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10 myths about medieval battles that many believe in. But in vain
10 myths about medieval battles that many believe in. But in vain

The films showed us everything wrong again.

10 myths about medieval battles that many people believe in. But in vain
10 myths about medieval battles that many people believe in. But in vain

1. You can cut a pike with a sword

Myths about medieval battles: the two-handed sword with a counterguard
Myths about medieval battles: the two-handed sword with a counterguard

Take a look at this magnificent example of 16th century weaponry. This is the zweichender (two-handed) - a long sword used by the Landsknechts, German mercenaries. Those who were armed with it were called doppelsoldners, or "double soldiers" - that is, warriors with a double salary.

In general, all Europeans had two-handed swords: the Scots had claymores, the Swiss and French had espadons, the British had greatwords, and so on. But Zweichender is the most impressive of them all. It has a wide guard to deflect attacks and protect the swordsman's hand, and a curved counter guard to parry blows.

The length of this sword, together with the hilt, could reach two meters, but usually it was 1, 4–1, 8 meters.

A very popular myth is wandering around the Internet about what such a colossus was used for. Allegedly, the Landsknechts fought in formation, gathering in the so-called battle and putting long sharp peaks in front of them. If in a fierce battle two enemy formations converged, the doppelsoldners entered the battle.

Specially trained brave men walked ahead of their comrades, pushing aside and cutting off the enemy's peaks with the zweichenders on the move. This made it possible to break through the enemy system, mix the order and kill everyone. The owners of the Zweichenders, called masters of the long sword, risked the most, which is why they enjoyed special respect.

Myths about medieval battles: duel with two-handed swords
Myths about medieval battles: duel with two-handed swords

Sounds cool, but it's not true. It will not always be possible to cut a lance and an ax with a swing, let alone a sword, and even in close combat, and even more so. Reenactors and fencers tried to do this. And they failed.

And the myth appeared because of the book "Arms" by the Russian historian of the 19th century Pavel von Winkler. He clearly imagined two-handed fighting a little bit wrong.

By the way, it is incorrect to say that only a real hero can lift a Zweichender: on average, these colossus weighed only 2-3, 5 kilograms. The weight of individual copies reached a maximum of 6, 6 kilograms - this is how the legendary Frisian hero Pierre Gerlofs Donia allegedly owned. But such a weapon was never used in battle, because it was extremely inconvenient, and served only for parades and ceremonies.

2. Chivalry disappeared when firearms were invented

Medieval Battle Myths: The Battle of San Romano
Medieval Battle Myths: The Battle of San Romano

For a long time, the knights were practically invincible warriors. Imagine: you are standing and squeezing a weapon with sweaty palms, and a huge horse in armor is galloping at you. On it sits a big man in armor and with a spear, who has been taught to kill since childhood. It is unlikely that a simple urban militia or a peasant would have been able to oppose him with something.

It is not surprising that until the 15th century, heavy cavalry was the dominant force on the battlefield. That is why in the Middle Ages the strength of the army was measured not by the number of soldiers, but by "spears".

One spear is a knight on horseback, squires, pages, bodyguards, archers, servants and other rabble assigned to him, which no one even thought of counting. They made sure that the noble gentleman felt good, did not experience problems with equipment, ate on time and did not fall from his horse.

However, at some point, the knights lost their effectiveness, became too expensive and, as a result, were not needed.

There are several opinions as to why chivalry had come to naught by the 15th century. The most popular is because firearms and arquebus have spread throughout Europe. When gunpowder was brought from China, the knights immediately went out of fashion, something like that.

Another explanation is the accuracy of the English archers. These guys fired at the speed of machine guns, in seconds they turned the French knights and their horses into hedgehogs, sticking arrows at them for a sweet soul. The armored horsemen realized their uselessness, became upset and disappeared as a class.

The third option is the appearance of crossbows. They recharge more slowly than bows, but they hit much more powerful. So that one successful shot from this thing will pierce 10 knights on horses, placed in a row, and ricochet off the helmet from the eleventh.

However, all these options are irrelevant to reality. The firearm was not particularly dangerous for these warriors, because their cuirasses protected well from arquebus bullets, no worse than modern body armor.

The knights also did not stand on ceremony with archers and exterminated them in droves - for example, in the battle of Path during the Hundred Years War. And crossbows were not a panacea for armored cavalry. Such weapons began to spread throughout Europe in the XI century, which did not prevent the warriors in armor from feeling quite good for another four centuries.

The end of the knights was put by the development of combatant 1.

2. battle. Swiss pikemen, German landsknechts, and then Spanish infantrymen - these guys have deprived the knights of the status of invincible warriors. To break through on horses a formation bristling with long peaks is a task, in principle, doable.

But only if all the riders under your command are suicides.

