Right Weapon for the Job
Every culture used most of the weapons listed on the previous
page, albeit under different names and with some allowances for
regional style and type of armor against which the weapon was meant
to function. The question now
is why? Why would any warrior choose to use
a sword when it lacked the range of a spear? Why use a spear when it lacked the
impact of a pollaxe?
Each type of weapon will be analyzed according to the following
categories: Peak Era of Use, Main Role in Combat, Pro/Con. Weapons will be arranged into broad
categories, with special consideration made for specific weapons
within each category as necessary.
Please note that when judging the "Peak Era of Use" in the
analysis of each type of weapon, the earliest date considered will be
800 A.D., as that is the earliest date in the scope of the MMCG's study.
If the peak era of use falls after 1500 A.D., that will be
noted as well.
Clubs and Maces
Clubs and maces are solely impact weapons. They are effective against most
types of armor - even plate armor to a degree. They are quick, effective and
brutal. The chained weapons
have the added effect of being deceptive and difficult to predict
when fighting against them.
One of Lady Ceolmhor's flails. Note that in period examples, the chain would have been shorter than seen on this commercially-available re-creation.
Peak Era of Use: Varies (Club, 850 - 1000 A.D.; Mace
1000 - 1500 A.D.; Flail 1300 - 1500 A.D.)
Main Role in Combat: Crushing armor and people. Club and mace weapons were not
generally meant for a first assault, but rather to help break
resistance once the battle had been joined. All types of these weapons were
used both on foot and mounted.
As time progressed, the armor-defeating properties of the mace
and flail became more prominent and thus enhanced its role against
Pros: Relatively cheap and easy to make. Effective against a
wide range of armor types.
Cons: Comparatively heavy.
Limited range of attack (quite short range only) and limited variety
of attacks (crush only).
Chained variations can be difficult to control.
Daggers are mostly used for stabbing and thrusting, although limited
slashing application does exist for certain types. Daggers were ubiquitous in the
Middle Ages, and saw use both on the battlefield, as a civilian
weapon, and as a weapon for use in Trial by Combat. They are light, quick and deadly.
An example of a double-edged dagger with double fullers (grooves) on each side. This might have been seen in the Early Middle Ages.
Peak Era of Use: All Middle Ages
Main Role in Combat: Finishing off downed opponents, civilian
Pros: Readily available for all walks of life (with variations
in quality, of course). Easily
carried and hidden. Effective
against light armor. Fast.
Cons: Very limited attack range. Not as effective against plate
Axes are effective as both chopping weapons and as crushing
weapons. The wounds they cause
are appalling and difficult to heal, with a high number of bone
breakages. In the two-handed
variety, axes can cleave through even plate armor from time to
time. In the one-handed
variety, their crushing impact can be felt in armor, even if the blow
fails to crack through completely.
Pollaxes in particular were
favorites for combat both in the lists and in war.
This hand axe is modeled after a Late Middle Ages motif, between 1300--1450 A.D.
Ser Owen's "bearded" hand-axe is of a type more commonly used in the early Middle Ages.
Peak Era of Use: Varies (Throwing Axe, 800 - 1000 A.D.; Long
Axe 850 - 1150 A.D.; Hand Axe 1000 - 1300 A.D.; Pollaxe
1400 - 1500 A.D.)
Main Role in Combat: Throwing Axe: ranged assault. Long Axe: primary assault and
anti-armor. Hand-Axe: mounted
combat (and sometimes on foot with shield). Pollaxe:
anti-armor and anti-cavalry.
Pros: All types of axe are effective at causing terrible,
immediately disabling wounds.
Their blade geometry makes them useful for fighting against
Cons: Comparatively heavy (especially pollaxes). Due to distribution of weight, use
can be awkward. Relatively
small striking surface compared to length of weapon, making it easier
to miss or strike a haft-blow.
The spear was used more than any other weapon throughout all of
history. Spears are simple to
make, easy to train with, and effective at what they do. They can be held in one hand with a
shield, thrown, hold in both hands, or used from horseback. Javelins were often carried in
This is a good example of a 12th century spear, made by Chris Poor of Arms & Armor.
Peak Era of Use: Varies (Javelin, 800 - 1200 A.D.; Spear with
Shield, 800 - 1300 A.D.; Two-Handed Spear, 1350 - 1450 A.D.; Lance,
1000 - 1500 A.D.)
Main Role in Combat: Spear: primary assault. Javelin: ranged assault. Lance: mounted combat
Pros: Good range, even when not thrown. Simple to make and maintain. Simple to train with.
