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Mort de Bara by Jean-Joseph Weerts, 1793

Scythemen during Poland's January 1863 Uprising

A war scythe is a kind of improvised pole weapon, similar to a fauchard, usually created from standard scythes. The blade of the scythe is transformed so as to extend upright from the pole, thus forming an infantry weapon practical both in offensive actions against infantry and as a defensive measure against enemy cavalry.


Illustration from Chrystian Piotr Aigner's "Krótka nauka o kosach i pikach" ("A Brief Treatise on Scythes and Pikes"), 1794

The scythe, a farming tool, could be easily transformed into an effective infantry weapon. The process usually involved reforging the blade of a scythe at a 90 degree angle, strengthening the joint between the blade and the shaft with an additional metal pipe or bolts and reinforcing the shaft to better protect it against cuts from enemy blades. At times instead of scythe blade, a blade from hand-operated chaff cutter was used. War scythes were a popular weapon of choice and opportunity of many peasant uprisings throughout history. To name just a few examples, ancient Greek historian, Xenophon, describes in his work (Anabasis) the chariots of Artaxerxes II, which had projecting scythes fitted. Polish peasants used war scythes during the 17th-century Swedish invasion (The Deluge). In the 1685 battle of Sedgemoor, James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth, fielded a 5000 strong peasant unit armed with war scythes. They were used in the 1784 Transylvanian peasants' Revolt of Horea, Cloşca and Crişan, in the war in the Vendée by royalist peasant troops, in the 1st War of Schleswig in 1848 in Denmark, and again in various Polish uprisings: Kościuszko Uprising in 1794, when in battle of Racławice scythemen successfully charged and captured Russian artillery. In that year Chrystian Piotr Aigner published a field manual Short Treatise on Pikes and Scythes, detailing the training and operation of scythe-equipped forces, the first and probably the only such book in the history of warfare. War scythes were later used in the November Uprising in 1831, January Uprising in 1863 and Silesian Uprising in 1921. The description of a fighting unit as "scythemen" was used in Poland as late as 1939, however the Gdynia "kosynierzy" were armed with hunting guns rather than with scythes.


Artur Grottger, "Kucie kos" ("Forging of Scythes") during January Uprising

As a pole weapon, the war scythe is characterised by long range and powerful force (due to leverage): there are documented instances where a scythe cut through a metal helmet. They could be used, depending on construction and tactics, to make slashing or stabbing attacks, and with their uncommon appearance and considerable strength could have a psychological impact on an unprepared enemy. However, like most pole weapons, their disadvantages were weight (which could quickly exhaust the user) and slow speed.

See also

Roundel of the Polish 7th Air Escadrille, featuring crossed war scythes

  • Fauchard
  • Kama – Japanese hand scythe
  • Falx – A sword with an inward curved blade
  • Rhomphaia – larger variant of the falx, much similar to the war scythe


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