Archive for the 'History' Category

Questions for game-system rule makers

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

As I’ve been playing some computer RPGs, and read some of the changelogs and wishlists, I noticed some issues relating to history and physics which I will address here, in the hopes it might help game designers to achieve more believable game-(or mostly combat-)systems.

Q: Does a weapon which has the whole mass distributed along its length do more damage on impact than one that centres it on the top?

A: A two-handed sword distributes its maybe 2.5kg along the say 160cm of the blade, with actually its centre of gravity near the hilt. A pole arm has a lot of its 2.5kg near the top of its 240cm. Its clear that the momentum of the pole arm upon hitting will be much higher than that of the sword, and thus the damage it can inflict. On stabbing motions however, both weapon will inflict similar damage as this is mostly dependent on the user. The advantage of the sword is of course control, which is much better with the centre of gravity near the users hand.

Of course, this is something a lot of games get wrong.

Q: Heavy is bad?

A: For armour, yes. You want the maximum protection at the least weight. Or maybe the weight you can wear in battle, which is around 20-40kg, depending on your size. Heavier armour than that was only worn for tournaments, and there only on horse.

So don’t make your full suits of armour heavier than that. If your game considers size, have it influence the weight of the armour (and the fun of having the player find armour which just doesn’t fit), otherwise make it 30kg (or less for especially good armour…)

For weapons, you want something rather heavy that you can still control with ease, which brings us to…

Q: How much mass and momentum on an elongated hitting device can you control with one hand or with two hands?

A: This depends a bit on the length and centre of gravity, but it’s about 1kg for a 1 meter long thing, and 2.5kg for a 2.5 meter long thing. Which is nicely supported by historical evidence: One-handed weapons tend to have a weight around 1kg with 1 meter length, and all pole arms weigh around 2.5kg with a length of 2.5m. Two-handed swords also tend to weigh 2.5kg with a length of 150cm (with shorter ones being lighter).

Of course this may vary a bit depending on who made it and who wants to wield it, but usually history shows weapons to be much lighter than their equivalents in game systems (It’s gotten a bit better. D&D, 1st ed. shows a one-handed sword at 6lbs and a halberd at 15lbs, D&D, 5th ed. shows them at 3lbs and 6lbs).

Q: Why do you think there are flat wide arrowheads used for hunting and tetragonal ones for war?

A: It’s about damage to flesh versus armour-piercing. This can be very much generalised: A pointy bit used for stabbing that’s broad and flat will probably do more damage to flesh but its chance to penetrate armour will be lower than one that’s square.

This means, with thrusting, damage will depend on that, and mostly on one other factor: whether the weapon was used two- or one-handed or what device was used to launch the thrust.

Q: What’s the difference between a blade and a pointy extrusion?

A: Pick or axe? As far as the pointy versus cutty is concerned, this again is a question of damage to armour versus damage to flesh.

As I already answered the case of where the stabbing bit is at the end of something and is used to thrust. But this is a bit different, since we’re actually hitting, not thrusting. And the momentum will vary a lot depending on how long this thing is and whether its used with both hands or not; and also, the momentum will usually be much bigger than with a straight thrust.

A lot of pole arms will allow you to choose whether you want to hit your opponent with a blade or a pick, depending on what kind of armour he wears.

Q: What’s the difference between a rounded blade and a straight blade?

A: The question is, do we have a cutting or hitting edge. This is also a question about the armour worn on the other side. The difference between round and straight edges will probably be small, with the straight edge transferring more energy to the target, whereas the round edge will convert some of that energy into a lateral motion (cutting). The cutting will be rather useless against things it can’t cut, so it’s probably less useful against things like chain mail, whereas the damage might be bigger against things it can cut (leather, skin, flesh).

The other thing of course is the question what happens if the whole thing is curved, and there the answer is that with curved blades you can stab around something, making stabs more difficult to parry.

All in all, if you don’t have mechanisms to take these two issues into consideration, just treat them as equal.

Q: Why would you want to ditch a shield for a two-handed weapon?

A: Because if you’ve got two hands to use on the weapon, you’ve got more control, can use longer weapons, have more momentum and inflict more damage. And since you need something to take care of incoming projectiles, you have armour to take care of that.

You’ll notice that shields vanish from the battlefields with the advent of late middle ages plate armour. Made of steel, getting more and more hardened with time. Because that’s the thing that stops most projectiles. You also notice that Romans also had some kind of “plate” armour but still carried shields. That’s because it’s made of iron (or even bronze), not steel, and can be rather easily penetrated by arrows.

Q: Why wouldn’t you want to ditch a shield for a second weapon?

A: If it’s about parrying, the bigger the thing you use to parry is, the bigger the chance of not getting hit. If it’s about projectiles, a second weapon won’t help you, but a shield will. And lastly: You can’t hit somebody with two weapons at the same time. So you’ll use one two bind the others weapon (parry) and attack with the other one. And where’s the advantage in that? You could do it with a shield as well.

Of course, if your opponent only has a one-handed weapon and no shield, you will have an advantage (or no disadvantage, if the other also uses a second weapon).

Dual wielding is inferior to anything but single-handedly wielding only one weapon.

Q: If I had a blade on the other end of the weapon could I hit the enemy with it?

A: Yes, as long as the blades are short (or just a pointy bit), and the stick is long, it makes perfectly sense. If not, the blade on the other end makes it impossible to fight with others alongside you, and it makes you loose momentum and control because of the counterweight.

So these things that are basically two swords attached to a hilt in opposite direction are completely useless. Unwise.

Q: What about the difference between a longsword and a broadsword?

Actually, “longsword” does not exist. “long sword” does, and it refers to a small late medieval two-handed sword, with the size about what you can still carry on the hip. In the 19th century misnamed as “bastard sword” or “one-and-a-half-hander”.

