Jul 19, 2013

Weapons & Warriors: The Halberd of the Europeans

The Halberd, also known as the Swiss Voulge, was a very popular weapon among the Swiss soldiers during the 1300’s and 1400’s. It was not as long as many of the other polearms, but was still a capable weapon against charging cavalry. The halberd is a combination of staff and axe, and unlike a lot of the longer polearms, it was very useful in melee combat against most any weapon. 

Art by TL Jeffcoat
The warriors who trained with halberds were called Halberdiers. Unlike pikes and spears, which are best used thrusting or planting against charging enemies, the Halberd could be held like a staff, or even similar to a daneaxe except with less power and more finesse. The axe blade and spike gave it an extra “edge” in fighting against swords and morning stars. The longer reach of a halberd could often deter an untrained opponent. 

The head of the Halberd was built like a spear, with an axe set below the spearhead and a hooked spike opposite the axe blade. The bottom of the shaft was capped with iron or steel to balance the shaft so that the Halberdier could use the weapon in close range combat or long range. Many halberds had steel rings placed along the shaft to deflect attacks from swords or maces without shattering. The shaft is usually between 5 and 6 ft. (just under 2 meters). 

The spike served two purposes. One was to help balance the axe blade and add some weight to the entire head. The second purpose was to snag a rider and yank him off his mount. The axe portion of the head is pretty straight forward. The halberdier could swing it in wide arcs at multiple opponents who aren’t closing in or simply used like any battle axe in close range when an opponent closed in. The shorter length of the shaft allowed the warrior to spread his hands and bring the axe in close for quicker short range strikes. The spearhead above the axe and spike made the Halberd capable of planting against charges, but not as effective as the pike or the Corseque. It also made the Halberd dangerous with a thrust at a mount or rider. 

After the introduction of firearms, the Halberd became more ceremonial. It was then only used for signaling troops or making sure formations were straight before a battle began or during an inspection. 

I hope you enjoyed this edition of Weapons and Warriors, click here to view the entire catalog of weapons and cultures. Thank you, see you next week.

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