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Thread: Over or Under?

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    Villiage Idiot Member antisocialmunky's Avatar
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    Default Over or Under?

    Its sad to see the forum devoid of lively debate about historical controversies. I suppose that will change when EB2 comes out and people start posting about where the LS has gone.

    To address this (and because I'm doing research for some art) I've decided to revive the age old Boxers/Briefs debate of how Hoplites in a phalanx formation held their spears. Did they do underarm or overarm or both? It seems like the general consensus seems to be on overhand when in their tightly packed formation but some modern scholarship seems to argue otherwise (Storm of Spears which I'm waiting to arrive form amazon as I write this).

    As far as I can recall, the primary arguments for overhand/underhand in phalanx are:

    Overhand:
    -You can stab down past the shield into the neck and shoulders of your opponent
    -You can interlock your shields
    -You avoid accidentally stabbing your own guys in the nuts with the Dory's buttspike.
    -Other cultures existing in different times who used interlocking round shield walls are depicted using overhand technique (Normans in the Battle of Hastings Tapestry)
    -Other cultures who didn't use interlocking shield walls also used overhand techniques

    Underhand:
    -Less tiring
    -Can Parry
    -Can Brace the spear against the ground against cavalry
    -Frontal damage to armor from the period (of course if you are overhand, you try to stab past the shield and breastplate).

    Both:
    -There are things that underhand are good at and there are things that overhand are good at
    -Both are depicted in classical period art frequently

    My current opinion is that overhand was used predominantly in the phalanx with underhand used for specific situations (cavalry charge) but that might change when I read Storm of Spears. Otherwise, underhand and overhand were probably both quite common in single combat because there are advantages to both. The Illiad contains many instances of single combat between heroes and the fatal wound distribution seems fairly even. I guess Diomedes stabbing Aphrodite, trying to kill Apollo, and impaling Ares with a spear doesn't count.

    Is there anything I missed?
    Last edited by antisocialmunky; 10-19-2013 at 22:02.
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  2. #2

    Default Re: Over or Under?

    As a historian and reenactor, almost always overhand. Underhand can be braced, and is therefor ideal for holding cavalry, and when on horseback will allow the most efficient transfer of momentum.
    Overhand is best for most situations. In close combat, as it's not possible to even hold a spear underhand without hitting someone in your formation. Also works better; as your aim in any shield wall is to strike those to your left and right, the person in front of you being too well protected and too obvious of your actions.
    Your arguments in favor of underhand are not true. It's no less tiring, just uses different muscles than you might be used to. A spear cannot be used to parry very well in any situation. You don't jam your spear in the ground to brace against horses. You stick it out as far in front of you as you can, whilst still being able to balance it, and rely on either the animal refusing to charge the wall of pointy sticks, or that the weight of your formation robs them of any impetus. So overhand is as good here, as you can close ranks and better brace yourselves. Hitting someone dead on with any weapon is what armor is designed to negate. Coming from an overhand position you have a better chance of hitting something important. In single combat, you wouldn't use a spear. A spear is for formation fighting.

    I've debated this before in academic circles, and I used to think it was a mix of the two. Then I tried actually fighting in that way. Overhand is the only way to go.
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  3. #3
    Member Member wudang_clown's Avatar
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    Default Re: Over or Under?

    Just out of curiosity: which parts of the body do you mostly use when using spear overhand?

  4. #4

    Default Re: Over or Under?

    Forearm and Bicep, using underhand is more shoulder and biceps.
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    COYATOYPIKC Senior Member Flatout Minigame Champion Arjos's Avatar
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    Default Re: Over or Under?

    To add to Bodeni's post, the Styrax/Sauroter/butt-spike weights specifically to shift the point of balance in favour of an overhand grip...

  6. #6

    Default Re: Over or Under?

    Unfortunly in Battle of Nations competitions (medieval full contact) spears aren't allowed, but during battle simulations in some viking/slavic festivals they do use both over and under with sucess, with or without shieldwall formation.


    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PrmV-1IRnTU
    Last edited by LusitanianWolf; 10-23-2013 at 13:35.



