During the late Ancient and early Medieval periods, Islam was founded and spread quickly throughout the Middle East, Northern Africa and parts of Europe and Asia. This was due in part to the preaching of Islam's message, in part to Muslim traders who spread the religion and in part due to conquest. During the Ancient Period, Muslim armies were loosely organized, with each individual soldier responsible for providing his own arms and armor. This led to ancient Muslim armies being equipped with a wide variety of weaponry.
Although Medieval Muslim armies relied heavily on cavalry, very few in the Ancient Period could afford to own or equip a horse. The majority of early Muslim soldiers fought on foot. Common infantry weapons included a wide selection of daggers and swords. In the early Muslim period, short, straight swords were common. By the ninth century, the Muslim world has established ties to India, where they purchased curved swords made of damascene steel. This steel was sharper and more flexible than that used by Europeans during the same time period. The most common sword used from this period on was the curved scimitar, which was designed for cutting rather than thrusting.
Bows quickly became the most important weapon used by Muslim soldiers. Muslim bows were typically more compact than bows used by European archers. Unlike European bows, which typically were crafted from a single piece of wood, Muslim archers used composite bows made of layers of wood, horn, ivory and sinew. The use of layered materials allowed Muslim bows to produce equal force with much shorter draw lengths, allowing Muslim archers to fire faster than those equipped with long bows. The shorter composite bows also were much easier to fire from horseback -- a tactic increasingly used by Muslim armies beginning in the 10th century.
Crossbows and Castle Defense
Muslim soldiers first encountered crossbows when fighting Europeans. Saracen armies called the weapon "qaws Ferengi," or "French bows," and quickly adopted the weapon, using it predominantly for defending castles and fortifications. In turn, European crossbow manufacturers adopted the Muslims' use of composite materials for crossbows. The most widespread use of crossbows by Muslim soldiers was on the Iberian Peninsula -- present day Portugal and Spain.
Ancient Muslim soldiers were required to go to battle with whatever they could equip themselves with. Armor was uncommon in ancient times and many of the poorer Muslim soldiers went into battle with little more than a knife or dagger. Other weapons commonly used among poorer Muslim soldiers included javelins, iron-tipped spears, lassos -- used to unseat horsemen -- and maces. The more wealthy Muslim soldiers often used weapons adapted to fighting from horseback, including lances and war hammers.
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