Medieval Europe – Arms and Armor

What were weapons like in the Middle Ages? Were they all crude implements designed only to be used by force? Not quite. There was thought behind the weapons used by Knights, foot soldiers, and archers. The diverse assortment included baton, battle axe, caltrops, crossbow, flail, halberd, longbow, mace, spear, swords and war hammer.

So, what of protection against these tools? The Spangenhelm was the most common helmet in the early medieval period. Shields were either oval or round, fashioned of light wood and covered with leather and with metallic mountings lining the rims. Body armor was typically a short-sleeved mail shirt of interlocking iron rings (byrnie) or a garment made of overlapping scales of bronze, iron or horn.

Towards the end of the 12th century, the great helm, a flat-topped helmet featuring side plates, became popular among the Knights. Early 13th century witnessed further upgrades to armor such as mail for the legs (chausses), leather or steel pieces for the knees (kneecops), and small quadrangular pieces of leather or wood for shoulder joints (ailettes).

As medieval armor improved, so did weapons. For instance, a 14th-century crossbow could pierce armor and shields. To counter this and other advancements in weaponry, a poncho-like coat with rectangular plates came into vogue, and plate armor was developed for the arms, hands, and legs. Also, a new helmet with a movable visor joined the great helm. The shield was gradually phased out as body armor reached new heights and the early 15th century witnessed, for the first time, the Knight in complete head-to-toe shining armor.

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