Medieval Warfare and Weaponry

Medieval Warfare
and Weaponry

In the Middle Ages, the nobility of many
cultures had large fortifications built to house a small town as well as
themselves. These fortification were called castles, and they were
so well defended that some historians have called it "the most formidable
weapon of medieval warfare" (Hull 1). As one can imagine, conquering
such a colossal structure cost much money, even more time, and many lives.

There were three main ways to infiltrate
a castle; each no more common than the other two. The first way to
conquer to castle is known as the siege. In a siege, an army would
bar passageways into the castle, and continue to pound away at the castle's
defenses until it was vulnerable to a final attack. In this form
of assault, the attacking party did not have to approach the castle, as
was required in a storm, the second way to attack a castle. In a
siege, the ramparts of the castle were often bombarded by large projectiles
from catapults. The defenders of the castle were killed off by hunger,
plague, or actual weapons such as Greek fire arrows. Greek fire was
a mixture comprised of highly flammable substances that was agonizingly
hot. Bits of cloth were dipped into the Greek fire compound and wrapped
it behind the head of an arrow, and then lit on fire. Yet another
common tactic in the siege was undermining. Undermining was the digging
of tunnels underneath towers. However, the purposes of such subterranean
activity were not for passage, but to create instability in the towers,
and in the end cause their disintergration.

The second, more certain form of attack
upon a castle was the blockade. To blockade a place was to preclude
all entry and departure from the site. In doing so to a castle, one
limited their food supply, for a castle, unlike a manor, could not survive
unless contact with the outer world could be attained. However, starving
a castle out was costly in both money and especially time. For a
long while an army waited for the castle to deplete their resources, the
army itself had to continue to supply themselves with such resources, and
the soldiers were to be paid for their vigilant act.

Although it was costly and lengthy, blockade
did work. Richard the Lionhearted's stronghold, the Chateau-Gaillard,
which was built in only a year along the Seine River, was sacked on March

6, 1204 by blockade. The Chateau, like many great citadels, was regarded
as invicible, for "the art of siegecraft had not kept pace with that of
fortification" (Nofi 1). The man responsible for this zenith in French
and English history was King Philip Augustus II. He set up "something
more than a passive blockade, for he erected siege works and successfully
stormed the outer walls" (Nofi 2). By the time the French made their
final storming of the fortress, the defending army was not even two hundred
men. Due to the changing of possession of the Chateau-Gaillard, Normandy's
capital, Rouen, and eventually all of Normandy returned to French rule.

In addition, King Philip attained control of traffic along the Seine.

The third, and presumably most venturesome
of all castle assaults was the storm. In storming a castle, the aggressive
army approached the castle with a battering ram and literally hammered
away at the stone aegis of the castle. Then, troops would traverse
the newly created rubble and enter the castle. Another option was
to take a cumbersome siege tower, known as a belfry, to the castle walls
and climb over the walls into the castle. In storming a castle, an
army could not steathily approach the stronghold. The belfry could
not be hidden, for it was multiple stories high.

Once military tactics were of no use in
the invasion of a castle, the attack became simply a ruthless and barborous
man-to-man fight with weapons. Strategy was no longer applied.

Men of the armies fought with double-edged swords, battle-axes, lances,
slings, and weapons of archery. The weapons of archery were the short
and long bows, and the most fearsome weapon known before the discovery
of gunpowder: the crossbow.

A man with a sword had great status.

"The Saxons considered a sword to have equal value of one hundred-twenty
oxen or fifteen male slaves." (Barber 63) They remained popular in
many different forms throughout the Middle Ages. The battle-axe was
a product of the Scandanavian Vikings of the nineth century. The
axe was large and formidable and had no specific types of strikes as the
sword did. One simply swung the axe in the general vicinity of a
rival. The sling was a thin piece of leather with a thick pocket
near the middle. A small stone was placed in this pocket, and the
sling was set