But the broadsword is a term used to distinguish it from the smallsword in the 17th century. Both broadsword and smallsword have about the same length (around 1 meter) and the same weight (around 1 kg). The blade of a broadsword is just so much broader and thinner. It probably has some implications regarding bigger wounds inflicted versus reduced capability of piercing armour compared to the smallsword.

Unless your setting incorporates smallswords, forget about broadswords.

Q: How do you carry a weapon?

A: On the hip. And if its too long, on the shoulder. Yes, that’s it. Apart from small weapons in you boot, throwing knifes on your arms or chest and other things like that, you carry it on your hip. Even quivers, unless you’re a native American. And you don’t carry weapons on your back you intend to use, because you wouldn’t be able to draw them.

Yes, you could draw some short sword or machete from your back, but then, while you’re drawing it, you’re wide open to attack. There’s a reason nobody ever did that in history.

Q: How are quality differences in arms and armour expressed?

A: Basically, it varies with a) the materials and b) the techniques used to process these materials, and both tend to get better with time (unless suddenly constrained by financial or logistical questions).

Useable materials for weapons are wood (sharpened stick, hardened in fire), flint, copper (yes, there was actually a “copper age”) bronze, iron and steel, plus maybe some mythical metals such as mithril. For armour it’s leather, wood, copper, bronze, paper, cloth, iron, steel (with leather and copper so bad, you don’t want it).

The general mechanics is this: It must be workable; it should not break; it should be able to have an edge; it should keep an edge, it should not bend and stay bent, it must have the right weight. You can’t really have a sword of a material that has a totally different weight unless you make it smaller or more massive. Since weight and possible damage are mostly fixed by the form the product takes, you need to differentiate mostly on durability. Which of course is more interesting for armour, because there it also impacts the protection it offers.

Usually the one that matters is iron and steel.

And there’s a huge variance between different things made of steel. Depending on the techniques used (and whether the ore found already contained the right traces of other elements and carbon) you get from rather soft (Roman lorica segmentata) to incredibly hard and resilient (gothic plate armour).

So rather than invent a plethora of new materials, just add techniques (look for “damascene steel”, “crucible steel” and “wootz”) or flowery names of where the steel (or even the product) should come from. It was even common to refer to the workshop. So a “Helmschmied breast plate” or an “Ulfberht sword” might be rather exquisite.

With armour, you could also conflate several layers of armour that was worn above each other at various times: tunic and unriveted chain mail, tunic and riveted chain mail, tunic and lorica segmentata, gambeson and chain mail, gambeson and chain mail and coat-of-plate, light gambeson and chain mail and brigantine, light gambeson and chain mail and (soft) full plate, arming doublet and (hardened) full plate. You get the picture.

Q: But a bronze weapon will cause less damage than a steel weapon?

A: No. Bronze is soft and can be ground to an extremely sharp edge in a very short time. Which it will also loose rather fast. It tends to bend and can’t be worked into very long shapes, which is why bronze axes are more interesting than swords. But against flesh, the effect of a bronze weapon is the same as if it was iron or steel.

The thing changes very much when it comes to armour. A bronze edged weapon goes through leather like butter, has troubles against bronze armour and can’t do anything against anything made of iron (except battering; which incidentally works also extremely well against bronze armour, nicely against iron and soft steel, and not at all against hardened steel).

Q: Leather armour is bad?

A: Well, it’s not armour in most cases, since even stone weapons cut through it nicely, let alone bronze weapons or even medieval eating knives (yes, I rammed an eating knife through 1cm so-called cuir-boilli with ease). It’s one of these fantasy roleplaying-game myths.

Leather was used within armour, though, as carrier for riveting on small metal plates for instance, and sometimes also to cover these up (leading to something which looks like leather with rivets on it).

Just don’t use it; if you need light armour, go with gambesons or other armour made of layers of cloth, or with only parts of armour. A gothic breast plate and an open helmet don’t inhibit any movement, do not make noise (even less than leather would) and they weigh about 4kg, respectively 2.5kg, but they protect your vitals.

Q: Can I swim with armour?

A: Basically, no. Wearing chain mail, you’re 8-20kg heavier than otherwise, and most people can swim only 2-4 meters with that. Plus there’s probably some gambeson beneath your chain mail. With gambesons alone, in the league from 4-8kg, your chances are better, you might get some 50 meters until any trapped air has gone out and the whole thing starts sucking up water.

The useful thing to do is to get rid of armour while you’re sinking, which actually might be possible with chain mail or gambeson (although you need to loose your belt), or some parts of plate armour (neither shoulder nor arms and legs probably).

Pictures from the late middle ages show soldiers swimming for an attack in their underpants, shoes (they’re rather light: my reconstruction half-high boots are 480g each) and hats, with their pikes(!).

Minecraft: Châteaux Vufflens

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

Irgendwie hat sich dieses spätmittelalterliche Ding in Backstein einfach aufgedrängt. Es wollte in Minecraft realisiert werden. Warum ich 18-24 Stunden dafür verwendet habe weis ich immer noch nicht. Es wollte es eben.

Dokumentation von 1881

Aber dafür bekommt nun die Welt nicht bloss ein Minecraft-Schema, sondern auch gleich die Dokumentation und Pläne von Vufflens, aus den “Mittheilungen der Antiquarischen Gesellschaft in Zürich” von 1881, komplett digitalisiert, und die Texte durchs OCR gejagt. Die sind Gemeinfrei (“Public Domain”).

