Index of all articles, click here

History of weapons

The history of weapons is a vast subject and involves a step-by-step account of the various weapons that were invented in the course of time. Weapons can be defined as a tool used to hurt an individual or a group or to threaten or defend.

Apart from their employment in warfare and other combat situations, they are also used for hunting-and-gathering purposes, for the preservation of law and order, for border security, and for the committing of crimes.

Weapons have always played a crucial role in society, moulding and changing the course of history. They have destroyed civilizations and created new ones. In the ancient days, when Egypt was at its peak, the Hyksos invaded it only because they had superior weapons made of iron. They thrust into Egypt using chariots — a tactical and logistical innovation which amazed the Egyptians.

The Macedonians surged ahead of all other civilizations by introducing siege weapons such as the catapult, and field weapons such as the pike, which was employed to deadly effect by heavily armed infantrymen arranged in phalanxes. The Romans subsequently improved the quality and technology of siege equipment, arms and armor, and battle tactics.

Gunpowder, a Chinese invention, was introduced on to the battlefields of Europe in the Middle Ages, thereby revolutionizing military strategy and introducing a whole new range of propellent-based ordnance. The Germans after their defeat in World War I, began devising new methods of creating superior grades and types of weapons, such as the jet fighter, while World War II in general caused an arms race which culminated in the development of the atomic bomb.

The world's arsenal of weapons began in prehistoric times with simple clubs, stone tools, wooden spears and simple slings. It later progressed to include bows and arrows, Greek fire and sophisticated blade technology, and, still later, to embrace cannons, rifles, machine-guns, tanks, battleships, war planes, rockets — and eventually nuclear weapons. The evolution of these multifarious kinds of weapons helps us to understand the technology employed by our ancestors in different periods of history. They give an insight, to, into how changing societal pressures and political structures have given rise to progressively deadlier implements of death and destruction.

Weapons of the Pre-historic age

When human beings came into existence, it took time and knowledge for them to learn to hunt animals effectively. They made most of their weapons using sticks and stones. With the growing threat from animals, humans started to use the uneven branches or logs in a more effective manner. They started sharpening them with sharp edged stones making weapons such as Heavy Neolithic axes and Canaanean blades.[1] They began using clubs and slings for hunting and defending themselves from carnivorous animals and other enemies.

Cave paintings in Africa, said to be as old as 6000 BCE, depict people armed with clubs and other sharp weapons resembling maces. Clubs made of wood were used in Africa for a large period of time. Later, clubs were formed of metal and called maces.[2] Even wooden axes used for cutting wood were now made of metal. Axes were mostly used in Europe and Asia. In Australia people used boomerangs. The boomerangs were designed to come back. In Asia people used slings initially, but with the discovery of copper and metal, they started using bows, arrows and spears.

Meanwhile in China, staff was used effectively to fight the enemies. A stone was tied to the top of the staff and it was used as a weapon. The Indians used wooden axes which were comparatively smaller in size. They used weapons that were light and easy to use. Most of these weapons were used for hunting.[3]

The Club
A fairly primitive weapon, it was used by the nomads. Clubs were mostly used in Europe while other tribes used wooden axes. In popular culture most of the monsters, or giants are shown to use clubs. This weapon was the easiest to handle. A club is generally small enough to be wielded in one hand. Clubs vary in size, weight and come in many shapes. These clubs were later converted into maces after mining began. Maces were basically a sophisticated version of clubs. The mace came with a heavy head on the end. In Africa, people called clubs as Knobkierrie. The clubs that were made in Africa were much heavier. They came with a heavy rounded knob or head. The tribes in Africa started carving faces and other symbols on it. The club was the traditional weapon of the Ethnic African groups.[4]

The mace evolved from the traditional club. Maces had sharp edges at the end which helped the warriors in close combat. Maces of good quality could penetrate into armours and inflict grave injuries. They too came in varied shapes and sizes. Some maces came with unique shapes, haft and a metal ball with spikes.[5] There are old texts that mention the existence of such maces in the ancient period. They were widely used by the Celts and other North African tribes. Initially, stones were used for the production of maces, but gradually, the blacksmiths started to use copper and bronze and improved its quality. The Greeks were one of the first people to have produced top quality maces. Dorians were said to be the first people who used maces in Europe. The Dorians had a proud military tradition and dominated Crete and southern Greece. The warriors hailing from Sardinia used similar maces when fighting for Rameses II against the Hittites. The mythological stories of India Ramayana and Mahabharta also has a mention of people using wooden stick with bronze heads known as Gada in battles. It is evident from these facts that maces were used in ancient Indian warfare.[6]

