The term melee originates in the 1640s from the French word mêlée, which refers to disorganized hand-to-hand combat, a close quarters battle, a brawl, or a confused fight; especially involving many combatants.
The 1812 tabletop war game, Kriegsspiel referred to the hand-combat stage of the game as a melee. Later war games would follow this pattern. From there, gamers would eventually begin to call the weapons used in that stage melee weapons.
Melee weapons can be broadly divided into three categories :
- Pointed weapons, which cover spears, pikes and almost all pole weapons. They typically have a sharp point designed to inflict penetrating trauma, even against heavily armoured opponents, and the length of such weapons gives a range advantage. Certain variants may also hook at enemies to disrupt and disarm them, or pull them from atop horses.
- Edged weapons, which cover swords, axes, fighting knives and daggers. These weapons are designed to cause cutting, dismemberment and exsanguination injuries, and are most effective against minimally armoured opponents. These are used to cut, hack, slash, thrust or stab.
- Blunt weapons, which cover clubs, maces, war hammers, staves, and flails. These weapons are designed to cause blunt trauma, even through armour that would protect against penetration by pointed or edged weapons.
Many weapons fit into multiple categories, or fit in between them; many polearms such as halberds, lucerne hammers and guisarmes add edged and blunt methods of attack to a spear base, and various hooked weapons such as billhooks, fauchards, falxes and becs de corbin evade easy classification; while flexible weapons such as whips don't fall into any of these categories.
List of melee weapons
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- Oxford English Dictionary. 2015. mêlée. "A battle or engagement at close quarters, a skirmish; a confused struggle or scuffle, esp. one involving many people. Also hist.: a tournament involving two groups of combatants."
- W. R. Livermore (1882). "The American Kriegsspiel" (PDF). Riverside Press, Cambridge. p. 105.
The first point to be considered is the number of combatants on either side and the relative advantages under which they are fighting; the second the losses and duration of the melee
- H.G. Wells (1913). Little Wars. Frank Palmer Publishing.
We did at last contrive to do so ; we invented what we call the melee, and our revised rules in the event of a melee will be found set out upon a later page
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- Michael J. Tresca (November 10, 2010). The Evolution of Fantasy Role-Playing Games. McFarland.