Combat Examples from historical sources

History and Historical European Martial Arts in the Codex Martialis

Combat Examples from historical sources

Postby Galloglaich » Thu Oct 23, 2008 12:09 am

We have a few of these in the codex, there are a huge number of such accounts going back to prehistoric times, but I'm interested in the battles which are in the ballpark of being realistic.

I hadn't found many Celtic stories which weren't pure fantasy, but this one has a certain sense of a real fight, even though it displays a fantastical encounter between an Irish hero, Oisin, and a sort of a Giant:
Here, at the further side, stood a huge man clad in rusty armour, who when he saw Oisín rushed upon him, silent and furious, and swinging a great battleaxe in his hand. But doubt and langour weighed upon Oisín's heart, and it seemed to him as if he were in an evil dream, which he knew was but a dream, and would be less than nothing when the hour of awakening should come. Yet he raised his shield and gripped the fairy sword, striving to shout the Fian battle-cry as he closed with Fovor. But soon a heavy blow smote him to the ground, and his armour clanged harshly on the stones. Then a cloud seemed to pass from his spirit, and he leaped to his feet quicker than an arrow flies from the string, and thrusting fiercely at the giant his sword-point gashed the under side of Fovor's arm when it was raised to strike, and Oisín saw his enemy's blood. Then the fight raged hither and thither about the wide courtyard, with trampling of feet and clash of steel and ringing of armour and shouts of onset as the heroes closed; Oisín, agile as a wild stag, evading the sweep of the mighty axe and rushing in with flickering blade at every unguarded moment, his whole soul bent on one fierce thought, to drive his point into some gap at shoulder or neck in Fovor's coat of mail. At length, when both were weary and wounded men, with hacked and battered armour, Oisín's blade cut the thong of Fovor's headpiece and it fell clattering to the ground. Another blow laid the giant prostrate, and Oisín leaned, dizzy and panting, upon his sword, while Fovor's serving-men took off their master in a litter, and Niam came to aid her lord. Then Oisín stripped off his armour in the great hall, and Niam tended to his wounds, healing them with magic herbs and murmured incantations, and they saw that one of the seven rusty chains that had bound the princess hung loose from its iron staple in the wall.

A wonderful evocative account of a fight any DM would be proud of I think (I highly recommend reading the whole cycle in fact, it gave me a lot of ideas for my game)

I like how he cut the side of the giants arm by trying to thrust as he was raising up to strike, that sounds very much like one of our weekly sparring sessions, I can really visualize it.

I also liked how he used the word onset :) and about the shouting at onset, what does that remind you of? Maybe just ordinary yelling, maybe what the Japanese called KAKE GOE (or the Kiai in Kendo) i.e. yelling to get extra energy when you strike. This also existed in Europe going back to the Greeks.

Another realistic aspect of this combat is that the combatants armor seems to work here, as it did in real life. Rather than hacking through it like in a modern fantasy movie, computer game or RPG, he basically has to get around the armor. This has probably less to do with the story being about any real fight and more to do with the expectations of the audience when this story was being told, and first written down, probably around the 6th Century AD.

Last edited by Galloglaich on Tue Nov 22, 2011 8:18 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Combat Examples from historical sources

Postby Arkon » Sat Oct 15, 2011 9:38 pm

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Re: Combat Examples from historical sources

Postby Galloglaich » Wed Oct 19, 2011 2:18 pm

This is aan excerpt from a 15th Century Catalan novel, which I put in the codex batlic book:

When Tirant saw his men fleeing that day, and that he could
not keep them in order, he went to the river. He saw the King
of Africa riding toward him wearing a helmet with a crown of
gold and many precious stones. His saddle was silver, and his
stirrups gold, while his jubbah was crimson and embroidered
with large oriental pearls.

