Medieval Information

Everything About the Dark Ages

Medieval Trebuchet



Trebuchets were used to throw stones--or dead animals--with great accuracy. A trebuchet was capable of launching 200lb. projectiles towards virtually anything. We can define a trebuchet as "the atom bomb of its time." Earlier trebuchets could only fire small stones or even cows. As time passed and as trebuchets were improved (Leonardo Da Vinci dramatically improved them) they were able to launch huge projectiles towards a castle's walls.

Many persons were needed to operate a trebuchet. Trial-and-error was the method used to destroy a wall. When a certain point of a castle was targeted, the trebuchet was so accurate that it could remain firing almost invariantly at that same spot; making them very effective.

With trebuchets, invading armies could fire cows and other dead animals from a relatively large distance. The only downside of trebuchets was their enormous size. In earlier medieval times, it was very hard to transport such gigantic machinery. As they were improved, new methods to arm them were discovered.

Trebuchets started to appear as early as in the XIV century, but their use got more widespread in the XV century.

Stone was normally gathered from the surrounding mountains. To carry such a huge projectile usually involved horses and dozens of soldiers.

Medieval Catapults



Catapults have been used in one way or another since the Roman times and probably even before. Their principle is very simple and they consist of a machine which quickly relieves its accumulated tension. The tension is originated when a person turns its handle generating energy in a rope or piece of wood. When a catapult fires, all the accumulated energy is converted to send a projectile very far away. Averaging 500 to 1000 feet away, a stone is launched with so much power that it can destroy a wall.

Attackers idealized many new projectiles to storm a besieged castle including dead animals, spoiled food and burning wood in an attempt to break the siege as soon as possible.

Leonardo Da Vinci and other thinkers improved the use of the catapult and evolved it for better usability and range. Of course the catapult kept evolving as the centuries passed, but it proved to be useless when gunpowder was introduced into medieval warfare.

Medieval Weapons



What is best known about the Middle Ages, besides castles, is the weapons used during the time. Most of these were so good and unique that many stores even sell them today! - as a matter of fact, medieval weaponry is very well known throughout the world as they were continuously improved.

They were most commonly used from a distance. Their effectiveness increased dramatically as they were used from a higher altitude against lower targets as gravity would play an immense role in this.

Bows were divided into two categories (which later became three):

Regular Bows - Were the first to be used. They were very effective and they continued to be employed in medieval warfare as they were relatively light - and an skilled archer could fire up to 12 arrows per minute - which added to the effectiveness.

Long Bows - These first appeared in England, and later spread to the rest of Europe. They were very effective as they could easily penetrate a soldier's armor and more often than not, could also kill him in one shot.

As I mentioned earlier in this article, there was another discovery during the Dark Ages which changed drastically medieval warfare.

Crossbows - Crossbows were so effective that the church banned their use for a couple of years. Nevertheless, nobody listened and their use only widespread. A good crossbow could be easily fired at a moving target killing, if shot right, instantly.

Crossbows used, among other projectiles, quarrels which were extremely deadly. Afterwards, these were improved by adding venom or other deadly substances to guarantee death.

By far the most famous weaponry of the Middle Ages are the swords. They are often accompanied by the symbol of chivalry and knights.

Swords were divided into many categories, the two most important being:

Single-handed swords - These were usually very light and were accompanied by a shield. They could easily cut an unarmored opponent - but when the opponent was wearing an armor, they were not as useful. Nevertheless, these swords evolved and were made very sharp so they could penetrate any type of armory. This only happened after many centuries, and thus; were not very effective before. Single-handed swords were very common against barbaric tribes who rarely used armor. Nevertheless, against a well equipped army, they could be seemingly useless (unless used right).

Single-handed swords were also very popular for duels among nobles and the lower classes. They could generally mean the death of an opponent as they were so sharp that cuts were usually deadly.

Another technique used for these swords was to spray them with venom during battles so death was guaranteed. Nevertheless, there are very few recorded events in which this happened. What usually happened, though, was that these swords were never washed so cutting someone would result in an infection that could easily lead to death. Even though this practice was common, it was also counter-productive in some cases as it could, accidentally, kill the own wielder of the weapon.

Two-handed swords:They were usually very heavy and thus; only strong men could carry them. Since these swords could not be accompanied by a shield, most soldiers relied on very heavy armor in order to protect themselves effectively. This was, most of the time, a common cause for the slow demise of foot soldiers as carrying a complete heavy armor and a two-handed sword would result in an extreme amount of weight.

Nevertheless, two-handed swords were very effective at penetrating an enemy's armor. In most of the cases, they were so powerful that not only could they destroy an armor, but they could also completely cut a man in two - his armor included.

This simple fact of extreme effectiveness against armored foot soldiers, is what made two-handed swords so effective. A single-handed sword was virtually useless against a knight using a two-handed sword and heavy armor.

During the Middle ages, all sorts of weaponry was used. Hammers were not the exception as they were very useful to knock down an opponent even if he was wearing heavy armory.

When medieval soldiers realized how effective hammers truly were, they began developing variations which proved to be deadlier. Even though hammers were very effective at certain aspects, they were still no match for a good soldier with a two-handed sword. Hammers were usually reserved for poor soldiers or as a last resource.

Daggers were very common during medieval warfare. They were used, mainly, as an alternative in case the soldier's main weapon was unavailable, or in case he needed more flexibility.

