Koncerz and Palasz 

(Cavalry Stock and Broadsword of the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth, 17th C.)

The typical Hussar heavy cavalry of the period was extremely well armed.

Koncerz - estocKoncerz

koncerz.jpg (41603 bytes)Palasz - broad sword

The "koncerz"  (above/left, similar to the western Europe "estock" or "stock") is a special point-only sword, straight and very long (1.1-1.4 meters, typically 1.3 meters), for horseback use only because of its extreme length. 

From the mid 17th Century they were made in triangle cross-section, like a smallsword or modern epee, but they were much longer than small-swords.

Koncerz were used in Poland since the 15th Century - perhaps the prototype was a turkish weapon designed to pierce chainmail. The upper one illustrated is called "Hungarian" (koncerz wegierski), the lower one is called "Turkish" (koncerz turecki).

The "Palasz" (Right/below, or cavalry Broadsword) is a straight-bladed sword capable of attack with both the point and edge.  Somewhat shorter but heavier than a koncerz.  These varied greatly in style, and may include basket-hilted swords. 

PallosaHung16thC.jpg (14236 bytes)                                                                   right, 16th C. Hungarian Pallosa


A few words on the Polish Koncerz and Palasz swords of the 17th C.

(Kilka słów na temat koncerza polskiego w XVII wieku)

By: Marcin Gawęda

Koncerz (cavalry swords known as stocks or estocks in the west, pronounced kon-shech’) are closely associated with the famous Polish Winged Hussars. The Poles adopted the koncerz in the 16th C  from eastern models, for example as used by Turkish cavalry.

Zdzislaw Żygulski observed that there are very few existing examples of koncerz of the early type. Several specimens of early koncerz are in the collection of the Warsaw Military Museum (MWP). They have a characteristic grip in line with the blade, such that the blade can be an extension of the arm (straight line from elbow to point). They have an extremely long, triangular or quadrangular cross-section blade, mostly with sides concavely cut, the latter feature perhaps of German origin [1].

Koncerz scabbards were hung from the saddle usually under the left, but sometimes right, knee of the rider. Eastern saddles had a special strap for hanging the koncerz. Often comrade-hussars (knights) like ordinary post-hussar (fighting retainers) had hanging from the saddle not koncerz, but broadsword (palasz), or one or both sides. According to Zofiowka Stefański, officers  - captains and  lieutenants - always had  koncerz [2].  

(Note, comrades - towarazysze - were senior troopers or wealthy men who sponsored and outfitted one or more ‘post men’ -poszetazysze -fighting men, who served as the comrade’s retainers.  The group consisting of the comrade as junior officer and his men was called a Post -poczet-, and was the smallest tactical unit (of variable size 2-12 averaging 3-4 in the hussars).  In formation, the comrade was the file-leader, and his post made up one file. More on organization is here.)

One source of evidence is the “mobilia” (the non-real-estate ‘movable’ property of estates) left by deceased Polish officers. From this it may appear that in the majority of cases it was an ornate arm of great expense.  For example, among property left by the deceased lieutenant of the hussars Nicholas Złotnicki we will find “koncerz of silver and gold worked with turquoise” and “koncerz bound in silver” [3].

Koncerz was associated with the husarią, a demonstration at the Air Show 2003 in Poznan from 5 July 2003 (photo by author).     

Koncerzi in the MWP collection have a length of 135 cm (Hungarian), 140 cm (Hungarian second half of the 17TH century) and 143 cm (Hussar style). The tip is often triangular cross-section. The hussar koncerz had the following parameters:

- length 143 cm,

- blade width by hilt 2 cm,

-          Cross-section: triangular

-          weight 0,78 kg [4].

Also Zdzislaw Żygulski agrees that koncerzi (whether of western or eastern style) were often seen in the hands of comrades and the older veteran hussars. Żygulski adds, “that some researchers interpret that the koncerz may be a primary weapon of older hussars, as a substitute for the “kopia” lance (which requires a great deal of athletic ability to use). If so, the koncerz would have been brought out the scabbard before battle and used in charges.” [5].

Taking into consideration that koncerz were comrades’ arms, and  used also without doubt by post-hussars, the whole banner would be uniformly armed with koncerz while standing in ranks with kopia-lances. In the few documentary references to swords in hand while charging (without kopia) the broadsword was used rather than the koncerz.  We don’t encounter memoirs of banners attacking with drawn  koncerz, but we can read about charges with drawn broadswords. Describing a hussar charge at Powonka  in 1660 against Moscow infantry Łosia writes:  „ …. Upon the infantry the banner of hussars with their broadswords lept...” [6].

