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14 Brutal Weapons Throughout History

Humans have been coming up with new and interesting ways to kill one another ever since someone first picked up a rock and threw it at someone else. Since that time, we have gone from rudimentary clubs to slightly more complex weapons, such as thermonuclear warheads and slingshots.

Throughout the centuries these various changes in weaponry have made killing one's enemy more efficient, but, on occasion, a new weapon hits the battlefield and is noted more for its brutality than its effectiveness. Many devices are considered to be the most violent weapons in warfare, but these weapons are just plain vicious.

Whatever their purpose, the following weapons were designed to inflict pain, maim appendages, and disfigure people in the most gruesome ways possible.

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  • Arrows Shot From A Longbow

    According to a study published in The Antiquaries Journal in May 2020, analysis of human bones recovered from a 13th century cemetery provides evidence that arrows shot from a longbow could puncture a skull similarly to a modern gunshot. One of a recovered warrior's bones had a puncture wound in the right eye that exited through the back of his skull. Researchers deduced that the arrow in question was likely decorated with feathers to make it spin clockwise, a technique later adapted by rifle-makers, expert Vincent Di Maio told Smithsonian magazine. 

    Arrow punctures are notoriously difficult to identify in ancient remains, and this new study provides insight into the power behind the medieval longbow. Longbows, heavily used throughout the Hundred Years' War between England and France, were approximately 6 feet tall, required 150 to 180 pounds of force, and could shoot up to 1,000 feet. 

  • Urumi

    Urumi
    Photo: Angampora / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    Swords are deadly weapons that require years to master, but when it comes to the Urumi, mastery can take decades. The Urumi, which translates to "curling blade," is a specialized weapon from Southern India. These weapons can possess a single curved blade, or have multiple blades of two to five or six and, in one known variant, 32. Unlike a traditional sword, the Urumi is handled like a whip, but with far deadlier results.

    Wielding an Urumi was almost as dangerous as facing one in battle, since the slightest flick of the wrist could result in a blade swinging back on the wielder. The main purpose of the Urumi was to slash at one's enemies, not to stab them. This made the blade difficult to block and the wounds it inflicted were severe.

    The Urumi's origins can be traced to the Mauryan Dynasty (4th to 2nd century BCE). The weapons fell out of favor in battle, but remain prevalent today due to two forms of Indian martial arts: Kalaripayattu and Silambam.

  • Nest Of Bees

    Nest Of Bees
    Photo: Jiao Yu / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    There's no denying that a skilled archer can be a lethal killer. A bow and arrow make for a highly effective weapon, and while they are certainly useful in combat, they pale in comparison to the Nest of Bees from China's Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 CE). The device looked like a large quiver of arrows, but there was more to it than that.

    Contained within were two to three dozen arrows, each affixed with a small rocket. Instead of firing off a single arrow, all were fired at once at the enemy. Individually, these arrows were very inaccurate. A bowman could fire an arrow directly at their enemy, but a rocket-propelled one could easily stray off course. However, the lack of accuracy was rarely a problem thanks to the number of arrows fired at once. 

  • Greek Fire

    Greek Fire
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Greek Fire was a fabled weapon used by the Byzantine Empire's navies beginning in the 6th century CE. The secrets of Greek Fire have been lost to history, but a modern comparison would be napalm. The substance was fired through a tube via compression at an enemy ship, causing it to burn on the water. Greek Fire would burn for hours and couldn't be put out by traditional means; after all, it burned on water without any problem.

    Greek Fire is to be thanked for a number of Byzantine naval victories, but the weapon's greatest power was its secret. Information on the substance and the siphons used to pressurize and fire it was highly compartmentalized. Capturing a single person familiar with Greek Fire wouldn't compromise the secret, since each person involved only knew one aspect of the substance. This kept the secret of Greek Fire's formula from falling into enemy hands, but also rendered those secrets lost to history: no modern scientists have been able to completely duplicate its recipe.

  • Caltrop

    Caltrop
    Photo: Bullenwächter / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    The term caltrop refers to any defensive device used to slow down an advancing enemy – or to cause them serious injury should they walk on one. They are most often associated with ninjas, but caltrops have appeared in various cultures for thousands of years, having been used by the Persians as far back as the 4th century BCE. In most configurations, caltops are designed with four prongs so that, once thrown, they will always land with a single spike pointing upwards. Other designs incorporated explosives and spiked balls, but those were more akin to landmines.

    In most cases, one or more caltrops were deployed along any path horses and attacking personnel might take. Stepping on one would cripple any enemy or their vehicle, making caltrops a cheap and effective means of slowing down a pursuer. The modern version of a caltrop would be spike-strips used to tear a vehicle's tires, but chucking a metal spike on the ground still works if there's ever a need to hobble someone.

  • Blunderbuss

    The blunderbuss is the ancestor of the modern-day shotgun. These short, wide-barreled weapons were particularly effective in naval battles when boarding an enemy ship and fighting at close range became necessary. The reason these weapons were so brutal has to do with what they fired and how they were used effectively: like a shotgun, they could fire multiple projectiles in a single shot, but unlike a modern shotgun, they didn't normally fire small ball bearings.

    People would load the muzzle with whatever they could find: nails, glass, shrapnel, wood, and just about anything else that fit inside. Firing at an enemy may not have resulted in their death, but it certainly implanted shrapnel within their bodies that was difficult to remove.

    The brutality of the blunderbuss revolved around the potential for its use and the people who might use it. In many cases, the blunderbuss was like any firearm: give it to someone desperate to cause harm, and it could become a terrifying weapon.