Lucerne Hammer at a Glance
What is a Lucerne hammer?
The Lucerne hammer is a type of polearm weapon, which combines the features of a stabbing, striking, and polearm weapon. It was used extensively by European infantrymen from the 15th century up to the middle of the 17th century.
What is the origin of the Lucerne hammer?
The Lucerne hammer has its roots in 14th-century Switzerland, particularly the Lucerne canton, which is where it gets its name. Swiss mercenaries (foot soldiers) earned renown during this period, inspiring numerous late-medieval armies to adopt their tactics and equipment, such as this weapon.
What is the design of the Lucerne hammer?
The shaft of the Lucerne hammer was at least 60 inches (150 cm) in length or as long as 95 inches (240 cm). The weapon mostly weighed between 4.5 and 13 lbs (2–6 kg) and could go as high as 31 lbs in exceptional cases, for instance, as a parade weapon. The weapon was often shown as a long pole with a vertical spike and a sharp hammer fashioned as the hitting spot, along with a horizontal beak on the back.
What was the purpose of the Lucerne hammer?
The Lucerne hammer was used as a pole weapon that operates on the concept of shock-penetrating, like the voulge (the English bill) or the French guisarme polearms. It was developed to counter cavalry forces of France and the German nations. The cutting area of the halberd was ineffective against the protective armor of the rider, necessitating a weapon with a more effective piercing characteristic that has a pike to fend off the organized charge of the mounted warriors.
How did the Lucerne hammer operate?
The Lucerne hammer operated on the concept of shock-penetrating, like the voulge (the English bill) or the French guisarme polearms. The weapon was so successful that it was used for three centuries, only to be replaced when firearms became more common and more advanced.
In the late 15th century, Switzerland became home to a new form of battle hammer known as the Lucerne hammer. It was essentially the same edged weapon as the war hammer, horseman’s pick, and the Bec de Corbin, which were widely used throughout Europe around the same period. However, the Lucerne hammer also had some unique differences when compared to similar cold weapons of the time. Like the Bec de Corbin, it is a “combined arm,” which combines the features of a stabbing, striking, and polearm weapon.
|Type of weapon:||Polearm|
|Other names:||The Swiss polearm|
|Region of origin:||Switzerland|
|Distribution:||Switzerland, England, France, Scotland, Holy Roman Empire|
|Length:||Around 5–7 ft (150–210 cm)|
|Weight:||Between 4.5–13 lbs (2–6 kg), or rarely as high as 31 lbs (14 kg)|
Lucerne Hammer’s History and Origin
This kind of two-handed war hammer, characterized by a very long spike at the top, has its roots in 14th-century Switzerland. In particular (or at least mostly), the Lucerne canton of Switzerland; thus, the name.
Due to the massive employment of foot troops in that period and area, whose triumphs started to indicate the demise of heavy cavalry and the resurrection of infantry, these sorts of two-handed infantry weapons were generally Swiss or Central European in origin.
During this period, Swiss mercenaries (foot soldiers) earned renown, inspiring numerous late-medieval armies to adopt their tactics and equipment, like the Lucerne hammer.
From the 15th century up to the middle of the 17th century, the Lucerne hammer was a popular weapon among European infantrymen, especially the Swiss army.
Several nations, including Switzerland, England, France, Scotland, and the Holy Roman Empire, used this weapon often. Today, the weapon has been relegated to a purely ceremonial or parade role.
The word Lucerne, the name of a canton in Switzerland, is said to be the inspiration for the name of this polearm. The term came from the fact that several of these medieval weapons were imported from Lucerne, which suggested the city as the inventor of the Lucerne hammer.
Lucerne Hammer’s Design
The shaft of the Lucerne hammer was at least 60 inches (150 cm) in length or as long as 95 inches (240 cm). The weapon mostly weighed between 4.5 and 13 lbs (2–6 kg) and could go as high as 31 lbs in exceptional cases, for instance, as a parade weapon.
