Weapons and Armor of Medieval Street Gangs

Apr 2017
1,616
U.S.A.
What type of weapons, armor and shields (if any) would street gangs in medieval Europe (primarily central/western Europe 1000-1500 A.D.) use and/or carry? Would wearing armor or shields draw too much attention? As for weapons what could they carry/conceal without arousing suspicion?
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,455
Dispargum
Armor and shields were the exclusive domain of soldiers. They could not be easily concealed, and anyone seen carrying such items would immediately provoke suspicion. Criminals could not easily pass for soldiers. They travel in smaller groups than soldiers. They lack the full set of soldier equipment. They do not congregate where soldiers congregate. They do not know the jargon of soldiers, etc. Criminals best thrive in anonymity and shields and armor attract attention.


A criminal's weapons must easily be hidden, perhaps in plain sight: knives, blackjacks, maybe a small mace that could be concealed under a cloak. Or maybe a weapon that looks like something else - a walking stick that could be used as a club. Or a dual use item - an ax can be a weapon but it's also used to cut wood.


If a gang's victims are unarmed civilians, the gang would not need sophisticated weapons. If at war with an army (there were no police forces) then the criminals would never equal the army's proficiency with sophisticated weapons. In that situation the gang would be best served by adopting guerrilla tactics and avoiding battle in all but the most favorable conditions. Sophisticated weapons are a waste of resources for a street gang. Like the Kaiser's fleet - very expensive and all it did was get him into trouble.
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
4,745
Australia
Bearing a shield and/or armour in town would be regarded the same as if you walked down a city street today carrying an assault rifle and wearing military body armour.
 
Aug 2015
1,887
Los Angeles
Carrynig a shield and sword in town would be regarded the same as if you walked down a city street today carrying an assault rifle and wearing military body armour.
So a NRA rally? I joke. I think they say you can't do that in a NRA rally right?

I am curious though, if you own a sword and it's on your horse saddle, would that be as provocative as if you were to carry a sword? How about if that sword is sheathed?

Would a mercenary be able to take his weapons into a town?
 
May 2009
1,315
I think their weapons would've been of the primitive home-made variety-- rocks, slingshots, shivs, cudgels, slungshots (a rock or heavy object attached to a rope), maybe an ancient variety of brass knuckles, etc. Whatever they could make themselves and hide easily.
 

Matthew Amt

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
2,959
MD, USA
So, are there descriptions of these "street gangs"? If they existed, I would fully expect at least a few of them to be out-of-work soldiers--brigand groups were usually just unemployed mercenaries, maybe mixed with a few outlaws.

There really wasn't such a solid line between "soldier" and "civilian" back then. Many civilians served in local militias, and any merchant-class families of worth would have an array of retainers they could arm as needed. These were pretty much the ancestors of the modern mafia, after all! With folks like that around, I doubt many unattached street gangs would last long! Not to mention the local nobility would take a dim view of such ruffians.

In any case, I would guess cudgels and knives would suffice for basic muggings, or to get any fight started. But the bad guys would need to win fast before a lot of other hardware hit the street, from any number of directions.

Matthew
 

Edric Streona

Ad Honorem
Feb 2016
4,460
Japan
Knives, daggers, cudgels, clubs, quarterstaffs, agricultural equipment... possibly some swords... some may have bows. Civillian clothes.
 

Edric Streona

Ad Honorem
Feb 2016
4,460
Japan
Armor and shields were the exclusive domain of soldiers. They could not be easily concealed, and anyone seen carrying such items would immediately provoke suspicion. Criminals could not easily pass for soldiers. They travel in smaller groups than soldiers. They lack the full set of soldier equipment. They do not congregate where soldiers congregate. They do not know the jargon of soldiers, etc. Criminals best thrive in anonymity and shields and armor attract attention.


A criminal's weapons must easily be hidden, perhaps in plain sight: knives, blackjacks, maybe a small mace that could be concealed under a cloak. Or maybe a weapon that looks like something else - a walking stick that could be used as a club. Or a dual use item - an ax can be a weapon but it's also used to cut wood.


If a gang's victims are unarmed civilians, the gang would not need sophisticated weapons. If at war with an army (there were no police forces) then the criminals would never equal the army's proficiency with sophisticated weapons. In that situation the gang would be best served by adopting guerrilla tactics and avoiding battle in all but the most favorable conditions. Sophisticated weapons are a waste of resources for a street gang. Like the Kaiser's fleet - very expensive and all it did was get him into trouble.
The line between civillian and soldier is not so succinct over this period. Plenty of non serving men and boys would have some kind of weapon.
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
4,745
Australia
I would fully expect at least a few of them to be out-of-work soldiers--brigand groups were usually just unemployed mercenaries, maybe mixed with a few outlaws.
The word itself proves the point. The term "brigand" originally meant "foot soldier".