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What are Hastiludes?

Archery demonstrations were held during hastiludes.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 24 November 2014
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Hastiludes are medieval sports which have a martial element. In addition to being a source of fun and friendly competition, hastiludes were designed to keep warriors fit and in fighting form. Competitors used such events to demonstrate their skills, connect with other warriors in their community, and to compete for various honors. Various hastiludes are often displayed at Renaissance fairs, allowing visitors to get a taste of medieval warfare.

The term “hastilude” comes from the Latin hastiludium, which literally means “lance game.” A number of medieval sports are classified as hastiludes, ranging from tournaments to quintain, and often several different sports would be featured at a meet. Competitors included knights, their horses, squires, and other support staff, and typically a large audience would watch the proceedings. Honors were handed out by nobility, recognizing feats on the playing field such as wins and unusual bravery.

One of the most well known hastiludes is probably the tournament, a medieval sport which involved dividing into teams and meeting on the field for a mock battle. In a tournament, people might be mounted or on foot, and they often engaged in close quarters fighting. Tournaments could also be quite dangerous, as people often used real weapons. A related form of fighting, the melee, was also demonstrated at hastilude competitions; in a melee, while people theoretically fight as teams, they work in such close quarters that they are forced to act as individuals.

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People could also compete at quintain, which involves striking a wooden target either on foot or from horseback, as well as trials by combat and jousting. Demonstrations of archery skills sometimes appeared at hastiludes as well. Often, nobles took the field to defend their honor, or delegated specific knights as their champions to represent them in the hastiludes, and although hastiludes were all in fun, defeating a noble or a champion would have been cause for comment.

In another form of hastilude, the pas d'armes, a group of knights would take over a specific location such as a gate or bridge, and pledge to defend it against all comers. Anyone who wanted to pass would have to fight the knights for the privilege; women were generally allowed through as an act of courtesy, although by tradition many ladies left tokens, which knights would return to them after successfully defeating the challengers.

While the nature of warfare has changed, hastiludes in some form or another certainly live on. Many militaries practice war games, and often sponsor friendly competitions between different nations and military branches, allowing people to show off their prowess.

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