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Thread: Injuries and mutilation on the medieval battlefield

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    Injuries and mutilation on the medieval battlefield

    Read up alot on darkage conflict and re-enact that period.

    Its generally accepted that most injuries/ wounds wear sustained in the face, head and lower legs. Since these wear the most exposed parts of the body in a shield wall which was the main form of combatin that time.

    In a book on Saxon warfare it assess the skeletal remains of men who died in battle and all had severe head injuries caused either by axe or sword. More than one book i own quotes from the viking Saga's about many warriors who have there legs severed from the knee with swords. Also viking swords were sometimes called "leg biter" due to the action of sword been used to wound the lower legs of enemies.

    So i was wondering what were the dominant injuries seen on the medieval battlefield?

    I've seen more than one TV program claim that skeletons from the battle of Agincore show evidence that both legs were severed with one slash/blow! Though they failed to mention which weapon would have done this. Does anyone know what could have done this? Poleaxe?

    On a similair note has anyone seen Braveheart? The scene near the beginning were William Wallace cuts the leg of an English soldier .... would this be possible with a claymore?
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    Re: Injuries and mutilation on the medieval battlefield

    Originally posted by William Payne
    In a book on Saxon warfare it assess the skeletal remains of men who died in battle and all had severe head injuries caused either by axe or sword.
    Do you mind naming the book & author?

    I've seen more than one TV program claim that skeletons from the battle of Agincore show evidence that both legs were severed with one slash/blow! Though they failed to mention which weapon would have done this. Does anyone know what could have done this? Poleaxe?
    Well it depends on what you mean. Cutting through _both_ legs, entirely, in one blow? I find that hard to believe. Cutting all the way through one leg and then cutting into, but not through the other--maybe I could see that. Or cutting through both legs, but not completely "amputating" either one--just cutting the anterior half of each, I mean. But I suppose if anything could do it the poleaxe is a good bet.

    On a similair note has anyone seen Braveheart? The scene near the beginning were William Wallace cuts the leg of an English soldier .... would this be possible with a claymore?
    Sure, why not?

    A.

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    Usually one leg is in front of the other, and in order to reach the rear leg, bing! you're within range.

    What about fingers? I would think a lot of people would lose fingers, even if they survived.
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    Do you mind naming the book & author?
    Yeah sure
    Title - "Weapons and warfare in Anglo-Saxon England"
    Author - Sonia Chadwick Hawkes

    Its covered in chapter 8.

    Well it depends on what you mean. Cutting through _both_ legs, entirely, in one blow? I find that hard to believe.

    I have a book which claims darkage swords were capable of such feats

    Title - "Dark Age Warrior"
    Author - Ewart Oakeshott

    Heres a direct quote pg 97 chapter 5

    "Skulls cut almost in two, or with great slices taken out; thigh bones cut through as clean as a whistle; there was a skeleton found in Gothland with both legs cut clean off below the knee with one stroke."

    Sure, why not?
    I got the impression that the claymore was more of a blunt trauma weapon like a large metal bar. Rather than a sharpe cutting weapon.
    Last edited by William Payne; 01-10-2006 at 01:30 PM.
    "That which does not kill us, makes us stronger"

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    Re: Injuries and mutilation on the medieval battlefield

    Originally posted by William Payne
    I've seen more than one TV program claim that skeletons from the battle of Agincore show evidence that both legs were severed with one slash/blow! Though they failed to mention which weapon would have done this. Does anyone know what could have done this? Poleaxe?
    Wisby, not Agincourt, and it dates well after the Anglo-Saxon period so the author is misrepresenting the data. The skeleton in question had his legs severed as he lay on the ground fending off multiple attacks - not while he was on his feet engaged in battle. I'm not aware of any skeletal remains from Agincourt. I'm not aware of any battlefield gravesites dating the the Anglo-Saxon period either.

    On a similar note has anyone seen Braveheart? The scene near the beginning were William Wallace cuts the leg of an English soldier .... would this be possible with a claymore?
    Not during the time of Wallace - the sword used by Gibson didn't exist. In fact very little of the weapons or armour depicted in that movie are accurate. Like all swords however, the claymore was sharp and could easily remove a limb if the target wasn't armoured.

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    Originally posted by William Payne


    I got the impression that the claymore was more of a blunt trauma weapon like a large metal bar.
    No, not at all. The two-handed Claidheamh da Laimh was definitely a sword, meant for cutting, which it did very well indeed. It was capable of terrible destruction -- from the battle of Killicrankie in the late 1600's, we get some pretty gruesome descriptions of the abilities of the claymore -- snapping bayonets and smallswords, lopping off limbs, decapitations, disembowlments, and cutting through heads in such a way that the top of the skull came off like it was a cap.
    On a personal note, cutting experiments with an Arms & Armor Claymore revealed tremendous cutting ability despite the user's familiarity with cutting technique -- no finesse needed....

