History of weapons

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Japanese cold weapons and other military paraphernalia, c. 1892–95
A Gilbertese shark tooth weapon (late 19th century)

The history of weapons is a vast subject and involves a step-by-step account of the various weapons that were invented over the course of time. Weapons can be defined as: "a tool used to hurt an individual or a group or to threaten or defend".

Apart from their employment in warfare and other combat situations, they are also used for hunting-and-gathering purposes, the preservation of law and order, border security, and for the committing of crimes.

Weapons have always played a crucial role in society, moulding and changing the course of history. They have destroyed civilizations and created new ones. In the ancient days, when Egypt was at its peak, the Hyksos invaded it only because they had superior weapons made of iron. They thrust into Egypt using chariots — a tactical and logistical innovation which amazed the Egyptians.

The Macedonians surged ahead of all other civilizations by introducing siege weapons such as the catapult, and field weapons such as the pike, which was employed to deadly effect by heavily armed infantrymen arranged in phalanxes. The Romans subsequently improved the quality and technology of siege equipment, arms and armor, and battle tactics.

Gunpowder, a Chinese invention, was introduced on to the battlefields of Europe in the Middle Ages, thereby revolutionizing military strategy and introducing a whole new range of propellent-based ordnance. The Germans after their defeat in World War I, began devising new methods of creating superior grades and types of weapons, such as the jet fighter, while World War II in general caused an arms race which culminated in the development of the atomic bomb.

The world's arsenal of weapons began in prehistoric times with simple clubs, stone tools, wooden spears and simple slings. It later progressed to include bows and arrows, Greek fire and sophisticated blade technology, and, still later, to embrace cannons, rifles, machine-guns, tanks, battleships, war planes, rockets – and eventually nuclear weapons. The evolution of these multifarious kinds of weapons helps us to understand the technology employed by our ancestors in different periods of history. They also give an insight into how changing societal pressures and political structures have given rise to progressively deadlier implements of death and destruction.

Copper Age[edit]

As humans discovered new natural resources such as copper beneath the Earth's surface they used their newfound resources judiciously and effectively to replace their traditional clubs with maces. Copper had significantly contributed to the ancient world and helped cultures of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Indus and China flourish. Copper weapons replaced stone weapons. Copper was the only metal known to man for a long period of time, [1] during the copper age maces were in high demand. The Sumerians were the first people on record to have used copper weapons. The native Americans mostly used flint spears and knives, but used copper for ceremonies and intricate decorations. Ancient artisans soon discovered the drawbacks of copper for producing armaments. Weapons made of copper could be sharpened easily, but they were not able to hold their edge for a longer time. [2] Along with maces bows and arrows, which were used side by side with slings, were used for wars. Bow and arrow was preferred over spears because they were easy to handle, provided greater mobility, were more accurate, and did not require as much raw material. Bow and arrows were a boon for hunters as they could hunt more effectively with a bow and arrow than with a spear. The bow enabled the ancient man to become the most efficient hunter. After the discovery of pure copper in Anatolia, around 6000 BCE, copper metallurgy spread in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Around 3500 BCE the art of metallurgy spread into India, China and Europe.[3]

The Sumerians[edit]

Main article: Sumer

Known to be one of the earliest civilizations, the Sumerians lived in what is currently Iraq. The land was open to enemy attacks and they were attacked by the many barbarian tribes. The Sumerian warrior was equipped with maces, clubs and slings. Sargon of Akkad, (2333–2279 BCE) is believed to have saved the Sumerian civilization from total collapse. Around 2300 BCE, Sargon assembled an army of 5,000 soldiers which made use of domesticated animals in battles for example Donkeys were employed for pulling chariots. The Sumerians had devised a strategy to attack the enemies while riding chariots that would keep them away from enemy weapons and at the same time rout the hostile troops. They used bow and arrows which proved to be effective as they were the perfect guided missiles of the ancient period.[4]

Bows and arrows[edit]

Bows and arrows changed with changing times, bows were made from wood. The bow brought about a revolution in ancient warfare just like gunpowder for medieval warfare. Since arrow heads were discovered in Africa, the historians have presumed that the bow and arrow were invented there at around 50,000 BCE. The bows were quite effective against the enemies that were far from the archer.[5] Archers were recruited in armies. When people started horse riding at around 2500 BCE, composite bows were created. In 1200 BCE, the Hittites, originating from Anatolia, shot arrows using their bows on light chariots. In 1000 BCE some of these horse-riding archers from Central Asia invented the recurve bow, which was in the shape of a "W" and had an improved elasticity. People from the Nile used relatively long bows for better accuracy, they also used composite bows. Civilizations all over the world produced bows according to their respective vegetation. The Chinese made bows from bamboo sticks while others who did not have the right kind of wood needed for making bows produced composite bows. According to Chinese beliefs and mythology, a story is narrated and written in old Chinese texts which says how bow and arrow were invented.

