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Thread: Weapons Used by Lower Middle Class/Peasants in the Middle Ages

  1. #1

    Weapons Used by Lower Middle Class/Peasants in the Middle Ages

    Okay, so, in my story, the character is a young guy and an apprentice/surrogate son to the local blacksmith. They're not exactly rich, but they're not dirt poor either. Eventually, this guy is gonna join the rebellion and be a dragonrider and all B.A. and such, but right now, he's just a guy.

    However, I WOULD like to give him some sort of weaponry background. Just one that makes sense with his lifestyle and socioeconomic background (if that's the wrong term, forgive me).

    So, what kind of weapons would a guy in his shoes learn to use? I don't want to give him a sword now, since that's the kind of weapon that takes years and years and years of practice. There's techniques and stances and all sorts of things... So I'm trying to think of weaponry, melee and ranged, that someone could learn on their own.

    Right now, I'm thinking... axe (a handaxe, not a battleaxe) and a sling.

    Anything else you guys can think of that a person in that position in life would/could learn to use?

  2. #2
    Staff. All you need is a big long straight piece of wood.

    Rural peasantry could also plausibly be good with a bow, for hunting, and they're relatively cheap/simple tech.

    If he's a blacksmith's apprentice, presumably he'd probably have a sword and dagger anyway (he'd make them himself), and practice with them (even if he has no real teacher, and isn't very good, he'd at least have some familiarity with handling them).

  3. #3
    Apparently, swords were more common than you'd think (in England at least). After the 'Statue of Winchester' in 1285, it was required by law for 15 - 65 year olds to keep arms to aid law enforcement. I think the quality and type of gear depended on how 'well off' you were, but:

    "Even the poorest men must keep some weapons: a sword and a knife and a bow and arrows, or -- for those who live within forests -- a crossbow and bolts." - From the Time Travellers Guide to Medieval England, by Ian Mortimer.
    Before this? I'm not sure.

    Your characters don't need to be skilled with a sword to own one, but if you'd just rather a different weapon, then I'm pretty sure most types are feasible. I don't think it's the selection that suffers due to being of a lower class, but the quality of the weapon.
    Last edited by Johnny Cosmo; 9-28-11 at 3:58 PM.

  4. #4
    Senior Member myrddin173's Avatar
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    I would think they would have a wide variety of weapons, mostly items that also had a mundane purpose as well. A hatchet/axe for cutting wood, a pitchfork to be a couple examples. Also most everybody would have at least a multi-purpose knife.
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    Senior Member pskelding's Avatar
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    For non-blacksmiths I'd say they'd have the odd dagger or short sword, kitchen knives, butcher's knives or chops, maybe some nice farm tools... almost like your good old fashion lynch mob. It'd be more interesting.

    If I gave a townsperson a sword I'd make damn well sure he didn't know how to use it well...
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    Senior Member Kevlar's Avatar
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    As aforesaid, him being a blacksmith's son could give him access to a wide variety of weapons, unless his father only makes coathooks, horseshoes and hoes. And name a young boy nowadays who's never sparred with sticks or swords made of spare lumber, let alone back when they were in common use. Sure someone who learned this way is likely to guard on the edge and require a re-forging, but a blacksmith's son might know better. Doesn't mean he'd have skill.

    I'm not pushing you toward swords however. Common items used as and converted to weapons include axes big and small, hunting spears, pitch-forks, hunting bows, knives short and long, and even such things as sickles and scythes. Also consider hammers, pickaxes, sharp hoes (and/or hoes or rakes with the utility part broken off and the remaining metal sharpened), frying pans/pots, fire/coal-pokers, and shovels. All have good killing potential.
    Last edited by Kevlar; 9-29-11 at 1:22 AM.

  7. #7
    What kind of Smith? My understanding is that not all blacksmiths were weaponsmiths. I thought sword making requiring a completely different skillset and metals than making nails, wheels, horseshoes, tools and other metal goods.

    A staff/spear, bow/crossbow and general utility knife plus travel food. That's what I'd take.
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    Senior Member Kevlar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sashamerideth
    What kind of Smith? My understanding is that not all blacksmiths were weaponsmiths. I thought sword making requiring a completely different skillset and metals than making nails, wheels, horseshoes, tools and other metal goods.
    It does require different steel and heat treating methods, but the basic techniques of smithing (drawing, bending, upsetting, cutting, punching and welding) change little. Creating a sword certainly requires more materials, time, skill and visualization ability, but it doesn't require a seperate skillset.

  9. #9
    Senior Member myrddin173's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kevlar View Post
    Creating a sword certainly requires more materials, time, skill and visualization ability...
    I would amend that to creating a good sword. Any smith with some metal could make a sword, it might not last long or work well but it is still a sword.
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  10. #10
    Swords, ones that were actually good for combat, were generally harder to make (and more expensive) than the tools that were used by peasants and townspeople for their daily work. They were also generally sidearms, and symbols of aristocratic power, much like a fancy officer's pistol. Swords are weapons that require training for effective use, and the sword needs to be of good quality in the first place. Given the lack of experience that a peasant child would have with swords I would suggest shelving the idea of "boy w/ sword" for now, and going with some more mundane, but imo better weapons.

    1. The Bow: Pure and simple the bow is a sensible weapon and tool for a peasant. While real peasants weren't doing THAT much hunting, you could alter your world such that they are allowed to. A bow functions as both an excellent combat weapon that anyone could have access to, and a tool for getting food.

    2. The Axe/Hatchet: A woodsman's tool, a brutal cleaving weapon. It doesn't require much training to use, and is effective.

    3. The Spear/Halberd/Pitchfork: My personal favorite. The Spear is the peasant's go to weapon. It is VERY cheap, as old as dirt, and effective. It was technically still in use during the first world war as the bayonet. There is simply NO excuse for not having access to at least a makeshift spear. Even better would be a Halberd, a multi-functional polearm. Part axe, part glave, part spear, part hook, the halberd could serve your hero well. However halberds were well-made military weapons, so unless your blacksmith wanted to do a little side project (A big axe with a pike on the end could be a halberd technically, or a pole-arm) your hero would need access to a military smith or armory.

    4. The Mace/Cludgeon: The only weapon more basic than the spear. The mace/cludgeon works by breaking stuff. It requires NO training, and relies on intuitive swinging and such. If your character can't get a mace/cludgeon of some sort, he's screwed. However, I don't think of a mace as a heroic weapon unless it's very well made, which would require a military smith or armory.

    Personally I would go with these three weapons:

    1. A bow, long or short or whatever: It's practical, versatile, lethal, and ranged. If you can't make one or don't have one, just steal one of the elves. While bow work requires training, that training is pretty easily accessable, and can be justified by the need for hunting.

    2. A spear/halberd is the best main battle weapon a peasant can have. He gets distance, simplicity of use, and versatility. He can fight enemies on horseback, on foot, armored or unarmored. It's a sensable weapon, and it's the primary battle arm of medieval infantry.

    3. A knife or hatchet is an excellent last ditch/personal weapon. When you aren't on the battlefield, you still need protection. I would go with the knife for ease of deployment and concealment, which still are important attributes of personal defense handguns today. A hatchet however would make more sense for an avid outdoorsman. he could even carry both.

    However, a fantasy hero needs to be ready for anything. He should have a cloak, some rope, arrows, a torch, blanket, perhaps supplies for a tent. If he's a dragon rider he's going to need saddle material, I would think. Reigns would be unnecessary if the dragon can understand the human.

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