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Jul 18, 2011

Medieval Mondays: the ball and chain, my favorite medieval weapon

Here are a couple of images of a ball and chain, my favorite medieval weapon. Many people incorrectly call this a morning star, but that weapon is a straight stick with spikes on the end of it. I'm not sure where the confusion came from, but I suspect Dungeons and Dragons may be the culprit.

A ball and chain is a type of flail, and there are many variations, from the typical grain threshing flail used with deadly intent, to this fearsome weapon.

I wouldn't want to face this thing in battle. It looks scary, and my shield would do little good. All someone has to do is hit the shield with the handle, and the ball whips around and smack! While it wouldn't do much good against plate armour with padding underneath, most regular warriors had chain mail or even leather armour, which would have left them vulnerable to blunt trauma and puncture attacks.

Not much is known about this particular weapon. We know it was widespread. The image below is from Russia and I've seen examples here in England, but we don't know when they were first introduced and when they died out. Perhaps someone needs to do an academic treatise on the ball and chain!

Another question is why weren't these weapons more common? My personal theory is that they were difficult to learn how to use, especially with the limited visibility of most medieval helmets. Also, you couldn't use it in tight formation without fear of hitting your friends. Thirdly, you can't parry very well. Like many elaborate weapons, they look cool but in the end the simpler weapons like swords, axes, and maces worked better. Still, there's a soft spot in my heart for the old ball and chain. . .

[Top image by avatar-1, bottom image Wikimedia Commons]

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