Slaganz, the ancient clubman

Origins

Called "Batoroi" in Gaulish, or "Slaganz" in proto-german, this crude weapon carrier was another reason for the "civilized" Romand and Greeks to once more despise the barbarians. To be horrified by such primitive violence, related to supposedly beasty ways of the "unwashed ones", and the fear they inspired. But the fact is a simple wooden club or cudgel was anything but primitive. Neither in its use or manufacture. Because yes, such a weapon could be refine to multiply its lethality. Brushed aside by either ranged weapons, and metal ones, blunt and slahing ones, swords and spears, it nevertheless survived through centuries and millenias. The last use of a wooden mass to kill was allegedly made during the Yugoslavian war in the 1990s, to execute Bosnians prisoners. To the war crime was added the horror of such primitive weapon, as a double effect threat to the targeted people, as well as a form of humiliation.

In this article we will consider all the blunt force weapons, relying on concussion to do untold damage. It went on basically from the neolithic to the XIXth century. The most famous of these early weapons, passed into the cultural and semi-mythical realm was of course the Greek hero Hercules, which was shown bearing a large club. It also resonated through the history of ancien Jewish hero Samson, defeating and entire Phillistine army by using an ox jaw bone. Wether it was called a club, cudgel, baton, bludgeon, truncheon, cosh, or nightstick, this was the simplest, cheapest weapon available - outside wooden-hardened untipped spears- and stones. The user's strenght was a force multiplicator. Both spears/javelins and stones were range weapons, and required more accuracy than strenght, but it was the case for the first one. The club was just the lowest part of a tree which evolved into the mace (using a metal weight to multiply the impact), and the axe, and became the all-metal mace of medieval fame, one of the most feared weapon of that time with the war hammer.

The origin of such weapon is quite obvious: War became real when the first population of hunter-gatherers settled, around vital assets like a river, a well, or a lake for water and a land favourable for hunting or agriculture attracted attention. The best spots and food reserves motivated small scale raids, for which both the defenders and attackers needed some form of weaponry: Crude javelins and spears, stones and... clubs. Evidence was found by examining human remains 10,000 years old, showing obvious examples of blunt-force trauma caused by clubs. The latter was made for close quarter combat and generally a simple, crude, thick wooden staff with the right hardness and shape to it. Not all wood essence were used. Only the hardest ones, like old oak. So this was the close range melee weapon of choice well before the introduction of metalworking. A more elaborate version existed of course by combining a staff and a silex stone, using holes and lacing, to create a primitive axe. The base principle evolved into the proper axe. Maces made with a granit like stone, grinding a hole to fit in the handling stick, was the ancestor of the mace. Stone-like axes suvived as the mail melee weapons in the southern and central americas, and their obsidian blades met by Spanish conquistadors made them reconsider their opinion about non-metal weapons.

Gallic clubmen: Social rank matters

Due to its primitive, cheap nature, the club remained a weapons of choice for populations neither rich to afford better weaponry or possessing metals in quantity. Due to the acception of the social classes in ancient times, notably referring to the Celts (division between peasants, priests and warriors), clubs were associated with peasantry, just like other utilitarian tools: The axe of the forester, the mace of the smith. Together with mass-produced javelins and spears, they were brought in to battle by levies. Peasants drafted in war, often relegating to bolster the rear lines and protect the baggage train, were equipped the way they could. Being that cheap, we can eliminate them from the warriors equipment altogether. The latter due to the client-type relation wit their overlords and chieftain, had the best equipment affordable at the time. Nevertheless, the largest part of any Celtic army was made of levies, drawn from the peasantry in case of major confrontation (like a full scale invasion from another peaople, Helvetii, Germanic tribes, etc). All able-bodied men were pressed into service, and that means a selection was usually made by some of the warrior class supposed to recruit, prepare, and possibly trained them a bit.

The first obvious selection was related to age and possible disability, physical or psychical. The elderly and handicapped in any way were generally kept behind, stuck to the baggage train. The intermediate, youngest and inexperiences, kept as a reserve, and only the fittest, young to mid-aged were kept for the bulk of the levy. From these, a new selection was made, this time mixing physical condition and experience. Those accostumed to hard labour and physical strain and those with perhaps previous fighting experience were kept to be trained a bit better than the rest, and monf these, the strongest, healthier, less prone to panic in face of a battle sight, were given spears and clubs (or axes) which were cheap to manufacture and provide. They generally came from oppida forges and arsenals, kept by the local chieftain for such a purpose. These able men were trained either to use their spear in conjunction to a shield, and those with axes ("batoroi") or "beaters, knockers" or a hammer, like the local smith and his aids, were all though after for special purposes, generally breaking the enemy's shieldwall. So where the cudgel/club bearers fits in ? Probably those "second hand" levies kept in reserve.