When the king saw Tirant's troubled face, he approached him
and said: "Are you the captain of the Christians?" Tirant did
not reply, but instead looked at his men who had left him, and
all the dead bodies and banners scattered over the ground.
That day, they had scarcely defended themselves against the
Moors. In a loud voice that the Moors and the wounded could
hear, he cried out: "Oh, poor men! Why do you bear arms?
Oh, sad, vile men: you will be rightly condemned for this day
on which you die so miserably, and your reputation will suffer

When the King of Africa heard him crying this way, he called
out to his men: "I'm going to cross the river, and I'll put this
Christian dog in chains or I'll kill him. If I need any assistance,
come and help me."

When the king had crossed over, he rode swiftly at Tirant, and
struck him so hard with his lance that Tirant's horse sank to its
knees. The lance passed through his brassard and his breastplate,
and slightly pierced his chest. Tirant was feeling such great
pain for the dead men, and was thinking of the princess, and he
didn't notice the king until he had been wounded. He drew his
sword, since his lance had been broken at the outset. And they
fought for a long space of time. The king fought valiantly, and
when it had lasted a long while, Tirant thrust hard at the king, but
he could not reach him because the king's horse suddenly turned.
However, he caught the horse's head and cut it off, so that the
horse and the king tumbled to the ground. The king's men came
to his aid, and mounted him on another horse, even though Tirant
tried to stop them.

When Tirant realized that he could not hold out any longer, he
seized a Moor and took away his lance. Then he wounded the
first, the second and the third men he encountered, and knocked
them to the ground; then he wounded the fourth, fifth and sixth
and also knocked them down. The Moors were astonished at the
way one lone man bore arms.

-Excerpt from Tirant Lo Blanc, by Joanot Martorell, published 1490 AD,
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Re: Combat Examples from historical sources

Postby Galloglaich » Fri Nov 04, 2011 2:23 pm

From 13th Century Arab memoir

"One of the Turks climbed, under our very eyes, and started walking towards the tower, in the face of death, until he approached the tower and hurles a bottle of naptha on those who were on top of it. The naptha flashed like a meteor falling upon those hard stones, while the men who were there threw themselves on the ground for fear of being burnt. The Turk then came back to us."

Here is another one from the same siege, testament to the effectiveness of mail armor, in this case it sounds like it was 'doubled' mail or kings mail.

"Another Turk now climbed and started walking on the same wall between the two bastions. He was carrying his sword and shield. There came out to meet him from the tower, at the door of which stood a knight, a Frank wearing double-linked mail and carrying a spear in his hand, but not eqquipped with a shield. The Turk, sword in hand, encountered him. The Frank smote him with the spear, but the Turk warded off the point of the spear with his shield and, notwithstanding the spear, advanced towards the frank. The latter took to flight and turned his back, leaning forward, like one who wanted to kneel, in order to protect hiss head. The urk dealt him a number of blows which had no effect whatsoever, and went on walking until he entered the tower."

Here is a greusome tale of a fight and the subsequent effective trauma medicine practiced by the arabs on a wounded warrior:

"There was in my service a man named Nuamayr al-'Allaruzi. He was a footman, brave and strong. With a band of men from Shayzar, he set out to al-Ruj to attack the Franks. When still in our territory, they came across a caravan of the Franks hiding in a cavern, and each one began to say to the other, "Who should go in against them?" "I," said Nuuamyr. And as he said it, he went in against them. As he entered, one of them came to recieve him, but Numayr stabbed him immediately with the dagger, overthrew him and knelt upon him to slay him. Behind the Frank stood another one with a sword in his hand and he struck Numayr. The latter had on his back a knapsack containing bread, which protected him. Having killed the man under him, Numayr now turned to the man with the sword, intent upon attacking him. The Frank immediately struck him with the sword on the side of his face and cut through his eyebrow, eyelid, cheeck, nose and upper lip, making the whole side of his face hang down his chest. Numayr went out of the cavern to his companions, who bandaged his wound and brought him back during a cold rainy night. He arrived in Shayzar in that condition. there his face was stitched and his cut was treated until he was healed and returned to his former conidtion, with the exception of his eye was lost for good."
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Re: Combat Examples from historical sources

