Hidden 3 yrs ago 3 yrs ago Post by POOHEAD189
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POOHEAD189 Warrior

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Well met! I decided to use my history, military, and martial arts skills to good use to provide this guide of useful notes when it comes to medieval arms and armor. To help you with your historical/medieval/fantasy story or Roleplay, and provide some info and contexts for what weapons is good when, and what armor is accurate at what level of technology, etc.

Now, what do I mean by 'medieval?' Well most would say the Middle Ages began in the year 1066 after the Battle of Hastings, and ended with the discovery of the New World. It's honestly based on your perspective. Many seem to think the Dark Ages were apart of the early Middle Ages, which stretch back to the 5th century and onward until, you guessed it, 1066. Luckily somewhat, I won't need to make the terms Middle Ages and Dark Ages synonymous much. Simply put, We do not know too much about the fighting styles of the Dark Ages because there are very little accounts, and no written treatises. But we still had a general idea of what the people in that time used and why, which is the basis of this guide.


The most important thing to know about swords is that for most of history, they were not main weapons. They were sidearms. Most soldiers wielded polearms and ranged weapons for their main armaments. Swords were often back-up weapons used in tight quarters or when you lost your main weapon. Now there are exceptions to this rule of course. A handful of medieval Knights would choose a sword to fight with, provided they had heavy armor. Landscheckts and the Scottish Highland Regiments also made good use of swords alone, and it was a favored main weapon of light cavalry. But for the most part, they were used as a secondary weapon. Mostly because they were one of the easiest weapons to be worn at the hip (or the back, or on a sling, etc.), and they were very versatile in their usage in combat. So, if the Sword was only rarely used as a main armament, why was it so prominent in our history, and why is it the quintessential storybook/hero's weapon?

Well there is a variety of reasons, but we're going to explore the four main reasons here.

  • After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, much of what was considered civilization at that time was lost, which included things such as maintaining the roads, fortified settlements, public transportation, as well as finding good metal and good smiths to forge them into swords. Not only that, but finding good ore in the areas where Rome had never held sway was a rare thing as well. In turn, metal became quite expensive, and swords were rarely wielded by anyone that wasn't nobility. Axes and Spears were far more cheaper and easier to produce. If you carried a sword from the 5th century to the late Norman/Viking period, it meant you were important enough and rich enough to carry one, and it became a symbol of status just as much as a weapon. It was also the one true 'exclusive' weapon at the time. An Axe could be used to chop wood. A spear and bow could be used to hunt, and even the rare hammer in combat could be used to build and forge. But a sword was used only for the art of killing, which meant it was a sheer battlefield investment, one most common folk wouldn't spend their meager savings on. The sword grew into the 'Hero' weapon, and was often attributed with magical abilities in the Myth's and Legends of the Anglo-Saxon/Viking Era. Look in the Epic poem Beowulf, for instance. Almost every sword listed in there is magical and attributed with special honor.
  • In complete contrast to this, during the late 14th and 15th centuries, good quality steel and metallurgy became much more readily available. Which shifted the sword to being an expensive symbol of status, to a weapon one could afford fairly easily if they had any sort of income and inclination to get one. A medieval longbowman in the early 1400s was paid 6 pence a day, and an arming sword at that time cost the exact amount of 6 pence. However, this availability did not detract from how effective a good sword was in combat. It was still a very versatile and deadly weapon, and while it did not have the reach of a polearm, it would do well in a pinch if the need arose. So it became the medieval world's go-to sidearm. It became extremely popular, is the point. Archers had swords at their hips just in case. Knights had arming swords at the ready in case they lost their poleaxe or dismounted off their charger. The average footman with a shield wore a sword if he was a rearguard. Etc.
  • Now that we established that the sword was used almost exclusively as an effective, relatively cheap, and deadly sidearm, the questions remains on who would use it as a main armament, other than the rare soldier with a shield or a fully armored Knight who favored it. Who needed a versatile weapon that was easy to carry?
    Travelers. Merchants and Mercenaries. Adventurers. Men and women who came into town telling stories of the holy land or bringing spices from the orient. Other than the humble quarterstaff, the sword became synonymous with adventure and travelers, much like stories today.
  • Now as we've spoken of the sword's versatility, let's not forget what that means, which is that such a trait has allowed this weapon to stand the test of time. Other than the rock, knife, and the simple club, the Sword has seen more centuries of warfare throughout written history than any other weapon. From 3000 BC. with blades made of arsenical copper or bronze, to the 20th century and even today in remote parts of the world. George Patton, the famous WWII General created his own style of sword fencing in 1912, in full expectation it would be executed in real warfare. It's good to note that swords remained in special use in the later centuries in cavalry and naval warfare, whereas only officers in the army really used swords after the middle 19th century.

