Tools of War – Pomeranian Chronicles
Pomerania was a relatively peaceful place for many centuries, but that doesn’t change the fact that there was a need for some kind of military activity virtually all the time. When not defending their borders, they were either organizing raiding parties or waging regular wars on their neighbors. Their main interests were to the south and to the west, that is, to Poland and Denmark, respectively. War, as every craft, requires tools. Let’s speak a bit about the Pomeranian tools of war.
While not the first, certainly the basic kind of weapon, ever since the prehistoric times when it was invented, was the spear. It was primarily used in war, but also for hunting. In Scandinavian Eddas, we may read the words of wisdom that one should never walk without his spear. It was probably a traditional saying among Pomeranians as well, because historians write that practically everyone who was able to, had to have some kind of weapon with him at all times; even women and children.
Spears were not the most comfortable thing to carry around. Slavic spears were nearly 2 meters long, while adults of that time were approximately 165 cm tall. Despite this disparity in proportions, spears were carried anyways because of several reasons. One was prestige. As we may clearly see from chronicles, Pomeranians were judging people by their looks and wealth as much as by their age or fame. That’s why so many of archaeological findings are not simple iron axes, but beautifully sculpted weapons with copper or even silver and golden applications. Spears, axes and especially swords were not only tools of war, but also symbols of the stories and achievements behind their owners. We may add here that warriors would often carry at least two spears since they also used them as a throwing weapon. The best known spears from that time and territory have simple iron points, but some of them were shaped into hooks for bigger damage to the enemy’s body, armor or shield.
Sometimes making a difference between weapons and tools is impossible because regular people were using them both ways. The only case where things are rather clear is the double-sided axe. Even though they look simple, they weren’t certainly used at work. Axes were just another basic part of military equipment, but much easier to make and cheaper than swords. They were the preferred kind of weapon for a variety of situations and for most European people of that time: light, powerful, with many possible uses during a battle, for example, like a hook or a hammer, and they were also throwable. Throwing the axe was actually the method by which one Pomeranian tried to kill Otton from Bramberg. Unfortunately, he missed, and the missile hit the nearby log. It was really hard to take it back out.
Other kinds of weapons commonly used were obviously swords and knives. Knives were excellent in hand-to-hand fighting. Now, most modern historical reconstructions of that period use swords as the basic weapon of choice. In reality, swords were quite rare and were used mostly by wealthy warriors. The sword was a symbol of high status, which is why it’s one of the attributes of Svetovid/Svantevith, the supreme God of the Pomeranians. Giant and beautifully engraved, made from the most precious of stones and metals, the God’s sword was kept in the sanctuary of Arkona.
As a matter of fact, swords were not even the best melee weapon at the time. Reenactors mostly use the double-edged Scandinavian-type swords because they are very light, but Slavic people used swords of a totally different kind. The so-called “Combat Knives” were very big one-bladed swords functioning similarly to the modern machete. There is a legend of a female leader of a small warrior band who participated in the assassination of the Danish king, by the name of Wizna or Wisna (I found it mentioned in one book only). Her men were said to have a unique fighting style. They were fighting bare-chested, wearing their shields on their backs while cutting down enemies with their giant Slavic Combat Knives. There are approximately 20 of these swords found in Pomerania, some of which are covered with silver, or even gold. The swords were imported mostly from Nadrenia and “inherited” after killing wealthy enemies.
Slavs were also famous archers. It is said that they used very big bows. So much so that the warriors of other cultures, who were not accustomed to the size, weren’t able to use them, as their backs weren’t developed and strong enough. Arrows were produced in profuse numbers, with many different materials being used for the arrow points ranging from iron through bone to specific types of stones. The bow was used very widely in most Slavic armies of that time, and there were even specialized archers who formed their separate units. There were even sharp-shooters who were so valuable and deadly that they had their own bodyguards. One of these sharp-shooters is the man described in Snorris’s work on the fall of Konungahela. He was so efficient that the Scandinavians had to sacrifice many lives just to take down this one man.
Shields were used by all warriors, on foot and horseback alike. They were made mostly from wood and hides with occasional metal applications, so we have practically no preserved examples. We do know that in Pomerania two types of shields were used: round shields (mostly used on the sea), and the bigger tear-shaped shields, typical for Slavonic people. The Pomeranians knew how to put them to good use. From the Gesta principum Polonorum (English: Deeds of the Princes of the Poles, also known as the first Polish chronicle) written by Gallus Anonymous, we learn about the formations used by Pomeranians in their battles against the Poles. When approaching their enemies, once they got within the reach of arrows, they would spread and run chaotically so that they would be a hard target for the archers. However, when they got close enough and were standing against infantry or even cavalry, they would form groups of tightly-packed shield-walls. The first row would kneel with long spikes sticking out, the second rows would fill the gaps on top of the the shields in the front, and then those behind them would make a sort of a roof above their heads. Even cavalry was said to struggle against this kind of “Pomeranian testudo,“ and breaking through it was considered a great achievement. Just like all other elements of clothing or weaponry, the shields the wealthier people were using were real pieces of art. An ornamented shield made completely out of gold was kept in the Vieleti sanctury in Wołogoszcz. It was the shield of their God of War – Jarovit.
We don’t know much about armor, but from the Polish chronicle by Gallus we know that the Poles struggled on Pomeranian territory in their heavy armors. Furthermore, Danish and Frankish chronicles mention that heavy cavalry was sometimes suffering big losses in manpower because of the invisible swamps in areas closer to the coast. On the other hand, from what we do know about how the battles with the Poles were conducted, we can infer that there could be no significant differences in the types of forces used. The safest and most logical assumption is that Pomeranians used light armor, made mostly from leather; favorite too among modern reenactors. This kind of armor was much more practical for a coastal people who had to fight frequently in water or wet terrain.
In the second part, we’ll talk about the military use of horses and the battle tactics employed by the Pomeranians.
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