Nicholas Hasselmo and Guy Parsons
Meele Weapons | Ranged Weapons | Siege Weapons | Firearms | Bibliography

Meele Weapons

Swords: Swords were the most common of the melee weapons used in nearly every civilization in the world. A sword is comprised of a blade, a hilt, and a hand guard, designed specifically for slashing and stabbing. Different techniques of fighting and styles of swords were created depending on the country or the time period.
An arming sword (also known as a knight's sword) was a single handed double-edged weapon typically used with a shield. They usually were known for their balance and light weight. They were commonly used from 1000-1350 C.E. They eventually evolved into the long sword. The long sword is a European sword used primarily between 1350 and 1550 C.E. They often had grips in the range of ten to fifteen inches and a blade ranging from forty to forty-eight inches in length. Longswords were two-handed weapons and frequently differed in design. Longswords were used for stabbing, crushing, and slashing. Contrary to popular belief, longswords were actually versatile weapons, and many different fighting styles emerged from the use of this weapon. Usually, when one used a longsword, they would also be equipped with a dagger. Daggers were most commonly secondary or even tertiary weapons, which accompanied any form of weapon such as an ax, bow, or pole arm. It was usually used like an icepick (with the blade facing down) so that one could apply the most force possible to their target. These were also common weapons for peasants and other commoners to use. As time passed, became less useful in combat.
Blunt hand weapons:
Clubs and maces were among the most common of the blunt hand weapons. They all shared a simple design, typically having a weighted head on a wooden or iron handle, and used to crush and deliver massive blows. The head sometimes had the ability to be shaped or equipped with sharp prongs to crush armor. Armor and forms of chain mail were designed to defend against these strong weapons. This lead to the creation of the flanged mace, as well as a simple mace with spikes sticking out to pierce armor and deliver a blunt trauma blow. Often the weapons of choice for clergy were simple clubs and maces, as they didn't cause bloodshed. All maces and clubs have very similar designs, but are known by many different names. The morning star was a steel ball with spikes sticking out, but typically better crafted than other clubs and maces. Flails were another basic adaptation of a mace. They were simply a handle with a chain and a spiked ball at the end of the chain. Also, peasants often used agricultural flails as makeshift weapons. War hammers were the cavalry's blunt weapons. War hammers were usually shafts of wood with a small heavy hammer at the end. The hammer head usually had a spike at the end to pierce armor, and the hammer portion was used to inflict crushing blows.
Pole Arms:
Examples of the many different heads of pole arms.
Examples of the many different heads of pole arms.

Pole arms fell into many different categories, though they all incorporated the same basic principal. These weapons were massive shafts of wood or metal with a metal tip in the form of an axe or pointed blade. Quarter staffs were the most primitive of the pole arms. They were long shafts of wood and many dedicated several years learning to master this tool. In the 16th-18th centuries, some groups of people believed that that they were the most useful weapons. Spears were some of the most commonly used pole arms because they were simple. Consisting of a long pole and a sharpened tip of wood or metal a spear could be used to slash, stab, or throw. Winged spears came around not shortly after so that the spear would not penetrate as deep, thus making the weapon easier to retrieve. Also, they aided in spear fencing. The cavalry utilized lances: long shafts of wood with a sharp metal tip at the end used by horsemen in large groups. At a full gallop, horsemen could inflict massive amounts of damage on their opponents. They had large hand guards so that one would not injure their hand in combat. Lances were also used by infantry as well. Pikes were long shafts of wood used by infantry; they were ten to twenty feet long with a blade at the end. Halberds were short, and had an axe head rather than a point.

Ranged Weapons

Throwing weapons were often used at the beginning of battles in the middle ages. Throwing axes were commonly used by germanic tribes, including the Franks. The Roman historian, Procopius, described, "...each man carried a sword and shield and an axe. Now the iron head of this weapon was thick and exceedingly sharp on both sides while the wooden handle was very short. And they are accustomed always to throw these axes at one signal in the first charge and thus shatter the shields of the enemy and kill the men." Throwing spears were also commonly used in the early medieval ages, by the Vikings, English, Spanish, and Welsh, all which fought battles quickly using the spears, even having ones specifically for throwing, called Javelins.
Often crossbows had to be mechanically recharged, thus having a low rate of fire.
Often crossbows had to be mechanically recharged, thus having a low rate of fire.

Bows were one of the most powerful weapons in the Middle Ages, used all the way through. The crossbow, and later the larger arbalest, were slow firing yet easy to use bows, shooting heavy bolts rather than long arrows. As well, people could use them on horseback, allowing for new chivalry tactics. People of the medieval ages often found them unfair, as they allowed one with little experience to kill a knight with a lifetime of training. They were used to great effect during the crusades The Longbow was an even more powerful bow, often as tall as its user (having a taller bow allowed archers to pull back farther without meeting too much force, allowing them to build up a great amount of potential energy simply with man power, see graph below), with a rapid rate of fire, deadly accuracy, and great range. Archers often had 60 to 72 arrows, were capable of firing up to 15 per minute, and could hit a target from over 200 yards. It could even penetrate a knight's armor at the range of 200 yards, thus making Chivalry obsolete in the Hundred Years' War, in which the English used Longbows heavily:
Graph of the elastic potential energy of a long bow showing that force needed to pull back the bow became exponentially greater.
Graph of the elastic potential energy of a long bow showing that force needed to pull back the bow became exponentially greater.

