A number of weapons were used in the middle ages, including swords, polearms, battle axes, maces, bilhooks, caltrops, flails, halberds, bows, longbows, crossbows, pikes, poleaxes, quarterstaves, spears, warhammers, batons, and scimitars. Double-edged swords allowed warriors to slash in two directions. The most popular weapons were swords, axes, and metal-headed spears. Knights used lances, broadswords, falchions, greatswords, and longswords.
Knights were expected to provide their own equipment. They were able to afford horses and expensive weapons, which helped them be more effective in combat.
There were many different kinds of swords throughout the middle ages, each suited toward a particular tactic. Some were ideal for slashing, while others excelled at piercing.
Swords are among the most famous of medieval weapons. Single-handed swords were light and sharp, and proved to be very effective at slashing and piercing enemies wearing light or no armor. A single-handed sword allowed its wielder to also carry a shield for protection.
From the time of the Norman Conquest to the end of the 12th century, swords were usually straight, broad, two-edged, and pointed. The cross-piece was usually straight, but sometimes it curved toward the blade.
Two-handed swords were heavier, and only very strong men could use them. Since their use precluded the carrying of a shield, fighters using two-handed swords often wore very heavy armor to compensate.
Daggers, which were shorter than swords but longer than knives, were frequently carried as a secondary weapon, both by swordsmen and bowmen.
Archers provided an important support role in medieval armies. They lacked the mobility or the armor to fight on the front lines, so they would typically kill from a distance. They were especially effective when attacking from high ground, such as from a hill or a castle wall. A skilled archer could fire up to twelve arrows per minute--that's one every five seconds!
A useful technological improvement to the bow was the invention of the longbow, which originated in England. Its extended length provided more force to the action, which allowed arrows to fly further and hit harder. Arrows fired from a longbow could pierce armor and could their targets in one shot.
Crossbows were another weapon which were found to be very effective. They were particularly useful at hitting moving targets. Crossbowmen were sometimes mounted on horses and sometimes they operated on foot.
Sometimes arrows and crossbow bolts would be tipped with poison or fire for added effect.
Javelins were widely used at the end of the 11th century, but later fell out of favor.
Spears were used more by commoners than by the nobility. Towards the mid-1200s, Italian cities began to draft their men-at-arms from commoners as well as from the nobility, which was unusual. Their use of the barbed spear proved quite useful against mounted knights. Even if the spear didn't inflict damage itself, the barbs would hook onto the defenders armor and the attacker could pull him off his horse and onto the ground. This happened to King Philip of France during the battle of Bouvines in 1214 A.D.
Axes and maces were also used from time to time. Many people had been injured by maces in tournaments, which led to their banning from such events.
Knights and Cavalry
Mounted knights and heavy cavalry were the most powerful force in medieval warfare. Knights commonly used lances, swords, or maces.
Lances were usually made of pine or ash. The head or tip of the lance was made of metal.
Storming the Castle
Warfare in medieval times centered around control of land. Soldiers and knights would garrison in fortified castles for defense when their territory was threatened. In order to conquer territory, these strongholds would have to be taken over first.
An attack on a castle was called a siege. During a siege, an attacking army would camp outside of the castle and either wait for the defenders to starve and surrender, or the attackers would take the castle by force.
There were a number of possible approaches to winning a siege: a direct assault, tunneling underground, blockading the fortress, or employing siege tools including siege towers, trebuchets, and battering rams. Typical defense strategies included the use of walls, archers, a gatehouse, and a moat.
During a direct assault, the attacking soldiers would scale the castle walls with ladders, or they would enter through a breach in the wall caused by successful siege engine attacks. This was the most dangerous and straightforward way to attempt to conquer the castle, as defending archers would shower the attackers with arrows.
In a blockade, the attacking army would wait outside until the inhabitants of the castle starved to death or surrendered.
When attacking a fortified castle during a siege, heavier weaponry was required. Catapults, trebuchets, battering rams, mangonels, and ballistas were all used for this purpose.