The matter remains open, here I have only raised it as a subject of inquiry. The fact is, that if we agree with Cichowski’s and Szulczyński’s thesis, that koncerzi contested with broadswords for weapon of first choice, we will be accepting the memorialists’ apparent observations that broadswords were used by banners in the majority of battles,  (and that they would have started with koncerz in a minority of battles). Generally this author disagrees with that position; I believe that that koncerz were owned and used often by comrade and post-man alike [7]. 

To the koncerz we cannot assign a greater role than the facts can support. On one hand, both memorial authors observed, that after using the kopia-lance the hussars attacked with drawn koncerz in hand; on the other,  there is the dictate of  Wladyslaw IV stating, that hussars must have „ the saddle with the necessaries, which are rzędem (files?), tokiem (lathe? Progress?), koncerz or broadsword, hanging the koncerz from the saddle under the knee”. Apparently broadsword and koncerz were treated as uniform munitions-grade arms. Presumably authorities decided the price and specifications. Ornate koncerz would be owned by veterans and the wealthy which also distinguished them the normal post-hussar  (however is it only hypothesis, difficult to proof, undoubtedly prices koncerzy-stocks and broadswords varied by period and place).

It appears that some older books about hussars overestimated the koncerz’s typical size. Cichowski and Szulczyński wrote that their specimens of koncerzi had 160 cm lengths (the authors claimed that the length of four koncerzi of the 17th century in the MWP were180 cm  which we know are actually about. 140 cm.)   Useful when the length he defends  we read  while going together with pulled out hand, she leveled some to the lance”. So much only, that the ('short' 11-13 foot) lance (in 17th century the ‘rohatyna’) is universal, because its virtue stems also from how it “works”, that is  to maneuver around (asking  how fighting was done  in the 17th century? Some putting on the sides and backwards certainly was done already in the 16th C..), so comparing not it is to end forcible. In fighting koncerz  serves only to thrust, and appears less universally versatile than broadsword, which attacks as well as defends,  e.g. against saber or rapier of opponent.

If koncerzi were more costly than broadswords, that could explain the more common use of broadswords.

At that time we would be already the step from stating, that koncerz as valuable Arms of senior troopers and comrades, and broadsword was very popular.  Unfortunately slight searching prices both kinds he defends (obviously with stipulating, with is that fitting “by eye”, because the prices they concerned decorated variously and carried out he defends, they have been furthermore various in various part Rzplitej) they will appear to confirm the thesis, that koncerz and broadsword used they have been interchangeably nor has been discerned of specially that two kinds he defends. For example the price for koncerz and broadsword established by a Lublin commission in 1627 r. is precisely identical  - 90 groszy (24,3 grams silvers). So, perhaps koncerz  and broadsword are different in details but are also similar in production costs by each being steel swords, with scabbards  of  leather[8]. 

While searching farther I found some indication that, on average, koncerz was somewhat more expensive than broadswords. In a list of decreed prices in Poznan, 1626, we read that  “for koncerz bound in scabbard with long bands (? wkówki)” it is necessary to to pay 7 florins and 15 groszy, while “for broadsword in scabbard”  the cost was 6 florins. It appears that the difference in price resulted from the “long wkówki” of the koncerz. Fact, that Arms are dealt some just as and especially important confirms the price list of 1623 r. (Sieradz), in which is written, that koncerz  and broadsword each  cost 24 groszy. In another case “koncerz in scabbard bound with iron parts” costs 3 zlote, while “broadsword in scabbard bound with iron bound in capę” costs 5 złote[9].

Its apparent from the above-mentioned examples that koncerzi were not elegant showpieces while broadswords were humble utilitarian tools – we can put that thesis to rest. Price depends on the utility of the weapon, but also on the construction, finish, and decoration. Undoubtedly koncerz and broadsword use depended primarily on the personal preference of the hussar given the task at hand. Perhaps koncerz as Arms sophisticated from broadsword was used by veterans with to of the right it, that usually the officers to stand it has been on a lot of specimens various kind he defends, than post-men (troopers)  used saber and broadsword universally. I believe that we don’t need to envision a scenario in which an entire banner would draw koncerz in formation, as a substitute for kopia.  If it had been actually so husarz he would be "overloaded” with various kinds of arms, first using the kopia after that koncerz, then broadsword, then saber; then the other weapons including the pistols and the nadziak (armor piercing battle axe) each of which was regularly carried.  Each was used in a way that emphasized its strengths in the context of the tactical situation. 

