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Lethal Weapons of Our Distant Past.

Updated on February 20, 2018
Asp52 profile image

Asp52 studied History at University and has a keen interest in all aspects of the two world wars.

Tools That Kill.

The ability of our ancestors to construct effective and lethal weapons is without doubt the primary reason why we are all here today.
The weapons of our ancestors have allowed us to conquer enemies, protect our homes, reinforce our national sovereignty and more importantly provide us with food. In our distant history, the human animal used its greater hand dexterity and our own primate intelligence, to form crude instruments to tilt the balance of power and nature in our favour.

Whether or not the weapons of our past were originally designed for hunting prey or defending territory is a question I for one would not be prepared to answer. The earliest humans would have fashioned spears, bows and slings to augment their arsenal of projectile weapons such as rocks.

Archaeological finds have found materials that we assume to be primitive arrow heads which date to prehistoric times. Lethal weapons such as these, have changed very little until the advent of the mass produced age we live in today.

Viking/Saxon Seax ( Short Knife ).
Viking/Saxon Seax ( Short Knife ).

Lethal Weapons.

The technology of our current age has also refined and optimised the weapons of our past. Today, we have bows made of carbon fibre and steel, which owes more now to engineering than the artisan craft of bowyering. I would argue though, that the modern sports style bow lacks the style and beauty of a pain staking hand-made traditional re-curve horse-bow. But both bows would obviously have their own merits, and in the right conditions are both extremely lethal.

Our current technology has given us more precise, durable and lethal weaponry. At the most deadly end of our innovations, our scientists have created a more effective tool for killing and maiming. Many of our armed forces possess weapons which can obliterate cities and destroy the works of nature. Our ability to split atoms results in the potential for mass destruction or total global annihilation. We now have the ability to use biological and chemical agents to remove our enemies from their own lands. The Renaissance had similar weaponry, The Roman Catholic Church passed edicts stating that weapons such as the crossbow were the weapons of the Devil and were unholy. This was due to the body count and carnage, the weapon was responsible for.

Better Weapons, Greater Victories.

All of the great imperial nations owe their supremacy to a weapon which was superior to whatever their opponents possessed. The British Empire used its rifles to suppress the African tribes' spears. The Mongolian tribes used their horse-bows to terrorise their rivals and the Vikings used their long boats to raid and navigate where other peoples could not penetrate. Every culture has developed their own type of weapon which has given them a tactical advantage in conflict.

The following weapons I have highlighted here are a small, varied and obscure selection from our history.

Scorpion Ballista

The Scorpion.

The Scorpion was a weapon that struck fear into the hearts of the enemies of the Roman Empire. The Scorpion was deployed with every legion, were these formidable projectile weapons were used to great effect. The Scorpion propelled a spear shaped projectile weapon at great speed and with deadly accuracy.

The Scorpion was able to decimate advancing enemy infantry and was of great value in demoralising its opponents. The Scorpion was less of a siege weapon and more of a forerunner of a cannon.

As an artillery piece, the scorpion was used throughout the Western and Byzantine Roman Empire. The Cannon eventually replaced the Scorpion in the Byzantine Empire, when cannons became more fashionable and more lethal with their larger blast radius.

A Ming era mounted archer
A Ming era mounted archer | Source

The Recurve horsebow

The Recurve Horsebow was used extensively by the Eurasian tribes in their efforts to conquer lands and raid enemies loot. The Recurve Horsebow was a light cavalry weapon which allowed the rider to operate quickly with "Hit and Run" tactics. The Mongolian Golden Hoard put this weapon to great use in conquering an area from modern day China into Russia and Eastern Europe.

The Horsebow was much smaller than the "English" Longbow and was crafted using wood, horn and sinew. The Horsebow was able to shoot greater distances, due to the stored kinetic energy from the bows compressed design. The distance an arrow could fly was dependant on the archers own draw-strength, and special arrows were designed to limit the distance they could travel. The design of this lethal weapon allowed a mounted horseman to fire multiple arrows off at the enemy, and skilled warriors could fire these off at speed. The Recurve's design was used by Magyar, Avars, Tartars, Mongolians and other Turkish tribes. All the designs followed a similar style, but each culture added their own identity to it. A Horsebow was held in very high regard by their owners and their construction and maintenance was a labour of love

A manuscript illustrating the use of Greek fire.
A manuscript illustrating the use of Greek fire. | Source

Greek Fire

Greek Fire was originally developed by the Greeks, and in later periods used by the Byzantium Empire in their conflicts with the Caliphates of the Arab world. Greek Fire is mentioned by many historic sources, and was very effective at destroying enemy ships and infantry. The formula for Greek fire has been lost to history, but it is thought to be very similar in composition to modern day Napalm. There is historical evidence and sources, stating how Greek Fire was able to continue burning under water.

Greek fire was primary used in a defensive capacity, it was very useful in siege situations. There is also evidence suggesting that Greek fire stopped massive Viking raids in the 8th to 10th centuries. The devastation Greek Fire would have wreaked on a Viking armada would have been catastrophic.

Which weapon listed is the most lethal

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The Steel Fan.

Many cultures from the far east used the ornamental fan as a deadly instrument of pain. The fan was used throughout the Oriental lands and the weapon was often used in the dominate cultures of Korea, China and Japan The Steel Fan was suited to a more one on one confrontation or a sneak attack. The Steel Fan was more the weapon of an assassin or a warrior who liked to have a concealed weapon. Most of Japanese art depicts Steel Fans and fans constructed from other materials in the hands of women. The Steel Fan would not traditionally be a weapon seen on the battle field, as it was usually associated with dishonour and deception( A ninja would have such a weapon in their arsenal ). The Steel Fan's key attribute was its ability to be used as a quick and stealthy weapon, on the battlefield a warrior would expect to be attacked. This would mean the element of surprise would be lost.

Today we think of some of the ancient weapons as barbaric and lacking modern standards of reliablity. I would argue that the current weapons mass produced by machines lack the character and craftsmanship of their forerunners. I think that we overlook the achievements of our ancestors. With the primitive technology and scarcity of raw materials, the weapon smiths of their time really were masters of their craft.

© 2011 Andrew Stewart


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    • Nils Visser profile image

      BOOK REVIEWS 6 years ago from The Low Countries

      Nice one

    • kafsoa profile image

      kafsoa 6 years ago

      Fantastic ;)

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      This is interesting. Ancient weapons and strategies fascinate me. I love that show "Deadliest Warrior" where they recreate the old weapons and duplicate the way thet were used.

    • Asp52 profile image

      Andrew Stewart 6 years ago from England

      thanks copernico- ancient weaponry is a very absorbing topic.

    • copernico profile image

      copernico 6 years ago from Canada

      INteresting stuff!