It's also of paramount importance that you note that two-handed swords, bastard swords, greatswords, none of these existed in any real capacity until the late 14th century. Up until say, 1360, swords were made for one handed use. The arming sword ruled the day, because the pinnacle of armor up until that point was chainmail with padding. It wasn't until the coat of plates, which broke off into either the Brigandine, or full Plate armor, that a sword without the use of a shield was not considered foolhardy (at least in the context of a mass battle).

Half-swording and grappling are two very important aspects of combat when it came to two plate armored men wielding swords. A simple cut or thrust would almost never harm a fully armored Knight unless it hit a vulnerable area, therefore it was paramount that they try to bypass the other's defenses by either incapacitating their opponent in grappling or controlling their sword with what we call Half-swording, which is when you wield your sword with one hand on the sword hilt and one hand on the blade above the hilt.

I will probably make an article solely on the dozens of different types of swords, but for now this shall suffice.


As previously mentioned, polearms were the main weapons of most medieval armies, particularly in Europe. The reason is quite simple. Reach. An unarmored swordsman vs. an unarmored spearman with roughly the same skill level, a spearman will win 8 times out of 10 simply because he can hit the swordsman while the swordsman cannot. Spears are much easier to maneuver than one might think as well, if you use your back end for thrusting the weapon and the front end to control the forward aim. You can pull the spear back very easily, attacking at many sides while the swordsman would tire himself out at defending.

Of course, if you bring armor or shields into the equation the swordsman's chances vastly increase, but you would need particularly heavy armor for the spear to be lesser than the sword. Polearms are also much easier to use in formations, and are a very effective defensive weapon when it comes to halting both infantry and cavalry charges. Not only that, but a polearm is cheap and easy to make and maintain.
  • Spears: The polearm that generally comes to mind when people think of the word. Spears were usually 6 to 9 feet in length. There are various types of spears used for different armies and indeed different tactics, but the common spear generally had a diamond shaped head of iron. The haft was often made of Ash, because the wood was both durable yet flexible. Contrary to common belief, spears are not easy to chop through and break. It was certainly possible, but you would need more than one good swing to do it, and as you can imagine, an enemy spearman wouldn't sit there and let you hew at his weapon.
  • Halberds: The late 14th century brought about the Halberd, a cross between a spear and an axe. Usually a Halberd was 8 to 12 feet in length, and it was developed in order to better fight against armored cavalry. The spear was doing a fine job, but soldiers needed a more versatile weapon that could halt charges, as well as be used in a cleaving motion. Many had hooks behind the axehead to hook a rider off his horse, or perhaps slip it through a knight's armor. The Swiss has a particular taste for this weapon.
  • Pikes: Unlike the Halberd and Spear, a Pike is not a very good weapon to be used in an individual fight. It's often over 12 feet in length, and unwieldy. Where the Pike shines is in army formations. Defensive maneuvers often had the front rank kneeling, with their spears pointed at a rough 45 degree angle, and the 2nd and 3rd rows pointed their pikes forward, using the first row as a makeshift spike hazard for cavalry. Pikemen were often supported by archers, crossbowmen, or riflemen. A good pike army could be used in an offensive and aggressive formation as well, punching straight through enemy infantry that couldn't hope to bypass 5 rows of Pike-heads. The Scottish and Swiss armies should be given particular credit for being effective and well trained with their pikes. Also, while the common conception of pikes are in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries, the Greek 'Sarissa' used in Phalanx formations in Phillip the II and Alexander the Great's armies were also technically Pikes as well.
  • Poleaxes: My favorite Polearm. The Poleaxe was essentially a shorter and more robust halberd, generally 5 to 6 feet in length. It wasn't often used in formations, instead mostly being favored by Knights who sought to kill other Knights. It was made to be an all-purpose, armor piercing weapon. Often it had a short axehead used to cleave and chop, a hammerhead opposite to sunder armor, and a spike atop to pierce through plate.
  • Bills: One of the favored weapons of the English army, the bill was cheap and easy to make like most polearms, and was particularly effective at fighting cavalry and decently armored Knights (much like what the French fielded). You could hook a rider off of a horse, or hook someone's armor, or stab through a vulnerable spot with the hook. It often had a spear tip at the top of the haft as well, to add versatility. Many commoners would have been familiar with the weapon. It was based on an agricultural bill, after all.

