Military Wiki

The legendary mace of Ali Pasha.

A mace is a blunt weapon, a type of club or virge — that uses a heavy head on the end of a handle to deliver powerful blows. A mace typically consists of a strong, heavy, wooden or metal shaft, often reinforced with metal, featuring a head made of stone, copper, bronze, iron, or steel.

The head of a military mace can be shaped with flanges or knobs to allow greater penetration of plate armour. The length of maces can vary considerably. The maces of foot soldiers were usually quite short (two or three feet, or 70 to 90 cm). The maces of cavalrymen were longer and thus better suited for blows delivered from horseback. Two-handed maces could be even larger.

Maces are rarely used today for actual combat, but a large number of government bodies (for instance the British House of Commons, the U.S. Congress), universities and other institutions have ceremonial maces and continue to display them as symbols of authority. They are often paraded in academic, parliamentary or civic rituals and processions.


An earthenware mace found near the site of the Battle of Šumatovac.

Moche stone maces. Larco Museum Collection. Lima-Peru

Sculpture of Hanuman carrying the Dronagiri (Sanjeevi) mountain, with a Gada (mace) in his left hand

The mace was developed during the Upper Paleolithic from the simple club, by adding sharp spikes of flint or obsidian.

In Europe, an elaboratedly carved ceremonial flint mace head was one of the artifacts discovered in excavations of the Neolithic mound of Knowth in Ireland, and Bronze Age archaeology cites numerous finds of perforated mace heads.

In ancient Ukraine, stone mace heads were first used nearly 8,000 years ago. The others known were disc maces with oddly formed stones mounted perpendicularly to their handle. The Narmer Palette shows a king swinging a mace. See the articles on the Narmer Macehead and the Scorpion Macehead for examples of decorated maces inscribed with the names of kings.

The problem with early maces was that their stone heads shattered easily and it was difficult to fix the head to the wooden handle reliably. The Egyptians attempted to give them a disk shape in the predynastic period (about 3850–3650 BC) in order to increase their impact and even provide some cutting capabilities, but this seems to have been a short lived improvement.

A rounded pear form of mace head known as a "piriform" replaced the disc mace in the Naqada II period of pre-dynastic Upper Egypt (3600–3250 BC) and was used throughout the Naqada III period (3250-3100 BC). Similar mace heads were also used in Mesopotamia around 2450–1900 BC. The Assyrians used maces probably about 19th century BC and in their campaigns; the maces were usually made of stone or marble and furnished with gold or other metals, but were rarely used in battle unless fighting heavily armoured infantry.

An Assyrian mace head with inscriptions

An important, later development in mace heads was the use of metal for their composition. With the advent of copper mace heads, they no longer shattered and a better fit could be made to the wooden club by giving the eye of the mace head the shape of a cone and using a tapered handle.

The Shardanas or warriors from Sardinia who fought for Ramses II against the Hittities were armed with maces consisting of wooden sticks with bronze heads. Many bronze statuettes of the times show Sardinian warriors carrying swords, bows and original maces.


The usage of maces in warfare is also described in the ancient Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabarata. Unique types of maces known as "Gada" were used extensively in ancient Indian warfare, and the enchanted talking mace Sharur made its first appearance in Sumerian/Akkadian mythology during the epic of Ninurta.

The ancient Romans did not make wide use of maces, probably because of the influence of armour, and 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 heavy swinging-arc weapon in the well-disciplined tight formations of the Roman infantry would not have been practical.

Persians used a variety of maces. One simple explanation is the mode of Persian warfare. Unlike Romans, Persians fielded large numbers of heavily armoured and armed cavalry (see cataphracts). For a heavily armed Persian knight, a mace was as effective as a sword or battle axe. In fact, Shahnameh has countless references to heavily armoured knights facing each other using mace, axe, or swords.

Pernach (left) and two shestopyors.

European Middle Ages

File:Maza de armas.jpg

Flanged mace.

During the Middle Ages metal armour and chain mail protected against the blows of edged weapons and blocked 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 armour is the flanged mace. The flanges, (protruding edges of metal) allow it to dent or penetrate even the thickest armour. This variation of the mace did not become popular until significantly after knobbed maces. Although there are some references to flanged maces (bardoukion) as early as the Byzantine empire c. 900[1] it is commonly accepted that the flanged mace did not become popular in Europe until the 12th century, when it was simultaneously developed in Russia and the Middle East.

Maces, being simple to make, cheap, and straightforward in application, were quite common weapons. Examples found in museums are often highly decorated.

