The Weirdest Medieval Weapons: A Journey into Historical Oddities

The Weirdest Medieval Weapons: A Journey into Historical Oddities

Medieval history is replete with tales of chivalry, knights in shining armor, and epic battles. While the broadsword, the longbow, and the mace might be some of the first weapons to come to mind, the Middle Ages also gave rise to some of the quirkiest weapons known to humanity. This article takes you on a journey through the annals of history to uncover some of these weird and wonderful weapons of war.

What Were Medieval Weapons Made Of? 

Medieval weapons are fascinating not only for their unique and often brutal designs but also for the materials and craftsmanship that went into their creation. During the medieval period, the construction of weapons was considered a high art form, and the materials used were chosen for their specific attributes of strength, durability, and availability.

Iron and Steel

The majority of medieval weapons, such as swords, axes, and maces, were primarily made from iron. Iron was abundant and relatively easy to mine and refine. However, pure iron was soft and unsuitable for weaponry, so blacksmiths often forged it into steel. Steel was made by adding carbon to iron, creating a much harder and more suitable alloy for holding an edge. The process of ‘tempering’ steel by repeatedly heating and cooling was a common practice to increase strength and resilience.


Wood was an essential material in the construction of many medieval weapons, including bows, arrows, spears, and polearms. Different types of wood were chosen based on their specific properties. Yew, for example, was favored for longbows due to its combination of strength and flexibility.

Leather and Animal Products

Leather was used in various weapons and armor, such as the grips of swords, shield coverings, and the strings of crossbows. Animal glue, made from collagen extracted from animal parts, was often used as an adhesive in weapon construction.

Bronze and Brass

While less common than iron and steel, metals like bronze and brass were used in certain weapons. Brass was sometimes used for hilts and pommels, adding decorative flair, while bronze could be used in the casting of cannons.

Stones and Lead

Stones were utilized in simple missile weapons like slingshots. Lead was often used in projectiles for their weight and malleability, such as in the bullets for early firearms or the tips of crossbow bolts.

Therefore, making medieval weapons involved a diverse array of materials, each selected for its particular characteristics. The mastery of blacksmiths and craftsmen in combining these materials into effective tools of war was a vital part of medieval warfare. It reflected a profound understanding of the natural resources available during the period.

The Man-Catcher

Description: At first glance, the man-catcher might resemble a nightmarish garden tool. This pole weapon featured a two-pronged head with a spring-loaded trap, often lined with spikes. The design was intended to snare the neck of an opponent, rendering them immobile.

Use and Impact: Used primarily during the 18th century, man-catchers were more popular among town guards and city watchmen. Their primary purpose wasn’t to kill but to capture, especially during civil disruptions, or to apprehend high-ranking individuals without causing them harm.

The Holy Water Sprinkler

Description: Despite its pious name, the Holy Water Sprinkler was far from a gentle ecclesiastical tool. It combined the design of a mace with that of a flail, resulting in a staff topped with a spiked ball and chain.

Use and Impact: This weapon was especially lethal in the hands of a skilled warrior. The chain allowed the spiked ball to gain momentum before striking, while the staff offered a secondary means of attack or defense.

The Bohemian Ear Spoon

Description: Another misleadingly named weapon, the Bohemian Ear Spoon, had nothing to do with ear hygiene. Instead, it was a polearm with a long, curved spike at its end, resembling an elongated spoon.

Use and Impact: This bizarrely named weapon was ideal for penetrating armor gaps, especially those of mounted knights. Its design made it effective for pulling riders off their horses.

The Lantern Shield

Description: An ingenious melding of offense and defense, the lantern shield combined the protective nature of a shield with the element of surprise. Incorporated into its design was a lantern, which was often concealed.

Use and Impact: Used primarily during the Renaissance, its main tactical advantage was in night-time duels or encounters. The wielder could blind their adversary temporarily with the sudden illumination from the lantern, gaining a momentary upper hand.

The Pumhart von Steyr

Description: This was no ordinary cannon. The Pumhart von Steyr is believed to have been the largest caliber gun of the medieval period, with its bore diameter being an astonishing 80 cm.

Use and Impact: While its colossal size made it a force to be reckoned with, it was impractical. Its rate of fire was slow, and moving it was a challenge. Nonetheless, the sheer intimidation factor of the Pumhart made it noteworthy.

The Gun Shield

Description: A testament to the medieval penchant for multi-functionality, the gun shield was a regular wooden shield with a small gun or pistol embedded in its center.

Use and Impact: Though it offered the wielder the advantage of simultaneously defending and attacking, the weapon was cumbersome. Its popularity was limited and saw more ceremonial use than actual combat.

The Morning Star

Description: Though similar in appearance to a mace, the morning star boasted a long wooden or metal shaft topped with a spiked ball.

Use and Impact: The spikes were not just for show. They were meant to penetrate armor, and the length of the shaft provided a longer reach than traditional maces. The morning star found favor among foot soldiers engaging with mounted knights.

The War Scythe

Description: The war scythe is a fascinating example of how a common agricultural tool was transformed into a weapon of war. Originally designed for cutting grain, the war scythe had its blade modified from a horizontal orientation to an upright position. This modification turned it into a long, curved blade fixed at a right angle to the handle, resembling a more traditional warlike weapon.