Minecraft Level

Ich habe versucht mich möglichst genau an die Pläne, sowie diverse Bilder aus dem Internet, inklusive Google StreetView zu halten. Naturgemäss ist bei 1×1-Meter-Blöcken nicht alles genau einzuhalten. Die Raumaufteilung stimmt, die Proportionen ungefähr (tatsächlich ist der Donjon zu hoch; eine Notwendigkeit damit der Vorbau genügend Stockwerke bekommen konnte) gewisse moderne Dinge wie die Terrasse vor dem Palas habe ich weggelassen. Die Lizenz hier ist die OPL 1.0 (was in etwa dasselbe wie CC-by-sa ist).


Lies, Damned Lies and Propaganda

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Propaganda trumps scientific evidence everytime.

Face it, there is nothing like propaganda, backed by some hearsay evidence and a few vivid examples. And science cannot offer anything to counter that.

It used to be “Statistics” in that title-phrase, but that’s not true anymore, if it ever was. You don’t need statistics to make people believe global warming isn’t happening. You don’t need statistics to convince a nation that some other nation has “Weapons of Mass Destruction”. You don’t need statistics to convince an entire world that monopolies are good for it. Nobody except scientists bother with statistics if they want to convince you of something.

Statistics aren’t appealing to your gut-feeling, examples are. No matter how scarce and how much the result of some other unknown influence they are, examples is what relates to the public, and also what causes fear and anxiety. It doesn’t matter if a few hundred-thousand people get killed in some faraway land. But if something happens to a person you know, no matter how faintly you know the person, or maybe you only read of it, this is obviously evidence for whatever malfaisance or problem-du-jour exists, and is a big problem. A freak accident gets a “security problem” with something, a robbery a “crime problem”, somebody killing himself a “suicide wave” and so on. It does not matter if said accident is the only in the world that ever happened with that specific device, your crime-rate is the lowest on the planet, and the suicide-rate the second lowest. You may now be convinced that this specific thing is a huge problem which must be addressed immediately. Of course, you probably don’t get the idea that there might be a problem yourself, so that’s why we’ve got propaganda.

Or to put the other way: People doing propaganda will use exactly that mechanism, that we tend to believe in examples and not in statistics, to convince you their lies are the truth.

Alright, some of the examples initially used are pretty far off, you you might think that you’re not afflicted with believing such lies. I’ll give you some examples (ha! See?) of things you might believe in, that have no scientific evidence whatsoever:

  • In the middle ages, people thought the world was flat — That’s actually a fairy tale from the 1830ies. Since at least Aristotle nobody believed in a flat earth. Certainly not people in the middle ages who revered Aristotle as the greatest philosopher of all.
  • Copyright is necessary for the compensation of the efforts of creators of works and to ensure that they will produce more. — You should have told that Shakespeare and Beethoven
  • Patents are necessary for innovation — There is absolutely no scientific study which can prove that patents are in any way beneficial to innovation. There are however studies proving monopolies are always inhibiting innovation.
  • Patents are at least necessary recouping costs of research and development — Well, Ciba, Sandoz, Novartis and so on didn’t need them until 1954. And they where already huge multinationals then.
  • Harsh weapon laws reduce crime — No, they don’t. There’s no correlation between the availability of weapons and violence. In some places there is, but this is most probably a coincidence, resulting from some other reason.
  • Knife-bans will reduce violent crime — Scissors get lumped into the same category as knifes in criminal statistics. Now guess what’s actually used most often?
  • Data retention helps to reduce crime — No, it actually produces crime. Not the same ones it tries to address, but things like fraud, extortion, theft of services, privacy breaches, stalking etc.

And this goes on and on. For all of above mentioned things we hold for self-evident, there is either no scientific data backing them up, or even data refuting them. But most of those are actually the result of propaganda, the result of someone trying to get its agenda accepted. Even the flat earth is the result of (in that case anti-clerical) propaganda.

Of course, asking “cui bono” (who benefits) will often yield interesting questions about such a belief in the first place, but often might be misleading as well. Usually it boils down to “who benefits more”. More often, trying to get hard scientific data — statistics or better the raw data of the statistics — supporting your belief will immediately tell you if what you think is true really is. Because typically, you won’t find any.

The search for a flat earth in medieval sources turns up nothing — but pictures of round earths. My request for data and methodology regarding so-called “software-piracy” (a propagandist term, of course, we’re actually talking of “copyright infringement”) from the Business Software Alliance turned up only some vague statements about “estimations regarding past sales and sold hardware”, but not a shred of hard data. My quest for evidence of innovation-fostering of the patent-system turned up loads of citations of people iterating a mantra, and one paper; the paper coming to the conclusion that “there is no evidence”.

My impression is, that scientists, and scientific methods, and data, gets completely overwhelmed by propaganda. A spectacle orchestrated by propagandists to further their agenda, and also by unwittingly victims of that propaganda. It’s actually hard to believe that somebody does not have an agenda, but somehow, some scientists gave me the impression that they don’t really have an agenda — and furthermore, that they do not understand why somebody could consider the results of their work not desirable. And it’s clear, if you don’t understand why you’ve got enemies, and what they are using, you’re going to loose.

I don’t have any solution to this, apart from educations, but it’s terribly hard to get people to get themselves informed when everyone is surrounded by propaganda and propaganda-induced misconceptions daily spewed by mass-media and repeated by websites every day. And, most of the above propaganda is actively backed by powerful interests in economy and politics.

I didn’t include any links to research in this post, but you’re welcome to do your research on these topics yourself. Otherwise, you’ll also find some posts on this blog which sum up some of the topics mentioned and link to further articles and research.