The Egyptians[edit]

The Egyptians for a long time enjoyed their strategic location which was free from enemy attacks. Egypt was considered to be peaceful in the ancient world. They never did consider training an army for the sake of invasion or defense of their own province.[7] But to their dismay, a tribe known to be the Hyksos surprised the Egyptians. They marched into Egypt during the 15th Dynasty in the Second Intermediate Period with chariots and took the people of Egypt by surprise. The invaders used composite bows as well as improved recurve bows and arrowheads. According to Historians, they came from Mesopotamia, but the exact location from where the Hyksos came is still a mystery. Unlike the Sumerians, the Hyksos had horse-drawn chariots and not donkeys. They wore mailed shirts and metal helmets. They were also armed with superior daggers and swords.[8] Chariotry was introduced to the Egyptians by the Hyksos. Tribes like that of the Hyksos had access to new and superior weapons which were most probably developed further away in Asia. These tribes using these new and sophisticated weapons started to conquer new lands and at the same time exchange their knowledge of weapons with other civilizations. The Egyptians, after a civil war with Hyksos came to power once again. The Egyptians started to use horse-drawn chariots. Even before the Hyksos invasion, the Egyptians did not have a cavalry as it is believed that the horses were smaller and not strong enough to support a rider.

Ancient naval weapons[edit]

Fish was a major source of food, and the Egyptians eked out a living in whatever river Nile had to offer to them. Papyrus boats are reported to have been first constructed in the pre-dynastic for fishing purpose. Most of the Egyptians used boats to transport warriors. In order to intercept a foreign boat, they used large stones. They would hurl big stones in the direction of enemy boats, physically or using a catapult. The Egyptians traded with the Phoenicians in around 2200 BCE. For safety of their boats they would fix a bow. The New Egyptian kingdom re-organized the standing army and also focused on making new and improved boats. During this period, Egypt's navy was extensive. Bigger ships of seventy to eighty tons suited to long voyages became quite common. Many cargo ships were converted into battle ships. Seafaring was not safe, and in order to have smooth trading relations, they built a large fleet and took control of the sea. The temple of Medinet has paintings depicting the fleet of Ramses II fighting in the sea. This was probably the first properly documented sea battle. The Phoenicians are said to have developed a first of its kind war galley in the ancient world with a battering ram in the front.

War chariots[edit]

Pharaoh in his chariot defeats the Hyksos

Chariots—a mode of transportation, were converted into a weapon by the ancient people. The Hittites used chariots to crash into enemies. The Egyptians used to stay away from enemies and attack them by arrows and spears. These primitive vehicles were first made in Mesopotamia by the Sumerians. These four-wheeled wagons were each pulled by four donkeys. Every wagon held two individuals; a driver, and a warrior armed with a spear or an ax. Some historians believe that chariots were first developed in the Eurasian steppes, somewhere near Russia and Uzbekistan. After the introduction of horses, animals that were found to be much faster than donkeys, chariots became more fierce weapons with the combination of speed, strength and mobility.[9] The Hyksos introduced chariots in Egypt. These chariots were later modified into the Egyptian style. The parts were changed and decorated with Egyptian symbols and paintings. However, by the 15th century BCE, Tutmoses III made 1000 chariots for military expedition. Each chariot carried two men, one to drive and one to shoot arrows. Much later, the Egyptians changed their strategy and divided the charioteers into five squadrons, with twenty-five chariots in each and two men in each chariot: a driver and a soldier armed with bows and arrows, a shield, a sword, and a javelin. If arrows were exhausted they would always keep swords as a backup for close combat.[10]

The Khopesh sword[edit]

Main article: Khopesh

Khopesh also called as the Canaanite "sickle-sword" was used mostly by the Barbarian tribes who lived near Mesopotamia. These tribes, who used to attack the Egyptians occasionally, used the Khopesh as their main weapon. These tribes later started trading with Egyptians. The Egyptians were so impressed by the shape and make of the sword, they decided to adopt it themselves. Ramses II was the first pharaoh to have used the khopesh in warfare. The army of Ramesses II used the Khopesh in the battle of Khandesh. The Khopesh was also considered to be the best designed sword as it could be used as an axe, a sword or a sickle. The Khopesh eventually became the most popular sword in all of Egypt and a symbol of royal power and strength. The Assyrian king Adad-nirari I (r. 1307–1275 BCE) used to display this sword during ritual ceremonies. Such curved swords could be seen in Mesopotamian art and paintings. Some of these Khopesh swords were black in colour and came with a full tang. The average length of the Khopesh was around 40 to 60 cms.[11] This is likely why the Mamluk Sultanate based their sword, the Scimitar, off of it. This weapon later spread all around the Muslim Empires and to Eastern Europe.


