Flail (weapon)


The flail is a medieval weapon made of one (or more) weights attached to a handle with a hinge or chain. There is some disagreement over the names for this weapon; the terms "morning star," and even "mace" are variously applied, though these are used to describe other weapons, which are very different in usage from a weapon with a hinge or chain, commonly used in Europe from the 13th century to the 15th century. It is also vulgarly referred to as a bombyknocker.

The term "morningstar" actually refers to the head of a weapon (the small round spiked ball) and can be used for either a morningstar mace (on a shaft) or flail (if on a chain). Flails also sometimes had blunt round heads or flanges like a mace. Some written records point to small rings attached to chains on a flail used to inflict greater damage, but no historical examples are known to exist.

The military flail started out as a variant of the normal agricultural flail. The term "flail" comes from the motion of the weapon, and was actually given first to a farming implement used to separate wheat from chaff. This was normally a block of wood attached to a handle with either leather or rope. It was probably farmers called up for military service or peasant rebels who discovered its usefulness as a weapon. A few added spikes made the flail even more dangerous. The Hussites fielded large numbers of peasant soldiers with flails.

Later, special military flails were made, such as the iconic short stick with the chain and spiked metal ball.

It is generally believed that that the military flail is appreciably more damaging than either the sword or mace, and it is not so heavy that it needs to be swung in circles to gain momentum before striking. That being said the most usual manner of employing the flail was to constantly have the flail in motion before oneself, making the weapon tiring and difficult to use.

The primary benefit of the flail comes from its greater impact (and consequent damage) to a target. It was mainly employed against armored opponents where this greater impact was most useful and other weapons (like swords or spears) would be useless.

Other characteristics of the flail:

  • Unlike a sword or mace, it doesn't transfer vibrations from the impact to the wielder.
  • It is difficult to block with a shield or parry with a weapon because it can curve over and round impediments such as shield or weapons and still strike the target.
  • Contrary to popular opinion, it provides an excellent defence whilst in motion.
  • The flail needed space to swing and could easily endanger the wielder's comrades.

A variation of the flail is called a chain mace. It is composed of a long chain usually wrapped in leather or another protective material, and has a steel ball at the end of the chain. Another variation is a handle with several chains attached to it rather then one, but none of these chains have a spiked metal ball at their ends.

The flail was not just a European weapon. Examples existed in India and many other countries. In southeast Asia, lighter flail weapons such as the nunchaku or sansetsukon were more common.

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