    (BTW historical weights for the two-handed Claymores run in the 4 to 6 lbs area, roughly. The A&A is about 5.5 lbs, approx.)
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    ''The skeleton in question had his legs severed as he lay on the ground fending off multiple attacks - not while he was on his feet engaged in battle. ''

    That's not a very nice scenario.
    Of course it happens in modern warfare too, as the events in Fallujah where a marine shot a wounded Iraqi in front of A reporter shows.
    Somehow a gun seems cleaner...but a squirming screaming man being put to the sword would be like a butchers shop.

    I do remember one of those examination of medieval skeletal remains documentaries...such European history isnt really taught here so I forget which battle....anyhow the skull had cut marks to the back of the head showing more than one wound, some glancing. The examination suggested he was on the run..slashed to the back of the head, fell over and then was hacked at by several people.
    I don't fool myself into thinking people in war are any different today as far as the killing instinct but to physically put the other man to the sword the combat is rather more personal, especially when bits and pieces come off the victim.

    Fingers being lost through swordplay would seem likely also.

    On a side note, this reminds me of some of the magazines that a tattooist mate of mine keeps around the house. An article on a Mexican publication called 'Faces of Death' had colour pictures of axe attack victims, and machette assaults, beheadings etc.
    Urrggghhh.
    It appears injuries to the hands & heads should be in observed in skeletons killed in such manner once downed because there were some pretty mangled hands and heads emptied of brains in those pictures. Defense wounds and then death blows.
    All in colour too. Bluurghh.
    Last edited by Kenneth Blair; 01-11-2006 at 06:55 PM.
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    Re: Re: Injuries and mutilation on the medieval battlefield

    Originally posted by Dan Howard
    I'm not aware of any battlefield gravesites dating the the Anglo-Saxon period either.
    There is a mass grave associated with the Battle of Stamford Bridge (1066).

    Matt

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    There is a mass grave associated with the Battle of Stamford Bridge (1066).
    Really?! Could you post some details?

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    Actually, that was probably Fulford Gate (about a mile from the centre of York) rather than Stamford Bridge. Only a few days and about 20 miles different.

    Certainly, I know the Jorvik display (in York) had a skeleton on show of a young guy about 6 ft 1 inch tall from the graveyard at Fulford gate who had multiple wounds to his bones, and was thought to have died in the battle there in 1066. Even one wound interpreted as perhaps a mail ring driven into the leg-bone (ouch!).

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    Originally posted by Steven Lowe
    Actually, that was probably Fulford Gate (about a mile from the centre of York) rather than Stamford Bridge. Only a few days and about 20 miles different.

    Certainly, I know the Jorvik display (in York) had a skeleton on show of a young guy about 6 ft 1 inch tall from the graveyard at Fulford gate who had multiple wounds to his bones, and was thought to have died in the battle there in 1066. Even one wound interpreted as perhaps a mail ring driven into the leg-bone (ouch!).
    Seen "Bob" as the guide called him. A very interesting display, all the "wounds" labelled.

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    The book "Blood Red Roses", published in about 2000 or so has extremely good details on the battle of Towton from the English War of the Roses, from the actual injuries to the manner in which these were inflicted.

    There is one story in a Norse Saga where in single combat a warrior cleaves the enemies leg clean off (might be both, cant clearly remember) but it is in Richard Underwood's Anglo-Saxon warfare book, and that was of course a single handed sword (i.e. not a claymore, bastard sword etc.).

    Even a relatively dull edged two-handed sword can cleave a limb clean off if it has a clear line of attack and sufficient impact force. I would imagine given the need to have a clean trajecory of attack, that to cleave both legs, they would have to be beside each other, if the typical stance of one leg forward was used, it would be notably more difficult. But unfortunately haven't had the chance to test cut with two-handers other than chopping milk cartons and beer cans full of water in a mate's house!!

    B.
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    Originally posted by Barry Molloy
    There is one story in a Norse Saga where in single combat a warrior cleaves the enemies leg clean off (might be both, cant clearly remember) but it is in Richard Underwood's Anglo-Saxon warfare book, and that was of course a single handed sword (i.e. not a claymore, bastard sword etc.). B.
    Uhm, I'm sure there's more of those. The first that springs to mind is in chapter 17 of Egils Saga, where Egil chops his enemy's leg off somewhere above the knee.

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