Polearms and Staves


Staff weapons originated as hunting and fishing tools with estimates of their initial use being as long ago as 400,000 BCE.  They later were a mainstay on the battlefields of Europe until becoming obsolete with the rise of the firearm during the Renaissance.  The most commonly recognized staff weapons are the short staff (also known as the quarterstaff), the spear, the pike, and the long staff.

This polearm, known as a “catch-pole” or “mancatcher” was used to capture persons of value (with the assumption being that the armor they are wearing would protect them from the spikes), or to keep unruly prisoners under control.  The open end had two spring loaded “doors” that allowed the prisoner’s body to get caught within the device.  It’s just one example of the many exotic designs that were used on or in conjunction with polearms.






These weapons are major features in Opus Amplissimum de Arte Athletica I, Paulus Hector Mair’s compilation of earlier fighting manuals.  The short staff in Mair’s book is a wooden rod of about five or six feet in length, however other sources describe the short staff as being between 6 and 8 feet on average.  The short staff was used in both a thrusting and swinging manner and was intrinsic in learning how to use all staff weapons.  The long staff in Mair’s book is thirteen feet long or longer (pikes tended to be around fourteen feet in length), and is primarily used as a thrusting weapon.

While the image to the right is humorous, it is showing one of the lesser known polearms, the peasant flail.  This weapon was essentially a staff with a short length of chain or rope attaching a smaller, often spiked staff to one end of it.  It was both extremely deadly and easy to make, hence its “peasant” classification.


Polearms are distinct from staff weapons in that the blade is mounted perpendicular to the staff, and the manner of usage is correspondingly different.  The most famous pole arms include the halberd and the poleaxe, both of which are functionally similar.  The later forms of the halberd can be hard to distinguish from the poleaxe, but in its archetypal form consisted of a wide axe head partnered with a hook on the backside and topped by a long spike.  The halberd was used similarly to the bill and guisarme in battle.  Though it always included a spike or spear on the end, the component weapons set into the sides of the head of the poleaxe were variable.  A poleaxe could sport an axe or hammer on the front paired with either a hammer or spike on the back.  Both weapons generally had strips of steel, called langets, as long as three feet running down from the top of the pole to prevent the head from being cut off, and both generally ranged from five to seven feet.


Works Cited

Oakeshott, R E. European Weapons and Armour: From the Renaissance to the IndustrialRevolution. Guildford [etc.: Lutterworth Press, 1980. Print.

Knight, David J, Paulus H. Mair, and Brian Hunt. Polearms of Paulus Hector Mair. Boulder,Colo: Paladin Press, 2008. Print.

Hull, Jeffrey, Fight Earnestly:the Fight-Book from 1459 AD by Hans Talhoffer.

Mair, Paul Hector: De arte athletica I, http://daten.digitale-sammlungen.de/0000/bsb00006570/images/index.html?fip=

War and Game, Ransom Ambush, http://warandgame.com/2007/12/05/ransom-ambush/.