  • 1346: The Battle of Crecy: English defeat french army three times its size as French knights trample their own crossbowmen, only to be shot down by longbows.
  • 1356: The Battle of Poiters: Again about three times as large, the French knights, overconfident, charged and were shot down by longbows.
  • 1415: The Battle of Agincourt: 6,000 English soldiers, 5,000 of them archers, defeat a French force of about 25,000.

Siege Weapons

Siege weapons were made to best infiltrate or defeat castles, which in turn, were built to withstand them.

Perriers wooden weapons designed to launch stones to break down fortified castles walls were a powerful weapon in the Middle Ages. One of the most effective, the trebuchet, had two different versions. The first and earlier one was the traction trebuchet. This was powered by groups of people, depending on the size of it, who were usually citizens of the local area. Later, the counterweight trebuchet used a dropped counterweight instead to swing the arm. Both had a range of about 300 yards, but many times the longbows of a defender had a longer range, making them dangerous to operate. Also, not only stone was used, but also other projectiles. This included dead animals to aid the spread of disease in supply-deficient castles, as well as captives and their severed heads to bring down the enemy's morale.
A counterweight trebuchet of average size.
A counterweight trebuchet of average size.

Battering rams were also designed to break down walls from close range. Often, rather than have attackers carry a log, it would be suspended by chains and swung. Also, rams had a roof to protect attackers from the defenders' weapons, including falling objects, liquids, and bows.

Siege towers, instead of breaking down walls, allowed attackers to scale walls. Like a small castle itself, they often had battlements and other small openings to take advantage of bows.

Because these siege weapons had to be made quickly on site, they were built with wood. Thus, defenders often used fire to counter them. However, they were often made fireproof with water and raw animal hides.


Hand Cannons:
The oldest known portable firearm was the hand cannon, consisting of a thick iron tube mounted on a shaft of metal or wood. The hand cannon's existence dates back to ancient china with the invention of gun powder. Gun powder would be poured into the barrel of the hand cannon and would be lit with a matchlock ignition system. One person would hold the weapon while another person would use smoldering paper or cloth material to light the powder. The projectiles used could have been anything from stones found on the ground to well crafted iron balls and arrows. Slowly with improved technology, the hand cannon and other primitive firearms came to dominate European warfare.
Arquebuses were precursors to the modern rifle, used from the 15th-17th centuries. The arquebus consisted of a long smooth tubular barrel. They utilized a matchlock system of firing meaning that when the long slender trigger parallel to the stock (similar to that of a crossbow) was pulled, a hammer would release and spark the flint thus lighting the gunpowder and ejecting the ball. Soldiers would be trained in how to load and cast their own ammo before battle. Eventually, as firearms progressed a new and improved version of the rifle was invented known as a caliver. In combat and in training, these rifles would be fired using a mount for stability and accuracy. The weapons were extremely heavy and mounts made hitting one's target significantly easier. The best targets for these guns were knights and people in heavy steel plate armor because the balls had very strong penetrating power due to their mass. (Video of matchlock)
Artillery and Cannons:
Placement and cross section of a Petard, showing the funneling of explosive power into the wall.
Placement and cross section of a Petard, showing the funneling of explosive power into the wall.

Bombards were heavy muzzle loading cannons that fired large caliber stone balls. They were used to hurl large stones or objects over or into the walls of a castle, similar to earlier Perriers. They caused massive damage and were very effective if used properly. Another use for gunpowder was for petards; bombs filled with gunpowder mounted onto castle walls or gates to inflict explosive damage. Tunnels were popular areas to use petards because they destroyed support wood, causing a cave in. The primary issue with petards was that if, it did not light the first time or there was a delayed explosion, the user could be killed.
Guns VS Bows:
The firearms of the time had many advantages over the bows in the middle ages. Though it was significantly less accurate than a well trained bowman, many people could learn to shoot very quickly. Also, bolts and arrows took up significantly more space than bullets.


  • Anton, Captain. “A Short History of the English Longbow.” The Archers of Ravenwood. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2012. <>. An account of the history of the longbow’s use in England, written by a group who perform demonstrations of longbow archery. Thus, useful information on its power is accurate, as well as descriptions about the battles of the Hundred Years’ War in which the longbow was useful.
  • McDonald, James. Medieval Warfare. Castles and Manor houses Inc, 11 Apr. 2012. Web. 12 Apr. 2012. <>. In depth descriptions of medieval weapons and history, giving information on their origin, use, and power. Also, it includes many high quality images of weapons and their use in battle.
  • “Medieval Arms Race.” PBS. PBS, Nov. 2000. Web. 12 Apr. 2012. <‌wgbh/‌nova/‌lostempires/‌trebuchet/‌race.html>. Basic information on sieges, both attacking and defending. Thus, it gives information on siege engines and defenses against them.