Zu doof für Ligaturen

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

Die Geschichte ist nicht neu, aber seit Jahrzehnten herrscht in Deutschland ein riesiges misverständnis über eine Ligatur. Auslöser dass ich nun darüber schreiben muss sind folgende Zeilen aus dem Buch “Generation Doof”:

Durch Mund-zu-Mund-Propaganda haben sich zwei weitere großartige Missverständnisse festgesetzt: ß wird grundsätzlich zu ss, und Kommata kann ich so setzen, wie ich lustig bin. Damit gelingt es auch dem Letzten, seinen Satz so zu verhunzen, dass man, Jahre, braucht, um zu, entschlüsseln, was, gemeint ist.

Es geht um dieses “Beta”, allenthalben auch als “scharfes-s” oder “sz” bekannt, was es natürlich alles nicht ist. Es ist nämlich überhaupt kein Zeichen, sondern im Rahmen des Schriftsatzes allenfalls eine Glyphe, es ist nämlich eine Ligatur für “ss”.

Da wir es nun früher mit zwei verschiedenen “s” zu tun hatten, nämlich dem langen, das welches aussieht wie ein “f” (na fast: “ſ”) und innerhalb des Wortes benutzt wurde, und dem kurzen, welches tatsächlich wie ein “s” aussieht und am Wortanfang oder -ende steht, ergibt sich durch den Zusammenzug von “ſs” eben dieses beta-ähnliche Konstrukt ß.

Selbstverständlich ist es komplett unlogisch und inkonsequent sämtliche Ligaturen zu ignorieren aber diese eine behalten zu wollen, und das ganze auch noch in irgendwelchen Gremien durchzuwürgen so dass es tatsächlich in verschiedene Zeichensätze aufgenommen wurde, oder gar auf Tastaturen auftaucht. Wo bitte ist etwa das st? Und alle anderen Ligaturen: Æ, æ, Œ, œ, IJ, ij, ᵫ, ff, fi, fl, ffi, ffl, ſt? Weshalb sollen die nicht mehr geschrieben werden, aber ein “ss” muss als Ligatur geschrieben werden? Und vorallem, wo ist das “ſ”?

Übrigens läuft nicht der gesamte deutsche Sprachraum diesem Blödsinn nach. In der Schweiz wird diese Ligatur tatsächlich offiziellerweise niemals verwendet, ausser man würde in einem Text auch alle anderen Ligaturen verwenden. Das hat natürlich in der deutschsprachigen Wikipedia auch zu einem halben Krieg geführt, als man herausgefunden hat dass da Schweizer nicht in Baskerville oder Caslon schreiben und ergo auch keine Ligaturen verwenden…

Ich persönlich liebe ja Ligaturen (und Baskerville und Caslon) aber entweder man schreibt konsequent mit Ligaturen, oder man lässt es sein. Aber die Generation Doof hat offensichtlich immer noch nicht mitgekriegt dass ß eine Ligatur ist und wird dessen unzeitgemässe Verwendung vermutlich bis aufs Blut verteidigen. Vorher werden sämtliche Kommaregeln abgeschafft.

Hollywood versus History

Friday, November 13th, 2009

In History…
Heroes distinguish themselves by wearing elaborate cloth and headgear
In Hollywood…
Heroes distinguish themselves by wearing no headgear, no jacket (shirt only), and generally running around like the poorest peasant.

In History…
Heroes wear helmets in battle.
In Hollywood…
Heroes take off their helmets before battle. If they ever wore a helmet.

In History…
Swords are worn in wooden or leather scabbards until late 19th century
In Hollywood…
Drawing a sword always gives a metal-on-metal sound.

In History…
Swords are worn in wooden or leather scabbards until late 19th century
In Hollywood…
Drawing a sword always gives a metal-on-metal sound.

In History…
Black powder appears 1242 on the European battlefields.
In Hollywood…
Any black powder weapon used in in the middle ages will baffle everyone, since they can’t ever have encountered it as it does not fit into Hollywoods image of the middle ages.

In History…
Nobody lights his house or castle with torches for fear of a fire.
In Hollywood…
Everyone uses torches indoors. And they don’t even need to be replaced, they will burn 50 years or more once lit, especially in caves.

In History…
Guns until about 1850 are muzzle-loaders and only fire one shot until reloaded again.
In Hollywood…
The average muzzle-loader can fire several times. And you never see anyone reloading it, because the guys in the studio also have no idea on how it’s done.

In History…
It could happen that the British capture a Nazi U-Boat and manage to decrypt the codes with the help of polish Scientists.
In Hollywood…
US-Americans will capture the U-Boat, even before they’ve even entered the war and will decrypt everything themselves. Except for the Japanese code “Purple”, because that would mean their government could have known about the attack on Pearl Harbour hours before it happened.

In History…
It often happens that no US-American is involved in some heroic deed. Or that along US-Americans other people from other nations were involved.
In Hollywood…
Some US-American saves the day. If somebody else did it, US-Americans did it now. If somebody helped, like some thousands of Canadian troops, they are not shown in the movie.

In History…
A knight is proud of being a knight, tries to behave as such and certainly wears clothes and armour of a knight.
In Hollywood…
A knight might run around in a towel, a face painted blue like some picts did 1200 years earlier, and still lead a rebellion against the British.

In History…
The Scots really wore kilts, and claymores and broadswords. In the late 17th and the 18th century that is. They fought against British redcoats who mostly had muskets and bayonets.
In Hollywood…
Ah well. You already guessed it. They always do that; no matter the historical evidence.

In History…
Some cities in the middle ages found it necessary to limit bathing for its inhabitants to three times a week, because its infrastructure couldn’t live up to the demand.
In Hollywood…
People in the middle ages are always filthy, but most spot gleaming white teeth.

