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Effective Medieval Weapons


Longsword

Steel-long-sword
 
 

The longsword is a European sword used during the medieval and Renaissance eras. Longswords are also sometimes called bastard swords, greatswords or hand-and-a-half swords. In addition to its length, its most important characteristic was your way to wield it. These weapons were used exclusively to two hands, and since its handle was “to hand and a half”, few of its forms could be made to use them with one hand.

This two-handed sword was a long and massive sword that was up to about 1.8 meters in length and weighed around 7 – 9 kg. 

The longsword was developed because plate armor replaced chainmail, so a longer and heavier sword was needed to penetrate the armor. This sword is used for striking, cutting and thrusting. This sword was not used as often in medieval combat, as the lighter swords were much easier to handle. These types of swords were heavily used back in the 13th-14th century, whereas using ending would be around 17th century. 

These swords were essentially used for stroking rather than sticking, to break through heavy protection that was used in those times. But around late 16th age, heavy armor disappeared because of powder guns. And so did the two-handed sword. It was handled for ritual purposes only. 

The longest of these swords was the zweihander whose length was up to 6 feet (1.8 meters long). This sword was used by the landsknechts who came from the Holy Roman Empire or an area that is now modern-day Germany. These swords were also used to break up infantry formations by attacking pikes and halberds.

You can read more about two-handed swords here.


Polearm

The polearm is one of the oldest and most versatile of weapons throughout the ages. The modern definition of a polearm is a weapon with a blade or pointed tip attached to a long shalf. The prehistoric man likely was the first to use a long sharpened stick to slay his dinner or his neighbor.

Rome also developed a very efficient polearm. The pilium (Roman javelin), a very sharp spear, was used effectively against the Celts. The development of this weapon was one of the reasons Rome was successful in conquering a large part of the world.

Various types of this weapon gained prominence in the Medieval and Renaissance eras in Europe and elsewhere. They were a means of dealing with cavalry; the foot soldier’s reach was extended to allow him to attack a mounted opponent while avoiding the blade of the knight’s sword.

The classic models of the European polearms were the pike and the halderb. First appearing in the l4th century, the halderb was a very versatile weapon. It was usually a little over 5 feet long and had a spiked top that was useful for keeping mounted knights at bay. It also had a hook that could be used to pull him from the saddle, and an axe head that could penetrate his armor.


Pike

The pike was a simple spear-like weapon that had a metal head attached to a wooden shaft. It came into use in the twelfth century as a defensive weapon again cavalry. The Swiss, however, turned the simple spear into an offensive weapon by employing a phalanx-like infantry formation. From this formation, they were able to use pikes as long as 22 and a half feet. This strategy employing a simple spear allowed them to become the premier fighting force of the fourteenth century.

In other parts of the world, the spear or pike was also widely used. Samurai warriors are most often associated with the sword, but in battle, they were supported by foot soldiers who used the yari (spears). Perhaps the greatest spearmen in history are the Zulu warriors of Southern Africa. Their military units, called impis, were armed with the short assegai spear. They were able to conquer most of the region in the early nineteenth century.


Halberd

 
Medieval-Halberd
 

The Halberd consists of an axe blade with a peak opposite it and it is sometimes another axe blade.  There is also a long spike or blade on the end and it is mounted on a long shaft. The early forms were simple and heavy (early 13th century) but gradually became lighter and more elaborate.  The shafts had long straps on them to prevent their being cut.

It was used with great success as infantry weapon from the late Middle Ages to the seventeenth century. The use of this weapon in infantry battles, which resulted in victories troops facing heavy cavalry, amended the composition of armies and returned to give a vital importance to the infantry.

It was carried by sergeants in the British army until the end of the 18th century.  The Swiss valued it so highly that they used in instead of the pike in their 15th century armies. Its use rapidly spread all over Europe.


Spear

 
Medieval steel spear

Basic spear was a very useful weapon during all the middle ages, because its production was cheap and handling was simple. Anyone could arm themselves with them from infantry soldiers to peasants. In the majority of cases, spears were of little use, but with experience and training, the large line of spearmen could be very effective.

Pole weapons evolved during the medieval period, gradually reaching a point in which formations of infantry trained for their management were extremely effective. More advanced variants had a spearhead with one or more weapons below. This additional weapon could be a large knife, axe, hammer or a pike.

Spears evolved as a response to the cavalry and brought with them the revival of an ancient Greek phalanx-like formation. The horses did not dare to charge against a disciplined troops armed with long extended spears. A dense formation of long raised spears also provided some protection against the arrows.

Infantrymen first learned to sit behind wooden stakes nailed into the ground to overthrow the cavalry. They later learned to deploy spears, pikes and other long range weapons. This gave the power of movement to the formation and allowed the anti-cavalry strikes. In a skirmish, weapons added to the end of the spears were used as to bring down the riders of their mounts by pulling them or pushing them, and to cause injury to the rider or the horse. Although the men who wore armor were not defenseless once taken down, but they were temporarily at a disadvantage until they managed to get up.


