Explore the European Middle Ages: A Complete Glossary of Medieval Weapons, Armor and Costumes


Although weapons, armor and clothing in the Middle Ages may seem far removed from modern technology, they can all be linked to items we still use today. Since they were made by hand, these pieces retained a quality of simplicity. However, our ancestors quickly learned to further develop their goods, eventually creating brutally effective weapons, rugged armor and elaborate attire.

 

Weapons

Daggers and Knives

  • Baselard – Dagger with an I-shaped handle and usually double-edged blade.
  • Cinquedea – Italian knife with a wide blade intended for breaching armor.
  • Ear dagger – Thick dagger with a double-edged blade and round discs (the “ears”) at the end of the hilt.
  • Großes Messer – German dagger with a single-edged blade with a metal tab or nail at the hilt to protect the hands.
  • Katara – Indian dagger with an H-shaped handle, used for quick close-range attacks.
  • Machete – Long, large knife, used in agricultural and cooking purposes but also as a weapon.
  • Mercygiver – Long, thin knife specifically used to kill mortally wounded warriors.
  • Poniard – Light, medium-length dagger for close-range attacks.
  • Rondel – Very pointy medium-length European dagger with a disc at the end of the hilt, used as a secondary weapon.
  • Scramasax – Large bladed knife with a wooden handgrip, common in North-Western Europe.
  • Sgian – Small Scottish dagger traditionally tucked into the top of the right sock.
  • Stiletto – Long-bladed knife with a short handle, used for stabbing and penetrating armor.

Swords

  • Arming sword – Large double-edged sword for one-handed wielding, used by knights.
  • Broadsword – Straight, heavy, double-edged sword with a T-shaped hilt. used by lunging.
  • Claymore – Large Scottish sword, wielded with two hands, distinctive by the quatrefoils (design similar to a four-leaf clover) decorating the ends of the hilt guard.
  • Falchion – Large, heavy bladed sword with a slightly curved tip, similar to a scimitar.
  • Flamberge – Slim sword with a uniquely wavy blade.
  • Longsword – European double-edged sword designed mainly for offensive attacks.
  • Sabre – Straight bladed sword (some varieties include a curved blade) used by horsemen.
  • Scimitar – Sword of Islamic origin with an exaggerated curved blade.
  • Spatha – Straight sword, used commonly throughout Europe during the first millennium.
  • Shortsword – Small sword (akin to a long dagger) with a sharply pointed end.
  • Zweihander – Long sword (up to six feet) used to behead and severely attack enemies.


Blunt or Cleaving Weapons

  • Battle-axe – Heavy metal axe with a long wooden handle.
  • Club – Thick blunt wooden stick, sometimes with metal spikes protruding.
  • Mace

o  Flanged mace – Thick rod with a heavy metal head featuring spikes or protrusions for damaging armour.

  • Maul – Long weapon with a hammerhead on the end.
  • Morning star – Club with a spiked metal head and a longer spike protruding from the center of the head.
  • Quarterstaff – Short length of wood, sometimes with one end made of metal.
  • War hammer

o  Bec de Corbin – Long pole with a spike and hammerhead resembling a beak.

o  Horseman's pick – Pole weapon featuring an elongated spike at the butt of the hammerhead.

o   Bludgeon – Heavy, blunt weapon, similar to a club.



Spear and other Polearm and Poleaxe Weapons

  • Bill – Long weapon with a curving hook at the blade’s end.
  • Glaive – Long pole with a slightly curved blade.
  • Guisarme – Pole weapon with a metal hook as well as a spike.
  • Halberd – Long weapon with an axe-head and long spike at the end.
  • Lance – Long spear, sometimes with a metal tip.
  • Lochaber Axe – Scottish halberd, occasionally with a hook at the blade.
  • Lucerne hammer – Swiss weapon with prongs and a spike at the head.
  • Man catcher – Pole with two prongs on the head, used to drag enemies down.
  • Military fork, the weaponized Pitchfork – Pole with two prongs at the end to bring down a horseman.
  • Partisan – Pole with an axe-head at the bottom.
  • Pike – Iron-tipped spear, used to ward off assault.
  • Plançon a picot – Short spear with a spike at the end.
  • Ranseur – Long spear with trident-like prongs.
  • Spetum – Long spear with a metal end featuring spikes below it.
  • Swordstaff – Pole with a sword-like blade at the end.
  • Voulge – Pole ending in a slightly curved blade with a pointy tip, used for slicing and stabbing.
  • War-scythe – Weapon adapted from farming tools, featuring a long pole with a scythe blade.

Ranged

  • Bombard – Early cannon that hurled large rocks or balls.
  • Bow

o  Longbow

o English longbow – Large, powerful bow usually made from yew.

o  Recurve bow - Crossbow with tips that face opposite the archer when strung. 

  • Crossbow

o  Arbalest – Large steel crossbow, much stronger than its counterparts.

o  Ballista – Greek siege weapon structured like a crossbow, used to launch large rocks or darts.

o  Repeating crossbow – Chinese crossbow that is strung and shot at the same time, thus firing much faster than other crossbows.

o  Lian Nu, a multishot crossbow - Crossbow that shot several arrows at the same time.

  • Gun

o  Arquebus – Early form of the rifle that fired stone balls.

o  Culverin – Primitive version of a musket, later rebuilt as a cannon.

o  Musket – Long gun, loaded with gunpowder and round shot from the front of the gun.

  • Sling – A piece of rope that flung a small rock (contained in a pouch at the middle of the rope) at great speed.
  • Throwing axe

o  Francisca – Sharp, arched axe head thrown to break enemy shields.

o  Nzappa zap – African iron axe with a short handle for throwing.

o  Tomahawk – Native American axe with a small but sharp metal head and short handle.

  • Throwing Spear

o  Javelin – Long spear with a pointed metal tip; light enough to travel some distance when thrown.


Armor

  • Body armor

o  Fabric – Wool jackets called gambesons stuffed with extra cloth and arming doublets provided added protection under armor.

o  LeatherCuir Bouilli (boiled leather) was a tough material used for scale armor.

o  Chainmail – Small metal rings interlinked to create a piece of armor, usually protecting the head and chest.

o  Brigandine – Canvas jacket studdet with metal rivets.

o  Plate – Metal plates customised to fit together and cover the entire body including the full face.

  • Shield – Large metal or wood piece hand-held or attached on the forearm to protect against blows and arrows.
  • Helmet – Protective metal head covering, sometimes with an adjustable visor for the face.


Costuming

  • Bliaut – Long garment with extremely long sleeves, worn by both sexes over other clothing.
  • Chaperon – Cape with a hood, later worn by gathering it around the head.
  • Chemise – Loose linen undershirt, sometimes with loose sleeves.
  • Codpiece – Pouch worn to cover and protect male genital area.
  • Cotte – Long-sleeved tunic. 
  • Gaberdine – Long hooded cloak with large hanging sleeves.
  • Girdle – Decorative women’s belt with amoney pouch, keys or pomander attached.
  • Houppelande – Long unisex outer clothing with extremely long sleeves.
  • Jewish hat – Cone-like hat worn by medieval Jews.
  • Kirtle – Sleeveless tunic worn over a chemise.
  • Pattens – Raised wood platforms attached to shoes with a leather thong to protect shoes from outdoor filth.
  • Plague Doctor – Hooded trenchcoat, hat and mask featuring a long beak worn by plague doctors.
  • Poulaines – Medieval shoes, very pointy and tapered at the end.
  • Samite – Fabric made of heavy silk with interwoven gold or silven thread.
  • Surcoat – Loose unisex outer coat ending at mid-thigh.