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Medieval Weapons


Wooden medieval catapult under old castle wall.
Medieval Catapult

Violence and warfare had their place in medieval times. As with weapons today medieval weapons harnessed technologies available at the time to solve challenges of the age. As such, weapons were varied, from small scale hand arms to siege engines.

Medieval sword
Medieval sword

Personal Weaponry

Living in a time when upheaval and warfare was commonplace, young medieval males were introduced to weaponry from quite an early age. Being able to handle a sword and wield it with subtlety, was the mark of a gentleman. Owning a sword was a great status-symbol, and these weapons were carefully looked after.

Double-edged swords, metal-headed spears, and axes of all sizes, while effective could be cumbersome in use and carriage. Short stabbing swords however, were both a useful and popular tool. Their ability to be easily concealed coupled with being able to get between seams and closings in armour made them an effective and stealthy weapon.

Spiked hammers and battle axes were coarse but effective tools of battle, maiming or disabling an enemy being as effective as killing them in medieval times.

Large Scale Defence

In times of strife, fortified castles were invaluable. It is little wonder then that so many were built in the medieval period. Fortresses like Warwick Castle offered vital security to their inhabitants as well as being seats of power and centres of commerce.

While the castle itself would buy the inhabitants time in the event of an attack, attackers still had to be repelled. The crossbow was effectively employed in this regard. Using this bow and arrow combination effectively came with practice and it was a valuable skill to have. The ability to kill attackers while still far from the keep was the first line of defence. Attackers may have long bows, but castles were designed such that it was extremely difficult to actually hit anyone within with such a weapon from outside.

If attackers did get closer 'Greek Fire' might then be used. This was a combination of fats, oils, and other products, this fire could burn on water, and was extremely difficult to extinguish. Arrowheads could be dipped with it and lit, or indeed it could also be poured over castle walls or down defence chutes built next to portcullises.

Trebuchets and Battering Rams

The trebuchet was used by attackers to counter such close-range defenses. This is essentially a massive slingshot. Usually the sling of this machine would heft a huge rock into the castle grounds, but other materiel was often used - scraps of iron for instance, or large, dead animals. Horses and cows were a common choice. The idea was that, in addition to the horror of it, the carcass of a long dead animal would spread disease within the castle.

Large, wheeled battering rams were also in existence but again they and their operators were volunerable to close-range defences. Once a fort had been softened, a ram may have been used, either against the main door or against a section of wall. However, castles of the period were desinged with defence in mind. In addition to multi-tiered defensive lines, extremely robust walls were used specifically to repel such attacks.

Illustration of a battering ram
Battering Ram

Siege towers were also used in later stages of an attack on a castle. Built on site, these towers would be filled with archers and then pushed towards a target wall. Upon reaching the that, a gangplank would be used to allow the attackers access to the castle walls.

Improvised Weaponry

Conflict was not restricted to the fortified installations. Unrest could occur anywhere and in the country people could press farm tools to defensive use.

Hay forks were an effective hand-to-hand weapon, keeping an attacker at arms length. Sickles, which were usually used to cut grass, could also inflict serious injury if used in close-quarter fighting. Hunting spears and bows were obvious weapons easily turned to defence duties. Even rocks if aimed properly and aided by luck, could fell a fully armored warrior.

Article originated by "Tudor Rose"

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