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Pole weapons

Swords always carried a great prestige, but they were very rarely a warrior's primary weapon. On the battlefield, that role belonged most often to the spear, or one of its many variations.

The spear is one of mankind's oldest weapons, and is a clear case of "if it's not broken, don't fix it". The basic pattern of a sharp point on a long stick has remained mostly unchanged since the dawn of time, and we still find it in use today in the form of its modern descendant, the bayonet.

Different variants add to this design for various purposes, but that core is always present. And with good reason; it packs a devastating punch, while providing reach and maneouverability. The butt of the shaft, even when it is not capped with iron, can also deliver powerful strikes, and the whole weapon can be used defensively. At close quarters, the shaft can also be used as a very effective lever to push away, trip, or otherwise control an opponent.

Most weapons in this family tend to follow the same general principles, so we tend to refer to them collectively as pole weapons for simplicity. Different weapons introduce different capabilities due to their having additional blades, hooks, or spikes, but they are similar enough that someone familiar with one would be able to use another, though not necessarily to full effect.

There are no fixed sizes for any historical examples, even in cases were the weapons retain their original shafts. However, both the surviving shafts and various depiction in artwork from the relative period seem to indicate that most examples were slightly over 2m long, or roughly one and a half times the height of the person using them.

For this reason, we do not normally include pikes and pollaxes in this category, although they technically are pole weapons. Pikes are far to long to be effectively used in the same way, while pollaxes are shorter weapons designed for use in closer range armoured combat, again requiring a different body of techniques.

In our practice, we focus primarily on the Partisan, which is described in more detail below. We are also doing some exploratory research into the halberd, but this is still in its very early days.

The Partisan

Partisans tend to have long, wide heads which allow them to deliver powerful cuts in addition to the typical thrust. They are also occasionally called cutting spears. Some partisan heads also have small wings or upturned hooks at the end of the blade; these can be used to catch and displace an opponent's weapon.

Most documentation available concerning the partisan describes it being used two handed; this allows the weapon to be used for cutting, as the momentum it generates would otherwise make it quite uncontrollable. That said, some sources imply that it was also used one handed in combination with a shield.

One particular source says that the partisan employed in this manner can only do two useful actions: thrusting from above, or thrusting from below. It appears that the partisan was usually used in this way in mass combats, as the same source advises the lone fighter to ditch his shield, as the added maneuverability of the partisan in two hands offers better protection in single combat.

Some historical documentation also suggests that the partisan might be thrown, although we have no information on the circumstances under which this strategy would be used.

Although the partisan was largely abandoned as a battlefield weapon with the advent of firearms, it was still used as a staff of office as far as the Napoleonic wars. These later examples are more heavily decorated and tend to be too fragile to be usable as weapons, serving mostly to provide a focal point for a group to rally around.

The Halberd

Apart from being an iconic piece of the uniform of the Pontifical Swiss Guard, the halberd is a formidable weapon which has spawned hundreds of variations of its own.

All halberds are characterized by a central spike, an axe like blade on one side, and a spike or hook on the opposite side. Despite the axe blade, the halberd remains primarily a thrusting weapon, with the topspike doing most of the work.

The rear hook was originally developed to help footmen deal with horsemen but has a great number of uses. For example, it may be used to hook a weapon, or even a limb, allowing the halberdier to displace or temporarily trap an opponent.

On the battlefield, the halberd was used primarily to support pike formations in clashes with other pike formations. As firearm technology advanced and pike formations became an increasingly defensive unit, the use of the halberd as a weapon declined. Like the partisan it was retired to become a symbol to help units form up correctly.

Outside of the battlefield the halberd saw significant use in bodyguard units, the Pontifical Swiss Guard being only one of several forces which adopted it. A number of historical accounts also mention several instances of a halberd being kept near the door of a house for home defence, particularly in rural areas.

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