History of weapons

Japanese cold weapons and other military paraphernalia, c. 1892–95
A Gilbertese shark tooth weapon (late 19th century)

Humans have used weapons in warfare, hunting, law enforcement, and criminal activity for thousands of years. Weapons also serve many other purposes in society including use in sports, collections for display, and historical displays and demonstrations. As technology has developed throughout history, weapons have changed with it.

Major innovations in the history of weapons have included the adoption of different materials – from stone and wood to different metals, and modern synthetic materials such as plastics – and the developments of different weapon styles either to fit the terrain or to support or counteract different battlefield tactics and defensive equipment.

Pre-history and the ancient world

As humans discovered new natural resources beneath the Earth's surface, traditional weapons were replaced as methods for metal-working developed. Copper significantly contributed to the ancient world and helped cultures of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Indus and China flourish. Copper, for a long time the only metal known to humans, replaced stone in weapons.[1] During the copper age maces were in high demand. The Sumerians were the first people on record to have used copper weapons. Native Americans mostly used flint spears and knives, but used copper for ceremonies and intricate decorations. Ancient artisans soon discovered the drawbacks of copper for producing armaments, as while weapons made of copper could be sharpened easily, they were not able to hold their edge. [2] Along with maces, bows and arrows and slings were used in wars. Bow and arrow was preferred over spears because they were easy to handle, provided greater mobility, were more accurate, and did not require as much raw material. Bow and arrows were a boon for hunters as they could hunt more effectively with a bow and arrow than with a spear, and so the bow enabled ancient man to become the most efficient hunter. After the discovery of pure copper in Anatolia, around 6000 BCE, copper metallurgy spread in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Around 3500 BCE the art of metallurgy spread into India, China and Europe.[3] Bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, has been used as far back as 4500 BCE, as it is much harder than pure copper. It was used extensively in Asia: the Indus Valley Civilization flourished as a result of improved metallurgy. Neolithic communities who lived primarily in the upper Yellow River in China also used bronze items extensively as a number of artifacts were recovered at the Majiayao site. Bronze was produced on a large scale in China for weapons, including spears, pole-axes, pole-based dagger-axes, composite bows, and bronze or leather helmets.[4] From the excavations at Zhengzhou, it is evident that the Chinese during the Shang dynasty had well built walls, large buildings, bronze foundries, and bone and pottery workshops.[5]

Stone tips Arrows & Bows

Stone tips are one of the earliest forms of weapons assumed by archaeologists, with the earliest surviving examples of stone tips with animal blood dating to around 64,000 years ago from the Natal, in what is now South Africa.[6] These early arrows were just a stone tip, which is advantageous over organic materials because it enables weapons to cut through tougher hides and create larger wounds, killing more easily.[6] There is as yet no direct evidence for bows during the African Pleistocene, and the hypothesisthat very early, stone points were used to tip darts or arrows remains unsupported by use-trace studies and contextual evidence. Some hypothesised concomitants, such as the use of bow drills, also remain elusive.[7]

Bows and arrows had arrived in Europe by the Late Paleolithic period, around 9,000-11,000 years ago,[8] and seem to have arrived in the Americas by at least 6,000 BCE.[9]

The oldest extant bows, from the Holmegård region in Denmark, date to around 6,000 BCE. The bows were quite effective against the enemies that were far from the archer, and so archers were sought after in recruitment for armies. When people started horse riding at around 2500 BCE, composite bows were created. In 1200 BCE, the Hittites, originating from Anatolia, shot arrows using their bows on light chariots. In 1000 BCE some of these horse-riding archers from Central Asia invented the recurve bow, which was in the shape of a "W" and had an improved elasticity. People from the Nile used relatively long bows for better accuracy, they also used composite bows. Civilizations all over the world produced bows according to their respective vegetation. The Chinese made bows from bamboo sticks while others who did not have the right kind of wood needed for making bows, produced composite bows. According to Chinese beliefs and mythology, a story is narrated and written in old Chinese texts which says how bow and arrow were invented.