As the barbarian hordes from Germania were still using clubs and maces the classical Greek civilization had mastered the art of making spears. Trident or Gig was another form of spear popular with the Greeks. The trident is a three pronged spear that was a form also used as a fishing tool. This weapon was used in the east by the Indians who called it Trishul (three spears). The trident was used in Ancient Rome by the Gladiators known to be net fighters, in keeping with the historical use of the trident in fishing. These net fighters would cast the net onto their enemies and once their enemies were trapped and helpless in the net, they would then use the trident to kill him or inflict serious injuries. The trident is also associated with mythological gods. Poseidon, the sea god in Greek mythology, holds the trident, as does the ancient Roman god Neptune and Shiva, a Hindu god.[12]

Bronze Age weapons[edit]

Bronze, a fusion of copper and tin. Copper and bronze were used extensively in Asia. The Indus Valley Civilization flourished as a result of improvised metallurgy. Neolithic communities who lived primarily in the upper Yellow River, in China also used bronze items extensively as a number of artifacts were recovered at the Majiayao site. Bronze was produced on a large scale in China for weapons. From the excavations at Zhengzhou, it is evident that the Chinese during the Shang dynasty had well built walls, large buildings, bronze foundries, and bone and pottery workshops.[13]

Assyrian Empire[edit]

The Assyrians originate from Ashur, Northern Mesopotamia. After total destruction of the Sumerian civilization, new cities were built by the Assyrians. Assyrians were known for their war-like culture. It was King Shamshi-Adad I at the start of 18th century BC who conquered lands to the west, uptill the Mediterranean and established the first Assyrian empire.[4] The Assyrian were first known to be barbaric, blood thirsty people. Some part of this was true according to historians. They had set up schools to teach military warfare involving demolition of walls and mining city walls. The Assyrians were surrounded by hostile, powerful and aggressive tribes. It was thus important for them to train their people. The Assyrian army was feared mostly for their iron weapons. They were the first people to use iron in their weapons. Unlike the rest of the civilizations, the Assyrian charioteers had a crew of three people. An extra crew member was added to protect the rear. They were the first to introduce cavalry and the first develop siege craft with siege towers and battering rams. The cavalry had completely replaced chariots in late 600 BC. The Assyrians had a very well organized army. The King stood in the middle on a chariot, flanked by bodyguards and the standing army. The archers stood in front of the king and were covered by powerful spearmen and shielded carriers who fought in close combat with the enemies. Then there were the heavy chariots and the horsemen who would charge into enemy lines with brutal force.[14]

The Persians[edit]

Persian and Median infantry

When Cyrus II, also known as Cyrus the Great, succeeded his father Cambyses I to become the emperor of Ashnan, that was located in southwest of modern-day Iran, he declared war on King Astyages (r. 584 – c. 550 BC), the ruler of Medes. After defeating him, he formed an empire of his own that was known as the Achaemenid Empire. Cyrus took all steps to form a standing army in order to stretch his empire further. Cyrus, with a well-trained army, conquered vast territories, including the whole of Mesopotamia and Asia Minor. His son, Cambyses II, continued his conquests by conquering Egypt. Darius the Great—the third Achaemenid king—pushed the boundaries of the empire further afield. The inhabitants living under Darius were happy, but were expected to be available for military campaigns.

Ancient Greek weapons[edit]

Main article: Ancient Greek weapons

Ancient Greece was surrounded by hostile neighbours such as Persia, Macedonia, and later Rome. The Greeks had adopted a totally different pattern of warfare and even fashioned their weapons differently. They had adopted a very strategic style of fighting. They researched the strengths and weaknesses of their enemies and accordingly developed their weapons.[15] After incessant threats of a Persian invasion, the Greeks came together and formed the Delian league. The Spartans were ready for a ground assault while the Athenians relied on their navy that was strong. Sensing the military might of the Athenians, the city states and settlers of Asia Minor requested them to lead the league. The Athenians had a formidable navy. They produced an overwhelming number of battleships and soldiers and in return demanded tribute from the league members. The Athenians had made dozens of warships known as Trireme to defend Greece. Trireme was a warship, that was also many times used as a cargo ship as well. The crew consisted of 200 men which included the Captain, ten dignitaries who may have been commanders, several archers, a few soldiers, and 170 oarsmen. When the Persians met the Greek army they outnumbered it three to one. The Persian army consisted of infantry and an excellent cavalry. Their tactics were of a defensive nature since their main weapon was the bow. The Greeks used long spears, shields, helmets and breastplates. The Greeks had no cavalry at this point in time. As soon as the Persian army came to the battle ground, the Greeks already started to charge into the enemy lines to avoid the showering of arrows. The Shield of the Greeks were so strong that it broke the spears of the Persians, much to their surprise. Their long spears, with sharp iron spearhead on a wooden shaft and a bronze butt helped them break enemy ranks and routed the Persian army. If their spear was broken they used their swords for close combat. Ancient Greeks brought many changes in the technology of warfare.[16] They were also supplied with the acinaces, a dagger like sword.

