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In Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, Clopin Trouillefou uses a scythe to great effect:

One was noticed who had a large, glittering scythe, and who, for a long time, mowed the legs of the horses. He was frightful. He was singing a ditty, with a nasal intonation, he swung and drew back his scythe incessantly. At every blow he traced around him a great circle of severed limbs. He advanced thus into the very thickest of the cavalry, with the tranquil slowness, the lolling of the head and the regular breathing of a harvester attacking a field of wheat.

My question is, has a scythe ever been used in such a fashion historically? I aware that war scythes have their blades mounted parallel with the shaft, and this is not what I am looking for. Has a scythe in its "traditional" arrangement been used in warfare?

Edit: I am looking specifically for examples from the middle ages or later.

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    Is quite common that during revolts in the country farmers use their tools as weapons. Often because that's the only weapon available for them. – Santiago Jan 11 '17 at 13:12
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    @Santiago - ...or allowed to them. This is the traditional story for where a lot of the unique stereotypical Okinawan martial arts weaponry came from. This includes such Kung-Fu theater staples as Nunchucks, Tonfa, and (relevant here) kama – T.E.D. Jan 11 '17 at 15:03
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    youtube.com/watch?v=4rzQwzg5_mo - Related, not sure on his sources, but he makes some fair points against the uses of traditional scythes in battle. He doesn't just discuss the inconvenience of using a scythe in battle, but also the weakness of the blade and how unsuitable it would be. – lewis Jan 11 '17 at 16:25
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The Kama isn't quite what you ask for, since it is much smaller then a scythe, but this peasant tool turned martial arts weapon is arranged as you indicated with the blade mounted at ninety degrees to the handle.

enter image description here

The Kama

is a traditional Filipino and Japanese farming implement similar to a sickle used for reaping crops and also employed as a weapon.

  • This is a great answer, I was never aware of these but I do believe they probably fit the OP's intent closest (at least as he wants the blade to be perpendicular to the shaft) – ed.hank Jan 11 '17 at 21:13
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Yes the Dacians used this type of weapon frequently and it is very similar to a scythe. This is from Wikipedia so take from that what you will, but I have read about it in Roman history books as well I just dont have them handy at this moment, but to quote wiki:

"The most important weapon of the Dacian arsenal was the falx. This dreaded weapon, similar to a large sickle, came in two variants: a shorter, one-handed falx called a sica,3 and a longer two-handed version. The shorter falx was called sica (sickle) in the Dacian language. The two-handed falx was a polearm. It consisted of a three-feet long wooden shaft with a long curved iron blade of nearly-equal length attached to the end. The blade was sharpened only on the inside, and was reputed to be devastatingly effective. However, it left its user vulnerable because, using a two-handed weapon, the warrior could not also make use of a shield. Alternatively, it might be used as a hook, pulling away shields and cutting at vulnerable limbs."

Edit: After the OP added the condition of middle ages or later, I did find one source of the English Peasants Revolt of 1381 where the farmers/peasants armed themselves with axes, clubs, scythes, etc... and engaged royal forces. So this is one case they definitely used a scythe as you described as a weapon.

"On May 30, Thomas Bampton and two serjeants-at-arms went to Brentwood to inquire into tax payments and to collect any money due. Thomas Baker, the spokesman for Fobbing, informed him that they had already paid and had a receipt from Bampton. They would not pay again. Bampton became angry and threatened the men of Fobbing, but they had gathered with the men from Corringham and Stanford: no one would pay. Bampton's men tried to arrest the 100 men, but a mob drove -the three out of Bampton and back to London to report the incident. There were simultaneous uprisings on both sides of the names as peasants raised their scythes, axes, and knives in this "battle worth fighting...Between May 31 and June 1, the men of Essex gathered at Brentwood, Baddow, and Colchester. By this time the news reached the king, the revolt was under way."

source: Philip Lindsay and Reg Groves, The Peasants' Revolt 1381 (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1954) 20

link: English Peasants Revolt of 1381

Also found was the German Peasants Revolt of 1525

"While there were exceptions, the majority of conflicts were fought with scythes, axes, flails, and other farming tools. The League was also at an advantage by having armed horsemen, who could cover long distances much faster than a marching peasant army. Altogether about 100,000 peasants and sympathizers either died in combat or were later executed during the Peasant War of 1524–5. Many survivors were tortured and lost their privileges and property. Cities and villages that aided the revolts lost their rights; their weapons were confiscated"

source: German Peasant Rebellion, 1525 by Simone Cezanne De Santiago Ramos

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    On the falx the blade was not mounted at right-angles as they are on traditional scythes. I think the OP was after cases where scythes were used unmodified. – Steve Bird Jan 11 '17 at 13:43
  • You could definitely be correct (especially since i just caught the last sentence of the OP) I guess it depends on what type of scythe you are talking about, the scythes of ancient times look much closer to the falx than to the grim reaper style scythe we always picture in our head. Maybe the op can clarify if he is talking about the grim reaper scythes. For that I would have to do some research! – ed.hank Jan 11 '17 at 13:49
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    Not being an expert in farming implements, it seems close enough to me. Seems like the defining feature is being a pole-arm that is only sharp on an inside curved edge. – T.E.D. Jan 11 '17 at 14:43
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    Having used a two-handed scythe made for harvesting, I would consider it a very cumbersome and inconvenient thing to use in battle unless against equally, or worse armed foes. It's really good against grasses and grain crops though. – hatchet Jan 11 '17 at 22:18
  • I guess it is better than a stick or the like, but i still think I would prefer a nice sharp pitchfork if I had to choose a farm implement to do battle with. – ed.hank Jan 11 '17 at 22:47
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Just to add to the accepted answers above, fencing master Paulus Hector Mair (16th Century) produced a treatise Opus Amplissimum de Arte Athletica on a wide range of improvised or unusual weapons, including the Scythe.

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There were scythe swords. They were a scythe blade attached to a sword hilt. Here's a picture of one.

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    The question already excludes war scythes, which one could charicature as a scythe blade mounted on the right handle, the wrong way. You're talking about scythe blades mounted on the wrong handle, the wrong way, which seems even farther from the asker's intent. – David Richerby Jan 11 '17 at 22:39
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TL;DR: The Hussites were famous for using flails and sang during battle, and so a possilbe inspiration for Hugo. This is not really relevant to your question about scythes, but may shed some light on how this passage you quote came about:

One was noticed who had a large, glittering scythe, and who, for a long time, mowed the legs of the horses. He was frightful. He was singing a ditty, with a nasal intonation, he swung and drew back his scythe incessantly.

The Hussites, a religios and movement that faught the Hussite wars, where known for thisbattle tactic: They fired with cannon and crossbows from the cover of carts until the enemy was in diasarray, then hussite infantry with pikes and flais would attack. It was alleged that they would sing church dittys while bashing knights with their flails. The hussites founded their own tradition of religos singing. That the Hussites sung while fighting may be hyperbole, but according to German wikipedia at one battle their enemy ran away because of the intimidating songs - or so one story goes.

So maybe Hugo heard of the Hussites and their battle songs, decied it to be a cool detail for his story and exchanged one farming implement for another, taking some artistic license.

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