Shapes and functions of blunt melee weapons and shields.

How do the shapes of blunt melee weapons affect their function? For example, what advantages does the flanged mace offer over the war hammer, or were those two weapons used for different situations and not very comparable?

Similarly with shields. According to wikipedia, the kite shield was an evolution of the round shield, allowing soldiers to better cover their legs. However, progress in armor meant that the kite shield could be made smaller, leading to the heater shield. It seems that heater shields were about the same size as most round shields (WAG), so what advantages did the heater shield offer over the round shield?

More generally, are there good internet resources about the advantages and disadvantages of different shield and (blunt) melee weapon designs?

The heater shied covers more of your lower regions than a round shield does.

As for the mace/hammer argument…different strokes, I guess. Certain cultures develop certain weapons. Although the hammer is more effective against plate armor, and the mace more use in a general melee.

A hammer will do a lot more damage, but only if you make a solid hit with the head. If you’re not straight on, it can turn in your grip and the side of the hammer hits with a lot less force. A flanged mace is a compromise that will be effective even on a less-than-perfect swing.

To make a round shield large enough to cover your thigh, it will extend far enough above your arm to block your vision. it’s also a lot heavier. The heater cuts away the top for better vision, and some of the unneeded sides, to get nearly the coverage with less weight. A round shield of the same weight is a lot smaller, and must be moved around a lot to counter blows to different parts of the body.

Many prefer the round because of the ways it can be moved about. Others prefer the heater because they get good coverage without having to swing their weak arm around a lot.

Kite shields are much larger, and were mostly developed to defend the left leg when on horseback. They weren’t really used when afoot.

They were both used side by side in the same battles.

The term “warhammer” is a extremely vague, but I assume you are talking about the single handed type with a small hammer head on one side and a martel spike on the other. They were designed to counteract plate armour. The spike, having a small contact surface, could produce a huge amount of pressure and literally punch through sheet metal. The hammer head could could also deliver enough force to severely bruise someone and break bones even without going through the armour. A blow to a joint would also easily deform the metal and cause the joint to cease up.The disadvantage of a warhammer is that it is incredibly slow. Essentially every blow is a haymaker, and that make sit very easy to dodge or parry. That made it much less useful against unarmoured opponents and in melees where it was necessary to parry and attack multiple opponents at once.

The mace was less useful at actually puncturing armour since it lacked the single spike. It had the advantage that it could be easily used for a variety of blows, including stabbing and backhand strokes made by flicking the wrist. That made it much more useful against unarmoured opponents and multiple opponents.

Basically, the war hammer was a specialist anti-armour weapon. It was highly useful at stopping a single armoured opponent but highly lacking for anything else. The mace was a compromise. Somewhat less useful against plate armour, but still effective in any situation.

Wikipedia is really out there on this. The advantage was more to do with the arms race of tactics than with armour.

The round shield was preferred by cultures that relied upon single combat and heroics. It was still being used by the Scots up to the 18th century. It’s a good design for a soldier who intends to face the enemy as a single unit.

Cultures with trained armies found that elongated shields such as the Roman shield were far more effective because they allowed the shields to be locked together to form a shield wall.

As cavalry became more important, it became necessary to extend the length of the shield to allow the shield to be braced against the ground while the soldier remained standing in order to deflect cavalry attacks. A full length square shield would be extremely heavy if it were that long, so the kite shield was invented, allowing the shield wall to be braced against the Earth without becoming totally immobile. While the invention of chain armour made it less crcuial to copver the legs, the driver wasn’t primarily armour, it was just a response to increasing use of cavalry.

Later, infantry tactics changed to favour pikes. Pikes made infantry shields all but useless. Since they could stab an enemy infantryman without ever coming in range of his own weapon, they would eventually overcome any shield wall. The only defence against pikes was an opposing pike formation, and an infrantryman can’t carry a pike and a kite shield.

With the widespread adoption of pikes, shields become the domain of mounted units: cavalry and dragoons. Since it’s almost impossible to use a kite shield on a horse, the shield was trimmed down to something approaching the Roman square shield. Initially the shape was retained to allow dragoons to form a shield wall by kneeling, but it seems to have been retained after such tactics became totally obsolete simply because of fashion. I’m not aware of any advantage of a “heater” shield over a similar sized round shield. It seems to have been just a continuation of the kite shield shape based on tradition.

If you find any, let me know. The ones Ive seen tend to consist mostly of people talking through their hats


Kite shields were almost exclusively used on foot. While they were carried on horseback, it was primarily so they could be used once dismounted.

The English contribution at theBattle of Hastings, for example, consisted *primarily *of a shield wall formed of kite shields being used to repulse enemy attacks. That was the standard infantry tactic of the day: a wall of kite shields. That’s the whole reason kite shields were invented. If the English shield wall had been maintained, instead of persuing the enemy, Harold would likely have won the battle handily despite having no cavalry and almost no archers and having fought two major battles within the past few weeks. That’s how effective kite shields were for infantry.

I agree with this, and the evolution of the large round shield into the small round buckler used with rapier was again intended for facing individuals. In fact when I fight with rapier and buckler I note how effective the shape (and size) appears to be.

