Hussars (not to be confused with the later, plate-armored Polish winged Hussars) went into battle with little more than a heavy coat, top hat, and a peculiarly-shaped targe-style shield that had its rear top-most edge kicked up to protect the riders’ neck from sword slashes. Faced with heavy cavalry head-to-head, the Hussars would crumple.

Agility:

Outstanding. Not having all the armor of the typical period heavy cavalry allowed the early Hussars to be exceptionally mobile on the field. This mobility allowed the Hussars to completely destroy an enemies’ supply lines and hen run down the starving knights and men-at-arms at their leisure.

Overall Effectiveness:

Very High. The Hussars literally changed the way cavalry was done from the renaissance onwards. The heavy cavalry that once dominated the medieval battlefields were no longer effective, thanks not only to lighter cavalry, but also to pike formations and gunpowder weaponry beginning to shine. The Hussar formula for light cavalry endured all the way up to the second World War, where the last of the major European light mounted cavalry saw their end.

So there you have it! If you want to know more, feel free to ask or go research for yourself…there is plenty of information out there just waiting to be discovered!

Squee!

P.S.- There is an illustration of a typical Hussar from the Osprey publications down below in the Gravatar section!

Oh look! Medieval stuff!