ONCE upon a time, Huangdi went out hunting armed with a stone knife. Suddenly, a tiger sprang out of the undergrowth, Huangdi shinned up a mulberry tree to escape. Being a patient creature, the tiger sat down at the bottom of the tree to see what would happen next. Huangdi saw that the mulberry wood was supple, so he cut off a branch with his stone knife to make a bow. Then he saw a vine growing on the tree, and he cut a length from it to make a string. Next he saw some bamboo nearby that was straight, so he cut a piece to make an arrow. With his bow and arrow, he shot the tiger in the eye. The tiger ran off and Huangdi made his escape.[10]

The Sumerians

Main article: Sumer

Known to be one of the earliest civilizations in Mesopotamia, an ancient region in Asia, the Sumerians lived in what is now known as Iraq. The occupied land was open to enemy attacks from the many barbarian tribes. The Sumerian warrior was equipped with spears, maces, clubs and slings. Sargon of Akkad, (2333–2279 BCE) is believed to have saved the Sumerian civilization from total collapse, around 2300 BCE, Sargon assembled an army of 5,000 soldiers which made use of domesticated animals in battle; for example, asses were employed for pulling chariots. The Sumerians had devised a strategy to attack the enemies while riding chariots that would keep them away from enemy weapons and at the same time rout the hostile troops. They used bows and arrows which proved to be effective.[11]

The Egyptians

For a long time the Egyptians' strategically-advantageous locale allowed them to remain free from enemy attacks. Egypt was considered to be peaceful in the ancient world. They never considered training an army for the sake of invasion or defense of their own province.[12] During the 15th Dynasty, a tribe known to be the Hyksos surprised the Egyptians when they marched into Egypt in the Second Intermediate Period with chariots. At this time, weapons superior to those possessed by the Egyptians were being developed further away in Asia. Tribes using these new and sophisticated weapons started to conquer new lands and at the same time exchange their knowledge of weapons with other civilizations. The Hyksos were among these invaders. Many historians believe that the Hyksos came from Mesopotamia, although the exact location is still a mystery. The invaders used composite bows as well as improved recurve bows and arrowheads. Unlike the Sumerians, they had horse-drawn chariots and not donkeys, they wore mailed shirts and metal helmets. They were also armed with superior daggers and swords.[13] Before the Hyksos invasion, the Egyptians did not have a cavalry because, it is believed, their small horses were not strong enough to support a rider. It was from the Hyksos charioteers that the use of horses in warfare was introduced to Egyptian culture. When, after a civil war with the Hyksos rulers, the Egyptians came to power once again, they continued to use horse-drawn chariots in their armies.

Ancient naval weapons

Fish was a major source of food in the ancient world, and the Egyptians lived on whatever the river Nile had to offer to them. Papyrus boats are reported to have been first constructed in the predynastic period for the purpose of fishing. Most of the Egyptians used boats to transport warriors. In order to intercept a foreign boat, they used large stones, which they would hurl in the direction of enemy boats, by hand or using a catapult. The Egyptians traded with the Phoenicians in around 2200 BCE, For safety of their boats they would fix a bow. The Egyptian New Kingdom re-organized the standing army and also focused on making new and improved boats. During this period, Egypt's navy was extensive, and bigger ships of seventy to eighty tons suited to long voyages became quite common. Many cargo ships were converted into battle ships. Seafaring was not safe, and in order to have smooth trading relations, they built a large fleet and took control of the sea. The temple of Medinet Habu has reliefs depicting the fleet of Ramses III fighting a naval battle against the Sea Peoples.[14] The Phoenicians are said to have developed the first war galley armed with a battering ram for attacking other ships in the ancient world.

War chariots

Pharaoh in his chariot defeats the Hyksos

Chariots, a mode of transportation, were used as a weapon by ancient peoples. The Hittites used chariots to crash into enemies, whereas the Egyptians used them to stay away from enemies and attack them by arrows and spears. These vehicles were first made in Mesopotamia by the Sumerians, as four-wheeled wagons each pulled by four donkeys. Every wagon held two individuals; a driver, and a warrior armed with a spear or an ax. Some historians believe that chariots were first developed in the Eurasian steppes, somewhere near Russia and Uzbekistan. After the introduction of horses, it was discovered that they were much faster and consequently chariots became more fierce weapons with the combination of speed, strength and mobility.[15] The Hyksos introduced chariots in Egypt, these chariots were later modified into the Egyptian style, parts were changed and decorated with Egyptian symbols and paintings. However, by the 15th century BCE, Tutmoses III made 1000 chariots for military expedition. Each chariot carried two men, one to drive and one to shoot arrows. Much later, the Egyptians changed their strategy and divided the charioteers into five squadrons, with twenty-five chariots in each and two men in each chariot: a driver and a soldier armed with bows and arrows, a shield, a sword, and a javelin. If arrows were exhausted they would always keep swords as a backup for close combat.[16]

