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Glaives (from Handbook of Weapon Knowledge: Weaponry in Its Historical Development from the Beginning of the Middle Ages to the End of the 18th Century by Wendelin Boeheim, c. 1890) Glaives by Wendelin Boeheim.jpg
Glaives (from Handbook of Weapon Knowledge: Weaponry in Its Historical Development from the Beginning of the Middle Ages to the End of the 18th Century by Wendelin Boeheim, c. 1890)

A glaive (or glave) is a European polearm, consisting of a single-edged blade on the end of a pole. It is similar to the Japanese naginata, the Chinese guandao and pudao, the Korean woldo, the Russian sovnya, and the Siberian palma  [ ru ].



Typically, the blade is around 45 centimetres (18 in) long, on the end of a pole 2 metres (7 ft) long, and the blade is affixed in a socket-shaft configuration similar to an axe head, rather than having a tang like a sword or naginata. Occasionally, glaive blades were created with a small hook on the reverse side to better catch riders. Such blades are called glaive-guisarmes .

According to the 1599 treatise Paradoxes of Defence by the English gentleman George Silver, the glaive is used in the same general manner as the quarterstaff, half pike, bill, halberd, voulge, or partisan. Silver rated this class of polearms above all other individual hand-to-hand combat weapons.

Image taken from the Morgan Bible (Folio 10 Verso - top). Notice the Warbrand in the forefront slicing into a mounted soldier. Biblia de Maciejowski miniatura h10.jpg
Image taken from the Morgan Bible (Folio 10 Verso – top). Notice the Warbrand in the forefront slicing into a mounted soldier.

The Maciejowski Bible (Morgan Bible) depicts an example of a two-handed glaive used on horseback.

The contemporary term for this weapon may have been faussart , which was used for a variety of single-edged weapons seen as related to the scythe (along with terms such as falchion , falcata, or fauchard derived from falx , the Latin term for "scythe").

It has been argued that the glaive had its origin in Wales, and that it remained a national weapon until the end of the XVth Century. Grose mentions a warrant (Harleian MS., No. 433) issued to Nicholas Spicer, dated the first year of Richard III's reign, 1483 for enrolling of smiths for "the making of two hundred Welsh glaives" – twenty shillings and sixpence being the charge for thirty glaives with their staves, made at Abergavenny and Llanllowel. [2]

Other uses of the word

The word "glaive" has historically been given to several very different types of weapons.

Related Research Articles

Pole weapon Type of melee armament with a long shaft for infantry combat

A pole weapon or pole arm is a close combat weapon in which the main fighting part of the weapon is fitted to the end of a long shaft, typically of wood, thereby extending the user's effective range and striking power. Pole weapons are predominantly melee weapons, with a subclass of spear-like designs fit for both thrusting and throwing. Because many pole weapons were adapted from agricultural implements or other tools in fairly large amount of abundance, and contain relatively little metal, they were cheap to make and readily available. When warfare breaks out and the belligerents have a poorer class who cannot pay for dedicated weapons made for war, military leaders often resort to the appropriation of tools as cheap weapons. The cost of training was minimal, since these conscripted farmers had spent most of their lives in the familiar use of these "weapons" in the fields. This made polearms the favored weapon of peasant levies and peasant rebellions the world over.

A spear is a pole weapon consisting of a shaft, usually of wood, with a pointed head. The head may be simply the sharpened end of the shaft itself, as is the case with fire hardened spears, or it may be made of a more durable material fastened to the shaft, such as bone, flint, obsidian, iron, steel, or bronze. The most common design for hunting or combat spears since ancient times has incorporated a metal spearheadshaped like a triangle, lozenge, or leaf. The heads of fishing spears usually feature barbs or serrated edges.

Halberd Type of pole weapon with axe blade topped with a spike

A halberd is a two-handed pole weapon that came to prominent use during the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. The word halberd is most likely equivalent to the German word Hellebarde, deriving from Middle High German halm (handle) and barte (battleaxe) joined to form helmbarte. Troops that used the weapon were called halberdiers.

