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Arms of the Middle Ages


One of the dominant forces in early Medieval Europe were the Franks. In the beginning of the 9th century under their king Charlemagne, this warlike tribe conquered much of what is now France, Germany, and Italy. In accomplishing such a feat, the Franks used the common weapons of the time. These primarily consisted of a simple lance and sword. With some variation, these would become the common weapons of the medieval knight. The Frankish warrior also used a new and improved shield. Where as before a small, circular shield was preferred, the Franks found that a longer shield that covered significantly more of the body was better at deflecting lance blows.

Another group would also make its presence known in Europe during this period. These were the Vikings, who hailed from Scandinavia and had a major impact in France, England, and several other places. The spear was the common weapon of the ordinary Viking, while the sword was a weapon that was mainly used by Viking chiefs. In order to make the sharpest, strongest sword available, they developed a new process. Combining "innumerable strands of steel and iron hammered together," a sword was created that was perfect for their needs (Nickel 46). The example of a Viking sword at the Met has silver on the hilt and pommel that was thought to ward-off any magic spells.

The common medieval foot soldier used a variety of weapons. Commonly in defensive positions, they made use of long pikes or spears. Knights on horseback would certainly have a harder time riding into an enemy position while having to avoid pikemen. These weapons came in a variety of styles and shapes. Some might have one single metal implement on top, while others had several, like a long spear in the middle and ax type instrument on the side. The Swiss in particular became very adept with the pike, and many countries hired them as mercenaries. Other common weapons were the sword and battle ax.

Two other important weapons were the bow and crossbow. The bow of course was a very ancient weapon, but it was still useful in medieval Europe. This fact was certainly made apparent with the development of the English longbow during the reign of the Plantagenets. The bow would be about the same height as the archer. The force that could be generated was enough so that an arrow could penetrate armor, a fact which was made clear during the Hundred Years War when English archers dispatched of many French knights at such battles as Crecy (1346) and Agincourt (1415). Modern estimates have concluded that a good longbowman could hit a target 200 yards distant (Funcken 88).

travis3.jpg (15159 bytes)The crossbow was first used in the mid-10th century (Funcken 92). Although the Catholic Church tried to stop its use because of its deadly effects, many countries continued to employ the crossbow. One advantage this weapon had over the bow was that a relatively untrained soldier could use it. Little physical strength was also needed, and it could penetrate armor as well as an arrow could. Unfortunately, the crossbow and its supplies were rather heavy, and it could obviously not be loaded as fast as the longbow. Its range was also not as good as the bow. Towards the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance, the use of the crossbow began to die out. It was last used in France in the mid 1500's.


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