Dates Back to: Upper Paleolithic

The Mace is a weapon, popular in medieval times, that uses a heavy radially symmetric head made of stone, copper, bronze, iron, or steel on the end of a wooden or metallic handle to deliver powerful blows. 

Many mace designs involve some kind of change to the head, for example, flanges or knobs to allow greater penetration of armor. 

The force of a blow from a mace is large enough to cause damage without penetrating the armor. Because they were simple and cheap to make, these types of weapons were common among peasant rebels and conscript armies.

Medieval Weapons: The Mace

History of the Mace

The mace was developed during the Upper Paleolithic from the club by adding sharp spikes of flint or obsidian (an exhibit in the Museum of London shows a stone macehead from c. 2,900 – 2,100 B.C.E). In Europe, Bronze Age archaeology cites numerous finds of perforated mace heads.

Maces are depicted as a weapon used by the Normans in the Bayeux tapestry, which depicts the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings and the Norman conquest of England in 1066. Maces are also shown in the Morgan or Maciejowski Bible of the 13th century, which depicts France’s scenery and customs.

Starting in the 14th Century, maces were the usual weapon of the Cavalieri, mercenary armies of Northern Italy hired by city-states throughout Europe. Armor and weapons for the Cavalieri centered in Milan, which remained separate from Papal rule.

Some believe that the clergy used maces to avoid shedding blood in war (they provided a loophole in which religious men could still fight). Still, the only evidence for this is the depiction of Bishop Odo of Bayeux in the Bayeux Tapestry. 

Types of Maces

Flanged Mace

Flanged maces were capable of penetrating armor. Although there are some references to them (bardoukion) as early as the Byzantine Empire c. 900, flanged maces didn’t become popular in Europe until the 12th century.

 

Knobbed Mace

The earliest known European maces are all knobbed. Although many trace their routes to the knobbed cube form found in the Khazar lands north of the Caucasus in the 9th and 10th centuries, they come in several styles.

Using Maces

Odo of Bayeux, club in hand on the Bayeux Tapestry.
Odo of Bayeux, club in hand, rallies Duke William's troops during the Battle of Hastings in 1066, as shown on the Bayeux Tapestry.

A mace is a blunt weapon, a type of club that uses a heavy head on the end of a handle to deliver powerful strikes. The mace was popular for close combat, especially during the medieval period.

The problem with early maces was that their stone heads shattered easily and were difficult to fix to the wooden handle reliably. With the advent of copper, the heads provided a better fit and resistance. 

The head of a mace shaped with flanges or knobs allows greater penetration of plate armor. The maces of foot soldiers were usually quite short, between two or three feet (sixty to ninety centimeters), while those of cavalrymen were longer and better suited for blows delivered from horseback. 

Famous Maces and Where to See Them

Medieval Maces: 13th Century Europe

Bronze Mace Head

This bronze mace head dates back to the 13th Century and has a foliate decoration.

Arms and Armour display - The British Museum
Medieval Maces: Germany 1470

German Mace c. 1470

This mace has six small flanges pierced with trefoils and broken with small architectural moldings.

European Armoury I - The Wallace Collection
Medieval Maces: Italy

Italian Mace c. 1550

This mace’s head is set with eight triangular-shaped flanges and surmounted by a small knob.

European Armoury I - The Wallace Collection

Gift Ideas

Books About Maces and Other Medieval Weapons

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