The battlefield in the Middle Ages used more up-close-and-personal techniques compared to wars today. Masses of soldiers with bladed and blunt weapons clashed against one another in a desperate fight. Are you a history buff? Take our quiz to see how many medieval weapons you can name!
While today’s mace is a spray that is often made from the capsaicin oil found in peppers, the medieval mace was a short club, made entirely of steel or wrought iron, often having knobs or sharp angular features.
The page was both an understudy to a squire and an assistant and intern to the knight. He was responsible for caring for the weapons and the knight's mount (horse), as well as other servant’s duties. Pages started early, as young as 7 years old. Promising pages became squires in their teens. Squires also served the knight, but trained in battle more intensely. This was the path to becoming a knight.
The battering ram was often housed in a rolling steel plated enclosure to protect the users from arrows, stones, hot oil and fire. It would be rolled up to the castle doors or wall, then the men inside would swing the log that was hung like a pendulum, to smash it into the castle. The log often had a massive iron tip, shaped like a ram's head or ram's horns.
Invented by the Chinese in the late 12th or early 13th century, black powder found its way to Europe in the 13th century. The advent of black powder eventually rendered castles and armor useless defense methods.
Jousting was a sport of knights and noblemen, but it was also often used to settle arguments of honor. Participants attempted to dismount their opponents to earn points. In jousts of honor, once dismounted, the opponents typically fought with sword and lance until one quit or died.
The lance was a long, tapered, blunt-tipped pole, used in jousting. The lance was designed to not harm the opponent, but injuries did occur. King Henry II of France died from wounds suffered while jousting; the lance broke and a large shard entered his helmet through the eye slot, piercing his eye and then his brain.
Chain mail was worn to protect against sword slashes and spear strikes. It could be defeated by specialized arrowheads with long, thin points. Certain knives called daggers were capable of piercing through the mail as well.
The longbow was notable for its high draw weight, often as much as 100 pounds. It took years of training to learn to use a long bow. The English longbow was the .50 caliber rifle of its day.
While an Arkansas toothpick is a dagger, Arkansas didn’t exist in medieval times. Daggers can be used to thrust or stab. The dagger was often used in battle to get in between layers of armor and to defeat chain mail.
A quillon is the cross guard on a sword which was intended to protect the hand from an enemy blade. Crossbows fired short, thick arrows called bolts. While most arrows fired from bows had three or four fletchings (feathers at the back end to stabilize flight), crossbow bolts typically only had two.
The Scottish claymore was a massive sword, sometimes reaching six feet in length. The claymore and its German cousin, the Zweihänder, often instilled fear on the battlefield at first sight.
Zweihänder is a German word meaning “two hander,” denoting that it requires two hands to wield the weapon. Up to six feet long, this weapon was an impressive blade. It was also called a Doppelhander.
A foil is a long, thin, edgeless sword with a bulbous button tip, used in fencing, which is the sporting counterpart of swordsmanship. In actual combat, a rapier is used. A rapier is a long, thin sword, designed mainly for thrusting.
The Roman gladius was a short, wide sword with a dramatic point, designed for slashing, chopping and stabbing. The Roman soldiers were experts in its use and it took these weapons around the world.
A catapult was a siege weapon, designed to throw large heavy objects to smash castle walls. It was also used to hurl flaming objects, to set forests, towns, and castles ablaze and throw hundreds of fist-sized stones into charging masses. Siege weapons like the catapult were indeed the artillery of their day.
A trebuchet was a siege weapon, larger than a catapult. While a trebuchet was built on site due to its size, some catapults could actually be pulled by horses and moved around. These types of weapons were the medieval equivalent of today’s artillery.
While a jumbow is not a thing, the ballista was indeed a jumbo-sized crossbow that launched massive bolts the size of telephone poles in order to smash castle walls. This war engine could skewer many enemies at once. It is also called a bolt thrower.
The katana is a long, curved sword with a dramatically angled point that was carried by the Samurai in feudal Japan. A shobu is a chef’s knife used for cutting sushi. Shinto is a Japanese religion and belief system.
The tanto is a short sword that was carried by the Samurai. It was like a mini katana. Bushido is the Samurai warrior code and bunraku is a type of Japanese puppet theatre, often used to depict heroic acts of the Samurai.
Daisho, meaning “big-little”, referred to the paired set of katana and tanto carried by the Samurai. Some Samurai carried a wakizashi, which is a shorter katana.
The iconic Viking sword is generally referred to by the era of its design, the Carolingian era. Vikings named their swords, often with ominous monikers like “Death Dealer.”
The battle axe evolved from a woodsman's axe and has since devolved back into the double-bit axe used for cutting wood. A fearsome weapon, the battle axe was often more prevalent with Viking warriors than the sword on the battlefield.
The chakram is a weapon made from a ring of sharpened steel, designed to throw. Soldiers would have several hung on their arms to take into battle. These could take off an arm or head when thrown.
Of course, the guillotine was an instrument of execution, not a weapon of war, but it discouraged enemies of the state. Believe it or not, the guillotine was used in France as recently as September 10, 1977, when Hamida Djandoubi was executed.
Poseidon holds a trident, but a pitchfork pitches hay. A frog gig looks like a small trident, though. The trident was often seen in the Coliseum, when gladiators fought to the death.
The most recognizable headgear of the Middle Ages is the great helm. This was the style of helmet worn by the Crusaders. It was also the helmet of the Black Knight in Monty Python's “Holy Grail” movie.
The Halberd was often 6-8 feet long, featuring a spiked end and a side axe blade with a hook opposite the blade. It was designed to reach past the front line of shield-bearing soldiers to strike those behind. It was also designed to pull mounted knights off of their horses with the hook, to then be dispatched with a mighty swing of the axe.
Capable of smashing helmets to inflict massive head wounds, the war hammer had a crushing effect on its victim. The spiked reverse of the head could penetrate armor to inflict lethal wounds.
Actually, the first three options were used in some form to protect the body from weapons, but the Chinese used paper to make literal body armor and it worked almost as well as its steel counterpart!
The Mongols were known as skilled archers and their recurve bows were made from composite materials to make them stronger and more powerful. The bows were shorter, so they could be fired from horseback.
While all of these weapons are used to hunt, it is often surprising to learn that firearms existed in medieval times. However, weapons like hand cannons and matchlock firearms were in use, and these were muzzle loading weapons. An armor maker's test shot often left a dent in the breastplate of armor, proving that it could stop a bullet.
Used prolifically in the Middle East and Asia in the Middle Ages and beyond, the sling is the weapon that threw a rock to kill Goliath.
While the mace often consisted of a knobbed ball on the business end of a shaft, morning stars were longer, with spikes.
The siege tower was sometimes erected on site, as it was too large to move. It had multiple levels and was covered in metal plating and/or wet animal hides for armor. Soldiers breeched the walls at many levels and poured into the castle from within the tower.
The pike was used as a line defense weapon against charging cavalry. Soldiers lined up and hold their pikes at an angle, creating a wall of spikes pointing toward the charging horses and riders. Pikemen were sometimes thwarted by archers who attacked them from the sides.