The Macedonians[edit]

Main article: Ancient Macedonians

After evading danger and defeating the Persians at the battle of Marathon and Artemisium, the Greeks became more cautious. But soon a battle between Athens and Sparta broke out, the classical Athenian culture was destroyed after its defeat. Then emerged a new power – The Macedonians. Father of Alexander the Great, King Philip II had unified the Greek City states and formed the Corinthian League to fight the Persians. King Philip had gained a reputation of a great military leader equipped with superior weapons. The Macedonians had followed the traditional military strategy adopted by the Greek city-states, the phalanx of the army in a rectangular formation which guarded against loss from the enemy. The Macedonian infantry were equipped with "sarissa", a spear as long as 15 feet with an iron leaf shaped spear heads. They also possessed a good cavalry. The Macedonians engineers had developed heavy weapons, artillery pieces, with enough power to breach the gates and walls of a fortification. Torsion catapult were also developed a little later. Heavy weapons such as the ballistae, and the smaller, and more portable weapons, cheiroballistra were improved by King Philip II and Alexander the Great.[17]

The Romans[edit]

After Rome was sacked by the Gauls in 390 BC, they regrouped and formed an alliance of the city states. They deployed thoroughly trained soldiers in the north western frontiers to protect Rome from further attacks. These soldiers were divided into two groups, Legionaries and Auxiliaries. Legionaries were Roman citizens whereas Auxiliaries were recruited from tribes and allies of Rome. They eventually defeated the Gauls and gained total control of the Italian peninsula as well as North Western Europe. The Romans never used complex weapons, instead they chose to use the more simple and unusual weapons of warfare. The armor and weapons were used under excellent supervision, great leadership and discipline that enabled the Romans to create superior military forces, both regular and irregular armies including mercenaries and allies, that were able to conquer their opponents.[18]

The Gladius[edit]

Main article: Gladius

The gladius was a light and short traditional Roman sword used for a quick kill. This was a short sword, not more than 60 centimeters long, made with an iron blade to which a bronze-covered wood, or ivory cross guard, pommel, and grip would be attached. The gladius varied in length and size as Roman soldiers of different ranks used gladius measuring around 34.5 and 64 centimeters. The gladius was mainly used for thrusting and so had limited effect when wielded from horseback.[17]

The Pilum[edit]

Main article: Pilum

Roman soldiers were equipped with the gladius and pilum, a javelin with a long iron head. They carried two pila to throw at the enemy. The pila were designed in such a way that they could easily stick into the enemy's shield and would bend instantly due to the impact. This way the enemy, if unharmed, could not throw back the pilum.

Weapons in the early Medieval Ages[edit]

Alaric the Goth charging into Rome with his barbarian troops

The Barbarian tribes from Germania kept penetrating deeper into the Roman territory. Some of these tribes were the Osthrogoths, Visigoths, Vandals and Franks. After the death of Marcus Aurelius, Rome became vulnerable to attacks from all directions. The Huns, a tribe said to be from steppe regions of Central Asia started to push other barbarian tribes into Roman territories. The Huns not only attacked other barbarian tribes but eventually attacked Rome. By this time the Roman Empire was divided into East and West. The Huns always fought a battle on horseback as they were not used to infantry lines. Their favourite weapon was the composite bow.[17] Flavius Aetius forged an alliance with the Visigoths, Alans and the Vandals and provided them with Roman arms and armours to fight against their common enemy, the Huns. His barbarian filled forces defeated the Huns. Later, the very barbarian tribes under the leadership of Alaric I burnt Rome to the ground and marked the end of the glorious ancient civilization.[17]

Military organization[edit]

After the defeat of Western Roman Empire, the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantium empire held on. The barbarian kingdoms had already set up their kingdoms in place. They started the process of recruiting and advancement of soldiers. A warrior was highly respected according to the barbarian tradition. A brave warrior was often rewarded by allotting land, titles and other benefits. These land owners later became medieval nobles.[17]