The Khopesh sword

Main article: Khopesh

The Khopesh, also called the Canaanite "sickle-sword", was used mostly by the tribes who lived near Mesopotamia. These tribes, who used to attack the Egyptians occasionally, used the Khopesh as their main weapon. These tribes later started trading with Egyptians and the Egyptians were so impressed by the shape and make of the sword that they decided to adopt it themselves. Ramses II was the first pharaoh to have used the khopesh in warfare during the battle of Khadesh. The Khopesh was designed such that it could be used as an axe, a sword or a sickle. The Khopesh eventually became the most popular sword in all of Egypt and a symbol of royal power and strength. The Assyrian king Adad-nirari I (r. 1307–1275 BCE) used to display this sword during ritual ceremonies, and such curved swords could be seen in Mesopotamian art and paintings. Some of these Khopesh swords were black in colour and came with a full tang. The average length of the Khopesh was around 40 to 60 cm,[17] which is likely why the Mamluk Sultanate based their sword, the Scimitar, off it. This weapon later spread all around the Muslim Empires and to Eastern Europe.


As the barbarian hordes from Germania were still using clubs and maces the classical Greek civilization had mastered the art of making spears. The trident, a three pronged spear used for fishing, was a form of spear popular with the Greeks. This weapon was used in the east by the Indians who called it Trishul (three spears) and by gladiators in Rome known as retarii, or 'net-fighters', in keeping with the historical use of the trident in fishing. These net fighters would cast the net onto their enemies and once their enemies were trapped and helpless in the net, would then use the trident to kill them or inflict serious injuries. The trident is also associated with various gods: Poseidon and his Roman counterpart Neptune were both associated with and often depicted with a trident, and the Hindu god Shiva also wields the trident.[18]

Assyrian Empire

Assyria was a Northern Mesopotamian kingdom known for its war-like culture. It was King Shamshi-Adad I at the start of the 18th century BC who conquered lands to the west as far as the Mediterranean, and established the first Assyrian empire.[11] The Assyrian were first known to be barbaric, blood thirsty people. Some part of this was true according to historians. They had set up schools to teach military warfare involving demolition of walls and mining city walls. The Assyrians were surrounded by hostile, powerful and aggressive tribes, therefore it was important for them to train their people. The Assyrian army was the first to use iron in its weapons. Unlike the rest of the civilizations, the Assyrian charioteers had a crew of three people, rather than the usual two: an extra crew member was added to protect the rear. They were the first to introduce cavalry and the first develop siege craft with siege towers and battering rams. Cavalry had completely replaced chariots in late 600 BCE, the Assyrians had a very well organized army, the King stood in the middle on a chariot, flanked by bodyguards and the standing army. The archers stood in front of the king and were covered by powerful 'spearmen' and shielded carriers who fought in close combat with the enemies, then there were the heavy chariots and the horsemen who would charge into enemy lines with brutal force.