The weapon was often shown as a long (up to 80 in; 2 m) pole with a vertical spike (about 20 in; 0.5 m) and a sharp hammer fashioned as the hitting spot, along with a horizontal beak on the back. The hammer was made with multiple protrusions.
There was a lengthy “beak” placed on one side. It was similar to the one on the horseman’s pick. The goal with this hook blade was to grab the enemy, particularly the cavalry, and bring the target to the ground.
The reverse end of the Lucerne hammer was fashioned into a “stunning” hammer with teeth or a sledgehammer with several heads. Some Lucerne hammers included hammer teeth that were sharpened to a pretty high degree. In contrast, the same hammer head on the Bec de Corbin was pretty much blunt.
The efficiency with which the enemy could be grabbed, and piercing wounds inflicted upon the target was enhanced by forging additional side spikes onto each Lucerne hammer.
The Primary Parts of the Lucerne Hammer
There were four primary components of the Lucerne hammer:
The spike‘s length of up to 20 inches (0.5 m) and its penetrating design allowed infantrymen to use this weapon just like a spear. The primary function of the spike was to maintain close proximity to the opponent. In order to improve the likelihood of the spike penetrating the armor, it was designed to be rather thin (it was thicker and shorter in Bec de Corbin).
The beak was the key part of the weapon designed to penetrate armor. In contrast to the piercing spike, this one was side-mounted and could be swung to deliver a blow. The lengthy shaft allowed for a wider arc of swing and more velocity, resulting in a tremendous impact force. The focused force was strong enough to make a pinpoint hole in the armor. The beak was also used as a hook to help dismount the rider. But the beak could get stuck in the victim after a very powerful strike, rendering the weapon useless.
The hammer was employed to stun a heavily armored foe. It was common practice to divide the hammer into two or even four pieces. It was positioned across from the beak, acting as a balance. The piercing effect was achieved by separating the lengthy portions of the hammer, which also increased the hammer’s striking power. One or more teeth were added to the surface of the hammer to help focus the energy of an impact.
The basic idea behind this was the same as for the beak, only the impact energy was spread out throughout the surface instead. The blow left the opponent dazed but alive. When the enemy’s shell-shocked behavior persisted, he could be captured and held for ransom. Instead of holes, the hammer head created dents in the armor, allowing for somewhat undamaged prizes to be taken.
The shaft provided the Lucerne hammer with its most crucial defensive feature: length. The standard length of the shaft on the most commonly used versions for infantry was 60 to 80 inches (1.5-2 m). Infantrymen and cavalrymen could also use shorter shafts that were designed for use with just one hand, similar to a horseman’s pick. To prevent cutting, metal was sometimes pounded onto the wooden shaft at the tip of the head.
In order to protect the user’s hand during close combat, a guard was often affixed to the shaft of one-handed models. Depending on its size, the Lucerne hammer could weigh anywhere from 4.5 to 13 lbs (2–6 kg).
The Purpose of the Lucerne Hammer
Based on its intended usage, the Lucerne hammer is classified as a pole weapon that operates on the concept of shock-crushing or, more accurately, shock-penetrating, like the voulge (the English bill) or the French guisarme polearms.
Some think that the military engagements of the Swiss infantry against the cavalry forces of France and the German nations led to the development of the Lucerne hammer. Classic halberds were useless against riders since they were armed with similarly high-quality defensive arms as their horses.
This could be because, during battles between infantry and cavalry, the cutting area of the halberd was ineffective against the protective armor of the rider, necessitating a weapon with a more effective piercing characteristic that has a pike to fend off the organized charge of the mounted warriors. The Lucerne hammer refers to one such instrument.
This weapon was so successful that it was used for a long time, only to be replaced when firearms became more common and more advanced.
The French “Bec de Corbin” (lit. “crow’s beak” or “raven’s beak”) was quite similar to the Lucerne hammer, differing mostly in the length of the handle and the shape of the hammer head.
