Roughing It In (Part II: MEDIEVAL) Weapons Classification and Theory

See Part I for some relevant definitions as to materials and construction

Weaponry in the post-Ancient pre-Modern world increasingly takes advantage of stored energy, as opposed to immediate use of muscles, with a progressive shift towward mechanism and – most importantly – chemical storage/release.

At least in part, the divide between Ancient, Medieval, and Modern weapons follows the development of gunpowder and other explosives more than any single other substance. (Yes, crude black powder existed well before the generally-accepted start of the Medieval period.)

In another way, the progression may be summarized as

  • Ancient: “Fire good, fire pretty”
  • Medieval: “Cannon deliver fire to the masses at the command of kings and the Church”
  • Modern: “Fire may be delivered to the masses wholesale, but it may be more efficient to make retail delivery systems accessible”

Medeival weapons are, as a broad generality, all about being bigger, better, and more lethal. In the realm of gunpowder alone, the progression is from generally inefficient rockets through small inaccurate firearms like the “pot du feu” and thence up the scale to massive artillery pieces such as the bombard.

Polearms: Incresingly elaborate and often increasingly massive. The “ultimate” forms may not be the best-known, but the best-known beat out some of the more complex for various good reasons.

  • Awl Pike – the ultimate “knife on a stick”, in that it was cheap to produce in quantity, easily taught to mass numbers of conscript or other non-professional troops, and when deployed in sufficient numbers able to stand fast in the face of even numerically superior armored cavalry.
  • Halberd: the best known of the “hybrid” polearms, the better control offered by the halberd made it the preferred replacement to the pole-axe, the shorter pole made it more useful in cluttered terrain, and the incorporated spear-point made it a stand-in for pointy-ended offerings like the pike without the pike’s serious problem of becoming a handicap if opponents got past the hedge of points. The relative survival rates of lone pikement as opposed to lone halberdiers did not go unnoticed…
  • Other notable polearms: glaive (“sword-on-a-stick”, with the naginata and nagimaki being Japanese variations on the theme worth noting), guisarme, voulge, bardiche, partisan, bill / billhook, bec de corbin (crow’s beak), and the ever-notable “scythe-blade thingy” (any available agricultural sharpened blade mounted upon a pole, often after being straightened in relationship to the tang)

Axes specifically created for use in battle date to ancient times (survinvg Egyptian examples attest to their existence), but even the lowly wood-cutter’s blade-and stick found effective use in war.

  • Battle-Axe – often had handles reinforced or even replaced by metal.
  • Hand-Axe – usually differentiated from the battle-axe in that they were often expected to either be thrown or used in a parrying role similar to that of some daggers
  • Francisca – the Frankish axe, a multi-role weapon associated with the cavalry of the Franks. With a smallish head and longer handle, extended the reach of the mounted warrior while still allowing use as a thrown weapon. (Reported usage was to charge in, hurling a volley of francisca before drwing swords or ramming home with lances.

In general, a two-edged blade shorter than a sword, but may also include special-purpose items like the stiletto and misericorde (both with negligble edges but murderous points as originally constructed).

While in fact a very broad category of long blades ultimately derived from the knife, the most iconic of medieval swords typically had blades that were double-edged, between two and four feet in length when designed to be used in one hand, and as much as six feet or more when carried two-handed. As with many other forms of weapon, the various elements that make a sword recognizable as a sword varied over time and with intended purpose.

  • Two-edged:
    1. Broadsword
    2. Longsword
    3. Hand-and-a-half (AKA Bastard Sword, sometimes “War-Sword”)
    4. Two-Handed Sword (zweihander, flamberge)
    5. Shortsword
    6. Rapier
    7. Sword-Rapier
  • (primarily) Single-edged:
  • (To improve the point penetration – and removal after a successful thrust – single-edged blades often invlude an often unsharpened “false edge” on the tip portionof the back of the blade. False edges seldom extend more that one-third of the blade’s length.)

    1. Falchion
    2. Cutlass
    3. Saber
    4. Scimitar
    5. Tulwar
    6. Wakizashi
    7. Katana
    8. No-dachi

Non-firearm Artillery and Missile Weapons
The entirety of the Ancient artillery arsenal remained in at least occasional use even as guns were making more and more inroads. The form of catapult known as a trebuchet is often regarded as an advancement of the medieval era, but references to examples have recently been found dating well before 800ce.

The materials used tended to be those immediately available still, and some substances like “Greek fire” became unknown by the end of the medieval timeframe. As transportation systems re-developed in the wake of the Dark Ages in Europe, there were exceptions: naptha was a prized flammable for siege purposes, both in defense and offense.

Crossbows (AKA arbalest) were man-portable, efficient, and took less training time to train for individual soldiers. They also existed in some form since the time of Imperial Rome, although this was yet another area in which Europe “lost” the knowledge or will to produce more. Once re-introduced, religious edicts sought to govern the use of their (perceived) greater lethality. “Arms control” laws are considerably older than many people realize…

Personal Firearms
“Handgonnes” in the very early stages of development generally trailed after developments in artillery. While examples are certainly found prior to 1400ce, wide-scale use of smaller guns exploded over the following two centuries and can be considered largely responsible for much of European colonial expansion successes.


[B]Artillery Firearms[/B]
Beginning with the use of (very inaccurate) rocketry in ancient times. gunpowder artillery developments in many ways battered the medieval way of life into oblivion. With almost-negligible experimental models to the contrary, firearms of the Medieval timefrrame are muzzle-loaded and delivered solid non-explosive projectiles to their targets. Mortars and very early howitzers become the exceptions relatively later on.

For purposes of the current study, consider the Medieval period of firearms to close with the introduction of methods to fire a cannon that do not begin with open flame (the wheel-lock and flint-lock or similar igniters producing sparks, as opposed to the torch or slow-match). Note also that even though available, costs and battlefield expediencies left open-flame cannon-firing a standard up through the American Civil War (1861-65ce).

The improvements in artillery both drove and followed developments in materials science and various design matters throughout the timeframe. Construction methods and materials for the guns themselves spilled over and drew upon other areas where cast metals and alloys were important (bell foundry, cooking vessels; layout of defenses created new models for city planning (the whole notion of a PLANNED city in some ways follows from seeing a city as more than a walled enclosure).

Mortar (and Bomb)
(primitive) Howitzer



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