Flanged Mace

The use of maces in battle was quite common during the Middle Ages, as the weapon was quite inexpensive to produce. Many of the maces on display in museums today are highly decorated for this reason. Though a mace is just a type of club, the image of the spiked mace is what comes to mind for most people.

A deadly effective spiked mace is the flanged mace. The metal flanges, protruding edges of metal, allowed the wielder to pierce through even the thickest metal armor. In 12th century Kievan Russia the Pernach was developed. It featured six flanges and became popular across Europe for its ability to pierce plate armor and chainmail.


Scimitar

Scimitar
 

When the crusaders battled against their Arab opponents, they came face to face with the deadly scimitar. The scimitar is a backsword with a curved blade that originated in the Middle East. It was used by warriors on horseback because it was lightweight in comparison to other swords, making it easy to wield while also holding the reins of a horse.

Soldiers of the Khurasan region of Persia are the first known users of the scimitar during the 9th century. During the crusades, a special crusader shield was designed specifically to protect the wearer against the deadly scimitar. Today, the weapon still holds significance. For instance, it can be seen on the coat of arms of Saudi Arabia.


Falchion

Medieval-FalchionA Falchion is a sword of European origin, handled by one hand, whose design is somewhat similar to the Persian Scimitar or the Chinese Dao.

The weapon combined the weight and power of an Axe with the versatility of a simple sword. Falchions are found in different forms throughout the 11th-16th centuries. In some versions the Falchion looks more like the Seax or the Sabre, and in other versions the shape is irregular and looks more like a Machete.

While some suggest that the meeting with the Islamic Shamshir inspired its creation, these “scimitars” of Persia were only developed many years after the Falchion. Falchion almost always had a single edge with a slight curve on the blade towards the point on the end. As the tip of the falchion had more weight near the end, it was more effective in sharp attacks as an Axe or Hatchet, but also made it slower to be wielded as a sword.


Rapier

Rapier

A rapier is a slender, sharply pointed sword with a long blade and a complex, sometimes embellished hilt primarily used for thrusting attacks in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. The hilt of the rapier is made to protect the hand that wields it. Also called a hilt rapier, this thrusting sword was called other things as well due to the tendency of sword masters of the time using a description of a sword’s function as a method of naming it.

It is thought that the rapier began to develop in Spain around the year 1500 as a type of dress sword for civilians and duels. It became increasingly fashionable over time in Europe among the wealthier classes, but always had its detractors.

With its long reach, the rapier allowed for fast reactions suitable for civilian combat in the 16th and 17th centuries. Military-style swords for cutting and thrusting purposes continued to evolve to meet battlefield needs, and rapiers continued to change with the times as well, becoming lighter and shorter and eventually succumbing to the widespread use of the small-sword in the 1700s.


Spanish Rapier

 
spanish-rapier
 

Spanish rapiers date back to 15th century Toledo. Spanish masters mixed hard and soft steel to give rapier swords strength and flexibility. These swords were narrow, long, and had a slight edge.

A rapier sword was used almost exclusively as a thrusting weapon. At first, the swords were used on the offensive, but eventually became a self-defense tool. It was primarily used by civilians for protection and for duels. In the 16th century, other European nations developed their own rapiers, such as the German Rappier which was used in sport fencing. Use of the rapier for civilian combat dropped off after the 17th century.


Daggers

Medieval-Daggers

‘Caesar was stabbed with twenty-three dagger thrusts and uttered not a word, but only a groan at the first stroke, though some have related that when Marcus Brutus rushed at him, he said in Greek,”You, too, child?””  This is how Suetonius the author of “The Life of Caesar” describes his death.  Nero, the evilest of Roman Emperors stabbed himself in the throat with a dagger.

This hidden weapon has resulted in the death of the unsuspecting friend, husband, or statesman.  The sharp stab is a startling blow because it came from a woman’s bosom, or from a friend’s hand.   In Caesar’s case, the daggers came from most of those he thought he could trust.  From ancient ages to the present day the knife or dagger is a popular weapon.

stiletto-daggerIn Rome and Greece, the short sword was the weapon of choice.  In the Medieval and Renaissance eras, the dagger was used to penetrate plate armor. One of the most well-known daggers, the stiletto, was developed particularly for this purpose.

During the late Renaissance period, a different style of sword fighting developed in Europe.  The dagger was held in the left hand and the sword in the right with the dagger being used to deflect sword thrusts.  One of the most well known of these left-handed daggers is the Main Gauche.


Main Gauche Sword

Parrying-Dagger

Also referred to as a parrying dagger, main gauche swords were used in juxtaposition with traditional rapiers during the late Middle Ages. The main gauche, which is French for left hand, was used to deflect incoming attacks while the rapier was utilized for offense. If the opportunity presented itself, the main gauche could also be used for offense, of course.

This combination of weaponry was particularly popular with the Schools of Fence in Renaissance Europe. As the sport of fencing evolved, the use of the offhand weapon fell out of style. Although the main gauche isn’t used in contemporary fencing, it still is a prized item for historical collectors.

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