MACE: Old as Weapon; New as Symbol of Authority

A mace is a blunt weapon, a type of club that uses a heavy head on the end of a handle to deliver powerful blows. A mace typically consists of a strong, heavy wooden or metal shaft, often reinforced with metal, copper, bronze, iron or steel.

Maces, being simple to make, cheap and straight forward in application were quite common weapons in the European Middle ages and Eastern European countries like Medieval Poland, Ukraine et cetre.  Eastern European maces often had pear shaped heads. This may explain why modern maces as used in our legislatures at national and state assemblies are in pear shape.

Ordinarily, the mace was initially a weapon of war used by soldiers or people involved in conflict. The head of a military mace for instance was shaped with knobs to allow greater penetration of plate armor. The length and weight of maces can vary considerably. The maces of foot soldiers were usually quite short, about two to three feet or sixty to ninety centimeters.

It is popularly believed that maces were employed by the clergy in warfare to avoid shedding blood. An example was Bishop Odo of Bayeux wielding a club- like mace at the battle of Hastings in the Bayeux Tapestry, the idea being that he did so to avoid either shedding blood or bearing the arms of war.

But maces are rarely used today for actual combat. A large number of government bodies like in the legislature, Universities and other institutions have ceremonial maces and continue to display them as symbols of authority. Institutions like courts, the British House of commons, U.S. congress, the Nigerian senate, House of Representatives, as well as various state House of Assemblies et. centre use ceremonial mace. 

A ceremonial mace is a highly ornamented shaft of metal or wood, carried before a sovereign or other high official in civic ceremonies by a mace – bearer, intended to represent the official’s authority. The mace, as used today, derives from the original mace used as a weapon. Processions often feature maces, as on parliamentary or formal academic occasions.

The earliest ceremonial maces were practical weapons intended to protect the king’s person, borne by the Sergeants-at-Arms, a royal bodyguard established in France by Philip II, and in England probably by Richard I, (c. 1180). By the 14th century, these sergeants’ maces had started to become increasingly decorative, encased in precious metals. As a weapon, the mace fell out of use with the disappearance of heavy armor.

The history of the civic mace (carried by the sergeants-at-arms) begins around the middle of the 13th century, though no examples from that period remain today. The oldest civic mace in England (still remaining today) is that of Hedon. It was granted (along with an important charter) in 1415. [1] At the time, ornamented civic maces were considered an infringement of one of the privileges of the king’s sergeants, who alone deserved to bear maces enriched with costly metals, according to a House of Commons petition of 1344.

Published in maiden edition, Lens Newspapers Vol. 1 No. 1.

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