So those wishing to ride with a saber bald on the pikemen's battles gradually ended, and the estate knighthood gave way to professional mercenary troops on the battlefield. They were much more disciplined, because they could not boast of their noble birth.

3. The lighter the sword, the better

Myths about medieval battles: duel with two-handed swords
Myths about medieval battles: duel with two-handed swords

We have already debunked the myth that medieval weapons were very heavy - supposedly swords and hammers weighed tens of kilograms and could only be wielded by real strongmen, which cannot be found in our time.

But in modern culture there is also the opposite delusion: the best weapon is the one that weighs little. Obviously, this myth came from fantasy, the authors of which love to supply their heroes with weightless blades, which, of course, were forged by elves from magical metal. For example, mithril or adamantium.

A typical fantasy sword is as light as a feather, yet incredibly sharp. Even a person who has never practiced fencing (in especially neglected cases - a hobbit about a meter tall), waving this weapon, can easily amputate extra limbs on the pressing orcs.

But in reality, a weightless sword will not be very useful.

Lightweight metal is good for pike or arrowheads, but no one will forge blades from it. The fact is that a blow or thrust with such a weapon will be much weaker than with a normal sword weighing 1, 5-2 kilograms. Weight 1.

2. the weapon should not be too large, but the blade should not be too light, otherwise it will not create sufficient momentum and inertia.

Therefore, it is absolutely wrong to say that swords, samurai katanas and Spanish rapiers should be lighter than fluff in order to flutter in skillful hands.

4. A helmet is optional

Myths about medieval battles
Myths about medieval battles

Watch any "historical" or fantasy film or TV series with large-scale battle scenes. Surely all the heroes in it will go into battle in more or less decent armor, but at the same time with bare heads. And if there are helmets, then only the extras running in the background - the main characters will do without them.

If, according to the scenario, it is too early to die, then at least naked in the attack, all the arrows will fly by.

From the point of view of cinema, it is understandable why Jon Snow and Ragnar Lothbrok do not wear protectors on their heads: so that the viewer can more easily recognize their faces in general shots.

But in a real medieval battle, they would not have done well: an arrow that accidentally flew into the head at the end or a fragment of a spear stuck under the ear will not add good health to anyone. And the helmets were designed to protect against such troubles.

Most medieval warriors could go to war even without chain mail, in only one quilt, but they did not forget helmets. Head injuries were one of the main causes 1.

2.death on the battlefield. So there was nothing to do without a special hat in battle.

5. The shield can also be forgotten at home

Myths about medieval battles
Myths about medieval battles

Another optional, from the point of view of Hollywood filmmakers, tool on the battlefield is the shield. Characters in feature films rarely use them, preferring to fight only with swords. Obviously, the situation here is similar with helmets: in the frame, shields take up quite a lot of space and hide the movements of the actors, so they don't look very good.

In fact, they were almost the main tool 1.

2. protection of the majority of medieval warriors - both noble knights and simple infantry.

It was with a shield, not a blade, that the blows of enemy weapons were reflected. No, of course, you can do this with a sword too. But just taking a hit on him, as shown in the movies, you risk damaging the weapon. It will be covered with notches, and its fighting qualities will be significantly reduced. And the sword is a very expensive thing, and it should be protected.

The expression "cross swords" is relatively new, in the Middle Ages they did not say that. To beat your blade into the blade of the enemy is just a waste of risking expensive weapons.

The shield was a consumable that everyone could afford. A bundle of it and weapons is much more effective than just one sword, ax or spear in two hands. Shields were refused only by the owners of the highest quality plate armor, and even then not always.

6. Dagger-sword-sword broke blades

This interesting dagger of the 15th century is called a dentair, or a swordbreaker. It was he, as well as the small round buckler shield, who sent traditional full-size shields to the dustbin of history.

The fencers took him in the left hand and parried the enemy's blows with them. Periodically, the opponent's sword fell into the recesses in the blade, and then the enemy briefly lost control of his weapon, becoming defenseless.

And at that moment one could hit him with one poke. Great, isn't it?

Because of the name of the dagger, many believe that with its help the captured swords were broken, depriving them of the edge. That's just a myth.

Maybe a very strong person will be able to break the weapon if you firmly fix its handle in a vice. Especially when the sword is made of low-quality metal: good long blades bend well, but just as easily regain their shape.

But if the sword is held in hand, it will simply break out of it, without being injured. And breaking weapons simply did not make much practical sense.

7. In the Middle Ages, everyone fought to the death

Myths about medieval battles: the capture of John the Good at the battle of Poitiers
Myths about medieval battles: the capture of John the Good at the battle of Poitiers

In most films and TV series, medieval knights, and even simple warriors, show very little mercy to defeated enemies. If the enemy is disarmed or wounded, he is simply finished off without further hesitation. In the worst (for him) case, the unfortunate is taken prisoner, but only in order to torture, find out information and only then destroy.

