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Fiender
06-17-2012, 09:29 PM
KVESHCHUN:

Did soldiers coat their swords with things like poisons, oils (for lighting aflame :D), etc?
If they did, were such practices frowned upon? Or detrimental to the longevity or condition of the sword?
And how effective were such practices?

Thanks :)

EDIT: I should have been more clear with what I wanted to know, sorry everyone. I was curious as to how many ways a pre-industrial society could weaponize things like snake venom.
Could you tip arrows in it? If you boiled it, would the vapors be deadly? etc.

ULTRAGOTHA
06-17-2012, 10:06 PM
I've never seen any historical evidence of coating a sword with poison or lighting it on fire.

Also, what time period are you writing in and what country? Different time periods had different kinds of swords and different scabbards.

The 9th through 11th century in Northern Europe is what I am more familiar with. Swords were honed with larger versions of whetstones. The scabbards were sometimes lined with greasy sheep skin.

Blood is acidic. You clean it off as soon as possible. You re-hone your sword right after you use it. You may coat it with a bit of grease to ward off rust or, as mentioned, keep it sheathed in greasy sheepskin.

Fiender
06-17-2012, 10:50 PM
Oh, okay.

It's a fantasy story. I'm not very well versed in medieval combat, and I usually research things as I go.

EDIT: as far as what time period I'm trying to represent, I'm not sure really. I'm not looking at any particular time or region.

Lhipenwhe
06-17-2012, 10:53 PM
KVESHCHUN:

Did soldiers coat their swords with things like poisons, oils (for lighting aflame :D), etc?
If they did, were such practices frowned upon? Or detrimental to the longevity or condition of the sword?
And how effective were such practices?

Thanks :)

I've never heard of poisoned blade weapons, and I doubt they'd be very useful - it's much, much quicker just to stab/cut someone to death. Lightning ones sword on fire is both something I've never heard of and a really, really bad idea. Not only will lighting your sword on fire damage it (duh), you also have to deal with wielding a sword on fire, of which you have little control over.

A.P.M.
06-17-2012, 10:59 PM
I used to practice Iaido (It's a japanese sword style) and after practice we would wipe our swords down with an oil meant to keep the weapon from rusting/corroding. We put the oil on the cloth and would wipe the sword down, although you were not supposed to touch the blade edge.

In terms of putting things on the sword for combat, the only thing I remember is reading a few instances of duelists coating their rapiers in dung to maximize the chances that their opponent's wounds would become infected.

blacbird
06-17-2012, 11:37 PM
I'm not very well versed in medieval combat, and I usually research things as I go.

EDIT: as far as what time period I'm trying to represent, I'm not sure really. I'm not looking at any particular time or region.

You might want to obtain The Book of the Sword, by famed explorer Richard M. Burton. It is the definitive history of sword development. Dover Books has had an edition out in recent years, a facsimile with all of Burton's original illustrations, which are wonderful. And it's a good read, too. Burton was a fine, prolific, eclectic writer. As a writer he is best known for his voluminous scholarly translation of the 1001 Nights, also the definitive English edition of that great work.

caw

mirandashell
06-17-2012, 11:40 PM
I also think a flaming sword would be a lot more dangerous to the guy holding it than to the enemy. It would *look* spectacular but be pretty useless as a weapon.

Is the swordsman a real killer or just a fancypants?

Trebor1415
06-18-2012, 12:09 AM
I gotta agree, I've never heard of anyone coating a sword in poison in historical references and coating it oil an lighting it seems like a D&D trick and nothing else.

A good sword is a valued possession and not something to be abused.

Fiender
06-18-2012, 12:46 AM
Maybe I should have re-worded this topic.
My story has this venom which is lethal to everything except the species that excretes it, and I had wondered what ways someone could weaponize it.

Dip an arrow head in it, coat a sword in it?
Would it be practical to boil it to release lethal vapors?
And so on.

