The Middle Ages have fascinated humans for centuries. Medieval times were not only about peace, prosperity, and exploration of the arts, but there were also significant challenges like population decline, mass migrations, and invasions. It comes as no surprise that these times were a particularly violent period of history shaped by many conflicts and wars. And at the heart of these conflicts were Medieval weapons.
Given how medieval times are always a popular source of inspiration for literature, movies, and even games like Fortnite, we have decided to compile a list of 20 amusing and little-known facts about medieval times and medieval weapons.
Swords and lances were not the only weapons used.
Examination of medieval warfare, especially in Europe tends to be overly focused on the imagery of knights and shiny armor and warriors equipped with magnificent swords and lances, but these were not the only weapons that medieval peoples used when they went to battle.
Brutality was not uncommon during this period and the people of the Middle Ages truly got very creative when it came to warfare weaponry. Contrary to the popular belief, many knights did not just carry swords. They instead opted to use many different weapons that were not just designed to kill but that could break through a metal armor or generate trauma with blunt force.
Not all weapons were designed to kill.
Another popular misconception was that weaponry in the Middle Ages was designed to kill instantly. Although understandably armies and fighters would equip themselves with the best weapons they could get their hands on, sometimes the intention was not only to kill but cause serious damage.
This is why many carried weapons that would cause severe trauma to the bones, muscles, and tissue, and they were considered equally effective without killing the enemy. Incapacitating the opponent was the main idea.
Swords were still the most common weapon in the Middle Ages.
It is no surprise that swords were a beloved choice of weaponry during the Middle Ages, and we notice this pattern across many different cultures and societies.
Swords were highly effective and were designed to kill, especially lighter swords that were appropriate for fast-moving skilled warriors.
Swords were used to stab the opponent and cause a lethal wound that would either kill the enemy or incapacitate them.
Sword fighting went from a mere battle practice to a sophisticated form of martial arts.
At one point, sword fighting became respected as a sort of an elevated martial art. This makes sense given how prevalent sword fighting was, to the point that it stopped being merely about killing enemies; it was also about defeating them in such a way that the victor would be granted fame and the acknowledgment as a master swordsman.
This is why even books were written about sophisticated forms of sword fighting and perfecting the skill. Sword fighting developed towards an increased focus on effectiveness instead of brutality and warriors paid more attention to their movement and strategy because they were aware that others watched and that a single sophisticated sword battle could grant them fame.
For a long time, swords were very expensive.
For a good part of the Middle Ages, swords were considered a matter of luxury. This is because metalwork was not accessible everywhere and carrying and owning a sword was also a matter of highlighting one’s status in society.
This is why it was not uncommon to have a sword displayed even outside of battlefields, many times as an accessory. This practice eventually became less prevalent because swords became easier to make leading them to become cheaper, more widespread, and lethal.
Medieval spears never went out of fashion.
Unlike swords that were considered highly luxurious items to own for a significant part of the Middle Ages, spears were always considered rather accessible, easy, and cheap to make.
Many warriors in the Middle Ages chose a spear to carry to a battle and this weapon got so popularized to the point that it became a regular staple weapon in many medieval armies. Spears were often used for large defensive maneuvers, cavalry charges, or standing armies.
A mace was considered a luxurious weapon.
Despite its brutal-looking design, the mace was a rather popular and beloved choice of weapon in wars.
The mace did not merely serve the purpose of killing an enemy – they were also a statement-making accessory. Some warriors preferred to take maces to battle, even carrying highly decorative ones. Despite being quite a simple weapon, warriors could cause severe injuries to their enemies with a simple strike of this club.
Depending on the design and effectiveness, maces were usually made from different types of metal or very dense and heavy wood. Some maces would have spikes or blunted surfaces on their tops so that they could cause significant damage.
While at one point maces became somewhat ineffective given the popularization of metal armor, craftsmen went on to develop metal maces that were so heavy and resistant they could easily break or at least bent even the most sophisticated armor.
People also carried hammers to war.
War hammers were another popular choice of weapon and although we do not often see them in our contemporary representation of the Middle Ages, war hammers were rather prevalent.
War hammers did not look completely like hammers we use as tools, but they had a similar design that resembles a modern-day hammer.
Just like modern-day hammers, war hammers consisted of a hammerhead fixated onto a thin long wooden pole.