<i>Gladius</i> Sword

Gladius is a Latin word meaning "sword", but in its narrow sense, it refers to the sword of Ancient Roman foot soldiers. Early ancient Roman swords were similar to those of the Greeks, called xiphe. From the 3rd century BC, however, the Romans adopted a sword based on the weapons used by the Celtiberians in Hispania late into the Punic Wars, known in Latin as the gladius hispaniensis, or "Hispanic sword".

<i>Naginata</i> Type of pole weapon

The naginata is a pole weapon and one of several varieties of traditionally made Japanese blades (nihonto). Naginata were originally used by the samurai class of feudal Japan, as well as by ashigaru and sōhei. The naginata is the iconic weapon of the onna-bugeisha, a type of female warrior belonging to the Japanese nobility.

The spatha was a type of straight and long sword, measuring between 0.5 and 1 m, with a handle length of between 18 and 20 cm, in use in the territory of the Roman Empire during the 1st to 6th centuries AD. Later swords, from the 7th to 10th centuries, like the Viking swords, are recognizable derivatives and sometimes subsumed under the term spatha.

<i>Yari</i> Japanese straight-headed spear

Yari (槍) is the term for a traditionally-made Japanese blade in the form of a spear, or more specifically, the straight-headed spear. The martial art of wielding the yari is called sōjutsu.


A scythe is an agricultural hand tool for mowing grass or harvesting crops. It is traditionally used to cut down or reap edible grains, before the process of threshing. The scythe has largely been replaced by horse-drawn and then tractor machinery, but is still used in some areas of Europe and Asia. Reapers are bladed machines that automate the cutting of the scythe, and sometimes subsequent steps in preparing the grain or the straw or hay.


Naginatajutsu is the Japanese martial art of wielding the naginata (長刀). This is a weapon resembling the medieval European glaive. Most naginatajutsu practiced today is in a modernized form, a gendai budō, in which competitions also are held.

<i>Nagamaki</i> Type of Japanese sword with an extra long handle

The nagamaki is a type of traditionally made Japanese sword (nihontō) with an extra long handle, used by the samurai class of feudal Japan.

Guisarme Type of pole weapon

A guisarme is a pole weapon used in Europe primarily between 1000 and 1400. Its origin is likely Germanic, from the Old High German getīsarn, literally "weeding iron". Like many medieval polearms, the exact early form of the weapon is hard to define from literary references, and the identification of surviving weapons can be speculative.

Fauchard Type of pole weapon

A fauchard is a type of polearm weapon which was used in Europe from the 11th through the 17th centuries. In later use fauchards became ornamental and ceremonial, growing in size until some examples were almost too heavy to carry, let alone use. The design consisted of a curved blade atop a long pole, although in some portrayals, it is shown on a shorter pole. The blade bore a moderate to strong curve along its length. The cutting edge was only on the convex side of the blade, unlike the guisarme or bill. The fauchard was likely developed from the war scythe with the cutting edge turned opposite, convex instead of concave, so that the weapon was good for both thrusting and slashing attacks.


A voulge is a type of polearm that existed alongside the similar glaive in medieval Europe. Superficially, a voulge might strongly resemble a glaive, but there are some notable differences in construction. First, the attachment of the voulge blade to the shaft was usually done by binding the lower two thirds of the blade to the side of the pole; the glaive would often have a socket built into the blade itself and was mounted on top of the pole. In addition, while both had curved blades, that of the voulge was broad and meant for hacking, while that of the glaive was narrow and meant more for cutting. A voulge thus looks something like a squashed bardiche, or just a meat cleaver attached to a long pole. Troops that used the weapon are called voulgiers.

<i>Bisento</i> Japanese pole weapon

A bisentō was a pole weapon used in feudal Japan. The bisentō has various descriptions, "a double-edged long sword with a thick truncated blade", "a spear-like weapon with a blade at the end that resembles a scimitar", "a polearm resembling a glaive, with a long, heavy haft and a heavy, curved blade". The bisentō is said to have been used by ninja and peasants.

