<p></p> <p>Medieval weapons may look decidedly low-tech today, but back in the day they represented state-of-the-art battle gear that determined the fate of nations and changed the face of warfare.</p> <p>The tools and scale of battle may have changed, but the fundamentals have not. It was and is a grim, gritty business. And at the end of the day, the results are pretty much the same.</p> <p>The concept of an arms race is likewise no Johnnie-come-lately. Even back in the days of knights, castles and what passed for chivalry the name of the game was escalation. The dark side of the grail quest was trying to find new ways to wreak mayhem and get a leg up on your enemy.</p> <p>Here’s a tour of the best and brightest weaponry the Dark Ages had to offer.</p> <p></p>

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<p></p> <p><strong style="font-weight: bold;">Pike</strong></p> <p>Then and now, the foot soldier was at the bottom of the battlefield food chain. Like pawns in chess, they were the first line of defense. Pikes were long poles, usually 10 to 15 feet long, with a spearhead attached at the tip. They were used both to attack enemy foot soldiers and to defend against cavalry assaults.  They were good for keeping enemies at a distance, but were not of much use in close combat and hand-to-hand fighting. The genius of the pike is that it enabled armies to concentrate force and present a formidable line of defense.</p> <p></p>

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<p></p> <p><strong style="font-weight: bold;">Longbow</strong></p> <p>These bows were typically about six feet long and made from yew wood. They were very accurate over distances as long 400 yards, but required great strength to use because of the high force necessary to pull back the bow string to shoot an arrow. Because there was a tradeoff between range and accuracy, longbows were usually used to shoot a barrage of arrows that would rain down on enemy troops from the sky.  The <a href="">longbow</a> was a deciding factor in a number of English victories during the Hundred Years’ War, but began to fall into disuse with the increased use of plate armor that was difficult to penetrate. The advent of guns was the final nail in the longbow’s coffin.</p> <p></p>

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<p style="text-align: center;"></p> <p><strong style="font-weight: bold;">Broadsword</strong></p> <p>Atop the battlefield pecking order were the knights mounted on horseback. They were the Green Berets of their day with an estimated 10-to-1 fighting advantage over ordinary soldiers. The broadsword was their main tool-of-the-trade, a lethal two-edged <a href="">sword</a> that was three- to four-feet long and weighed between three and five pounds. It was used in close-contact fighting and could easily cut off an enemy’s limbs or head with one stroke. Gunpowder eventually usurped the broadsword’s primacy.</p> <p></p>

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<p style="text-align: center;"></p> <p><strong style="font-weight: bold;">Mail</strong></p> <p>With all the cutting and thrusting and arrows raining down, it was risky being a warrior in medieval times. Mail, a kind of armor made from linked small metal rings that formed a mesh, provided a measure, albeit a heavy one, of protection. Usually referred to as chainmail, it was effective against slashing blows from edged weapons such as swords, but didn’t provide much protection from crushing blows from blunt instruments such as maces and war hammers. Because of the cost of mail, it wasn’t standard issue for every soldier.</p> <p></p>

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<p></p> <p><strong style="font-weight: bold;">Plate Armor</strong></p> <p>Plate armor made of large metal plates (usually steel) covering the body soon supplanted chainmail because it afforded greater protection from a greater range of weapons. Though it may look heavy and unwieldy, an average suit of armor usually weighed less than the 60-pound-plus gear of a modern combat infantryman. Though effective against arrows and swords, plate <a href="">armor</a> was less effective in providing protection against blows from blunt-force weapons such as maces, war hammers and poleaxes. Eventually, the development of high-powered firearms consigned plate armor to museum display.</p> <p></p>

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<p></p> <p><strong style="font-weight: bold;">War Hammer</strong></p> <p>The growing use of plate armor posed a dilemma for medieval weapons makers. Their solution was the development of a variety of pole weapons with a heavy weight or spike attached to the end of the pole that could damage an enemy through blunt-force trauma in spite of the armor. The war hammer, which as the name suggests looks like a hammer with a long handle, was an especially effective member of this class of weapons. They could also be used against the legs of horses to topple mounted enemies.</p> <p></p>

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<p></p> <p><strong style="font-weight: bold;">Battering Ram</strong></p> <p>Battering rams relied on momentum and mass to knock down doors or break down fortifications. The mass came from the weight of a large log used as the battering ram and the momentum was provided by the people propelling the log against a door or fortification. Simple, but effective, the battering ram upped the ante in the arms race to build thicker and more effective fortifications. This is one medieval weapon that has passed the test of time with flying colors. Battering rams are still used by police and military forces to break down doors.</p> <p></p>

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<p></p> <p><strong style="font-weight: bold;">Catapult</strong></p> <p>If you can’t go through the door of a fortification with a battering ram, you can go over its walls with a catapult, a kind of giant slingshot. They’ve been used since ancient times to lay siege to fortified sites, hurling everything from rocks and burning material to diseased carcasses and decaying garbage in an early stab at biological warfare. Though <a href="">catapults</a> were gradually replaced by cannons as the method of choice for penetrating fortified buildings, they were used in war through World War I. Today catapults are used to launch airplanes from aircraft carriers and some unmanned drones on land.</p> <p></p>

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<p></p> <p><strong style="font-weight: bold;">Cannon</strong></p> <p>The use of gunpowder during the Middle Ages was a real tipping point for warfare. <a href="">Cannons</a> in particular revolutionized warfare both on land and at sea. They were used on land against foot soldiers and to lay siege to fortifications and on sea against ships and targets on shore. Their first real battlefield use came during the Hundred Years’ War when both the English and the French really got their caissons rolling along.</p> <p></p>

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<p></p> <p><strong style="font-weight: bold;">Hellburner</strong></p> <p>Hellburners were medieval versions of today’s weapons of mass destruction. An explosive take on the concept of fireships — old wooden scows set on fire and steered toward enemy ships to cause panic and fusion — hellburners were packed to the gunwales with gunpowder charges ignited by a delayed fuse mechanism.  Because their decks were set on fire when they were set on course, enemy sailors would believe they were conventional fireships and attempt to extinguish the fires. They were made painfully aware of the deception when the hellburners exploded violently. These floating bombs were used to great effect during the Eighty Years’ War between the Dutch Rebels and the Habsburgs.</p> <p> </p>

10 Medieval Weapons that Changed the Face of Warfare