>The distinction is between freemen and serfs. In the real medieval
>world freemen were rarely restricted by law on weaponry - that's one
>of the points about being a freeman. The serf often was.
Sure. I agree completely.
These discussions tend to use "peasants" (in a general sense) to refer to all those folks who are directly involved in farming for a living (as opposed to landowners who oversee tenant farmers, or merchants, tradesmen, adventurers, soldiers, sailors, etc...) which would include both free people and serfs.
While there may be an internal distinction among the peasant farmers between free people (who may go armed) and unfree people (who may not go armed) the larger question tends to be 'Are the poor farmers who work in the dirt allowed to carry weapons at all?'
(Part of that, too, is going to be a question of context. Technically, where I live, I can legally carry a loaded rifle, walking around town, slung over my shoulder. Practically, unless I'm on my own property, at a gun range, or it's hunting season, I'm in a hunting area, and I'm dressed like a hunter, if I walk around with a loaded rifle, I'm almost certainly going to be stopped by the police and ticketed for "disorderly conduct" or "public disturbance" or something similar, which, again technically, is not a weapons charge. It's not that being armed is illegal, in itself; it is a matter of where and what I carry.)
> >a grain flail would not
> >typically be the first choice.
> At least they won't hit themselves with it.
I don't know about that; I've seen plenty of people conk themselves with a set of nunchuks. Which is, pretty much, what we mean by 'grain flail'. Yes?
> >2. What would loyal peasant levies be armed with?
> >spears, because they are cheap and easy to make.
> I'm not convinced about this. The spearmen gradually disappears
> from most of europe as the feudal system becomes fully established.
Sure. You also see a transition to more (and heavier) cavalry and armor, and a general professionalization of armies.
Simple stabbing/slashing spears give way to more complex polearms with greater reach (8-10 feet or more), chopping surfaces for battering heavily armored opponents, hooks for snagging and dismounting cavalry (and yanking shields out of position), and pointy in-line spikes for stabbing into narrow gaps in armor. You also see some spears get much longer (12-15' pikes) and deployed in several ranks as a defense against cavalry. (In Japan, IIRC, you sometimes see spears redesigned as purely stabbing weapons, a spike on a stick with no cutting edge, designed only for stabbing, to punch through armor.)
> Yes, and why the group tactics are easier to learn than individual
I do not believe that is true. Fighting one on one, you've got a lot more ability to maneuver and control the space between you and your foe, which is particularly important when fighting with a spear, because you *do* loose a lot of your offensive ability if the opponent gets past your spearpoint. At that point, if you haven't got a backup weapon for close work, your best bet is to back up to get back to your optimum range (and if you're fighting someone with a sword/axe/mace/etc, outside of their effective range...) You can also swing the spear like a quarter-staff, use the haft to block or smash (like a quarterstaff) etc.
Fighting in an organized formation cuts down individual mobility, and limits some of the things you can do with a spear compared to fighting by yourself. This gets worse when you're tightly packed, as there is a tendency for people to foul each other's weapons, particularly if you try to use staff moves. You've got to watch not only your single opponent, but a bunch of them, *and* your nominal allies on either side, who may foul you up while trying to save themselves, etc. Not impossible, but getting a group to fight as a formation is a much more complex challenge than is getting one individual to fight by themselves.
>Sure a heroic individual can do all sorts of stuff but not
> your typical peasant after a few hours of training.
Agreed. But two hours of individual training with the spear is enough to gain at least basic competency; it is much easier to learn to fight a two-handed spear, 6-8' long, than it is to learn how to co-ordinate a shield and some other weapon.
True *mastery* will take a lot longer to achieve. But if you can use a pitchfork, you already know the basic motion for a spear stab. The spear gives you an extra 2-4' feet of reach over a typical pitchfork. Week hand forward, strong hand back, hands shoulder width apart on the haft, and slide the spear like a pool cue. Point it at your opponent's chest or face and stab, stab, stab. Stay out of your opponent's range. Keep them in yours. Watch behind you when you back up, so you don't trip and get killed.
>Better to spend
> that time getting him to hold his shield at the right angle to
> deflect an attack and keep his spear point well spaced from the
> others in the shieldwall.
Different concepts again, I think. Warriors who also farm would have shields. Farmers, not so much, unless they expected to fight on a regular basis. If you're a farmer, you're unlikely to invest in a shield, particularly one big enough to form a shield wall with, unless its something you are going to *need* on a regular basis.
In addition to actually have a shield, coordinating weapon and shield takes a LOT more practice than just learning to stab people with a spear, particularly if the weapon is large enough to make one-handed use unwieldy.
A smaller 'target' shield on your forward hand isn't much of a problem, if you can still hold the shield grip while you hold the spear. Even if you don't use it to actively block, it protects your forward hand and forearm, which is a prime target if you're fighting another spearman.
If you carry a big shield, it becomes more difficult to use a spear effectively; particularly if the shield is strapped to your forearm rather than held in one hand. You loose the leverage on the spear you get with a two handed grip, and it becomes relatively easy for your opponent to knock your spear point aside, allowing them to step past the point, inside your range, and kill you while you're trying to recover.
Which is not to say you couldn't carry a large shield and spear, but if you want to put both hands on the spear, it limits your ability to defend yourself with your shield, and if you want to use both hands to take full advantage of your shield, it limits your ability to use the spear offensively.
-- "A word to the wise ain't necessary - it's the stupid ones that need the advice." -Bill Cosby
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