The Iron Hand of Gotz Von Berlichingen

Prosthetics are hot! That’s how I’ll console myself if I ever lose my hand in a terrible accident. I picture a long-fingered, razor-nailed chrome hand for everyday wear; a sleek jeweled hand with fingertips that project light (or film!) for the evenings; and for special occasions, I want a sock puppet that’s also a flamethrower. In my toolkit, I would also like to have something Ye Olde. Ideally I’d love to get my remaining hand on the following, eloquently written up for us by guest blogger David Forbes (aka Coilhouse commenter ampersandpilcrow). – Nadya


Götz Von Berlichingen had a problem. It was 1504 and, at the tender young age of 24, the plundering knight, mercenary and all around bastard had the upper part of his right arm torn off in a cannon blast. As someone who made his living off war and already had a sizable enemies’ list, Götz needed his killin’ hand.

So he got another one. Made of iron.


However, this was no crudely shaped hunk of metal — it was a mechanical masterpiece, centuries ahead of its time. The iron hand not only allowed Götz to return to battle, but later helped lay the foundation for modern prosthetics. Complete with articulated fingers, spring action and an array of levers and buttons, the hand allowed a degree of control that’s stunning even today. Fitted with it, Götz could do the following:

It also gave him one hell of a right hook. All this in an era where steam power was still a distant dream and Copernicus had barely begun to deduce that Earth wasn’t the center of the universe.

Götz (and his iron hand) would go on to great infamy. He was twice outlawed by the Holy Roman Emperor, once for mugging a particularly loaded group of merchants. He pillaged towns, helped lead (and later ditch) a peasant revolt and slaughtered Turks, scores of fellow Germans and the French. When a Bishop once demanded his surrender, he thundered back: “Er kann mich im Arsche lecken!” Roughly translated, that’s “Kiss my ass!” The phrase became somewhat popular.

He accomplished another feat often denied to his ilk: he retired and died in bed. He actually preferred his new hand, saying the mechanical wonder had “rendered more service in the fight than ever did the original flesh.”

In no record I can find is the unknown genius who ever made the damn thing mentioned.

Götz’s larger-than-life persona and deeds lived on, however, as did the now-famous hand, preserved today in the museum at his old Jagsthausen castle. Goethe wrote a five-act play about his life called Götz Von Berlichingen with the Iron Hand, though denying him the peaceful retirement part (not enough DRAMA!, Romantics like their antiheroes dead dammit). Sartre portrayed him as a ruthless butcher/existentialist symbol. As science marched forward, physicians from around Europe would study his metal limb and get some ideas of their own.

And, of course, “kiss my ass” is still shouted loudly and proudly the world over.

35 Responses to “The Iron Hand of Gotz Von Berlichingen”

  1. Violaine Says:

    Unfair how the creator got no credit for this! How did it work in terms of moving the fingers and stuff! Were they, like… tied to tendons?

  2. ZeroSum Says:

    So let me get this straight: there’s a historical precedent for Ash’s prosthetic hand in Army of Darkness?


  3. Milly von Hilly Says:

    Prosthetics, battlefields and profanity. This post owns.
    I wonder if he’s ever been name-dropped in a Manowar tune?

  4. Jerem Morrow Says:


    I. HAD. To.

  5. Mark Says:

    Great post Ampers, cheers! Some interesting extra-curricular material for me to chase up there, too. Sterling effort all round – and, a lack of puerile onanism cracks notwithstanding, I’m moved to offer you a hearty round of applause!


  6. Jon Munger Says:

    I swoon. If I eve lose my hand in a horrible thresher accident, it’s iron hand all that way.

  7. Wayne Says:

    I wonder if anyone else remembers the old Robert Conrad TV show A Man Called Sloane. His partner Torque had an amazing array of attachable hands — artillery, power tools, a vise-claw, the works. Good stuff.

  8. Damien Says:

    Jerem, If you didn’t, i was going to.

  9. Mer Says:

    Very, very groovy post, David.

    Wayne, holy crap! I totally remember Torque! What the hell happened to that dude, I wonder. (We all know what happened to Robert Conrad, poor bastard.) That reminds me… I need to netflix some of those old Wild Wild West episodes.

    My right arm was half-severed a while back. While I’m tremendously grateful my incredible surgeon saved it from amputation, I’ve often daydreamed about what it would be have been like to trade in my battered meat for a full-on cyborg arm. This iron fist sounds pretty bad ass as well.

    And while I’m daydreaming…. I can has Sex Machine’s penis revolver, too?

  10. Skerror Says:

    Thx David. This guy had to have been rad. I wonder if the church in 1504 would have had a problem with this arm…playing god and whatnot. Maybe it had to have come from an outlaw…

    “And while I’m daydreaming…. I can has Sex Machine’s penis revolver, too?”

    I heard Dean Kamen is putting a wiener-gun on the next generation segway ;)

  11. Jon Munger Says:

    Jesus Mer, how did you almost sever an arm?

  12. joshua Says:

    mil – kudos for the the manowar joke.

  13. Tequila Says:

    Quite the handjob! (what? I like puns!) It’s devices like these and other ancient tools needed for the warmaker that shows mankind’s true genius…and our love for repetition and arrogance that only the present has the cool cutting edge stuff. It’s a beauty and being slapped, maimed, or prodded by the thing has to have been an odd experience…

    @Skerror…I dunno if the church would have an issue with it given their love of mechanical death machines. If anything they were probably envious and trying to figure out how to make it shoot flammable holy water.

