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Author Topic: Ball and Chain Flails Never Existed?  (Read 2206 times)
RJBowman
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« on: May 18, 2016, 03:51:11 pm »

http://www.publicmedievalist.com/curious-case-weapon-didnt-exist/

Interesting article. The author presents a compelling case that the ball-and-chain flails of medieval fantasy never really existed in the real world.

It seems that the weapon type isn't really very practical on the battlefield,  and that most of the known examples in museums appear to be ornamental or criminal in nature and date from the era of muskets or are 19th century fakes, and the few medieval illustrations of the weapon are from late in the period and are fantasy illustrations.

So in a way this seems similar to steampunk devices; derived from the fantasy of an era or made up later, and existing only as ornamental prop pieces created in a subsequent era.

So when a massive solar flair wipes out the records of 21st century pop culture and historians have to reconstruct the past from artifacts and the few remaining books,  what will they make of the steampunk ray gun props that they find?
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morozow
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« Reply #1 on: May 18, 2016, 05:35:58 pm »

HMM. Comrades once you're generalizing (as far as I understand the text of the article).

Perhaps, encased in armor, the knights were not hitting each other with flails.

But such weapons existed, although maybe not in Western Europe.

Middle ages big. And different. And I'm not sure that holds for time plate armor and Spanish pikemen. True for the entire period of the middle ages.

And that this is equally true for the poor infantryman and equestrian knight.
« Last Edit: May 18, 2016, 05:57:48 pm by morozow » Logged

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Alexis Voltaire
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« Reply #2 on: May 18, 2016, 10:11:43 pm »

Hmm. It seems logical that spiked ball flails would realistically be impractical in combat, but nunchaku work in a similar way and I believe they were used historically as effective weapons (albeit requiring a lot of specialized training) It's possible that spiked flails were used effectively by a few people with the creativity or access to training to figure out how to use them, but weren't widespread enough to get into many historical records.
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Crescat Scientia
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« Reply #3 on: May 19, 2016, 12:30:11 am »

Nunchaku are extremely lightweight and still so dangerous and easy to injure oneself with that they are banned in many countries and several of the United States.

The heavy weighted spiked flail on a chain is even worse, such a ridiculous and foolhardy design, impossible to control in combat situations, that it is a wonder anyone ever thought it a plausible weapon.

It is very likely to be, as with the iron maiden and the chastity belt, an invention of Victorians panting to see how barbaric and brutal earlier centuries were compared to them.
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morozow
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« Reply #4 on: May 19, 2016, 12:51:34 am »

I would distinguish. Flail as they show in the movies. And flails as they are kept in museums.

In the article there is a photo of flails, which their museums. They are not large and not so spiky.

Bludgeon - the real weapon. Although it probably robbers.

In Russia, archaeologists excavated more than a hundred items X — XIII, which are considered the shock troops of flails.

Their weight is 150 - 300 grams. How they made them of iron and of bronze and of bone.

Flails were often decorated with silver, niello, hammered ornament. Archaeologists found many flails, cast in 1200-1240 years which were depicted the cross and the tree of life. On some weights, including bone, there are also images of a lion, bird or tribal sign. The beauty of the decorations on the flails is growing to the XII century, when a large widespread technique of blackening on the bronze, silver or iron with the use of silver inlay.

Visited Moscow in the first half of the XVI century, Herberstein wrote about the weapons of the local cavalry.

Their ordinary weapons — bow, arrows, axe, spear and stick-like (Roman) cesta (coestus), which in Russian is called a flail (kesteni), and in Polish — bassalik (bassalick). This is a two span (Spanne) wooden handle, to which is nailed a strong belt, and his end is tied a piece of copper, iron or antler; the strap also with a length of almost one and a half span.

On the back below the waist he had a special kind of weapon, resembling an ancient Roman cesta; this weapon they usually use in the war. It's a stick, slightly longer than an elbow, to which are nailed leather strap length in two spans; on the edge of the belt is iron or copper Mace, in the form of some chipping. But the Emperor was the stump from all sides decorated with gold.


The Russian cavalry on German engraving, 1557. Flails tucked behind the belt, in the hands of a passing horseman — whip.

Bludgeon later became a civilian weapon.

Such weapons for self-defense were widely used by drivers. One of these flails, which belonged to the Siberian coachman, consisted of a birch handle with a length of 70-75 cm, with one side provided with a belt lanyard, and on the other by a chain, which is attached to the iron load with spikes weighing about 800 g
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GCCC
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« Reply #5 on: May 19, 2016, 01:38:06 am »

For those wondering at the practicality of such a weapon, I can envision two scenarios where it could be useful. First, using the chain to entangle, and thus render useless because you now control it, your opponent's weapon. In the second, aim the topmost part of the handle near the top of the opponent's shield, allowing the chain with its ball to fly over the top of the shield; either it hits your opponent in the head or spikes into the wooden back of the shield, allowing you to pull the shield away from its protective position. In either scenario, I think it would be best if this was done in tandem with another soldier, for whom your use of the flail to either entangle the opponent's weapon or shield provides an opening for your partner to strike the killing blow.

I notice, too, that the author readily acknowledges the two-handed military flail while still pooh-poohing the possibility of a one-handed version.

I agree it's not a practical weapon, but perhaps in the hands of a soldier trained in its proper usage...?

