Medieval Metal: Weapons of Yore: Big Pics

Many myths and legends out of medieval England depict triumphant knights winning the day, greedy kings expanding their domains and fierce battles between good and evil. In short, they tell the stories of great heroes.

Hollywood has again reinvented one popular medieval legend with the movie "Robin Hood." A crusader for justice and expert marksman, Robin Hood leads an uprising against the forces of corruption.

While we can't sneak you into the movie, we can offer you a glimpse of the weapons of warfare that made the knights and heroes of olde the legends they are.

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BOWS AND CROSSBOWS

Robin Hood's weapon of choice, the bow and arrow has been around for thousands of years.

Ancient cultures have been making arrows starting around 25,000-30,000 years ago, a practice reaching as far back as ancient Egypt. Even crossbows date back to 3rd-century Greece.

The bow was made out of a strip of flexible material, usually wood. A woven cord linked the two ends to form a tension. Arrows had a straight, wooden shaft with feathers at the end for balance. Arrowheads were originally made out of burnt wood, but were then replaced with stone, bone and later metal.

In medieval Europe, archers were the snipers of their day and could shoot arrows up to 250 yards, depending on the bow's length. Crossbows could fire a projectile up to 450 yards.

By the 1600s, the bow and arrow was quickly becoming outdated with the invention and use of gunpowder.

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SWORDS

A knight's chief weapon was his sword. However, swords were very difficult to create and required a skilled specialist to forge and maintain.

Although a blacksmith works with soft iron, a swordsmith or bladesmith has to take numerous steps to heat iron into steel and forge the blade properly before polishing and cleaning. A separate skilled laborer -- called a hiltmaker -- would fashion the handle of the sword.

Medieval swords appeared in a variety of forms, but generally had a long, wide, straight, double-edged blade with a simple cross-guard (or "cruciform" hilt).

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DAGGERS

Daggers and knives made of steel were widely carried as a secondary weapon to be used alongside the sword in close combat

Knights weren't the only ones who wielded these weapons. Given how easy it is to produce even a rudimentary blade, they were commonly used as a form of personal protection.

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MACE AND FLANGED MACE

With its lightweight wooden handle and heavy iron head, a mace, essentially a heavy club, could easily be swung or thrown with great force but little effort, tearing through chain mail and flank armor.

Although used in Europe from the 13th-15th centuries, earlier versions of the mace date back to ancient Egypt. The flanged mace, which is a spiked metal ball on the end of a chain, was used during battle and for torture or punishment.

During the late Middle Ages, royalty and city officials often adopted the mace as a city or township's emblem because the weapon was symbolic of great power. Through the centuries into today, the mace has been transformed from a battle weapon to a jeweled ceremonial piece.

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BATTLE AXES

Like swords, medieval battle axes came in many shapes, sizes and forms. Axes were usually made of iron and were relatively lightweight.

Battle axes have been around since the 4th century and were first used by Vikings. Later, they were adapted to be handled more like the mace. The majority of the weight of the weapon was secured in the wedge blade, which made it easier to cut through armor and flesh.

During the Middle Ages, axes were designed to be a throwing weapon. They were much cheaper to make than swords, and were very common as a result.

WAR HAMMERS

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This weapon was used exactly how you would expect. War hammers appear shaped very much like their modern counterparts, with a round or pointed flat head made of steel and iron.

Although the size of the war hammer varied with each combatant, longer handles were affixed to some heads in the 14th century specifically designed for horsemen. Sometimes topped with a spike, they were used to come crashing down onto an opponent's skull during battle.

SPEARS, JAVELINS AND PIKES

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Spears, javelins and pikes were used not only in battle, but also for jousting tournaments, hunting and more.

Spears were the lightest and thinnest of this weapon group. They could be easily hurled from a distance or used as a secondary killing tool to the sword.

The weapon's long length usually made it awkward for foot soldiers, but incredibly handy for warriors on horseback who would charge at their enemies to either knock them off their horses, stab them on the ground or both.

SIEGE EQUIPMENT AND WEAPONS

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The Middle Ages were riddled with bloodshed: from wars in the Holy Land during the Crusades to battles among nation-states as Christian princes and kings squabbled with one another. Hundreds of homes, castles and entire villages were destroyed in the process.

During this time, siege weapons were used to tear down structures, kill soldiers and intimidate enemies. But these weapons had been around for centuries, dating back to ancient Greece.

This engraving shows several siege weapons including the catapult, ballista, siege tower and battering ram.

Catapults could hurl javelins, darts, rocks and other missiles over 300 feet. The ballista worked like a giant crossbow, throwing projectiles from a torsion spring. The siege tower was a movable mini-fortress that was essential to protecting soldiers. Constructed with four walls, ladders and various windows all set on wheels, the tower could be moved right up to an enemy's castle. Battering rams were used to break down drawbridges or doors to allow soldiers to storm any fortified structure.

Compiled by Lauren Effron

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