Weapons of the Barbarians[edit]

Frankish throwing axe of the 5th and 6th century AD

Many barbarians had served the Roman army so it is clear that they used similar weapons when fighting against the Roman troops. However, after a brief period, the barbarian tribes including the Vandals, the Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Franks started to develop and make their own weapons. According to Historians and Archaeologists, the weapons of the barbarians were far superior to Roman weapons of the 5th century. Archers began to fire iron-tipped arrows. The cavalry and infantry both initiated the use of longer two-edged swords. The Franks meanwhile used a variety of weapons. They chose not to wear their armour and instead carried more weapons. In 470 Sidonius Apollinaris recalls his first meeting with Frankish soldiers and according to him, the Franks hung their swords onto their shoulders, they also carried with them barbed lances and throwing axes. Many Frankish warriors also did not wear helmets. They carried their traditional double edged axe and never carried any missile weapons.[19] Amongst all the barbarian tribes, Merovingian kingdom of the Franks became the most powerful realm in Western Europe. Most of the power was exercised by the military lords who eventually gained total control of the Merovingian kingdom in late 600 AD. Pippin II, who had gained total control of the Merovingian kingdom passed mayorships to his illegitimate son, Charles Martel, in 714. Charles Martel was responsible for modernization of the Frankish army and the defeat of Muslims at the Battle of Tours. During the battle, the Franks had carried with them swords and axes. The iron head of their weapons were exceedingly sharp. Their axes were forged from a single piece of iron. However by the end of the 7th century production of axes ceased as the number of skilled axe throwers started dwindling.[20]

The Byzantium armoury[edit]

During the reign of Justinian, the emperor of Constantinople, the Byzantium empire became military active. He sent a huge army to re-capture the North African provinces from the Vandals. By 534 AD, the Byzantium general Belisarius had destroyed the Vandal power and then marched to Italy to conquer Rome from the Ostrogoths. By 565, the Byzantines wiped the Ostrogoths from Italy. The Byzantines were witnessing great advances in military engineering. They possessed a highly disciplined military force and military technicians who contributed to the development of siege weapons that the civilized world had never seen.[21] In around 672, an incendiary substance known as Greek Fire was invented. Greek fire was sprayed from early flamethrowers on ships known as dromons. Researchers have been unable to duplicate this substance today. Ships were set aflame by the Greek fire and it had the capability to kill large number of warriors inside the ship with one shot.[22] Some of the early devices used by the Byzantines were torsion powered engines used to shoot arrows with greater intensity. The Byzantine military engineers were learning and developing more sophisticated siege weapons. By the 10th century they had adopted engineering techniques used by the Muslims.[21]

Weapons of the Mediterranean[edit]

The Islamic world had already advanced way ahead of others in military engineering. The main reasons, according to historians, was the trade relations with China. The Islamic world had learnt the Chinese technology, which was known to be superior to that of the Greeks or the Romans. Arab army generals were encouraging the use of new technology and inherited a highly sophisticated tradition of siege warfare. The Trebuchet, capable of throwing huge stones and piles of rocks was said to have been invented in the Middle East by the Muslim engineers. The trebuchet was probably copied from the Chinese huo-pa’o, which had been adopted by the Mongols and carried west by them.[23] Some trebuchets were used to throw dead horses into a besieged city to spread disease. The Muslims had adopted the technology and traditions of those whom they conquered. Like the Syrians, the Iranians and later the Byzantines. The Muslims had also attacked Byzantine using the most advanced siege weapons. In the mid-8th century, Caliph Marwan II of Syria had more than 80 stone-throwing machines stored with him. The Abbasid Caliphate who had set their capital in Baghdad rather that Syria had specialized in mangonel operations and stationed these devastation military geniuses in all their fortresses.[24]

The Chinese[edit]

Chinese people had witnessed conflicts and constant warfare much across China. Fifty years after the fall of the Tang Dynasty, China witnessed five successive dynasties in the north along with a dozen small nations in the south in such a short timespan. The quick rise and fall of these countries and the fragmented nature is a result of the rise of warlordism towards the later half of the Tang dynasty. In 960, Zhao Kuangyin staged a coup of his own to take over the dominant northern dynasty of the later Zhou and founded the Song dynasty. He was able to finally reunite all the fragmented states of the south and put an end to the problem of military coups that had plagued China for the last century. The Song established its capital at Kaifeng on the Yellow river. It was during the reign of this dynasty that the Chinese started to produce gunpowder using saltpeter, sulfur and carbon.[25] Some historians[who?] believe that Chinese did not consider gunpowder a particularly important weapon, though in fact they were the first people to systematically use gunpowders as weapons on a wide scale. Even the Arabs, who had probably been using gunpowder much earlier than the Europeans, referred potassium nitrate as 'Snow from China'. From about 1000 AD it had been mostly used in the form of firecrackers, and was used to improve existing weapons (for example), attached on spears for a shock burst upon engagement, or on arrows so they can fly faster mid air or be shot off in large salvos without the need of bows. In the 12th century, the Chinese were using crude hand grenades[4] and were starting to use the earliest forms of rockets and cannons in addition to the aforementioned firecracker weapons.