Postby Galloglaich » Fri Nov 04, 2011 2:26 pm

Well of course in fact, it is quite interesting to read about... in history books. Because of course, it did indeed happen many times. During the early Euriopean exploration of the Pacific, European soldiers, sailors, merchants, missionaries, explorers and indeed pirates of many European nationalities crossed paths with Japanese numerous times, often coming to blows. Throughout the 16th Century due to their harsh acts in the past, the Japanese were banned from China, but they had a huge demand for Chinese silk. The trade town of Nagasaki in Japan was built up by Portuguese silk traders. The Dutch meanwhile, used Ronin samurai as hired muscle by the tens of thousands primarily in Indonesia, as did Chinese Waco pirates operating especially out of the Philippines, which were also falling under the control of the Spanish. Duels and even pitched land and naval battles in the Pacific took place numerous times between Japanese Samurai and Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch sailors and soldiers, and even occasionally with the English and French.

One of the earliest violent encounters betweenn the British and the Japanese occured in 1603 AD, when a pirate vessel comprised of Ronin Samurai encountered a British vessel commanded by a rogue British Captain named Sir Edward Michelborne who, due to being snubbed by the recently formed British East India company, had himself become a pirate who had been busy ravaging the "spice islands" around Malaysia and Borneo.

here is the first part of their encounter, transcribed from the book Nathaniels Nutmeg , by Giles Milton:

As the ship drifted in the calm waters off the Malay Peninsula, a cry was suddenly raised from the look-out. A mysterious ship was approaching, a huge junk, whose decks were lined with more than eighty men. They were strange-looking fellows: short, squat, and with an almost total lack of expression on their faces. Sir Edward despatched a heavily armed boat to discover if these people were friend or foe and, after a breif exchange in which theEnglish learned that the vessel was 'a junke of the Japons', they were invited on board and shown around. When they enquired of the Japanese as to their line of business the men made no bones about their trade.

The Junk, like the Tiger, was a pirate ship and the men were proud of her devastating progresss through the waters of South-East Asia. She had pillaged the coasts of China and Cambodia, plundered half a dozen ships off Borneo, and was now heading back to Japan laden with spoils.
When the English party were safely back on the Tiger, Sir-Edward weighed up his options. Trusting to his previous good fortune, he decided to ransack the junk and, to this end, seent a second band of Englishmen on board to stake her out.

Although it was clear to the Japanese that Michelbourne's buccaneering sailors were assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the vessel, they welcomed the English with open arms and allowed them free access to the ship's hold. They even pointed to the choicest items on board, astonishing the crew of the tiger who had never met with such an odd race of men. 'They were most of them too gallant a habit for sailors,' wrote one, 'and such an equalitie of bheavior among them that they all seemed fellows.' When they asked to visit the English vessel, all agreed that it would be impolite to refuse.

Next: what happend when the Samurai boarded the Tiger...

So here is the rest of the story:

Here Michelborne's inexeperience told for the first time. He was unaware that the Japanese had the reputation in the Indes for being a 'people so desperate and daring that they are feared in all places' and was ignorrant of the fact that all eastern ports demanded that any Japanese sailor coming ashore must first be disarmed.

I have to interject here, those familiar with Japanese fencing systems or the martial art Iaido, or who are familiar with the Codex system, know that one of the most effective and popular attacks in Japanese fencing is the Nukutsuke, cutting from a sheathed sword... anyway, Giles Milton continues the story:

Davis [the navigator] too was 'beguiled by their humble semblance'. Not only was he of the opinion that disarming them was unnnecessary, he offered them the run of the ship and let them freely fraternise with the crew. As more and more Japanese clambered aboard, beakers were raised and the two crews joked and chatted among themselves.

Milton does not specify what language they were using the communicate.

