Mace

An advance on the club, a mace is a strong, heavy wooden, metal-reinforced, or metal shaft, with a head made of stone, copper, bronze, iron or steel.

Assorted maces
Assorted maces

The head is normally about the same or slightly thicker than the diameter of the shaft, shaped with flanges, or knobs to allow greater penetration of armour. The length of maces can vary considerably. The maces of foot soldiers were usually quite short (two or three feet). The maces of cavalrymen were longer and better designed for blows from horseback. Two-handed maces ("mauls") could be even larger. The flail is often incorrectly called a mace.

History of the mace

Prehistory

Earthenware mace found near Samotovac
Earthenware mace found near Samotovac
Sculpture of Hanuman carrying the Dronagiri mountain, with a mace in his left hand
Sculpture of Hanuman carrying the Dronagiri mountain, with a mace in his left hand

The mace was first developed around 12,000 BC and quickly became an important weapon. The usage of maces in warfare is described in the Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabarata. These first wooden maces, studded with flint or obsidian, became less popular due to the development of leather armour that could absorb the blows. Some maces had stone heads.

The discovery of copper and bronze made the first genuine metal maces possible.

The ancient world

One of the earliest images of a mace- or club-like weapon is on the Narmer Palette. Maces were used extensively in the bronze age in the near east. Many early cultures were unable to produce long, sharp and sturdy metal blades, which made the mace very popular.

The mace passed out of general use in the iron age, when swords, spears and axes of iron became easier to make. The ancient Romans did not use maces, probably because they had no need for a heavy, armor-smashing weapon, or more likely due to the nature of the Roman infantry fighting style which involved the pilum (or spear) and the gladius (short sword used in a stabbing fashion). The use of a swinging-arc weapon in the well-disciplined tight formations of the Roman infantry would not be practical. The mace would be more useful to individual fighters, not units.

The armies of the Byzantine Empire used maces, especially from horseback.

The European Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages metal armour and chainmail did much to blunt the blows of edged weapons and block arrows and other projectiles. Solid metal maces and war hammers proved able to inflict damage on well armoured knights, as the force of a blow from a mace is large enough to cause damage without penetrating the armour. One example of a mace capable of penetrating armor is the flanged mace. This variation of the mace did not become popular until significantly after knobbed maces. Although there are some references to flanged maces as early as the Byzantine empire circa 1000, it is commonly accepted that the flanged mace did not become popular in Europe until the 12th century. However, flanged mace heads were popular in the northern Muslim world even earlier, as some mace heads have been found into even ancient times. What makes a flanged mace different from other maces is the flanges, protruding edges of metal that allow it to dent or penetrate even the thickest armor.

Maces, being simple to make, cheap and straightforward in application, were quite common weapons. Peasant rebels and cheap conscript armies often had little more than maces, axes and pole arms. Few of these simple maces survive today. Most examples found in museums are of much better quality and often highly decorated. A mace type commonly used by the lower classes, called the Holy Water Sprinkler, was basically a wooden handle, with a wooden or metal head and radiating spikes; the name most likely originates from the similarity to the church object.

Medieval bishops sometimes carried maces in battle instead of swords, so as to conform to the canonical rule which forbade priests to shed blood; unlike sword-strokes or spear-thrusts, the blows from a mace could maim or kill without drawing blood.(dubious assertion) Bishop Odo of Bayeux appears on the Bayeux Tapestry wielding one at the Battle of Hastings (1066), but this practice does not appear to have been universal. For example, Archbishop Turpin wields a sword called "Almace" in The Song of Roland.

Eastern Europe

Maces were very common in eastern Europe, especially medieval Poland and Russia. Eastern European maces often had pear shaped heads. These maces were also used by Hungarian king Stephen the Great who used the mace in some of his wars.

Parliamentary maces

Ceremonial maces are important in many parliaments following the Westminster system. They are carried in by the sergeant-at-arms or some other mace-bearer and displayed on the clerks' table while parliament is in session to show that a parliament is fully constituted. They are removed when the session ends. The mace is also removed from the table when a new speaker is being elected to show that parliament is not ready to conduct business.

Ecclesiastical maces

The term mace is also used for:

  • A short, richly ornamented staff, often made of silver, the upper part furnished with a knob or other head-piece and decorated with a coat of arms, usually borne before eminent ecclesiastical corporations, magistrates and academic bodies as a mark and symbol of jurisdiction.
  • More properly, the club-shaped beaten silver stick (mazza) carried by papal mazzieri (mace-bearers), Swiss Guards (church vergers), in papal chapels, at the consecration of bishops, and by the cursores apostolici (papal messengers); they carry their mace on the right shoulder, with its head upwards. Formerly cardinals had mace-bearers. Mazzieri, once called servientes armorum, or halberdiers, were the bodyguard of the pope, and mazze (maces, Latin clavae, virgae) date back at least to the twelfth century (virgarii in chapter 40 of the Ordo of Cencius).

Pre-Columbian America

The cultures of pre-columbian America used clubs and maces extensively.

The warriors of the Inca Empire used maces with stone or copper heads and wooden shafts.

The Aztecs used a type of wooden club with sharp obsidian blades on the side (the maquahuitl), which can be regarded as a cross between club and sword.

Modern maces

Mace-like weapons made a brief reappearance in the vicious trench warfare of World War I. Trench maces were hand-made and often crude weapons and used in the hand-to-hand combat of trench raiding operations, not unlike the bayonet which, on the other hand, is anything but blunt.

Parade maces

Maces are also used as a parade item, rather than a tool of war, notably in military bands. Specific movements of the mace from the Drum Major will signal specific orders to the band he leads. The mace can signal anything from a step-off to a halt, from the commencement of playing to the cut off. Many drum majors also add an element of showmanship with the mace, spinning it and tossing it in the air. (Some drum majors substitute a smaller baton known as a military baton.)

Heraldic use

Like many weapons, especially from feudal times, one heraldry originated as a military discipline, maces have been used in blazons, either as a charge on the shield or as external ornament(s).

Thus, in France:

  • the city of Cognac (in the Charente département): Argent on a horse sable harnessed or a man proper vested azure with a cloak gules holding a mace, on a chief France modern
  • the city of Colmar (in Haut-Rhin): per pale gules and vert a mace per bend sinister or. Three maces, probably a canting device (Kolben means mace in German, cfr. Columbaria the Latin name of the city) appear on a 1214 seal. The arms in a 15th c. stained-glass window show the mace per bend on argent.
  • the duke of Retz (a pairie created in 1581 for Albert de Gondy) had Or two maces or clubs per saltire sable, bound gules
  • the Garde des sceaux ('keeper of the seals', still the formal title of the French Republic's Minister of Justice) places behind the shield, two silver and gilded maces in saltire, and the achievement is surmounted by a mortier (magistrate's hat)

Chemical mace

Furthermore, the name mace is also given to a chemical means of defence, an aggressive spray which is intended to render an assailant harmless when used on his or her face.

Sources

Most of Wikipedia's text and many of its images are licensed under the
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC BY-SA)

Return to Main Index