  7. #7
    ΤΑΞΙΑΡΧΟΣ Member kdrakak's Avatar
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    Default Re: Over or Under?

    1) What happens with injuries sustained (minor or major) during the enactment? Is the whole thing covered legally in some way?

    2) Are the "incapacitated" dudes told by external observers to drop? How does this work?
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    Default Re: Over or Under?

    Quote Originally Posted by kdrakak View Post
    1) What happens with injuries sustained (minor or major) during the enactment? Is the whole thing covered legally in some way?
    Dont know, I've never been there, but I guess there should some insurance you pay when you join to cover that expenses. I've tried to find information regarding injuries in the Wolin Festival (using google translator since the information is in Polish) and the only thing I could find was regarding a single injury that was not even that serious! But that doesnt seem right, in the Medieval Armoured Combat League (Battle of the Nations) they have better armour, strict rules (like no thrusting attacks), battles are smaller (5x5 and 21x21) and much more organized and yet they talk about injuries like broken bones (more than expectable in such a violent sport). In the other hand, the Wolin festival seem much more chaotic and I could find almost nothing talking about that (but again, I don't read polish).



    Quote Originally Posted by kdrakak View Post
    2) Are the "incapacitated" dudes told by external observers to drop? How does this work?
    Again, I'm not sure, In the BotN group battles you are out only once you hit the ground (so wrestling and tackles are usualy more effective than sword attacks), but in the Wolin it looks like they drop after being hit by weapons, maybe its like Airsoft where you have to be honest and declare yourself dead, and the observers are there to see if people follow that rule (and to prevent anyone dying for real). Still it must suck to play dead with that many people stomping around XD
    Last edited by LusitanianWolf; 10-23-2013 at 18:48.



  9. #9
    Member Member wudang_clown's Avatar
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    Default Re: Over or Under?

    The festival is a mass event and as such it has to comply with law, so everything that is in programme, including reenactments of armed clashes, is legally covered. I have only found a set of rules concerning such clashes during a different event, but I'm quite sure it's the same or almost the same for each and every event. So, reenactors who want to participate in such a fight are obliged to buy "accident insurance" (I don't know how to translate it better, but I think it's self-explanatory) and they agree to participate in it on their own responsibility.

    As for injuries, I don't know. On the one hand, clashes seem to be pretty violent, so the chances of being injured seem to be quite high. On the other hand, those people are well armoured, and their arms are replicas, not real weapons, so their damage value, so to speak, is as low as possible (official rules of the festival forbid both the participants and the public to posses weapons, including melee weapons, in the area of the festival).

  10. #10

    Default Re: Over or Under?

    Quote Originally Posted by wudang_clown View Post
    The festival is a mass event and as such it has to comply with law, so everything that is in programme, including reenactments of armed clashes, is legally covered. I have only found a set of rules concerning such clashes during a different event, but I'm quite sure it's the same or almost the same for each and every event. So, reenactors who want to participate in such a fight are obliged to buy "accident insurance" (I don't know how to translate it better, but I think it's self-explanatory) and they agree to participate in it on their own responsibility.

    As for injuries, I don't know. On the one hand, clashes seem to be pretty violent, so the chances of being injured seem to be quite high. On the other hand, those people are well armoured, and their arms are replicas, not real weapons, so their damage value, so to speak, is as low as possible (official rules of the festival forbid both the participants and the public to posses weapons, including melee weapons, in the area of the festival).
    Thank you! I have a cousin living in Poland, maybe in the near future (next years) I'll pay him a visit that by coincidence will be at the same time as the Wolin Festival :P

    Totaly unrelated note: Broken Crescent Rocks!!!!!

    Back to topic:
    My point is - if people are able to use it today with success under free full contact conditions (as oposed to choreographed fighting as in movies and demos) is because it works so there is no reason to assume that wouldn't have worked for ancient people as well.

    Another video: duel/sparring with spears and using both underhand and overhand.
    Last edited by LusitanianWolf; 10-23-2013 at 22:53.