Later Middle Ages[edit]

The Normans[edit]

The Norman knights that invaded England, and defeated the Saxons at Hastings in 1066, dressed in chainmail and swinging swords from horseback, made history.[26] William the Conqueror had successfully landed with his army of Normans consisting of an infantry composed of spearmen, swordsmen, and archers in Britain to claim his authority over the throne of England. The Norman cavalry was well equipped with maces, swords and boiled leather armours.

Siege warfare[edit]

Western Europe by this time had already reached a level of military sophistication. The Arabs had even started to adopt Ifranji also known as Frankish , a stone throwing engine. The Europeans were by all means trying to outclass the Byzantines, the Indians and the Arabs in siege technology.[27] The Mongols on the other hand had brought about a revolution in siege warfare. They had learnt the art of making siege weapons while conquering northern China. They had recovered some mangonels, trebuchets and rams from Chinese engineers.

The Crusades[edit]

The Normans and the Byzantines were successful in driving out the Muslim invaders from the Greek Islands, Southern Italy and Sicily. Though these were little military operations the Europeans, assuming that the Muslims were vulnerable, embarked on a mission to recapture the holy land lost by them centuries before. However, a powerful tribe from the mid-Asian steppes, the Seljuk Turks emerged and started to massacre the Christian pilgrims in Syria. Responding to these attacks, the Byzantines fought a battle against the Seljuk Turks, the battle of Manzikert, where they were defeated. The Byzantines had to pull back all their armies from Asia Minor. Byzantine emperor Alexius I Comnenus, requested for aid from Christians. He petitioned Pope Urban II to aid the Byzantines in regaining their lost territories. Pope Urban II summoned the Christian armies in 1095 and sent them to recapture the holy Land from the hands of the Muslims. Not much is known about the weapons that were being produced in Western Europe at the time of Crusades. But it is evident that their cavalry used lances. The Europeans armies also used crossbows excessively. It was said to be the best known infantry weapon used by the Europeans. By the late 13th century, the power of crossbows increased. Infantry weapons of the Crusaders varied in shape, sizes and quality. Apart from spears, swords and daggers, foot soldiers were equipped with an extraordinary array of pole-arms, often reflecting their place of origin. The two edged sword was extensively used by both foot knights and mounted knights.

The Islamic armies too had a sophisticated military organization. Their armies consisted of the Central Asian Turkish Mamluk or the Ghulam infantry. Further, local Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Armenians, Persians, were also recruited from all over the Mediterranean. Their weapons were no different from the crusaders. They used daggers, axes, spears, bows and arrows. The bows were differently crafted, using multiple strips of different kinds of wood glued together to maximize the range and penetration power of said bow. Their swords also had a slightly different design. Muslim Cavalry used swords for close combat. Their armour was often worn beneath their cloths, to protect themselves from the sun overheating the iron pieces. Muslim troops also carried with them round and kite shaped shields.

Hundred Years War[edit]

Main article: Hundred Years War

The Hundred Years' War was a series of small and big wars fought between France and England from 1337 to 1453. In the year 1337, the French King Philip VI demanded that the provinces under the English rule, Gascony and Guyenne be given back to the French. However, English king, Edward III denied this demand which led to a war between the two. The English had their eyes on the wool industry in Flanders. Moreover they had a stable government and efficient soldiers ready to fight the French. During this period, most of the Europeans armies relied mainly on infantry. The infantry dominated armies were taking a toll on cavalry dominated armies. Digging ditches, constructing wagon fortresses, or flooding already marshy ground, so that the enemy could attack from only one direction, were some of the methods employed by both the armies during the Hundred Years' War.[28] In the final phase of the war, gunpowder was also used for the first time in Western Europe. Jean and Gaspard Bureau's effective organization of artillery weapons enabled the French army in open battlefields as well as siege warfare. At Castillon, the French army annihilated the English, effectively using cannons, handguns and heavy cavalry.[29]


