What was the standard weapon of classical antiquity - medieval times?

#1
I recall reading in some forum that spears - and not swords, were the to go weapon of the classical period up untill the end of medieval. They used pikes and bayonets later on - but im more concerned about the period between the Roman republic and the beginning of the renaissance.

How many swords will we be seeing in a typical roman era battle? And later on the dark ages and high and late medieval? Were maces more common? Battle hammers? Spears? Does the sword deserve its status as one of the symbols of the medieval period?

And is it true that samurais fought more with spears and bows than the katanas? Did the samurais use katanas in battle or only in dueling?
 

pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
9,267
#2
The Spear I think early. Simple , fairly cheap, easy to use , versatile, cavalry and infantry weapon. The Sword after that, more expensive, and primarily for most troops a side arm.
 
Apr 2010
2,597
Loch na Seilg, Alba
#5
Swords were very expensive to produce and were reserved for high-end soldiers or the nobility, plus the proper use of one took years, if not decades to learn. They were also largely ineffective compared to what we see in movies, being easy to break and inferior against plate armour. By contrast, any schmuck can build and wield a spear, mace, or cudgel effectively, with the spear by far being the most popular instrument.

Does anyone here know the spear - sword - mace - whatever ratio?
There's no exact science so it's impossible to say. However spears vastly outnumbered those two combined, and in comparison there'd be very few swords indeed.
 
#6
Swords were very expensive to produce and were reserved for high-end soldiers or the nobility, plus the proper use of one took years, if not decades to learn. They were also largely ineffective compared to what we see in movies, being easy to break and inferior against plate armour. By contrast, any schmuck can build and wield a spear, mace, or cudgel effectively, with the spear by far being the most popular instrument.



There's no exact science so it's impossible to say. However spears vastly outnumbered those two combined, and in comparison there'd be very few swords indeed.
So why we see swords so much in the media? Even if you count out the movies and games, documentries like Rise and Fall show alot of swords.

And what about the Roman Empire? The romans legionnaires used swords, and i see in documentries (like rise and fall) that the barbarians used them as well.
 
Apr 2010
2,597
Loch na Seilg, Alba
#7
So why we see swords so much in the media?
Because the duels (which, as we know them, are also a product of fiction) look cool. That's literally it.

And what about the Roman Empire? The romans legionnaires used swords
Roman legionnaires of certain types used swords. Others used spears, and a variety of other weapons over the centuries. They actually had the resources and material needed, and the required training, so that's entirely consistent with what I said.

and i see in documentries (like rise and fall) that the barbarians used them as well
Used them, yes, but they weren't the mainstay of any 'barbarian' armies. Pictish swords especially were known for being brittle and prone to bending, and reserved for the nobility only.
 
#8
Because the duels (which, as we know them, are also a product of fiction) look cool. That's literally it.



Roman legionnaires of certain types used swords. Others used spears, and a variety of other weapons over the centuries. They actually had the resources and material needed, and the required training, so that's entirely consistent with what I said.



Used them, yes, but they weren't the mainstay of any 'barbarian' armies. Pictish swords especially were known for being brittle and prone to bending, and reserved for the nobility only.


So the nobility were the main users of swords? Did they use it because when you could spend enough money on a sword it was worth it, because a sword was cutting down peasents on mounted combat - or because they were, as you said - just cool?
 

Zeno

Ad Honoris
Jan 2010
13,691
♪♬ ♫♪♩
#9
I recall reading in some forum that spears - and not swords, were the to go weapon of the classical period up untill the end of medieval. They used pikes and bayonets later on - but im more concerned about the period between the Roman republic and the beginning of the renaissance.

How many swords will we be seeing in a typical roman era battle? And later on the dark ages and high and late medieval? Were maces more common? Battle hammers? Spears? Does the sword deserve its status as one of the symbols of the medieval period?

And is it true that samurais fought more with spears and bows than the katanas? Did the samurais use katanas in battle or only in dueling?
In my region, the Southern Low Countries, during the mediëval ages the "goeiendag" became prevalent. "Goeiendag" means "good day". City militia would often be armed with them. It was a combination between a club and a pike, and could be used to take down armed Knights from their horses. In 1302 famously at the battle of the Golden Spurs a Flemish militia army on foot, armed with goeiendags defeated the French knightly army

edit: i just looked up the etymology of goeiendag, and the "dag" part isn't from the Dutch word for "day", but from a cognate of English "dagger". So it means "good dagger", rather than "good day". Apologies.
 
Last edited:
Oct 2012
8,545
#10
Does anyone here know the spear - sword - mace - whatever ratio?
I recall in Ian Mortimer's The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England that he referenced laws of the time that required different classes of people to own certain types of weapons and armour, largely in line with their financial means. I did a quick Google search, but couldn't quickly find reference to these laws online. If you looked up these laws, then looked up the demographics of the time, you could probably get a good estimate of percentages of a given type of weapons in the English army in the 14th century. Sure, there were some outliers, but I suspect most people spent the minimum amount of money they could get away with in arming themselves, other expenses like food taking a higher priority, especially amongst the lower classes.
 

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