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In the collection of the Regional Museum in Olkusz, there is a well-preserved medieval sword. It is called an executioner's sword, because local legend claims that it was used for an execution carried out in the square in Olkusz. Scientific research does not, however, confirm such a hypothesis with regard to the presented exhibit.

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In the collection of the Regional Museum in Olkusz, there is a well-preserved medieval sword. It is called an executioner's sword, because local legend claims that it was used for an execution carried out in the square in Olkusz. Scientific research does not, however, confirm such a hypothesis with regard to the presented exhibit.
According to them, this sword was a war weapon with a light blade, mainly used for piercing. Decapitation (beheading) would have been extremely difficult to achieve with a single swing of this weapon. Executioners' swords had a handle suitable for two hands; they were heavy and not very long; they were sharpened over the entire length of the blade at the same width and had a blunt-ended tip. Even a tool that was specially shaped for "separating the head from the body" could not ensure the full effectiveness of the sentence, which was only assured by the invention of the guillotine.
Therefore, the sword from Olkusz could not have been the tool used to behead a wretch in the market square in Olkusz. It was used on the battlefield, not for executions. According to Ewart Oakeshott’s medieval sword typology, it is described as type XVIa. It has a blade narrowing towards the tip, with a double-sided fuller up to 1/3 of its length. Signs made of yellow metal were placed on it, and it had the sword-bearer's stamp on its handle (a long-sword with a simple cross-guard and a circular pommel). It is well-balanced, which allowed for a longer fight, and was long enough to effectively reach an opponent.

Elaborated by Jacek Wilk (The Antoni Minkiewicz Regional Museum of the Polish Tourist and Sightseeing Society in Olkusz), editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums, © all rights reserved

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The hangman’s sword: a legend or an artefact?

Although, in the opinion of specialists, the term “hangman” does not reflect the actual purpose of the weapon, according to legend, it was used to punish two gargoyles who, while wanting to rob the church of the Blessed Virgin (part of the Augustian abbey partly destroyed in the 19th century), violated the stability of the building.

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Although, in the opinion of specialists, the term “hangman” does not reflect the actual purpose of the weapon, according to legend, it was used to punish two gargoyles who, while wanting to rob the church of the Blessed Virgin (part of the Augustian abbey partly destroyed in the 19th century), violated the stability of the building.
According to reports, it hung in the hall of a non-existent city hall, whose traces were discovered recently by archaeologists during excavations carried out on Olkusz market (still no traces of Great Scales were found, where local guards weighed ore extracted in nearby workings (see mining weight  which is in the collection of the Małopolska’s Virtual Museums).
After the demolition of the town hall in the 19th century, the sword became the decoration of the magistrate’s meeting room.


 

Elaborated by Editorial team of Małopolskas Virtual Museums,

Licencja Creative Commons

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

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Executioner’s profession

An executioner, also known as “the master of lesser good” or by the more dignified name, “master of holy justice”, though instilling fear and disgust, also enjoyed a certain amount of respect resulting from the common belief in the necessity of his work. In view of the need to administer sanctified justice, it was believed that carrying out his unpleasant duties did not burden his conscience with sin. According to the letter and spirit of the law, every craftsman and townsman could interact with an executioner, and even dine at the same table without damaging their reputation. In practice, however, respected townspeople avoided close personal contacts with the master of lesser good, and touching him during the execution was equated with a loss of dignity.

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An executioner, also known as “the master of lesser good” or by the more dignified name, “master of holy justice”, though instilling fear and disgust, also enjoyed a certain amount of respect resulting from the common belief in the necessity of his work. In view of the need to administer sanctified justice, it was believed that carrying out his unpleasant duties did not burden his conscience with sin. According to the letter and spirit of the law, every craftsman and townsman could interact with an executioner, and even dine at the same table without damaging their reputation. In practice, however, respected townspeople avoided close personal contacts with the master of lesser good, and touching him during the execution was equated with a loss of dignity.
The master of execution was a well-paid official, because, in addition to a weekly wages, he charged extra for each and every simple act, even for the announcement of the verdict. Each request for torture, flogging or beheading was paid for separately. It was not unheard of that one master provided services to several cities and in each of them received a salary. This was the case in Lublin, Sandomierz and Opatów, which had the same executioner.
Executioners had their own guild and, just like other craftsmen, they went through years of education, in other words, completed an apprenticeship. The most famous training centre for executioners in Poland was in Biecz. The choice of location was not accidental, because the city outskirts were abundant in robbers, who served as practice subjects for the difficult art of decapitation.
Due to his excellent knowledge of anatomy, an executioner would sometimes fill in for a doctor. His services were much cheaper than a visit by a medic, but no less effective. Executioners were regarded as experts in skin diseases, such as boils. In addition, they set broken and sprained limbs and performed simple surgical and dental operations.
An executioner personally performed the most important duties requiring special skills — he cut off heads with an axe or — something which was more frequent in Poland — with a sword. A sloppy beheading by an executioner was, in fact, subject to punishment. All other duties were performed for him by the tormentors (the knackers). In the presence of the master, they were in charge of torture during the investigation, as well as carrying out sentences such as: cheeking, branding, cutting off nostrils or hands, quartering, tearing apart with horses and burning at the stake.
They also constructed gallows and were responsible for a whole range of matters seemingly unrelated to the responsibilities of an executioner. Knackers, on behalf of the executioner, cleaned the moat and town hall latrines, banished beggars and streetwalkers from the city, in addition to catching and killing animals roaming the streets. It should be added that the executioner and his henchmen had the exclusive right to cull stray dogs and cats, which were protected by the law. If anyone else dared to kill a stray animal, he was subject to infamy. Up to this day, the name for a catcher of stray dogs in Polish is the same as the word for an executioner's assistant: hycel. The general disdain with which society treats them has not changed either.