Maryn
06-18-2012, 12:50 AM
In terms of putting things on the sword for combat, the only thing I remember is reading a few instances of duelists coating their rapiers in dung to maximize the chances that their opponent's wounds would become infected.Soldiers anticipating hand-to-hand combat in which a knife or bayonet might come into play still use excrement to guarantee even minor woulds will become infected well away from medical care. Apparently human fecal material is preferred. I knew guys who complained about the Viet Cong doing this--and in turn doing it to their own weapons. Of course, US troops had ready access to antibiotics.

Maryn, who can't remember the name of the excellent sword book her son has

sk3erkrou
06-18-2012, 01:01 AM
First of all, lighting a sword on fire would potentially warp the metal of the blade, making the sword unusable. As for putting a poison on the blade, normally if your attacking someone with a sword, you would want to kill them with the sword. I really don't see any character giving someone a slight cut, and then turning their back to fight someone else, counting in the poison to kill the other person.
One potential use for this I could see is in an assassination attempt scenario where someone may have a prized knife or dagger that is replaced with a duplicate, the only difference being a small needle coated in poison on the handle that would eventually kill their target.

Dreity
06-18-2012, 01:14 AM
There is a character in the Song of Ice and Fire series who sets their sword aflame, and they give a particular blacksmith plenty of business because they keep ruining their swords and need new ones crafted. :P

I have one character in my own series who uses poisoned weaponry, but that's because he's a sick bastard who's more interested in experimenting with his concoctions than actually killing the target.

LadyV
06-18-2012, 02:38 AM
Maybe I should have re-worded this topic.
My story has this venom which is lethal to everything except the species that excretes it, and I had wondered what ways someone could weaponize it.

Dip an arrow head in it, coat a sword in it?
Would it be practical to boil it to release lethal vapors?
And so on.
Well, since your story is fantasy, you could potentially do anything with it. The rules of our world don't necessarily apply to yours, unless you wish them too.

I've read books where daggers are laced with poison, and I could swear I once read the same about a sword. Spears could also tipped with poison. This is actually the case in real life. Some tribes in South America take the venom from tree frogs and smear it onto the tips of their throwing spears.

Fiender
06-18-2012, 01:51 PM
I've updated the original post with a more accurate question.


Well, since your story is fantasy, you could potentially do anything with it. The rules of our world don't necessarily apply to yours, unless you wish them too.

I've read books where daggers are laced with poison, and I could swear I once read the same about a sword. Spears could also tipped with poison. This is actually the case in real life. Some tribes in South America take the venom from tree frogs and smear it onto the tips of their throwing spears.

Well I prefer to keep the non-magical stuff as inconvenient as possible, haha.

Torgo
06-18-2012, 02:07 PM
It's certainly the case that people in real life have used envenomed weapons for hunting and warfare, but they're usually arrows or spears. I guess this makes sense - you want to make the most of a nick or a scratch if you're at a distance from the target with a projectile weapon, and if you're trying to catch game you don't mind too much if it takes a little while to succumb.

I think there's not so much talk of poison on daggers and swords because if you're close enough to stab your target then it seems a bit unnecessary. Though if I were in a knife fight I would certainly appreciate a bit of curare smeared on my blade.

Anaximander
06-18-2012, 02:58 PM
If a poison is fast-acting enough, it would give you a serious edge in a fight where you were evenly matched - normally, it'd be long and drawn out while you try to wear each other down until someone gets tired enough that their guard fails and the other can finish them off. With poison, you just need a flesh wound. Generally, you assume your opponent is trying to kill you, so an all-out attack to somewhere peripheral has a marginally greater chance of succeeding. Not much, but sometimes enough to make the difference. A small scratch inflicted anywhere would do, and then the poisoned combatant tires much faster than they would normally as the poison gets to work. Depending on which poison is used, they might become nauseous or disoriented, which would help you land a killing blow, and even if you still can't break their guard, if you hold them off long enough they'll drop dead.