*Additionally, it is paramount that you note that while spearwalls were effective against cavalry charges, they were just as much of a deterrent as they were a weapon. If a spear formation was used to great effect against mounted Knights, often times the 1st, 2nd, and even 3rd ranks of spearmen were still killed or wounded. Even if you killed the horse or Knight, that is still 2,000 pounds of steel and muscle barreling towards you at top speed. There is a very good chance many of the spearmen would be crushed, or perhaps skewered by the (probably still alive) Knight and his lance.

Essentially, the relationship between a spearwall and heavy cavalry was a game of chicken. One that heavily armored and disciplined Knights often played much more boldly than peasants wielding spears, which is one reason why the mounted Knight dominated the Medieval battlefield. Both the Knight and the peasant knew that even if the peasant managed to wound or kill the horse, there was a very real possibility that after the first few ranks of spearmen are crushed, the Knight will be alive and well enough to get back up and begin hewing the lightly armed and armored peasants down.

My absolute favorite weapon. The Axe has the cleaving power of a sword combined with the near the blunt power of a club. It's been a very popular weapon throughout history, and was used to great effect by civilizations such as the Egyptians, the Danes, and the Native Americans with the famous Tomahawk. It was a cheap weapon, easy to make and field, and deadly in its use.

However despite it's strengths, Axes had plenty of weaknesses. There are no treatises known of Axemanship, and if there ever were they have been lost to history. Which means we have no idea how the Axe was used in the medieval era, at least when speaking of techniques. However modern HEMA people have experimented with the Axe and have come up with more than a few conclusions on how best to use it.

Bluntly speaking, if you are unarmored with a long handled axe, and you're fighting an unarmored man with an arming sword, you're probably going to lose if you are of equal skill. The sword generally has longer reach, is much more varied in defensive capabilities, and will probably be a more nimble weapon. Of course, you can block and redirect a sword by treating the Axe haft like a short quarterstaff, but best case scenario, you both die in the end. Always remember that an Axe is generally inferior to a sword when it comes to defensive useage. A sword can block while attacking simultaneously, a sword has hand protection, a sword has greater reach, etc.

Now add shields, and the game changes. Its the primary contention that the Axe, an almost purely offensive weapon, will lose all of its weaknesses and keep its offensive capabilities when coupled with a shield. In my opinion, the axe actually gains a slight edge in shield combat against the sword because of the ability to hook the enemy shield and pull your foe off balance.

Allow the scene to shift again. It's the late 14th or early 15th century, and you and your opponent are armored Knights on foot in combat. You're holding a two handed Battleaxe, and your foe has a longsword. Your foe would feel a great sense of trepidation at fighting you. An armored Knight would not want to be hit by such a weapon, even if his brigandine or plate armor would keep him alive for the first swing or two. He'd be wounded, or at best his armor would be dented and breaking. Most late Medieval Battleaxes also had armor piercing spikes at its top or behind the Axehead.

In fact, keep in mind two handed Axes became a weapon in Europe before the two handed sword. The great Danish Axe was wielded during the time of Chainmail and wool padding in the 11th century. The men still had shields, but oftentimes they were on their backs and only unfastened when need be.

One more thing to note, all one handed Axes were much easier to be used as a missile weapon than any sword. As long as you knew how, throwing an Axe was a very easy thing to do.


This section is not about the common club, which many associate as a 'low tier' mace. This is about the proper weapon and its variations/cousin weapons. However, I will note that the mace grew from the club, and stone headed maces were used nearly 8 millennia ago. Now, in this overview of the mace and its kind, I am going to merely give notes to keep in mind for the weapons.

