HEMA Quiz: What Melee Weapon Would You Use On A Medieval/Renaissance Battlefield?

HEMA stands for “Historical European Martial Arts” and is defined as any historically preserved warfare, dueling, or self-defense system originating from Europe. Such fighting styles survive in the form of military manuals, fencing treatises, and dueling manuals. This quiz only includes primary battlefield weapons with surviving treatises. War begins at far distance, so "primary weapons" are long weapons unless large shields are involved. We have another quiz for swords.

Tidewater Renaissance Fighting Arts
On Dec 17, 2016

How much reach do you want for your weapon?

How much leverage do you want? (More leverage means greater ability to push aside your opponent's weapon, manipulate their weapon with yours, etc.)

How much hand protection do you want? (Hands are the easiest thing to hit in fighting)

How much armor are you wearing to battle?

How much armor are most of your opponents wearing?

Do you expect to be fighting cavalry a lot while you are on foot?

Thrusting! Thrusting is better than cutting against armor. It is also long reaching, subtle, and lethal. How important is thrusting power and precision to you?

Cutting! The cut kills faster, deals with multiple opponents easier, beats aside other weapons easily, and a failed cut can easily turn into another attack. Yet cuts are less effective against steel plate armor. How much cutting power do you want?

Hooking! How important is it to you to be able to hook your opponent's weapon, neck, or knee?

Ease of carry: does it matter to you whether you can easily carry your weapon around?

What is your weapon's specialty? Most of these weapons are quite versatile, but what specialty would you pick if you could only pick one?

Pike

Pike

Congratulations! You got the Pike!

Pikes have the longest reach of any melee weapon (10 feet to 25 feet in length) and they were ideally suited for use as anti-cavalry weapons since the long pikes prevented cavalry charges. They were best used in large groups to create a forest of pikes. On the offense, this pike formation could then slowly bulldoze and annihilate enemy infantry formations with their thousands of tightly-packed spear points. Long spears had been in use for ages, but the Pike grew to become a dominant force on the battlefield from the 1300s to the 1600s, even seeing use in the 1700s. Dense forests of pikes were very hard to beat!

Contrary to what is commonly taught, Pikemen were not defenseless when fighting alone. The great German fencing master Joachim Meyer included Pike fencing in his fencing tome, as did Paulus Hector Mair and others. Furthermore, not all Pikemen were poor. Many burghers would make a living as well-paid and well-armored front line Pikemen – even knights and nobles would sometimes fight as Pikemen! Pikes boast superior reach and thrusting power, though they can be unwieldy at times.

In groups, the Pike was the premier infantry weapon of the Renaissance and Early Modern battlefield. Chances are, if you were fighting on foot, you were probably either a pikeman or a musketman. Since this quiz only covers melee weapons, muskets, bows, crossbows, and pistols are not covered.

As gun technology improved, Pikemen gradually lost their offensive role as a human bulldozer and retained only their anti-cavalry purpose (preventing your musketmen from being run over by cavalry). Once the bayonet was invented, pikes were largely abandoned as the spear and gun could now be one weapon.

Spear

Spear

Congratulations, you got the Spear!

Spears are one of the oldest and most successful weapons ever invented, seeing great use across all cultures from the Stone Age until the Musket-with-Bayonet merged gun and spear into one weapon.

Spears are truly phenomenal weapons, having high reach (often 6 feet to 9 feet in length), great thrusting power, great leverage, and tremendous nimbleness. Spears can thrust, feint, and change direction extremely quickly, making them deceptive and very difficult to fight. Since it is difficult to stab into the tiny gaps of full plate armor from so far away, spears designed for armored fighting tend to be shorter.

Historical manuals that teach spear are legion, especially when you consider that the Quarterstaff is just a spear without a spearhead. Manuals include those of Fiore dei' Liberi, Filippo Vadi (pictured here), Joachim Meyer, Paulus Hector Mair, Achille Marozzo, George Silver, etc.

As dominating as spears often are, they do have a few weaknesses: they cut poorly, the shaft can be broken after parrying too many powerful cuts, they have no hand protection, and enemies can grab the shaft of your spear. Watch out for that!

Partisan

Partisan

Congratulations, you got the Partisan!

The Partisan is very similar to a Spear. The main difference is that Partisans have thicker blades that are much better at cutting, making them great cut-and-thrust weapons. They also will often have small prongs at the base of the spear to allow you to bind and manipulate opponent's weapons. They also serve to keep impaled opponents at a safer distance. They are essentially a short double-edged sword at the end of a pole. Partisans are usually 6 or 7 feet in length and not quite as optimized for thrusting as the spear. However, they still boast good reach, high leverage, great nimbleness, and a good cut-and-thrust balance. They can thrust, feint, and change direction quickly, making them deceptive and very difficult to fight. Since it is difficult to stab into the gaps of full plate armor from so far away, pole-arms designed for armored fighting tend to be shorter.

