Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Medieval Military Technology

Medieval Military Technology

Kelly DeVries
Copyright Date: 1992
Pages: 340
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Medieval Military Technology
    Book Description:

    "An excellent book, the best in its field." - James W. Alexander, University of Georgia

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-0273-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xii)

    Images of the medieval knight in shining armor, the castle, the catapult, and the long- or crossbowman have become the portrait of medieval society most indelibly imprinted on our mind by popular cinema and literature. Even the United States Marine Corps has seen fit recently to use as advertisement the depiction of a medieval knight wielding his sword, hoping by this, I suppose, to gain some sort of historical legitimacy. And, if this were not enough, on almost any given Saturday across North America groups of mock medieval warriors spar and tourney in an effort to recreate what they imagine...


    • [Part I: Introduction]
      (pp. 3-6)

      It might well be an exaggeration to claim that the Middle Ages would mean little to the modern world without its characteristic offensive and defensive armaments. Yet, certainly for the purposes of modern culture as conveyed by fantasy novels, comics and Hollywood films, is there anything more representative of medieval society than the knight fully outfitted in shining armor, lance couched under his arm, bearing down on his tournament opponent, or the Viking warrior, horns on his helmet, battle axe slicing through defenseless peasants and monks? Could King Arthur be the greatest king of England without his trusty sword, Excalibur,...

    • Arms
      (pp. 7-49)

      The Roman soldiers who faced the barbarian invasions of the fourth and fifth centuries were outfitted with offensive armaments which varied little from those carried by the first-century legionnaires. The spear was still the major Roman infantry weapon, although three different sizes of spear had replaced the earlier pilum: the shortverutum,having a head with an average measurement of 12.5 centimeters and a shaft measuring 60.5 centimeters; the longspiculum,with a head 23 centimeters long and a shaft 167.5 centimeters in length; and theplumbata,a short javelin with a barbed and lead-weighted head.

      Swords were also carried...

    • Armor
      (pp. 50-94)

      As soon as prehistoric humans invented weapons for use in battle, they also invented protective garments to defend themselves against opponent’s attacks. Evidence of this early armor can be found in cave paintings where distinctive raiment appears on some prehistoric soldiers, most often on archers. Although it is difficult to determine specific details of this early armor from such a medium, some of these garments seem to be protective apparel, made of a coarse material, probably bark or leather, which covered the breast, legs, and genitals.¹⁶⁰

      The veracity of this early armor is disputed—with some historians and anthropologists regarding...

    • The Stirrup, Mounted Shock Combat, Chivalry, and Feudalism
      (pp. 95-122)

      Perhaps one of the most important debates of the last century among scholars of medieval history is focused on the socio-economic system known asfeudalism.Not only do modern historians argue about what constituted feudalism and about what its origins were, but some even question the historical validity of the system itself. These historians choose to see it as a “tyrannical construct,” to use the words of Elizabeth A.R. Brown, which “must be declared once and for all deposed and its influence over students of the Middle Ages finally ended.”²⁷⁸

      However, for the sake of argument, and for a review...


    • [Part II: Introduction]
      (pp. 125-126)

      Personal arms and armor were important in battlefield warfare, but most medieval military engagements were not fought on the battlefield but were against castles or fortified towns. Without the means to capture these fortifications, conquest of foreign lands was impossible. There was therefore a need for weapons which could breach fortifications. Swords, spears, and other hand weapons could do no damage against them; nor could the most powerful bowman firing the heaviest bow destroy even the most basic fortification. Starvation could be and was used frequently, often with success, depending on the abundance of food supplies in the besieged fortress...

    • Non-Gunpowder Artillery
      (pp. 127-142)

      The wordcatapultis a generic term which describes all ancient and medieval non-gunpowder propelled missile-throwing artillery. The first catapult is thought to have been invented in 399 BC at Syracuse. There King Dionysius I, threatened by the Carthaginians and other enemies, assembled a large group of engineers to create an arsenal of weapons. Among these was the first non-torsion artillery piece (thegastraphetes). In essence thegastraphetes(which in Greek means “belly-bow”) was little more than a large, powerful, and flexible bow. The flexibility of the weapon came from the bow itself which was a composite of wood, horn,...