In History…
Plate Armour is mostly made to fit the wearer and made in the style of the time.
In Hollywood…
Plate Armour is made from whatever pieces are left from previous productions and in an style from 14th to 18th century. Except for helmets, those are in style from the early iron age to the 18th century.

In History…
People thatched their roofs very tight, 20-50cm thick.
In Hollywood…
Thatched roofs are see-trough and only on houses used by peasants.

In History…
People knew from the writings of Greek philosophers from A.D 300 upwards that the earth was round.
In Hollywood…
People from the middle-ages believe in a flat-earth.

In History…
People had a lower life-expectancy than today. Something like 60 years instead of 75. But if you factor in infant mortality, you get a mean of only 30 years.
In Hollywood…
People in the middle ages of course only have a life-expectancy of 30 years.

In History…
People wear shoes of their time, in the middle ages for instance turned-shoes without heels.
In Hollywood…
The Hero wears 19th century heeled cavalry boots.

In History…
The joined hose/trousers got out of style in the early middle ages, to be replaced by separate hoses. The joined hose comes back in the 15th century (with a codpiece).
In Hollywood…
The Hero does not wear separate hoses.

In History…
The Romans ridiculed hoses, they called them “feminalia” implying only women would wear them. And certainly would not like to wear them.
In Hollywood…
Romans wear hoses. Because the actors would feel nude, and it would conflict Hollywoods morality standards.

In History…
Most cannon-balls are just that: balls of stone or iron. The explosive shell is a relatively recent invention; explosive ammunition appears in the 17th century and is only shot by mortars. The first explosive shell for a flat-trajectory-gun appears 1823.
In Hollywood…
All guns shoot explosive shells.

In History…
People have weird haircuts in certain epochs. Long hair was considered a sign of nobility in the middle ages, and later a sign of a gentleman until the early 19th century (tough you could wear a powdered wig if you didn’t have long hair).
In Hollywood…
Hairstyles mostly reflect the time when the movie was made. Thus we get short-haired Ivanhoes, long-haired WWII aviators, and crop-haired Tudors.

In History…
The widht of belts varies with the epoch. They Merowingians wore huge belts. So did one in the 17th century. But in the middle ages, they wore very thin belts, 1-2cm in width.
In Hollywood…
It’s supposed to be historical, so people have to wear huge belts, besides some other historical movies did it like that before.

In History…
People sometimes are ugly.
In Hollywood…
Actors are not chosen by their likeness to the historical person they are supposed to represent, but according to their prominence. Behold the slim and handsome Henry VIII. And the straight-nosed Wellington.

In History…
Heroes sometimes have a very dark side as murderers, rapists or slavers.
In Hollywood…
Any dark deeds of the Hero are never shown, whereas the the designated Villain gets attributed every imaginable crime, including mass-murder, even if the historical evidence says otherwise.

See Also
Classic Cliches for the Medieval Historical Movie
Troy: Hollywood vs. Homer
Hollywood Rewrites History
Hollywood hokum: Fake history in films wipes out the facts learnt in class
Novelist condemns Hollywood’s yen to rewrite history as cultural imperialism
Hollywood Censors History (PDF)

Kleine Schwert-Taxonomie

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Wenn es um Schwerter geht sind da einige Mythen im Umlauf was denn was ist, und vor allem werden Begriffe aus verschiedenen Epochen bunt gemischt. Ich will da einige Begriffe etwas aufklären. Dieser Text erhebt aber keinerlei Anspruch auf eine generelle Typologie, dafür sei auf Oakeshott verwiesen. Ebenso erwähne ich nicht sämtliche existierenden Blankwaffen und Variationen davon die jemals aufgetaucht sind, sondern nur einige Ausgewählte, im wesentlichen vom 14-19Jh.

Historischer Abriss


Hier ist die Welt einfach. Eigentlich gibt es zwei generelle Begriffe: Schwert und Messer. Das Schwert ist beidseitig geschliffen, das Messer einseitig (auch wenn die Spitze ebenfalls beidseitg geschliffen sein kann). Anhand Form, Länge und Zweck kann dann noch weiter unterschieden werden, teilweise gibt es einen eigenen Begriff dafür, teilweise wird einfach ein Wort davorgestellt:

So gibt es unter den Messern z.b. die “Bauernwehr”, das “Lange Messer” und das “Falchion” (auch “Malchus” genannt).

Bei den Schwertern haben wir im wesentlichen das “Schwert” und das “Lange Schwert”. Das “Lange Schwert” klassiert ein relativ kleines (Gesamtlänge 100-130cm), am Gurt getragenenes, Schwert zur zweihändigen Benutzung. Es taucht im 14. Jh. auf und ist im wesentlichen eine zivile Waffe, die ohne Schild eingesetzt wird.

Andere Namen für das “Lange Schwert” sind “Anderthalbhänder” oder “Bastardschwert”, beide Namen kommen aus späterer Zeit und implizieren fälschlicherweise dass das Schwert einhändig geführt werden kann (Tatsächlich gibt es Techniken für zweihändig geführte Schwerter wo die eine Hand den Griff verlässt; aber das heisst nicht dass die generelle Benutzung einhändig sein kann, oder dass ein Schild dazu getragen werden kann). Besonders für Stich ausgebildete Schwerter werden manchmal “Estoc” genannt.


Im 16. Jahrhundert haben wir es mit Verlängerungen von Schwert und Messer zu tun. Zum “Langen Schwert” gibt es nun den grossen Bruder, das “Zweihandschwert” oder “Bidenhänder”, welches nicht in einer Scheide getragen wird (da zu lang; typische Länge 130-160cm, für Paradewaffen bis 210cm) und eine Kriegs- oder Paradewaffe ist. Zum “Langen Messer” gibt es nun das “Grosse Messer”, dasselbe wie das “Zweihändschwert” aber nur einseitig geschliffen.