  14. ampersandpilcrow Says:

    Violaine: Yeah, I thought it was pretty unfair too. Somewhere in medieval Germany there was a far-too-humble artisan genius who was thinking ages ahead of their time — makes me wonder what else they could have accomplished.

    The fingers would be manually fixed around an object, large or small, that Gotz could then operate by moving his stump. The hand was so well designed that it would actually keep a grip on the weapon, quill, reins, what have you.

    Mill, Jerem, Mark: Thank you. I had a lot of fun writing and researching it. The very groovy metal applause makes it all worthwhile. ;-)

    Mer: Wow. I’m very glad they managed to save your arm (though you doubtless would have made a badass cyborg).

    Also, further research has uncovered that Gotz had a relative in Transylvania:

  15. ampersandpilcrow Says:

    Ack! Well since the embedding didn’t work, here’s Gotz’s Transylvanian counterpart

  16. Paul Komoda Says:

    What a beautiful piece of work!

    I can picture Gotz launching it off at his foes like Mazinger Z’s Rocket Punch…

  17. James Shearhart Says:

    Great post, David! Well done!

    As for Mer with a deadly penis, that image somehow made my day…. :)

  18. number18 Says:

    Well! I read a long time ago that the character Guts from Berserk was based on somebody… I never actually saw the pictures though. Amazing!

  19. 9196 - sun « The Scotto Grotto Says:

    […] So he got another one. Made of iron. That’s one awesome prosthetic. In addition to green, the new five dollar bill is purple and yellow. The colors of my old black-lite army, back in the day. Tips for photographing the cherry blossoms. Water: 3 Veg/Fruit: 7 Milk: 1 Points: 30.5 Adj: 0 Act: 0.0 Rem: 1.5-6.5 Bank: 15.0 Adj: 0 Bank Max: 15 Point: 15 Act: 4 Vitamins: Yes […]

  20. Elusive Says:

    I want complete (readable) schematics!


  21. Robyn Goetz Bettger Says:

    This is actually my 5th great grandfather. I grew up hearing stories about him. My grandparents escaped Russia during the revolution and came to America. At that time they changed the spelling of our name from Gotz to Goetz.

  22. David Forbes Says:

    Robyn: Wow. That’s a hell of a family tree to have.

    I’m glad you found this post and I hope it did your ancestor justice.

  23. A Red Right Hand Says:

    […] of the article is here. Share and Enjoy: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and […]

  24. Michael Gotz Says:

    I haven’t really traced back my family tree Robyn but my father says the same thing about my grand parents my great great grand mother escaped from Russia and my Grandfather From Germany he did have seven childern so you can only imagine how many Gotz’s there are they may have changed the spelling of yours because it was Russian but I think because mine was more German they just too off the accent marks lol.

  25. Don tiers Says:

    Wait wasn’t this guy the captain of the local constabulary in Transylvania? I hear he was a hell of a darts player…
    I am so sad that great technology gets removed and hidden from society, like the the Chinese landmines from the days of Kublai Khan

  26. A Few of Friday’s Favorite Things -January 30th | Fish nor Fowl Says:

    […] cool it would have been to be a medieval mercenary with an iron fist, […]

  27. Nadia Says:

    hmm I wonder why they ever had that hook like prosthetic arm for so long if something with actual appendages had already been created years ago?

  28. Johnny Says:


    nuff said.

  29. Adriano 1977 Says:

    @ Johnny: Glad to know I haven’t been the only one to think about this :-)
    I wonder if Kentaro Miura actually got the inspiration from this story? Miura is indeed and self-admittedly insired from Euroepan middle age history and lore…
    I’ll check the castle and iron hand out some day, it’s not too far from where I live!

  30. SamKim Says:


    I thought guts from berserk was just not possible (OKAY HE’S PRETTY IMPOSSIBLE TO EMULATE, but that arm is just ridiculous) Then i find this guy.

    I agree with what violaine said in the first comment, What i want to know is who the hell made this arm? That guy was a freaking genius.

  31. Stefan Says:

    Was going to suggest something like “Ambroise Paré may have had a hand in making it”, as he was the first guy to make good prosthetic arms in that era, but I realised that he wasn’t even born until six years after Götz’s arm was blown off… Still, shows there was some guy around before him that was also a genius… And yeah, Berserk for the win :D

  32. XtraTrstrL Says:

    Guts, from the Anime and Manga “Berserk”. The creator started the series in ’89, and said he didn’t find out about the real Gotz until a year or 2 later. The similarities are crazy though, 16th century infamous North-East European mercenary that loses his arm and gets a crazy prosthetic that makes him even better than before.

  33. John Galt Says:

    Whoever posted Sex Machine above should get a medal. I was thinking the exact same thing after reading this post. LOL Great post

    Custom IDX Solutions

  34. 150 Year Old Victorian Prosthetic Hand. | Jose's internet Says:

    […] von Berlichingen and his articulated iron hand from the 16th century. Pictures and description here. Theres a wiki article, too. Goethe even wrote a play about him and that went on to inspire Guts […]

  35. The “Iron Hand” – Meet the Middle Ages’ Toughest Knight | Says:

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