In a flash everything changed: unbeknown to the English, the Japanese had, in the words of Michelborne, 'resolved with themselves either to gaine my shippe or to lose their lives'. The smiles vanished, the laughter died and the Japanese suddenly transformed themselves into brutal 'rogues' who stabbed and slashed (Nukitsuke!) at their English adversaries. The crew of the Tiger had never faced such hostility (which seems odd for Milton to say since they had been operating as pirates for several months already) and scarcely had a chance to resist before the deck was swarming with Japanese weilding (sic) long swords (katanas) and hacking men to pieces. Soon they reached the gun room where they found Davis desperately loading muskets. 'They pulled [him] into the cabbin and giving him sixe or seven mortall wounds, they thrust him out of the cabbin.' He stumbled on deck but the sword wounds had severed one of his arteries and he bled to death. Others too, were in their final death throes and it seemed inevitable that the Tiger would shortly be lost.

It was Michelborne who saved the day. Thrusting pikes [probably Bills or boarding pikes which may be like half-sized pikes or something like a bill] into the hands of his best fighters he launched a last-ditch attack on the Japanese soldiers 'and killed three or four of their leaders'. This disheartened the Japanese who slowly found themselves at a disadvantage. Armed with knives and swords, they were unable to compete with Michelborne's pikemen (sic) and found themselves driven down the deck until they stood en masse by the entrance to the cabin. Sensing their predicament, they let out a terrific scream and dashed headlong into the heart of the ship.

The English were at a loss as to know how to evict them. Not one man volunteered to follow them into the cabin for to do so would be to court certain death. It was equally hopeless to send a large group down. The passageway was low and narrow and the men would end up wounding themselves rather than the Japanese.

Eventually a bright spark on board had a simple but devastating solution. Two thirty-two-pound demi-culverins were loaded with 'crosse-bars, bullets, and case-shot' and fired at point-blank range into the most exposed side of the cabin. There was a deafening crash as the shrapnel tore through the woodwork and 'violently marred therwith boords and splinters'., A terrible shriek followed, a cry of agony, and then there was silence. When the smoke cleared and the dust settled, the cabin was entered and it was found that only one of the twenty-two japanese had survived. 'Their legs, armes and bodies were so torne, as it was strange to see how the shot had massacred them.'

It was now time for Michelborne to have his revenge. Training every last cannon on the Japanese junk, he fired shot after shot into her sides until the men on board begged for mercy. When this was refused they vowed to go down fighting and the battle raged until all resistance was quelled and the junk fell silent. Only one Japanese attempted to surrender. Diving into the water he swam across to the Tiger and was hauled aboard. When quizzed by Sir Edward [Michelborne] as to the motive for the attack he 'told us that htey meant to take our shippe and cut all our throates'. Having said this, and terrified by the crowd of hostile onlookers, he told Michelborne that his one desire was 'that hee might be cut in pieces'. Michelborne preferred a less bloody method of execution and ordered the man to be strung up at the yardarm. This sentence was duly carried out but the rope snapped and the man dropped into the sea. No one could be bothered to haul him in and as the coast was not far away it was presumed that he escaped with his life.

An interesting, and in a gallows humor sense, quite amusing story. Tells us a lot and makes for an interesting scene particularly if you read between the lines a little. There is no doubt at least some of these Japanese 'pirates' were Ronin Samurai. The English vessel probably had both sailors and at least some professional soldiers on board. The Japanese were probably armed with katana or tachi and tanto knives.

The English would have been armed with bills, (or boarding pikes), axes, sabers, cutlasses, rapiers, cut-thrust swords, hangers, possibly even a longsword or two, as well as wheellock or flintlock muskets, musketoons and pistols, maybe longbows or arbalests (crossbows), and quite possibly grenades. Just maybe even a 17th Century grenade launcher (probably not though because these don't show up in records much until the 18th Century)

It is likely that some of the English soldiers from the original English boarding party were wearing armor. Cuirass, half armor and three quarters harness were mentioned in many period documents, as well as (surprisingly) mail quite often. Probably some of the Ronin as well had armor, though the Japanese boarding party may not have had any on (it would have made the English suspicious) which may have been a factor in how the battle went.

