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I've always liked the idea of scythes. Their connotation of death and reaping is always satisfying. But they're also a polearm, and that could make for some interesting martial feats. But nearly every discussion I see claims they would be useless as a weapon, due to the poor length/area of cutting edge, inward-facing blade, etc. Without moving the curved blade and/or its position (unless it shifts back and forth), what other problems does a scythe pose, how can I write them away, and most of all, what benefits would a "traditional"-esque scythe have in combat?

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    $\begingroup$ Have a look to this wikipedia entry : en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_scythe $\endgroup$ – Kii Nov 24 '15 at 14:28
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    $\begingroup$ Two words: Wheat People. $\endgroup$ – Doug Warren Nov 24 '15 at 20:24
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    $\begingroup$ One of the primary criticisms I've seen is that a traditional field scythe's blade could be cut off by a sword fairly easily, making its hooking potential less attractive; constructing the scythe shaft out of metal would make it harder for enemies to lop off the blade. This construction process would be much more expensive, so if you made an entire civilization whose specialty weapon was the scythe, you could easily illustrate class/caste disparity by the material a person's scythe was made of. I like the idea of a scythe-centric civilization :) $\endgroup$ – CCJ Nov 24 '15 at 23:42
  • $\begingroup$ @ccj, cutting a scythe handle with a sword is not going to happen, not unless you have a lot of time to hack at it. It would be like trying to cut through a baseball bat. $\endgroup$ – John Feb 3 '17 at 4:28
  • $\begingroup$ scythe's were used as combat weapons quite often, but always by remounting the blade parallel to main handle, it produces a large cutting edge supported by superb leverage $\endgroup$ – John Feb 3 '17 at 4:31
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TL;DR: It can and has been done, although not with the exact same scythe you'd use for grass or wheat.

Well, people have used scythes (or more accurately, sickles) as weapons in combat. Most notable example is a kama, and a khopesh is also superficially similar, so perhaps you could have those and say they evolved from sickles.

The reason for use of sickles rather than scythes is that a scythe is a relatively modern thing; the long blade needed to make one work could not be manufactured reliably before steel became widely available. That's why people used shorter sickles instead, and adapted them as weapons.

You already seem to have a good idea of the disadvantages, but consider that a battle-scythe would probably be quite unlike a field-scythe (much like a battleaxe is quite different from a woodsman's axe). You could definitely add a spike for stabbing, make the blade shorter and thicker (and hence more durable), but at this point it seems to me we are arriving at an elongated halberd. Which, on the other hand, has a good service record, so you might just design a halberd differently and call it a scythe.

As for the advantages, the form of the weapon gives you a pretty good grip for slashing, and the perpendicular blade is good for hooking (much like and axe or halberd would be used), which is useful when facing people with shields.

But the main advantage is that in a mediaeval/fantasy setting, you can easily recruit a lot of people who are already trained with their weapons (ie. peasant farmers), if you can figure out a simple drill to let them transition from a field scythe to your battle-scythe. This is an important consideration, which has in practice led to development of war flails, voulges and war scythes, all of which have been used to great effect in warfare (the above three notably in the Hussite rebellions, which were essentialy a popular movement and defeated five separate crusades called against them).

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    $\begingroup$ Good point about the sickles, the khopesh is pretty much my favorite type of sword. Not that I've ever used one, not entirely sure how that would work, but it looks cool. Other than that, I'd agree with your point about halberds; they were already so useful and made so many different ways, might as well just call one of them a scythe and be done with it. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Nov 24 '15 at 20:02
  • $\begingroup$ define modern, the viking had scythes. It was invented in 500BC $\endgroup$ – John Feb 3 '17 at 4:34
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The Scythe might need a few modifications for any kind of combat. the biggest on would be to have a longer collar attaching it to the handle, otherwise, it will likely be cut off after a few blocks or perrys.

giving the collar a little edge wouldn't hurt either.enter image description here,

In a single combat situation, it might be used to delimb an opponent, but I suspect the scythe wielder would have to be much more proficient than their opponent. If the scythe is a symbol of death, and the wielders dress the part, they may be able to intimidate their opponents into mistakes.

