Premodern Weaponry and Armor

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This is an index of weapons which have their origins before the widespread use of gunpowder.

Melee Weapons

  • Clubs: The club is most likely the first weapon ever to be used, with club use being observed in chimpanzees. A long, narrow, ridid object which can be carried in hand to hit enemies, a club causes damage with blunt trauma. Clubs generally give an edge over an unarmed oppenent, but inflicting a leathal blow with a club can be quite difficult. However, clubs can be effective at subdoing opponents without killing them. Outside quick improvised weapons, clubs are still used today in the form of truncheons for that reason.
  • Maces: The mace is a more refined version of the club, having some sort of head made of stone or metal to make impacts more damaging. Some maces have spikes to increase pressure at the point of impact. Maces became popular after the development of plate armor, as their impacts could cause concussions or shatter bones without penetrating the armor.
  • Spears: A spear is a long rod with a point on the end. The first spears were simple pointed sticks. Improved versions had their tips hardened by burning them, sharpening and then by attaching stone (and later metal) points to improve penetration. As spears were easy to manufacture, had non-military applications in hunting and fishing, and required relatively small amounts of metal, they became the most common form of weapon used by early civilizations. Among the most effective use of spears is the "spear wall", in which spearmen would stand side-by-side with their weapons pointing forward to resist charges (particularly cavalry charges). The longest spears, known as pikes, could be longer than six meters.
  • Axes: Bladed wedges on handles, axes have applications both as tools and as weapons of war. They can deliver a concentrated cutting strike focused on a small area, making them useful against armor. That said, they are inprecise.
  • Swords: A sword is a long blade that can be used for cutting or thrusting. As the only weapons designed exclusively for killing other human beings (they have no hunting purpose), they have acquired symbolic importance in many cultures.
  • Daggers: A dagger is a short knife designed for combat, usually sharp on both sides. Used for close quarters fighting or as a backup weapon.
  • Polearms Polearms are similar to spears in that they have long handles, often up to two meters long. They differ from spears in that their heads have more than just a thrusting point. Polearms can have blades, hooks, and allowing them to chop and slash as well as pierce. Some examples of Halberds are the English Billhook and the Japanese Naginata.

Ranged Weapons

  • Javelins: A javelin is a light short spear intended for throwing. Javelins were used for hunting and for warfare, notably by the Greek Peltast skirmishers and Roman Legionaries, as well as by vikings and Spanish Jinetes. These weapons were limited in use by the fact that the maximum effective range of a Javelin was comparitvely short and only a small number of Javelins could be carried at one time.
  • Slings A simple pouch on a length of string. A small stone or lead weight is placed into said pouch and the pouch is spun around quickly to build up centrifical force. The projectile can build up considerable speed, but has little penetrative power against metal armor or shields. Their use as major weapons ended in the last centuries before the Common Era, and they were relegated mostly to hunting and fighting.
  • Bows: A bow generates force by bending and releasing a piece of wood. An attached string propels an arrow toward the target when the bow is released. The first bows predate human civilization and were used for hunting. Early bows had a maximum range of hundred meters and little penetrative power. Later bows would be constructed from wood with higher tensile strength, be of improved shape or be constructed from layers of wood, sinew and horn glued together (known as "composite bows"). Such bows had far superior velocity and range. A Welsh longbow had an effective range of up to two hundred meters and could penetrate pike armor at short range. Using such a bow effectively, however, required extensive training.
  • Crossbows: A crossbow is similar to a bow, but it uses a stiffer piece of wood or metal bow that requires mechanical assistance to bend. The actual bow is mounted on a stock that holds the projectile until the bow is released. This design makes crossbows much easier to use than bows. The first crossbows emerged in China around 400 BCE and became common in Europe around the 10th century CE. Later crossbows, known as arbalests, used a steel bow that could store more force when bent.

Siege Weapons

  • Battering Rams: At its most basic form, a ram is a log carried by several personnel used to break through walls and doors, typically gates at walls. Later battering rams became more complex, including metal caps to inflict more damage, wheeled frames for carrying larger rams, and screens made of hide or wood to defend those operating the ram from attack.
  • Catapults: A catapult builds tension in ropes to create force to operate a lever that throws a projectile.
  • Trebuchets: A trebuchet uses a falling counterweight to operate the lever that throws the projectile. These devices could throw a 80 kilogram stone ball up to 300 meters.
  • Siege Towers: A siege tower is a wooden tower that can be moved to the wall of a fortification, allowing hostile troops to access the top of the wall.


Body armor made from various materials has been used throughout history, and body armor of modern materials continues to be used.

  • Helmets: A helmet is a specialized hat that protects the wearer from head injury. Helmets can be made from cloth, leather or metal. Helmets made of modern materials remain in use today.
  • Shields: Shields are hand-held barriers. Shields ranged in size from little larger than the hand to large barriers that could cover most of a human body. Shields were made out a variety of materials, including leather or cloth on wooden frames, wickerwork, wood, and metal. Shields were most effective when soldiers carrying them lined up into a shield wall. Shields could also be used offensively, generally to stun, disrupt, or disorient an enemy. Shields are still used today by riot control units.
  • Cloth Armor: Armor composed of quilted or padded textiles was used by various civilizations. This armor was cheap to make, but lacked in terms of durability. It was mostly used by primitive civilizations such as the ancient Egyptians and the Aztecs. It was also worn under plate armor to offer protection by cushioning impacts and by poor warriors during the late medieval period.
  • Scale Armor: The first type of metallic armor used, small plates of metal (or other material) were tied to cloth or leather to improve protection. This armor was fairly easy to make, but it was fairly easily damaged and heavy.
  • Chainmail: Chainmail is composed of thousands of small interlocking rings.
  • Brigandine: Brigandine is leather armor reinforced with small metal plates.
  • Plate Armor: Plate armor is made from shaped plates of solid metal. Bronze plate armor was employed by the Greeks, but steel plate armor took some time to fully develop due to the complexity of its manufacture.