"Halbert" redirects here. For other uses, see Halbert (disambiguation).
Swedish halberd heads from the 16th century
Halberdiers from a modern-day reenactor troupe.

A halberd (also called halbard, halbert or Swiss voulge) is a two-handed pole weapon that came to prominent use during the 14th and 15th centuries. The word halberd may come from the German words Halm (staff), and Barte (axe). In modern-day German, the weapon is called a Hellebarde. The halberd consists of an axe blade topped with a spike mounted on a long shaft. It always has a hook or thorn on the back side of the axe blade for grappling mounted combatants.[1] It is very similar to certain forms of the voulge in design and usage. The halberd was usually 1.5 to 1.8 metres (5 to 6 feet) long.[2]


The halberd was inexpensive to produce and very versatile in battle. As the halberd was eventually refined, its point was more fully developed to allow it to better deal with spears and pikes (also able to push back approaching horsemen), as was the hook opposite the axe head, which could be used to pull horsemen to the ground.[3] A Swiss peasant used a halberd to kill Charles the Bold,[4] the Duke of Burgundy—decisively ending the Burgundian Wars, literally in a single stroke.[5] Researchers suspect that a halberd or a bill sliced through the back of King Richard III's skull at the Battle of Bosworth.[6]

A member of the Swiss Guard with a halberd in the Vatican.

The halberd was the primary weapon of the early Swiss armies in the 14th and early 15th centuries.[3] Later, the Swiss added the pike to better repel knightly attacks and roll over enemy infantry formations, with the halberd, hand-and-a-half sword, or the dagger known as the Schweizerdolch used for closer combat. The German Landsknechte, who imitated Swiss warfare methods, also used the pike, supplemented by the halberd—but their side arm of choice was a short sword called the Katzbalger.

As long as pikemen fought other pikemen, the halberd remained a useful supplemental weapon for push of pike, but when their position became more defensive, to protect the slow-loading arquebusiers and matchlock musketeers from sudden attacks by cavalry, the percentage of halberdiers in the pike units steadily decreased. The halberd all but disappeared as a rank-and-file weapon in these formations by the middle of the sixteenth century.

The halberd has been used as a court bodyguard weapon for centuries, and is still the ceremonial weapon of the Swiss Guard in the Vatican[7] and the Spanish Royal Halberd Guards.[8] The halberd was one of the polearms sometimes carried by lower-ranking officers in European infantry units in the 16th through 18th centuries. In the British army, sergeants continued to carry halberds until 1793, when they were replaced by pikes with cross bars.[9] The 18th century halberd had, however, become simply a symbol of rank with no sharpened edge and insufficient strength to use as a weapon.[10] It did, however, ensure that infantrymen drawn up in ranks stood correctly aligned with each other.


  1. John F. Guilmartin, Jr. "military technology – Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Britannica.com. Retrieved 2013-06-13.
  2. "halberd – Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Britannica.com. Retrieved 2013-06-13.
  3. 1 2 "History of WARFARE – LAND". Historyworld.net. Retrieved 2013-06-13.
  4. Klaus Schelle, Charles le Téméraire (Arthème Fayard, 1979), p. 316
  5. Gilbert, Adrian (2003) [2002]. "Medieval Warfare". The Encyclopedia of Warfare: From Earliest Times to the Present Day. Guildford, CT: The Lyons Press. p. 71. ISBN 1-59228-027-7. At Nancy, it was a halberd that brought down Charles the Bold with a single blow that split his skull open.
  6. Richard III dig: Grim clues to the death of a king By Greig Watson, BBC News, 4 February 2013
  7. Beam, Christopher (2007-06-06). "What does the Swiss Guard actually do?". Slate.com. Retrieved 2014-03-04.
  8. http://www.guardiareal.org/
  9. David Fraser, page 33 "The Grenadier Guards", ISBN 0850452848
  10. Robin May, page 33 "Wolfe's Army", Osprey Publishing Ltd 1974

See also

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