Similar weapons include the Boar Spear, Glaive, and the Spiedo.

As dominating as partisans often are, they do have a few weaknesses: the shaft can be broken after parrying too many powerful cuts, they are not quite as long as many other pole-arms, they have no hand protection, and enemies can grab the shaft of your spear. Watch out for that!

Historical manuals that teach spear/partisan are legion, especially when you consider that the Quarterstaff is just a spear without a spearhead. Manuals include those of Fiore dei' Liberi, Filippo Vadi, Joachim Meyer, Paulus Hector Mair (pictures here), Achille Marozzo, George Silver, etc. The Bolognese masters specifically address the Partisan and Joachim Meyer makes specific references to it in his swords vs. pole-arms section.

Halberd

Halberd

Congratulations, you got the Halberd!

Halberds are a creature of late Medieval and Renaissance warfare, combining all the best features of an axe, spear, and hook all into one. They boast good reach, great leverage, great hooking ability, and tremendous power in both the cut and thrust. They are brutally effective! They saw frequent use in warfare as anti-infantry weapons - especially anti-pike weapons. Their powerful cutting strokes could easily beat aside the longer and clumsier pikes. Hooks also helped to hook them aside and allow the halberd users to cut or thrust at the Pikemen themselves. Despite the fairly short halberds in the painting above, battlefield halberds were usually 5 feet to 7 feet in length.

Similar weapons include the Bill and the Pollaxe. The Halberd differs from the Pollaxe in that it is longer and has less of an emphasis on anti-armor and more of an emphasis on anti-pike. The Halberd remains one of the best anti-armor weapons, though, just not as much as the Pollaxe.

Halberds and Pollaxes were very frequently taught by the historical fencing masters, including Le Jeu de la Hache, Hans Talhoffer, Achille Marozzo, Fiore de'i Liberi, Joachim Meyer, Paulus Hector Mair, and many more.

They are extremely versatile and powerful, though they are generally slower than the spear and they still lack hand protection and their shafts can be grabbed. Watch out for that!

Pollaxe

Pollaxe

Congratulations, you got the Pollaxe!

Pollaxes are a creature of late Medieval and Renaissance warfare, combining all the best features of an axe/hammer, spear, and hook all into one. They boast good reach, great leverage, great hooking ability, and tremendous power in both the cut and thrust. They are brutally effective! They saw frequent use in warfare as anti-infantry weapons - especially anti-armor weapons. Full Plate armor was extremely durable and completely immune to harm from most weapons. Yet the brutal power of a Pollaxe cut could still stun a knight with a powerful strike - or potentially even knock him out with an especially good hit to the head. Even a momentarily stunning blow is enough for the Pollaxe fencer to thrust through a gap or joint and kill. Pollaxes were anti-knight weapons and were therefore very popular among the knights themselves as they sought to best each other in war and tournaments. They are so powerful that some believe that it is impossible to safely spar with them at full contact - even with blunt pollaxes and full armor! In addition to their powerful cuts and bashes, they were excellent at thrusting and hooking. Unlike most pole-arms, they have small hand-guards to protect the hands and thin strips of metal along the wood to make them much more durable.

Pollaxes were usually about as long as the wielder is tall.

Despite the name "Pollaxe", many pollaxes actually had hammer heads rather than axe heads. However, they were still called Pollaxes. Alternate names for them in German include "Fusstreithammer" (Infantry War Hammer), "Streitaxt (Battle Axe), and "Mordaxt" (Death Axe).

The Pollaxe differs from the Halberd in that it is shorter, has a steel spike on the butt end, and is optimized to be the ideal anti-armor weapon.

Halberds and Pollaxes were very frequently taught by the historical fencing masters, including Le Jeu de la Hache, Hans Talhoffer, Achille Marozzo, Fiore de'i Liberi, Joachim Meyer, Paulus Hector Mair, and many more.

They are extremely versatile and powerful, though they are slower and shorter than spears and their shafts can be grabbed. Watch out for that!

Two Hand Sword

Two Hand Sword

Congratulations, you got the Two Hand Sword! This sword is similar to the Longsword (the most popular weapon in HEMA today) but is larger. Two Hand Swords range from 4 lbs. to 8 lbs. in weight and often have blades from 40" long to 50" long. From pommel to tip, they are supposed to reach from the ground to the shoulder - occasionally up to the head! Most Two Hand Swords are optimized for cutting rather than thrusting, though many thrusting oriented examples exist that were designed for armored combat between knights.

