Middle Ages
Medieval Warfare

What is the medieval flail?

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July 26, 2012 3:27AM

the medieval flail was a torture implement made of cow hide with bits of metal sewn into the tips to inflict more pain.

Flails were used as tools as well.

Flails were also a weapon of war during the Medieval times

as a tool they were 1 thing and as a weapon they (i thought) were metal balls with spiked chained to a stick and swung over a knight's head and slammed into the opponent to knock them off their horse forced to fight people on the ground


The medieval flail is descended from the grain thresher - a long pole (4-6 feet in length), with a eyebolt set in the end, to which either short lengths (1 foot or so) of rope or chain connected the main pole to shorter length (2' or so) poles. The grain thresh was used to beat collections of harvested wheat, to shake out the grain seeds from the straw.

After some time, peasants noticed that the long reach of the pole, combined with the swinging head sections, made for a reasonably weapon - a considerable amount of force could be built up by swinging the main pole around, and slamming the attached rod sections into people. It was particularly effective against chainmail, as the flail caused significant blunt force trauma (broke ribs, bashed in heads, etc.) all without having to penetrate the actual steel armor.

Weapons designers improved on this concept in two steps: Firstly, they reduced the number of short rods to one or two at the most, covered the rods in iron (to prevent then from shattering when hitting an armored opponent), and used only chain link to connect the main shaft with the attacking rods. Later on, the rods themselves were replaced with metal balls; the balls tended to be small (4-6 inches in diameter), and had studs, spikes, or flanges cast into them.

Medieval flails were of two sizes: originally, they were for foot-use only, so the overall length was typical for a short polearm, about 5-6 feet total. These were <i>very</i> effective against mounted opponents, enabling the foot soldier to negate the height and reach advantage of a mounted opponent, and also providing a strong enough blow that unseating the mounted rider was a distinct possibility. After the creation of the ball flail, the main shaft was reduced significantly, to no more than 2 feet, making the flail a very effective weapon for close-in combat (the longer flail was only really usable against someone no closer than 3 feet away). The swinging arc required to use the short flail meant that it was more usable by the mounted warrior than the foot soldier, so the short flail became a mounted warrior's weapon, and was much less commonly used by foot soldiers.

The foot flail was generally replaced with more specialized ax and spear-derived weapons around the time that platemail became the common knightly armor (c. 1200-1300 AD), with the short flail lasting a bit longer, but generally disappearing about when firearms started making their debut (c. 1400 AD).