Main article: Longbow

The English longbow was greatly responsible for making England a major military power in the late medieval period. The English had introduced this deadly longbow during the Battle of Crecy. King Edward III was ravaging the countryside during the invasion of France. King Philip VI of France intercepted the English near the town of Crecy. The French had easily outnumbered the English. Apart from armoured knights the French army also had nearly 4,000 Genoese crossbowmen. But the English archers outnumbered the Genoese and rained arrows. The English could shoot five times faster than the Genoese crossbowmen. When the French mounted knights tried to infiltrate into the English lines, the longbowmen turned their attention to them and started to shoot, resulting into chaos. The horses started to crash into each other. The cavalry was destroyed and the French army annihilated.[30] The longbow was made of a simple piece of wood, but its design was fairly sophisticated. The bow's back, the part facing away from the archer, was the more flexible sapwood, that allowed the bow to be bent more sharply without breaking or causing any further damage.[30]

Cavalry weapons[edit]

The basic objective of a cavalry knight was to charge into enemy lines and create chaos. At this time, the old shields and armours were replaced by newer and more sophisticated and advanced shields and armours. Lances were used by the mounted knights for initial charge. After the initial charge and annihilation of the enemy front lines, the lances were discarded and swords, axes or war hammer were used for close combat.

Gunpowder weapons[edit]

The invention of gunpowder weapons revolutionized siege warfare. Gunpowder is said to have been conceived in China. It was when the Mongols, after invading China, went on to subdue Japan, their ships sunk by a typhoon. Half of their army drowned in the sea. Marine archaeology has revealed that the Mongols were carrying gunpowder in ceramic pots. Similar pots with ignited fuses had been shot from mechanical artillery against the Japanese defenders. Even the old Japanese paintings show the Japanese samurai defending themselves against bombs and rockets hurled by the invaders.[31] Some historians have observed that only 14 percent men in Europe owned guns.[31] Over half of those guns were unusable during the later Middle Ages. The invention of gunpowder weapons replaced only catapults and onagers. The change was slow. Buying guns in those days was a costly affair. The cost of one gun was the equivalent of two months pay for a skilled artisan.[31] By 1450, inventors improvised the make of the gun and introduced the matchlock gun. Though inventors came with new technology, the process of reloading after every shot was very time consuming. By the time they were reloading the gun, the cavalry would charge and annihilate the entire unit of shooters.[32]

Renaissance weapons[edit]

Further information: Gunpowder warfare

Medieval weapons were still in service during the Renaissance & Civil war. Some of the medieval weapons that were still in use included Guisarme, the Halberd, the Mace and the partisan. The Halberd was a traditional weapon used by the Swiss. The Halberd was designed intricately. This weapons was traditional and consisted of an axe-blade balanced by a pick, the head of the shaft would usually seem more like a spike.[33] This weapon was mostly used by the foot soldiers against cavalry. Halberds became obsolete when improvised pikes started to be produced in huge numbers. Meanwhile the Partisan was introduced in England in the 14th century and was used excessively and extensively in Europe and especially in France. Originally the Partisan used to be a spear with small wings added below it. Partisan is also referred to as 'Vulgur Polearm'. The sword still remained the most popular weapon during Renaissance.

The sword however underwent many changes during this time. Many new pieces were added and the sword was designed in such a way that it could protect the hands of its owner. The two-handed sword was widely used in Western Europe. This sword was employed both by the rich and the poor. The armies during this period were usually equipped with two edged swords, halberd, arquebus, crossbows and improvised axes.[34]

Leonardo da Vinci journeyed to Mantua, resided there for a while and then went from there to Venice. The danger from Turkish fleet was looming on the city. This inspired him to come up with another invention, something like a submarine and a snorkel and diving suit for underwater saboteurs. But the Valentines thought it was not required. So he went back to Florence. In the year 1502, Valentino chose Leonardo da Vinci as his engineer general. Leonardo sketched new devices for war, something like pointed artillery projectile, bearing very close resemblance to an aerial bomb.[35]

Siege guns[edit]