But real medieval battles often ended not with mountains of corpses, but with crowds of prisoners.

The reason for this behavior is not an enlightened humanism or Christian philanthropy. Just for a person taken hostage, you can get a ransom. If you grabbed some rich knight, all you had to do was to attach it with a war hammer on the helmet, but not hard, take off your armor and tie it up. And you are almost rich.

Especially large buybacks 1.


3. were given for all sorts of kings, dukes and counts - so, John II had to pay the English three million crowns in gold for the liberation. And this is just a crazy amount.

But not only nobles were taken prisoner, but also ordinary infantrymen - if they did not look completely ragged. For example, in the same Hundred Years War, only about a tenth of the prisoners of war had a noble origin, the rest were commoners.

They also bought their freedom from the winners - sometimes the average archer had to give up his annual earnings for this. But it's better than being hanged.

8. Archers and crossbowmen were considered cowards

Medieval Battle Myths: Battle of Crécy
Medieval Battle Myths: Battle of Crécy

One of the most popular myths among fantasy lovers is the belief that medieval warriors did not really like shooters. Allegedly, their craft - to kill from a distance - was considered shameful.

Therefore, archers, and even more so crossbowmen with their infernal machines, were not even taken prisoner, but exterminated on the spot. And it's good if without prior torture.

Even the church at the Second Lateran Cathedral in 1139 forbade these types of weapons to be used against Christians. True, they didn't seem to say anything about war hammers, boiling oil and stakes smeared with feces. And these are much less humane weapons of killing a neighbor.

However, in fact, the opinion that archers and crossbowmen are ranked among the outcast caste is another myth. He is loved to be mentioned in fantasy. For example, in A Song of Ice and Fire by George Martin, the noble Jaime Lannister despised the owners of small arms.

Medieval Battle Myths: Archers vs. Armored Horsemen
Medieval Battle Myths: Archers vs. Armored Horsemen

In fact, crossbowmen and archers were one of the most important forces of the medieval army - and they were highly valued. Noble knights did not hesitate to use their services.

For example, one of the highest military posts in France in the XII-XVI centuries was the Grand Master of Crossbowmen, who was approved by Louis IX. He was a man of high birth, who also commanded archers, gunners, sappers and siege equipment.

Sometimes the shooters enjoyed special honors - from them they recruited the personal protection of the monarch. For example, Richard II's bodyguards were 24 hand-picked archers from Cheshire.

It is unlikely that all these guys would be appointed to such positions if their methods of warfare were considered unworthy.

9. Owners of flambergs were not very well liked either

Myths about medieval battles: Flamberg
Myths about medieval battles: Flamberg

By the way, there is another similar myth - that the owners of flambergs, swords with a wavy blade, were not taken prisoner either. These weapons inflicted terrible wounds, and their owners were allegedly so hated that they killed on the spot. However, this is also not true: these fighters were killed no more often than the others.

It's just that Flamberg became especially popular in the 16th century during the religious wars between Protestants and Catholics. And the Swiss pikemen and German landsknechts, who hated each other, took part in them. And these guys did not take prisoners, even if he was armed with a flamberg, even a penknife, at least one toothpick.

10. The scythe is no different from the usual

Medieval Battle Myths: Battle Scythe
Medieval Battle Myths: Battle Scythe

Hearing the "war scythe", most of us will imagine a simple agricultural tool that is used to kill people.

To an ignorant person, it seems a formidable tool: it is not for nothing that Death itself is traditionally armed with it. Various video game heroes like Bayonetta and Dante also fight with garden equipment, imitating the Grim Reaper.

However, in reality, this weapon does not look at all what you imagine.

Combat scythes did exist and were especially popular with peasants who couldn't afford better equipment. They were used by 1.

2. Swiss infantrymen who fought against the Austrian knights in the XIV century, German commoners during the Great Peasant War of 1524-1525 and many others.

But this contraption was actually hard to confuse with an ordinary agricultural tool. Before the battle, it was reforged: the blade was placed vertically so that it could cut, chop and stab.

The weapon worked especially well against cavalry: it helped to injure horses, staying at a respectful distance from a knight swinging a sword. The battle scythe was used as a kind of budget halberd or guisarma.

An ordinary Lithuanian with a blade located horizontally rather than vertically has very, very limited use in battle. In principle, if necessary, it was possible to fight with it, but only if there was no normal weapon at hand.

The famous swordsman of the 16th century Paul Hector Mayer even compiled a guide on how to properly swing a simple scythe and a hand sickle. The latter, with proper skill, will generally not be worse than a dagger.