The Slaganz: The Germanic slugger

slaganz

In the case of the Germanic tribes, the use of a club is hardly better "documented". The term means "striker". First off, in around 300 BC, Germanic tribes according to Tactitus, practiced a hardy life rythmed by hunting and raids to nearby communities -(including large scale raids in Celtic lands) more than agriculture or herding, but both are now well documented. Nevertheless, metals were a precious commodity, that's a crucial point here. So by that mean, an entire germanic tribe was supposed to count only warriors/hunters and rare specialists (foresters, labourers, smiths, woodswork craftsmen, etc.), aside the taditional aristocratic elite and priests. Due to the small size of most communities and very fragmented nature of ancient Germanic tribes, those chieftains and their close retinue were arguably less wealthy than their Celtic counterparts and only the warriors closest to them were equipped with metal weaponry and armor. These clubmen were the runt of Germanic tribes, notably Suevi hordes.

Outside this small band, all the rest of the warrior clan more resembled a "levy", still, well trained for their particular form of warfare. Again, a distinction as likely to be made between individuals but its more likely each of these warrios simply equipped itself wit the weapons best suited to their fighting style, skills, age and general physical conditions. Younglings were more often equipped to javelins and keep their agility to be kept out of harm's way, while the meaty bulk of these troops simply had a spear (the framea) and a shield. A small numbers however, probably of better physicality were armed, dependng of their own wealth, with a hammer, and axe, or a club.

So with this we are back again in a social distinction. A club was cheap, so easy to afford, and with sufficient skills, it could be, sometimes deadly, but at least able to inflict disabiliting injuries. All then depended of the size and weight of the club, and its hardness. It's also true that that kind of weapon was only efficient if the opponent had limited, or no armour. So it remained efficient in fights between Germanic tribes but started to loose potential when opposed to better equipped Celts, and even more when facing the Romans. By then, it was only efficient in marginal ways on exposed flesh, including legs and head wounds. Strike trauma or blunt-force trauma injuries were possible on all the body, but a head strike was probably the preferred method to eliminate a foe in the heat of battle, as the resulting concussion had the most effect.

Tactics



In ancient German warfare, the club could have been used in conjunction with a shield as well, preferrably small and light not to loose agility, which was required to handle this kind of weapon. In ambush, throwin a few wooden javelins, hardened by fire, could give an extra advantage before the charge. Also called in proto-german "Sloχonez" ("Butchers" or "Mowers") they used cudgel for close combat by shaping heavy boughs of oak, but augmenting their lethality by and inserting bone spikes. Cudgels remained cheap and easy to make, replaceable on any campaign. But with these spikes and the right handling they could punch through armor, preferrably leather, or metal. Since the club or cudgel was such an affordable weapon, using it instead of a spear, had more to do with personal choices than anything else. Those who can afford long war knives as a backup weapon possibly used a simple tactic: Using the club to bring down by sheer force a foe on the ground, and then applying the coup de grace with its knife, when vulnerable. For protection these warriors had nothing but a light shield, and probably avoided armour as also detrimental to their own stamina and agility. These clubmen were only good for quick assaults and mostly effective against armoured opponents. But in a prolongated melee combat, its use was much more hazardous. Wielding a large club would be especially tiring in battle, and like a large axe or sword, lifting it left the bearer's unprotected chest and flanks unprotected. Such warriors were also better in a "budy" environment, typically a forest, than in open and field where they could be taken down by slings, javelins and other ranged weapons with ease.

Evidence

Evidence of ancient Germanic clubs is excessively rare: Wood simply tends to rot over time but still, several clubs were found in the north German Tollense Valley, apparently used in a large Bronze Age battle. Bogs preserved some also in the iron Age, but evidence becomes sketchy. Two wooden clubs and one war-axe were discovered at the Alken Enge site (Denmark) and club-like objects have also been found in a Lower Saxon moor, although some of them could have been mock wooden swords, used for training. Usage was maintained in the Iron Age, only used by the poorest tribesmen, but as time passed, through booty and other means, German warriors gradually accessed to better weaponry and iron-tipped and iron-made weapons became the norm. Though, no metal club was ever found, indicating there was just a better way related to the club to inflic maximal damage while being affordable; The axe, soon to be a favorite among German and scandinavian warfare, but again, for less favorized warriors and levies. Sword was the norm for proper warriors. One is baffling though: An evidence of these could also be seen with the Roman auxilia depicted on Trajan's Column: They possessed swords but choosed to wield clubs, and they were recorded to have taken down units of the feared and notoriously lethal kataphraktoi.

Other examples: The Ropalophoroi

ropalophoroi

This greek term means "club bearer". The Civilized world, again, tried to avoid the club as a melee weapon when there were almost as cheap alternative, like the axe. But some barbarian tribes living in margin of the Hellenic world likely used the club as a melee weapon when the conditions arise, most notably the Illyrian and Thracians. In asia, the club was also a praised wapon, it was used prificiently by Indians warriors as well, in its crude, or elaborated form, with reinforcement bands.

The mace, axe and club all merged into the the medieval "mace", an all-metal spiked club using by the Chivalry, complementary to the war hammer. It survived for centuries. But cudgels were "rediscovered", when used by American Indians during the colonial western expansion of the XVIIIth - XIXth century and indian wars, and was still used by the peasantry in many occasions. During the medieval era, on the completely opposed side of the board, simple monks and religious fanatics also used clubs and cudgels, especially in the context of crusades, and the pilgrims in general. Examples of armed pligrim bands roaming the countryside are describing mostly clubmen rabble.

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