  • The proper European mace first began to appear in the early 10th century, and was particularly popular in eastern Europe throughout the Medieval era. Once Chainmail grew into popularity, it became quite apparent that blows from edged weapons like swords were less effective than they had been against padded armor.
  • Flail chains were shorter than the hafts of the weapon, so the instrument at the end of the chain did not strike your hand as you wielded it. Also in order to use flails effectively, it was important to keep the head of the weapon constantly swinging. It was also important you were heavily armored if using said weapon.
  • Hammers have been used as makeshift weapons since antiquity, but the proper 'Warhammer' truly came into its own in the 15th century. It was a great, two handed weapon. It was unwieldy and hefty, and in order to use it without harming yourself, you would almost certainly be wearing plate armor. However it was incredibly devastating against enemy armor, and even shields. Other than the poleaxe, this was the deadliest weapon on the battlefield to an armored Knight. I have not seen hard evidence of this, but some have claimed that English longbowmen used mauls and warhammers as close combat weapons, because they would be fighting French Knights if they fought anyone up close, and the overdeveloped muscles of the longbowmen made them give powerful blows. Don't take this account as gospel, however. [1] The story of English yeomen comes from the stakes they planted in the ground in front of them, famously at Agincourt. The hammers they used to beat the stakes into the ground are said to have been used as an improvised weapon.
  • [2]However, the length of warhammers varied; there are instances of warhammers of polearm-length, and also short, one-handed hammers sometimes called horseman's picks, or war picks. The latter looked something like this: a short, one-handed weapon not too dissimilar from everyday construction hammers or icepicks. At one end is a flat, or slightly pronged end for blunt blows, and on the reverse, a sharp point for piercing through armor. These sorts of weapons were seen as early as the 14th century.
  • Flanged maces became popular when plate armor appeared as well, the 'flanges' or ridges were very effective at penetrating plate with a well aimed blow.
  • In many fantasy realms, the mace is often associated with the clergy, and profess to base this on real life. While it's a trope I enjoy, there is very little evidence to suggest this was actually the case. In fact the only evidence to my knowledge is Bishop Odo of Bayeux wielding a mace at the Battle of Hastings in the Bayeux Tapestry.
  • The mace, and in particular the morningstar, (the spiked or studded version of the mace) was considered a 'Knightly' weapon. Which means it was popular for men who could afford heavy armor and less nimble weapons to use, because it was simple yet effective at crushing both bones and brigandines.
  • Something to note about maces, and also Axes, was that halting the weapon arm of a percussive weapon user is not nearly as smart as halting the arm of, say, a knife wielder, for the weapon had much of its power at its head and will continue on its path to hit you.
  • A note about cavalry. Some sources indicate Cavalry used maces with shorter hafts than the average infantryman, which is an oddity considering it would be hard to hit someone off of a horse if you yourself could not reach them. Though there is an argument that the shorter haft allowed better control over the weapon on a bucking horse. I have also seen claims that throwing maces was a common practice from horseback, and while I would take this with a grain of salt, I won't dismiss it as rumor either.

[1][2] Have been added by @Aristo
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Hidden 3 yrs ago 3 yrs ago Post by POOHEAD189
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POOHEAD189 Warrior

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Ranged Weapons

Bow & Arrow
The Warbow is an interesting and pivotal invention introduced to warfare. A weapon that allows men to harm those who they cannot reach themselves otherwise, truly changes the game. The bow alters how one views tactics, numbers, terrain, and even the art of science, engineering, and mathematics. Archery also introduced other means of ranged attack, particularly with the development of siege units. Those shall be looked upon in a future article. For now, personnel weapons will be discussed.

Archery was a learned skill, much like a blacksmith's craft (though while blacksmith's often worked for settlements, archers worked for Lords and Kings, so the pay was proportionate). Whereas the usage of a shield in mass warfare required little training to make an effective shield wall, simply needing to hold the instrument up in a line to be used effectively. The bow needed to be correctly aimed, trajectory correctly guessed, units needed to fire in a uniform volley at (roughly) the same area, etc. In most cultures, the archer was a class set separate from the common soldier, though often not to the status of a Knight or a Noble. Many bowmen were yeoman, or land owners. Because of their training and skill with a bow, and due to their military service, an archer was allowed to own a limited portion of land and perhaps even have a few serfs in his employ. Of course there were exceptions. In England, there was a time where every able bodied young man was forced into learning archery, because it was such an important tool in the way the country waged war.

In this article, I will mention the 'Self Bow' and the 'Laminated/Composite' bow. The Self Bow was a bow with a single piece of wood/material used in the making of the bow stave. This bow was most common around Europe. The Composite Bow was made in a different fashion, with different materials laminated together to create a strong stave. I will go into further detail below.