Another reason why you might use poison is if you're only going to have brief contact with the enemy, and you can't be sure of a killing blow. For example, cavalry tends to keep moving because the horses are very vulnerable when standing still, so the tactics generally involve hit-and-run, slashing at the enemy as you pass. From horseback it's relatively easy to aim for the head or neck, but if you don't land a lethal blow then it's too late to go again because you're past them already. Poisoned blades would let the cavalry slash at anything - an arm raised to block, perhaps - and know that the enemy they struck will drop dead a few moments later, rather than carrying on the fight.

Similarly, archers might poison their arrowheads. In a large battle, archers tend not to aim specifically - it's more a case of firing as fast as possible into the thickest group of enemies you can see, knowing that you're almost certain to hit. The time it would take to aim for a specific person's chest or whatever would only slow you down, and it's volume of fire that really makes the difference here. This means that you might only score glancing hits, or your shots may strike non-vital areas. Poisoned arrowheads mean that almost every hit is a kill, eventually.

In real life, there are several reasons why poison was never used much, at least in western medieval-type combat. Firstly, any fluid that's left on the blade for extended periods will corrode, and rusty blades are weaker. If the poison was oily, then it might be alright - petroleum gel is used to preserve blades because it keeps humidity off them - but it would depend on the poison's chemical properties. This is less important for arrows - initially because arrowheads were often made of flint, but even when they progressed to metal arrowheads, the timespan is much shorter. In many cases, an archer can dip and shoot immediately, and even if not, you can dip a quiver of arrows in the morning and shoot them all before sundown. A sword has to last much longer, and is used continuously - an arrowhead only gets used once, and the penetrating power of an arrow has more to do with the force behind it than the sharpness of the head (a sharp head does help, though).

Also, the person who will spend most time around the blade is its owner, and it's very easy to accidentally poison yourself, especially if the poison can be absorbed through the skin as many can. Even if it can't, if you get it on your hands then it's dangerously easy to transfer it to your mouth or eyes for ingestion or easy absorption into the bloodstream.

At the end of the day, it's fiction, and fantasy at that. As the author, you get to make the rules for your world - but if the reader feels that it's well thought out, and takes the details into consideration, then the world will fell richer and more real. My advice: decide what you want to happen in the story, look at the pros and cons in real-world equivalents, and then give the reader a glimpse (not too much; this is an exciting story, not an essay on fantasy/medieval weapons tech) of why the cons don't matter in your world and use the pros to further your story.

lbender
06-18-2012, 06:36 PM
The first thing I thought of when I read your post was that you'd just been watching the movie 'Scorpion King', where a key plot point involves dipping an arrow point in scorpion venom. Then, at the end, during the climactic sword fight, the bad guy dips his twin swords in oil and passes them through a flame. I must admit, the effect was spectacular. As far as reality goes, the others would know better than I.

Trebor1415
06-18-2012, 10:08 PM
You should really post your question in the huge "firearms thread" in this forum. Mike Z Williamson there is an author AND a sword maker, so if anyone would know, he would.

Fiender
06-19-2012, 01:49 AM
The first thing I thought of when I read your post was that you'd just been watching the movie 'Scorpion King', where a key plot point involves dipping an arrow point in scorpion venom. Then, at the end, during the climactic sword fight, the bad guy dips his twin swords in oil and passes them through a flame. I must admit, the effect was spectacular. As far as reality goes, the others would know better than I.

Oh heavens no, i wouldn't subject myself to that movie. ;)

@Anaximander, Thank you for your very insightful post. :)


You should really post your question in the huge "firearms thread" in this forum. Mike Z Williamson there is an author AND a sword maker, so if anyone would know, he would.

I'll certainly take a look at that thread :)


I think I got the jist of the sword/weapon stuff, but I'm still very curious about the properties of venom. Mainly, if you boil it, will its vapors be harmful?

I understand that venom is made up of proteins that require direct blood contact to inflict harm. If you were to swallow venom, assuming you had no cuts in your mouth or ulcers in your stomach, then it likely wouldn't harm you as your digestive acids would break it down.
But that is a chemical reaction. Can the same be said of simply boiling it? Would those harmful proteins become airborne? And would they even cause harm if inhaled?