The one situation that I could see the scythe being a possible devastating weapon would be when attacking a shield wall like the Romans had, the long handle could keep you out of range of the gladius and the long 90 degree blade could reach down over the shield wounding the holder and possibly yanking the shield out of their hands and the wall

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    $\begingroup$ I don't think that use-case you described would work; field scythe blades are pretty thin so they can be easily sharpened, which would make them bend when you try to stab with the point. You'd first have to make it shorter and thicker. $\endgroup$ – Mike L. Nov 24 '15 at 14:39
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    $\begingroup$ @MikeL. yes that would be another adjustment needed to the blade, but the technique has merit $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Nov 24 '15 at 14:43
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    $\begingroup$ That it certainly has, hooking is a perfectly legitimate thing to do with a polearm; it should just be durable enough to survive the attempt. $\endgroup$ – Mike L. Nov 24 '15 at 14:47
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure it would work more than once. The first time the defenders would be caught off guard for such a strange attack. The second time they would hold their shields tightly and smash the pole over their shield, breaking it in 2. Also using a pole to pull doesn't work well. Humans aren't actually very good at pulling, and most weapons avoid pulling actions because of it. $\endgroup$ – Trevor Mar 6 '19 at 15:33
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Since you're giving me "in a (slightly) less-realistic world?" to work with I feel like a couple of potential options present themselves.

For starters it's possible that an entire form of martial arts has been developed around the use of the scythe (and possibly other farming implements) as a means of dealing with frequent raids or attacks in a largely agricultural nation. As such no extra weapons are required citizens don't have to "beat swords back to plowshares" they can literally just keep using the same tools for farming and combat.

The other would be something you mention about the blade shifting back and forth. Simple spring loaded locks near the handle could allow the blade to snap into a combat scythe shape at the push of a trigger. This would take it from farm mode to war mode in an instant; and then properly trained peasants can form something like pike men lines to stop cavalry or the like.

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I may be a little late, but I've actually designed a prototype for a scythe which I believe to be usable in combat.

First I've reduced its total length to 56 inches and increased it's blade head side to 30 inches. Next I decided to add a bayonet-type thing to the other side of the head to allow stabbing and protect the shaft a little, I've also added a spearhead at the bottom of the shaft. To reduce the weight of the weapon a little I made the shaft out of a kind of fiberglass reinforced nylon which is lighter and more durable than wood. Finally I added a semi-sheath for the blunt side of the blade.

If you see any issue with my design please tell me. Hope I answered your question.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding! Do you happen to have any illustrations, either a sketch of your design if it is imagined, or a photo if you have actually built one? $\endgroup$ – cobaltduck Feb 2 '17 at 21:26
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    $\begingroup$ I'd like to see it, too. $\endgroup$ – WRX Feb 2 '17 at 22:06
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The tool is in fact a well-refined design for its purpose. In Midnight at rhe Well of Souls, one species is described as feirce fighters that resemble blades of grass! So, the scythe would be the right weapon in this situation, and it occorred in a book that sold a million copies, so it’s reasonable to have such an enemy it seems.

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  • $\begingroup$ What a great book. Chalker was so unrated, that series was terrific. $\endgroup$ – WRX Feb 2 '17 at 22:07
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I would say that a good way would be to slightly change the make up of the weapon, but leave it still recognizable as a scythe. one of the biggest problems with scythes as weapons is the fact that it's only edged on the inside of the blade and not the outside, so I would say make the blade a tad thicker and edge it on both sides of the blade.

Another thing is that the weapon is unwieldy and off balance, so properly setting a center of gravity into the staff by some type of reinforcement would be necessary. Adding some type of counterweight on the bottom of the blade could actually double as a clubbing device as well.

Last but not least you would need the proper fighting style, as a scythe is again very unwieldy the style of fighting would inevitably be very momentum based, a tad similar to a bo staff's fighting style, a lot of fancy footwork and twirling and spinning to build up momentum and keep yourself protected, as well as enabling more than one attack in a single push, allowing you to twist the blade around into multiple strikes.

