Medieval Weapons Essay, Research Paper
Weapons are the tools of today and the death of tomorrow. At one time all weapons were tools. They were a means of survival among a harsh planet and cruel animals. The age of knights changed the true meaning of these tools forever. They now possessed the power of life and the power of death. Europe was an ever-growing bushel of civilizations. These civilizations were always under threat from other growing civilizations. At this point tools became weapons. Weapons are the tools of life, and the objects of death.
The year is 1232. Somewhere in northern Europe, a Saxon castle is under attack. In the fields for miles around, thousands of soldiers viciously fight. Metal strikes metal, arrows strike flesh, rock strikes rock. No matter how good these soldiers are, weapons will ultimately decide the battle. These weapons can be divided into three categories. Melee, or hand-to-hand weapons, includes clubs, swords, daggers, saxes, hand axes, and some spears. These weapons are classified today as wedges, because they cut through things. Small-scale missile weapons include other spears, bows and arrows, throwing axes, and crossbows. These weapons were classified as levers, because they have a fulcrum, a resistance arm and an effort arm. Siege, or large-scale weapons, include catapults and battering rams. Melee weapons were, perhaps, the most important ones in any medieval battle. These weapons are also considered to be levers. They would be classified as third class levers.
The earliest melee weapons were clubs. Existing from Neanderthal times, these simple thick sticks were quickly replaced by blade weapons. However, some tribes continued to use clubs as throwing weapons. Others gave clubs to their leaders as batons of command. Still other tribes placed spikes on the ends of the clubs, turning them into maces. Soon enough, maces evolved into morning stars. These were much like maces, except there was a chain between the handle and the spiked head. These turned out to be cumbersome, and for the most part, ineffective, so they were retired to tournaments and torture chambers. Swords quickly became the most important weapon of medieval times. This weapon was incredibly valuable to the medieval warrior. Since they were so difficult to make, they were very expensive, and they were passed down from generation to generation. Once a warrior had a good sword, he protected it with his life. Swords can be divided into three main parts. They are, in order of importance, the blade, the hilt, and the scabbard. The blade of the sword was usually small and heavy. The average dimensions were 2.25′ by 2.3″, and the average weight was 1.5 pounds. Until the invention of steel, blades were made by a very complex process called pattern welding. With the arrival of steel, the welding of hard, sharp blades became very easy. The blade was flat, straight, and double-edged. It had a groove down the middle called a fuller. Romantically, it was called the ‘blood- channel,’ but realistically, it was a method for lightening the blade. The hilt of the sword is commonly called the grip, but in addition to the grip, the hilt includes the pommel and the upper and lower guards (upper and lower from the perspective of the blade being at the bottom). Most hilts can be classified according to three types. Type one had short, fat guards, an indented grip to make it easy to hold, and a small flat pommel. Type two had wide guards, a wavy, difficult to hold grip, and a decorative pommel. Type three had fat guards, a simple, flat grip, and a smooth, round pommel. The scabbard was the tight case the sword was carried in. Its purpose was not only to protect the wearer and nearby people from the blade, but also to protect the sword, as swords were very valuable. The scabbard was made of thin wood slats, bound together with leather, parchment, linen, or velvet. It also had a fur or linen lining to protect the sword itself. The scabbard was mounted with metal chaps, with different kinds of mounting for each of the three kinds of hilt. Similar to swords was the elegant dagger. These miniaturized swords did not become important until the 12th or 13th century, at which time they became a standard part of any knight’s repertoire. The most popular type of dagger was the roundel dagger. This dagger had a double-edged, tapered blade and a simple hilt with circular guards. Another popular form of dagger was the bullock knife, also known in England as the kidney dagger. The distinctive feature of this knife was the hilt. “Where grip joined blade, the grip swelled out each side into two lobes. These acted as a hand-stop.” All blade weapons may have evolved from the sax, a short, northern European knife used for combat in close quarters, especially by the Saxons. In fact, it is believed that the Saxons were named after this weapon because they used it so much. The Saxon sax was an average of six inches long, and was inscribed with Runic inscriptions, which were more for identification than for good luck. In other areas, the sax was usually used for chores on the farm or at home, much as we use a carving knife today. It would only be used as a weapon when the average man had to take up arms. The Norse sax was an average of 21 inches long, and was the first sax to include a hilt. Finally, there was the Frankish sax, which was an average of ten inches long. A similar weapon to the sax was the ax. This too, was used mainly for domestic work, rather than combat. However, the ax maintained the same basic shape throughout Europe for hundreds of years, with one exception; Scandinavian axes have a slight difference from other axes. Some axes were used as throwing weapons. A particular one is the Francisca, a small axe with a peculiarly shaped shaft and head. The Franks used this axe quite often, leading to the belief that the Franks were actually named after the Francisca. The last important melee weapon is the spear. This is a long wooden shaft with a sharp metal tip on the end. There are three types of spears: the throwing spear, or javelin, the thrusting spear, and the Norse hoggspjot, a hewing spear. The differences between these are superficial, and in some cases, may only be observed in the way they are used. All spears ranged from five to eleven feet long, this being the choice of the soldier using it. Spear fighters need a great deal of agility and speed, to dodge a quick spear. Some of the best fighters could even grab a javelin in mid-air, turn it around, and throw it back at the enemy in a fraction of a second. One particularly interesting variety of javelins is the Angon, used mainly by the Franks and Saxons. The Angon had a barbed head, causing it to lodge in an enemy’s shield or flesh. Normally, a soldier would use his sword to cut off the shaft of the spear, but the Angon had a long metal neck, making this impossible. Thus, once an Angon hit a soldier, he would have to drag it along with him, making him easy prey.
The second class of weapons is that of small-scale missiles. There are far fewer of these than melee weapons, because the first missile weapon to be invented, the bow and arrow, remained in effective use all through the Middle Ages, so no more were invented. When Europeans overcame the cowardice associated with use of the bow and arrow, it became one of the most important weapons of medieval times. The arrowheads, or piles, as they are correctly called, were long and narrow, and could be barbed or not. As for the bow, it was an average of five or six feet long, and consisted of a curved piece of wood and a taut string. In general, bows are very uninteresting, but they are very important. The only major variation on the bow and arrow was the crossbow, also known as the arblast. It was made of a short bow set at a right angle to a straight stock, which held the intricate mechanism that drove the crossbow. A soldier using the crossbow had to use all his strength to load the crossbow with a quarrel, the crossbow’s equivalent of an arrow. Even though the Pope condemned the crossbow, it still became even more important in combat than the regular bow and arrow.
Weapons are an intricate part of history, as well as the future. Weapons of the middle age began to show the signs of their user and his attitude. While a knight would usually use a sword for a good clean cut and a quick death, others may use a more painful weapon such as a flail. This causes great pain with a sure death to come. The Middle Ages were the beginning of a new era in weaponry and they will continue to influence it today. The knights of the Middle Ages may have died without realizing that they were not just fighting for a kingdom, but the right of who they were leaving the future of the world too.