The scythe that we know in pop culture is often depicted as that of the Grim Reaper. A long pole with a single-edged knife curved forward like a hook or a claw. That’s what video game characters also use if they do— take Dante’s soul-sucking badass scythe from Dante’s Inferno video game. Except it looked so much cooler, it’s pretty much the same with Grim Reaper’s. The war scythe from our history is a bit different, though. Depending on who you ask, it is cooler or more lame than what we popularly know.

Dante’s scythe in the game Dante’s Inferno. © Visceral Games/Electronic Arts

Started In Agriculture

Just like the other weapons that we know today, the scythe was originally a farming hand tool. Its origin was not known, but it became widely used in the 8th century in Europe to harvest and store hay used to support livestock during the winter season. Since then, it has been popularly used to mow grass and harvest crops. The appearance was slightly similar to the ones that we know today, although the difference was that the pole (called Snaith) were sometimes curved like the letter “S.” There were also one or two handles along its body so farmers could easily swing the blade down to cut the crops. The curved steel blade between 60 to 90 centimeters was attached at the lower end at 90 degrees.

A modern scythe of a pattern common in parts of Europe. (KkuCC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

From Farming To Fighting

How did these meek and peaceful farming equipment become rouge and turned into a weapon of war?

You see, scythes were the popular choice of peasants who could not afford more expensive weapons such as pikes, swords, and even guns. They used whatever weapons or make-shift weapons they could bring during peasant uprisings, like pitchforks and scythes. They reinforce these weapons by strengthening the joint between the blade and the shaft using bolts and additional metal pipes. They also started replacing their usual scythe blade with the blade from a hand-operated chaff cutter, which was curved outward.