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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Is the Pen mightier than the Sword?

*Please note the photos in this post have been removed. I will update with new photos once I have time to search for more*

The beauty of fiction is your ability to create; the downfall of writing historical fiction is that you need to have your facts straight. No other genre has avid readers who’re just as intelligent as the writer him/herself.

So, writing in a particular era can be daunting and the research can become overwhelming. I’m currently finishing up my fourth MS. I’ve got a second in the works and third on the table. So you can imagine my research episodes. I have to be extremely organized to keep it all straight. I keep folders, three-ring binders, not to mention all of my links in my favorites separated in folders by era.

One of my favorite things to research is weapons. I have to admit the tomboy in me comes out and I can just imagine myself wielding the weapon with glee.

Every culture's arsenal is based on the technology and raw materials available at the time. So considering this, let’s take a look at the materials used during the medieval times. Wood was often used for handles and the Bronze Age introduced the development of metal weaponry. It persisted well into the middle ages, dramatically altering over time.

I’m only going to concentrate on hand-held weapons for this blog, as research on medieval warfare can become quite in depth and have a wide range within it.

Spears were some of the first weapons ever used. A spear consisted of a shaft or pole, made of wood with a sharpened head. Obsidian, iron and bronzed heads were fastened to the top usually in a triangle. This was a thrusting or throwing weapon. The Greeks were known for being well adept at spears. They evolved a new close-order infantry formation called the phalanx. These weapons were generally considered infantry weapons or footman.

These are not to be confused with Pikes. A pike is a pole thrusting weapon used extensively by infantry for attacks on enemy foot soldiers, and also as a counter-measure against cavalry assaults. The pike is not intended to be thrown. They were used by European troops from the early Middle Ages until about 1700. These were effective when used in close order. There are a variety of different polearms and each has its own name and time it was used. They date back to the Stone Age, so instead of just saying polearm or spear, attempt to link it directly to the era you’re writing about. For instance the Spetum was used in Europe in the thirteenth century. A Guisarme was used in Europe during the 1000 - 1400’s. Learn the difference in their appearances and you’ll give yourself more credibility with your readers.

There are so many different daggers and dirks that I’m going to leave that for another day. On to blunt weapons. These are tricky because they often look alike, but there are obvious differences between them. Dating back to the Stone Age with your regular club, we still use these today as our police forces often carry one.

A mace is a ceremonial club that uses a heavy head on the end of a handle to deliver powerful blows. These were highly effective against well-armored knights, as the blow from a mace is strong enough to cause damage without penetrating the armor. Unless it is a flanged mace. These were designed with protruding edges of metal used to penetrate armor. These were developed much later in the middle ages. They were quite common. Peasants, rebels, footmen, and cheap conscript armies used these. Do not make the mistake of having your knight use one of these unless it’s for ceremony. He can be trained in the use of maces but a man’s weapon was a symbol of status. (Funny how time didn’t change that lol.)

The morning star was a medieval club-like weapon that includes one or more spikes. All of these weapons are bashing weapons and when used can cause massive amounts of damage. This would not be a pretty sight, so remember that as you write.

The last of the club-like weapons is the maul and war hammer. It resembles a sledge hammer. In 1382, rebellious citizens of Paris seized 3,000 mauls from the city armory, leading to the rebels being dubbed Maillotins. The war hammer resembles a hammer and is used strictly for close combat.

The flail is typically depicted as one or more weights attached to a handle with a hinge or a chain, or often known as the ball and chain weapon. This was a bludgeoning weapon and did massive damage to its target. Many of the weights used were modified with spikes, so you can imagine the kind of damage these caused. Again peasant armies throughout the Middle Ages were known to use and carry these.

So tomorrow, I’ll cover the axes and swords, as well a list of resources available. So tell me what interesting weapons have you come across in your own studies?


  1. Melissa, this is all fascinating to me. I've never researched weaponry at all, let alone the weapons of a particular era. This all makes me think of the battles in Braveheart. Thanks for filling us in!

  2. My goodness, I had no idea how much I didn't know about historical weaponry - lol! Interesting stuff, Melissa :)

  3. It's great to have all this information collected in one place. I'm a big fan of the catapult and trebuchet--anything that let's me stay far away and stop them before they get too close.

  4. Thanks for stopping by ladies and I hope it'll help in the future perhaps. Clarrissa I love studying seige weapons but that's a whole new can of worms to open lol. Perhaps in a future blog! I'm fascinated by historical wars, stratagy and weapons too Catherine. This is the very reason I write adventure romances. There's nothing quite as invigorating than history except maybe the men we love to write about.

  5. Melissa,
    Thanks for doing all this research. It's interesting to learn the difference in all of these weapons. I'm sure I wouldn't have a clue what a knight or a peasant would use in the middle ages. I hope you do more of these types of blogs for weapons in other ages too.

  6. Thanks Michelle! I love this stuff so yes, I would love to do another one in another era. Hope everyone stops by tomorrow for the rest of this two part series.

  7. Sorry I'm late. So far with weapons I've only researched pistols. With historical research, I try not to get too far ahead of my current story, but I'm wondering what excuse I could find to use a morning star in a regency romance. For some strange reason, that weapon appeals to me. Great post.

  8. Thanks for this, Melissa. Really interesting and helpful.