Auf der anderen Seite entsteht aus dem “Schwert” oder dem “Estoc” als ziviler Waffe die neue zivile Waffe “Rapier” (zu der Zeit selten so genannt, meistens wird es immer noch “Schwert” genannt), die vor allem auf Stich ausgelegt ist. Dadurch dass es vor allem auf Stich gegen leichtgerüstete Gegner ausgelegt ist, ist es möglich Gewicht zu sparen, was wiederum dazu führt dass es länger sein kann als frühere Einhand-Schwerter (100-140cm; typisch sind 120cm).


Im 17Jh setzt sich das “Messer” wieder durch, diesmal unter ganz anderem Namen, nämlich als “Säbel”, der sich vor allem bei Kavallerie als überlegen gezeigt hat. Der Name kommt vermutlich vom Ungarischen “Szablya”; die Ungaren hatten diese Form von “Messern” schon im 16Jh. adoptiert. Wo sich der Name “Messer” noch halten kann ist beim “Entermesser”, welches ebenfalls in der zweiten hälfte des 17Jh auftaucht.

Beim Schwert haben wir die Entwicklung in zwei generelle Varianten, im englischen “Small Sword” und “Broad Sword”. Die deutschen Entsprechungen dafür sind am ehesten “Degen” und “Pallasch”. Der “Degen” verfügt dabei über eine relativ schmale Hieb- und Stichklinge im Bereich von 2-3cm; während die des “Pallaschs” im Bereich von 3-5cm ist. Typischerweise hat der Pallasch auch einen ausgebildeten Griffkorb.

Regionale Entwicklungen wären das schottische “Broad Sword” oder das italienische “Schiavona”, beides “Pallasche”. Ebenfalls eine lokale Entwicklung im 17Jh. haben wir bei den Zweihandschwertern, nämlich die typische “Claymore”-Form des schottischen Zweihandschwertes.


Wir haben einige Probleme mit falschen Assoziationen und mit Konstrukten die in Literatur und Spielen entstanden sind, da herumgeschleppt werden und es teilweise bis in populärwissenschaftliche Werke geschafft haben.

Das deutsche Wort “Degen” wird durch das moderne Fechten oft mit Klingen assoziiert die im 18Jh zur Übungswaffe “Florett” gehörten (vergleichbar mit den “Fechtfedern” des Mittelalters). Der moderne Fechtdegen hat aber nichts mit der zivil- und Kriegswaffe “Degen” des 17-19Jh. zu tun; welche tatsächlich viel eher mit dem Schwert verwandt ist.

Das “Lange Schwert” als “Anderthalbhänder” mit der Implikation es könne auch einhändig benutzt werden. Oder der Begriff “Bastardschwert”, auch eine neuzeitliche Erfindung. Ebenso die Zusammenziehung “Langschwert” die dann oft als eigenständige Einhandwaffe auftaucht. Die Zusammenziehung wurde im Mittelalter im deutschen Sprachraum nicht verwendet, und einen speziellen Begriff für ein einhändig geführtes Schwert gab es ebenfalls nicht.

Das “Broad Sword” respektive die deutsche Übersetzung davon “Breitschwert”, hat für ziemliche Verwirrung gesorgt, auch im Zusammenhang mit dem “Langschwert”. Wenn man schon ein (einhändiges) “Langschwert” hat, dann ist es doch logisch dass man noch andere einhändige Schwerter hat wie das “Kurzschwert” oder eben das “Breitschwert”? Tatsächlich macht der Begriff nur im englischen Sinn, um eben “Small Sword” von “Broad Sword” zu unterscheiden und gehört auch nur in diesen Kontext. Natürlich kann man statt “Pallasch” auch den Begriff “Breitschwert” verwenden, aber man sollte das dann auch auf die entsprechenden Waffen des 17-19Jh. beziehen und nicht auf irgendwelche breitklingigen mittelalterlichen (oder pseudomittelalterlichen) Schwerter.

Das “Kurzschwert”, wiederum ein Konstrukt das sich aus dem “Langschwert” ergibt. Einen speziellen Begriff für ein einhändig geführtes Schwert gab es nicht, auch nicht für besonders kurze Exemplare. Typischerweise sind diese im Mittelalter als “Seitenwehr” getragenen kurzen Waffen eher als Messer ausgeführt. Oder aber es handelt sich um besonders lange Dolche (z.b. der sogenannte “Schweizerdegen”, wobei wir hier auch gleich den etymologischen Ursprung des Wortes “Degen” drin haben, nämlich frz “Dague”, also “Dolch”). Für andere kurze Schwerter haben wir andere Bezeichnungen z.b. der römische “Gladius” oder der “Katzbalger” des 16Jh.

Ein Wort zu Längen und Gewichten

Länge und Gewicht einer Blankwaffe ergeben sich aus 3 Faktoren: Was kann der Benutzer ziehen und tragen, was kann der Benutzer handhaben und schlussendlich, was ist die Idee der Handhabung (vorallem ob die Waffe für Hieb und Stich oder nur für Stich gedacht ist)?

Bei den “Langen Schwertern” und dem “Rapier” ergibt sich eigentlich die Maximallänge ausschliesslich über die Waffenlänge die eine bestimmte Person am Gürtel tragen und auch noch ziehen kann. Je nach Körpergrösse und Armlänge variiert das von Person zu Person, liegt aber meist irgendwo zwischen 100 und 140cm.

Aus der Länge resultiert dann auch das Gewicht, welches man natürlich versucht möglichst niedrig zu halten. Ein “Langes Schwert” das auch für Hieb verwendet wird benötigt naturgemäss auch weiter vorne mehr Masse als ein “Rapier” mit dem fast nur gestochen wird. Entsprechend finden wir beim “Langen Schwert” ein Gewicht um 1.3-1.8kg, beim “Rapier” ein Gewicht um 1.0-1.5kg.