Ancient Spear
The spear is one of the oldest man made weapons. It started to be used in battles during the Old and Middle Kingdom of Egypt's Dynastic period. The spear had a typical pointed blade that was attached to a long wooden shaft by a tang. The pointed blade, in those days was made of copper or flint. Later, the new kingdom made these spear in bronze and improved its make. Many of these spears were used in the form of javelins. But bow and arrow were more popular than spears in Egypt. Spears, nevertheless were kept as a backup, as an auxiliary weapon of the charioteers, who would be out of arrows.[7]

Weapons of Ancient world

The earliest form of weapons were stone tipped spears. There are records that the Chinese used leather armour and cut weapons out of jade. Armours were mostly made out of buffalo hide. The common man in the ancient world used a plain straight stick as the basic weapon to protect himself from enemies. In the medieval east, the first person to construct a stone throwing mangonel was Nimrod, the king of Babylon.

Copper Age

The humans discovered new natural resources beneath the Earth's surface, they, at once used their new found resources judiciously and effectively and replaced their traditional clubs with maces. Copper had significantly contributed to the ancient world and helped flourish the cultures of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Indus and China. Copper replaced stone. Copper then was the only metal known to man for a long period of time.[8] During the copper age maces were much in demand. The Sumerians were the first people on record to have used copper weapons. The native Americans used copper for ceremonies and intricate decorations. The weapons they used were mostly flint spears and knives. The ancient artisans soon discovered the drawbacks of copper for producing armaments. Weapons made of copper could be sharpened easily, though they were not able to hold their edge for a longer time. [9] Apart from maces, bows and arrows, that had replaced slings were used for wars. Bow and arrow was preferred over spears because they were easy to handle provided greater mobility and were more accurate, also they did not require much raw material. Bow and arrows were a boon for hunters. They could hunt more effectively with a bow and arrow than with a spear. The bow enabled the ancient man to become the most efficient hunter. After the discovery of pure copper in Anatolia, around 6000 BC, copper metallurgy spread in Egypt, Mesopotamia. In 3500 the art of metallurgy spread into India, China and Europe.[10]

The Sumerians
Known to be one of the earliest civilizations, the Sumerians lived in what is currently Iraq. The land was open to enemy attacks. These people were attacked by many barbarian tribes but they always drove them away from their land. The Sumerian warrior was equipped with maces, clubs and slings. They were losing many people and their civilization had begun to crumble. Then an emperor came to the rescue. Sargon of Akkad, (2333-2279 BC)- who is believed to have saved the Sumerian civilization from total collapse. Around 2300 BC, Sargon assembled an army of 5,000 soldiers. Since they had domesticated animals, they thought of using them for battles. Thus donkeys were employed for pulling chariots. The Sumerians had devised a strategy to attack the enemies while riding chariots that would keep them away from enemy weapons and at the same time rout the hostile troops. They used bow and arrows which proved to be effective as they were the perfect guided missiles of the ancient period.[11]

Bows and arrows
Bows and arrows changed with changing times. Bows were made from wood. The bow brought about a revolution in ancient warfare just like gunpowder for medieval warfare. Since arrow heads were discovered in Africa, the historians have presumed that the bow and arrow were invented there at around 50,000 BC. The bows were quite effective against the enemies that were far from the archer.[12] Archers were recruited in armies. When people started horse riding at around 2500 BC, composite bows were created. In 1200 BC, the Hittites, originating from Anatolia, shot arrows using their bows, on light chariots. In 1000 BC, some of these horse riding archers from Central Asia invented the recurve bow, which were in the shape of W and had a more improvised elasticity. People from the Nile used relatively long bows for better accuracy. They also used composite bows. Civilizations all over the world produced bows according to their respective vegetation. The Chinese made bows from bamboo sticks while others who did not have the right kind of wood needed for making bows produced composite bows. According to Chinese beliefs and mythology, a story is narrated and written in old Chinese texts which says how bow and arrow were invented.

"ONCE upon a time, Huangdi went out hunting armed with a stone knife. Suddenly, a tiger sprang out of the undergrowth. Huangdi shinned up a mulberry tree to escape. Being a patient creature, the tiger sat down at the bottom of the tree to see what would happen next. Huangdi saw that the mulberry wood was supple, so he cut off a branch with his stone knife to make a bow. Then he saw a vine growing on the tree, and he cut a length from it to make a string. Next he saw some bamboo nearby that was straight, so he cut a piece to make an arrow. With his bow and arrow, he shot the tiger in the eye. The tiger ran off and Huangdi made his escape.[13]"

