The new movie 300 is the story of an epic battle between the Greeks and the Persians set in 480 BC. Even as far back as that era, the state of technology played a critical role in warfare. Better bows, blades, and armor often meant the difference between the conquerors and the conquered, and if a civilization was using obsolete weaponry, it could prove disastrous. Just ask the Aztecs.
Looking back to ancient and medieval times, we've picked out seven weapons that had a profound effect on how wars were fought. Back when knights were bold, kings reigned supreme, and battlefields shook with the clanking of swords, these devices commanded fear and respect from the armies that had to face them. The sun eventually sets on all technology, though, so we've also taken a look at the modern upgrades that left these weapons as obsolete museum pieces. Follow the link below to check out the list.
1. The Culverin: Going with a long shot
Few would dispute that the introduction of gunpowder to the battlefield changed everything. Now, rather than relying on human muscles to generate the force behind a weapon, chemistry made it possible to shoot projectiles further and faster than ever before. While a cannon could hurl a massive 50-pound ball a few hundred feet, the longer, lighter Culverin would send a smaller 17-pound ball over a mile with far greater accuracy. This meant that you finally had a weapon that was effective beyond the range of anything else that could return fire. Culverins were also widely used in naval warfare where range and accuracy are hugely important.
Modern Equivalent: Super Gun
If the enemy is within a couple of hundred miles of your border, it's possible to build a huge fixed-position gun to target them. The Nazis built movable super guns during World War II, but moving such a massive weapon around proved impractical. Perhaps the most notorious super-gun customer was Saddam Hussein, whose Project Babylon
could have sent a projectile into orbit had it been completed.
2. The Longbow: William Tell's dark side
Guns are so ubiquitous these days, that it's hard to imagine a world without them. Before bullets there were arrows, which a skilled longbowman was required to fire rapidly and with deadly accuracy. Back in the 14th and 15th centuries, the French and the English would mix it up on a pretty regular basis, and while crossbows were favored by the French for their added punch and accuracy, the English found that their longbows could deliver twice as many aimed shots per minute while allowing for greater maneuverability.
Modern Equivalent: M40 Sniper Rifle
Even though the longbow was considered deadly accurate by Middle-Ages standards, it soon became obsolete once workable firearms entered the scene. Today you almost never get two standing armies trying to face each other down, but if a soldier wants to take out an enemy fighter from a distance, the weapon of choice is undoubtedly the M40 sniper rifle. With an effective range of almost a mile, the target rarely knows what hit them.
3. The Trebuchet: Heads up! Cow incoming!
Before the invention of gunpowder, the best way to hurl something nasty at your enemy was with a good trebuchet, the largest of which could fling objects as big as a cow several hundred feet with surprising accuracy. While big rocks were the most common payload, the more creative might have used it to fling beehives, a barrel of boiling oil, or the head of a captured prisoner. There were even cases of a trebuchet being used to fling plague-infected carcasses and manure in an attempt to spread disease — essentially an early form of biological warfare. At a time when most combat was of the hand-to-hand, stab and chop varieties, the trebuchet allowed you to attack your enemy from a distance while giving you the ability to get your payload beyond the castle walls and other fortifications your enemy was hiding behind.
Modern Equivalent: Cruise Missile
Using rocket propulsion and GPS- or laser-guidance systems, the latest cruise missiles can fly over 600 miles, and could probably strike a bull's-eye on that cow's head thrown by the trebuchet. Modern cruise missiles almost always carry a warhead of either conventional or nuclear explosives, although theoretically a biological agent could be used, too. I doubt, however, that they'd go for a plague-infected corpse.
4. The Battering Ram: Knock, knock
Mention the words "battering ram," and most people think of those metal bars police use to break down the door of the local meth lab on Cops
. Back in the day, however, they would have one massive door to protect an entire fortified city, so you can imagine that it wouldn't give too easily. To break through, you'd need to build something the size of a large house that rolled right in front of the door you wanted to breach. With the huge ram suspended by ropes or chains, the soldiers could put all of their effort into driving the ram forward, while remaining semi-protected by the sloping roof. Once you were through the door, all of those walls and fortifications meant little.
Modern Equivalent: GBU-28 Bunker Buster
Pounding on a modern fortification with even the biggest stick won't get you too far these days, so breaking into a heavily armored bunker requires a special weapon. The GBU-28 is a laser-guided bomb with a conventional warhead that can break through 100 feet of compacted dirt, or 20 feet of solid concrete. That's enough to make quick work of all but the very deepest underground lairs.
5. The Morning Star: Getting medieval on your… behind
I imagine there are few things in life that feel quite as unpleasant as being thwacked on the head with a morning star. By comparison, a nice clean cut from a sword or knife sounds relatively pleasant. Even the most timid and wimpy foe becomes a force to be reckoned when they set their mitts on one of these spiked clubs. What set the morning star apart from other, fancier weapons is that just about anybody could knock one together with ease, making this a favorite choice of peasant militiamen and other amateur fighters.
Modern Equivalent: Nail Bomb
While the only people swinging a morning star these days are probably in some Amsterdam S&M bar, modern terrorists will often go for the nail bomb as a cheap and easy way to inflict the maximum amount of pain and suffering against the most people.
6. Boiling Oil: Hot stuff
When someone is trying to get into your castle by climbing up the walls with a ladder, how can you stop them? Well, dropping things like rocks can work, but they're probably wearing a helmet and enough body armor to fend off all but the biggest rocks. It would be more effective to drop something that inflicts the most pain possible, and scaldingly hot liquid certainly gets the job done. Castles were built with special openings called machicolations through which you could send whatever nasty stuff you wanted while remaining fairly well protected. Today we tend to think of boiling oil as being the substance of choice, but even back then, oil was a pretty valuable commodity, so defenders would also dump boiling water, hot pitch or heated sand on would-be attackers.
Modern Equivalent: Tear Gas
In many conflicts today, the emphasis is on incapacitation rather than causing excruciating pain or even death. Tear gas was developed in the 1950s as a nonlethal was to stop someone temporarily, although its ultimate safety has been a source of much debate.
7. The Trojan Horse: Hiding in plain sight
While its actual existence is probably based more in myth than in fact, legend has it that the Greeks devised a clever ruse during the Trojan War to circumvent Troy's highly fortified city walls. A huge wooden horse was offered as a gift to the Trojans, which they eventually accepted, following the ancient tradition of a general surrendering his horse to the enemy leader in defeat. What the partying Trojans didn't realize, was that the hollow horse was stuffed with Greek soldiers, who waited until the horse was safely within the city walls, then sprung forth and opened the city gates, allowing the Greek army to enter. Whether or not it existed, the Trojan Horse is probably the earliest and best-known example of using deception as a weapon of war.
Modern Equivalent: B-2 Stealth Bomber
Surprise remains an important tactic in warfare, but it's difficult to achieve today because the methods used for locating the enemy continue to become ever more sophisticated. One weapon immune to almost all forms of detection is the B-2 Stealth bomber, which is essentially invisible to radar. The first sign of its presence is usually when it drops a bomb on you.