  11. #11

  12. #12

    Default Re: Over or Under?

    I never said underhand was impossible, just that overhand makes more sense and correlates with historical sources (from early medieval all the way back to classical)

    Some criticisms I have of many reenacting techniques are that we don't have 100% accurate equipment, due to safety mostly, and although the aesthetic effects are minimal, the way this affects the fighting technique is noticeable. Another is that, even the most devoted of us do not get to go through both the fighting drills and the day to day labours that would have a huge impact on our physiology. A final, and by far the most poignant, is that you're not facing death. This is something that affects all sorts of simulation, from reenacting to video games. Knowing that death is a very real and, depending on the warrior's religious views, very final problem.
    I mention this because in both RTW and in reenacting everyone acts far too eager and gung ho. Reading tales of heroics, we often forget that these stories are there to help people overcome the fear they would face. In truth, we have no idea how the people of this era fought.
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    Villiage Idiot Member antisocialmunky's Avatar
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    Default Re: Over or Under?

    I wouldn't say that people today have no idea how people fought back then, you probably have as much knowledge as a non combatant had back then. If you look at war today, most people have no idea how battles in modern warfare are fought and managed. They just know how the soldiers look, how they are armed, and some general idea that they shoot at other guys with guns and rockets and stuff just like people on this forum know how hoplites were equipped and have some general idea that they pushed and stabbed each other.

    War, combat, and life or death situations breed a certain type of pragmatism that isn't readily evident in other parts of human experience because complexity and cleverness tend to break down in the face of trying to manage chaos. So it seems to me that you can get a pretty general picture of how these battles worked by just thinking through it and eliminating anything that seems too complex (unreliable) or dangerous (stupid).

    At least that's my point of view.

    PS. I'm wondering what people thing about this guy's ideas on Hoplite Combat:
    http://hollow-lakedaimon.blogspot.co...le-part-1.html
    http://hollow-lakedaimon.blogspot.co...le-part-2.html

    I think its one of the more realistic takes on hoplite combat because it seems to make sense from what's been observed in modern reenactment of medieval combat (which is magnitudes more common than hoplite reenactment). It also seems to make sense of other pieces of hoplite kit such as why highly-curved, single-edged chopping swords or daggers were preferred hoplite side arms.
    Last edited by antisocialmunky; 10-26-2013 at 06:51.
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    The Rhetorician Member Skullheadhq's Avatar
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    Default Re: Over or Under?

    Quote Originally Posted by antisocialmunky View Post
    Its sad to see the forum devoid of lively debate about historical controversies.
    The forum has been calm as of late. Back in the days there used to be a lot more traffic.
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    Villiage Idiot Member antisocialmunky's Avatar
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    Default Re: Over or Under?

    Yeah I came back and was surprised to see it so depopulated...

    Does anyone have a good explanation of why Greek Hoplites dearmored themselves during the Peloponnese War? Of course the amount of armor a soldier would wear varied by state but it seems like this was a general trend during this period.

    Some argue that the rise of lighter peltasts led to hoplites needing to be more maneuverable. However the Greeks, especially the Athenians and other members of the Delian League had a great deal of experience fighting missile heavy (relative to Greek armies) Persian armies in Asia Minor during the retaking of Ionia before the start of the first Peloponnesian war which didn't seem to cause them as many issues despite the fact that the Aspis was not very missile resistant. In fact the rise of skirmishers occurred during the 2nd Athenian Empire/Corinthian War/Theban Hegemony and this lead to the adoption of more armor and specialized troops to hunt down skirmishers.

    One could also argue that the high body count and the need to fielded larger armies reduced the average amount of equipment that a hoplite could bring to battle but this doesn't explain the Spartans reported armored with only with a Pilos Helm, shield, and not even greaves. You'd think atleast the first couple ranks would have a decent amount of armor. On a side note, I guess this a argument against underhanded spear because you need to open the shield to stab which seems like a terrible idea if you don't have torso armor.

