Medieval weapons were usually either swords, spears, axes, pole-arms (essentially spears with axe heads) or hammers. They had either sharp edges for cutting, sharp points for thrusting, or heavy heads for crushing. Sometimes, they combined a few of these traits. Bows and arrows were also used, as were siege weapons, and early forms of gunpowder. But most men went into combat carrying some kind of either blunt or edged weapon.
From the Roman gladius to the English longsword, or from primitive spiked clubs to steel war hammers and maces, the evolution of these weapons didn’t change their purpose – to efficiently kill enemy soldiers. And many of these weapons have since become famous for their pop culture depictions, use in video games and films, or just general awesomeness.
A longer-bladed sword with a bigger handle, longswords were popular in the late Medieval and Renaissance periods. They soon fell out of favor as swords became less important on the battlefield.
A bow that stands as tall as its shooter, longbows dominated battlefields from the Bronze Age to the 1600s, firing a powerful arrow a great distance.
A short club with a heavy head, maces were carried to break through armor, and to deliver hard, crushing blows. They could have spikes on the end, or be flanged, having a number of ridges running around them.
The famous Japanese sword carried by samurai warriors, the katana has a curved, slender, single-edged blade, and a long grip to accommodate two hands.
Maybe the most iconic weapon in human history, crude spears were being used as far back as 400,000 years ago. A simple shaft with a pointed head, they’ve been made of everything from flint to steel, and used in virtually every culture under a variety of names.
A mainstay of soldiers all over the world, battle axes came in countless variations, sizes, and materials. They were used from the Stone Age through the 1600s, when gunpowder made them obsolete.
Essentially a giant crossbow on wheels, ballistas could be used to fire giant arrows at ranges of up to 500 yards, through either ranks of soldiers or walls.
Though many variations existed, the traditional sword of the Roman Empire was a short blade with no crossguard. It was carried by the Roman Legions, as well as gladiators.
Developed to counter steel armor, the war hammer was just that – a long hammer with a large steel head and a spike on the other end. It could crush or gouge, depending on your need at the time.
Instantly recognizable by its long, curved blade, scimitars were carried by soldiers and cavalry all over the Middle East. Everyone from the Mongols to Turks to Indian rajputs took the scimitar into battle for hundreds of years.
The straight, double-edged blade used during much of the Middle Ages, the knightly sword is prominent in artwork of the period, and was carried by nobility and soldiers alike.
Spiked ball-and-chain that was heavily used by medieval warriors and peasants. They came in two varieties – two handed agricultural flails, and the more well-known one-handed version.
An extremely long pole-arm with a three-pronged blade or spear tip and pointed cross-guard at the top. They were effective against mounted cavalry, and resemble a long trident.
A double-edged blade used by ancient Indian rajput warriors, as well as in ancient Syria. Some had three blades or extra spikes.
A long pole-arm with a curved blade, bardiches were used in 14th through 16th century Eastern Europe and Scandinavia.
Used by everyone from Ancient Romans to Edo period Japanese, caltrops were small, spiked bits of iron or steel, placed in a way that a sharp edge always faced up. They were used to slow down troops and horses – and have decendents in today’s police spike strip.
An immense sword that weighed as much as 10 pounds (” Zweihaender”is German for “two-hands”), these were used by German and Swiss mercenaries to cut the heads off pikes.
Made famous by the movie Braveheart, pikes were long (sometimes seven or eight feet) and thick spears with pointed heads. Used in a phalanx formation, they were impenetrable to enemy cavalry. Pikes were used in some form from the time of Alexander the Great through the 1700s.
Familiar from countless pop culture depictions of ninjas, the shuriken was used mostly as a backup weapon for both ninjas and samurai warriors. They came in a variety of types, not just the simple throwing star that’s usually depicted in video games.
A type of war hammer with an extremely long spike at the end, the horseman’s pick was carried almost exclusively by cavalry in Europe and Persia. They tended to be unwieldy and get stuck in armor.
Also called a membele, this was an African knife that functioned as much as a thrown weapon as it did a close quarters weapon. The curved blade ensured extra distance, and extra destructive power.
The name says it all. A spring-loaded, three-blade knife used by fencers in the Middle Ages. Press a button and the two extra blades fly out, to devastating effect in close combat.
A flexible, multi-bladed sword that functioned more as a whip, the urumi is the most feared weapon in Indian history – and the hardest to master.
A traditional Indian weapon, the chakram was a steel or bronze circular-edged disc thrown at enemy soldiers. They could also be used in close quarters combat, and came in a range of sizes, from ones that went around the wrist to much larger.
A combination shield, light, and weapons system, the lantern shield was carried mostly in Renaissance Italy. It was an armored glove with a shield attached that allowed its user to hide various weapons, and to bring their own illumination for pre-dawn combat. Many were ornate and unwieldy, and the design fell out of favor.
An imobilizer used in the Japanese Edo period, the Sodegarami was a spiked pole that could be driven into the fabric of a kimono and twisted. It was useful for bringing down criminals, particularly samurai warriors, who legally couldn’t be harmed.