<i>Guandao</i> Type of pole weapon

A guandao is a type of Chinese pole weapon that is used in some forms of Chinese martial arts. In Chinese, it is properly called a yanyuedao, the name under which it always appears in texts from the Song to Qing dynasties such as the Wujing Zongyao and Huangchao Liqi Tushi. It is comparable to the Japanese naginata and the European fauchard or glaive and consists of a heavy blade with a spike at the back and sometimes also a notch at the spike's upper base that can catch an opponent's weapon. In addition there are often irregular serrations that lead the back edge of the blade to the spike. The blade is mounted atop a 1.5 m to 1.8 m (5–6 foot) long wooden or metal pole with a pointed metal counter weight used to balance the heavy blade and for striking on the opposite end.

A melee weapon, hand weapon or close combat weapon is any handheld weapon used in hand-to-hand combat, i.e. for use within the direct physical reach of the weapon itself, essentially functioning as an additional extension of the user's limbs. By contrast, a ranged weapon is any other weapon capable of engaging targets at a distance beyond immediate physical contact.

Rhomphaia Ancient Thracian bladed weapon

The rhomphaia was a close-combat bladed weapon used by the Thracians as early as 350-400 BC. Rhomphaias were weapons with a straight or slightly curved single-edged blade attached to a pole, which in most cases was considerably shorter than the blade. Although the rhomphaia was similar to the falx, most archaeological evidence suggests that rhomphaias were forged with straight or slightly curved blades, presumably to enable their use as both a thrusting and slashing weapon. The blade was constructed of iron and used a triangular cross section to accommodate the single cutting edge with a tang of rectangular cross section. Length varied, but a typical rhomphaia would have a blade of approximately 60–80 cm and a tang of approximately 50 cm. From the length of the tang, it can be presumed that, when attached to the hilt, this portion of the weapon would be of similar length to the blade.

War scythe Type of pole weapon with a curved single-edged blade

A war scythe or military scythe is a form of pole weapon with a curving single-edged blade with the cutting edge on the concave side of the blade. Its blade bears some superficial resemblance to that of an agricultural scythe from which it likely evolved, but the war scythe is otherwise unrelated to agricultural tools and is a purpose-built infantry melee weapon. The blade of a war scythe has regularly proportioned flats, a thickness comparable to that of a spear or sword blade, and slightly curves along its edge as it tapers to its point. This is very different from farming scythes, which have very thin and irregularly curved blades, specialised for mowing grass and wheat only, unsuitable as blades for improvised spears or polearms.

The Hyeopdo was a polearm used in Korea. It was also called micheomdo, which could be translated as "eyebrow sword" because the curved blade resembled an eyebrow. The first written reference to a hyeopdo is in a Korean martial arts manual from the 17th century called the Muyeyebobeon Yeoksokjip (무예예보번역속집).

A sovnya is a traditional polearm used in Russia. Similar to the glaive, the sovnya had a curved, single-edged blade mounted on the end of a long pole. This was a popular weapon with late-medieval Muscovite cavalry and retained use until the mid-17th century.


  1. Wendelin Boeheim (1890), "Die Glese und die Couse, figure 396", Handbuch der Waffenkunde. Das Waffenwesen in seiner historischen Entwicklung vom Beginn des Mittelalters bis zum Ende des 18. Jahrhunderts[Handbook of Weapon Knowledge. Weaponry in Its Historical Development from the Beginning of the Middle Ages to the End of the 18th Century.], Seemanns kunstgewerbliche Handbücher, VII, Leipzig: E. A. Seemann, pp. 343–344, OCLC   457086621
  2. "A record of European armour and arms through seven centuries". Retrieved 2017-06-29.
  3. OED s.v. Glaive: "Hatz-Darm. regard OF. glaive as an adapted form of L. gladius (through the stages gladie, glaie, glavie). Ascoli supposes it to represent a Celtic *cladivo- (OIr. claideb sword, Gael. claidheamh). Neither view, however, accounts for the earliest meaning of the word in OF., which is also that of MHG. glavîe, glævîn, MDu. glavie, glaye, Sw. glaven."
  4. OED s.v., section 1, lists examples in this meaning from 1297–1592.
  5. OED s.v., section 2, lists examples in this meaning from ca. 1450–1678.
  6. OED s.v., section 3, lists examples in this meaning from ca. 1470–1887.