    I guess another argument could be for the innovation of tactics during this period for large armies of hoplites. Interestingly the Greeks did not use much cavalry or even light troops but masses of hoplites so marching them around would be one of the easiest ways of increasing the effectiveness of the hoplite. The reduction in armor may have coincided with the need to move around to out flank enemy positions such as the Spartans at Leuktra getting caught in a marching formation when they were trying to outflank the Thebans. Another example of maneuver was when the Athenians surrounded the Thespians on the Theban left at Delium.
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    The Rhetorician Member Skullheadhq's Avatar
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    Default Re: Over or Under?

    Perhaps because the war was fought on more fronts than any war which preceded it. The war was fought in Attica, the Pelopponese, Thrace, Ionia and Sicily. Moving troops around works better when they're lightly armored. And perhaps the advantage of being heavily armored was lost when your opponent had as much armor as yourself.
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    Villiage Idiot Member antisocialmunky's Avatar
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    Default Re: Over or Under?

    I'm not sure if that explanation makes sense for a few reasons:

    1) It seems like a contradiction to say that if there is an advantage in armor that is lost when equally armored, does it in follow that giving up the armor advantage gives you an advantage?
    2) If you reduce armor to move around, wouldn't that give defenders a huge advantage?
    3) And while battles happened all over the place, usually there were only one or two battles (related) in a given theatre each year because war was expensive and the fighting season was restricted by planting and harvesting times (unless you were Sparta or you paid your troops like Athens did in the later 400's BCE)

    Does anyone have some good books on the subject that specifically details the Peloponnessian War? I've already looked at the Osprey 480-323 BC Hoplite book, Storm of Spears and am currently reading Land Battles in 5th Century BC Greece: A History and Analysis of 173 Engagements to try and get a better picture of how battles were fought during this period.
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    Arrogant Ashigaru Moderator Ludens's Avatar
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    Default Re: Over or Under?

    Quote Originally Posted by antisocialmunky View Post
    Does anyone have some good books on the subject that specifically details the Peloponnessian War? I've already looked at the Osprey 480-323 BC Hoplite book, Storm of Spears and am currently reading Land Battles in 5th Century BC Greece: A History and Analysis of 173 Engagements to try and get a better picture of how battles were fought during this period.
    It's not specifically about the Peloponnesian War, but "Greek Warfare: Myths and Realities" by Hans van Wees is a very useful source.
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  19. #19

    Default Re: Over or Under?

    This post is quite interesting as I wanted to start one on a similar theme, due to having recently read 'Storm of Spears' by Christopher Matthew. I am not a historian by any means and this is my first proper history book I have read, but it was very convincing in its arguments.

    The crux of his argument lies in the depiction of most Hoplite warfare, using spears above their head held in the middle. However this doesn't correspond to the point of balance of the Hoplite spear (being held further back due to the weight of the sauroter). He argues that this represents the missile fighting of an earlier era. he also cites evidence relating to testing with replicas and the like. I would it quite interesting, convincing and well worth a read.

    Btw first post, so be gentle :)

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    Villiage Idiot Member antisocialmunky's Avatar
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    Default Re: Over or Under?

    There is a really funny thing I've discovered on his empirical testing. In 2001, the previous 'definitive' testing of hoplite spear strikes showed that the overarm grip was 5x the power of the underarm (http://www.romanarmytalk.com/19-gree...tart=15#287691, you need to login). Storm of Spear's study shows the exact opposite where underarm is much more powerful than overarm by a similar amount. The only thing they both confirm is that the human arm generates around 45N of force in the best case.

    The possible difference? Christopher did his testing in Australia and the 2001 tests were performed in America. The deciding factor (besides Aussies being opposite) seems to boil down to common throws in predominant sports. American sports almost exclusively perform overarm throws while Australians do not. If you've seen the Mythbuster's 'throw like a girl episode', they discovered that the difference in throwing between men and women normalized by professional ball players turns out to be muscle memory.

    So we come back to square one going back to artwork.

