In today’s post, I will review the top 16 Medieval Warfare Weapons of all time, as I see it.
The Medieval era or somewhat referred to as the middle ages or dark ages stretches from the 5th to the 18th century. The dark ages started after the fall of the great Roman Empire in the 1330s. The idea that Europe’s Middle Ages between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance was marked by intellectual darkness gained traction, notably during the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century. During this time there was little growth in science and culture, which is why the Middle Ages are frequently described as being dark.
The phrase “Middle Ages” tells us more about the Renaissance that followed it than it does about the era itself. Starting around the 14th century, European thinkers, writers and artists began to look back and celebrate the art and culture of ancient Greece and Rome. ~ History
There were a lot of wars being fought in this particular period, some of these battles were so intense they changed the course of history. Since there are wars to fight there are weapons that every army will need. Today we will talk about 16 weapons that were used in the middle ages. From siege weapons to defensive weapons of the dark ages, they played a huge part in an army’s success. Of course, this list is just my opinion and we can agree to disagree.
Top 16 Medieval Warfare Weapons
# 16: Caltrops
They were placed on the battlefield to halt the advance of cavalry, foot infantry, horse-drawn chariots, camels, and war elephants. A caltrop always lands on three of its spikes, with a potentially hazardous fourth spike still in the air, regardless of how it is thrown. This defensive weapon originated in England in the early 17th century and it was also called galtrop, cheval trap, jack rock, and crow’s foot. This anti-personnel or anti-cavalry weapon can be equipped with poison so the enemies would suffer in excruciating pain while slowly dying when they step into a caltrop.
Caltrops have been found in pre-Revolutionary sites of the English colonies in America, including Jamestown and Ticonderoga, but not in large numbers. This may be because they were re-used as scrap iron, but it is more likely that they are scarce because they were not imported in large numbers nor were they made in the colonies. Most caltrops found in the United States were used during the American Revolution by British defenses. They have been found near Boston and in abundance around New York City, typically near sites of British fortifications and outposts. ~ The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia
# 15: Boiling Oil
In the middle ages, soldiers use unrefined natural oil to create another defensive weapon, the “boiling oil”, just like the caltrops this is mainly used to defend castles under siege. This anti-siege weapon has proven its effectiveness against soldiers at the gates operating a battering ram, or soldiers climbing up the castle using ladders. Defenders would frequently pour boiling oil and other scalding liquids over the castle walls or through specially constructed openings called “murder holes,” which were openings in the castle wall through which the defender could pour the deadly payload on top of the attacker’s head while remaining safe from enemy projectiles. The boiling oil was also used by the Roman Empire as a tool for execution they call the method death by boiling.
History does provide us with some accounts of the use of boiling oil against assailants in Medieval Warfare. The Jewish defenders of Yodfaat (Jotapata in modern-day Lower Galilee, Israel) are said to have used it against Vespasian’s troops in AD 47.Other mentions include during the Hundred Years’ War siege of Orleans (1428-20), the Great Siege of Malta (1565) and the siege of Sommières in the French Wars of Religion (1573). ~ Times Knowledge
# 14: Catapults/Trebuchets
Medieval warfare won’t be complete without siege weapons, now we will talk about the infamous catapults and the trebuchets. These weapons are mainly used to break down castle walls or to break the enemy’s formation by hurling light at heavy objects and sometimes setting those objects on fire before releasing them. The catapult was the first one to be invented(early to mid 5th century BCE) it uses potential energy to drive or push the load, it can throw an object weighing about 180 pounds. On the other hand, the Trebuchets are an improved form of a catapult, it uses mechanical energy to throw projectiles weighing around 350 pounds at maximum.