Short Bow: There aren't any treatises of the short bow, nor are there much mention of them in primary sources, nor do any survive to this day (that I know of). That is because the short bow was not a unique invention of note, for it had been used for thousands of years before the proper medieval era. A common tool to hunt, or for self defense. The short bow was nonetheless deadly and put to effective use in both the dark ages and medieval Europe. Estimation would be at least over 50 pounds with the draw weight, for it was built to take down lightly armored men, or big game such as Elk.

Composite Bow: The Composite Bow was made of horn, wood, and sinew. Together they made a stronger stave than the Short Bow, even though they shared relatively the same size. The Composite Bow was often a 'recurve' as well, where the tips of the stave were curved backwards to further add to the drawing weight, increasing its power. It was popular on horseback as well as foot, due to its compatibility, and incredible stopping power for its short size. However Composite Bows had certain weaknesses. It was difficult to make one larger, for the intense power could rip the various materials apart. It would also break apart relatively easily in humidity, which is why it was so prevalent in the dry Middle East. Armies would need to wrap their staves in leather or thick cloth if it began to rain to keep its quality.

LongBow: The Longbow was a tall instrument, the stave five to six feet long. It was technically a Self Bow, with yew, elm, or ash used to create the stave. However the heartwood at the center of it would create a natural 'laminate,' so while the same material was used, the yew/ash/elm would overlap as if it were a laminated/composite bow.

Most believe that only the English used the Longbow, but in fact it was used throughout Europe from the 13th century onward. However it was the English that used it to devastating effect, particularly in the '100 Years War.' The bow is thought to have originated in Wales, and the Welshman often used ash, despite yew being often perceived as the best choice.

The Longbow is a source of much contention and argument over many would-be historians and military buffs. The lesser argument is poundage and range, and the one that starts the most shit was if it was or was not armor piercing. I shall discuss those two topics now.

  • What poundage does a Longbow have? Some historians believe the Longbow was merely 90 pounds of draw weight, though that's an unpopular opinion and I myself find it horseshit. Archeological studies of the enlarged shoulders of the Longbowmen for drawing such incredible weights could not occur with just 90 pounds being drawn. Some go as high as 180 pounds, and while this might be possible, it would take too long to train an army to use such a weight. The primary sources indicate between 130 and 160, depending on the Bowyer.

    Most modern recreation Longbows can fire up to 200 yards, however a 'Mary Rose' replica bow can fire 272-360 yards depending on the length and weight of the arrow. A flight arrow of a professional archer of Edward III's time would reach 400 yards, reportedly. It is also reported that no practice range was allowed to be less than 220 yds by order of Henry VIII.
  • Can Longbow arrows pierce plate armor? The answer is relatively simple: Very unlikely, but it's not impossible. Now you'll hear some accounts indicate that Longbow arrows have killed men by shooting them in the face, however there are no named men who died to arrow wounds in the face without their visors being lifted and their faces exposed.
    The '100 Years War' is often used to prove that the Longbow could or could not pierce plate, due to varying accounts of the battles. It's well known the English dominated the first half of the war due to its use of the Longbow, while the archers were protected by heavy Infantry. However it's important to note that most medieval armies, including the French army in the 14th and 15th centuries, were not all men in full plate armor. Most were more lightly armored and common soldiers, wearing brigandines and chainmail, with little to no protection to their necks, or extremities. In the famous battle of Agincourt, the Longbow was indeed instrumental for victory. However so was the terrain making the French Knights tired, as well as the English infantry capitalizing on it, and the fact that many French horses died from the volleys of the arrows. Many of the Knights, the men in plate armor, made it to the English lines and were captured. In fact so many were alive and captured that Henry V had them executed once rounded up (which was against the rules of war at the time) because if they gained cohesion, there was enough of them alive to overwhelm the English forces. This entails that many men in plate armor did not die from Longbow arrows. However, note that even though the Longbow has considerable power, its main usage in a 'volley' fire makes the poundage less important (though not completely) because gravity is then its main source of momentum. Now, with a straight shot? The Battle of Crecy does have a quote where arrows were fired into the French ranks, and the thinner parts of the Knight's armor were pierced by Longbow arrows. Though it was seen as a rare and extraordinary thing.