The Egyptians
The Egyptians for a long time enjoyed their strategic location which was free from enemy attacks. Egypt was considered to be peaceful in the ancient world. They never did consider training an army for the sake of invasion or defense of their own province.[14] But to their dismay, a tribe known to be the Hyksos surprised the Egyptians. They marched into Egypt during the 15th Dynasty in the Second Intermediate Period with chariots and took the people of Egypt by surprise. The invaders used composite bows as well as improved recurve bows and arrowheads. According to Historians, they came from Mesopotamia, but the exact location from where the Hyksos came is still a mystery. Unlike the Sumerians, the Hyksos had horse drawn chariots and not donkeys. They wore mailed shirts and metal helmets. They were also armed with superior daggers and swords.[15] Chariotry was introduced to the Egyptians by the Hyksos. Tribes like that of the Hyksos had access to new and superior weapons which were most probably developed further away in Asia. These tribes using these new and sophisticated weapons started to conquer new lands and at the same time exchange their knowledge of weapons with other civilizations. The Egyptians, after a civil war with Hyksos came to power once again. The Egyptians started to use horse drawn chariots. Even before the Hyksos invasion, the Egyptians did not have a cavalry as it is believed that the horses were smaller and not strong enough to support a rider.

Ancient naval weapons
Fish was a major source of food and the Egyptians eked out a living in whatever river Nile had to offer to them. Papyrus boats are reported to have been first constructed in the pre-dynastic for fishing purpose. Most of the Egyptians used boats to transport warriors. In order to intercept a foreign boat, they used large stones. They would hurl big stones in the direction of enemy boats, physically or using a catapult. The Egyptians traded with the Phoenicians in around 2200 BC. For safety of their boats they would fix a bow. The New Egyptian kingdom re-organized the standing army and also focused on making new and improved boats. During this period, Egypt's navy was extensive. Bigger ships of seventy to eighty tons suited to long voyages became quite common. Many cargo ships were converted into battle ships. Sea faring wasn't safe and in order to have smooth trading relations, they built a large fleet and took control of the sea. The temple of Medinet has paintings depicting the fleet of Ramses II fighting in the sea. This was probably the first properly documented sea battle. The Phoenicians are said to have developed a first of its kind war galley in the ancient world with a battering ram in the front.

War Chariots
Chariots—a mode of transportation, were converted into a weapon by the ancient people. The Hittitites used chariots to crash into enemies. The Egyptians used to stay away from enemies and attack them by arrows and spears. These primitive vehicles were first made in Mesopotamia by the Sumerians. This four wheeled wagon was pulled by four donkeys. The wagon had a driver and a warrior armed with spears or axes. Some historians believe that chariots were first developed in the Eurasian steppes, somewhere near Russia and Uzbekistan. After the introduction of horse, an animal that was found to be much faster than donkey, the chariot became a more fierce weapon with the combination of speed, strength and mobility.[16] The Hyksos introduced chariots in Egypt. These chariots were later modified into the Egyptian style. The parts were changed and decorated with Egyptian symbols and paintings. However, by 15 century BC, Tutmoses III made 1000 chariots for military expedition. Each chariot carried two men, one to drive and one to shoot arrows. Much later, the Egyptians changed their strategy and divided the charioteers into five squadrons, with twenty-five chariots in each and two men in each chariot: a driver and a soldier armed with bows and arrows, a shield, a sword, and a javelin. If arrows were exhausted they would always keep swords as a backup for close combat.[17]

The Khopesh sword
Khopesh also called as the Canaanite "sickle-sword" was used mostly by the Barbarian tribes who lived near Mesopotamia. These tribes used to attack the Egyptians occasionally. Khopesh was their main weapon. These tribes later started trading with Egyptians. The Egyptians were so impressed by the shape and make of the sword, they decided to adopt it. Ramses II was the first pharaoh to have used the khopesh in warfare. The army of Ramesses II used the Khopesh in the battle of Khandesh. The Khopesh was considered to be the best designed sword which could be used as an axe, a sword or a sickle. Khopesh eventually became the most popular sword in all of Egypt and a symbol of royal power and strength. The origin of Khopesh sword can be traced back to Mesopotamia. The Assyrian king Adad-nirari I (r. 1307–1275 B.C.) used to display this sword during ritual ceremonies. Such curved swords could be seen in Mesopotamian art and paintings. Some of these Khopesh swords were black in colour and came with a full tang. The average length of the Khopesh was around 40 to 60 cms.[18]

As the barbarian hordes from Germania were still using clubs and maces the classical Greek civilization had mastered the art of making spears. Trident or Gig was another form of spear popular with the Greeks. The trident is a three ponged spear that was formerly used as an agricultural tool. This weapon was used in the east by the Indians who called it Trishul (three spears). Trident was used in Ancient Rome by the Gladiators known to be net fighters. These net fighters would cast the net onto their enemies and once their enemies were trapped and helpless in the net, they would then use the trident to kill him or inflict serious injuries. The trident is also associated with mythoglogical gods. Poseidon, the sea god in Greek mythology, holds the trident, as does the ancient Roman god Neptune and Shiva, a Hindu god.[19]


