Flail (weapon)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
This article is about the weapon. For other uses, see Flail (disambiguation).
A two-handed flail with metal studs

The term flail refers to two different weapons: a two-handed infantry weapon derived from an agricultural tool and a one-handed weapon. The defining characteristic of both is that they involve a separate striking head attached to a handle by a flexible rope, strap, or chain. The two-handed variant saw use in a limited number of conflicts during the European Middle Ages.

The two-handed flail is a hand weapon derived from the agricultural tool of the same name, commonly used in threshing. Only a limited amount of historical evidence exists for their employment in Europe during this era. These were deployed in Germany and Central Europe in the later Middle Ages. This weapon consists of a hinged bar connected to a longer shaft.

In Korea the flail as an agricultural tool is called "dorikke", but as a weapon it is called "pyeongon".[1][2][3] The Japanese terms for their equivalents of the ball-on-a-chain bludgeon are "rentsuru" and "chigiriki", while the Chinese version's name translates vividly into English as meteor hammer.[citation needed]

The two-handed flail[edit]

16th century peasant rebels

Throughout the Middle-Ages, two-handed agricultural flails were sometimes employed as an improvised weapon by peasant armies conscripted into military service or engaged in popular uprisings. For example, in the 1420-1497 period, the Hussites fielded large numbers of peasant foot soldiers armed with flails.[4][5]

However, these weapons often featured anti-personnel studs or spikes embedded in the striking end,[citation needed] so they were not always simple agricultural tools snatched up in a hurry by rural insurrectionists: turning these implements into weapons required some effort and skill. The modified flail was also used in the German Peasants' War in the early 16th century.[6][7]

At a later date, the long-handled flail is found in use in India. An example held in the Pitt Rivers Museum has a wooden ball-shaped head studded with iron spikes. Another in the Royal Armouries collection has two spiked iron balls attached by separate chains.

The chief tactical virtue of the two-handed flail was its capacity to defeat a defender's shield or avoid it entirely. Its chief liability was a lack of precision and the difficulty of using it in close combat, or closely ranked formations.

The one-handed flail[edit]

Modern reproduction of one-handed flail

The European one-handed variant is generally depicted as a short wooden handle connected to one or many metal heads (often spiked) by way of a chain or chains. However, there is considerable debate if these weapons existed during the Middle Ages. They appear rarely in art, and are often seen in non-realistic contexts.

Study of the matter is further complicated by numerous 19th century forgeries that still sit in modern museums. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has three one-handed flails in its collections. One of these has been recently re-evaluated as 'probably mid to late 19th century in [the] style of 16th century'.[8][9][10][11]


Hussite troops with flails on the march

The agricultural flail was not just used as an improvised weapon in Europe. In southeast Asia, short agricultural flails originally employed in threshing rice were adapted into weapons such as the nunchaku or sansetsukon.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "네이버 지식iN :: 지식과 내가 함께 커가는 곳". Kin.naver.com. Retrieved 2012-12-18. 
  2. ^ "네이버 지식백과". 100.naver.com. Retrieved 2012-12-18. 
  3. ^ "VOTE!". Dvdprime.donga.com. 2009-05-08. Retrieved 2012-12-18. 
  4. ^ Stephen Turnbull : The Hussite Wars 1419-36, Osprey MAA 409,2004
  5. ^ media:344Wagenburg der Hussiten.jpg media:Hussites massacre.jpg
  6. ^ Douglas Miller : Armies of the German Peasant's War 1524-26,Osprey MAA 384,2003
  7. ^ media:German Peasants War.jpg
  8. ^ Nikolas Lloyd (1 December 2014). "'Morning Star' flails". YouTube. Retrieved 2015-02-24. 
  9. ^ "Military Flail | German | The Metropolitan Museum of Art". metmuseum.org. Retrieved 2015-02-24. 
  10. ^ "Military Flail | German | The Metropolitan Museum of Art". metmuseum.org. Retrieved 2015-02-24. 
  11. ^ "Military Flail | German | The Metropolitan Museum of Art". metmuseum.org. Retrieved 2015-02-24. 

External links[edit]