War hammers would come in hand against enemy riders on horseback and they could cause significant damage because some of them had a spike at the end of their head making the hammer usable from both sides and able to inflict different types of damage.
The reason why war hammers became popular and resurfaced after a period of decline in use was that armor became covered with reinforced steel that could then easily break through tough armor.
Fauchards were a trendy weapon for more than 300 years.
Fauchards consisted of a long spear-like pole with a curved blade fixed on top of the pole. In general, the weapon would be 6 to 7 feet tall, and the blade would be highly curved, resembling a scythe or a sickle.
While it might have looked aesthetic, for many warriors it was not the most useful weapon during battles, and this is why fauchards never survived in their original form because craftsmen started adding spikes or cutting blades to the pole so that they would cause more damage.
Danish axes were beloved by Vikings.
Danish axes are those handy weapons that you often see in movies and series about the Vikings. Although they might seem like lightweight weapons in comparison to the size of the warrior, many Viking axes were rather sturdy and heavy.
The reason Vikings preferred to carry heavier axes was that they would cause more damage upon hitting the target and the weight could give them more control over the angle and rotation.
The head of the axe was designed to resemble a crescent shape that was mounted usually on a wooden stick. All in all, the weapon would be rather small so that it could be easily handled during a battle.
The Danish axe became so popular for its ease of use and damage capacity that other European societies started using them and it started spreading like wildfire in the 12th and the 13th centuries. Over time, the use of a Danish axe declined but it remained popular in some parts of Europe up to the 16th century.
The Frankish warriors loved their throwing axes.
Throwing axes became a sort of a national symbol for the Frankish warriors and were used during the period of the Merovingians. Despite being associated with the Franks, the throwing ax was also used by Germanic people as its popularity started to become known far and wide.
It comes as no surprise that it started spreading to other European societies, eventually coming to Anglo-Saxons in England. The Spanish also used it as well and called the weapon the Francisca. It was beloved for its slick design with a small arched pointed ax head.
The design of the ax was envisioned to make the throwing easy, precise, and most importantly – lethal. Francisca throwing axes were even able to penetrate armor and chain vests making them a terrifying weapon that many feared even just by looking at them.
Another reason why the throwing axe was so popular was that it was a very unpredictable weapon because it would often bounce from the ground upon hitting it. This made it hard for enemy warriors to figure out in which direction the axe would rebound and more often than, the axe would spring back and hit the opponents’ legs or pierce their shields. This is why Frankish warriors also threw their axes in a volley to confuse enemy warriors.
Javelins were the most popular throwing spears.
Javelins were light spears that were designed to be thrown at enemies and cause lethal damage. This is why they had to be lightweight so that they could reach a further distance and effortlessly be thrown by hand.
Javelins did not require any specific mechanism to be thrown which is why they were so simple to use. Although we do not know where they came from, it is possible that early Vikings used them for battles and warfare.
Javelins were used in many different European societies with slight tweaks and adjustments to their design. They could fulfil pretty much the same purpose as a regular spear except that they would cause less muscle tension making it easier for warriors to throw more javelins.
Luckily, javelins eventually went out of fashion, and nowadays they are not used in any conflicts, except in the Olympic games. Perhaps that is where they should stay permanently.
All major battles had bows.
Medieval battles were also often fought with bows. Warriors would use this weapon to project arrows in hopes that they will cause lethal blows to fast-moving enemies. Bows were beloved for their elasticity and effective spring mechanism. Bows are one of the rare weapons during medieval times that relied so much on the potential energy of the limbs.
Depending on many different types of shapes and intensity of the spring mechanism, bows could cause significant damage – from severe bleeding to almost instant death.
The best bows were made from a single piece of wood so that they would be sturdier and more efficient. Bows were only effective if their user was effective at firing at a target. Still, their effectiveness is proven by the fact that they were used for centuries and decided the outcomes of many battles.
Warriors carried up to 72 arrows into a battle.
Archers were often equipped with many arrows. They would typically ride into battle or stand on top of elevated positions equipped with up to 70 arrows in their longbows.
Although it might look simple, it was never easy for archers to fire arrows from their longbows because it required strength and constant stretching of the spring mechanism inflicted tension on the muscles so most archers could not fire more than just a few arrows per minute.
The strain that would be put on muscles would sometimes be immense. This is also one of the reasons why crossbows and other projectile-firing machines were invented during the Middle Ages.
