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Medieval Warfare-Weapons

The history of the Middle Ages was shaped by the feudal system of inheritance, political alliances, marriages, and …Medieval Warfare.  Weapons and manpower decided the fate of a feudal fief or a country.

The mounted knights or heavy cavalry were the most formidable force in the Medieval Warfare.  Weapons like the lance, the sword, the mace, and towards the middle of the 12th Century, the axe, were part of the standard equipment of the Medieval Knights, while others, like the spear, were considered weapons of the inferior troops. 

Medieval Warfare Weapons-Two Handed Sword
Two Handed Sword

From the Norman Conquest to the end of the 12th Century, the knightly weapon, the sword, was of the old form: straight, broad, two-edged and pointed. The cross-piece was generally straight, in other cases curved towards the blade.

The shaft of the lance was usually made of ash or pine. The heads were commonly of the leaf form, lozenge or, more rarely, barbed.  The javelin was widely used at the close of the 11th Century, as shown in the Bayeux tapestry. In the 12th Century it have fallen into discredit among the English and French, though probably employed to a much later period by the Spaniards, with whom it was always a favorite weapon.

As shown in the Bayeux tapestry, during this period the archers gained their special place in the Medieval Warfare battle formation.

Throughout the 13th Century the feudal and mercenary troops continued to be employed together. Besides the heavy cavalry, there were light troops formed by the mounted archers and cross-bowmen. On the Continent, the crossbow was in general use throughout this century.  The cross-bowmen were either mounted or on foot.

The war spear of the 13th Century offers no change from that of the preceding age. The shaft is uniform from end to end, not being hollowed out for the grip, as in the lance of a later date. The spear head is of three forms: the lozenge, the leaf, and the barbed. The lozenge spear-head is the most usual.

Medieval Warfare Weapons-Guisarme And Halberd
Guisarme And Halberd
Towards the middle of the 13th Century, the Italian cities began to levy their men-at-arms from non-noble class as well as from the knightly, which constituted a novelty in the Medieval Warfare.  Weapons like the barbed spear were still considered a weapon of the inferior ranks. However, it was an efficient weapon in fighting the mounted knights. Even if the armor was preventing the weapon from inflicting any wounds, the barbs of the spear could become so firmly fixed between the body armor and the head defense that the foot soldier could pull the knight from his horse and lay him at his feet. It happened to King Philip of France at the battle of Bouvines in 1214.

Among the Medieval Warfare Weapons, the sword remained the knightly weapon par excellence.  The sword of the 13th Century resembled in its essentials that of the preceding century. The blade was straight, broad, double-edged, and pointed. The cross-piece was usually curved towards the blade. At times, the cross-bar was straight. The sword handle is sometimes of a highly enriched character, inlaid with precious stones. During this period, Cologne seems to be the most important centre in the manufacture of swords.

Medieval Warfare Weapons-Holy Water Sprinkler And Mace
Holy Water Sprinkler And Mace

The short axe is rarely shown in the hands of the knights, as it appears that it was more a weapon of the less dignified order of soldiery. The principal varieties of the axe were: the single blade; and the double weapon, in which one side has a horizontal blade and the other a pick. The Mace is named and pictured in evidences of this century. Many knights and men-at-arms were seriously injured with Maces in the tournaments, which led to this weapon being forbidden for use in such encounters.

The Halberd consisted of an axe-blade balanced by a pick, and having a pike-head at the end of the shaft. Should the axe-stroke fail, the soldier will retry a thrust with the piked head.

The 14th Century is the century of the English longbow, which proved its superiority against the crossbow used by the Continental armies.  The archers were fighting mostly on foot. The bows were of two kinds: painted and plain (white). In the same period, the Medieval Warfare was revolutionized by the introduction of gunnery, represented by the mighty bombard, at this stage used mainly for siege purposes.   

For the pursuit of a defeated foe, the lance retained its ancient efficacy, and it was still the most honored weapon in the tournaments. The length of the lance was about 14th feet. The material was usually ash. The head kept the leaf-form or lozenge-form. For infantry use, the same lance was cut down to a length of about five feet. It was not an efficient weapon against a foe using the mace or the axe, and consequently, the axe advanced in favor.

Throughout the century, knights and men-at-arms are found fighting with the battle-axe. The axes of this time were of two kinds: the short handled, and the pole-axe. The battle-axe and the pole-axe may be considered as being the same weapon, the difference between the two consisting in the length of the shaft. While one hand was sufficient to handle the battle-axe, the use of the pole-axe necessitated both hands. Both consisted of an axe-blade upon one side balanced by a spike upon the other. In this century, and also in the following, the axe became one of the most important weapons of war. We learn that during this period, the French men-at-arms were equipped each with a five feet spear and a battle- axe.

The knightly sword of the period was broad, straight, two-edged and acutely pointed, with a simple cross-piece for its guard. The cross-piece was either straight, or curved towards the blade. More rarely, it curves in the opposite direction, or has an angular form. The two-hands sword appears, though not frequently, in this age. Also, the mace was still in use. The material is steel, sometimes brass. The forms are the round, the dentated, and the cogged-wheel pattern.

Medieval Warfare Weapons-Pole Axe
Pole Axe
In the 15th Century, the pole-axe was a favorite weapon, not only with the humbler soldiers, but also with the leaders. Throughout the century, the battle-axe and the pole-axe were one of the favorite weapons for encounters on foot. The pole was provided with one or two guards for the hands, and was strengthened with iron splints. The martel-de-fer was also in vogue. It was a hammer type of weapon, short-handled, or long-handled. The hammer itself was plain or dentated.

The knightly sword, with its pear shaped pommel, may be taken as the type of this weapon during the 15th Century. The pommel may be also round, sometimes of a more elaborate shape, the cross-piece straight, with the ends curved towards the blade. The short spear was still in vogue at this time. The French knights employed such weapons at the field of Agincourt. In the second half of the century hollow spears were in use.

The 15th Century saw the first hand-gunners. The hand-gun was made of iron, and it was a much smaller version of the gun used in the field. It consisted of a metal tube fixed in a straight stock of wood; the vent was at the top of the barrel; it was no lock of any kind. The barrel was of iron or brass, and these barrels were occasionally furnished with moveable chambers.

The inferior ranks were armed with the "humbler" weapons of the Medieval Warfare.  Weapons like the halberd, the partisan, the javelin, and the bill were used by the foot soldiers, who were still named brigands, as in the earlier ages. The partisan consisted of a long double-edged blade, wide at the base, where it has pointed extensions of different formats like hooks or crescent. The bill, as well as the halberd, were growing into disfavor, and the Pike was taking their places. This change was brought about by the Swiss. They considered the arm of the halberd not long enough to be efficient against a charge of cavalry. On the other hand, the Pike was a long lance-like head of steel strengthened by lengthy strips of metal, which ran for a considerable distance down the pole, protecting it against the cuts of swords and axes. It had a length between ten and twenty feet. For resisting a cavalry charge, the base of the Pike was fixed into the ground. However, the Swiss still kept the halberd for use in the "mle", were it still had the advantage.

A miniature from this century is introducing the prototype of a new kind of soldier, signaling the end of what we have named here "Medieval Warfare Weapons".  This kind of troop which at a later time came into general employment is the Dragoon or horse-soldier acting with a fire-arm.

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