    Also it is unclear whether or not they tested an elastic grip or static grip for overhand stabbing. The elastic one is much more powerful and accurate. It is the same motion you would use with a throwing spear except you don't fully let go of the projectile. Its not the first thing you think of when you try and stab with a static grip if you aren't familiar with it. People tend to grip the spear too hard and angle their attack downward which is inaccurate.
    Last edited by antisocialmunky; 11-24-2013 at 16:42.
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    Default Re: Over or Under?

    When you refer to the elastic grip do you mean that you move the spear (or javelin) at a flatter angle and keep the fingers looser? If so, it would explain one of the other parts in 'Storm of Spears' where it mentioned that the overhand grip was less effective (for Australians) because the wrist doesn't have a great deal of vertical control in that position. So a looser grip on the spear may make the attack far more accurate and powerful. However, this has another set of problems in that it may weaken the grip on the spear and result on it being dropped, probably pretty bad in a fight.

    It is interesting when you say that Australian sports that include throwing (cricket, for example) do not use the overhand throw and yet Americans do in their respective sports. The overarm throw is very common in Australia (I should know I live there ) so it seems strange that would effect his testing in such a way. It is possible that someone with practice could be far more efficient with the overhand thrust than someone with little experience in an underhand attack. But a underhand attack may be easier to learn and use efficiently, even if an overhand attack with practice may be better (or not, given highest force was the same for both attacks).

    However an overhand attack has slightly less range than an underarm attack, something of a great deal of significance when fighting with spears (Macedonian Phalanx>Greek Phalanx). However this is something I am not completely sure of so feel free to correct me.

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    Villiage Idiot Member antisocialmunky's Avatar
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    Default Re: Over or Under?

    Quote Originally Posted by The Gypsy View Post
    When you refer to the elastic grip do you mean that you move the spear (or javelin) at a flatter angle and keep the fingers looser? If so, it would explain one of the other parts in 'Storm of Spears' where it mentioned that the overhand grip was less effective (for Australians) because the wrist doesn't have a great deal of vertical control in that position. So a looser grip on the spear may make the attack far more accurate and powerful. However, this has another set of problems in that it may weaken the grip on the spear and result on it being dropped, probably pretty bad in a fight.
    Yeah, that's what I'm referring to. While you can accelerate the spear a longer distance, draw backs as you said would include less control which means it could be more easily dropped and someone could grab the spear if they had free hands. The Persians at Plataea were said to have grabbed Greek spears to hack the tips off.

    It is interesting when you say that Australian sports that include throwing (cricket, for example) do not use the overhand throw and yet Americans do in their respective sports. The overarm throw is very common in Australia (I should know I live there ) so it seems strange that would effect his testing in such a way. It is possible that someone with practice could be far more efficient with the overhand thrust than someone with little experience in an underhand attack. But a underhand attack may be easier to learn and use efficiently, even if an overhand attack with practice may be better (or not, given highest force was the same for both attacks).
    Feel free to correct me, its mostly speculation. How can two people use basically the same methodology achieve similar measurements and come up with opposite conclusions is somewhat of a mystery. The only real variable are the people and how they are stabbing. Storm of Spears should have addressed this but didn't.
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  23. #23

    Default Re: Over or Under?

    The only real variable are the people and how they are stabbing. Storm of Spears should have addressed this but didn't.
    Yeah a reference to that may have been a good idea but all the same the arguments will continue nonetheless I am sure. Still an interesting subject.

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  24. #24

    Default Re: Over or Under?

    i believe in overhand and this as been much debated in the past

    a movement from up to down as far more places to hit his opponents with then down to up

    also remember the main offenssive weapon of the traditional phallanx was the oychus wich as can be translated as the push to try and break the other phallanx if it failled they went down into the spear fight (the spartans developed a system where instead of spending too long poking at their opponents with their sticks they imediatly changed to their 30 centimeters pocket knifes or short swords once the momentum of the push and the tactical advantage it provided was dissapated )

    so 1st skirmishers
    2nd lock shields and tryed to run over your opponents
    3rd poke them with your bigger sticks
    4th if lenght doesn´t cut it pull out the shorties and cut them
    5th run them down as they leave the batlefield if you still got the stamina (or drop your damm shields and run faster then the dudes fallowing you)

    hoplite warfare was ritualised you wanted your opponent to admit you where the greater power not kill them per se so they tended to pick specific kind of terrains to brawl it off pack your stuff and return home to your wife kids and fields if you won your town merchants could use that path or this port to dock if you lost they had to pay a fee to dock their boats or your sheppards lost their right to graze their sheeps on that side of the river

  25. #25

    Default Re: Over or Under?