Ancient Greek weapons

Main article: Ancient Greek weapons

Ancient Greece was surrounded by hostile neighbours such as Persia, Macedonia, and later Rome. The Greeks had adopted a totally different pattern of warfare and even fashioned their weapons differently. They had adopted a very strategic style of fighting, researching the strengths and weaknesses of their enemies, and developed their weapons accordingly.[19] After incessant threats of a Persian invasion, the Greeks came together and formed the Delian league; the Spartans were ready for a ground assault while the Athenians relied on their strong navy. Sensing the military might of the Athenians, the city states and settlers of Asia Minor requested them to lead the league. The Athenians had a formidable navy; they produced an overwhelming number of warships and soldiers and in return demanded tribute from the league members. The Athenians had built dozens of warships known as triremes to defend Greece. The crew consisted of 200 men which included the Captain, ten dignitaries who may have been commanders, several archers, a few soldiers, and 170 oarsmen. When the Persians met the Greek army they outnumbered it three to one, the Persian army consisting of infantry and excellent cavalry. Their tactics were of a defensive nature since their main weapon was the bow; they were also supplied with the akinakes, a dagger-like sword. The Greeks used long spears, shields, helmets and breastplates. The Greeks had no cavalry at this time. As soon as the Persian army came to the battle ground, the Greeks already started to charge into the enemy lines to avoid the shower of arrows. The shield of the Greeks was so strong that it broke the spears of the Persians, much to their surprise. The long Greek spears, with sharp iron spearhead on a wooden shaft and a bronze butt-spike, helped them break enemy ranks and rout the Persian army. If their spear was broken they used their swords for close combat. Ancient Greeks brought many changes in the technology of warfare.[20] The victories in the Greco-Persian war at Salamis and Plataea largely ended the Persian threat to the Greek mainland. With the outbreak of the Peloponnesian war, inter-Greek warfare became more significant. The year 424 saw Brasidas' expeditions across the whole of Greece, proving wrong the idea suggested by the Old Oligarch that land forces could not sustain lengthy campaigns against sea powers.

The Macedonians

Main article: Ancient Macedonians

The Macedonians emerged as a power in Greece after the crippling of Sparta at the Battle of Leuctra, the ascent to power of King Phillip II who through a combination of military power and diplomacy unified the Greek City states and formed the Corinthian League to fight the Persians. The Macedonians followed the traditional military strategy adopted by the Greek city-states, the phalanx, though unlike other Greeks the Macedonian infantry was equipped with the "sarissa", a spear as long as 15 feet with a leaf shaped spearhead. Unlike the cities of Greece proper, the Macedonian army also had a dedicated cavalry, as the flat plains of Macedon were better suited to cavalry combat than the mountainous country to the south. The Macedonians engineers had developed heavy weapons and artillery pieces, with enough power to breach the gates and walls of a fortification. Torsion catapults were also developed a little later as well as heavy weapons such as the ballistae, and the smaller, and more portable weapons, cheiroballistra were improved by King Philip II and Alexander the Great.[21]

The Romans

After Rome was sacked by the Senones in 390 BCE, they regrouped and formed an alliance of the city states. They deployed thoroughly trained soldiers in the north western frontiers to protect Rome from further attacks. These soldiers were divided into two groups, Legionaries and Auxiliaries, Legionaries were Roman citizens where as Auxiliaries were recruited from tribes and allies of Rome. They eventually defeated the Gauls and gained total control of the Italian peninsula as well as North Western Europe. The Romans never used complex weapons, instead they chose to use the more simple and unusual weapons of warfare. The armor and weapons were used under excellent supervision, great leadership and discipline that enabled the Romans to create superior military forces, both regular and irregular armies including mercenaries and allies, that were able to conquer their opponents.[22]


Main article: Gladius

The gladius was a light and short traditional Roman sword used for a quick kill. This was a short sword, not more than 60 centimeters long, made with an iron blade to which a bronze-covered wood, or ivory cross guard, pommel, and grip would be attached. The gladius varied in length and size as Roman soldiers of different ranks used gladius measuring around 34.5 and 64 centimeters. The gladius was mainly used for thrusting and so had limited effect when wielded from horseback.[23]


Main article: Pilum

Roman soldiers were equipped with the gladius and pilum, a javelin with a long iron head. They carried two pila to throw at the enemy. The pila were designed in such a way that they could easily stick into the enemy's shield and would bend instantly due to the impact. This way the enemy, if unharmed, could not throw back the pilum.

