Fantastic Flails and Where to Find Them: the Body of Evidence for the Existence of Flails in the Early and High Medieval Eras in Western, Central, and Southern Europe

Alistair Holdsworth

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Abstract

Flails are one of the more contentious and misunderstood classes of medieval weaponry, despite their prevalence in popular media: some researchers question their existence entirely and the bulk of historians are sceptical of widespread temporal and geographical prevalence while others, and a significant volume of period evidence, would argue the contrary. While the expansive use of flails in Eastern Europe and Byzantium is familiar, many Central, Western, and Southern European sources are less well-known or largely forgotten, especially those stemming from the later-early and early-high medieval eras (up to 1250). In this work, I collate and discuss the bulk of the available literary references and artistic depictions of flails and their use alongside some of the archaeological finds from Western, Central, and Southern Europe, with an emphasis on the 12th and 13th Centuries. The significance of this volume of evidence is examined, and an assessment of flails as a part of medieval culture and warfare is considered. Collectively, this would suggest that knowledge of flails as instruments of war and associated cultural connotations, if not their actual prevalence and use in warfare, was far more widespread across Europe this time period than has been previously estimated.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherMDPI Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 30 Oct 2023

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