Carolingians rose to power in the Frankish society during the 8th century and by the year 800, Carolingian ruler Charlemagne had made a name for himself all over Europe by forging a vast Empire. He was crowned ‘Holy Roman Emperor’ the same year.The backbone of Carolingian might and expansion was the military prowess of the Frankish society.
Carolingians successfully organised the military into a highly robust and well-trained fighting machine which was then wielded by Charlemagne to subdue vast portions of Western Europe. A notable part of Carolingian fighting skill was the use of well-stocked standard weapons in which Carolingian soldiers were highly trained. These included the commonly used lance, the sword and the bow and arrow.
The lance was the most readily available and inexpensive weapon for the Carolingian soldiers. Consequently, together with the shield, it was a weapon that was carried by every member of the cavalry and the infantry. The most common type of lance used by the Carolingian soldiers was a large and heavy weapon which was used for close combat.
Carolingians would make arrangements to gather huge numbers of lances in order to equip the army adequately. For this purpose, they would annually tax the monasteries to furnish a specific number of lances. By the 8th century, Carolingians were using winged lances which came with the advantage of being less prone to getting stuck in the enemy soldier’s dress or body.
A light variant of the lance was possibly used as a javelin by the Frankish horsemen although compared to the standard lance, its use was rare. Bindings were sometimes added on the lance by Carolingian soldiers to minimise the possibility of wood splintering.
Compared to the inexpensive lances, swords were expensive pieces of weaponry in the Carolingian society. As a result, only the rich nobles who rose on horseback could usually afford to own a sword and wield it on the battlefield. The Carolingian cavalrymen usually wielded two types of swords. One of these was the single-edged iron sword called sax which was usually up to 80 cm in length.
The second type of sword was the longsword which reached up to 100 cm in length and had a double-edged blade. The sax was common among Carolingian soldiers until early 8th century but by the 9th century, it had been effectively abandoned in favour of the more balanced longsword. The use of decorated pommels and inlaid inscriptions was also common on Carolingian swords.
The use of bows was common among both the cavalry and infantry in the Carolingian army. Bows were rather inexpensive to produce and were therefore readily available to Carolingian soldiers. Multiple historical sources reveal that some edicts required Carolingian infantrymen to carry the bow as a must-have weapon on the battlefield, often together with a spare string and at least 12 arrows. However, the bow played little role in many of the decisive battles fought by the Carolingians and was not as important or useful as the mainstay of Carolingian combat, the standard lance.