Interesting topic, RJBowman. I look forward to reading the continued discussion, and hearing the thoughts of those more knowledgeable about the subject than I.
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Asphalt
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« Reply #6 on: May 19, 2016, 01:51:20 am »

I never understood its depiction as an infantry weapon.  As a cavalry soldiers weapon against unmounted soldiers it would have certainly been an intimidating and deadly device. 
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MWBailey
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« Reply #7 on: May 19, 2016, 03:17:40 am »

Interesting idea; I have no really clear idea as to whether there is any truth to the idea of the Victorian invention of the flail or not; I do know that the flail in a nunchaku-like form existed in Ancient Egypt (it's one of the things in the hands of that rather famous statue from "Tut's tomb," after all). Whether or not it was a weapon or a harvesting/winnowing tool, or both, is debatable IMHO. I tend to think it's more likely a winnowing tool, but I could  be wrong, and am in any case not an expert in Egyptology.


Lindybeige on Youtube (he's a member on here, but I can't remember his moniker to save my soul) has  several good things to say on the subject in the following three videos:

https://youtu.be/O-y6oirEsZA

https://youtu.be/RjzE8YMkC5s

https://youtu.be/UGv_UdgHeCQ

I know how to use a nunchaku. I'm not really terribly good at "spinning"
Spoiler (click to show/hide)
but I do it anyway, for exercise and maintenance of muscle tone (I know I look fat, and I am fat, but one of the reasons I have muscles and muscle tone in the midst of all this suet is the nunchaku).

The reason the nunchaku can be so very deadly and yet still controllable is that
1. it's flail/weight member is long and relatively easy to track and keep track of (if you don't act stupid and try to be Bruce Lee on crack).
2. the flexible connection between the two parts (be it chain, rope, bungee, paracord or whatever) is not inordinately long; that is to say, you don't have twice or three times the length of the weight to enable said weight to go swinging around in crazy, largely unpredictable arcs the way one does with a morningstar flail, for example.

That said, of course, if one doesn't  know what one is doing or gets stupid and tries to be fancy, the whip-like tendencies of the weapon tend to come into painful and potentially lethal play, not to mention the dangers of rebound or glancing off. The best way to handle the thing is to treat and apply it like a sword. I know that sounds idiotic, but think about it; follow-through, essentially the act of "slashing" with the weapon, is necessary to keep it in control. Using it like a truncheon tends to cause physics to clout one in the head - literally, through rebound. I've also seen people injure their own legs and hips through a powerful blow glancing off and continuing unchecked to strike those areas. Such hits tend to be the subject of slapstick comedy, but it actually does happen in real life. It is possible to learn to mitigate such mishaps, however, simply because the device is so controllable when one uses it properly and learns the proper recovery and safeguarding techniques.

The same physics and tendencies apply to the morningstar and other long-chain flails, but the bad points IMHO would tend to occur in even more heinous ways, simply because such a weapon would be well-nigh uncontrollable in a rebound, miss, or glance-off situation. It may in fact be possible to train to the point where one can use the same methods as with a nunchaku or similar device to control the flail, but it would in at least my own opinion take just as much time and concentration as is involved in learning the nunchaku (A really huge amount of time, believe me. it's not nearly as simple as most onlookers believe), and the level of inherent unpredictability would, in at least my own case., make it unlikely that I would bother with it. Would a medieval warrior have felt the same way? I have no idea, since our paradigms would most likely be diametrically different. I don't think they'd be very trusting of a weapon that seems to carry such a danger of self-injury, though.

Your Mileage May Vary.
« Last Edit: May 19, 2016, 03:26:29 am by MWBailey » Logged

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morozow
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« Reply #8 on: May 19, 2016, 06:48:33 am »

I'm sorry. But I think we all continue to discuss fantasy flails.

Note the photo in the article. Flexible part does not exceed the hilt.

I think this greatly reduces the probability to hit himself.
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Peter Brassbeard
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« Reply #9 on: May 19, 2016, 06:04:33 pm »

The great liability of flails is control lag, continuing on in the same general direction for a time after you move to change it.  Key to successful use seems to be not swinging in arcs that if continued would threaten you.  The great advantage is an ability to store up energy in a swinging mass to hit harder.
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Peter Brassbeard
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« Reply #10 on: May 20, 2016, 01:19:50 am »

scholagladiatoria on flails:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGf7n7iUF_k
In short, they existed in a variety of forms but weren't very common.
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Atterton
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« Reply #11 on: May 22, 2016, 09:56:13 am »

They seem useful for taking the head off someone, even if they are wearing full armour.
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selectedgrub
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« Reply #12 on: June 09, 2016, 10:55:19 am »

I made one once upon a time.






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Astalo
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« Reply #13 on: June 09, 2016, 07:30:49 pm »

I was also very into "fantasy/medieval weapons" in my teen years and made few flails in the late nineties, when i found large cast iron ball and some heavy duty ball bearings from local scrapyard. For example my spike ball flail is totally useless as weapon, because it's so heavy and clumsy thing..



Also not so fancy than selectedgrub's shiny morning star.  Smiley
« Last Edit: June 09, 2016, 07:32:22 pm by Astalo » Logged
MWBailey
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« Reply #14 on: June 10, 2016, 04:05:21 am »


Note the photo in the article. Flexible part does not exceed the hilt.




It does, however, exceed the "length" (or diameter, perhaps) of the weight. In other words, there's a heavy bit of weight on an inordinately long tether.

I'm not saying it's impossible to wield, I'm just speaking (from nunchaku and other experience) to the fact that it seems it would take a great deal of training and practice to do so effectively - without making a casualty of oneself in the process.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2016, 04:22:44 am by MWBailey » Logged
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