Use and Impact: The use of the war scythe was prevalent among peasant armies, as it was an accessible and familiar tool. Its reach and sharp blade effectively cut down both infantry and cavalry. The war scythe symbolized the ability of common folk to adapt their daily tools for self-defense and rebellion, reflecting an era when the lines between daily life and warfare were often blurred. Its impact was not only physical but also psychological, serving as a reminder that even the most mundane objects could become instruments of war.

The Maciejowski Bible Mace: A Weapon with a Sacred Connection

Description: The Maciejowski Bible Mace is named after the famous Maciejowski Bible, an illuminated manuscript from the 13th century. The mace depicted in the pages of this religious text is characterized by its hefty spherical head adorned with flanges or spikes, mounted on a sturdy wooden or metal shaft.

Use and Impact: This unique mace represents more than a mere weapon; it serves as a historical and symbolic link between faith and warfare during the medieval period. The mace’s brutal effectiveness in close combat, particularly against armored foes, is well-documented. However, its depiction in a sacred text adds a layer of cultural and religious significance. The Maciejowski Bible Mace underscores the intertwining of religion and martial pursuits during an era when the Church often sanctioned and encouraged warfare. Its presence in a religious manuscript illustrates how deeply warfare was embedded in all aspects of medieval life.

The Caltrop: Small but Deadly

Description: The caltrop is a small yet fearsome weapon consisting of four sharp spikes arranged so that one spike always points upward, no matter how the caltrop lands. Made of iron or other hard metals, this device is simple in design but highly effective.

Use and Impact: Caltrops were scattered on the ground to impede enemy troops and cavalry. As foot soldiers or horses stepped on them, the sharp spikes would pierce through footwear or hooves, causing painful injuries and slowing or halting their advance. The psychological effect of the caltrop was also significant, causing fear and disruption in enemy ranks. Although not a weapon of mass destruction, the caltrop was an essential tactical tool that could turn the tide of battle, often used to defend strategic positions or create barriers during retreats. Its simplicity, effectiveness, and versatility made it a lasting symbol of medieval ingenuity.

The Zweihänder: A Sword of Epic Proportions

Description: The Zweihänder, translating to “two-hander” in German, is a massive two-handed sword symbolizing strength and prowess in medieval Europe. Typically measuring over 1.5 meters long and weighing upwards of 4.5 pounds, this sword featured a long double-edged blade and a distinctive elongated hilt.

Use and Impact: The Zweihänder was a weapon for the battlefield’s elite, often wielded by German mercenaries known as Landsknechts. Its sheer size effectively broke pike formations and clashed against other large weapons. However, the Zweihänder was not just a tool of destruction; it was a status symbol. Those who could master this colossal sword were highly respected warriors. The Zweihänder’s blend of functionality, intimidation, and prestige ensured its place in history as one of the most iconic and awe-inspiring weapons of the medieval era. Its legacy continues to capture the imagination of enthusiasts and historians alike.

Legacy of Weird Medieval Weapons

The collection of strange and unconventional weapons from the medieval era is not just a curious footnote in the history of warfare; it offers a fascinating glimpse into human creativity, innovation, and the socio-cultural contexts of the times. Here’s a look at the multifaceted legacy of these unique weapons.

  • Symbol of Ingenuity and Adaptation: The transformation of everyday tools like the war scythe or the creation of multifunctional weapons like the lantern shield reflects the medieval artisans’ innovative spirit. These weapons demonstrate how necessity, available resources, and imagination shaped the tools of war.
  • Cultural Significance: Weapons like the Maciejowski Bible Mace provide insights into the intimate relationship between religion, culture, and warfare. The depictions of these weapons in sacred texts or art show how integral they were to the societal fabric.
  • Tactical Evolution: The deployment of devices such as caltrops illustrates the evolution of battlefield tactics. Such instruments were not just about brute force but also psychological warfare, strategic placement, and intelligent defense.
  • Influence on Modern Warfare: The principles behind many of these weapons continue to influence modern military technology. Concepts of multi-functionality, surprise elements, and strategic use of simple devices are still relevant in contemporary military thinking.
  • Inspiration in Popular Culture: These strange weapons continue to capture imaginations, featuring in literature, films, and video games. They contribute to the romantic and often exaggerated portrayal of the medieval era, adding intrigue and fantasy to modern storytelling.
  • Collectors and Historical Reenactments: The fascination with these weapons extends to collectors and historical enthusiasts who recreate them for display or reenactments. Such activities keep history alive, allowing new generations to connect with a distant past.
  • Educational Value: Finally, studying these unique weapons offers educational insights into historical metallurgy, craftsmanship, economics, and the complex interplay of various societal factors. They are instrumental in understanding a multifaceted picture of medieval life.

In conclusion, the legacy of weird medieval weapons extends far beyond their historical use. They are symbols of human creativity, mirrors reflecting societal values and norms, and bridges that connect the past to the present in myriad ways. Whether viewed through the lens of a historian, artist, or casual enthusiast, these weapons continue to intrigue and inspire, affirming their enduring relevance in our collective consciousness.


While known for its archetypal weapons, the medieval era was also a period of immense innovation and experimentation. The peculiar weapons explored above bear testament to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of craftsmen and warriors of the age. Whether for the sake of practicality, surprise, or sheer intimidation, these weird weapons provide a fascinating glimpse into the ever-evolving art of warfare in ancient times.

Although many of these weapons may not have stood the test of time regarding practicality or effectiveness, they remain intriguing footnotes in the vast chronicle of military history. The next time you imagine a knight or a soldier from the middle ages, remember that their arsenal might have been more diverse and eccentric than you think!