Pole-Arms for cut and thrust by David Nicolle|
An extract from The military technology of classical Islam by D Nicolle
Pole-Arms for cut and thrust
Most medieval infantry pole-arms, such as the bill, glaive, halberd and pole-axe,
probably grew out of those modified agricultural tools that peasant levies originally took to war.100
Certainly there appear to have been few comparable weapons in the pre-medieval world from which these pole-arms could have developed. In some cases such a development from agricultural tools would also seem to have occurred both in the Middle East and in the wider Muslim world.
Among other tools listed in the ādab al Ḥarb as being used by shepherds, farm hands, merchants and religious devotees as weapons,
was the das or bill which may have been a militarized reaping hook.101
Some authorities suggest that the medieval bill of France and Italy may itself have been developed from the pruning hook or sickles,102
just as the glaive may have sprung from the scythe.103
Pictorial material from various oriental Christian sources certainly shows curved blades mounted vertically on hafts, like the first war-scythes or proto-glaives of Europe. Others are still mounted laterally.
Similar weapons in Byzantine Anatolia (Figs.
200 and 237)
were, however, probably descended from the late Roman falx (Fig.
which in turn also survived in Italy as a specialized glaive called the falco.104
The remainder of such weapons (Figs.
128, 224, 244, 245, 250, 305, 531, 592, 605 and 609A)
seem to have come from those areas that retained large and predominantly Christian agricultural populations,
and as such were distinct from those regions where nomadic peoples dominated economically as well as politically.
This is not, however, to suggest that specialized infantry staff weapons were not found in Muslim armies from other regions.
Even in 7th century Arabia the ʿanazah would, for example, appear to have been such a specialized infantry staff weapon,
or at least was more than a simple short spear.
With its blunt metal foot or zujj105 and large, sword-like blade above a short haft,106 this ʿanazah may have been a type of bill.
On the other hand, its Arabian and hence probably bedouin character could make an agricultural origin rather unlikely.
It would be interesting to find out whether or not this weapon was more common in southern,
and more fertile, southern Arabia than in the overwhelmingly desert north in the earliest centuries.
Weapons that roughly fit the written descriptions of the ʿanazah appear in only a few early Middle Eastern sources (Figs.
23 and 185).
The differences between the ʿanazah and other presumed pole-arms such as the sabarbarah are not entirely clear.
The latter may have had a north African, perhaps Berbers origin.
It was widely used by Fāṭimid infantry from the late 10th to early 12th centuries.107
Certainly this sabarbarah had a longer shaft, some five cubits in length, which was similar to the haft of the qunṭārīyah.
Above this were a further three cubits of blade which might have been barbed, while an iron foot or 'agbuhā was fixed at the other end.108
Some decades later al Tarṣūṣī agreed that the sabarbarah had a haft five cubits long, but stated that the blade was only one cubit in length,
though also being one fitr or just over fifteen centimetres in width.109
Both descriptions surely refer to a glaive, and as such this weapon may well have had a central Mediterranean rather than specifically Berber origin.
Various illustrations from Fāṭimid Egypt and post- Fāṭimid Syria show infantry carrying weapons that have some or all of these characteristics (Figs.
120, 153, 156 and 161).
98. Messé, op. cit., p. 58.
99. ʿImād el Dīn, op. cit., p. 63.
100. Oakeshott, op. cit., p. 259; Puricelli-Guerra, op. cit., passim.
101. Mubārakshāh, op. cit., p. 262.
102. Puricelli-Guerra, op. cit., pp. 8-11.
104. Ibid., pp. 6-8.
105. Schwarzlose, op. cit., p. 212.
106. Ibid., Ibn Hudhayl, op. cit., pp. 242-243.
107. Canard, "La Procession du Nouvel An chez les Fatimides," pp. 372-373; Canard; "Le Cérémonial Fatimite et le Cérémonial Byzantin," p. 397.
109. Al Tarṣūṣī, op. cit., p. 113.
110. C. Cahen, "Un Traité d'Armurerie composé pour Saladin," Bulletin d'Études Orientales, XII (1947-1948), p. 59.
111. Mubārakshāh, op. cit., p. 262.
200. Manuscript, Chaldeans, 9th century AD, Byzantine, Bib. Vat. Cod, Gr.749, f. 19r (War)
94. Relief, "Dacians", Tropaeum Traiani, 2nd century AD, Roman, in situ, Adamkilissi, Rumania (Dix)
128A to 128C. Syriac manuscript, A - Death of the Baptist, B - Crucifixion, C - Guards at the Tomb, 12th century AD, Syrian, British Library Ms. Add. 7169, ff. 9v, 11v and 12v (Ler S)
224. Manuscript, Studite Psalter 1066 AD, Byzantine, British Lib., Ms. Add. 19352, ff. 41, 45, 73, 74, 77, 99, 123, 141, 178 and 190, London
531P to 531O. Manuscript, A - 'Pursuit of Abraham, ' B - 'Sacrifice of Isaac,' C - 'Pharoah's Army,' D - 'Pharoah's Army,' E- 'Israelites and Amalekites,' F - 'Goliath,' G - 'Goliath,' H - 'Saul throws a spear,' I - 'David cuts Saul's Hem,' J - 'Philistines defeat Saul,' K - 'Slaughter of the Priests of Baal,' L - 'Companion strikes the Prophet,' M - 'Death of Ahab,' N - 'Guards at the Tomb,' O - 'Gog and Magog,' Bible of King Sancho 1197 AD, Spanish, Bib. Munic., Ms. 108, ff. 7r, 12r, 46v, 49r, 50v, 85v, 86v, 87v, 89v, 91r, 111v, 113v, 119v and 249v, Amiens (War).
592. Manuscript, 'Charlemagne leaves for Spain,' Codex Calixtinus, late 12th century AD, French or Spanish, Archivo Catedral, f. 162v, Santiago de Compostella (Fos)
609A to 609I, Manuscript, A - 'Infantry weapons,' B - 'Byzantines besiege Mopsuastia,' C - 'Byzantines besiege Proslav,' D - 'Arabs attack Edessa,' E - 'Arabs defeat Procopius,' F - 'Arabs sack Salonika,' G - 'Emir defeated by Bardes,' H - 'Arabs,' I - 'Saracens,' Skylitzes, 12th-13th centuries AD, Siculo-Byzantine, Bib. Nac., Cod. 5-3. N. 2, ff. 151v, 166r, 208, 99v, 111v, 136v, 116v, 39v, 41r and 54v, Madrid (Grab, Sev)
23. Ivory panels, 'Arab traders with the young Joseph,' Throne of Maximian, c.550 AD, Byzantine or Coptic, Cathedral Museum, Ravenna (Lar B & M)
185. Fresco from Faras Cathedral, Nativity, 10th century AD, Nubian, Sudan National Museum, Khartoum (Michel).185
120. Fresco from Qaṣr al Ḥayr al Gharbī, mid-8th century AD, Syrian, National Museum, Damascus (Ric B)
153. Wooden panels from the Fāṭimid Palace, 11th century AD, Fāṭimid, Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo (Elg)
156. Ivory panels, 11th-12th centuries AD, Fāṭimid Museum für Islamische Kunst no. 1.6375, West Berlin (Bris)
161. Paper fragment, 12th century AD, Fāṭimid, Dept. of Oriental Antiquities, British Museum (Gray B)