Thus, despite modern belief, it IS true that medieval clerics used them in combat. Why else would they sing about a grazing mace?


You! Out of the pool!

How does this mesh with Saltire’s claim that the heater shield has a better distribution of protective area than the round shield?

Also, was there a great difference between flanged and knobbed maces?

Yeah. A flanged mace was much better for penetrating mail or a helmet, which is why they were more used in the late middle ages when such armour became more common.

I wouldn’t have guessed this. I am no expert on the subject but the two “cultures” I know of that used round shields – hoplites and vikings – used them for tight formation, the phalanx and the svinfylking respectively. :confused:

Because it’s a different era. The rapier is one of the first instances of the sword being an actual defensive item, so along with the smaller shield [buckler] you have a two-sided defensive system (and the buckler was used offensively too - you punch with the buckler to actively move your opponent’s weapon away from defense, rather than sitting there waiting for an offensive action). Plus with rapier you need high mobility (being a small old woman, it’s the only thing that keeps me “alive”), so a heater shield also doesn’t work well in that context. I wish I could link to a a couple of short videos of me fencing with rapier and buckler to show you what I mean, but they’re not online right now.

I guess in short in my era of weapon the heater shield is too large and heavy and since the sword itself provides significant defense, it’s not needed. There is of course the argument that a rapier being lighter you don’t need to protect against as much impact damage, but then I’ve been cut so hard by blunted steel rapiers that it’s gone through leather and padding to cut me. I know, nothing like a mace…

Saying that a rapier provides significant defense isn’t always true. I mean, I’m sure it’ll help protect you from rapiers and other light weapons, but it won’t do much good against a halberd.

How do people (you and others in this thread) come to be so knowledgeable about this stuff? Not just about the weapons themselves but their tactical use and historical contexts? What is this field of study?

Many people come to this field of knowledge through a maze of polyhedral dice and DM shields.

And some of us by actual study of historical texts, fight manuals, and personal field experience.

I have fought in armoured combat with a large variety of weapons and shields, though I do want to note immediately that my experience with weapons is limited mostly to “batons” made of rattan - so while I understand the concepts of the use of different weapons and have done some tests on unmoving, armoured targets with the real stuff, I have not used them against actual moving, armoured opponents.

My experiences weapon wise echo what has been said here. Warhammers (like this one: are excellent anti-plate weapons, allowing the wielder to focus a large amount of power into a small contact area, doing a lot of damage. To be most effective, a blow needs to land properly with the head or the pick striking at a 90 degree angle to the surface being hit - glancing blows run the risk of skitting off the curved surfaces of the plate.

This is where maces come in handy. Even an unflanged mace (like this one: is going to do a huge amount of crushing damage, and even through plate is going to have a chance of breaking bones. It is also less affected by glancing shots. However, they tend to be a LOT slower to swing, and against plate, are not guaranteed to kill an enemy before they kill you. It takes a LOT of effort to hit plate hard enough to cause severe damage to whatever is underneath it.

Flanged maces (like this one: are a “best of both worlds” weapon, offering minimal surface areas for creating focal points of power while still providing a better number of striking surfaces to avoid glancing blows. Drawbacks, though, are that it is still heavier to swing, and does not penetrare as deeply as a war hammer/pick is going to.

In my experiments with all three against plate around wooden dowels wrapped in carpet (not a perfect analog for a human limb, but its what I had), the warhammer/pick, when struck solidly, did definite deadly levels of damage, the pick end driving through plate deep enough to cause deadly levels of damage to the “flesh” beneath it, while the hammer end almost always broke the dowel “bone”. The round head mace would deform the plate and could definitely cause a crippling injury, but had to hit very hard to deform the plate to the level that the materials beneath were significantly impacted. And the flanged mace tore into the plate pretty well, but with much less penetration than the warhammer.

I’ll post more on my shield experiences shortly…

I have never played D&D. I have been interested in martial arts my whole life.

I studied Kendo and Tae Kwon Do in my youth, as an adult I spent many years wearing armour and fighting with the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism), as well as studying fencing and medieval swordplay.

My house has weapons on nearly every wall, I have a big collection.

Now that I am in a wheelchair it is just a happy memory.

The reason I am asking this is because I have recently become interested in D&D based computer RPGs.

Except the original pike formations - the sarissa-armed phalanxes of the Macedonians and their successor states - were eventually superseded by the Roman shield wall.

I think the OP has been well answered, so I have another question (terribly vague, I’m sorry).

If one of you knowledgeable people were to time-travel from the present back to classical times, could you:

  • using only the materials, technology and resources of that period; combined with
  • your modern knowledge of tactics and weaponry;*

arm and train an army in such a way as to have significant advantage over other contemporary armies?

If the answer is “yes” for the case of Bronze Age Greece/Asia Minor, for example, then up to how recently could the time-traveller make a difference? Roman Empire? Feudal Europe? Peninsular/Napoleonic Wars?

  • Note that I am not talking about arming them with mortars, hot air balloons and muskets. The scenario is their materials and manufacturing technology, and your knowledge of how best to put it to use.