(Copyright: Shawn M. Caza, August 2003)
These web pages are dedicated to my collection of maces and some comments on the history of maces. Galleries showing images and descriptions of my mace collection can be seen by clicking on the links below.
MACES OF THE ANCIENT WORLD
Maces were widely used throughout the ancient world. Stone mace heads were first used in the late Mesolithic era over 10,000 years ago. Round stone mace heads were used by most known Neolithic cultures. These maces were not as highly polished as later stone mace heads. The earliest known maces of the historical era are the disc maces of pre-dynastic Egypt which date to the early 4th millennium BC. These were soon (mid-4th millennia BC) superceded by pear-shaped and rounded mace heads.
Maces were one of the first objects created specifically as a weapon as opposed to being adopted from a hunting tool. However, maces also had a symbolic function as early as the Neolithic era. In Egypt, maces were initially used as weapons and many examples have been found in pre-dynastic and proto-dynastic sites. However, by the proto-dynastic period (Naqada III) they had also become ceremonial symbols. Interestingly, the use in Egypt of maces as a combat weapon died off quite early - at the very beginning of the Dynastic period c.3000BC. Maces continued to be used for ceremonial and symbolic purposes long after but are no longer found as combat weapons. They are particularly associated with the Pharaohs and many temple and tomb carvings and illustrations show Pharaohs smiting their prostrate enemies with a mace. In fact, a carving on the late-era temple of Khnum at Esna in Egypt shows the Roman Emperor Trajan dressed as a Pharaoh and using a mace.
Before the end of the 4th millennia BC, polished stone mace use had spread through the Middle East - from Jordan to Mesopotamia. Stone mace heads have been found in the Luristan/Iran area (2500-1000 BC) and in Asia Minor (1300 BC). In 2001 more than a dozen round and piriform stone mace heads dating from 3000-1000 BC were found in at Gansu, Shaanxi, and Xinjiang in Northwest China. This is thought to be a case of Egyptian technology spreading slowly eastwards through Mesopotamia and Central Asia into China.
While most stone mace heads are made of smooth, polished, but unadorned stone, some are carved. The famous piriform mace head of the “Scorpion King” Narmer (c.3100 BC) found at the Temple of Horus in Hierakonpolis in Upper Egypt has extensive carvings on it. Some Mesopotamian piriform mace heads, including one found at Tell Agrab and dated to Early Dynastic Sumeria c.3000 BC, have fluting on them - early proto-flanges. Some votive (for religious ceremony) Mesopotamian mace heads are very impractical weapons - some are made of pottery or glass while others are extremely large - up to 25 cm diameter.
Smoothed, though usually not polished, round and oval stone mace heads have been found in Neolithic sites in England, Ireland and Western Europe. They are believed to date from 2500-700 BC. There is insufficient evidence to determine whether this technology spread from Egypt or was developed autonomously.
Stone mace heads were also widely used in the pre-Columbian Americas, especially by the Incas. American stone mace heads come in a huge variety of shapes - including round, oval, doughnut, star, spiked, animal head, humanoid head - and are often highly polished.
The use of metal for mace heads began shortly after the first introduction of metalworking. Mace heads were first cast in copper (3000 BC), bronze (by 2000 BC) and even lead (Luristan/Bactria c.2000 BC). The first shapes cast were hollow round spheres. The earliest known metal mace heads are copper spheres from the area that today comprises Israel and Lebanon. This technology soon spread through the Middle East and Asia Minor.
Bronze cast mace construction spread to the region known as Luristan. This term is properly used to refer to parts of Western Iran but is often loosely used for a wider region including Iran, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Transoxiana and covering several cultures including Bactrian and Scythian. There, the art of bronze mace head casting reached its height - both of technology and popularity (although many of the designs and much of the technology may have originated further to the west in the Levant). Luristan maces, in particular those found at Tepe Giyan (aka Nihavond) in Western Iran, come in a wide variety of complex shapes including cylinders with studs or knobs (the classic “Luristan” form), spherical with studs or knobs, and cylindrical or spherical with four to eight flanges.
After c. 1000 BC mace use seems to have died out almost completely in the ancient world. Maces do not appear to have been used in the Minoan, Greek, Etruscan or Roman cultures. The mace disappeared from the pages of history although it very likely survived in the various Persian Empires (thus encompassing the Luristan area) and in the nearby region of Transoxiana to be resurrected during the late Migration Era and subsequently spread westward in the Middle Ages. Interstingly, predecessors of almost all of the forms of mace head in use anywhere in the Middle Ages can be found in “Luristan” mace heads during the 2nd millennia BC.
ANCIENT STONE MACES:
ANCIENT METAL MACES:
After disappearing for all practical purposes through Classical and Late Antiquity and the Dark Ages (or Age of Migrations) periods, maces made a great come back in the Middle Ages. Why the mace disappeared, whether it survived in use in some areas, how it was reintroduced and how it spread so quickly into Western Europe are questions which await definite answer. I believe that the mace survived primarily in the lands of the successive Persian empires and in Central Asia and was re-introduced westward through several vectors.
Bronze maces were widespread in these regions, including “Luristan”, Transoxiana and Bactria, as late as the first millennia BC. In other words they appear to have remained in use there after they were abandoned in other parts of the Ancient World such as Egypt, Canaan and Mesopotamia, and long after use of the stone mace head was abandoned in Europe. That mace heads from this area existed in forms similar to all medieval maces (knobbed, flanged and cylindrical) is, I believe, no coincidence.
If we work backwards in time, maces were very popular throughout Western Europe by the 13th century. They appear to have been introduced in several ways - contact with Turkic peoples, contact with Arabs and perhaps contact with the Byzantines. Contact with Turkic peoples came through Eastern Europe - Russia, Hungary and eventually through Scandinavia and the Balkans. Contact with Arabs came though several regions during the 11th and 12th centuries - Spain, Italy and the Middle East (via the Crusades).
One mystery is why mace use did not spread to Western Europe earlier given that both the Byzantines and Arabs used maces well prior to 1000 AD. It is possible that mace use did not spread widely into Europe prior to the 13th century because there was little need for what was usually percieved as an anti-armour weapon. The utility of the mace may not have been recognized in Europe until the improvements in armour (helmets, coats-of-plate, etc.) begining around the 13th century forced a re-examination of weapon types.
Persia and the ethnically Iranian cities of Central Asia remain the key to the question of the survival and spread of mace design. Some of the Turkic peoples originated in this region while the others passed through, and in many cases ruled it. The Arabs also had close contact with this region and at times ruled parts of it. The Byzantines had long standing contact with the Arabs and trade links with Central Asia and thus could have acquired the mace directly or indirectly via the Arabs. It appears that the Arabs favoured cylindrical, round and flanged maces while the Turkic peoples favoured knobbed maces.
In any event, the mace was popular, especially with the knightly classes, throughout Europe during the high middle ages. The high gothic mace of the 15th and 16th century was used, in almost identical design, throughout the courts of Europe.
MEDIEVAL KNOBBED MACES:
MEDIEVAL FLANGED MACES:
Maces continued to be used beyond the end of the medieval era. Post-medieval maces were usually a cavalry weapon, and often an officer’s symbol. They were widely used by the Ottomans, Hungarians, and throughout Indo-Persian areas. Maces were also in use in Russia, Ukraine, India and China. A detailed history of post-medieval maces is outside my expertise and interest.