Catapult physics is basically the use of stored energy to hurl a projectile (the payload), without the use of an explosive. The three primary energy storage mechanisms are tension, torsion, and gravity. The catapult has proven to be a very effective weapon during ancient times, capable of inflicting great damage. The main types of catapults used were the trebuchet, mangonel, onager, and ballista. These types of catapults will be described, and pictures and illustrations will be included. ~ Real World Physics
# 13: Ballistas
Much better than the catapults, these large types of crossbows can launch objects at great distances. The Greeks thought of a way to combine a crossbow and a catapult and it resulted in a Ballista. Two wooden arms that protrude from the sides are attached to ropes. The ropes coiled around a wench, increasing stress as the arms were pushed back. By releasing the arms, the tension in the ropes was relieved, and the object was propelled into the air. The ammunition of the Ballistae(plural form of Ballista) are darts, stones, and sharpened wooden sticks or bolts. The Ballista is more accurate than a catapult or its successor the trebuchet and it can launch objects up to 500 yards, this weapon is considered to be an older form of a sniper rifle.
Ballista was used to destroy walls and fortifications as well as on the battlefield in order to decimate enemy units. It resembled the shape of a powerful crossbow on a wagon that usually drew oxen or mules (carroballista). The big crossbow was drawn by the guts of animals, which allowed her to throw missiles at very long distances. Winded with a special crank, it worked like a crossbow. Sometimes it was used to destroy city gates instead of a battering ram. ~ Imperium Romanum
# 12: Batons
The wood-cylinder weapon, which had a length of 0.5 meters, was mostly employed by one hand to strike an adversary. It was ideal for preventing the anticipated harm to the foot soldiers. The use of the Batons made of wood or whalebone allowed them to have realistic fights that improved their fighting techniques as well as their strength and stamina. The use of the Batons served a great purpose to train armies to fight for kings and noblemen in the Feudal system without them being injured during aggressive training fights. Using these wooden batons for training was often done every day.
Expertise in the use of medieval weapon such as Baton and understanding the strategy of Middle Age warfare was crucial and played an important part in Medieval Life. Baton training include practicing new moves, accuracy, defending, and managing battles including close contact fights using Baton. ~ Medieval Middle Ages
# 11: War Axes
Some of the Saxons, the Romans, and the Vikings wielded war axes as their weapons. There are many different types of war axes, some of them are being held with two hands, the double-bladed war axe. Some are light and can be thrown off to their targets, the throwing axes. The knights preferred to use the sword instead of the axe but those tribes that does not really have the financial capability to purchase swords for their army used axes as their primary weapon, they can be accompanied by a shield, or a soldier can go all offensive and may use dual axes in battle ignoring defense. Small types of axes can also be used as secondary weaponry for bowmen.
These weapons visually terrorized their enemies through their large broad single or double edged blades. Forged with precision to highly polished edges, points and rounded curves, coupled with thick long handles, these weapons were the rage in their day on the battlefield. If you encountered an enemy with this weapon chances are no one was coming out of a fight unscathed. ~ Swords of the Forge
# 10: Battle Scythe
Also called war scythes these are pole weapons does have some cutting edge on the concave side of a single-edged blade that is curved. The design of the medieval battle scythe is derived from an agricultural tool used to cut grass or wheat. A war scythe’s blade has flats that are of a regular proportion, has about the same thickness as a spear or sword blade, and slightly bends as it tapers to the point. Peasants used these weapons along with the pitchforks if there are uprisings in the community.
The scythe, a farming tool, could be easily transformed into an effective infantry weapon. The process usually involved reforging the blade of a scythe at a 90 degree angle, strengthening the joint between the blade and the shaft with an additional metal pipe or bolts and reinforcing the shaft to better protect it against cuts from enemy blades. At times instead of scythe blade, a blade from hand-operated chaff cutter was used. ~ Get a sword
# 9: Horseman’s pick
Originally called a war pick, this weapon looks like a long and enlarged hammer with a pointed tip that is 90 degrees from a shaft and is designed to easily pierce armor and the skull. It is called a horseman’s pick because this weapon was mostly used by the cavalry of the European and Middle Eastern armies. If the sword can’t penetrate the armor, the horseman’s pick does, however, due to its weight it is easy to dodge its attacks.
