It is all about the reach!
So I am watching episode one of season three of the Walking Dead and it has inspired an article. Minor spoiler: Glenn is sporting a polearm in the opening sequence at the house. It is one of the things I like about this show, they get up close and personal. It is not always about the firepower, it is sometimes about stealth and conserving ammo.
And, when you are dealing with the undead, it is about reach – keeping yourself out of theirs.
That was true in the days of yore as well – not a lot of zombies in yore but having an extra 3-5 feet of reach on your opponent is never a bad thing. And while they were not worried about ammo during an armed conflict in those days it was nice to keep the opposing force away when you were attacking them. Hence the idea of putting the weapons you were already using on long poles – making them polearms – came into being.
The first polearms were used by the Greeks and the Romans. These masters of armed combat realized that in their tight formations covered with tower shields, they needed something that they could thrust through the openings from the second line, from those not carrying shields. These Roman and Greek spears were LONG. Measuring more then ten feet at times, the second line would thrust these spears through in almost complete safety behind the front line of shield carriers.
In later years, other civilizations realized the benefit of having much longer weapons at times. It is unknown who strapped the first axe head onto an eight foot shaft but that weaponsmith became a legend and his ideas were repeated over and over. The person carrying this newly developed weapon had an advantage. If his opponent was mounted it was possible to swing the axe to dismount that opponent. Once said opponent was on the ground, the extra force that could be applied to swinging that weapon could penetrate through even the most substantial armor.
Fast forward to the French. Like so many other innovations in the world of military technology, the French get the nod when it comes to inventive polearms. Think of the names: ranseur, guisarme, Bec-de-corbin (the first armor can-opener style weapon). ALl of these were developed by the French and they all had a specific purpose. The idea that they came up with was to make the polearm a multifunctional weapon. To that end, you would have an axehead or a chopping head on one side, a blunt head on the opposing side and a spike on top. This was the basic format for truly remarkable polearms. The blunt side was used to dismount, mounted opponents. The chopping side was used to kill now-downed opponent and the spike on top could be used with the polearm set against the ground to receive a charge. Three weapons in one. Very smart and highly effective.
So, what have we learned:
- If you are on foot and you are facing a mounted opponent, the polearm is your friend.
- If you need a can opener for a suit of armor, the polearm is your friend.
- And if you are facing the undead… the polearm is your friend.