Cons: Length can become a liability at close range. Limited variety of attack (almost
Bills & Staff Weapons
Beyond spears, bills and staff weapons were amongst the most popular
weapons on the medieval battlefield.
Because of their effectiveness both against footmen and
mounted troops, staff weapons (or "pole-arms") remained popular in
one incarnation or another from the Early Middle Ages to after the
Renaissance. Their combination
of spear and other blade-types in a single weapon made them
comparatively versatile. For
the purposes of analysis, they are broken into three groups below. The "Bladed" group is comprised of
most the pole-arms: Bills, Fauchards, Glaives,
Halberds, Partisans, Pikes and Voulges. The "Hammer" group is comprised of Bec de Corbins, Pole
Hammers and other long staff - hammer weapons
(i.e., Lucerne Hammer). The "Fork"
group is comprised of Guisarms and other
Peak Era of Use: Varies (Bladed, 900 - 1400 A.D.; Hammer,
1400 - 1500 A.D.; Fork, 1150 - 1500 A.D.)
Main Role in Combat: Anti-cavalry defense and primary assault.
Pros: Good range, fairly adaptable to combat conditions. Some of Bladed group can be easily
modified from common agricultural tools. Hammer group is excellent against
Cons: Can be cumbersome. Addition of blade, hammer or fork to
end of shaft makes this set of weapons more difficult to learn for
effective use than simple spears.
Long shaft can become a liability at close range (although
less so than spears).
The "classic" medieval sword, one-handed swords were often carried
both as an auxiliary weapon and as a symbol of rank. Because swords of any type were
difficult and expensive to make, they were generally only affordable
by the rich elite of society (i.e., knights and nobility). A notable exception to this rule is
the falchion/Messer group of swords, which seem to have been used by
common troops as well as knights.
This may be due to the fact that their cleaver-shaped blade
was less difficult and therefore less expensive to produce. It should be noted that most
one-handed swords were meant for use with a shield, although they
could of course be used by themselves.
Two simple arming swords from Lady Ceolmhor's collection. Note the short, one-handed grip.
Peak Era of Use: Varies (Swords, 800 - 1500 A.D.; Falchions/Messers, 1150 - 1450 A.D.)
Main Role in Combat: Swords, auxiliary assault, auxiliary
mounted assault. Falcions/Messers, anti-armor assault and civilian
Pros: Swords, versatile and adaptable to combat
conditions. Excellent variety
of attack. Falchions/Messers, heavier blade geometry allows for
stronger strike than normal one-handed swords.
Cons: Fairly short range.
Difficult to use effectively.
Falchions/Messers difficult to
Longswords & Greatswords
Originally just the overgrown cousins of one-handed swords, longswords and greatswords
soon carved out a considerable niche for themselves in medieval
combat. These are the weapons about
which most medieval fencing treatises are written, and are by far the
most adaptable and versatile of all medieval weapons. Their longer blades and grips made
them capable of horrific cuts and strikes that one-handed swords
would be hard-pressed to duplicate.
They were often used in Trial by Combat and in Pas D'armes and other chivalric sport-fighting as
well as in war.
A great example of a High Middle Ages longsword from about 1250. This particular model is one the author owns, from Albion Armorers.
Peak Era of Use: 1200 - 1500 A.D.
Main Role in Combat: Longsword,
auxiliary assault, auxiliary mounted assault, civilian combat. Greatsword,
auxiliary assault, civilian combat.
Pros: Most versatile of all medieval weapons. Reasonable reach. Excellent variety of attack.
Cons: Quite difficult to learn to use effectively. Reach still poor compared to staff
The scourge of the French at Crecy,
Agincourt, the bow was an important part of medieval warfare - especially
after its sometimes-exaggerated mandate of regular use by Edward I of England. As a loose rule of thumb
(although certainly not universally true for all times and places),
bows tended to be most popular in Britain while crossbows
tended to be most popular on the Continent. In fact, longbows were known as "English Bows" in many places.
This bodkin-headed arrow would have been ideal for piercing mail and other armor defenses. Made by Ben Holman (Ser Owen Godwinesson).
Peak Era of Use: 1100 - 1500 A.D.
Main Role in Combat: Ranged assault (exclusively).
Pros: Bows: cheap and easy to make. Light. Quick reload time. Crossbows: strong, and simple to
train with. Not as easily affected
Cons: Bows: Difficult to learn effective use. Easily affected by rain and cold. Crossbows: Expensive to make. Heavier than bows. Slow reload time. Both bows and crossbows only useful
for as long as their ammunition supply lasts.