A History of Military Weapons

A History of Military Weapons

Military weapons have a long history, since the dawn of man. Wars and battles for resources and power have caused millions of people to take up arms against each other. From the development of clubs all the way to nuclear weapons, advancements in ways to attack an opponent have led to new ways to defend against the attacks. This, in turn, causes even more advancements. Each age of military weapons presents a distinct step in technology that separates it from the previous generation, making military prowess a quest for better tools and increased destructive force and accuracy.

1 Prehistoric Weapons

The first weapons used for war are believed to have been wooden clubs, sharpened sticks, and stones. However, the first weaponry designed by humans is believed to be the throwing spear. Examples of carved spears have been dated to at least 400,000 years ago. Evidence shows that these were adapted to include fire-hardened points 150,000 years later. Archaeologists also have unearthed stone axes from at least 80,000 years ago.

The bow and arrow was the first advanced weapon to revolutionize the art of fighting. It was developed 60,000 years ago and was accented by the creation of the javelin (a smaller, lighter throwing spear) and darts about the same time.

2 Ancient Weaponry

With the coming of the Bronze Age in 3000 B.C., military technology was greatly advanced. For the first time, weapons could be manufactured that were durable and powerful. The most notable of these was the sword. It featured a sharpened blade and a handle made from metal. At the same time, horses were being largely domesticated throughout the world. This caused the implementation of chariots and cavalry as powerful factors in battle. Cultures that did not use these quickly found themselves at the receiving end of their rivals' destructive forces.

In 1200 BC, iron was first harnessed to develop weaponry. This coincided with the rise of professional armies and the concept of creating warships. As armies grew and fortifications became larger, new weaponry needed to be established. This included a number of siege weapons such as catapults, ballistas and battering rams.

3 Middle Ages

Medieval times were dominated by the development of two important military weapons. The first of these was the knight. Building on the concept of heavy cavalry, knights implemented heavy amounts of armor and a variety of weapons such as swords, maces and lances. The second development of the era was the widespread use of castles. Because of the power of siege weapons, new ways of defending military posts were created. Castles were fortifications that featured heavy stone walls and towers that could be used to defend against enemies utilizing a strong height advantage. They often also implemented the concept of moats and traps to help deal with opposing forces. This, too, resulted in the development of more advanced siege weapons such as siege hooks, siege towers and early cannons.

4 Colonial Period

After the Renaissance (1400 to 1600), gunpowder-based weaponry became the major tools of the trade. Guns and rockets were the most prevalent advancements in military weaponry. These started out as simply firearms loaded with gunpowder and projectiles. However, by the late 1800s, the concept of ammunition and advanced ignition designs was developed. This was highlighted most prominently by the U.S. Civil War. The protracted conflict saw the development of the machine gun, a weapon that could fire many rounds of bullets in a short period of time.

As the industrial age advanced, warships also were redesigned to use fossil fuels instead of sail power. This increased the speed and efficiency of naval fleets. These same ships also were being manufactured from metal instead of wood, making them durable and powerful. In response, more powerful artillery was built that could damage the ships.

5 World Wars

World War I and II saw the development of a number of new military weapons. The machine gun gained prominence, especially in the first conflict, and was capable of killing swaths of soldiers. The tank also was introduced, making the concept of traditional cavalry obsolete. During the first conflict, a new invention, the airplane, was utilized to bomb enemy lines and eventually brought combat to the air. Because of this advancement, the necessity to carry planes from place to place led to the creation of the aircraft carrier, large ships with hundreds or thousands of personnel. Chemical and biological weaponry also reared its head during this time, becoming the first true weapon of mass destruction. This was bookended by the invention of the most powerful weapon of the time: the atomic bomb. Although used only twice on population centers, the weapon changed the dynamics of warfare, introducing the concept of mutually assured destruction.

6 Modern Weapons

Warfare had been forever changed by the World Wars, however, more advancements were made during the Cold War and beyond. Based on the concept of the atomic bomb, new generations of nuclear weapons were continually developed. Ultimately, a variety of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles were constructed that could destroy the entire planet many times over. During the late 20th century, precision-guided munitions were developed that allowed militaries to strike targets with accuracy using computer technology. Other inventions such as night vision, unmanned aerial vehicles and cyberwarfare revolutionized the way battles were fought by giving powerful nations a distinct advantage over less sophisticated enemies.

Jason Chavis has been a professional freelance writer since 1998. He is the author of four books, two movies and a play as well as numerous articles for "Scientific American," The History Channel, City Pages and "The Onion." In 1996, Chavis won the award for "best science fiction/fantasy" from the River Valley Writer’s Conference.