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A selection of medieval melee weaponry

Exploring medieval melee weapons


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In medieval times, combat was a lot closer at hand than modern day. On horseback or on foot, many soldiers met face-to-face to battle and needed the right weaponry to ensure they had a good chance of success. Here we’re looking more closely at these weapons, known as melee weaponry, and the different types a knight may have used.

What were melee weapons?

A melee weapon is another word for a hand weapon or close combat weapon. It is used for hand-to-hand combat and provides its user with an additional and highly impactful extension to their own fighting capabilities.

The word melee comes from the French ‘mêlée’ which refers to a highly disorganised battle or fight, involving many combatants. However, melee weapons are often sophisticated and chosen for their accuracy and effectiveness in close combat. Soldiers may have a range of melee weapons or be provided with a single weapon suitable for the battle. The choice of weapons also evolved and changed depending on trends and the armies fighting.

Categories of melee weapon

Melee weapons come in a diverse range of shapes and sizes but usually fall into one of the three following categories:

1. Pointed weapons

As the name suggests, pointed weapons are designed with a thrusting action in mind and the aim of inflicting penetrating trauma and damage. High quality pointed weapons will be able to cause damage even when the opponent is heavily armoured. Most pointed weapons are long, allowing the soldier to remain at a distance from their target. Pointed weapons are often suitable for horseback use as well and common types include spears, pikes and lances.

2. Blunt weapons

Blunt weapons rely upon blunt force to cause trauma and damage. They were useful as an alternative when pointed or edged weapons may have been less effective due to strong armour. Common types of blunt weapons included war hammers, flails, staves and maces.

3. Edged weapons

The final category of weapons is perhaps the most immediately recognisable to the contemporary eye. Edged weapons include swords, daggers, axes and scythes. They are likely the most traditional type of weapon you imagine when thinking about medieval battle and amongst the most commonly used. Edged weapons are designed to cut, stab and even dismember. They’re most suitable for battling the least armoured opponents.

>Other weapons, such as whips, don’t fit into any category.

Notable types of melee weapon

There are a wide range of melee weapons, many of which have a rich history. Here are three to examine more closely to explore their usage and popularity:


A mace is a simple blunt weapon that is highly effective. It utilises a heavy head attached to a handle to deliver blunt, traumatising blows. The mace is an evolution from a standard club and differentiates from a hammer as the head of a mace is radially symmetric. This allows for blows to be delivered effectively from any side of the head.

As it evolved a mace would combine a strong shaft or handle with a head made from stone, copper, iron or steel. The length of maces differed throughout the period. Foot soldiers would carry a much shorter mace than a horseman for example and two-handed maces could be even bigger and heavier to allow for an even more impactful blow.

The head of a mace was often spiked or ridged but this was not always the case.

2. Pike

A pike is a traditional pointed pole weapon. Very long in design, pikes were used extensively by infantry for attacking enemy foot soldiers and thrusting upwards towards cavalrymen. Pikes were a popular weapon of choice for European troops through the medieval period.

Pikes were extraordinarily long for regular battle use. They measured from 3 to 6 metres in length and featured a long wooden shaft with an iron or steel spearhead on the end. Most pikes featured reinforced metal strips near to the head. Pike handling was a skill due to the length of the weapon.

3. Flail

Military flails are said to date back to the medieval period and are closely linked to a traditional mace in their design. The flail, even called the mace and chain or ball and chain sometimes, featured a strong shaft with a chain attached and a spiked ball hanging from the other end. Flails are a lighter weight alternative to a mace or large club due to the chain. Both one-handed and two-handed flails were used throughout the period and began life as an agricultural tool for threshing corn. The first flails were probably just used by peasant soldiers making the best of the tools they had.

Melee weaponry was central to any army’s success in battle. Hand-to-hand combat lay at the heart of most battles as many ranged weapons were primitive and not available to all forces.