These may be classed as they are designed for offensive and defensive purposes. Of offensive weapons, the oldest are doubtless the stone and the club, the former for hurling from a distance, the latter for the hand-to hand conflict in which the heroes of yore took great delight.
The club—at first the rough limb of a tree, as that knotty cudgel of wild olive-wood which, according to Homer, was the mighty weapon of Herakles—became later more of the nature of a hammer, like those "rough-headed stones held in iron swathes" which O'Curry describes as forming the war-clubs of the ancient Celts. They were in common use far down in the Middle Ages, and Froissart describes a doughty man-at arms in Brittany who wielded one weighing forty pounds.
The bow-and-arrow, though demanding con siderable ingenuity to devise, was widely known in both continents and was invented far back in the Stone Age. The "darts" or "arrow-heads" chipped by the hunters and warriors of times not long Post-glacial are exhumed in abundance in both Europe and America (see above, p. 26). 'Vet the cultivated people of Peru, warlike as they were, made little or no use of the bow. But this may not have been through ignorance. The early Roman legionaries rejected the bow, and relied exclusively on the sling, the javelin, and the sword.
In the Middle Ages the how developed into the powerful crossbow with its short bolt. But to this day the simple original form is in frequent use among the natives of the American continent and sonic parts of Asia and Africa.
The spear was at first merely a sharpened stick hurled point foremost against the foe. To render it more effective, a tip of horn, bone, or chipped flint was added. With a short shaft it formed the jav elin, a favorite missile in the classic days of Greece and Rome; and with a longer shaft, the lance, which the Northmen warriors used for both hurl ing and thrusting. Both varieties recur in America, the Iroquois and Algonkins knowing only the short spear, usually with stone tip and locust wood shaft, while the natives of Guatemala fought with very long lances of straight reeds with copper and stone tips. The cavalry of some European armies—notably the Cossacks—still prefer the lance_ for their encounters.
The sword gradually grew from the stone knife, as the names it bears testify. The " Saxons" means the "swordsmen," and
seax, the name of the sword in Anglo-Saxon, is akin to the Latin saxum, stone. Like the dagger, like the short sword of the Roman soldier, and that still in use for duelling, it was intended to thrust with. A weapon swung like the modern broadsword was also in early and extended use. In Mexico the handle and blade were of wood, the latter edged with keen chips of obsidian, while in the Pacific islands the saw-like teeth of the shark offered an equally appropriate material to render the weapon of murderous efficacy.
discovery of gunpowder revolutionized the methods of offensive warfare, and with it was introduced a variety of new weapons far surpassing those mentioned above, which gradually have been falling into desuetude.
Defensive weapons have always kept pace with those for offence, and in some eras have surpassed them. Their beginning is seen in the straight stick with which the naked Australian wards off the spears of his assailants. The shield of leather or of wood is referred to in the earliest records of the Old and New Worlds. The helmet and cuirass, or breast plate, were protections familiar to nations of a riper cultivation. In the armies of ancient Asia they were of leather or metal ; in those of Central America, of quilted cotton, the latter so thick and cumbrous that they impeded flight and gave the Spaniards easy victories.
these beginnings were developed the plate and chain armor of the Middle Ages with its graceful outlines and artistic flutings. It reached perfection in the fifteenth century, at which date the defensive weapons had so far outstripped those of offence that it is matter of history that in Italy two armies fought from nine o'clock in the morning until four in the afternoon not only without loss of life, but without a wounded man on either side ! The introduction of firearms soon put a stop to this agreeable but indecisive mode of war. So potent have missiles now become that the reverse condition has been reached and personal defensive armor of all kinds has been thrown aside as useless. What is retained in some European armies—the helmet and the breastplate of the German cuirassiers, for example—is for ornament only, a mere reminiscence of the past.