It is popularly believed that maces were employed by the clergy in warfare to avoid shedding blood [2] (sine effusione sanguinis). The evidence for this is sparse and appears to derive almost entirely from the depiction of Bishop Odo of Bayeux wielding a club-like mace at the Battle of Hastings in the Bayeux Tapestry, the idea being that he did so to avoid either shedding blood or bearing the arms of war. The fact that his brother Duke William carries a similar item suggests that, in this context, the mace may have been simply a symbol of authority.[3] Certainly, other Bishops were depicted bearing the arms of a knight without comment, such as Archbishop Turpin who bears both a spear and a sword named "Almace" in The Song of Roland or Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy, who also appears to have fought as a knight during the First Crusade, an expedition that Odo also joined.[4]

Eastern Europe

Shestopyor-type mace used by the rotmistrzs of the private army of the Radziwiłł family.

Maces were very common in eastern Europe, especially medieval Poland, Ukraine.[5] Eastern European maces often had pear shaped heads. These maces were also used by the Moldavian king Stephen the Great in some of his wars (see Bulawa).

The Pernach was a type flanged mace developed since the 8th century BC in the region of Kievan Rus', and later widely used throughout the whole of Europe. The name comes from the Slavic word pero (перо) meaning feather, reflecting the form of pernach that resembled a fletched arrow. Pernachs were the first form of the flanged mace to enjoy a wide usage. It was well suited to penetrate plate armour and chain mail. In the later times it was often used as a symbol of power by the military leaders in Eastern Europe.[6]

Pre-Columbian America

The cultures of pre-Columbian America used clubs and maces extensively. The warriors of the Moche state and the Inca Empire used maces with bone, stone or copper heads and wooden shafts.

Indian Subcontinent

Mace as Exercise Equipment

Even to this day almost all the akharas (Combat training Gymnasiums) use heavy stone maces for training for the simple reason that it combines weight and maneuverability training. Cadets were given 5 kg stone maces and were taught to maneuver without breaking movement, and when the cadet would become well versed at combat maneuvers it would be switched with a heavier weight to go up to 35 then 45 kg to a point that the combatant could swing a heavy mace the whole day.

The simple result would remain that if a combatant has the practice to handle a heavy mace over extended time he would very easily manage even the heavy swords that weighed 7 to 10 kg without exhaustion.

Ceremonial use

Maces have had a role in ceremonial practices over time, including some still in use today.

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-bearers 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.

Mace of the Royal Society, granted by Charles II.

Ecclesiastical maces

The ceremonial mace is a short, richly ornamented staff often made of silver, the upper part of which is furnished with a knob or other head-piece and decorated with a coat of arms. The ceremonial mace was commonly borne before eminent ecclesiastical corporations, magistrates, and academic bodies as a mark and symbol of jurisdiction.

Parade maces

Marshal of Poland mace

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 or she leads. The mace can signal anything from a step-off to a halt, from the commencement of playing to the cut off.

University maces

17th Century Maces of the Rector Magnificus of the Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas in Manila, Philippines.

University maces are employed in a manner similar to Parliamentary maces. They symbolize the authority and independence of a chartered university and the authority vested in the provost. They are typically carried in at the beginning of a convocation ceremony and are often less than half a meter high.

Heraldic use

Like many weapons from feudal times, maces have been used in heraldic military blazons as either a charge on the shield or as external ornamentation.

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-century 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)

See also


  1. Heath, Ian. Armies of the Byzantine Empire, 886–1118. 
  2. Disraeli, Isaac (1834). Curiosities of Literature, Volume 1. Boston: Lilly, Wait, Colman, and Holden. 
  3. It is also possible that William was simply armed with a mace as was his brother Odo and other knights. See the following images of William, an unidentified companion and Odo carrying mace-like objects in the Bayeux Tapestry [1] [2] [3] [4]
  4. Much of the popularity of this view can be attributed to the Dungeons and Dragons game, which in early editions limited its cleric class to bludgeoning weapons, at first influenced by the popular belief,[citation needed] and later on to balance the game by reducing the class's power in battle, a rule that was widely imitated.[citation needed]
  5. Official Symbols of the President of Ukraine: The presidential mace
  6. Medieval flanged maces by Shawn M. Caza.


  • Dictionary of Medieval Knighthood and Chivalry by Bradford Broughton (NY, Greenwood Press, 1986, ISBN 0-313-24552-5)
  • Hafted Weapons in Medieval and Renaissance Europe: The Evolution of European Staff Weapons Between 1200 and 1650 by John Waldman (Brill, 2005, ISBN 90-04-14409-9)
  • Medieval Military Technology by Kelly DeVries (Broadview Press, 1998, 0-921149-74-3)

External links

  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed (1913). "Mace". Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company. 
  • The Hunt Museum (enter "Mace" in Keyword in Description)

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