In our previous article we talked about the cold melee weapons of the Middle Ages. In this article we move on to the advantages and disadvantages of the main types of cold ranged weapon.
Cold ranged weapons include throwing weapons and more complex elastic weapons that can engage targets from a distance. In Europe during the Middle Ages, bows, crossbows, slings, spears, and axes were common examples.
This weapon was used by both peasants and aristocrats during the Middle Ages. Whether a spear looked like a whittled stick or like a masterpiece of blacksmithing, its functions were mostly the same: to kill an animal on a hunt, to knock a horseman out of the saddle, or to spook a horse.
With the advancement of military tactics, throwing spears were abandoned. When fighting in lines, soldiers armed with a two-meter pole weapon could not swing that properly and even interfered with their fellow soldiers.
How does the bow work? Two ends of an elastic stick are connected with a bowstring made of sinew, hemp, or other material. An archer nocks an arrow on this bowstring, pulls hard, and releases. In medieval Europe, bows made of yew, elm, hazel, oak, or ash were common.
The most powerful type of bow was the English longbow made of yew. The great length of this ranged weapon and the properties of its material made it possible to pull the bowstring back 28 inches (71 cm) and shoot at an initial speed of 180 feet per second (55 m/s). Historians believe that the troops equipped with such bows were the reason England won the Hundred Years’ War.
Bows were very widespread as they were inexpensive, quick-firing, with high penetration ability… Until gunpowder weapons became commonplace. At the end of the XVI century, the last troops of archers were retrained into spearmen and arquebusiers.
This is a bow supplemented with mechanisms for pulling and releasing the bowstring. According to some opinion, the crossbow could easily pierce a knight’s armor, though this is not true. The crossbow was indeed superior to the bow in accuracy and penetrating power, but the bolt released from it could not pierce a steel plate.
The disadvantages of this ranged weapon included its inconvenient shape, difficulty of reloading, low rate of fire, and high price. Soldiers who had the money to afford a crossbow spent it on armor and melee weapons, and their less well-off fellows could only afford a bow or spear.
Was there something for those who could not pay even for the cheapest weapons, but wanted to gain glory in battle? Yes, they could take a belt or rope and some stones, and become slingers!
The sling was the simplest type of ranged weapon during the Middle Ages. Due to the availability of materials and projectiles, poor people, village hunters, or peasant militiamen could arm themselves with a sling. Of course, slingers were helpless against real soldiers… unless they were aiming for the head of a foe not wearing a helmet.
The throwing axe might have been the least common cold ranged weapon in Europe. Infantry warriors and horsemen started to use it in the early Middle Ages.
Later, in the XV century, there appeared an all-metal hurlbat, or whirlbat, the most famous type of throwing axe. Aside from its blade, it had a sharpened top and even a sharpened part of its handle which let the hurlbat almost always slice into the target.
In our next article we will talk about firearms of the Middle Ages. Don’t miss it!