    Now, let's do a small math problems. If you have 100 Longbowmen and 100 men in plate armor, 100 meters from one another, and have the infantrymen charge? An English Longbowmen can fire once every 7 seconds (if pressed), and let's say it will take 4 volleys for the Knights to reach them. Now, let us say that the Knightly armor is very effective against the arrows, so out of 100 Knights, only 5 die per volley due to hitting weak points in the armor. By the time the Knight's reach the archers, a quarter of them are now dead. That is a significant portion of their number, so even if Plate is effective enough to block it, tactics are important.

    However, to conclude, if you are wearing plate armor, you should feel fairly safe even when against a Longbow arrow.

The Crossbow was employed in warfare far earlier in China than in Europe, showing up in the west around the 11th century. It was used all over Europe, but it gained true popularity in the Italian City States of Milan and Genoa. Now we're going to discuss the strengths of the crossbow, and then its weaknesses next.

Due to the fact the Crossbow can remain drawn, and the strength of arm in the draw is not a factor, the crossbow is inherently a more powerful weapon than the traditional bow. A crossbow's poundage was often 200 pounds or more. The weapon was armor piercing, able to punch through all but the thickest parts of armor in a straight shot at good range. It was also relatively easy to learn how to use, and in fact it was far, far easier to be trained in than with a traditional bow. It would only take a few hours to get accustomed to loading, firing, and reloading a crossbow. Not only that, but even though it is a cumbersome weapon, it's also compact and one does not need the dexterity wielding it they would need with a bow. Therefore, it was easier for crossbowmen to wear heavy armor.

However there were glaring weaknesses. The crossbow was only good in a straight shot. To fire a group of crossbows in a volley, you would be hard pressed to wound an enemy much less kill them. Which meant if you did not have a clear line of sight, the crossbow was almost meaningless. You could not volley fire over walls, only shoot those you had a clear line of sight with. The crossbow was also far slower to load than a traditional bow, which can mean the difference between victory and defeat in many battles. Furthermore, it's more cumbersome and much heavier than a bow.

While most Historians agree that Pope Innocent the II in 1139 banned the crossbow for it's 'barbarity,' some still do contest it so I wouldn't advise thinking it gospel. Just something to keep in mind. Now, there was 4 different types of crossbow, based upon how they are reloaded. The first is the 'Stirrup,' a crossbow with a stirrup to put your foot in at its end to help load. The next is the 'Ratchet,' using a lever operated system with crossbows that was more powerful than the stirrup. The 'Claw' Crossbow was an upgrade from the Stirrup, using both a stirrup and a 'claw' at one's belt to grip the crossbow string, using your back to help the reloading process. The most powerful reloading mechanism was used in the most powerful crossbow, the Arbalest. It was called the 'Windlass' mechanism [1](developed in the 15th century), rotating twin wheels much like a bicycle to pull the string back.

[1]There were variations of these reloading mechanisms as well, mixing and matching various ones over the centuries. Here is a good, accurate link to the different types, with information on them besides.

Primitive Firearms
Seeing as this is a 'Medieval Guide,' I'll not go very in-depth with firearms. However I will give a general idea of their usage in the Medieval era. Now, the first true firearm that wasn't simply a miniature cannon, was the Arquebus. It was a match-lit, 'hook gun' because it was often mounted on a hook to better help with the recoil of its firing. It was lit by a slow fuse, and it would ignite the gunpowder. The (hopefully) controlled explosion inside would launch the ball out of the barrel at high speeds.

As most history buffs know, primitive firearms were not very effective in battle. They were prone to blowing up in their trooper's face, they took forever to reload, and they were relatively expensive at their first conception. They also had terrible range. A long barreled Arquebus had a similar (though somewhat worse) range than the modern 9mm handgun, the maximum range of which was 50 yards, and the effective range being 20 yards. Though keep in mind, within a century after its inception, muskets grew far more accurate over longer ranges, though it took another century or two before they could equal the Longbow's effective distance.

The reason for its usage in warfare, despite being initially far inferior to the Longbow and Crossbow, and even the shortbow in many respects, was its power and damage to enemy morale. If an enemy unit grew close enough, within 20 yards, a primitive firearm had a decent chance of piercing most armor and providing a very different, concussive wound than a ranged weapon that used a bolt or an arrow. Furthermore, the average soldier was not used to such a thunderous crack of weapon fire, and the uncertainty of where the weapon would hit, giving a devastating blow to morale.

