Weapons across historical time periods and geographic locations vary significantly. That said, there are some common uses for medieval weapons, ancient military instruments, and modern technologies that speak to the constant presence of violence, warfare, and destruction.
If you found yourself on a battlefield, would you rather have a hand weapon like a katana? Or a tomahawk?
Perhaps you'd prefer to have a projectile-flinging tool like a bow. What type of bow would be most effective? A longbow? Maybe a crossbow?
The strengths, weaknesses, applicability, and even the ease with which a weapon is made may factor into which weapon you'd want with you in battle, but which one would you choose?
When and Where: The English longbow developed in the 12th century and was widely used in the Middle Ages.
How It Was Crafted: According to Gerald of Wales, longbow staves were made using, "neither... horn, ash, nor yew, but... elm... astonishingly stiff, large, and strong, and equally capable of use for long or short shooting." They did, in fact, come to be made with all of these types of wood - especially yew - with string derived from hemp or flax. Longbows were roughly the height of the archer using them, somewhere between 5 and 6 feet. Men could pull at least 100 pounds of force with each draw.
Role On The Battlefield: Longbows could penetrate armor from as far as 300 meters away. Longbowmen were often very well trained, and each could fire their bow as many as 12 pulls a minute, making for what seemed to be a never-ending onslaught of arrows.
Strengths: Some historians attribute English successes during the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453) to the longbow. Longbows were faster, lighter, and easier to make than crossbows, and because archers could remain at a distance, they required less protective clothing and shelter.
Weaknesses: One of the major challenges of the longbow was the amount of practice needed to master its use. As a result, King Edward III of England legally required all men to practice archery in 1363.Weapon of choice?
When and Where: Halberds were popular in the 14th and 15th centuries in Europe, most closely associated with the Swiss. It may also be German in origin, perhaps deriving its name from the German words for staff (halm) and ax (barte).
How It Was Crafted: The halberd blends several weapons as an amalgamation of a poleaxe and a spear. The head of a halberd also featured a hook on the back, with the steel piece placed atop a long, wooden shaft.
Role On The Battlefield: Used by infantrymen to strike down their opponents, a halberd was a thrusting and cleaving weapon all at once. They were especially effective at keeping cavalry troops at bay or to pull them down off their horses.
Strengths: Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, (d. 1477) was reportedly slain by a Swiss soldier using a halberd, struck down with only one blow. As a weapon that could be swung to increase leverage, it was more effective than a simple sword or spear.
Weaknesses: If the staff of a halberd broke, the soldier wielding it might be able to transition it to a hand ax, but it would lose its efficacy as an offensive weapon.Weapon of choice?
Medieval Flanged Mace
When and Where: Bludgeoning instruments like maces and clubs were not new to the medieval period, but the flanged mace added a new element to the weapon. Flanged maces were present in the Byzantine Empire by about 900 AD, becoming increasingly common in Europe by the 12th century.
How It Was Crafted: A flanged mace generally included six or seven wings at the head, sharpened to pierce armor. A pernach, another kind of flanged mace, was popular in Kievan Russia during the 12th century, as well. Flanged maces were made out of iron or steel with a handle made out of wood. As they became increasingly elaborate toward the end of the Middle Ages, they also were decorated with gold and silver.
Role On The Battlefield: Maces were used by infantrymen and cavalrymen, often held with a strap around one's wrist to prevent dropping the weapon on the battlefield or from atop a horse.
Strengths: Flanged maces were able to penetrate plate and chain mail armor and could inflict severe damage with one blow. Maces, in general, were easy to carry, relatively easy to make, and useful in hand-to-hand combat. Cavalrymen could also wield them without dismounting.
Weaknesses: Flanged maces, while effective up close, lacked range.Weapon of choice?
When and Where: As one of the weapons Japanese samurai carried, the katana, a type of sword, traces its origins back to the rise of the samurai class during the Kamakura Period (1185-1333).
How It Was Crafted: Like other Japanese swords, the katana was forged out two layers of steel, which they made through a combination of iron and carbon. The softer inner core, called the shingane, was what made the sword resilient, while a harder layer of steel on the outer surface, called the hadagane, provided the sharp, cutting edge. Only sharp on one side of its curved blade, the katana varied in length, made by Shinto priests and blacksmiths for individual warriors.
The parts of a katana included a handle with a pommel, mounting, cover, and guard; a blade with various inscriptions or decor; bolts to assemble it; a scabbard; and a hook to attach it to one's belt.
Role On The Battlefield: Katanas accompanied a shorter wakizashi sword as the fundamental weaponry of a samurai. This pairing was called the daisho, a sign of honor and distinction as well as of class and obligation.
Strengths: Because a katana was shorter than a longer tachi sword, it could be drawn from one's scabbard with quicker speed. Well-trained samurai could pull their katana - sharp edge up - and take down an enemy in one motion.
Weaknesses: Katana were most effective when swung with two hands. This made them cumbersome on horseback or in some other context when only one hand was available.Weapon of choice?