    I think hoplites would use both overarm and underarm.

    Overarm when in tight shieldwall formation, as underarm is impossible when densely packed. Your fellow hoplite standing on your left will have half his shield protecting your right hand side (which also obstructs you using your spear underarm (as it is in your right hand). The hoplite aspis has it's handgrip at the right hand edge, not the middle like a Gallic or Roman shield.

    Underarm use would be ideal for the hoplite when he's out of the close, tight formation. When would he be out of formation? When the enemy's morale breaks, and they turn their backs to run away. Then - and only then - is it safe to burst out of formation, and use your spear underarm, taking advantage of the longer reach of underarm, to stab the fleeing enemy in the back and kill them. The majority of hoplite casualties occurred, from what I've read, after one side had suddenly become a panic-stricken mob and turned to flee, not during the head-on clash and shoving match.
    Last edited by Titus Marcellus Scato; 12-12-2013 at 15:40.

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    Villiage Idiot Member antisocialmunky's Avatar
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    Default Re: Over or Under?

    Hey Bodeni, if you are still around I have a few questions regarding the Aspis.

    How do you balance with a 10-12kg shield strapped to your arm? Does resting it on your shoulder actually help or do you have to put it down and rest frequently. Xenophon also described a resting position where you hold it against your body. Its described as resting upon the user's beard and thigh. I need to draw that pose but I can't find good pictures of people doing it. Do you have any idea?
    Last edited by antisocialmunky; 12-05-2013 at 18:23.
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  27. #27

    Default Re: Over or Under?

    Quote Originally Posted by antisocialmunky View Post
    Hey Bodeni, if you are still around I have a few questions regarding the Aspis.

    How do you balance with a 10-12kg shield strapped to your arm? Does resting it on your shoulder actually help or do you have to put it down and rest frequently. Xenophon also described a resting position where you hold it against your body. Its described as resting upon the user's beard and thigh. I need to draw that pose but I can't find good pictures of people doing it. Do you have any idea?
    Ah, I do have a 10kg shield, but as a Keltoi it's not an aspis. I do find that in a bracing position, with one foot leading, it is quite practical to rest a reinforcing beam on your leg. I imagine it's the same principle, just takes the edge off when you're not in direct danger, but obviously keeping the shield as far away from you as possible is a priority in combat. Although (on wikipedia of all places...) I found this: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikiped...ungen_8966.jpg Which probably shows what Xenophon is describing.
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    Villiage Idiot Member antisocialmunky's Avatar
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    Default Re: Over or Under?

    Oh Cool, thanks for that picture.

    Since I've gotten your attention, if this the sort of reenactment you do?
    Fighting isn't about winning, it's about depriving your enemy of all options except to lose.



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    Default Re: Over or Under?

    Quote Originally Posted by antisocialmunky View Post
    Oh Cool, thanks for that picture.

    Since I've gotten your attention, if this the sort of reenactment you do?
    I don't know for sure but I think the video is about actual HEMA fighting and not about reenactment .

  30. #30
    Villiage Idiot Member antisocialmunky's Avatar
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    Default Re: Over or Under?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sint View Post
    I don't know for sure but I think the video is about actual HEMA fighting and not about reenactment .
    I'm not familiar with HEMA actually but it sounds interesting. Is it very popular? I thought they were doing educational reenactment since they have some videos where it looks like they are putting on shows.

    Last edited by antisocialmunky; 12-07-2013 at 07:06.
    Fighting isn't about winning, it's about depriving your enemy of all options except to lose.



    "Hi, Billy Mays Here!" 1958-2009

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