The Matchlock mechanism was created in 1475 (though Arquebus with a simpler design were made around the year 1400) and was the first gun to use a 'trigger.'


The single most important innovation in Medieval Warfare was armor. It was not decoration, nor was it costume. It was practical equipment made to keep the wearer alive. It allowed you to close distance with someone who you might not usually be able to close distance with. If you wore certain types of armor, a swordsman can now be as effective, or even more effective, than a spearman, because you can now move past the spear point unhurt (or relatively unhurt) and gain the advantage in close quarters with your shorter weapon. With certain types of armor, percussive weapons (Battle Axes, Warhammers, etc.) or less nimble swords like the Falchion, lose many of their faults and keep most of their virtues, becoming devastating. With armor, your life can be saved, you can keep yourself from being crippled, you can turn the tide in a fight. Armor. Is. Paramount. In medieval warfare.

Just as with the sword, the development of larger and better armor took several centuries, from padded wool, to Chainmail, to the Coat of Plates, to Plate Armor. I cannot stress enough how important armor was. It shaped the development of weapons and tactics, and even fashion and style. Speaking of which, while this guide is here to provide you with useful information, I am not a stickler for if you choose to ignore a fact or two. Experts often argue that the Helmet is generally the most important piece of armor one could wear (though some contend that the breastplate was), and if you could only choose one piece, choose the helmet (there is a reason Motorcyclists wear helmets and not chest protection) however, my characters in role plays don't often wear helmets, despite me being accurate in most other forms of clothing. So, while the information below will provide you with facts, don't feel bogged down by them. This is merely to help you be more realistic in your period attire, and in practical usage of medieval equipment in combat!

Cloth Armor
No such thing. Shut up...
Ok by that I mean, there was never any clothing or robes that were considered armor. There were various small variations, such as folding your cloak around your free forearm in order to help guard against a slash as you dueled someone, but generally speaking no. However, whereas your average clothing was not used, there was something very popular in the medieval era called-

Gambeson. It was used either on its own, or under chainmail/plate armor, the Gambeson was a thick jacket that could doubly serve for a winter coat. It was made by what we call 'quilting' (the process of sewing two or more layers of fabric together to make a thicker padded material), and its inner layers were filled with various things, such as wool or horsehair. Due to how thick the Gambeson was, it was surprisingly good at protection, though of course men often needed heavier armor to get the job done.

Leather Armor

Now, you Rogue/Mage fans out there will be familiar with leather armor. If you enjoy Elder Scrolls or Dungeons and Dragons, you'll be quite at home using such material for protection. However, they have a more 'modern' and 'urban' feel to how you can make a character and interact with the world. If you're looking for an historically accurate representation of armor on the medieval battlefield, leather armor was almost nonexistent in Medieval Europe, and was only used when there was nothing better in the east. Leather, while thick, is not nearly enough protection for a soldier. Any determined cut from a sword, or any real kind of thrust from a dagger could pierce leather. Simple as that. However, leather was often better than nothing, and was also used to add padding to other armor. The two types of leather armor were Rawhide/Buff leather, which needs no real explanation. As well as Cuir bouilli, or 'boiled leather,' the historically accurate method of making it now lost to history, though many have attempted to recreate it and have come up with practical results and made tough material. Now, here are some leather armor your poor soldier, or rogue might use.

Laminar: While Laminar armor was not always made of leather, it was not uncommon. Laminar armor is an armor made of horizontal, overlapping rows of scale plates made of various material. It was popular throughout the Middle East and Asia. If you think of Japanese foot soldier, or a Roman foot soldier's armor often called lorica segmentata, this is it.

Lamellar: It's hard to distinguish the difference between Lamellar and Laminar, being essential also made of horizontal rows of plates. However, they were often laced together and not overlapping, and this armor was often worn over padding underneath. So this would be the type a Japanese foot soldier would wear, yet not what a Roman one would wear. So essentially, it could be considered a subtype of Laminar.

Buff Coat: Worn in the late Medieval and Renaissance period, it's a sleevless jacket made of leather to help guard against cuts, popular with poorly equipped pikeman, or as a civilian protective garb. Important to note it was made with very, very thick leather. Much thicker than in popular media, and this was one reason why the arms were not covered or protected. It would impede movement heavily.

Jerkin: Used by hunstmen to help protect their vital organs against a medium sized or smaller wild animal, or a stray accident in the woods. Sometimes used in fashion as well by various civilian classes, high to low.