Wenn man eine Einhandwaffe auch für Hieb benutzen will muss diese entsprechend kürzer sein als eine reine Stichwaffe. Hier scheint sich fast überall eine länge um 100cm und ein Gewicht von 1.0kg als ideal herauszukristallieren; mit verschiedenen Variationen für mehr Stich- oder Hieblastigkeit, und mit verschiedenen Variationen für die persönliche Pyhsis des Benutzers. So ist der Pallasch typischerweise etwas kürzer und schwerer als der Degen; oder Säbel für Kavallerie etwas schwerer und länger.

Bei der Länge von eigentlichen “Zweihandschwertern” scheint eher das Gewicht (und die entsprechende Rigidität der Klinge und das Moment) der limitierende Faktor zu sein. Typischerweise bewegt sich die Länge von 140-160cm, bei einem Gewicht von 1.8-2.5kg. Für reine Paradewaffen gibt es fast keine Grenzen nach oben.

Auch beim Gewicht haben wir es mit einigen absurden Vorstellungen zu tun. Einerseits weil Schaukampfwaffen aufgrund der benötigten ca 2mm dicken Schneiden 1.5x bis 2x schwerer sind als eigentliche Waffen. Und andererseits weil Literatur, Volksmund, Filme und Spiele diese als extrem schwer dargestellt haben (Beispiele: Das Schwert von Conan aus den entsprechenden Filmen wäre ca. 3.5kg schwer. Oder der Friesische Volksheld Pier Gerlofs Donia, dem ein 213cm Zweihandschwert mit 6.6kg Gewicht zugeschrieben wird).

Documents from Hell

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

Every so often you happen to get some document, mostly one written with a certain software package from a company in Redmond, that looks pretty good but needs some minor property changed like the font for the default paragraphs. No problem, you open the “Stylist” in your OpenOffice and change the font for “Default”. Does not work. Hmm, the document indicates every paragraph uses the “Default” preferences. And then, you realise that every paragraph has individually a font set.

Impossible to clean up that mess in the office-software. You can’t click “Clear formatting” for every paragraph, and besides, you would screw up any other formatting like bold faces and italics too. XML to the rescue! In theory it should be possible to unzip the document and edit the XML. As it happens, the several megabytes big XML is very structured indeed: Everything is on one line Thank you very much, this means most normal text-oriented unix-tools won’t work, because you can’t rely on some useful delimiter.

Luckily I found xmlindent which nearly does the job, you can get nearly the original XML (with the exception of one missing linefeed after the XML-declaration) with sed s/\ \ \ \ //g and tr -d "\n" afterward you’ve done editing. Also interesting is Editix a Java-based XML-Editor.

Now, I would like to get rid of 10’000 redundant style-definitions, which either define bold or italic or are used to set small caps and bold to designate a subtitle — preferably set those who define title to a real “Heading”. sed -n '/<style :style style:name=\"P/,/<\/style:style>/p'</style> will give me the whole statements, but what now?

List of Napoleonic Era Movies

Sunday, January 13th, 2008

Since I’m interested in the napoleonic period lately, namely the british navy of this time (heck, I even own a complete royal navy post-captains uniform, pattern 1795-1813. Replica of course), it occured to me, that somewhere on the internet a comprehensive list of movies playing in this time should exist. Well, I couldn’t find one. The ones that exist are mostly a salad of maritime movies of all periods, and I’m not interested (well, not much) into WW2 or the crimean war or whatever.

So here goes my (incomplete, I only included those I know of) list of movies, preferably with a date their action takes place and some remarks.


The Count of Monte Christo, 2002. Plays 1814 to 1838.
Goyas Ghosts, 2006. Plays around the occupation of spain by Napoleon. Very good and very depressing.
That Hamilton Woman, 1941. Haven’t seen it. Meant is, of course, Emma Hamilton, the lover of Admiral Horatio Nelson. The movie was subject to heavy censorship by the PCA and thus riddled with 1940ies US-morality-add-ons.
Scarlet Pimpernel, 1934. Gets a lot of history wrong. Like Robespierre executing people in 1792, when he actually held no office then. Costumes are cheesy, with ridiculously high collars. Quite enjoyable, in spite of the meager quality of the recording.
Scarlet Pimpernel, 1982. Haven’t seen it.
War and Peace, 1956.Haven’t seen it. A story of two families in front of a napoleonic background.
Love and Death, 1975. Haven’t seen it. A comedy which plays in czarist Russia during Napoleons time.
Swiss Family Robinson, 1960.
A family from Berne flees from Napoleon and is cast on an island as their ship wrecks.
Treasure Island, 1950. Plays in the 1760ies. Costumes are a bit cheesy. There is also a Version from 1990 which is much worse.
The Crimson Pirate, 1952. Says it plays “in the late 18th century”, but it’s a total Fantasy-movie. Nothing is historically right, or even works as it’s supposed to. Otherwise enjoyable.
Night Creatures aka “Captain Clegg”, 1962. Plays 1792 in Cornwall. A Navy-Captain is searching for the remains of the pirate Clegg. The Captains uniform is a 1795 undress uniform with a modern after-1800-cut.
Yankee Buccaneer, 1952. In 1840(!) a US Ship of the Line(!) tries to infiltrate Pirates in the Carribeans(!). Totally unbelieveable and bad.

Maritime and Naval Warfare

The Bounty, 1984. Plays 1789 aboard HMAV Bounty on her way to Thaiti and back.