See: the Executioner’s sword

Elaborated by Adam Spodaryk (Editorial team of Małopolskas Virtual Museums), 
Licencja Creative Commons

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

Bibliography:

Aleksander Brückner, Encyklopedia staropolska, t. 1, Warszawa 1939, szp. 569–571.
Zygmunt Gloger, Kat, [in:] Encyklopedia staropolska, t. 3, Warszawa 1902, p. 25–26.
Jan Kracik, Michał Rożek, Hultaje, złoczyńcy, wszetecznice w dawnym Krakowie, Kraków 1986.
Hanna Zaremska, Niegodne rzemiosło: kat w społeczeństwie Polski XIV-XVI w., Warszawa 1986.

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Kolorowy strój kata

Popkultura bazująca na sztuce średniowiecznej stworzyła obraz kata ubranego w czerwony bądź czarny kaptur. Wyobrażenie to, choć zgodne z realiami wieków średnich, jest uproszczeniem. Noszenie kaptura i zasłanianie twarzy nie było regułą, a już na pewno nie służyło uzyskaniu anonimowości – kaci byli oficjalnymi urzędnikami miejskimi. Faktem jest natomiast częste stosowanie w katowskich strojach czerwieni. Zygmunt Gloger podaje, że „Kaci ubierali się czerwono, kuso z niemiecka, bo Jan Ostroróg w XV wieku narzeka, że ubiorem nie różnią się od innych, chodziło zaś tu zapewne nie o krój sukni, ale o czerwień, która była barwą rycerstwa, t. j. szlachty polskiej”.

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Popkultura bazująca na sztuce średniowiecznej stworzyła obraz kata ubranego w czerwony bądź czarny kaptur. Wyobrażenie to, choć zgodne z realiami wieków średnich, jest uproszczeniem. Noszenie kaptura i zasłanianie twarzy nie było regułą, a już na pewno nie służyło uzyskaniu anonimowości – kaci byli oficjalnymi urzędnikami miejskimi. Faktem jest natomiast częste stosowanie w katowskich strojach czerwieni. Zygmunt Gloger podaje, że „Kaci ubierali się czerwono, kuso z niemiecka, bo Jan Ostroróg w XV wieku narzeka, że ubiorem nie różnią się od innych, chodziło zaś tu zapewne nie o krój sukni, ale o czerwień, która była barwą rycerstwa, t. j. szlachty polskiej”.

Nie znamy dokładnych relacji na temat wyglądu miejskich oprawców, wiadomo jednak, że ubiór kata regulowany był przez władze miejskie. Powszechnym zwyczajem był nakaz noszenia przez oprawcę stroju wyróżniającego go spośród innych mieszczan. Krakowski mistrz małodobry musiał nosić oznakowany strój – miał naszyte na rękawie trzy kawałki sukna w kolorach białym, czerwonym i zielonym. Niestety nie znamy źródła tej informacji, a więc i czasu, z jakiego pochodzi. Interesujące, że takie same kolory, choć wymienione w innej kolejności, miały wyróżniać mistrza małodobrego we Frankfurcie nad Menem.

Niekiedy kaci jako wykonawcy sprawiedliwości otrzymywali od władz specjalny strój, stanowiący swojego rodzaju umundurowanie. Tak było w Brunszwiku, gdzie w roku 1584 rajcy podarowali głównemu oprawcy kosztowny ubiór z wyhaftowanym herbem miasta.

Lucas Cranach Starszy, „Męczeństwo św. Katarzyny”, 1506, Drezno, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, źródło: Wikimedia Commons, domena publiczna.

W szesnastowiecznym malarstwie środkowoeuropejskim w scenach Męki Pańskiej oraz męczeństwa świętych powszechnie przedstawiano głównego oprawcę w barwnym, pasiastym stroju, wyglądającym podobnie jak ubranie noszone przez lancknechtów – najemnych żołnierzy niemieckich. W czasie wojny byli oni potrzebni i dobrze opłacani, ale kiedy przychodził pokój stawali się uciążliwym dla społeczeństwa marginesem. Rozpuszczeni żołnierze dokonywali rabunków i gwałtów, nierzadko formując liczne zbójeckie bandy. Fakt ten wyjaśnia skojarzenie budzącego wstręt i grozę zawodu kata z wywołującymi podobne uczucia lancknechtami. Ponadto wydaje się prawdopodobne, że z braku innego zajęcia zdemobilizowani żołnierze najmowali się jako miejscy kaci. Wiadomo, że w rotach lancknechtów byli etatowi oprawcy wymierzający sprawiedliwość niezdyscyplinowanym kolegom. Być może to właśnie oni decydowali się na pracę „mistrzów świętej sprawiedliwości”.

Zobacz: Miecz katowski

Opracowanie: Adam Spodaryk (Redakcja WMM), 
Licencja Creative Commons

Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa 3.0 Polska.

Bibliografia:

Marek Borucki, Temida staropolska, Warszawa 1979.

Zygmunt Gloger, Kat, [w:] Encyklopedia staropolska, t. 3, Warszawa 1902, s. 25–26.

Edmund Kizik, Kolorowy ubiór kata, [w:] Kaci, święci, templariusze,red. Błażej Śliwiński, Malbork 2008, s. 191-204.

Jan Kracik, Michał Rożek, Hultaje, złoczyńcy, wszetecznice w dawnym Krakowie, Kraków 1986.

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