At first glance, a horseman’s pick doesn’t seem especially threatening. But take another look – because almost the whole mass of this weapon is concentrated in the head of the hammer, the cut of a relatively light hammer has a force that can dent plate armor and break bones. Combine the head with a curved steel spike that comes to a brutal point and the result is a horseman’s pick that can pierce armor. ~ Supreme Replicas
# 8: Halberds
A halberd is a polearm with a wide blade at the side and a pointed blade at the end. It looks like a combination of an axe and a pike with a long handle about six or seven feet long. This weapon was mainly used in the 14th and 15th centuries to topple the horses of the cavalry. It can keep the horsemen at bay with its pike or deal huge cleaving damage using its ax.
The head of this halberd incorporates three basic elements: an axe-like blade, an apical spike, and a beak. The axe blade, which gives the weapon its name (derived from the German Halm, long shaft, and Barte, axe) was used for hacking, the spike for thrusting, and the beak either for piercing a plate of armor (against which the cutting edge would have been useless), or for pulling a knight from his saddle. ~ The Met
# 7: Lances
If you are a fan of epic war movies, you often see knights mounted with their war horses and equipped with a battle lance having a tournament in front of a large audience including the king and queen, their prince, princesses, and other nobles. That is what you call jousting in medieval times, wherein the knights have a battle of superiority, if that sport still exists it should be included in the Olympic games! The weapon that they use to joust is a jousting lance without a pointed end or if the fight is to the death they use a battle lance which is normally used by the knights in an actual war. A lance was an extended wooden spear with a point made of sharp metal. When knights fought, they would charge at each other from as far away as they could on their horses. They would try to knock each other to the ground or try to spear each other with their lances. A knight was forced to defend himself with his shield while attempting to strike his foe with his own lance with the other hand.
Early medieval lance weapons were similar to Spears and had long wooden shafts and a metalhead, however, the lances used in popular medieval tournaments or tourneys were made of hollow wood and had blunted heads such as the Coronal head which was very popular, safety was a concern for medieval knights in jousting contests and safety devices were added to lances such as the coronal to protect medieval knights from injury. ~ Medieval Chronicles
# 6: English Long Bows
When it comes down to medieval long-range combat, the English longbow is no exception. With a height measuring around a middle-aged man or taller and an approximate weight of 80-160 pounds it can fire an arrow up to 300 yards and instantly kill its target. Aiming at a target using a longbow was done through muscle memory and a lot of practice, a longbowman usually trains for five years or more to master using the weapon, and they always have a one shot one kill mentality just like our modern snipers. It was said that the dominance of the English longbow brought France to its knees. The best longbowmen were Welch people because sometimes they equip their weapons with fire arrows or poisoned arrows.
Extensive training was required for medieval English longbowmen in order to become expert marksmen. The entire youth of the population was encouraged to take part in longbow sports so that at any given time, a large pool of expert English longbowmen were available to fight. Exhaustive training of medieval English longbowmen resulted in changes in their physical structure. Skeletons of English longbowmen from the medieval times show enlarged left arms as well as open bone spurs on left wrists and left shoulders. ~ Medieval Chronicles
# 5: Cross Bows
The longbow takes too long to master, so the crossbow enters the battle. Way back in 400 BCE, ancient China invented the crossbow to accurately hit their enemies with a fatal blow. The ancient Chinese has a huge army of crossbowmen totaling around 50,000. The crossbows use ammunition called bolts or quarrels, it’s arrow-like figures that can penetrate a full mail depending on the bolt’s thickness. But even a powerful long-range weapon has its own weakness, the crossbow’s weakness is its reload time. It takes about 30-40 seconds to reload a crossbow, an expert crossbowman can release two bolts in a minute. Like a rifle, the crossbow could be fired by holding it up to your shoulder, aiming, and pulling the trigger. The stock of a hand-held crossbow was roughly 45 cm long and 60 to 65 centimeters wide. The arguments were typically brief and culminated in a sharp point.