China was the first place where cannons were used for laying siege. Metal cannons were manufactured and mounted on the Great Wall of China to protect it from the Mongolian hordes. The Mongols learned this technology and made cannons to invade Korea. In 1593 cannons were used most effectively in the Siege of Pyongyang. Ming warriors made cannons to fight the Japanese. The battle was won by the Ming warriors because the Japanese lacked cannons or any sort of gunpowder weapons. During the siege of Constantinople in 1453, Mohammed the Conqueror, sultan of Turkey, ordered his Hungarian engineer, Urban to develop the biggest guns ever seen. Once these huge guns – cannons or bombards – were in position, the walls of Constantinople came down tumbling. The introduction of such bombards had a profound effect on the European society. Engineers started to design their walls keeping in mind the danger the walls could have when facing the newly introduced bombards.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "From Copper to Bronze to Conquest". Discover Copper. copper.org. 2006. Retrieved 1 August 2009. 
  2. ^ Justice, Noel (September 1995). Stone Age Spear and Arrow Points of the Midcontinental and Eastern United States: A Modern Survey and Reference. Indiana University Press. p. 304. ISBN 0-253-20985-4. 
  3. ^ Parkinson, William (December 2006). The Social Organization of Early Copper Age Tribes on the Great Hungarian Plain. British Archaeological Reports Ltd. p. 199. ISBN 1-84171-788-6. 
  4. ^ a b c Taylor, Andrew (21 August 2008). The Rise and Fall of the Great Empires. London: Quercus. ISBN 978-1-84724-513-7. 
  5. ^ Selvon Mike; Taking You Back to the Bow and Arrow History; Ezine Articles
  6. ^ How bow and arrow were invented
  7. ^ Edward Mcnall p. 34.
  8. ^ Edward Mcnall pp 37–38
  9. ^ Healy, Mark (1992). Armies of the Pharaohs. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-85532-939-5. 
  10. ^ Feature story on Chariots
  11. ^ David and Irene Franck. Timelines of War: A Chronology of Warfare from 100,000 BCE to the Present. Boston: Little, Brown, 1994
  12. ^ Shaw, Ian (1991). Egyptian Warfare and Weapons. Shire Publications LTD. ISBN 0-7478-0142-8. 
  13. ^ The Golden Chinese Archaeology; Part 2; Bronze Age of China
  14. ^ Essay and Term papers; Assyrian Weapons and Warfare Paper
  15. ^ Adcock, F.E (1962). The Greek and Macedonian Art of War. California: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-00005-6. 
  16. ^ Pillai Maya; Ancient Greek Weapons
  17. ^ a b c d e f DeVries & Smith
  18. ^ Bishop, M C; J C N Coulston (2008). Roman Military Equipment: From The Punic Wars To The Fall Of Rome (Reprint ed.). Oxbow Books. p. 322. ISBN 1-84217-159-3. 
  19. ^ Davis, Ralph H C (1999). A History of Medieval Europe: From Constantine to Saint Louis. London: Longman. ISBN 978-0-582-41861-5.  pp. 108–109.
  20. ^ Bernard S. Bachrach, Procopius, Agathias and the Frankish Military, Speculum 45 (1970): 436–437)
  21. ^ a b Nicolle
  22. ^ Herbst p. 7.
  23. ^ Nicolle p. 4.
  24. ^ Nicolle p. 5.
  25. ^ Herbst p. 8.
  26. ^ Fuller, J.F.C. The Decisive Battles of the Western World, Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1954
  27. ^ Nicolle pp. 5–6.
  28. ^ Nicolle pp. 169–170
  29. ^ "The Hundred Years War- The Final phase". Retrieved 2009-07-04. 
  30. ^ a b Hardy, Robert, (1992)Longbow: A Social and Military History, Patrick Stephens Ltd, pp. 244. ISBN 1-85260-412-3
  31. ^ a b c Reid, William (1976). Weapons Through the Ages. New York: Crescent. 
  32. ^ Herbst p. 8-9.
  33. ^ "Other Medieval Weapons Terminology – Spears, Axes, Lances, Maces, Halberds". Retrieved 22 November 2010. 
  34. ^ Potter, David (2008). Renaissance France at war: armies, culture and society. Boydell & Brewer Ltd. p. 405. ISBN 978-1-84383-405-2. 
  35. ^ Severy, Merle; Thomas b Allen; Ross Bennett; Jules B Billard; Russell Bourne; Edward Lanlouette; David F Robinson; Verla Lee Smith; John J Putman; Seymour Fishbein (1970). The Renaissance – Maker of Modern Man. National Geographic Society. p. 402. ISBN 0-87044-091-8. 


  • DeVries, Kelly & Smith, Robert (2007). Medieval Weapons: An Illustrated History of Their Impact. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-1-85109-526-1. 
  • Nicolle, David (2003). Byzantium, the Islamic World and India AD 476–1526. Medieval Siege Weapons 2. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84176-459-7. 
  • Brinton, Crane; John B Cristopher; Robert Lee Wolff (1967). A History of Civilization -Vol I. New Jersey: Prentice Hall. 
  • Burns, Edward Mcnall. Western Civilizations. New York: W W Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-393-97221-4. 
  • Herbst, Judith (2005). The History of Weapons (Major inventions through History). Twenty-First Century Books,. p. 56. ISBN 978-0-8225-3805-9. 

External sources[edit]