5 The English Longbow
With a range of up to 400 yards and a rate of fire that could exceed six arrows per minute, a group of several hundred archers massed together and firing at once was the Medieval equivalent of a carpet bombing attack. Longbows have been traced back many thousands of years before the Common Era, but it was during the Hundred Years’ War between England and France that they truly came into their own, especially during the famous battle of Agincourt, where English archers made up the majority of that sides’ victorious army, raining pointy death down on the French.
By the 1400s, we were already quite adept at blowing each other apart using the forerunners of modern artillery. From the mid-13th Century onward, people were refining black powder and the weapons that used it, and by the late 15th Century, projectile weapons were the best-known way to kill each other. The Dardanelles Gun was made in 1464 and could fire stone spheres more than two feet in diameter!
If you have nothing to eat, you can’t well mount an attack or a defense. Thus, destroying the crops and/or livestock of an enemy has long been one of the most effective albeit sinister tactics in waging war. Fire often was used to ravage food sources, or fields were laid to waste mechanically (or just consumed by the visiting army). Once a besieged people were holed up behind the walls of a city or castle, famine and thirst were the surest sources of victory for those laying the siege.
2 Biological Weapons
Some things never change, and this nasty, awful type of “weapon” is one of them. A biological weapon can be thought of as any intentional deployment of a material that will kill, sicken, weaken or generally have adverse effects on the health of an adversary. The earliest and most reliable method of bio war was to poison an enemy’s water supply with dead, rotting animals. Hannibal’s armies were rumored to have thrown poisonous snakes onto the decks of enemy ships, while sieging armies of the Middle Ages often threw carcasses infected with the Black Death into enemy lines, and we know about the supposed use of the smallpox virus against populations, a shameful accusation in American history, but also widespread globally.
It did not take long for mankind to realize that the same crackling, dancing tongues of flame that warmed their bones and cooked their meat could also be used to kill one another quite effectively. From flaming arrows used against soldiers to fire ships used against fleets, to whole cities ravaged by manmade conflagrations, fire was the first WMD and remains one of the most awful scourges we can face, be it as an act of war or as a natural disaster.