Posts on events in the late first and early second millenia CE
Today anyone who wants to can download photos of almost all the European fencing manuals written before the 20th century, and often buy a convenient reprint or translation. But this makes it difficult to get a sense of the genre as a whole. Which manuals should someone who is just getting interested in the subject read first? How can we decide which texts our readers or listeners are likely to know, so that when we mention them it helps them understand? The last academic monograph on the subject, Sydney Anglo’s The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe (2000) is organized by themes so information on any one manual or tradition is scattered across different chapters.
So this week, I would like to give a short list of books which is representative of European fencing manuals before the middle of the 17th century.
In September and October, I came across several projects in archaeology which help us understand early warfare. This week’s post will take us from China to Germany, Italy, and England and from the Bronze Age to the 18th century CE.
I will start with the Bronze Age (best age!) then move on to ages of other metals. A German-UK-Chinese team published the latest project trying to understand how Bronze Age swords were used. They examined damage to the edges of originals and then compared it to damage on replica swords by Neil Burridge after performing Andre Lignitzer’s six sword-and-buckler plays. I’d like to see more studies like this borrowing ideas from other martial arts like Shastar Vidiya to see which seem to work best with Bronze Age weapons from Europe. Fifteenth-century German fencing such as Andre Lignitzer’s plays has a lot of blade-on-blade contact and twisty actions while the blades are crossed, whereas other martial arts rely on the shield to defend or prefer simpler weapon-on-weapon actions. But I think that the evidence that swords from some periods often have marks characteristic of controlled parrying, whereas in other periods the edge damage is more random, is valuable. I am also glad that they experimented with common matchups like sword against spear, and not just the rare occasions when a sword was used against another warrior with a sword who was ready for the attack.Read more
Academic histories sometimes get very narrowly focused. There are some good reasons for this, but its not so good to read a book on archaic or classical Greek warfare which barely acknowledges that Italy or the Hellenistic period existed. Did I fall into that trap in my book on Achaemenid armies and warfare?
To find out, I made a list of all the battles and sieges which I mentioned in my forthcoming book.
The mysterious (and tracking-heavy and script-heavy) website
historicaleuropeanmartialarts.com has a history of the current historical fencing movement. Although they don’t provide an email address, I would like to add a few lines to their chronicle.
1972: James Louis Jackson publishes Three Elizabethan Fencing Manuals (Scholars’ Facsimiles and Reprints), a facsimile of the English version of di Grassi, Vincento Saviolio, and George Silver’s Brief Instructions. This book is purchased by many university libraries and becomes the starting point for many English-speaking fencers.
1979: Archaeologist William Gaugler founds a program teaching masters of classical Italian fencing (the fencing taught to army officers and potential duelists in the late 19th century) at San José State University in California (Britannica). His books and students have a major influence in the historical fencing community in North America after the year 2000 and help keep this tradition alive in North America where it is threatened by versions of fencing optimized for winning bouts under the Olympic rules and electric scoring. Two articles are Tony Wolf, “The Future of Fencing is in its Past: An Interview with Maestro John Sullins.” Journal of Manly Arts, August 2003 https://www.ejmas.com/jmanly/articles/2003/jmanlyart_wolf_0803.htm and Puck Curtis, “In Search of the Rudis,” A Midsummer Night’s Blog 18 June 2014 http://www.puckandmary.com/blog_puck/2014/06/in-search-of-the-rudis/
1999: J. Christoph Amberger persuades a publisher to print an expanded version of the proceedings of his fencing-history fanzine Hammertz Forum as The Secret History of the Sword. While the main text is focused on the 19th and 20th centuries, the appendices list people and businesses to contact including Patri Pugliese.
?September? 1999: first Western Martial Arts Workshop (WMAW) in the Chicago area. At some point it sets up a bi-annual schedule at the DeKoven centre in Racine WI, with occasional smaller, off-year events without the WMAW name: they numbered the event in 2019 as their 14th and the event in 2007 as their 8th.
As a human being, every day I use edgetools to prepare food. This week I want to talk about three of the ones I use most often, and how much and how little some things have changed over the past 600 years. These were all made by the same modern technique (cutting a shape out of a sheet of rolled homogeneous steel and then grinding away the excess)
Scale-Tanged, Bone-Handled Knife TCP8
Overall length: 21 cm
Grip: 9 cm
Blade: 12 cm
Blade thickness (maximum): 3 mm
Blade width (maximum): 21 mm
Cross section: hollow-ground wedge
Material: Carbon steel with a bone grip riveted with brass tube and brass bolsters where the blade meets the handle
Tod’s knife has a heavy spine, a delicate shape in the blade and the handle, and has a pleasing substance in the hand like a Laguiole without being heavy or bulky.
The Before Times were good for tests of bows or guns against low-tech armour. I just learned that Sylvia Leever’s tests against two 17th century breastplates is available on YouTube: Sylvia Leever, For Show or Safety? (2005, posted 3 August 2013) You can find more information about her project in: Leever, Sylvia (2005) “For Show... Continue reading: Cross-Post: Armour vs. Bullet Tests