As they say, “All is fair in love and war,” something that the warriors and soldiers of the past seemed to have embedded in their hearts, way way before rules and guidelines for conducting war became a thing with the Geneva and Hague Conventions. In the past, it was but a lawless open world where anything and everything was possible. The result was some of the most unconventional, astonishing, and sometimes hard-to-believe combat techniques. Winning is the name of the game, whatever it might take.

Pretending to be a Cow

What are you willing to do to ensure the success of your plan to take over a castle?

It was during the First Scottish War of Independence against the English. At that time, the Scots had successfully taken over the majority of the castles from the English hands, except for a few. One of which was the fortress of Roxburgh, which was a key strategic fortress in a highly defensible position; a conventional siege proved to be useless in capturing it. On February 19, 1313, Robert the Bruce’s key lieutenant, The Black Douglas, came up and pulled off a rather unconventional attack at the seemingly formidable castle. His idea? Dress up as a cow.

The ruins of the famous castle of Roxburgh, a favorite of Scottish kings, seated on its massive grassy mound between the Rivers Tweed and Teviot. Painter: E. W. Haslehust

The plan was to attack the night of Shrovetide, which was a Roman Catholic holiday “that was solemnized with much gaiety and feasting.” The Black Douglas dressed 60 of his men in black cloaks and positioned them around the castle on all fours to make them appear like cattle grazing in the fields. Even more convincing if they practiced mooing. Anyway, when the English were busy with their feast, probably all while feeling thankful for the bountiful food and cattle outside, the Scots began to deploy their rope ladders hooked onto the end of extra-long spears. They fixed these ladders to the battlements, and it wasn’t until one of the members of the garrison emerged to find out that the cows were at the top of the ladder. He was quickly killed by dirk, and then his body was pulled over the castle wall.

Soon, the castle was overrun by the Scots, and the English governor locked himself away in the main Donjeon tower. He had to surrender later on because he was badly injured by an arrow, and they wanted to return to England.

Once the English were eliminated, Robert the Bruce ordered the fortifications to be demolished, as he did with most castles. The remnants of the castle can still be found on the banks of the River Tweed today.

Pankration, Fighting with No Limits

Pankration was an ancient Greek martial art that literally translates to “all of the might,” which pretty much tells you about the principle behind it. Imagine boxing or wrestling, only that you could bite your enemy’s nose or maybe gouge his eyes if you felt like that would make you win. If that was not brutal enough, attacking the enemy’s genitals and strangulations was also totally legal. It was pretty much expected as it was part of the ideal way of training soldiers.

The Battle of Thermopylae engraving
The Battle of Thermopylae engraving. (Abbott, Jacob, 1803-1879, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Spartans were said to be well-trained in pankration. In their last stand at Thermopylae, they reportedly used Pankration skills after losing their armaments. The Spartans fought with bare hands, feet, nails, and teeth to kill as many Persians as possible before dying to the last man.