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Jan 7, 2013

Medieval Mondays: The Ahlspiess, a curious weapon of the Middle Ages

In this engraving we see two footmen accompanying a knight and carrying one of the lesser-known weapons of the Middle Ages. It's called tan ahlspiess, and was developed in Germany in the 15th century. It consisted of a long steel spike with a quadrangular profile, a bit like a giant leather punch or awl, from which it gets its name.

By the 15th century, armor had reached the peak of its design, and German armorers were some of the best. Thus it's not surprising that a weapon specifically designed to punch through thick metal plate was developed there. Like its namesake, the ahlspiess was a heavy spike with a sharp point, able to deliver the maximum force to a minimum of space. Surviving examples weighed up to 2.5 kilos (6.6 pounds) and wielded by a strong soldier could be formidable indeed.

As you can see, they were equipped with a small roundel between the metal spike and wooden handle in order to protect the hand. It seems to me that the roundel was a bit too small to be very effective, but I suppose a larger one would have made the weapon unwieldy. They were generally about 2.5 meters (7.5 feet) long.

The ahlspiess came almost too late. Medieval handgonnes were already becoming common on the battlefield, marking the beginning of the end of heavy armor. Leather armor had always been common as a cheaper substitute and soon grew in popularity as firearms became more effective. Soon there was no need for the ahlspeiss and it was discarded by the 17th century. 

All in all, an interesting weapon, although the flail remains my favorite medieval weapon!


  1. At seven and a half feet, it wasn't for really short people. They probably didn't have enough arm strength to wield it.

    1. The weapon wasn't terribly heavy, and these guys were strong!