A Koncerz would certainly have been found in the possession of every officer of the Polish –style cavalry. When it comes to cold steel, obviously it is no surprise that rosters were dominated by various kinds of sabers, with considerably fewer koncerzi and broadswords. The inventory of the armory of Hetman of Lithuania Janus Radziwill (made at his death) offers evidence that that the quantity of broadswords and koncerzy may be similar. Analyses of that inventory indicates  that superior officers might even own several koncerzi of various types, which they differed the thing light carrying out and price. Janus Radziwiłł he had in his arms locker two koncerz bound in the silver, and not in the locker a “koncerz in black furniture (scabbard, etc)”, and still in still other places more highly decorated specimens:  “koncerz greatly [i.e. richly] bound, large turquoise stone insets, lacking 5 turquoise stones, without cords”, next koncerz is a very ornate specimen, “greatly bound, golden” and also with some missing decorations.  Several Broadswords were similarly described [10].  

Finally, it is necessary to add, that because of the koncerz’s length (about. 140 cm), withdrawing the koncerz in battle from under the saddle required special techniques. Żygulski thought drawing out a koncerz probably took two steps, first pushing back the scabbard, second (in the same motion) pulling out the blade.  Obviously care must be taken to not injure anything (especially the horse) because it is so sharp [11].

1 – Zdzisław Żygulski, Broń w dawnej Polsce, Warszawa 1975, s. 191.

2 – Zofia Stefańska, Muzeum Wojska Polskiego w Warszawie, Katalog zbiorów wiek XVII, Warszawa 1968, s. 36.

3 – Marek Wagner, Kadra oficerska armii koronnej w drugiej połowie XVII wieku, Toruń 1995, s. 79.

4 – Z. Stefańska, Muzeum..., s. 38.

5 – Z. Żygulski, Broń..., . s. 272.

6 – Jakub Łoś, Pamiętnik towarzysza chorągwi pancernej, Warszawa 2000, s. 94-95.

7 – J. Cichowski, A. Szulczyński, Husaria, Warszawa 1977, s. 68.

8 – Radosław Sikora, Fenomen husarii, Toruń 2004, s. 155 (tab. 10).

9 – Maciej Jeske, O szabelni wyszyńskiej, Dawna broń i barwa, 23, 2001, s. 47-48.

10 – Rejestr broni skarbca ks. Janusza Radziwiłła z zamku w Tykocinie z dnia 15.IX.1656 r., Studia i Materiały do Historii Wojskowości (tomu nie pamiętam).

11 – Z. Żygulski, Broń..., s. 272.

Additional and Translator’s Notes:

The ‘movement dynamics’ of the koncerz vs. the Palasz, and what that implies for its use

The koncerz is a thrusting weapon, 100%.  It has no edge at all, and is very light – it may weigh half what a Palasz weighs, even though it is up to half again as long.  Its grip implies that it is to be held in such a way that the point is an extension of the forearm (such that even if you closed your eyes, you would have a fair sense of where the tip would point.)  This is not a fencing weapon.  In battle it would be used much as a short lance would be used, that is, best in a forward charge.  The weapon would normally not be thrust with the arm, but held at full extension and carried into the opponent by the momentum of the horse.  If the weapon were thrust deeply in and the horse was carrying the rider through, the weapon would likely have to be dropped, and the palasz or saber would have to be drawn.   It seems rather unsuitable for a close-quarter circling melee, except perhaps in a second rank’s support role.  Especially, it is too light and long to allow it to be used defensively well, and because it is so long it cannot comfortably strike an opponent who might be close enough to be pressing against your horse.

 Polish cavalry sometimes used it like a short pike - putting the hilt between arm and chest and holding the blade a third of the way down. Again because of its length, it was carried sheathed below the saddle under the hussar's right knee.

The palasz, on the other hand, and in its heavier variations, is essentially an axe shaped like a sword.  While it has a point that could and should be used on the charge and in melee, it is clearly most suitable for heavy cutting blows and slashes.  That makes it a versatile weapon ideal for close quarter melee fighting.

On the matter of cost, sabers also varied greatly in cost.  Some were cheap tools, but usually men bought the best sabers they could not just because their life might depend on it, but because sabers worn every day to every public occasion were personal jewelry.  On the other hand, broadswords and koncerz were only used from horseback, and were not as visible. Medium grade sabers were far more costly than the fixed price ‘standard’ model koncerz and broadswords mentioned above.

Finally, on the issue of withdrawing the koncerz from the scabbard, we have observed that is it necessary for the rider to stand up on his stirrup.