What were some of the more unusual weapons used by medieval armies? We put together a list of the strangest weapons that were ever used (or even designed) in the Middle Ages.
Flying Crow with Magic Fire
The Huolongjing, written in 14th century China, contains numerous examples of weapons that could be made with gunpowder: rockets, rocket launchers, land and naval mines, fire lances and types of guns. Among the more interesting devices illustrated was the ‘Flying Crow with Magic Fire’, an aerodynamic winged rocket bomb.
Also known as calcium oxide, quicklime is made from heating limestone in a kiln. When ground into a powder it could be very effective, especially in naval warfare. The 13th century writer Giles of Rome explains: “there used to be a large number of pots filled with ground quicklime, which are to be thrown from aloft into the enemies’ ships. When the pots are thrown with force and shatter on impact, the powder rises in the air (as has been noted above in reference to land war) and enters the enemies’ eyes and irritates them so greatly that, nearly blinded, they cannot see. This situation is very dangerous in naval warfare because fighting men in such war see themselves threatened with death from every quarter. Wherefore, if the eyes of the fighting men in such a battle are so irritated by powdered lime that they cannot see, they can easily either be slain by their enemies or submerged in the water.”
The Man Catcher
One of the few weapons from the Middle Ages that was meant to be non-lethal, the Man Catcher, was designed to snare men off horseback. Using a pole, the weapon could be maneuvered to be placed around an enemy’s body and entrap him. It was expected that the armour of the captured person would protect them against being injured by the metal prongs. Many people would want to use this weapon to capture opposing knights, as they would be very valuable as prisoners for the amount of ransom money they could deliver.
This small iron dart was used among the Late Roman and Byzantine armies. In the 4th century work De Re Militari, Vegetius describes how “every soldier carries five of these javelins in the hollow of his shield. And thus the legionary soldiers seem to supply the place of archers, for they wound both the men and horses of the enemy before they come within reach of the common missile weapons.”
This weapon was supposedly invented (or at least greatly improved upon) by Zhuge Liang (181–234 AD), the famous military advisor of the Three Kingdoms period. It was a very popular weapon in China until the 19th century, and could fire as many as 10 bolts in 15 seconds.
Naptha and Greek Fire
Armies were making use of incendiary weapons since Antiquity, and the term naptha applied to weapons made from some type of oil which could continuously burn. The liquid would be put into a container and used as a bomb. In the seventh-century, the Byzantine architect Kallinikos was said to have invented Greek fire using naptha and other ingredients – it was used to defend Constantinople against an Arab fleet, destroying their ships by setting them ablaze.
The War Cart of Conrad Keyser
Conrad Keyser (1366-1405) was a German military engineer. His book, Bellifortis, contains numerous descriptions and illustrations of medieval weapons, including this one: “this war-cart shreds the ankles of an armed host and mangles unarmored folk by its movements.”
Also known as Wagenburg, these mobile fortifications were extensively used during the Hussite Wars of the 15th century – they could withstand attacks from charging knights and then send out men hidden inside to counterattack.
More of a trap than a weapon, it was a type of crossbow that could be triggered by the victim. According to Gaimar’s L’Estoire des Engleis, when the 11th century English king Edmund Ironside went to use a privy, inside was “a drawn bow with the string attached to the seat, so that when the king sat on it the arrow was released and entered his fundament.” Edmund was killed. In another, even less believable tale, Kenneth II, a 10th century Scottish king, was killed when he was tricked into touching a statute, whose movement was rigged to several crossbows that shot him dead.
The Inventions of Leonardo da Vinci
While working for the Duke of Milan at the end of the 15th century, Leonardo da Vinci designed a number of instruments of war, including a chariot with scythes on all sides, and his own version of a tank, which he said “is good for breaking the [enemy] ranks.”
Learn more about medieval warfare:
Top 10 Most Famous Swords of the Middle Ages
Medieval Siege Machines: The Bellifortis by Conrad Keyser
Top 10 Weapons of the Middle Ages