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A bit late, but maybe making the pole arm out of a strong, flexible metal would work. Allowing the scythes cutting edge to bend outward creating a better angle of attack. It would also catch someone off guard if they weren't prepared for it.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is kind of one of those answers where "if this technology existed, you could do this" answers, that falls apart when you think, well that technology could build better weapons, so why bother? $\endgroup$ – Trevor Mar 6 '19 at 15:29
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In a way a scythe having a strong pole is what really matters scythes used in combat.

It can be used for a lot of acrobatic moves due to the long arm and curved blade, having one side weighted makes it better for spinning in a way because the weight is distributed to one side, so the scythe can be spun blade or pole first.

One thing I’ve noticed is a lot of scythe users in shows or games favor aerial strikes or wide swinging slashes

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Forward curved weapons come with a several advantages and disadvantages to consider:

Advantages:

  • There is a kinesiological advantage to weapons that have an impact point forward and curved slightly inward from the handle/hilt. Weapons that do this strike while your stronger upper body muscles are are still engaged and your weaker wrist is still locked. This leads to a more powerful strike. You see this for example in the design of kukris and khopeshe.
  • Makes the weapon distal-heavy which also leads to a more powerful strike.
  • Forward curved weapons can reach around shields making them especially effective against enemies who prefer shields over heavy armor.
  • This can also result in strikes to your opponents back side which is often less well armored.

Disadvantages:

  • Not as good for thrusting as a straight blade.
  • Distal heavy weapons have more inertia which forces you to commit more to your strikes. This leave you vulnerable as you over extend yourself with each missed strike.
  • Distal heavy weapons are also much harder to parry with.
  • Forward curved weapons are very unforgiving when it comes to edge alignment meaning it takes more skill and control to get a clean cut.
  • Weapons which extreme curvatures are more likely to run into issues with having enough room to maneuver your weapon in the tight confines of a battle formation.
  • The weapon has a small threat range meaning you need to be at exactly the right distance from your opponent to be able to successfully hit them.

Many historical weapons could answer your question which by either use blades similar to the scythe but on shorter handles such as the the Dacian Falx or the Gallic Sicle, or long scythe like handles, but changed the profile of the blade like the war scythe, the bill, or the warpick.

So, why not both?

The design of the scythe is too specialized at delivering a powerful blow at the expense of other features. As a polearm, it is very unforgiving in terms of over or under shooting your opponent (which is why the bill and war scythe are shaped as they are) and even if you could land a hit, the blade is poorly designed to handle that much force smartly. Either you hit something soft and you bury your blade so deep in your opponent it gets stuck (solved by using a bec-de-corbin or poleaxe) or you hit heavy armor and the blade bends instead of punching through (solved by using a warpick).

Shortening the handle means you can use the weapon while locking shields with an opponent. While a scythe would be too long to strike at this range, once you lock shields, you can control distance meaning that a narrow threat profile can be mitigated. The shorter handle minimizes your other disadvantages related to poor balance by lightning the weapon and bringing the weight closer in to your hand, but it also takes full advantage of the good aspects of a distal weighted, forward curved weapon by maximizing the force you can get out of such a small weapon.


So that is the history lesson and the reasons why not to militarize a scythe, but that is not your question. I believe you could make it a viable battlefield weapon, but it would require just the right mix of added features and tactics.

  1. The Greeks made their spears so long that they ran into serious problems with too much distal weight as well; so, instead of making the front of their weapon lighter, they made the back heavier with a sauroter: A heavy bronze spike. By adding a counter weight to the back of a scythe, you give it better balance making it easier to manipulate the head of the weapon quickly. This means you will have more control to bring the blade down when and where you need it, and more importantly stop and redirect it as needed. It could also be used as a secondary weapon if your enemy closes into a closer melee.
  2. Change which side the edge is on. The curvature of the scythe allows you to do effective draw cuts with it; so, if you undershoot your enemy you can just push in and slice with the front blade like a sabre. Or, if you overshoot, you can still pull it back to stab them with the weapon's tip.
  3. Furthermore, the broad blades can be used just like a shield wall to control distance. If you plant your first line of scythes using the sauroter to brace the impact, you could stop a charge short of being in close quarters of you, then your second line could reach over the shields of your enemies to similar effect as a Dacian Falx, but without having to get in so close that you are also at risk from enemy swords.
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