Master & Commander, 2003, plays 1805 in the atlantic and pacific. Definitly and by wide margin the best of all those naval movies.

HMS Defiant, 1962. Plays 1797 at the mutiny of Spithead. Uniforms are good, only epaulettes and some swords wrong. Hairstyles less so… Culture aboard is sometimes depicted correctly (the women, for instance) sometimes not (pressed landsmen do not go aloft). The usual exploding balls. There’s some other goofs (sails set, and not set any more only seconds later), and the final “battle” is confusing and too long, but in general, the movie is very enjoyable.

Hornblower Series

This spans 1793 to somewhere after 1800. It’s quite nicely done, costume- and propwise. You’ll notice that the budget was considerably lower than that of Master & Commander, for instance the Guns don’t recoil back.

Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N., 1951. Plays in 1807. It’s actually quite true to the books, and captures Hornblowers personality a bit better than the series. From a historical perspective it’s not bad, but you’ll notice several wrong things. The uniforms for instance are the 1787-1795 pattern.

War on Land

Waterloo, 1971. Tells the story of Napoleons defeat. In my opinion, the characters don’t match, and it concentrates way too much on the psyche of Napoleon. Nice battle tough.

The Duelists, 1977. Two Hussar officers become enemies and duel themselves over the course of the napoleonic war several times. Very nicely done.

Barry Lyndon, 1975. The story starts somewhere around the seven years war 1754 and tells the rise and decline of the fortunes of said Barry Lyndon. Only the first half is about war, but contains a very nice display of a regiment.

Sharpe Series

the series spans from 1809 to 1815.

Transkribieren ist schwer

Sunday, January 15th, 2006

VorlageAber ich musste ja unbedingt “Sol ich mich rihten nah dem A” von Ulrich von Singenberg selber transkribieren, nachdem ich ein Faksimile von der Manessischen Liederhandschrift gefunden habe. Das ergab dann diese Vorlage, und zusammen mit einer alten Kasette “Minne gebiutet mir, daz ich singe” von Max Schiendorfer und Urs Böschenstein wo drei der Lieder von Ulrich von Singenberg drauf sind (ausserdem: “As Hilft Ane Sinne Kunst” und “Swer sich des staetes vriundes dur ubermuot beheret”) hab ich es transkribiert.

Die Hauptschwierigkeit haben Abkürzungen geboten, bei welchen nicht ganz klar war was er meint. Und der Text war sehr liberal apostrophiert. Es braucht ein bisschen um “d’nv” als “de nu”, “der nun” zu erkennen. Auch Worte die nichts bedeuten (“wu”, “hu”) und Worte die etwas bedeuten (“A”, “C” — er meint scheinbar die Tonlage) voneinander zu unterschieden ist manchmal schwierig.

Nebstbei bin ich auf die Codices Electronici Ecclesiae Coloniensis gestossen, welche auch noch Codices eingescannt haben, darunter auch der Codex 1305 welcher alte Weihnachtslieder wie “In Dulci Jubilo” oder “Resonet In Laudibus” enthalten soll. Ich konnte aber nichts finden, vielleicht ist das ein anderer Codex 1305.

Ausserdem hab ich ein paar Web-Pages aktualisiert. Eine neue version von Ai Vist Lo Lop gibts nun auf und eine neue version von Steinmars “Ein Kneht, Der Lag Verborgen” auf

Magical Medieval Barrier

Thursday, January 1st, 2004

Why are the middle-ages completely fuck-upped?

Maybe I am a bit preoccupied with the middle-ages through my hobby as
amateur-historian (reenactment, living-history, or a bit high-flying:
experimental archaeology), but still I think I have a broad overview
on how things in later epoques should look, as well.

The question thus is this: Why do people, particularly people
producing movies, have good judgement about what is historically
correct and what not as long as it doesn’t come to the

There are loads of good movies out there playing in the 19th, 18th,
17th and sometimes even the 16th century, in which the regisseurs
got the whole scenery together perfectly. Everything fits, people
wear the historically correct shoes, have the correct weapons,
the correct things of daily use, and so on. As far as I can tell,
that is. Maybe they’re terribly wrong too, but I really think
with my knowledge I can tell that they’re mostly correct. No really
big mishaps. No Shoes from the 19th century in movies of the 17th.

So why the hell does it happen that all those things appear in
movies which play in the middle ages? It would be understandable
if the 13th and the 15th century get mixed up; it would be even
understandable if the 10th and the 15th century would get mixed
up. But how can people loose obviously everything they know about
history (plus even the ability to do some days research or ask
somebody who knows) when it comes to the middle-ages?

Instead we get a complete made-up fantasy-world, where everything
apart from the date (like 1326) and some well-known facts (england at
war with france) is complete, utter bogus. In contrast to the movies
people didn’t wear riding boots from the 19th century in the middle-ages.
People didn’t risk their houses by using torches indoors. People also
didn’t wear “Jute”-rags. Neither did they wear leather, apart from
aprons. People also had houses which walls were as tightly made as
possible, and not something where you could look through. Knights
did take off their armour when not expecting a battle. And their
gloves when tending the wounded.

And the list goes on and on. Just about every movie with a medieval
setting (and I don’t even mean the a bit more fantasy-ones like those
king arthur-themes) makes itself guilty of historical inaccuracies
in the magnitude of being 500 to 1000 years off. And that might be
well 1000 years into the future if you take the haircuts. Do you
really think william the conqueror had the same haircut as a bank-clerk
in the year 2000? And funny enough, in movies playing in, say 1750, you
don’t see these, of course.

The question is now, where does it come from. Do all the people doing
medieval-themed movies get their picture of the middle-ages from some
other bad medieval-themed movie?

I really don’t know. This is so weird.

Peter Keel,