The crossbow is handheld in a similar fashion to the stock of a long gun. It didn’t take a lot of skill to use a crossbow; especially in comparison to the years of training required for the longbow. Because of this, many young boys and injured soldiers used crossbows. This was generally seen as an issue: An untrained person could easily injure a knight in plate mail with this weapon. Crossbows use a locking mechanism to maintain draw. The shooter only needs to pull the string into lock and then release the shot by pressing a lever or trigger. A crossbowman would average two or three shots per minute with a range of 320 to 360 meters. ~ Medieval Britain
# 4: Maces
The maces were a popular weapon in the medieval century, they were initially equipped by the infantry but later on, the cavalry included it as one of their main weapons. The medieval mace was an intimidating-looking weapon. Its most popular version featured a long handle made of wood or metal that ended in a metal ball with spikes. Mace weapons might be made of bronze, iron, or steel. Medieval maces typically featured long handles that were occasionally made of wood or, more frequently, metal.
The Medieval times were an extremely violent era in history featuring battles in both Europe and the Holy Land when the crusades, and the crusaders who fought them, were numerous. Feudal Lords and Knights and their men at arms used such weapons as the Medieval Maces in different types of warfare. The quest for power led to invasions of lands and territories which had to be fought for. Siege warfare, waged to win a castle or a walled town or city, was a frequent occurrence during the Medieval times. Warfare during the Medieval era called for a variety of weapon expertise. Knights and men-at-arms (who consisted of foot soldiers or archers) used different types of weapons. ~ Battle of the Nations via Facebook
# 3: Spears
Spears have been known to be a weapon that was created since the birth of men on earth, our ancestors the Neanderthals and Homo sapiens were the first ones to use the spear for hunting or fishing. The very first spears were made of sticks and sharpened stones tied with a strong rope at its tip. Early humans were able to easily kill predators using a stone spear, it can deal a huge amount of damage to mammoths, sabertooth tigers, and bears. The spear is also a perfect weapon of choice combined with a stout shield or a buckler, the Spartans and Macedonians were able to use this weapon effectively using the phalanx strategy in battle. The spear can fend off enemies from a distance while dealing massive thrusting damage, or it can also be thrown at the enemy.
The spear or a long-shafted weapon wielded, even by a novice, can inflict damage at range taking out a swordsman before they can even swing their weapon. No wonder it was a favorite for thousands of years, from the common soldier to royal guards. It can sneak around shields and makes it easy to hit the head, torso, or lower leg with equal ease, again at the range. A spear can cut, slice, and thrust with extreme effectiveness. It can be used to beat swords and soldiers to the ground. It can even be thrown with deadly efficiency when balanced in the right hands. ~ Museum Replicas Limited
# 2: Short Swords
About 70 to 80 centimeters in length, short swords are one of the main choices of the armies of the middle ages. There are many different types of short swords in the medieval era, they are made mostly of bronze and silver, and there were also gold swords. Since a sword is expensive at that time, it was mostly used by army generals or knights of royalty. The short sword is also partnered with a short shield for defense.
These are some of the most popular short swords and the armies who wielded them:
- Seax – used during the early medieval era by the migrating Germanic tribes, particularly the Saxons. A typical seax has a blade with a notched edge and a curved shape overall.
- Falchion – used between the 13th and the 16th centuries in various regions of Europe. It had a single-edged blade and a hilt that was intended for one-handed use.
- Gladius – primarily used to depict the standard short sword carried by soldiers in ancient Rome. The early Greek swords and the Roman swords were very similar.
- Xiphos – This is the most popular sword wielded by the Greek army. It is an iron and steel double-edged straight short sword, it is designed like a leaf great for cutting and slashing.
