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This bizarre looking thing was actually a very effective weapon, but how was it used?

Posted September 3, 2019

This is an actual weapon. It may look a bit weird with spikes facing inwards, but this circular contraption was actually extremely effective. It was used in Europe as late as 18th century and in some parts of the world it is still being used, although without the spikes. Can you guess what is the function of this weapon?

This is a man catcher – despite its scary looks, it is actually a non-lethal weapon. Image credit: Wellcome Collection gallery via Wikimedia (CC BY 4.0)

This strange looking device was actually mounted on a long wooden pole. Its head consisted of two semi-circular metal pieces with sharp spikes in the centre. In front of them there were springy doors, made from a thinner forged steel. Sometimes these front prongs were rather sharp too, but deadly injuries were never the goal of using this weapon. After all, it is called a “man catcher”.

Man catchers were used in Europe for a very long time. In fact, we don’t even know when or how this non-lethal weapon was invented. It was used to catch men (what a surprise, right?) and drag them off horses. The circle in the middle is usually just a little bit bigger than an average size man’s waist. You would just push the man catcher into the man that you’re catching, springy hinges in front would slightly open and then close back up, trapping the man inside. Then you could drag him to the ground and pin him, preventing his movement or any kind of opportunity for escape. A long pole would allow you to stand at a safe distance so that your victim could not use his sword against you.

And we do call that man a “victim” – man catchers were primarily used to catch noble men and hold them for ransom. This is how some criminal elements made money back in Robin Hood times. Surely, you can’t make money off of a dead man, which is why it was important to use this sharp weapon carefully – it was mostly used against armoured knights. But man catchers were not used for kidnappings only – they were also used by prison guards to contain aggressive prisoners.

Man catchers were used against people wearing armour – causing deadly injuries was not the purpose of this weapon. Image credit: Wikimedia

Japanese had similar pole-mounted weapons sodegarami, tsukubō, and sasumata that were used by Edo-era law enforcement to catch suspects. They were used in a similar fashion, but did not grab the person – instead they were used to pin a suspect to the ground, where it could be contained using other means. In fact, in some parts of Asia man catchers are still used today.

In Japan sasumata are still used today by the police. A more European-style locking man catcher is used by some airport security guards in airports of China. Non-locking devices, essentially U-shaped pushers, are used by school security also in China. These non-lethal means of apprehending suspects are very useful because they allow officers of law enforcement to stay within a safe distance.

Man catchers today are mostly found in museums. People wonder if they are some torture devices. But now you know.

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