A Course in Weapons for Writers – PART 2: Blades & Blunts Weapons – by M. C. Torrent (Aka Chief)

Weapons post, part two! Yay (my muse says ‘nay’). In short, we’ll be covering medieval weapons from mostly the west, though I’ve thrown in a few non-western weapons for cultural variety. When I say medieval times, I’m talking about the 700-year period roughly between 1000 AD and 1700 AD. Now, technology didn’t advance so fast back then, so for the most part, weapons and the such stayed similar until the invention of the rifle in the late 1600s (which I might get into a bit later depending on how long this post ends up being). But if you’re still reading this intro, I applaud you and direct you now to the actual thing. Onward!

Longswords – probably the most common sword you’ve seen, except it’s not because everything Hollywood taught you about swords is wrong. A longsword was used in the Middle Ages from around about the 1200s and were typically over a metre long. They often weighed upwards of 2kg, too, making them TWO-HANDED weapons due to their size. Invented to pierce through plate steel, they often ended on extremely sharp tips and were primarily used for stabbing instead of slashing.


Arming swords/shortswords – they’re most likely the types of swords you see in medieval movies and in lots of fantasy-related settings. A decent length shorter than longswords, the longest arming swords would probably have been no longer than 75-ish cm. They were designed to be wielded as one-handed weapons so the other hand could be left free, either to hold a shield or grapple an opponent.


Bastard swords – as the name suggests, this weapon is pretty much the bastard kid of the longsword and arming sword, to put it bluntly. They were a somewhat versatile weapon, with a length similar to that of the longsword but designed to be wielded with one or two hands. They’re definitely my personal fave after falchions (see below).


Katanas – we all know this one. They are most famous for being the weapon of choice of the Japanese Samurai during the Shogun era (which is not strictly medieval times but I had to I’m sorry), and quite frankly, they’re superior to western medieval swords in every possible way. Katanas are made with a specialised steel called tamahagane, created from a traditional smelting process which results in layered steel with different carbon concentrations. This helped to remove any impurities in the metal and even put carbon content in it, and I mean how cool is that c’mon. Katanas are some of the sharpest, if not the sharpest swords to exist, and they could probably split you in half without too much trouble.


Broadsword – broadswords are similar to longswords in length, but unlike longswords, they have a much wider blade, earning the name quite literally. This was not a weapon designed to pierce through plate steel, it was designed to hack through it. A broadsword is not particularly effective at piercing armour, in fact – the width of the blade would have made it difficult to punch through a thick layer of steel. Instead, it was designed to be swung, counting on its weight to hack people apart instead. Due to their size, they are considered two-handed weapons.


Falchions and cutlasses – The falchion is believed to have originated from the cutlass, which was commonly used as a weapon in the Middle East during medieval times. Both have slightly curved blades intended for slashing and one-handed use, and only one edge, but the cutlass was slightly shorter overall. Falchions were built similarly to maces and hammers, in that most of its weight was concentrated towards the tip of the blade, giving it extra power. My MC dual-wields a pair of falchions he’s rather fond of.


Zweihanders – This was a German sword used throughout the 1500s, and as its name suggests (for those who know German), it was a two-handed sword. It was the longest sword of its time at over two metres, and often weighed between 2-3 kg. Its reach meant that it was designed for fighting at range, as most other opponents would not be able to get close enough due to the sheer size of the sword. They were also cumbersome to wield (but of course), and their weight would have slowed their users’ movement significantly.


I think we’ll wrap up the swords there and move on, ’else we’ll be here all day and I’m sure you have better things to waste your time on. Next up, blunt weapons.


War hammers – As the name suggests yet again, this was a weapon shaped like a hammer and used for war. They were considered polearms due to their variable length, but as they are the only blunt polearm I’m aware of, I’m including them here. Shorter war hammers were very effective in close combat, as they were able to cause serious injury without penetrating armour, and the spike often found on the other side of the hammerhead made them a far more versatile weapon. The spike could be used to grapple opponents or smash through heavy armour, and the hammer itself could also be used against the legs of a horse to dismount its rider.


Maces – Due to chainmail being able to stop the blow from a bladed weapon or similar, maces became increasingly common due to their cheapness and straightforward application. In short, maces were weighted balls of stone, iron, copper, steel or bronze (depending on what was available) mounted on a wooden or metal shaft, and were designed to cause injury without penetrating armour. The flanged mace, however, a mace with ridges or ‘flanges’ around its head, allowed for good armour penetration. Maces were used throughout Europe, the Middle East and India due to their effectiveness in combat.


Flails – A flail is defined by a spiked ball or cylindrical head attached to a wooden shaft by a chain, rope or similar material. The two-handed flail was originally a piece of agricultural equipment used as improvised weapons by peasants and the working class, but was later likely modified with spikes or studs to be used by knights as military weaponry. In contrast, the one-handed ball-and-chain flail features a metal ball attached to a wooden haft (not shaft, mind you) by a chain, though the scarcity of sources for this weapon suggests that it didn’t see widespread use. It was likely not an effective weapon, either; a missed strike would either continue its momentum and possibly hit its user or otherwise put the user off-balance, leaving them open for attack.


That’s…probably all the blunt weapons I know of. I’d go into polearms for y’all too, but the truth is, I don’t know much about polearms beyond the pike, which was a really bloody long spear used primarily as a defence against cavalry. They were also surprisingly good weapons for close combat for trained pikemen, but I’m imagining that wielding a 6-metre-long stick isn’t the easiest thing in the world.


Anyways, love y’all, thanks for reading if you managed to get to the end, and Chiefy out.

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