The Operation of the Weapon
The medieval troops often employed the Lucerne hammer for close-quarters fighting. It was a polearm with a long shaft, a hammer head at one end, and a beak at the other.
The opponent was mostly struck with the protruding hammer head instead of the “beak,” while the vertical spike could be pushed into and through armor like a spear, often resulting in fatal damage.
Soldiers used a Lucerne hammer as a two-handed weapon to attack their adversaries by gripping the shaft with both hands and swinging the hammer head. The beak or the shorter spike could be used both as a stabbing weapon and as a slashing weapon, like a little axe.
When used against highly armored foes, the Lucerne hammer’s vertical spike proved exceptionally effective. The flexibility of this medieval weapon made it a useful arm in almost all types of conflicts.
The Significance of This Weapon
These polearm hammers were typically two meters long, did not have guards, and had a somewhat ironed shaft. The heads of these weapons often included a sharp spike or straight prong, while the counterweight (a hammer) typically featured two or four “pairs” of semi-blunt spikes, designed to prevent strikes from gliding over metal armor.
Its sharp, vertical spike, which is longer than an elbow, is what sets it apart from other polearms and was a natural progression of infantry weapons as they evolved to face the big Gothic plate armors.
The Lucerne Hammer may not be the most “original” weapon, but it’s really a two-handed battle axe, like the Bec de Corbin, with a sharper point. It did pave the way for the widespread adoption of long-handled polearms like the halberd and spontoon by military forces. The Swiss developed a unique reputation for this kind of weapon as a result of their military successes.
Bec de Corbin vs. Lucerne Hammer
In medieval Europe, polearms like the Bec de Corbin and the Lucerne Hammer were commonly used edged weapons. They were both made up of a long rod with a spiked head that resembled a hammer. There were, however, significant distinctions between the two types of arms:
- The “beak” of the Bec de Corbin was favored above the hammer head for most of the attacks. In contrast to the multi-pronged Lucerne, the hammer of the Bec de Corbin was often blunt and placed there to balance the attacks.
- The beak of the Bec de Corbin was also typically thicker and longer, making it ideal for ripping through plate armor, mail, or gambeson (gambeson defensive jacket).
- The Bec de Corbin’s spike affixed to the crown of the weapon was likewise much shorter but thicker than that of the Lucerne.
- Compared to the Bec de Corbin, the Lucerne hammer had a larger spike that protruded from the top. On occasion, it had been discovered that this weapon also had spikes on the side of its head.
Both weapons worked well for piercing or destroying armor, while the forward-pointing beak could be employed for spearing.
Poleaxe vs. Lucerne Hammer
Sometimes, the Lucerne Hammer is also referred to as the “poleaxe.” A prime example of this is the exhibited hammer known as the “poleaxe” in the Wallace Collection in England, which is a similar weapon to the Lucerne hammer but features a large axe head instead of a beak, the hammer head is less protruding, and its vertical spike is thicker.
Drawbacks of the Lucerne Hammer
The lucerne hammer, also called a battle hammer or polehammer, was designed to break through armor. There were benefits to it, but there were also drawbacks:
- Sophisticated: The lucerne hammer was a sophisticated weapon that combined a spike, a hammer, and a hook (beak) into a single unit. This made the weapon more costly than others and more complicated to produce and maintain.
- Slow: Since the lucerne hammer was designed to break through armor, it was not as effective against those who were not clad in protective gear. A mace or sword, which are both very basic weapons, could prove more effective against unarmored foes.
- Hefty: The lucerne hammer was a heavy weapon, requiring considerable muscle to swing. This made it less useful for combatants with smaller size.
- Customs and Culture in Poland under the Last Saxon King: Selections from Opis obyczajów za panowania Augusta III by father Jędrzej Kitowicz, 1728-1804: Kitowicz, Jędrzej, Swan, Oscar E.: 9789633862759: Amazon.com: Books
- A Glossary of the Construction, Decoration and Use of Arms and Armor: in All Countries and in All Times – George Cameron Stone, July 2 1999.