This was by no means the only such encounter nor did it always go this way. Ronin Samurai were hired in the thousands or tens of thousands by the Dutch, who used them to help conquer Malaysia, Indonesia and the 'Spiceries', along with mercenaries from Europe (reportedly German 'landsknechts' though it is unclear what that really meant in the 17th Century). Samurai were involved in fighting between the Dutch, the English, the Portuguese, the Spanish, as well as the ferocious Moro of the Philippines, Chinese Waco pirates and various local tribes such as the headhunting Dayak. Then later the French showed up....

The East indies in the 17th Century was an interesting place.
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Re: Combat Examples from historical sources

Postby Daeruin » Sun Nov 06, 2011 9:43 pm

I love when you post this kind of stuff. This was my favorite:

"Tirant thrust hard at the king, but he could not reach him because the king's horse suddenly turned. However, he caught the horse's head and cut it off"

That's quite the thrust!
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Re: Combat Examples from historical sources

Postby Galloglaich » Mon Nov 07, 2011 12:20 am

Yeah I'm guessing it was a failed thrust and then a cut.

One of the things I liked about that particular (15th Century) novel is the combat is very brutal and also sneaky. Tirant spends a lot of his time cutting helmet straps in combat so he can kill armored opponents. He also pulls off a good feigned retreat and a really nifty trick in a naval battle.

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Re: Combat Examples from historical sources

Postby Galloglaich » Tue Nov 22, 2011 4:06 pm

Interestingly, as in the old Irish story posted upthread, in the 15th Century Catalan novel Tiran Lo Blanc there are also several references to cutting helmet straps.

Here is one, in a warning to Tiran about a Trecherous Byzantine Duke

"Blessed knight, may merciful God keep you from the hands of that
ravenous lion, the Duke of Macedonia: he is a cruel and envious
man, and very knowledgeable about treachery. He is infamous for
the fact that he has only killed people wickedly. It is well
known that he killed that valiant knight, my brother. When my
brother was fighting courageously against the enemy, he came up
behind him and cut the straps of his helmet so that his head
would be uncovered, and he was killed by the Moors. A great
traitor like him should be feared. And so, virtuous knight, I
advise you, when you are in battle, be wary of him. Don't trust
him even while you are eating or sleeping."

Then, Tiran himself killing a Turkish King

Tirant turned back to the fighting, looking to see if he could
find the King of Egypt, but because of his painful wound the king
had left the battle. When Tirant saw that he could not find him,
he fought the others. It was much later, while he was still
fighting, that he encountered the King of Cappadocia. When this
king saw him he went out to meet him, and with his sword he
slightly cut the hand that held the axe. Then Tirant drew so
near to him that he struck him on the head with his axe, and
caved in his helmet, and the king fell to the ground, half dead.
Tirant quickly dismounted, and cut the straps of his helmet.

A knight came up and cried out:

"My lord, do not kill the king. Since he is mortally wounded and
is near death, be merciful and give him the short time he has
left to live.

You have done enough by defeating him."

Tirant said:

"What moved you to want mercy on our enemy who has done
everything possible to kill me? Now is the time only for

And he removed the helmet and cut off his head. Tirant's axe
stood out from all the others, for it was red, dripping blood
from the men he had killed. The ground was covered with dead
men, and was completely red from all the blood that had been
spilled. Tirant mounted his horse again, and when the Turks saw
their king killed, they fell upon him in great numbers, trying to
kill him. Tirant was badly wounded, and was again knocked from
his horse. He quickly stood up, not at all overcome by the fall
or frightened because of his wounds. He went into the thick of
the fray on foot, fighting to help his men, and he again mounted
his horse.

