Medieval weapons had a significant influence on the history of many societies. From the fall of the Roman Empire to our early Renaissance, possession of quality old weapons had profound consequences for European culture and warfare.
Much like the changes in our technology today, the use of weapons had transformed not only our warfare but also our society. Thus, the role of medieval weapons was not only to wage war, but to regulate social relations as well, as countries with the most powerful military had the most influence, just like today.
Medieval Weapon Types
There was a significant development of all kinds of medieval weaponry during the Dark ages. Therefore it's sometimes challenging to determine the the exact breakdown of the weapons used in this period.
Today, you'll get to read about how the weapons of the Middle Ages were divided into offensive and defensive groups. However, many medieval weapons could indeed be used for both defense and attack.
Also, there is a division according to which weapons are divided into close combat weaponry and ranged combat weapons (throwing weapons).
Either way, when we talk about wars in the Medieval Ages, we mostly imagine glamorous knights wielding a sword or a spear on a battlefield. Although these two types of weapons were fundamental, medieval warriors fought against their enemies with many different and surprisingly brutal kinds of weaponry.
What weapons were most commonly used in the Medieval Ages? Which medieval weaponry was the strongest and most effective? Which the most beautiful?
3 Main Groups of Medieval Armaments
Close Combat Weapon Types
As we have said, a sword is tool that is mainly associated with fighting in the Medieval Ages. For medieval warriors, a sword was much more than just a close combat weapon.
Many civilizations made swords and gave them different meanings over time. So a sword was an important weapon whose function was not just to kill. The soldiers wore swords to show their status and power. They wore it for protection, they believed it symbolized wisdom, and they used it to express their masculinity.
However, due to the expensive workmanship, common soldiers could not afford a steel sword. Therefore, steel swords were reserved mainly for wealthy warriors.
At the very beginning of the Middle Ages, swords were of simple design. However, as the plate armour (defensive military equipment) became harder to penetrate, sword's blade became increasingly inefficient.
Therefore, their construction had to change.
So, around the thirteenth century, changes in the appearance of swords began to be visible. The blade was narrower and sharper at the top and thus more efficient in combat. However, even with all these changes, a sword was still expensive to make, and therefore we cannot say that it was a vital part of military equipment as not everyone could afford it.
2. Daggers and Knives
During the medieval war, daggers and knives were used as a secondary weapon. This stabbing weapon came with one or two edges while their tip was always extremely sharp.
The dagger was intended for self-defense and was used in combination with a sword as a form of personal protection. It was easy to use but also cheap to produce so that every warrior could afford having these in battle.
Throughout history many civilizations have used daggers in ritual contexts as well, making them a very symbolic medieval weapon.
3. Battle Axes
However, the popularity of the battle-axe did not decline even later, during the late medieval period. Thus, among cavalry and foot soldiers, axes were one of the most commonly used weapons.
4. War Hammers
Another vital weapon that could often be seen in the hands of medieval warriors was the war hammer.
As we've already mentioned, by the late Medieval period, warrior armour had evolved to the point that swords and other sharp weapons had become almost ineffective in combat.
As a result, a war hammer was created.
One side of a war hammer's heavy head was blunt, while the other was pointed. Such a design made this weaponry highly effective in piercing enemy's armor.
A decisive blow from the blunt part of the hammer head could very easily incapacitate the opponent. The pointed hammer side was used to penetrate armored parts of the body and deliver killing blows.
European battlefields in the Medieval Ages were known for mass formations of infantry warriors carrying polearm weapons.
The blade of the polearm was placed at the end of a long, most often wooden, shaft, and as such, it was very suitable for both the defense and attacking an enemy military force. Given the versatility of this weapon in combat, the polearms very quickly became the backbone of the infantry army.
Another reason for the mass use of these staff weapons was cheap production. Relatively little metal was needed to make polearms. Therefore, all those warriors who could not pay for a more quality combat weapons could take polearms to the battlefield.
According to many, the halberd was the most beautiful weaponry from the medieval period.
It was actually a weapon in which an iron axe and a spear were combined, with the difference that this weapon was not used for throwing (like a spear) but for pushing an opponent.
So, in addition to looking beautiful, the halberd was highly efficient and versatile in combat. The sharp iron tip of the spear served to keep the opponent at a distance, while the ax's blade was intended to cut through the enemy's armor.
Ranged & Throwing Weapon Types
The spear was the most common medieval throwing weapon. Its production was not expensive so that all warriors could have it, regardless of their social status.
Also, due to its simple design, the spear was mass-produced. Spears are also considered to be the most efficient weaponry in medieval battles.
Spears were mainly used as a ranged weapon, which was thrown at opponents from a distance. Their role was to weaken the enemy army prior to close combat encounter.
Apart from battles, spears were also used for hunting. Hunters were often referred to as rangers, who carried spears on their hunting trips.
2. Bow and Arrow
A bow and arrow were one of the most important weapons of medieval battlefields. Like spears and polearms, recurve bows and arrows were also weapons of range that served to inflict injuries on enemy soldiers from a safe distance.
A soldier had to have long-term training to handle a bow and arrow because victory in battle largely depended on his precision.
During the later period, bows were replaced by crossbows which could inflict more damage and had more range.
3. Throwing Axes
Apart from a classic battle axe, Medieval battlefields have seen throwing axes as well. The head of this axe was located at the end of a short wooden handle and was mainly aimed at disabling enemy soldiers.
In addition to the weapons we've described above, artillery weapons were also used in the brutal medieval wars.
From the middle of the 11th century, international wars became more frequent. Stone became a common material during the construction of castles and fortifications, making them very resistant to the blows of standard weapons.
Therefore, it was necessary to produce stronger weapons, which is where artillery came into play.
The first such medieval invention was a trebuchet, whose wider use began in the 13th century. Very quickly, a trebuchet became the most desirable siege weapon that could throw heavy stones and rocks (250 kg of weight) on the stone fortifications.
Due to its great destructive power, a trebuchet was a very effective weapon with incredible range. However, despite this fact, its use in wars was not so frequent.
The reason for this is expensive production and bulkiness (limited mobility).
In addition to the trebuchet, an important artillery weapon was the hand cannon, which was designed in China in the 13th century. In Europe, however, these weapons began to be used only in the 16th century.
The mechanism of the hand cannon was based on igniting the explosive powder within the cannon, which further led to the cannon firing at the enemies.
The first types of pistols that used lead bullets as ammunition began to be used during the 15th century. These types of guns were known as "Arquebus."
Also, as a common artillery weaponry in this period, Ballista (crossbow) and Mangonel (catapult) are mentioned.
However, although artillery machines were very desirable, due to the high production cost and transportation issues, this types of weapons were used rarely and only by wealthy armies.
Medieval Weapons: The Takeaway
The Middle Ages were full of wars, as it was a time of violence and brutality. Consequently, weapons have been of paramount importance to people all around the world.
It is important to remember that each weapon had a completely different purpose and was used in a different way.
However, despite all the aggravating circumstances, the warriors of the Middle Ages fought great battles that left deep traces in history.
Until our next meeting,