- Cutlass – Used by the French army, this short sword featured a large, straight blade that was only slightly bent, and the cutting edge was sufficiently sharp. This sword’s hilt has a solid cupped guard in the form of a basket.
The simple, one-handed cruciform hilted sword is what most people think of when they contemplate the weapons of the Middle Ages. Although blade designs and hilt fashions came and went, the cruciform hilt in it’s myriad forms went on to be used until the rifle replaced the sword for military-use. This piece represents a basic sword that would not be out of place throughout most of the medieval period and into the early renaissance. Whether in the hands of knight, footman, or bandit this is a common and attractive style of sword. ~ My Armoury
# 1: Long Swords
Other soldiers who wanted to go all-out offensive will choose a long sword or a great sword over a short sword at all times. Compared to a short sword that can only be up to 80 centimeters in length, long swords are approximately 85 to 110 centimeters long. It also has four components the hilt, the blade, the pommel, and the crossguard. The powerful longsword is normally held by both hands, it is a great weapon for slicing and stabbing. According to historians, if a long sword is held by the right wielder, one slash can cut a horse in half.
Here are some of the popular long swords in the medieval era:
- Claymore – is a two-handed cutting sword that was used in the early sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by Scottish mercenaries in Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland. Later, the term was used to describe the Scottish basket-hilted sword from the eighteenth century.
- Bastard Sword – They were hybrid swords that can be wielded using two hands or just one hand. It has a longer grip and is capable of dealing massive damage to multiple enemies to try to go near it.
- Zweihänder – this great sword was developed into a signature weapon of the German Landsknechte beginning with the reign of Maximilian I (d. 1519) and continuing through the 1494–1559 Italian Wars.
The longsword is characterized not so much by a longer blade, but by a longer grip, which indicates a weapon designed for two-handed use. Swords with exceptionally long hilts are found throughout the High Middle Ages. For example, there is a longsword in The Glasgow Art and History Museum, Labelled XIIIa. 5, which scholars have dated back to between 1100 and 1200 due to the hilt style and specific taper, but swords like this remain incredibly rare, and are not representative of an identifiable trend before the late 13th or early 14th century. ~ Wikipedia
Notable mention: Katanas
Supposedly, my number one choice of an ancient weapon is the katanas used by the Japanese samurai. However, the wars in the dark ages as we all know were mostly fought in Western countries like Europe. This Japanese sword was used way back in the Heian period until the end of the Edo period. A katana is a counterpart of a long sword in European countries, it is made of pure steel which the Japanese call tamahagane or “jewel steel”. An expert blacksmith would need to produce tamahagane at temperatures of up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, they must fold and hammer layers of iron ore for three days and three nights. Its sharpness is impeccable there was even a video on YouTube showing a katana cutting a 9mm bullet in half without damaging the sword. There are 7 legendary katanas in Japanese history which I will be featuring in my next article.
The traditional Japanese katana had the perfect composition of metals. In the early days of Japan’s bladesmithing craft, swords and bladed weapons were produced with basic, low-carbon steel. However, swordsmiths discovered that adding carbon to their swords resulted in a stronger blade. This led to the development of tamahagane steel — a high-carbon steel that was used to make traditional Japanese swords like the katana. ~ Butouken
In conclusion, these are the top 16 medieval weapons, as I see them. Which one is your favorite and why? Which one did I forget to include on my list? Please share your thoughts below. I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.
Other posts you may enjoy:
- Top 12 Military Knives of All Time
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- Alexander the Great: Facts, Quotes, & History
- Top 10 Civil War Battles
There are a lot of weapons I haven’t included in my list. Watch the video below to learn more about the weapons from the medieval period
About the Author
Johndel Callora is a freelance writer who offers blog writing services. He works closely with website owners providing his all-around services to increase their search engine visibility.
Here’s a book I suggest about this topic.
Former Army Major (resigned)
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