Roughing It In: Weapons Classification & Theory (Part I)

(Caveat: I’m not only a writer, I’m an old-school war-gamer… and the following is at best a SUMMARY of the field)

ANCIENT
for sake of current argument, “Ancient” includes anything fund or producible prior to the Middle Ages; can also make this as prior to the introduction of the crossbow or gunpowder…(although crossbows may be a bit of a thorny issue with military history purists)

In the ancient category, it is often thought that all weapons are ultimately derived from physical strength and the ability to translate that strength indirectly over distance. (This leaves out fire, poisons/venoms, chemicals, and biological agents – which were also available, but IN GENERAL were still limited to muscle-powered delivery systems, and most often used to increase the damage delivered.)

Indirect in this context means something other than fist-meets-face or equivalent: a weapon is a tool used to apply damage to a target, generally for the ultimate purpose of killing / vanquishing said target, and which protects the attacker from self-damage. (Consider the bare-knuckle fighter and the condition of his own hands AFTER the fight is over. Now, put on the gloves – or cestii…)

Melee Weapons vs. Missile Weapons, and the ammunition concept:
consider the poor cave-man or Neanderthal. Spent a substantial amount of time working on that spear or club or whatever, and know the aurochs he just attacked doesn’t die but DOES carry off the weapon sticking in the hide or tangled with the horns. AND gave Our Caveman a broken rib with one well-placed hoof-kick in the bargain! Much skull-sweat has been expended to justify why it took so long to come up with throwing weapons, and flung weapons. (cf. CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR). A dart or javelin or arrow or slung stone/pellet could strike at range, was cheaper to produce (both in materials and in labor), and could also be carried in multiple numbers for the same weight penalty.

GENERAL CONSTRUCTION CLASSIFICATIONS (with named examples):
A potential confusion: some weapon-forms may be accomplished with different construction methods. I have indicate at least one such be placing an asterisk after cestus…

“Found” Weapons:
Sticks – club, throwing stick, staff, caber
Stones – rock, thrown rock
Bones & Teeth & Shells – club, “jawbone of an ass”
Vines & other “Flexibles” – snares, ropes

Modifications and Combinations:
shaped/hardened stick – spear, boomerang, cestus*
purposely-fractured stone – knife, other blade/point
Stick-plus-stone – hammer, axe, arrow, spear, war-club
Stick-plus-string – flail, bow
Stone-plus-string – bolas, war yo-yo
Stick-plus-bone/teeth/shells – machuitl, arrow, spear
Complex flexibles – net, bolas, weighted gloves / cestus*, staff-sling

knife-plus-stick – spear, proto-sword, arrow

Updates/enhancements:
Metal – naturally occurring lumps, used much like stones but with the advantage that bog-metal usually did not shatter when used as the point of impact

Baked/fired clay – uniform sling shot produced in this way was more consistently accurate than found stones (and if created as a hollow container could deliver liquids or powders to a target…)

Shaped metal – spear/arrow points, chains to replace more vulnerable strings, rivets to assemble a weapon instead of pegs or sinew, etc., cast-lead shot

Metal alloys (bronze, brass, high-carbon iron, etc.)

Forged shaped metal – “true” swords (khopesh, gladius, spatha, proto-scimitar)
(early examples of rapier date to 1800bce, with a thin long pointed blade held in a wooden “stiffener” by rivets / pegs)

Tempered metals – broadsword, longsword, etc.

Polearms
Various shorter implements were given a greater range and potential for damage (and avoidance of damage!) by being placed at the end of a longer pole. Ancient examples:
Mounted Lance – Sarissa
Foot Lance
Javelin – (spear primarily intended to be thrown); Pilum
Catch-pole
proto-Halberd / Pole-Axe

“Flingers” / ammunition delivery systems (typically, ranged weapons):
atl-atl (“spear” throwers)
slings
bows
crossbows
springal
onager
ballista
catapult
trebuchet

Notable Other Weaponry / Military Developments
Shield

Fences
Traps
Fortifications – Wall, Gate, etc,

“Greek Fire”
Ship’s Ram
Naval Shearing Blades

purpose-built Warships
Chariots

Mantlet
Battering Ram
Siege Tower

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