The Effectiveness of Medieval Maces

The mace is one of the medieval weapons that does not impress us because of its elegance and beauty (like for example a sword does). Instead, the appeal of a medieval mace can mostly be found in its rough and yet somewhat intriguing appearance.

But how effective were maces and what were the advantages and disadvantages of that kind of weapon?

A mace is an almost indestructible percussion weapon that is used to crush bones through the armor instead of trying to find gaps in the opponent’s armor like a swordfighter would have to. Maces were most effective when used against men in full plate armor. When used against Plate armor a mace was more effective than a sword. But against unarmored men or men in chainmail, the sword had the advantage over the mace.

Let`s look at that in more detail!

How effective were medieval maces?

Maces are some of the oldest weapons of humankind. That alone should be a clear indicator of their effectiveness. However, when talking about how effective a weapon is the most important question is against what type of armor the weapon will be used.

Maces were incredibly effective against Plate armor since they as percussion weapons were used to crush through the armor and did not depend on finding unarmored spots in a suit of plate armor. However, against lightly or unarmored men and even against men wearing chainmail a mace was not overly effective.

The reason for that can be found in the construction of a mace compared to for example a sword.

The sharp edge of a medieval sword, more on how sharp swords were here, was ideal for inflicting cuts, chops, and even stabs against unarmored or only lightly armored men. But swords, even the more specialized Longswords, were not overly useful against plate armor.

The simple reason behind that is that a Longsword could not cut through the steel plates of a suit of Plate armor. Neither could it stab through the rounded plates so the swordsman had to try to stab into the spots of his opponent’s plate armor that was only weakly defended. These were for example the armpits.

Needless to say that that was pretty difficult since his opponent would not only defend himself against these stabs but would try the exact same. Here you can find out more about how that worked exactly and what special technique was developed for trying to overcome Plate armor with a Longsword.

In that case, the mace was the ideal weapon.

Unlike a sword, a mace did not have to be used against the weak points in a suit of plate armor (like the armpits). Instead, a mace could inflict serious damage even when used against the well-armored parts of a suit of plate armor like the head or the knee. That made the mace more effective against plate armor than a sword.

For more information on how maces were used in medieval combat, I would like to recommend you my article here.

Now when it comes to medieval combat then the question of whether or not a mace could actually break a sword would be quite reasonable to answer.

Could a mace break a sword?

Swords in the Middle Ages were made of very different qualities. And while most of them were made well enough to be an effective weapon, more on how effective swords were here, not every sword was robust enough to withstand the blow of a mace.

Maces could break swords when either the tempering of the sword or the steel that had been used was of poor quality. Countless depictions of broken swords prove that swords could and would break quite commonly during medieval battles.

Do you want to find out more about how medieval battles worked? Then I would like to recommend you my article here.

Especially the quality of the steel that was used to forge swords was crucial for the sturdiness of a sword. But that steel was of varying quality which in return also led to varying degrees of the sturdiness of the finished sword.

When we compare that with a mace then we see another advantage of the mace. While a sword could break (which was not that uncommon) a mace was basically indestructible. That security of having a weapon that was basically indestructible made the mace a pretty common weapon on medieval battlefields.

Swords however were not as common as movies would make it seem, at least not during the Early Middle Ages. And they were also never the battle-deciding weapons. For more information on the reasons for that and which type of weapons dominated the medieval battlefields, I would like to recommend you my article here.

And in case you want to find out more about how common maces were on medieval battlefields and how they were used in combat I would like to recommend you my article here.

Take care of yourself because you deserve it. You really do.

Until next time

Yours truly

Luke Reitzer


Malte Prietzel: Krieg im Mittelalter (Darmstadt 2006).