Early Middle Ages

Alaric the Goth charging into Rome with his barbarian troops

The Barbarian tribes from Germania kept penetrating deeper into the Roman territory, some of these tribes were the Osthrogoths, Visigoths, Vandals and Franks. After the death of Marcus Aurelius, Rome became vulnerable to attacks from all directions. The Huns, a tribe said to be from steppe regions of Central Asia started to push other barbarian tribes into Roman territories, the Huns not only attacked other barbarian tribes but eventually attacked Rome. By this time the Roman Empire was divided into East and West. The Huns always fought a battle on horseback as they were not used to infantry lines, their favourite weapon was the composite bow.[24] Flavius Aetius forged an alliance with the Visigoths, Alans and the Vandals and provided them with Roman arms and armour to fight against their common enemy, the Huns. His barbarian filled forces defeated the Huns in 410, the visigoths sacked Rome under the leadership of Alaric I.[25]

Military organization

After the defeat of Western Roman Empire, the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantium empire held on. The barbarian kingdoms had already set up their kingdoms in place, they started the process of recruiting and the advancement of soldiers. A warrior was highly respected according to the barbarian tradition, a brave warrior was often rewarded by allotting land, titles and other benefits, and these land owners later became medieval nobles.[26]

Weapons of the barbarians

Frankish throwing axe of the 5th and 6th century AD

Many barbarians had served in the Roman army and so used similar weapons to those in that army. However, after a brief period, the barbarian tribes including the Vandals, the Ostrogoths, Visigoths, and Franks started to develop and make their own weapons. Archers began to fire iron-tipped arrows, the cavalry and infantry both initiated the use of longer two-edged swords. Meanwhile, the Franks used a variety of weapons, they chose not to wear their armor and instead carried more weapons. In 470 Sidonius Apollinaris recalls his first meeting with Frankish soldiers and according to him, the Franks hung their swords onto their shoulders, they also carried with them barbed lances and throwing axes. Many Frankish warriors also did not wear helmets. They carried their traditional double edged axe and never carried any missile weapons.[27] Amongst all the barbarian tribes, Merovingian kingdom of the Franks became the most powerful realm in Western Europe. Most of the power was exercised by the military lords who eventually gained total control of the Merovingian kingdom in late 600 AD. Pippin II, who had gained total control of the Merovingian kingdom passed Mayorships to his illegitimate son, Charles Martel, in 714. Charles Martel was responsible for modernization of the Frankish army and the defeat of Muslims at the Battle of Tours. During the battle, the Franks had carried with them swords and axes, the iron head of their weapons were exceedingly sharp, and their axes were forged from a single piece of iron. However, by the end of the 7th century production of axes ceased as the number of skilled axe throwers started dwindling.[28]

The Byzantine armoury

During the reign of Justinian, the emperor of Constantinople, the Byzantine empire became military active. He sent a huge army to re-capture the North African provinces from the Vandals, and by 534 AD, the Byzantine general Belisarius had destroyed the Vandal power and proceeded to march through Italy to conquer Rome from the Ostrogoths. By 565, the Byzantines wiped the Ostrogoths from Italy. The Byzantines were witnessing great advances in military engineering, possessing a highly disciplined military force and military technicians who contributed to the development of siege weapons that the civilized world had never seen.[29] In around 672, an incendiary substance known as Greek Fire was invented. Greek fire was sprayed from early flamethrowers on ships known as dromons. Researchers have been unable to duplicate this substance today, ships were set alight by the Greek fire and it had the capability to kill large number of warriors inside the ship with one shot.[30] Some of the early devices used by the Byzantines were torsion powered engines used to shoot arrows with greater intensity. The Byzantine military engineers were learning and developing more sophisticated siege weapons, and by the 10th century they had adopted engineering techniques used by the Muslims.[29]

Weapons of the Mediterranean

The Islamic world had already advanced way ahead of others in military engineering, the main reasons, according to historians, was the trade relations with China. The Islamic world had learned that the Chinese technology, was known to be superior to that of the Greeks or the Romans. Arab army generals were encouraging the use of new technology and inherited a highly sophisticated tradition of siege warfare. The Trebuchet, capable of throwing huge stones and piles of rocks was said to have been invented in the Middle East by the Muslim engineers. The Trebuchet was probably copied from the Chinese huo-pa’o, which had been adopted by the Mongols and carried west by them.[31] Some Trebuchets were used to throw dead horses into a besieged city to spread disease. The Muslims had adopted the technology and traditions of those whom they conquered. Like the Syrians, the Iranians and later the Byzantines, the Muslims had also attacked Byzantine using the most advanced siege weapons. In the mid-8th century, Caliph Marwan II of Syria had more than 80 stone-throwing machines stored with him. The Abbasid Caliphate who had set their capital in Baghdad rather than Syria had specialized in mangonel operations and stationed these devastation military geniuses in all their fortresses.[32]


