History of Medieval Weaponry Used in Warfare and Defenses

What is best known about the Middle Ages, besides castles, is the weapons used during the time. Most of these were so good and unique that many stores even sell them today! - as a matter of fact, medieval weaponry is very well known throughout the world as they were continuously improved.


Bows
They were most commonly used from a distance. Their effectiveness increased dramatically as they were used from a higher altitude against lower targets as gravity would play an immense role in this.

Bows were divided into two categories (which later became three):

Regular Bows - Were the first to be used. They were very effective and they continued to be employed in medieval warfare as they were relatively light - and an skilled archer could fire up to 12 arrows per minute - which added to the effectiveness.

Long Bows - These first appeared in England, and later spread to the rest of Europe. They were very effective as they could easily penetrate a soldier's armor and more often than not, could also kill him in one shot.

As I mentioned earlier in this article, there was another discovery during the Dark Ages which changed drastically medieval warfare.

Crossbows - Crossbows were so effective that the church banned their use for a couple of years. Nevertheless, nobody listened and their use only widespread. A good crossbow could be easily fired at a moving target killing, if shot right, instantly.

Crossbows used, among other projectiles, quarrels which were extremely deadly. Afterwards, these were improved by adding venom or other deadly substances to guarantee death.


Swords
By far the most famous weaponry of the Middle Ages are the swords. They are often accompanied by the symbol of chivalry and knights.

Swords were divided into many categories, the two most important being:

Single-handed swords - These were usually very light and were accompanied by a shield. They could easily cut an unarmored opponent - but when the opponent was wearing an armor, they were not as useful. Nevertheless, these swords evolved and were made very sharp so they could penetrate any type of armory. This only happened after many centuries, and thus; were not very effective before. Single-handed swords were very common against barbaric tribes who rarely used armor. Nevertheless, against a well equipped army, they could be seemingly useless (unless used right).

Single-handed swords were also very popular for duels among nobles and the lower classes. They could generally mean the death of an opponent as they were so sharp that cuts were usually deadly.

Another technique used for these swords was to spray them with venom during battles so death was guaranteed. Nevertheless, there are very few recorded events in which this happened. What usually happened, though, was that these swords were never washed so cutting someone would result in an infection that could easily lead to death. Even though this practice was common, it was also counter-productive in some cases as it could, accidentally, kill the own wielder of the weapon.


Two-handed swords:They were usually very heavy and thus; only strong men could carry them. Since these swords could not be accompanied by a shield, most soldiers relied on very heavy armor in order to protect themselves effectively. This was, most of the time, a common cause for the slow demise of foot soldiers as carrying a complete heavy armor and a two-handed sword would result in an extreme amount of weight.

Nevertheless, two-handed swords were very effective at penetrating an enemy's armor. In most of the cases, they were so powerful that not only could they destroy an armor, but they could also completely cut a man in two - his armor included.

This simple fact of extreme effectiveness against armored foot soldiers, is what made two-handed swords so effective. A single-handed sword was virtually useless against a knight using a two-handed sword and heavy armor.


Hammers
During the Middle ages, all sorts of weaponry was used. Hammers were not the exception as they were very useful to knock down an opponent even if he was wearing heavy armory.

When medieval soldiers realized how effective hammers truly were, they began developing variations which proved to be deadlier. Even though hammers were very effective at certain aspects, they were still no match for a good soldier with a two-handed sword. Hammers were usually reserved for poor soldiers or as a last resource.



Daggers
Daggers were very common during medieval warfare. They were used, mainly, as an alternative in case the soldier's main weapon was unavailable, or in case he needed more flexibility.

In the case of archers, daggers were used as an alternative in case they were captured or surrounded. Additionally, during extreme need, archers could use their daggers to attack - which was very ineffective, but used nevertheless.

They were very sharp and small - the smaller the better. A very good dagger could even penetrate light armor and, if the enemy was not wearing armor, he could be easily killed with only one blow.

This made daggers to be used widely throughout the Dark Ages.

Daggers, later on, became another sign of chivalry (though not as famous as a sword) - they were generally passed from generation through generation since they would rarely deteriorate if made from a good material.


Siege Weapons
Of course siege weapons were very widely used during the Dark Ages. Since medieval warfare consisted more of battles against castles, then it is very conspicuous how siege weapons proved to be so effective.

Even when used in open-field battles, siege weapons were still effective as they could be used to kill up to dozens of soldiers with a single missile launch! This caused terror, and, combined with archer fire made battles something incredible to watch.

Siege weapons included, but were not limited to: Catapults, trebuchets, and many more. These two later were both (in the case of a castle siege) used for defense and attack purposes.

Later elaborated castles, as it can be seen in the castle timeline, were suitable to place catapults and trebuchets on top of them. This was a good strategy as missiles fired from such an altitude could easily reach soldiers who were very far away.


Late Medieval Weapons - Gunpowder
During the late Middle Ages, many discoveries took place. The one which most notoriously affected the course of warfare was gunpowder.

Soon after its discovery, every major army used gunpowder in order to attack opposing armies. Every time open field battles were more scarce and even knights came to an abrupt end as their power seemed to be vanquished when gunpowder was finally incorporated.

Cannons were mostly used against castles - and later they were also employed during most medieval battles. Since they were so effective, newer castles had to be constructed within a very short timeframe.

All of these factors greatly changed the course of warfare and newer weapons were made rapidly. Another major achievement was incorporating cannons to ships which eliminated traditional naval warfare of ships ramming each other - rendering that sort of battle useless.

Armor against gunpowder was also useless.

As it can be noted by reading the previous paragraphs, newer weapons abruptly brought the end to traditional warfare - and it is speculated that newer battle techniques rushed the ending of the Dark Ages. This, of course, cannot be only blamed to gunpowder, but it was a determining factor which played an enormous role in medieval history.


Armor
Armor too played an enormous role during the Dark Ages, as it can be noted in the section above. A good armor, nevertheless, was usually very heavy, thus decreasing the wielder's speed and flexibility. This, however, did not stop foot soldiers from using them as they were usually very effective against other foot soldiers and, primary, against arrows.

When crossbows were invented, armors had to be severely strengthened or else they would be rendered useless. This only made an armor heavier which killed soldiers over time.

What is most characteristic about armors is the helmet. Thousands of them were created and they were very different in style. Newer helmets were capable of resisting even boiling water!

A foot soldier with a very heavy armor to be stopped, had to be surrounded, completely tired, weaponless and ambushed for his armor to be opened and then for his enemieo be able to kill him - as it is apparent, armors were very effective indeed!

Additionally, shields were also widely employed as they were very effective against both, projectile and melee combat.

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