Unimportant
06-19-2012, 03:34 AM
Maybe I should have re-worded this topic.
My story has this venom which is lethal to everything except the species that excretes it, and I had wondered what ways someone could weaponize it.

Dip an arrow head in it, coat a sword in it?
Would it be practical to boil it to release lethal vapors?
And so on.

Coating a hand weapon like a sword is dangerous, because it's so easy to nick yourself while handling it. It would be more of an assassin's weapon than a soldier's weapon to coat a sword or dagger in poison. Certainly it's been done by assassins before (Hamlet!).

Few venoms form a noxious gas, and indeed many will probably be inactivated when heated to boiling, so I doubt that would be feasible.

Coating arrow tips would be a better option. Tribes in the Amazon use animal toxins to coat the tips of blow-darts, which they use to bring down prey.

Depending on your world's tech level, people looking to exploit a toxin would want to find a way to transport it/handle it safely (e.g., put it in sealed glass bottles, or pill capsules, or whatever). Assassins target a single victim, so the poison can be put into the person's food, wine, etc. If you want to wipe out a whole group, you drop a bottle of it into the group's drinking source (well, reservoir, vats of ale, whatever).

Editing to add: You need to differentiate between venom (like the stuff that snakes have in their fangs) and toxin (which is the stuff that frogs secrete in their mucous, or pufferfish have in their flesh). Basically, if you die from being bitten by it, it's venom. If you die from biting it, it's toxin.

Unimportant
06-19-2012, 03:37 AM
I understand that venom is made up of proteins that require direct blood contact to inflict harm. If you were to swallow venom, assuming you had no cuts in your mouth or ulcers in your stomach, then it likely wouldn't harm you as your digestive acids would break it down.
But that is a chemical reaction. Can the same be said of simply boiling it? Would those harmful proteins become airborne? And would they even cause harm if inhaled?

My understanding is no, no, no, and no.

ULTRAGOTHA
06-21-2012, 12:57 AM
In a pure coincidence, I just stumbled across an article called Biological Warfare in Medieval and Ancient Times by Amanda Snodgrass who should be a Doctor of Pharmacy by now.

If you can get your hands on it, Tournaments Illuminated issue #156 (Fall, 2005) has this article. There's a nice bibliography and information on how (un)acceptable poisons were in warfare and various methods of using biologicals with weapons.

Canotila
06-22-2012, 10:12 PM
My understanding is no, no, no, and no.

If you were to drink snake venom it would, in theory, pass through the digestive system without harm. I say in theory, because this assumes there are no lacerations, perforations, ulcers, etc. anywhere in the mouth or upper digestive tract.

The wolfbane plant got its name because people used the toxins to tip their arrows for wolf hunting.

I have no idea if boiling venom would create toxic fumes. My guess is no. I also wonder how someone would harvest enough venom to boil. And how they would utilize poisonous steam without harming themselves.

Keep in mind that venomous creatures devote a lot of energy to building their personal venom supplies. It's meant to kill and pre-digest their prey to an extent. It's so precious that a good percentage of bites delivered by venomous snakes are voluntarily dry (up to 50% in some species). When a snake's venom is harvested the amount is tiny, and there are limits on how long it takes for the animal to replenish its venom after harvest.

Karen Junker
06-23-2012, 04:21 AM
I know this wasn't your real question, but for a ritual I did coat a sword in Sterno one time and lit it on fire from a candle. It was indoors and probably one of the stupidest things anyone on the planet has ever done.

Trebor1415
06-24-2012, 12:06 PM
I know this wasn't your real question, but for a ritual I did coat a sword in Sterno one time and lit it on fire from a candle. It was indoors and probably one of the stupidest things anyone on the planet has ever done.

Ah, yes, that's why the Vatican II reforms removed "The ritual of the flaming sword" from Catholic Cathicesm back in the '60's.

RandomJerk
07-18-2012, 09:31 PM
Sorry for a touch of necro-bumping here, but I just happened upon this Wikipedia entry and thought of this thread.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ida_%28sword%29