  • 1. "Hunting without Guns". Retrieved 2010-02-05.
  • 2. " A Brief History of Weapons". Tim Lambert. Retrieved 2009-07-15.
  • 3. Bhattasali, Amitabha (28 March 2008). "Ancient weapons dug up in India". BBC. Retrieved 01 August 2009.
  • 4. "Club (weapon)". Britannica.com. Retrieved 2009-08-02.
  • 5. Indian Handicrafts; Antique Armoury
  • 6. Bhattacharya, Ashok Kumar (1995). A pageant of Indian culture: art and archaeology. India: Abhinav Publications. ISBN 81-7017-273-X, 9788170172734.
  • 7. Fox, Troy (2005). "Projectile Type Weapons of Ancient Egypt". TourEgypt. Retrieved 1 August 2009.
  • 8. "From Copper to Bronze to Conquest". Discover Copper. copper.org. 2006. Retrieved 01 August 2009.
  • 9. Justice, Noel (September 1995). Stone Age Spear and Arrow Points of the Midcontinental and Eastern United States: A Modern Survey and Reference. Indiana University Press. pp. 304. ISBN 0-253-20985-4.
  • 10. Parkinson, William (December 2006). The Social Organization of Early Copper Age Tribes on the Great Hungarian Plain. British Archaeological Reports Ltd. pp. 199. ISBN 1-84171-788-6.
  • 11. a b c d Taylor, Andrew (21 August 2008) The Rise and Fall of the Great Empires London: Quercus ISBN 978-1-84724-513-7
  • 12. Selvon Mike; Taking You Back to the Bow and Arrow History; Ezine Articles
  • 13. How bow and arrow were invented
  • 14. Edward Mcnall p. 34.
  • 15. Edward Mcnall pp 37–38
  • 16. Healy, Mark (1992). Armies of the Pharaohs. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-85532-939-5.
  • 17. Feature story on Chariots
  • 18. David and Irene Franck. Timelines of War: A Chronology of Warfare from 100,000 BC to the Present. Boston: Little, Brown, 1994
  • 19. Shaw, Ian (1991). Egyptian Warfare and Weapons. Shire Publications LTD. ISBN 0-7478-0142-8.
  • 20. The Golden Chinese Archaeology; Part 2; Bronze Age of China
  • 21. Essay and Term papers; Assyrian Weapons and Warfare Paper
  • 22. Adcock, F.E (1962). The Greek and Macedonian Art of War. California: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-00005-6.
  • 23. Pillai Maya; Ancient Greek Weapons
  • 24. a b c d e f DeVries & Smith
  • 25. Bishop, M C; J C N Coulston (2008 Reprint edition). Roman Military Equipment: From The Punic Wars To The Fall Of Rome. Oxbow Books. pp. 322. ISBN 1-84217-159-3.
  • 26. Davis, Ralph H C (1999). A History of Medieval Europe: From Constantine to Saint Louis. London: Longman. ISBN 978-0-582-41861-5. pp. 108–109.
  • 27. Bernard S. Bachrach, Procopius, Agathias and the Frankish Military, Speculum 45 (1970): 436–437)
  • 28. a b Nicolle
  • 29. Herbst p. 7.
  • 30. Nicolle p. 4.
  • 31. Nicolle p. 5.
  • 32. Herbst p. 8.
  • 33. Fuller, J.F.C. : The Decisive Battles of the Western World, Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1954
  • 34. a b Nicolle pp. 5–6.
  • 35. Nicolle pp. 169-170
  • 36. "The Hundred Years War- The Final phase". Retrieved 2009-07-04.
  • 37. a b Hardy, Robert, (1992)Longbow: A Social and Military History, Patrick Stephens Ltd, pp. 244. ISBN 1-85260-412-3
  • 38. a b c Reid, William (1976). Weapons Through the Ages. New York: Crescent.
  • 39. Herbst p. 8-9.
  • 40. "Other Medieval Weapons Terminology - Spears, Axes, Lances, Maces, Halberds". Retrieved 22 November 2010.
  • 41. Potter, David (2008). Renaissance France at war: armies, culture and society. Boydell & Brewer Ltd. pp. 405. ISBN 978-1-84383-405-2.
  • 42. Severy, Merle; Thomas b Allen, Ross Bennett, Jules B Billard, Russell Bourne, Edward Lanlouette, David F Robinson, Verla Lee Smith, John J Putman, Seymour Fishbein (1970). The Renaissance - Maker of Modern Man. National Geographic Society. pp. 402. ISBN 0-87044-091-8.

    This article uses material from the Wikipedia article "History of weapons", which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.