Crossbows were one of the most precise weapons used during medieval times.
Crossbows became beloved all over Europe for their effectiveness and precision. They consisted of a bow that was mounted on a wooden base and equipped with a spring mechanism.
Crossbows became a fundamental part of warfare in Europe. The mechanism itself holds the drawn bowstring, making it easier for archers to fire more arrows without suffering from the same amount of muscle tension had they been using a regular bow.
Crossbows started evolving at a rapid pace and became a highly sophisticated weapon in no time. This was one of the rare weapons that consisted of many parts that were easily removable and changed in case they were damaged or worn out.
Crossbows became so lethal and effective that they almost always outpowered regular bows and even the most skilled traditional archers could hardly keep up.
Guns were used during medieval times.
Although it sounds anachronistic, an early form of a gun was used during medieval times. This early gun was a hand cannon that would eventually start developing into what we know today as a regular gun.
Historians and weapon experts often debate whether this was the ancestor of guns or other firearms, but all of them agree that it is possibly the oldest type of firearm.
This was a relatively simple weapon that was used up to the 16th century and it spread all over Europe and Asia. We do not know where it came from, but it is possible it originated in the Middle East or China.
The weapon consisted of a barrel with a handle and came in different shapes and sizes. Two hands were needed to hold the gun while another person would light the fuse with slow-burning matches, wood, or coal.
People were firing pebbles at each other.
We mentioned that rudimental gun cannons were fairly popular during medieval times, but many do not know that the choice of projectiles was highly unusual. In absence of real projectiles, shooters would often use pebbles or whatever they would find on the ground to fire at enemy soldiers, they would even use arrows or ball-shaped stones.
Gunpowder was also used to fire the weapon used but it was usually of terrible quality, so many times it would not even have enough strength to fire the projectile at a long distance, let alone to punch through armor. This is why often early guns were highly inefficient in causing lethal damage.
Trebuchets were used as highly effective destructive slings.
Think about any medieval video game or a movie and you will likely remember a scene where a trebuchet is used. These were large slings that were attached to the ground and that contained a large piece of wood that extended from a base onto which a projectile was attached.
Trebuchets evolved throughout time from simple designs that required several people to hand them, to becoming sophisticated machines that required less manpower and could cause more damage.
Early trebuchets would be powered by more than 40 men but as they got more effective, fewer people had to be involved and heavier projectiles could be thrown, even up to 60 kilograms.
Trebuchets are remembered as one of the most iconic weapons used during the Middle Ages.
Bombards were highly dangerous.
Bombards, a type of small canon, were also used in battles, and they were one of the most effective and lethal cannons. A typical bombard consisted of a large caliber muzzle loading cannon that threw very heavy round stone balls.
Bombards later influenced our term for bombs. They were especially efficient against enemy fortifications and were known to be able to break even the thickest walls.
Sometimes the stone or metal balls would even be covered in cloth that was soaked in quicklime, also known as Greek fire, and lit up so that they could even cause fires upon hitting the targets. Although many different forms existed, the most powerful bombards could fire 180-kilogram balls.
Petards were used as an alternative to cannons.
Petard, little-known medieval weapons, were small bombs that would be fixated to a surface and used to blow it up.
Normally, petards were attached to different gates or walls and used to breach fortification. We know today that they were very popular in the 15th and the 16th centuries, and they were rectangular in shape and stuffed with up to six pounds of gunpowder.
A petard was fixated to a fuse that would be lit up with the match and upon explosion, it would cause severe damage to walls.
It was ideal for those armies that preferred the strategy of destroying walls and entering enemy fortifications through tunnels or broken gates. They were so popular that even Shakespeare mentioned them in his works.
Although it was not all chaos and warfare, medieval times were still predominantly shaped by insecurity, wars, and conflicts that would sometimes last for decades. This is why it comes as no surprise that medieval weapons were objects of continuous development, and many medieval inventors and craftsmen spent their lives developing and perfecting different weaponry to ensure their nation’s survival or expansion.
We hope you found this article useful and that you learned new information about this highly polarizing period in history. While it is important not to legitimize or glorify wars or violence, it is important to talk about the history and human experiences that were so much different from what we experience today.
We might never have to use a petard or throw a javelin at an enemy warrior, but we should still know that this was the reality for many of our ancestors and their struggles to survive should be acknowledged and are always worthy of discussion.