In the case of archers, daggers were used as an alternative in case they were captured or surrounded. Additionally, during extreme need, archers could use their daggers to attack - which was very ineffective, but used nevertheless.

They were very sharp and small - the smaller the better. A very good dagger could even penetrate light armor and, if the enemy was not wearing armor, he could be easily killed with only one blow.

This made daggers to be used widely throughout the Dark Ages.

Daggers, later on, became another sign of chivalry (though not as famous as a sword) - they were generally passed from generation through generation since they would rarely deteriorate if made from a good material.

Siege Weapons
Of course siege weapons were very widely used during the Dark Ages. Since medieval warfare consisted more of battles against castles, then it is very conspicuous how siege weapons proved to be so effective.

Even when used in open-field battles, siege weapons were still effective as they could be used to kill up to dozens of soldiers with a single missile launch! This caused terror, and, combined with archer fire made battles something incredible to watch.

Siege weapons included, but were not limited to: Catapults, trebuchets, and many more. These two later were both (in the case of a castle siege) used for defense and attack purposes.

Later elaborated castles, as it can be seen in the castle timeline, were suitable to place catapults and trebuchets on top of them. This was a good strategy as missiles fired from such an altitude could easily reach soldiers who were very far away.

Late Medieval Weapons - Gunpowder
During the late Middle Ages, many discoveries took place. The one which most notoriously affected the course of warfare was gunpowder.

Soon after its discovery, every major army used gunpowder in order to attack opposing armies. Every time open field battles were more scarce and even knights came to an abrupt end as their power seemed to be vanquished when gunpowder was finally incorporated.

Cannons were mostly used against castles - and later they were also employed during most medieval battles. Since they were so effective, newer castles had to be constructed within a very short timeframe.

All of these factors greatly changed the course of warfare and newer weapons were made rapidly. Another major achievement was incorporating cannons to ships which eliminated traditional naval warfare of ships ramming each other - rendering that sort of battle useless.

Armor against gunpowder was also useless.

As it can be noted by reading the previous paragraphs, newer weapons abruptly brought the end to traditional warfare - and it is speculated that newer battle techniques rushed the ending of the Dark Ages. This, of course, cannot be only blamed to gunpowder, but it was a determining factor which played an enormous role in medieval history.

Armor too played an enormous role during the Dark Ages, as it can be noted in the section above. A good armor, nevertheless, was usually very heavy, thus decreasing the wielder's speed and flexibility. This, however, did not stop foot soldiers from using them as they were usually very effective against other foot soldiers and, primary, against arrows.

When crossbows were invented, armors had to be severely strengthened or else they would be rendered useless. This only made an armor heavier which killed soldiers over time.

What is most characteristic about armors is the helmet. Thousands of them were created and they were very different in style. Newer helmets were capable of resisting even boiling water!

A foot soldier with a very heavy armor to be stopped, had to be surrounded, completely tired, weaponless and ambushed for his armor to be opened and then for his enemieo be able to kill him - as it is apparent, armors were very effective indeed!

Additionally, shields were also widely employed as they were very effective against both, projectile and melee combat.

Gudendag Weapon



The gudendag has its origins when many Flemish peasants wanted to join the army but couldn't because of a lack of weaponry.

It was then when the gudendag, meaning "Good Day" was invented by the 'discovery' of a regular peasant hammer being useful against armored soldiers.

It was then when most peasants fought for their rights because of more available weaponry. It is obvious, however; that even though a gudendag could be seemingly useful against an armored knight, a sword was much stronger.

Gudendags were greatly transformed throughout the centuries and they had spikes or other metal objects adhered to them in order to make them deadlier.

Gudendags were used during the Roman Times as well, but most people attribute them to the Dark Ages.

Who Invented the Trebuchet?



Trebuchets were not as old as catapults were. Trebuchets are said by most historians to be invented directly by the French in the XII century - of course trebuchets later spread to the rest of Europe.

The real inventor of the trebuchet is unknown - mostly because it is said that it was an invention of many and not only one man. Trebuchets were later improved from generation to generation.

Many manuscripts dating from the XIII century describe the trebuchet to be the most effective siege weapon of them all.

To read more about trebuchets, visit my Medieval Trebuchets article.

Medieval Shields - Protection Against Damage



Medieval shields were usually very strong because of the newly developed weapons which could easily destroy a light shield.

A shield's primary function was to defend a soldier against swords or projectiles. Projectiles were useless against shields (unless they were longbows, and the shields practically worthless). Additionally, foot soldiers could arrange themselves and box up - meaning that they could have protection from three sides by cooperatively aligning their shields which could help them progress slowly and steadily while minimizing damage caused from projectiles and swords.

The second main function of a shield was of recognition. A shield very frequently carried the emblem of the country to which the soldier belonged. Battles were often very confusing and recognizing who was a friend and foe could be a very tedious labor - hence the construction of shields with emblems for an easier recognition.

The third function of a shield was to attack. Even though this is quite unbelievable since a shield was mainly designed to be defensive, shields could also be offensive. Better shields would very frequently have a sharp side so the user could hit his enemy and kill him with one blow. A shield, since it was made of metal and very heavy, could easily kill an enemy in a single strike. Of course they were very slow - but that didn't matter as a strong wielder could easily move it fast enough to accomplish his main purpose of survival by killing.

As it can be noted, shields were very effective and thus their enormous use. There was a huge variety of shields - you can read more about them in the glossary.

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