Chinese people had witnessed conflicts and constant warfare all across China. Fifty years after the fall of the Tang Dynasty, China witnessed five successive dynasties in the north along with a dozen small nations in the south in a short timespan. The quick rise and fall of these countries and the fragmented nature is a result of the rise of warlords towards the later half of the Tang dynasty. In 960, Zhao Kuangyin staged a coup of his own to take over the dominant northern dynasty of the later Zhou, and founded the Song dynasty. He was able to finally reunite all the fragmented states of the south and put an end to the problem of military coups that had plagued China for the last century. The Song established its capital at Kaifeng on the Yellow river. It was during the reign of this dynasty that the Chinese started to produce gunpowder using saltpeter, sulfur and carbon.[33] Some historians[34] believe that the Chinese did not consider gunpowder a particularly important weapon, though in fact they were the first people to systematically use gunpowder as weapons on a wide scale. Even the Arabs, who had probably been using gunpowder much earlier than the Europeans, referred to potassium nitrate as 'Snow from China' Arabic: ثلج الصين thalj al-ṣīn and the Persians referred to it as "Chinese salt" or "salt from Chinese salt marshes" (namak shūra chīnī Persian: نمک شوره چيني). From about 1000 AD it had been mostly used in the form of firecrackers, and was used to improve existing weapons (for example), attached on spears for a shock burst upon engagement, or on arrows so they can fly faster mid air or be shot off in large salvos without the need of bows. In the 12th century, the Chinese were using crude hand grenades[11] and were starting to use the earliest forms of rockets and cannons in addition to the aforementioned firecracker weapons.

Later Middle Ages

The Normans

The Norman knights that invaded England, and defeated the Saxons at Hastings in 1066, dressed in chainmail and swinging swords from horseback, made history.[35] William the Conqueror had successfully landed with his army of Normans consisting of an infantry composed of spearmen, swordsmen, and archers in Britain to claim his authority over the throne of England, Norman cavalry was well equipped with maces, axes, swords and boiled leather armours.

Siege warfare

Western Europe by this time had already reached a level of military sophistication, the Arabs had even started to adopt Ifranji also known as Frankish , a stone throwing engine. The Europeans were by all means trying to outclass the Byzantines, the Indians and the Arabs in siege technology.[36] The Mongols on the other hand had brought about a revolution in siege warfare. They had learned the art of making siege weapons while conquering northern China, recovering some mangonels, trebuchets and rams from Chinese engineers.

The Crusades

The Normans and the Byzantines were successful in driving out the Muslim invaders from the Greek Islands, Southern Italy and Sicily. Though these were little military operations the Europeans, assuming that the Muslims were vulnerable, embarked on a mission to recapture the holy land lost by them centuries before. However, a powerful tribe from the mid-Asian steppes, the Seljuk Turks emerged and started to massacre the Christian pilgrims in Syria. Responding to these attacks, the Byzantines fought a battle against the Seljuk Turks, the battle of Manzikert, where they were defeated resulting in the Byzantines pulling back all their armies from Asia Minor. Byzantine emperor Alexius I Comnenus, requested for aid from Christians, he petitioned Pope Urban II to aid the Byzantines in regaining their lost territories. Pope Urban II summoned the Christian armies in 1095 and sent them to recapture the holy Land from the hands of the Muslims. Not much is known about the weapons that were being produced in Western Europe at the time of Crusades, but it is evident that their cavalry used lances. The Europeans armies also used crossbows excessively, it was said to be the best known infantry weapon used by the Europeans. By the late 13th century, the power of crossbows increased, infantry weapons of the Crusaders varied in shape, sizes and quality. Apart from spears, swords and daggers, foot soldiers were equipped with an extraordinary array of pole-arms, often reflecting their place of origin. The double edged sword was extensively used by both foot knights and mounted knights.