Tyran tries again to kill another Moorish King

It happened that the King of Africa recognized Tirant by his
armor and rode toward him, and they ran at each other, and both
the king and Tirant were knocked to the ground. But Tirant
feared death and was the more spirited, and he got up first,
while the king was still lying on the ground. He reached down to
cut the straps of his helmet, but before he could do so the Moors
saw their king on the ground, and it was a wonder that they did
not kill Tirant. They pulled him off the king's body two times
and threw him on the ground. When Lord Agramunt saw Tirant in
such great danger, he rode over to him and saw that the camp
commander was doing everything he could to kill Tirant. Lord
Agramunt turned to the commander, and they engaged in such a hard
fought battle that every blow intended to bring death--one of
them to defend Tirant and the other to try to attack him--and
both of them were badly wounded.

Almedixer was near and cried out in alarm. King Escariano raced
into the tumult and saw the King of Bogia standing over Tirant,
about to cut off his head. These two kings were brothers, and
King Escariano recognized his brother, but still, when he saw
Tirant in that situation, he immediately thrust his lance into
his brother's back so powerfully that it went right through his
armor and came out the other side, piercing his heart, and the
King of Bogia fell to the ground, dead. Then the battle grew
more cruel than it had ever been, and on that day many men from
both sides died.
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Re: Combat Examples from historical sources

Postby Galloglaich » Tue Nov 22, 2011 8:20 pm

A tournanment fight / duel from the beginning of Tiran Lo Blanc

When the announcement had been made, the two men came at each
other, using their weapons so valiantly that it was impossible to
know who was winning. The battle lasted a long time, and
because the defender was so hard pressed he grew short of breath.
Finally he reached a point where he could no longer hold up his
ax, and his face showed that he would prefer to make peace rather
than do battle. When Tirant saw the condition his adversary was
in, he took his ax with both hands, and gave him such a blow on
the helmet that he stunned him and the man could not keep his
footing. Then Tirant went up to him and gave him a mighty push
that knocked him to the ground. When he saw him in such a
pitiful state, he removed the helmet from his head, using his
dagger to cut the cords it was tied with, and he said:

"'You can see, virtuous knight, that your life is in my hands, so
you command me. Tell me if you want to live or die. I will have
more consolation from good than from evil, so command my right
hand to have mercy on you and forgive you, and not to harm you as
much as it could."

"'I am more hurt,' said the knight, 'by your cruel words, full of
vainglory, than I would be of losing my life. I would rather die
than ask forgiveness from your haughty hand.'

"'My hand is accustomed to forgiving conquered men,' said Tirant,
'and not to harming them. If you wish, I will very willingly
free you from all the harm I could cause you.'

"'Oh, what a wonder it is,' said the knight who was lying on the
ground, 'when men are victorious because of luck, or someone
else's misfortune. Then they're loose with all kinds of words.
I am the knight of Muntalt, reproachless, loved and feared by
many, and I have always had mercy on men.'

"'I want to use these things you've mentioned in your favor,'
said Tirant, 'because of your great virtue and goodness. Let us
go before the king, and on your knees, at my feet, you will have
to ask me for mercy, and I will forgive you.'

"In a great rage the knight began to speak:

"'God forbid that I should commit an act that's so shameful to me
or mine, or to that eminent lord of mine, Count William of
Warwick, who gave me this bitter order of chivalry. Do whatever
you please with me, because I would rather die well than live

"When Tirant saw his ill will, he said:

"'All knights who want to use arms to acquire renown and fame are
cruel, and have their seat in the middle of hell.'

"He pulled out a dagger and stuck the point of it in his eye, and
with his other hand he gave a mighty blow to the hilt of the
dagger that made it come out the other side of his head. What a
valorous knight this one was, preferring death to shame and the
vituperation of the other knights!

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Re: Combat Examples from historical sources

Postby Arkon » Wed Nov 23, 2011 1:19 am

Stuff like this makes me regret that I don't have an ebook reader.

How many pages does it have?
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