One of the dominant forces in early Medieval Europe
were the Franks. In the beginning of the 9th century under their king Charlemagne, this
warlike tribe conquered much of what is now France, Germany, and Italy. In accomplishing
such a feat, the Franks used the common weapons of the time. These primarily consisted of
a simple lance and sword. With some variation, these would become the common weapons of
the medieval knight. The Frankish warrior also used a new and improved shield. Where as
before a small, circular shield was preferred, the Franks found that a longer shield that
covered significantly more of the body was better at deflecting lance blows.
Another group would also make its presence known in Europe during this
period. These were the Vikings, who hailed from Scandinavia and had a major impact in
France, England, and several other places. The spear was the common weapon of the ordinary
Viking, while the sword was a weapon that was mainly used by Viking chiefs. In order to
make the sharpest, strongest sword available, they developed a new process. Combining
"innumerable strands of steel and iron hammered together," a sword was created
that was perfect for their needs (Nickel 46). The example of a Viking sword at the Met has
silver on the hilt and pommel that was thought to ward-off any magic spells.
common medieval foot soldier used a variety of weapons. Commonly in defensive positions,
they made use of long pikes or spears. Knights on horseback would certainly have a harder
time riding into an enemy position while having to avoid pikemen. These weapons came in a
variety of styles and shapes. Some might have one single metal implement on top, while
others had several, like a long spear in the middle and ax type instrument on the side.
The Swiss in particular became very adept with the pike, and many countries hired them as
mercenaries. Other common weapons were the sword and battle ax.
Two other important weapons were the bow and crossbow. The bow of course
was a very ancient weapon, but it was still useful in medieval Europe. This fact was
certainly made apparent with the development of the English longbow during the reign of
the Plantagenets. The bow would be about the same height as the archer. The force that
could be generated was enough so that an arrow could penetrate armor, a fact which was
made clear during the Hundred Years War when English archers dispatched of many French
knights at such battles as Crecy (1346) and Agincourt (1415). Modern estimates have
concluded that a good longbowman could hit a target 200 yards distant (Funcken 88).
The crossbow was first used in the
mid-10th century (Funcken 92). Although the Catholic Church tried to stop its use because
of its deadly effects, many countries continued to employ the crossbow. One advantage this
weapon had over the bow was that a relatively untrained soldier could use it. Little
physical strength was also needed, and it could penetrate armor as well as an arrow could.
Unfortunately, the crossbow and its supplies were rather heavy, and it could obviously not
be loaded as fast as the longbow. Its range was also not as good as the bow. Towards the
end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance, the use of the crossbow began
to die out. It was last used in France in the mid 1500's.