The Islamic armies too had a sophisticated military organization, their armies consisted of the Central Asian Turkish Mamluk or the Ghulam infantry. Further, local Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Armenians, Persians, were also recruited from all over the Mediterranean. Their weapons were no different from the crusaders, using daggers, axes, spears, bows and arrows. The bows were differently crafted, using multiple strips of different kinds of wood glued together to maximize the range and penetration power of said bow. Their swords also had a slightly different design, Muslim Cavalry used swords for close combat and their armour was often worn beneath their cloths, to protect themselves from the sun overheating the iron pieces. Muslim troops also carried with them round and kite shaped shields.

Hundred Years War

Main article: Hundred Years War

The Hundred Years' War was a series of big and small wars fought between France and England from 1337 to 1453. In the year 1337, the French King Philip VI demanded that the provinces under the English rule, Gascony and Guyenne be given back to the French. However, English king, Edward III denied this demand which led to a war between the two. The English had their eyes on the wool industry in Flanders, moreover they had a stable government and efficient soldiers ready to fight the French. During this period, most of the Europeans armies relied mainly on infantry, the infantry dominated armies were taking a toll on cavalry dominated armies. Digging ditches, constructing wagon fortresses, or flooding already marshy ground, so that the enemy could attack from only one direction, were some of the methods employed by both the armies during the Hundred Years' War.[37] In the final phase of the war, gunpowder was also used for the first time in Western Europe. Jean and Gaspard Bureau's effective organization of artillery weapons enabled the French army in open battlefields as well as siege warfare. At Castillon, the French army annihilated the English, effectively using cannons, handguns and heavy cavalry.[38]


Main article: Longbow

The English longbow was greatly responsible for making England a major military power in the late medieval period, the English had introduced this deadly longbow during the Battle of Crecy. King Edward III was ravaging the countryside during the invasion of France, King Philip VI of France intercepted the English near the town of Crecy. The French had easily outnumbered the English. Apart from armoured knights the French army also had nearly 4,000 Genoese crossbowmen. But the English archers outnumbered the Genoese and rained arrows, the English could shoot five times faster than the Genoese crossbowmen. When the French mounted knights tried to infiltrate into the English lines, the longbowmen turned their attention to them and started to shoot, resulting in chaos. The horses started to crash into each other, cavalry was destroyed and the French army annihilated.[39] The longbow was made of a simple piece of wood, but its design was fairly sophisticated. The bow's back, the part facing away from the archer, was the more flexible sapwood, that allowed the bow to be bent more sharply without breaking or causing any further damage.[39]

Cavalry weapons

The basic objective of a cavalry knight was to charge into enemy lines and create chaos. At this time, the old shields and armours were replaced by more sophisticated and advanced shields and armour. Lances were used by the mounted knights for initial charge, after the initial charge and annihilation of the enemy front lines, the lances were discarded and swords, axes or war hammer were used for close combat.

Gunpowder weapons

The invention of gunpowder weapons revolutionized siege warfare, Gunpowder is said to have been conceived in China. It was when the Mongols, after invading China, went on to subdue Japan. Their ships sunk from being hit by a typhoon, resulting in half of their army drowning at sea. Marine archaeology has revealed that the Mongols were carrying gunpowder in ceramic pots, similar pots with ignited fuses had been shot from mechanical artillery against the Japanese defenders. Even the old Japanese paintings show the Japanese samurai defending themselves against bombs and rockets hurled by the invaders.[40] Some historians have observed that only 14 percent men in Europe owned guns,[41] over half of those guns were unusable during the later Middle Ages. The invention of gunpowder weapons replaced only catapults and onagers, the change was slow. Buying guns in those days was a costly affair, the cost of one gun was the equivalent of two months pay for a skilled artisan.[41] By 1450, inventors improved the make of the gun and introduced the matchlock gun. Though inventors came with new technology, the process of reloading after every shot was very time consuming, by the time they were reloading the gun, the cavalry would charge and annihilate the entire unit of shooters.[42]

Early-Modern Period

Further information: Gunpowder warfare

Medieval weapons were still in service during the Renaissance and Civil war. Some of the medieval weapons that were still in use included Guisarme, the Halberd, the Mace and the partisan. The Halberd was a traditional weapon used by the Swiss, consisting of an axe-blade topped with a spike, with a hook or pick on the back, on top of a long pole.[43] This weapon was mostly used by the foot soldiers against cavalry, Halberds became obsolete when improvised pikes started to be produced in huge numbers. Meanwhile, the Partisan was introduced in England in the 14th century and was used excessively and extensively in Europe and especially in France. Originally the Partisan used to be a spear with small wings added below it. The sword still remained the most popular weapon during Renaissance.

