Very Top Five... Ways To Get Medieval

Monday, 7 December 2009

The medieval battlefield was a smorgasbord of spiky dismemberment. A knight had to tool up, or before he could scream he’d have been glaived in the gonads, billhooked in the bollocks, spetumed in the scrotum and voulged in the family jewels. And that’s just the guy in charge; his privates will get poleaxed as well.

The medieval period was a time where opposing groups of angry men put great effort into developing new ways to kill one another. (In this regard, it was like all other times in history.)

Anyway, what I hope you take away from this list of medieval weapons is another reason for the “I’m-sure-glad-I-didn’t-live-back-in-the-medieval-period list”, along with disease, bad diet, nonexistent education, famine, witch burnings and dying before you were 40 of "old age".

5. Grenades

“I’ve never heard of them using grenades back then,” you might suspiciously assert. Well, that’s probably because the people that actually used the grenades didn’t have enough fingers left to write about them afterwards.

The first ones were really just stone containers full of burny liquid, as used by the Byzantine Empire from the 700s, but when gunpowder reached Europe from China the grenade industry exploded (hah!) into new and exciting areas.

Although grenades themselves were invented by the Byzantines, the word ‘grenade’ was first coined much later by Scottish highlanders in the 1700s. The Scots were keen on grenades as they fitted well into the overall highlander corporate strategy, which was to recklessly charge in a big angry hairy mass of kilts and sporrans with blades sticking out of all the gaps.

4. Caltrops

The simple design paradigm says that the most elegant, efficient, iconic inventions are necessarily the simplest; like the elastic band, the brick, and the pizza.

A caltrop is a simple piece of shaped metal; a spiky tetrahedron which, when liberally scattered on the ground, causes a great deal of annoyance to any passing dudes or ponies. And the brilliant thing is that however you drop them, they always land spiky point up.

These were the landmines of their time. They would make an area literally impassable to cavalry, as any warhorse which stood on one of these would be highly likely to let you know about it in the only way it knows; throwing you off and giving you a good stomping for having the temerity to order it through the spiky ouchy hoof hurty thingies. You dick.

3. Flamethrower

Medieval flamethrowers worked like modern flamethrowers, and it really says it all on the box, doesn’t it? They throw flame, or rather flaming oil in a big splashy burny whoomph. The Byzantines (of earlier grenade fame) invented these too, and it strikes me as somewhat surprising that they didn’t conquer the world what with their terrifyingly varied access to the mighty power of fire.

I can only assume that these weapons were as dangerous to the people using them as they were to their enemies, which is why if you look at any modern census form you won’t see “Byzantine” anywhere on it. I dare you to put it in as your choice for “other” at the next census. The new Byzantine revolution starts here!

2. Elephants with cannons on their backs

You know the joke: “How do you get an elephant into the fridge?” Answer: “Open the door and put it inside.”

It was never an amazingly good joke, and now it’s not even an option; this elephant will just blow the fuckety door right off the hinges and emerge triumphant through the wreckage, ready to let you know what it thinks of your futile refrigerant plan in a big trumpety gunpowdery explosion of pachydermal death.

Elephants were fitted out with cannons for only a slim period in history, during the time just after the realisation that elephants were indeed strong enough to carry cannons but before the realisation that elephants made a fucking massive target for the enemy’s own guns. And hitting an elephant with a cannon ball makes a mess, let me tell you.

1. Longbow

“Gi’ me ma gun any day ‘n’ ah’ll show ya what I fink aw yer stoopid wooden bow, hyuck hycuk hyuck,” you may drawl foolishly. But in the right hands longbows were far deadlier than most people realise, certainly more so than guns until as late as the 20th century. Hold those gasps, here’s some stats;

Ignore everything you know about girly modern bows. Proper medieval Longbows were taller than a man, at 6’6’’ (2m). They had a range of around 650 feet (200m) and were able to pierce any piece of contemporary armour you might care to slip on in precaution of the expected penetrative shaft (know what I mean, ladies?). They are eerily silent, particularly when compared to their spluttery barking cousins, and have a rate of fire of perhaps ten aimed shots a minute, in the right hands.

“So if they are so amazingly super, how come everyone in the early modern historical period was toting muskets and whatnot instead of longbows then?” you might enquire, in a rather supercilious tone because you feel proud at having used the phrase “early modern historical period” in a contextually valid manner.

Well, it’s because you can give an untrained man a gun and he’ll suddenly have the power to unleash a lead bullet with face splattering power right into your supercilious moosh, but give an untrained man a longbow and all he’ll have is a curved stick (Which, nevertheless, I would encourage him to beat you mercilessly with. That’ll teach you to be condescending when I’m trying to educate you.)

Alongside the fact that making arrows is laborious, difficult and expensive, learning to be badass with a longbow takes years of frequent practise, as well as massive upper body strength. Here’s a simple home test for you to see if you have what it takes; Stage 1: Pick up a cow. Stage 2: Tear it in half. Stage 3: Repeat.


Tom Bailey said...

You have a great blog! I loved the flamethrower and elephants with cannons!

Tom Bailey

Bill Stankus said...

Have the toys, I'll use just one atomic bomb, maybe a leftover neutron bomb. Be happy I'm a pacifist!

Mr. Stupid said...

Nice post. Very informative. I sure am glad, I never lived in the medieval period. Nice list there. You could have maybe added a few Siege weapons too. The Medieval period say the use of many Siege weapons such as the Battering ram, Ballista, Catapult, Trebuchet, Mangonel, Petrary, Onager and Siege Tower. Anyways, thanks for the post. Have a great day!

Anonymous said...

*LAUGH* I actually did not know about the grenades. Wow. Thank you so much for sharing! I must hold the elephant cannonade in mind for future use in writing...

Alexsandyr Troutnoodler said...

Speaking from personal experience, I'd say your comments about what it takes to fire a longbow are spot-on.

Pulling back a compound bow is easy? You just start pulling, and the pulleys and cables do all the work for you, making it easier to pull back the further you go. While that seems a bit of a cheat, they fire terrifyingly fast. *THWIP!* and it's already downrange.

Pulling back a longbow, you know you're in trouble the moment you start pulling on the string. It starts out hard, then quickly builds up to "ow-ow-oW-OW-OW!!" on the fingers, shoulders and lower back. If you can actually manage to get the string back to your ear-which I used to be able to do-then you're dead-certain about what kind of power you're holding on to.

So yeh. Ripping a cow in half. Good practice.

thnidu said...

Although grenades themselves were invented by the Byzantines, the word ‘grenade’ was first coined much later by Scottish highlanders in the 1700s.

Ehh... Sorta. The word, originally meaning "pomegranate", comes into English from Spanish and Portuguese, by way of French. [OED, the Oxford English Dictionary.] But yeah, in the modern English sense, the OED's citations look like they could be from around there:

1591 Garrard's Art Warre 317 For preparations against the assault you must not be destitute of all sorts of arteficial fire, as Trompes, Granades, Bullets. c1645 TULLIE Siege Carlisle (1840) 38 Diverse were pitifully burned by the granade. 1658 R. FRANCK North. Mem. (1694) 16 Sin, like a Granade, tears up all before it.

--Dr. Whom, Consulting Linguist, Grammarian, Orthoëpist, and Philological Busybody

thnidu said...

And make that the 1500s, too.