Used as the pinnacle of protection during the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th centuries, only the wealthy could afford it and was favored by Knights until later centuries, where foot soldiers wore it, or Knights wore it under their plate armor to aid in protecting their weak spots. Unbeknownst to many, chainmail was not a single layer, but usually 3 to 4 layers of chain links to better protect against arrows and thrusts, for if one layer was pierced, the other layers would wind around it, lessening the concussive damage. Though even with this, it wasn't perfect protection against thrusts and piercing attacks, and was mostly used for guarding against cuts and slashes. Chainmail usually weighed between 20 and 25 pounds (9 to 11 Kilograms). It was one of the few pieces of armor that didn't make one overly hot, for the chain links could 'breathe' still.

Coat of Plates
A very interesting piece of armor, only used for a relatively short period of time. However it was paramount in the evolution of European armor, for after 70 odd years of use in the 14th century, it led to a split in armor. The light 'Bringandine' and the heavier 'Plate' armor were its ancestors. However, onto business.

The Coat of Plates is a form of segmented torso armor made of overlapping metal plates riveted inside a cloth or leather garment. Essentially many plates of metal placed very close with one another, almost like very large scales, worn atop a jacket that kept it all together. If you're looking for a (admittedly poor) representation of the armor in media, think of the scale-like armor English foot soldiers wore in the movie Braveheart.

Odd that the Brigandine is not shown often in media, for it was a pivotal part of late medieval warfare, particularly the 15th and early 16th centuries. A development of the 'Coat of Plates,' the Brigandine was essentially a cuirass made of smaller, overlapping riveted plates. There were slightly larger plates over the rib section to better protect vital areas, and giving the curiass a domed shape. The Brigandine was a very effective piece of armor, able to withstand most cuts and thrusts, only really being vulnerable from very strong attacks like a Lance from a charging Knight, Warhammers, straight shot heavy ranged weaponry, etc. It only covered the chest, and while it was less flexible than mail, it was far more flexible than Plate Armor.

It was a piece of armor used by Halberdiers, Archers, and more common foot soldiers. With the less rigid breastplate, and with a man's arms and legs free, he could freely shoot a bow, wield a polearm effectively, dig holes, set up fortifications, etc. while still being fairly well protected. Often if a soldier wanted more protection for his arms and legs, he would wear a chainmail hauberk underneath the Brigandine. Coupled with a helmet, most of a man's vital areas were well protected. It was also easy to put on without a servant, unlike the heavier Plate Armor, for the straps were located on its front, not its back.

Plate Armor
Now I could talk about the cuirass, the pauldrons, the greaves, but I'll save that for a future article. For now we'll talk about the general facts of plate armor.

The pinnacle of Medieval armor, though the least flexible with the poorest field of vision without the visor up. Plate Armor often weighed between 30 and 40 pounds (13-18 Kilograms), and while that was fairly heavy compared to other armor, Plate Armor as well as Chainmail was spread around the entire body, so it was very much unlike simply holding 30-40 pounds in one spot. So while marching in it all day could be fairly taxing, the weight was not a problem in a single engagement, or even a few hours of useage (unless its heavy combat). What was a problem was heat being caught in the armor, as well as the fact that it took a servant to help put the armor on effectively. However, once all of the pieces were on, there were very few situations where you would be the underdog in a fight being clad head to toe in plate. Good armor could even protect a man from primitive firearms and other armor piercing weapons at its thickest parts. Often times, Gambesons or Chainmail were worn under plate to protect the few vulnerable areas of the armor, such as under the armpit. Now as the medieval era progressed, advances in metallurgy, as well as metal being more plentiful, allowed experimentation with larger sets of metal armor, eventually transforming into the full plate. Fun fact, at the pinnacle of the medieval era, plate armor was often heated and formed like a sword blade.

It is important to note that even at the High Medieval Era, Plate Armor was an expensive investment. Knights had to provide for the armor themselves, and it was virtually impossible for a peasant or lower class soldier to afford the armor without extraordinary means. [3]

Special thanks to @Kassarock [1] & @Aristo [2] for reading over and adding suggestions! (@PrinceAlexus reminded me of how expensive plate armor was!) [3]

The next article will be a more in-depth look at Swords!

Please, do not comment. PM me with suggestions, additions, or ideas for future articles after!
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