The sword however underwent many changes during this time. Many new pieces were added and the sword was designed in such a way that it could protect the hands of its owner. The two-handed sword was widely used in Western Europe, being employed both by the rich and the poor. The armies during this period were usually equipped with double edged swords, halberd, arquebus, crossbows and improvised axes.[44]

Leonardo da Vinci journeyed to Mantua, he resided there for a while and then went from there to Venice. The danger from Turkish fleet was looming on the city, which inspired him to come up with another invention, something like a submarine and a snorkel and diving suit for underwater saboteurs. But the Venetians thought it was not required. So he went back to Florence, and in the year 1502, Valentino chose Leonardo da Vinci as his engineer general. Leonardo sketched new devices for war, something like pointed artillery projectile, bearing very close resemblance to an aerial bomb.[45]

Siege guns

China was the first place where cannons were used for battle. Metal cannons were manufactured and mounted on the Great Wall of China to protect it from the Mongolian hordes, the Mongols learned this technology and made cannons to invade Korea. In 1593 cannons were used most effectively in the Siege of Pyongyang, Ming warriors made cannons to fight the Japanese, the battle was won by the Ming warriors because the Japanese lacked cannons or any sort of gunpowder weapons. During the siege of Constantinople in 1453, Mohammed the Conqueror, sultan of Turkey, ordered his Hungarian engineer, Urban to develop the biggest guns ever seen. Once these huge guns, cannons or bombards were in position, the walls of Constantinople came tumbling down. The introduction of such bombards had a profound effect on the European society, engineers started to design their walls keeping in mind the danger the walls could have when facing the newly introduced bombards.[21]

Modern Era

The use of the bayonet in starting in the 17th century allowed soldiers to use muskets as pikes in close combat. The flintlock, invented slightly earlier, made firearms more reliable. Cartridges were also invented around this time, and made existing firearms easier to load.[46]

Submarine technology gradually advanced during the 17th and 18th centuries. Early submarines were mounted with spars and powered by hand cranks. By the mid-19th century, self-propelled torpedoes started to be used. They were largely ineffective until the end of the 19th century, when electricity and internal combustion engines could make them more powerful.[47]

In 1803, the British began using shrapnel.[48]

Rifling was invented in 1498, but it was not practical until the 19th century.[49]

As well as these advances in firearms and artillery technology, new repeating firearms began to emerge on the battlefield. As soon as matchlocks appeared, there were attempts to create non-muzzleloading firearms. Early attempts such as the Ferguson rifle proved to be too complicated for regular soldiers. By 1836 a German gunsmith Johann Nicolaus von Dreyse invented the Dreyse needle rifle, the first bolt-action rifle, which the Prussian Army adopted for service in 1848. In 1866 during the Austro-Prussian War after the decisive Prussian victory at the Battle of Königgrätz it was obvious that muzzle-loading rifles were ineffective in battle. Soon after, nations all around Europe began adopting breech-loaders and converting their existing service rifles to breech-loaders. Such rifles include the British Snider Rifle and the French Chassepot Rifle. These new rifles, along with the invention of the revolver (patented in 1836) and the advent of machine in the 1860s, displayed the need for the way battles were fought to change. However, it was only until the First World War that military leaders around the world adapted new tactics to employ these weapons.

The first iron clad ship, the USS Monitor, was built in 1862.[48] It was built during the American Civil War and used by the Union Navy.

20th century

In 1915, the first propeller plane that could safely fire a machine gun through the propeller blades was invented. This led to later dogfights during World War I.[50] Tanks were also used for the first time during World War I, but they were often slow and unreliable at first. However, they did allow more mobility in the war. Early tanks were mounted with machine guns and light artillery. Armored vehicles with wheels had been used earlier, but they could not cross trenches.[51] Tanks were used a lot more and in greater numbers in World War II.

The first atomic bombs were tested and used in warfare in 1945. No nuclear weapons have been used in warfare since.[48]

See also


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  21. 1 2 DeVries & Smith
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External sources

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