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Medieval Weaponry

Updated on September 12, 2014
CuAllaidh profile image

Jeff Johnston is a medieval reenactor and avid history fan. He is also the publisher at Living History Publications.

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Swords, Spears, and Much Much More

Medieval weapons are something which fascinate and intrigue me. I love the looking at old swords, halberds and such. I find though that medieval weaponry is often overlooked, beyond the sword there is a whole host of medieval weapons. In this lens I'll go through some of the most common medieval weapons in arsenal of the solider in an army during the middle ages.

Arms and Armor (DK Eyewitness Books)
Arms and Armor (DK Eyewitness Books)

This is possibly one of my favourite books on medieval weapons. A fellow member of my local SCA chapter brought in this book to a rapier practice, I spent the entire time looking at the book and didn't even armour up to fight. Its got some great pictures of extant and recreated medieval weaponry.

 

An Age of Inovation On the Battle Field

When someone refers to the medieval times they usually mean the dark ages of Europe between the fall of the Roman Empire (5th century) and the beginning of the modern era (15th century). Even that isn't really all that accurate as the Roman Empire began falling quite some time before the fifth century and continued to fall for a very long time (in1453 the last of the Roman Emperors died in the fall of Constantinople). However the loose timeline of fifth to fifteenth century work as a general timeline for the medieval times, or the middle ages.

This time period got saddled with the dark ages because it was thought to be a time where civilization took a step backwards after the withdraw of the advancements the Roman Empire brought with them. However this isn't even remotely true. Technological advancements were happening throughout Europe during this time. Military technology in particularly had its heyday. Weaponry advanced in leaps and bounds.

A Knight and His Weapons
A Knight and His Weapons

The Knight was the shining power behind any medieval military unit, heavily armed and armoured. This book examines the arsenal of the average Knight. The sections on the Sword go into great detail about the construction of the Knights sword.

 

Blunt or Mass Weapons

Bludgeoning weapons worked in the simple form of having a huge mass that is meant to crush anything in its attack path. These weapons rose during the height of the medieval times due to an increase in the amount of armour worn by soldiers. A sword had a hard time piercing metal plate, but a mass weapon didn't care about piercing the armour, but rather concussing the target or denting the armour enough that the wearer of said armour was affected. Caved in breast plates, for example, could cause the wearer to have difficulty breathing, so even if he survived the blow he would have a hard time fighting.

The Mace

The mace is just the weapon of the cave man, the club, taken to the iron age logical next step. Many maces were simply iron capped clubs. Sometimes with spikes, sometimes not. It was a bludgeoning mass weapon. The Mace was particularly useful against armoured opponents as the mace was not really designed to pierce anyways but to crush, and a helm would yield to a mace as easily as a skull.

Flail

At some point in time someone realized that while a mace is pretty bad ass, if you attach the main mass to a chain and extend its length you increase its effectiveness. And so the flail was born. One of the main drawbacks of the mace was that it was unpredictable, there was no guarantee of where the ball went after it hit the intended target, if it bounced off in an odd way you could land yourself in some trouble with this bad boy. With skill the flail was a suitably scary weapon however.

The Horseman's Hammer

The Horseman's Hammer, often mislabeled as a warhammer, is a specialized weapon of uncanny attention to the needs of a horseman in combat. Its essentially a mace, but with a hammer head for added force, and a pick on the reverse side just in case you need to pierce something. For added punch some added a spike on top. Its called a horseman's hammer because it was particularly useful from on horseback. A long enough handle to strike foes on the ground and good no matter which way you swing it. Really this could have gone in the pole arm category as some were long enough to be considered pole weapons, but since their main advantage was the mass it seemed appropriate to place this here.

Pole Weapons

A properly manned shield wall is almost unbreakable by standard military tactics of the middle ages without pole weapons. The pole weapons provided reach so those behind the shield wall could strike out at exposed enemies, or rip a shield away from an enemy opening a hole in the opposing shield wall. The pole weapon was the main weaponry of the infantry.

Pole weapons can be broken down into two main categories, the Bladed Pole arms and the Spears.

Bladed Pole Arms

Bladed pole arms were some of the most wicked looking weapons ever devised during the middle ages. Essentially they are all just long poles with blades on the end. They were effective at reaching over shield walls and/or hooking and grabbing the shields themselves. Weapons in this category consist of such wonderful weapons as:

  • Glaive

  • Halberd

  • Partisan

  • Ranseur

  • Pole Cleaver

Spear Pole Weapons

Spear pole weapons were simple in design just take a spear and make it larger so that it could reach beyond a shield wall or from horseback. Common spear pole weapons are:

  • Guisarme, a hooked spear

  • Lance, the preferred spear of the mounted knight

  • Pike, a long spear used for nullifying mounted cavalry

Using Medieval Weapons

All of the weapons displayed on this page are deadly weapons. Even blunted versions of these weapons are dangerous. Always make sure you know what you are doing if you ever swing one of these.

Where To Train

Want to learn to use some of these medieval weapons but not sure where. Check out these links for more details.

© 2012 Jeff Johnston

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    • CuAllaidh profile image
      Author

      Jeff Johnston 4 years ago from Alberta Canada

      @ChrisRulton: No, the length of the second horseman's hammer definitely gives it away as that and not a pole arm.

      You are correct that pole arms weren't just good for breaking shield walls but also had many other military uses, but that was the reason for their rise in popularity.

    • profile image

      ChrisRulton 4 years ago

      Isn't the head of the second "Horseman's Hammer" a poleaxe? A type of polearm used by a man at arms instead of a billman and thought to be responsible for the specific square holes in the skulls of victims of execution after the battle of Towton.

      Pole arms weren't just good for breaking shield walls, by the C15th they'd rendered them completely obsolete. Even a fully armoured man-at-arms would have a buckler instead of a full shield

    • manutara69 profile image

      manutara69 4 years ago

      I've used all of these weapons playing Diablo II on my computer. The Paladin character has access to these. Nice lens!

    • LaurenIM profile image

      LaurenIM 4 years ago

      Love medieval weapons and the suit of armor stuff.