    • Gunpowder Artillery
      (pp. 143-168)

      Perhaps the greatest and certainly the most enduring invention in medieval military technology was gunpowder weaponry. Invented in China, gunpowder was probably discovered by an alchemist in the eighth or ninth century AD. Shortly thereafter its military potential was recognized, leading to its use in bombs, grenades, rockets, and fireworks during the tenth to twelfth centuries. It was not until the late thirteenth or early fourteenth centuries that the Chinese developed cannons, being content merely to use gunpowder as an explosive rather than as a propellant. There is, however, some evidence that the concept of “guns” was known in India...


    • [Part III: Introduction]
      (pp. 171-173)

      Medieval military technology did not only serve to protect (or to harm) the individual, but also served to protect the masses. The desire to protect one’s lands, family, and possessions, the idea of defense, may be an innate trait carried through evolution, for it appears in animals as well as humans. Where the difference between the species lies is not in the idea of defense itself but in what is done with this defense. For animals, defense may be accomplished through aggression, through flight or, in some instances, through the protective strength of specialized members or castes whose function in...

    • Early Medieval Fortifications
      (pp. 174-201)

      The Roman Empire was a society of builders. Although some scholars may insist that none of this construction was inventive or even unique, that the Romans merely utilized the more original and creative work of others, what they utilized and how they utilized it produced remarkable results.⁵ Roman temples, fora, theaters, baths, ceremonial arches and columns, roads, aqueducts, bridges, tombs, palaces, villas, and gaming arenas have all impressed numerous historians with their size, beauty, and durability. But not to be neglected are the Roman imperial fortifications. Rome’s peace and stability relied upon its defenses, a fact well understood by its...

    • The Motte-and-Bailey Castle
      (pp. 202-212)

      Before embarking on a study of stone castles in the Middle Ages, it is necessary to look at the motte-and-bailey castle, for, despite overlapping chronologically with the first stone castles, it provides a technological evolutionary link between the fortifications of the early and later Middle Ages. Although the motte-and-bailey castles were not made in stone, they involved similar intricate techniques of construction. More importantly, the motte-and-bailey castle was used by William the Conqueror to subjugate England after his conquest in 1066. This then marks the first deliberate and systematic attempt to use fortifications in an offensive military sense: for the...

    • Stone Castles
      (pp. 213-249)

      Earth-and-timber fortifications had proven entirely inadequate in protecting western Europeans from the Viking and Hungarian incursions of the ninth and tenth centuries. And although the motte-and-bailey castle was successfully used by William the Conqueror to subdue England in the late eleventh century, even he recognized that these earth-and-timber structures were but temporary defenses for his newly conquered kingdom. More permanent fortifications, made of stone masonry, were needed to better defend the lands of Europe and their inhabitants from outside attack.

      Yet, despite the obvious need for stone castles and the fact that by the end of the twelfth century they...

    • Urban Fortifications and Fortified Residences
      (pp. 250-280)

      To say that castles were not constructed during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries would be misleading. Castles in the theoretical sense of the word continued to be built well into the early modern period, especially in those areas threatened by foreign invasion or civil war. But the perception of castles as fortified structures did change. No longer did medieval castle builders deem it necessary or even desirous to construct the heavily fortified complex which had been developed in the Holy Land during the Crusades and which then was extended to Europe.

      Moreover, there was some question as to whether the...


    • [Part IV: Introduction]
      (pp. 283-312)

      The earliest ships were small vessels used solely for transportation and trade. These were probably rafts, floats, or dugout canoes, as Lionel Casson writes, “whatever [men] could find that would keep them afloat.”¹ The technology was simple. Boats such as these were constructed using the most accessible materials—reeds, light wood, bark, or animal skins—and were fashioned with the most rudimentary skills. They were made to sail only on rivers or along coasts of seas and lakes, as their hulls were not constructed to withstand high waves or bad weather.²

      Nor could they hold much cargo. But as the...

  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 313-334)
  10. Index
    (pp. 335-340)