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7 powerful medieval ranged weapons


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Unlike melee weapons that see soldiers face to face, ranged weapons allowed the armies of medieval times to attack, wound and destroy their enemy from a great distance. Throughout the period the ranged weapons available became more advanced and there was even some primitive use of gunpowder, let’s explore the seven most powerful medieval range weapons.

1. The crossbow

Bows were commonplace amongst all armies in the medieval period. The crossbow was a medieval-range weapon a powerful shot and long range. As the name suggests, it was shaped like a cross and is believed to have been used in medieval Europe as early as the 11th century. The medieval crossbow fired bolts, not arrows, and the design of the bow propelled the bolts with real power and energy, though other weapons were seen as more accurate. The late medieval period was the heyday for the crossbow as skilled crossbowmen were recognised as one of the most integral parts of any army.

2. The longbow

Used differently from a crossbow, the longbow was a type of tall bow, usually as high as the person using it. Longbows were known for their difficulty to use and the real skill and mastery necessary to be a successful longbowman. Longbows are often crafted from a single piece of wood and can be produced in a couple of hours. In medieval England, yew wood was the usual choice for longbows and the longbow was one of the most used weapons by the Welsh and English forces when battling the French in the Hundred Years War. The longbow began to fall out of fashion when cannons came into use.

3. The arquebus

The arquebus was a ranged weapon that is recognised as one of the first long guns. They were first used in Europe and the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century. When an arquebus was equipped with a shoulder stock, priming pan and matchlock it became one of the world’s first handheld firearms and also the first firearm with a trigger. The arquebus was fired from the shoulder and evolved into many other forms of hand weapons including the musket that was developed to penetrate plate armour.

4. The trebuchet

A long-range weapon and considered one the most effective siege weapons, the trebuchet was one of the earliest forms of siege engine available before gunpowder came into popular use. A trebuchet is a form of catapult that features a long arm which makes the most of the mechanical advantage this offers over a lever when throwing a projectile. Trebuchets measured around 10 metres in height, with some even bigger, and allowed for large projectiles to be launched at the enemy.

5. The Byzantine flamethrower

Greek fire, also described as the Byzantine flamethrower, was one of the first incendiary weapons. It was used across the Eastern Roman Empire and became popular again in medieval times. Greek fire was most popularly put into use in the form of flamethrowers. Large flamethrowers were mounted on naval vessels and sprayed the enemy with flaming liquid. The mechanics and engineering of the weapon still remains a mystery as very few records have been found, possibly due to the Byzantines wanting to keep their most powerful weapon a secret.

6. The Hand cannon

The hand cannon is one of the earliest examples of an effective handheld-range weapon used in medieval Europe. The hand cannon is a Chinese invention, with the first examples dating back to the 13th century. It reached Europe by the late medieval period in the 16th century.

The smallest and most compact hand cannons could be carried by a single soldier. However, several soldiers were needed for its operation. Hand cannons used gunpowder and operation required a soldier to ignite the gunpowder within the cannon. This would then propel and fire the cannon towards the enemy. Most medieval cannons could reach a range of 50 to 300 metres.

7. The Ballista

The ballista was a large siege-range weapon, used to fire large arrows or bolts. It could also be used to fire stones and larger missiles at forts, walls and other defences. A ballista looked a lot like a crossbow but the mechanics were different. Instead of using a horizontal bow held under tension, it used two levers using torsion springs. The torsion springs were crafted from coiled yarn or string. The springs had wooden levers and the bowstring of the ballista was then attached to these levers. The springs allowed for a huge amount of energy to be released, firing the projectile a considerable range towards the enemy forces.

A combination of melee and ranged weapons were essential for medieval forces to wage war with the range weapons helping to destroy fortifications and advance.