Before guns were a thing, melee combat was the way to go during battles.

The concept is simple: Hand-held weapons that could slash, pierce or shatter the enemies’ bones. Through time, early civilizations began experimenting and developing these melee weapons to make them efficient and effective in killing enemies. As a result, many weapons were created and modified depending on the battlefield’s needs of ancient warfare. Some flopped, while others turned out to be highly impressive and effective, causing devastation and havoc to anyone who had to face these weapons.


Not only was it visually intimidating, but the macuahuitl, derived from the Nahuatl language that means “hand-wood,” was something you’d want to avoid. Instead, it was a wooden club attached with prismatic blades made from obsidian on its side. The edges stuck out from the grooves for about an inch, while the hilt was designed so one could hold it either with one or two hands. