Have you ever watched a movie with expensive cars in it, or a very plausible space ship interior? Ever wondered what it cost to the film makers to have the expensive car in the film being driven around, abused and even wrecked, or the space ship interior being build? Have you ever seen a movie set in the middle ages with an even remotely plausible set of armour in it? I am not talking about Game of Thrones, or the Lord of the Rings as accurate descriptions of medieval history. But movies set on some particular date from actual history. I have seen some, that could pass, if one was not very knowledged in medieval armour and with the understandable suspense of disbelief in any movies. But most seem to have these terrible pieces of armour bought from the sale at the cheapest costume shop in the internet, and all the medieval people including the armoured knights and men-at-arms seem like they woke up in a dump, wearing rags and scrap metal attached to leather around their bodies. Why? Are the production values for medieval movies lesser than any other sort of movies?

Here is a short film, about the mobility of armour, with a couple of very good reproductions of accurately brightly polished 15th century armour and a couple of the most simple of historical techniques actually found in contemporary sources. Notice also how they demonstrate the fact, that hitting the armour with a sword is a wasted effort:

Any number of sports cars in movies are a lot more expensive than a good quality reproduction of a suit of armour is – that one can find from the markets these days. Why is it then, that movie makers do not invest in this, even when they are making a movie about medieval times with seemingly big budget? Because the audience does not know what an armour should look like? Because the movie makers and the audience expect medieval times to be dark, damp, ragged and dirty? I have no idea what the interior of a future space ship should look like. Do you? But it is obvious, that when the movie makers want the audience to have that particular suspense of disbelief to set in instinctively, they put a lot of effort and money into making the set seem plausible, and not just something they found from a garbage dump.

Perhaps, the problem is, that people do expect certain things from a sports car, space ship interior, and alas an armour in a movie. That previous movies have set the example, that forms much more so, than the actual reality, what to expect. Like the fact, that in movies a car is supposed to explode when it plunges from the road? Or a space ship interior is supposed to have the captain’s seat in the middle of the room? Armour of the bad guys is supposed to be made out of riveted black leather?

The other reason might – just might – be, that the film makers, directors, art directors, costumers and all, have no clue as to what armour really looked like and any remotely sword shaped piece of scrap metal, passes as an actual sword. It seems also, that they have no real interrest to even bother to find out. But why not? Would not a film about fast cars be more applauded, if it did not have the typical movie mistakes, like bursting into flame when all the wheels are off ground? Or a space ship interior presented as no-one had seen one before, for example the captain’s seat in the roof upside down, or something? After all, in space there is no gravity to hold the crew on some common floor and digital graphics can work wonders. What about a totally new concept of making a medieval movie and finding out what the alledged period really looked like and investing in better quality of armour, weapons, and fight coreographs who actually know something about medieval fencing? Why would that be too hard? These items and people are around. If you ever need any and do not know how to find them, contact me.

I do realize that the purpose of films is to satisfy the public at large, who do not know how easily a motorcar explodes. Who expect a space ship interior to be just so as in Star Trek and countless films after it first appeared. Who think they “know”, that the medieval armour is clumsy, bulky and dull, and fights look exactly like the mad hacking, or kung fu jumps in their video games. However, would it not serve the movie, as a piece of art work to stand out from the mass, to promote it widely in the eyes of people who are actually interrested in the subject, be it cars, space ships, or medieval times, that the enthusiasts of the subject would notice the effort to quality? Especially these days, when word gets around in the social media and as such it can serve as advertisment and promote the sale of tickets. Would it not ultimately even serve the egoes of the directors and others responsible, that they actually achieved quality?

I for one am quite sure, that if the general public would even once see a medieval movie, with some high quality reproduction armour and nifty fencing moves taken straigth from the actual medieval fencing manuals, even the most ignorant of the audience would be impressed. It might go against some of their pre-set biases, but seeing is believing, and it might be a box office hit as well. Well, if the film was any good otherwise, anyway…

Do you have an example of a good medieval movie in wich the armour and/or fighting was plausible?

It has been estimated by archaeologists, that the genetical and cultural ancestors of Finns have lived in Fennoscandian peninsula for some 12- 10 000 years. (Double the age of the earth if compared to the genealogies of the Bible.) First historical comment is from Cornelius Tacitus 97 AD whose account does not even make it very clear if he is actually talking about Finns, or our close relatives the Saami, or the Estonians. Or if, actually the Sithones whose lifestyle closest resembles, the one we now know from archaeology, our ancestors had, is a description about our ancestors, or some of our Swedish neighbours (whose lifestyle choises may have been rather similar to our ancestors).

The Swedes and other Scandinavians reappear to the pages of history, since their disappearance from record with the downfall of the Western Roman empire, when their neighbours the French and the Britons re-learn to write historical annals again. And the early descriptions from the 8th century are of norther barbarians coming with their boats to plunder and pillage. Today still those barbarians are called the Vikings. But despite Finland is one of the Nordic countries, it is not part of geographical Scandinavia. Most of the Finns are not ethnic Scandinavians (though some are) and the Finnish language is not a germanic language as the Scandinavian languages. Thus the Finns were not Vikings. Not as such.

When the Vikings were assimilated to the Christendom in the 11th century and they in their turn learned to write historical annals and chronicles, they also describe northern barbarians coming to raid and pillage. And those barbarians were called the Finns. Presumably this raiding had been going on for centuries before, but it only ended up in historical sources when the people subjected to this horror first could make historical sources of their predicament.

One of the ancient Norse Sagas tells us of the Norvegian king Olaf, who tried to Christen the Norwegians but failed and was martyred in the process and subsequently was also proclaimed a saint. This saga also tells us how he as a young man and a “sea king” raided Finland but was defeated by the tribal army of the Finns and barely succeeded in escaping the storm conjured by the Finnish witches. Now, even though we do not take it at face value that Finns actually managed to conjure a storm by magic, it is interresting, that the saga describes both Finnish witches summoning the storm and the subsequent weather conditions very much like the ones we specifically often get in our sea areas today.

Both Swedish and Russian early chronicles tell tales of the Finns attacking on their territory and coming with fleets of ships to raid. The Novgorodian chronicles tell how the “Sum” (the Finns Proper) and “Jem” (the Central Finns) made repeated attacks against territories taxed by the city of Novgorod and how the merchant princes decendants of mighty Variagi Norhtmen drove these raiders from their lands.

A tribal Finnish warrior armed with a spear, sword and a wooden leather covered shield whith a wooden boss. He wears a fur hat, a cloack that is bound by a fibula from his hip, leaving his right hand free to act, a kneelength woollen tunic, linen underwear, woollen hose, leg wrappings and leather shoes. He does not carry his bow nor arrows and has for some reason stepped down from his skis into the snow.

A tribal Finnish warrior armed with a spear, sword and a wooden leather covered shield whith a wooden boss. He wears a fur hat, a cloack that is bound by a fibula from his hip, leaving his right hand free to act, a kneelength woollen tunic, linen underwear, woollen hose, leg wrappings and leather shoes. He does not carry his bow nor arrows and has for some reason stepped down from his skis into the snow.

The Swedish chronicles tell how one of the mythical early kings of Sweden – Erik the Holy – took to arms to stop the Finns raiding on the Swedish shores and archipelago. His attempt to pacify the Finns was called the first crusade in these stories. According to this legend he took with him a Gaelic Bishop called Henrik and sailed to Finland where he asked the Finns to accept the Christian faith, but they made mockery of him. Then  the Finns gave him battle, but lost. Then the king returned to Sweden and left his bishop to rule in Finland in his stead. The legend also tells us how one of the Finnish chieftains rebelled and made a martyr of the said bishop.

The so called first crusade has no surviving contemporary sources and alltough king Erik who led the warparty is a historical character and confirmed so by some contemporaries, his ally the Bishop Henrik has regrettably left no contemporary sources of himself. But the legend was written down after a shorter a while – only some 150 years – than it took the Islanders to write down their sagas telling tales from the Viking age. So, we have every reason to believe that the descriptions of the legend of the first crusade to Finland are based on actual events, though we do not know wether how accurate the description of events is. Certainly we do not think that the mythical parts about the rebel Chieftain Lalli loosing all of his hair by miraculous revenge for him killing a bishop is very accurate. Or do we?

It is surmissable, that the reason why the legend describes a divine revenge as the fate of chieftain Lalli, is because the Swedish rule was not really established in Finland at the time and no actual revenge for killing the Bishop could be achieved. The kingdom of Sweden was only in the process of forming and internal strife was constant. Hence, the Swedish kings were busy fighting for their position, and alltough a crusade/raid/counterstrike/pre-emptive strike against the Finns Proper may have been a good propaganda stunt for a contestant to the throne initially a continous war beyond the sea against foreign barbarians would have been expensive and futile, while there were other contestants to the throne.

It has been presented that Christianity came to Finland peacefully through the work of missionaries and merchantmen, but I believe this view is strongly informed by an ideal vision of what Christians of our day would see their religion as. A religion of love and peace and a very model of humanist ideals of secular society. But there are no historical nor sociological reasons or evidence to assume that the early Finns turned from their own religious and spiritual traditions into other sort of religion any more peacefully than any of our neighbouring nations and infact there are an abundance of evidence to the countrary. A nother religion is assumed by a tribe or a nation only when their leading figures assume it for military/political/economical reasons. Or when such leadership is overthrown by a new group of leaders who receive military/political/economical support from the new religion.

The way Finns are depicted in the early chronicles by our neighbouring Scandinavians and Russians is as a horde of pillaging pagan raiders moving rapidly by boats and armed by spears, bows, shields, axes and swords. A picture confirmed by the abundant archeological evidence from the era. The Finns do not equal in fame or achievement of their neigbbours the Vikings as fierce barbarians. But according to the archaeological evidence some of them did travelled whith the Scandinavians all the way to Byzantium and perhaps beyond.

In few past posts I have pondered the historical reality behind religious stories that people are taught to take at face value. I chose Christianity because it is most familiar in my society and because it is the main thrust in the  western secular societies to challenge science and reason. Here in Finland we percieve creationism as just a minority of looney people, but it is part of the ideology of the agressively spreading Christian evangelism, wich has significant political power in some western countries and ever growing influence in many developing countries. And we are talking about people who in general think that the sooner the end of the world comes the better. In effect a fundamentalist doomsday cult.

Evangelism is an important tenet in the Christian religion. All forms of it. For some reason the alledged panultimate creator of time, space, all the billions of galaxies, every grain of sand and dust, all the tiny creepy crawlers and bacteria in the universe, needs the help of human individuals to spread the word, even though these individuals and groups of believers cannot really agree upon what that word is supposed really to mean in any individual case. And for personal reasons peope do fall for this, even though most people who are part of this social movement are not because of some personal choise between different such ideologies, but rather because of their cultural heritage.

How do these people percieve themselves? One depiction wich intrigued me as a bit of a medievalist was found (thank you very much) by a fellow blogger http://nightmaresofjesus.com/

Check out the video:

Apparently this was a private Christian school advertizing itself. Obviously the advertisment was a rip of from the Narnia Chronicles. Some of my readers might not know, that C.S. Lewis the writer of the Narnia books was an atheist who turned back to being a Christian and for that reason he is revered by many Christian conservatives who have not even read any of his science fiction, or fantasy books. From the Narnia books one may find some allegories to the fairy tale elements of Christianity. What allways seems to go beyond and past the attention of people, is that there are actually a lot of references in the Narnia stories to other religions as well. Perhaps, we western people are not as prone to recognize those other religions, not even when they might be references to our own lost ancestral religions. Well, just bear that in mind, if you ever read the books (again). Any fairy tale gains plausibility and sense of reality by loaning from reality, or from stories we allready know. The Narnia books are hardly any allegories about any particular religion, but they do give an important lesson. They tell the reader, that part of becoming an adult is to learn not to take fairy tales for real.

Anyway, the school promo video is not just a fantastic appeal to fairy tales (like the Bible), it is also an obvious war propaganda video. War propaganda allways begins before the actual conflict. Usually there is a certain dehumanization of the enemy and a setting of black and white world view, where the audience is depicted as the good side. Not so much because what action they take, but because who they are, or even more likely, on whose side they are. And then there is the call to arms. Wich is meant to be the final emotional appeal.

The militaristic symbols in this video are obvious, though antiquated. It is an American video and Europeans like me sometimes forget, that the medieval times are not as real part of history to the Americans, who are somewhat removed from the medieval monuments and history. Even for many Europeans the medieval times are sometimes mixed with all the fantasy stuff of swords, dragons and witchcraft.

However, the medieval times were real enough and it is a bit ironic, that the symbolism on this video is not meant to evoke images of fantasy worlds with different cultures and religions, but rather to refer to the one religion that was dominant and autocrhatic in western societies in the medieval times. So, a few burning heretics on the castle yard might have made the video all the more coherent.

The video also promotes an ultra conservative idea of values. The age old fantasy of how things used to be better in the good old days. But the historical society it draws the images from, was often indeed ultra conservative and how well were things in them days? I constantly fight against the popularist images of medieval times having been the ultimate dark ages where people did not even wash themselves, or that they were all just mindless brutes, but it would be silly to suggest any one of us in the western culture today, would choose to live in that society and in conditions like the great majority did lived.

Such symbols of power as in the video, like the castles and armour did not appear from nothing, nor were they given by a god to the men who ruled the society. They were the products of toil by the peasants and serfs often living in terrible powerty to pay for the lawish lifestyle castles, wars of conquest, wars for their god, weapons and armour of their lords and bishops.

Finally, I have to say that the image of a young maiden in armour is a funny one as depicted as the defender of Christianity, because only one historical (that is – one real) example comes to mind. And she was burned at the stake in the name of this very same god, not for hearing the alledged voice of her god inside her head, nor for witchcraft, or even for heresy, but for wearing pants and armour. No god ever appeared in her defence, and the people responsible for her torment and execution honestly thought they were doing right what their god wanted them to do. Did these people get acces to the heavens?

Crom!

In the early 20th century some wery interresting fairytales were written. Among these were the adventures of  Conan the barbarian, by Robert E. Howard. Nowadays it is often thought that fairytales are predominantly meant for the children, but is that so? Has it ever been so? Conan the barbarian for one was not by any measure a childrens book, even in its own time. It is best remembered by the eightees-film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, that set a model for a number of mind numbing more or less low budget barbarian movies. The original Conan movie was different to most of the films of this genre, in that it at least tried to follow an actual storyline of a book. Not many people have noticed, but the dramaturgy of the first Conan movie was the work of an aspiring genious of Oliver Stone. The film makers took a collection of shortstories that the Conan originally was based on and concluded a compelling storyline. The film was as epic an adventure as the novels and marvellous music by Basil Poledouris filled the gaps.

We may laugh at the bodybuilder image of the barbarian movies genre, but Conan the Barbarian was a film for the adult audiences and it did treat some of the basic questions of human cultures. If the harsh life Conan faces during the story seems alien to you, be happy. Be also aware how lucky you are, if this is so for you, since war, slavery, genoside and religious demagogues are far from gone from the world even today. I for one must admit that the film affected me, and my adolessen mind at first sight.

The story is classic. The avenging slave, who bears the hope for all oppressed. Conan is not acting to save the oppressed, or to stop the mighty who destroy and enslave nations, but for personal vengeance. A duty he feels for his own lost kin. Yet, it is not a praise to individualism. Without the help of his friends and those who love him, he would have perished before achieving his ultimate goal.

One wery similar story appears in finnish mythology. The story of Kullervo. He is also taken a slave as a boy and grows to be an exeptionally strong man as a slave. When a blacksmith buys him, from his original captor, the smith thinks to have “a slave worth a hundred men”, but nothing he does succeeds, because of the buried hate Kullervo holds for any work done as a slave. He seems to use far too much strength for any work.

In the traditional finnish culture the matron of a peasant household held much power. Perhaps the fact that women even today have actual political power in Finland, is partially derived from our historical tradition. Be it as it may, the blacksmiths wife does not like the new slave, and for a spite plants a stone in his bread, when he is sent to herd the smiths cattle in the forest. The stone breaks Kullervos last line to his childhood memories, as his fathers knife is broken while cutting the bread. Finally he escapes slavery as the cup of torment has been filled, but not before killing the blacksmiths illtempered wife. The smith cries for his loss and swears vengeance in turn. Along the way to freedom and an attempt to rehabilitate himself as a member of society Kullervo seduces a maiden, who is later revealed to be his sister. She commits suicide. Kullervo is almost at a dead end, but he has one more thing to do. He avenges his family and kills his slaver destroying all that man owned, killing all the people who are assosiated to this slaver and burning his village. That leads Kullervo to question his own existance, and as there is no-one else left he speaks to his sword. And the sword answers: “Why would I not drink the blood of a guilty man? Ihave drank the blood of the innocent just as well.” The short conversation leads to a wery finnish ending, Kullervo throws himself to the blade…

Conan the Barbarian does not kill himself. In the film for US audiences he carries the irritating princess he was sent to rescue (somwhere along the way) to the sunrise. It seems european audiences were not believed to fall for such a blatant ending, so the other version ends Conan simply meditating alone on the ruin of the temple of his arch enemy Thulsa Doom (magnificently interpreted by the talented James Earl Jones). Just before the end, when Conan is finally about to kill his opressor, Thulsa questions the cause of Conan by claiming Conan as a person is a product of Thulsas actions and wellcomes him as a son. The words are compelling. This conversation reminds me about the short dialog beween Kullervo and his sword.

Both stories the Conan the Barbarian and Kullervo tell us a simple lesson. The mighty of the world should better learn it before it is too late for them. You may build a perfect cultural  machine of terror and abuse the weak and the meak, but even a one man may make the difference, if the oppression reaches a certain level, it will invoke avengers. So, even if the oppressed masses would not rise, or even if their revolt could be surpressed, there is allways the possibility that one man gifted enough decides to exchange his life for that of the ruler. To choose to die, just to kill the oppressor.

Were Conan and Kullervo terrorists? They fought the system. In the case of the film version of Conan he fights a religious demagogue, who is revered by his followers. To a point that they are ready to make suicide by his order. Is Thulsa Doom not the duly appointed leader of his followers? We are not told the reasons why the Cimmerians (Conans people) were attacked by Thulsa. Maybe they were a troublesome barbaric tribe, that civilized people from the culture of Thulsa were tired of fighting and the attack on the home village of Conan was just a pre-emptive strike or even regarded as self defence. Conan was orphaned, but was he not only the result of collateral damage? He was sent to slavery, but not taken by Thulsa as such. Maybe that was something young Thulsa could not affect, because he could not change the economics of his time. Maybe he was gathering his forces to stop slavery all together, when Conan finally intercepted him. We do not know.

This thing about revenge works also in minor scale and all us common people should remember a person may only be pushed so far. It is heart breaking how easily normal everyday people punish those around them, if they themselves feel bad. We are constantly told, that revenge does not lead to anywhere. This is true in many ways, but as life in general, it is not that black and white. Revenge may serve its purpose. On the positive side it may be the motivator to stop opression and torment. However, we should act to stop these wrongs even if we had no vengeance to motivate us. 

I have heard they are making a new film version of the Conan the Barbarian. Shall the new film have anything worth while to contribute to the legend, or will it be just a copy with some boring and obvious digital effects? The remaking of once popular films seems to be the trend of the day. We live in an era that tries to replicate the past glory. New pop singers are made from people who imitate the succesful artists of the past days, like in the “Idols” series. Medievalists re-enact the romantic vision of an era long past…

If I had my way, they would make a new movie from the only actual full length novel about Conan. “The Hour of the Dragon” or “Conan the Conqueror” tells the story of Conan as an aging king who is once more bound on an adventure to survive and defeat a mighty conspiracy against his rule. It would be magnificent, if Arnold Swarzenegger was starring this film and if the film was made with same piety as the Lord of the Rings movies were made. In my opinion he is actually a wery devoted and talented actor and comedian, even though he has been typecasted as a robot. I have allways thought that this story was the best of the Conan stories anyway, and having the history on screen that the character has, would make it even more believable.

The historical image of a viking warrior is one of the best known and most misunderstood. It is also widely abused. Classical viking imagery witholds the picture of a scandinavian barbarian whith a horned helmet. Well, no horned viking helmets have ever been found. We have no knowledge how much helmets were used. One actual piece dated to viking age has been found from the whole of Scandinavia. This is the “Gjermundbo” helmet from Norway. It resembles the ocular helmets of the previous centuries found in Sweden and was propably a continuation of them. These found helmets from the previous era were in graves of mighty lords or petty kings. There is a nother type of helmet known from the wery end of the viking age. The conical riveted form wiht nasal guard, wich was widely used during the crusade period all over Europe. Wery few of those have been found either and none from Scandinavia. The whole idea of horned helmets was taken from bronce age helmets found in the 19th century from a bog in Denmark. Those horned helmets had allready been over 1000 years in the bog when the vikings sailed their ships. You may notice I do not use the word “longship”. This is a term often connected with vikings, and again incorrectly. Longship is an english translation of the latin “navis longa” for roman warships. So, it really has nothing to do with vikings.

Vikings did have ships and in their poetry they speak of at least to different types. Other is the wide transport and cargo ship called “knarr”, wich could be seen as a forerunner of the medieval cog. A nother type is the long and narrow “drake”, from which the misconseption about lonship may have derived. They were rather clever ship builders and that is the main changing technological advancement that could be said to be the cause of action called viking raids. It cerainly demanded some special seamanship and a good vessel to find Iceland and Greenland, not to speak about continous trafic between Scandinavia and these far of colonies. Ships had however been built for centuries before that, and ships that could sail the Baltic and North Sea had been in common use for ages. So, there was no singular innovation or event that actually launched viking raids or culture to spread.

Historians usually contribute the beginning of viking age to the Lindisfarne abbey burning 793. It was not the first raid. It was simply the first raid against men whose organisation could record it in historical annals. Raids between illiterate barbarians are not wery well known, though it would be naive to think none happened only because, there was no-one to record them.

It was a clash of cultures that the church eventually won. The viking raids have generally in english speaking countries said to have ended with the battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066. There allready both armies were christian. And both were led by a man called Harald. The raiding did not however end. The Scandinavians who had taken the cross continued to make raids across seas especially towards east, but they were now called crusades.

The whole concept of viking age is a name historians have given to the period they have defined somehow different from previous and following eras. Most of what we know of vikings is from archeological evidence and historical sources written by other people than they themselves. Even the sagas that are the basic source of viking cultural thinking were written centuries later by christian priests and one priest in particular Snorri Sturlusson, who was an icelander.

Not all scandinavians were vikings, and it was not a racial birthright to belong to any shipcrew that went “a viking”. It was an economical solution to the problem of ever growing population and division of arable land between brothers. Naturally in a pathriarcal agricultural society the firstborn son would inherit the land and younger sons either served him or went in search of their own fortunes. They were the vikings. In foreign lands they could make fortunes by raiding defenceless monasteries or churches, or raiding unwary villages or merchants. One way of making a living was selling their sword to whom any would pay for it. They did served many masters, like the Bysantine emperor, French king and even the caliph of Baghdad. They did not resent the different masters in accordance to their cultural, religious or racial differences. Some also made more money as merchants, so they had to be warriors only to defend their property. Alltough war is always a good busines for some merchants, it is also the merchants that make the earnings on war not the warriors taking risks. And this was the downfall of the vikings. The surrounding nations grew, and developed ever more efficient ways to counter the threat of a raid from the sea. Also in Scandinavia the time of the petty kings was slowly over, and mighty kings rose to power with the orgasitional support of international church and with the military support of the christian kings and emperors. Finally when the kings of Denmark, Sweden and Norway could get the backing of the ever mightier class of the wealthiest nobles, they could rule actual kingdoms and collect tithes.

The strong image of viking warrior and the violent content of that image has led weak people to admire them. For it is the weak who worship power, that they lack themselves, but would wish to borrow from ancestors or just from history. These weaklings include the nazis. They thirsted for viking imagery and abused it all they could. Even today there are many poor sods who lean on the nazi image of vikings. It is so strange how the nazis managed to incorporate the vikings, who were the cosmopolitan people of their own time, into a narrow racistic ideal. That only goes to show how dangerous it is if people do not know history. Then it may be abused by demagogues to lead people astray.

The vikings are cultural heritage of both Scandinavians and all the countries they travelled to, from Canada to Azerbaidzan. They were not an army set out to conquer the world. They were opportunists travelling the globe and obviously enjoying the different cultures they met. They did accumulate may ideas of the foreign cultures and sometimes even brought them home with them. Sometimes whith violence sometimes by trade or just as tourists they did travelled.

Knight vs Samurai

The whole concept is so stoopid, but also somehow intrieguing and also rather popular, it seems. There is no historical source so far as I can tell of such an appointment by the two rather similar military elite. The mongol warriors between the two had encounters with both, but this is really not about mongols.

Both knight and samurai existed as paragons of soldiery for several hundred years and developed both unique and similar fighting methods. Also the armour developed during those centuries. So first to determine who wins, we have to choose wich century is it, that our knight and samurai represent. In my knowledge both were at their peak of social and military prowes during the 13th century of the western calendar. The Japanese where still fighting their internal strife and samurai were a warrior elite in war not demented into a cultural duellist society of latter centuries. The knight was still the military might not yet rivalled by the large infantry formations of pike and halberd.

We need not discuss all the possible weaponry of the two combatants if we choose for both the most distinctive weapons and armour of the day and respective military classes and fashions. They will both be on horseback. They both come from proud mounted military traditions that made their mark on the saddle. Primary weapon of the knight is lance wich he will use to charge at the enemy. The samurai fights with a bow and will try to keep his distance to the enenmy.  The knight has heavier armour and horse. At this date however it is not yet the all-enclosing suit of plate armour, but a padded maille, a harnes strenghened by some plates, splints and scales of steel plate. It is in many ways wery similar to the classical samurai armour, if not in appearance, in function at least. The knights horse is not a tall Shire workhorse, rather a sturdy destrier or even smaller version of it. Slow in comparison to the samurais mount, but resilient and spirited steed. Both would have a sword as a secondary weapon. The knight would have a long sword, weapon that could be weilded with either two or one hand and equalling also in reach with the samurai tachi. The samurai would not carry a katana, for that was a primarly a duelling weapon of later and less warlike times.

Both knight and samurai would be educated in their respective cultural weapons and tactics. Both cultures had produced a set of sophisticated fighting techniques and profound warrior ethos, with great shame for cowardice account.

If we are to set these two fighting men in an enviorement, in wich they both would give fight, it would propably be a rather even plain of grasslands (or to be honest some poor peasants grainfield), and if we would give them the distance of recognising the other as an enemy – say some 500 metres – what would happen? Well, the knight emphasising on his personal impetiosity would no doubt charge. The samurai would propably have enough of presence of mind to try and avoid the obvious threat of the couched lance, and shoot at the knight as many times as possible.

Historically knights of this period were not imprevious to arrows, and especially large formations of bowmen could really reap knightly units, and even a singular trained bowman like the samurai, could have his chances. It is however not so easy to kill a knight with a bow. The horse is the largest part of the “target” but not a good choise as such. It is such a big animal that it does not stop from random hits to its body. For a single arrow to stop a horse it would have to hit it in the heart or brain. Also the horses legs are woulnerable, but as they are moving rapidly, to hit them would be such a remote possibility the trained samurai would not attempt it. The chainmail parts of the knight are woulnerable to narrrow-headed bodkin arrows, but the linen padding inside and over it, is a fair protection. The scale armour on torso would be a good protection agains most arrow types the samurai would be carrying. Further more the knight is protected by a rawhide cowered wooden shield that covers most of him. As there is only one man shooting the arrows it is actually easier for the knight to protect himself whith the shield. The arrows (especially from close range)  might penetrate the shield to some extent, but would propably not hurt the man behind.

So now we may assume that the samurai has shot all his arrows. He has propably wounded the knights destrier, but not been able to kill it (unless by a particularly lucky shot), and with some luck he has been able not only to make the knight look like a pincushion, but also to wound him. The wounded destrier can still go on for hours and the knight is not going to give up. To conclude our contest the samurai decides that his bushido attitude demands him to face the knight. He charges at the knight who makes short story of the samurai by lance. By accident however, the slightly wounded knight, exhausted as he is by the long chase, only manages to kill the horse of the samurai (if he would miss the samurai all together he would only need to make a nother pass with the lance). As a honour bound warrior the knight dismounts his tired and wounded horse and meets his opponent on foot (also his lance has been broken by the impact anyway). Both draw swords and the knight disperses his now cumbersome shield pierced by many arrows.

The samurai and the knight fight by swords and both seek to hit the enemy where armour is weak or there seems to be no armour at all, like groin or eyes. The samurai sword is slightly weaker because of the poor quality of steel in Japan, but this makes no real difference and the more skilled and luckier man wins.

So, if the competition is a “tie”, what was the whole point of it? Well that is actually my point all along. There is no actual point in the question all together. There is no simple answer, it all depends on circunmstances, luck and the skill of the respective warriors. You could say if there is a thunderstorm the knight is more likelier to loose because of persentage margin to be more obvious to be hit by a lightning. Or if we were to choose samurai and a knight of latter days, say 16th century the samurai is more likelier to be killed, because the knight protected by his allenclosing suit of plate armour will simply shoot the samurai with one of his pistols. The whole question is absurd, and contemplating does not and will never lead to any actual conclusion.

It is a futile effort to compete two totally different cultures, that have been seen somewhat similar by those who see them in a rather superficial way. It is just as stoopid as to as would an eskimo win a fight against an aboriginal. Go figure.

I wrote about this subject earlierly, but had to bring it up again. There is an important point about re-enactment fighting and authenticity, that needs to be addressed.

Authenticity. Some of those re-enactors that boast by “fighting real” or by “full contact” claim that they have achieved reality in their fights by not holding back. The joke about this claim lies in the fact that the audience is completely unable to see any difference between “full contact” fights and safe fighting, exept when a “full contact” show is interrupted by an ambulance. The ambulance hardly adding to authenticity in any a show.

Actually “full contact” tends to increase the amount of armour worn. Often leading to totally unauthentic solutions like for example armour sets that weight over 40 kilos. An amount of iron a real medieval warrior would never have worn on battlefield. Many of the “full contact” warriors look more like the Michelin tyre commercial, because of extra padding they need to feel safe. In reality and what should be shown, is that most warriors wore hardly any armour. Only way this is achieved in re-enactment is by having sensible and safe rules and regulations… And by mature attitude and responsibility of all the warriors on field. Not just yourself or your friends, but the opponents also.

Trust me it is not so hard to learn how to fight both safe and fierce looking. And in the end it will be more authentic, because medieval soldiers knew how to handle their weapons and the good ones were at all times in control of their weapons and emotions, just like modern soldiers.

If you can not control your feelings or weapons on field, I suggest you start fighting with soft weapons and not call it historical re-enactment. That way you wont hurt anyone and should not really ruin any historical battle shows authenticity. But you can really call it “full contact”.