Two Hand Swords, contrary to popular misconception, are extremely fast. The tip on the blade moves far faster than any other sword due to their length and momentum. Yet due to their terrifying momentum, they aren't very nimble. They have so much momentum that they cannot easily change directions from one way to the opposite way like smaller swords can. Thus, you must flow in smooth, circular motions from one cut to other similar cuts. The only thing difficult is a complete reversal of motion. Cuts from these swords are powerful enough to power through the parries of lesser weapons and knock armored opponents clean off their feet.

Two Hand Swords are ideally suited for fighting multiple opponents because you can easily beat aside their weapons, power through their parries, and whirl the blade around you with precise footwork to simultaneously fight off many opponents. Two Hand Swords are also very well suited for clearing a room, guarding territory, and beating pikes aside. They may be able to cut pikes in half, though the more common tactic was to beat them aside and lunge. Two Hand Swords also boast excellent hand protection and the ability to easily grip the blunt ricasso of the sword with one hand and use it like a short spear.

Other names for the Two-Hand Sword include the Montante, Spadone, Slachterschwerter (Slaughter Sword), and Zweihander.

Like the Spear, Halberd, and Pollaxe, the Two Hand Sword is among the most dominant melee weapons every invented, however it still has some weaknesses. It is not as long as spears or long pole-arms, plus it's high momentum makes it harder to reverse direction. This makes them more vulnerable to feinting, deception, and clever use of distance. This is why many masters focus on thrusting with the Two-Hand sword in one-on-one fights. Two-Hand Swords also are more expensive and take more time to learn than pole-arms.

The Two-Hand Swords were taught by such masters as Achille Marozzo, Domingo Luis Godinho, Figueiredo, George Silver, and Joachim Meyer.

Sword and Shield

Sword and Shield

Congratulations, you got the Sword and Shield!

Sword and Shield was a very popular combination for millennia. Roman Legions, Medieval Knights, and Renaissance Conquistadors alike were famed and feared for their skilled use of Sword and Shield. Sadly, there are no Sword and Shields treatises surviving from the ancient or medieval era - just from the Renaissance. This is due to the fact that Full Plate Armor (worn by the nobility) made shields redundant. Why carry a shield when you are wearing one on your entire body? Yet by the Renaissance there were enough relatively wealthy commoners that Sword and Shield appears in the surviving martial arts literature. It was mostly used by people who were wearing partial suits of armor. In broken terrain or tight quarters, Sword and Shield proved effective against Pike formations due to the shield providing great protection against pikes as the Swordsmen closed the distance. These steel shields were usually proof to longbow arrows and the pistols of the era. Yet Sword and Shield users were very vulnerable to lance armed cavalry, meaning that they were rarely used in large numbers in open field warfare. Shields truly excelled in siege warfare! A swordsman could carry his shield above his head as he climbed a siege ladder, keeping him quite safe from all the arrows, rocks, and so forth raining down on him as he ascended the walls. Shields were also very useful inside the close corridors of the castle where long weapons would get tangled and it was very difficult for opponents to maneuver around the swordsman's shield.

These round, domed steel shields were called Targets in English and their users called "Targeteers." In Spanish they were "Rodeleros" using Rodelas. It was Rotella in Italian. The swords were usually straight, double-edged cut-and-thrust swords with complex hilts. They were generally shorter, wider, and better at cutting than the long rapiers in the picture.

Sword and Shield allows for using both weapons at once for combined offensive and defensive maneuvers. Beat aside their weapon with the shield while attacking with the sword, parry low with the sword and bash them with the shield, rush them and stifle their weapon with your shield while attacking with the sword...sword and shield present tremendous variety and versatility! They are two halves of the same weapon and they are meant to be used simultaneously. The shield is not a passive defense, but active, aggressive, and mobile.

Sword and Shield is a truly excellent fencing style, relatively easy to learn, provides tremendous coverage/protection, and it is highly effective against most weapons. However, it still has some weaknesses. It is much shorter in reach than pole-arms or two-hand swords, it is vulnerable to cavalry, the shield blocks the swordsman's view, the shield prevents grappling since the hand is occupied, and the shield's large size makes it less nimble than a buckler, dagger, or other off-hand weapon. So the shield may provide excellent protection, but it is vulnerable to feints and deception. Furthermore, the shield cannot quickly be extended to protect the legs without crouching. Thus, attacks to the legs are common.

Sword and Shield is taught by Achille Marozzo, Domingo Luis Godinho, Giacomo di Grassi, Donald McBane, and others.