Range weapons refer to such weapons which are used to inflict damage at an opponent from a greater distance than is possible in hand-to-hand combat. Range weapons have been used in warfare since the ancient period and modern-day gunpowder weapons are directly descended from them.
Many different types of range weapons were used in the medieval period. These included darts, arrows, darts used by individuals and more sophisticated range weapons such as catapults which were used as more elaborate siege weapons.
Bow and Arrow
The most common range weapon used through most of the medieval period was the common bow and arrow. Archers were frequently deployed as frontline combatants who would fire a hail of arrows into enemy lines before the cavalry of an army proceeded. The archers did this from a safe distance from the enemy.
Early medieval times featured simply bows and arrows with slight modifications. By the 13th and 14th centuries, English archers had developed the iconic longbow which was highly effective on the battlefield and proved decisive in enabling the English to win many victories against the French such as the Battle of Crecy and Agincourt.
Longbowmen became a formidable arsenal in an armies attacking capabilities and English longbowmen became highly regarded and well paid medieval soldiers.
The Crossbow was a medieval range weapon which was based on the basic bow. A Crossbow is recorded to have been used by medieval European armies beginning at least as early as the 11th century.
The medieval crossbow enabled the wielder to quickly fire a range of bolts towards the enemy with great energy, although the accuracy of the crossbow was not as good as the longbow.
By the late medieval period, crossbowmen were considered one of the most vital parts of the army and were frequently deployed as skirmishers as well as important defensive fighters.
The Arbalest was a range weapon used in medieval Europe that evolved from the basic crossbow. Compared to the standard crossbow, an arbalest was larger and the prod of the weapon was made of steel.
Being mostly made of steel, it enabled the wielder to shoot arrows with great velocity into enemy lines. However, being hard to handle and load, the arbalest was typically used by its carrier to lose two bolts per minute towards the enemies.
Bolts shot from an arbalest were usually accurate within a range of 100 meters. The weapon came to be popularly used in medieval Europe from 12th century onwards.
A Javelin was a frequently used range weapon in medieval Europe, especially among the armies based in northern regions of Europe.
The Javelin itself usually referred to a spear which was not meant for close combat but for throwing into enemy lines from a distance.
Anglo-Saxons popularly used javelins as one of the primary missile weapons on the battlefield, often deciding the outcome of the battle by pitting hails of javelins against each other. Anglo-Saxon javelins were designed to be able to pierce through wooden shields.
After the replacement of Anglo-Saxon hegemony in Britain by the Normans, the Welsh widely used javelins as a primary weapon with great success. A Javelin was also commonly used among the warriors in the Iberian region during the medieval period.
A Spear was one of the most versatile weapons used in medieval Europe and one of its key uses was as a range weapon. A spear usually comprised of a long pole and on its end, a sharp blade was affixed.
Since this type of weapon required minimal metal in construction, it was economic to produce and widely used.
Among the throwing spears used in the medieval period was the angon which was commonly used by the Frankish and Anglo-Saxon troops. Such spears were also popularly used by the Vikings in their raiding attacks across Europe.
Axes were commonly used by cavalrymen as well as infantrymen through the medieval period. A commonly used type of axe used on medieval battlefields was the throwing axe. This type of axe became a key weapon of the Germanic fighters in early medieval period, especially with the Anglo-Saxons.
One of the common types of throwing axes used in the early medieval period features an S-shaped blade atop a rather small shaft. The thrower would toss this axe into the distance in an overhand motion which would send the axe rotating in the air, gaining significant momentum and lodging itself in the armour, shield or the body of the victim.
A hurlbat was a later variant of the throwing axe which came to be commonly used in late 15th century.
The Francisca was a specific type of throwing axe being used in the medieval period. The use of the francisca was limited to the early medieval period and it was popularly wielded by the Franks in Western Europe from whom its name is derived.
The blade of a francisca widened towards the cutting end and its haft measured nearly 16 to 18 inches in length culminating in a blade measuring 4 inches.
The Franks popularly used the francisca to disrupt enemy lines as a first volley of attack, destroying their shields and penetrating their armour with the powerful throw of the axe.
A hand cannon was among the earliest types of firearms used in medieval Europe as an effective range weapon. The hand cannon was originally invented in China in the 13th century and reached Europe by the final days of the medieval period in the 16th century.
The most compact sort of hand cannon could be carried by a single soldier but its operation required one or more additional soldiers.
The operating mechanism involved igniting the powder in the cannon through a side hole which resulted in a cannon being fired towards enemy lines. Medieval hand cannons ranged from 50 to 300 meters in their reach.
A trebuchet was a kind of range weapon which was used specifically during sieges in the medieval period. The earliest use of trebuchets in the medieval period dates back to the 12th century.
During this period, the use of trebuchet was more popular in Eastern Europe where it was frequently used as a siege engine. Well-constructed trebuchets could toss stones and rocks weighing as much as 250 pounds long distances, often into the walls of a besieged castle or fortification.
Trebuchets were popularly used by the Saracen armies during the Crusades and their use then passed over into Western Europe as well.
Although classified as a notable range weapon, trebuchet were expensive to produce, cumbersome to move around and useful only in moments of siege. As a result, their use in medieval Europe was rather limited and occasional.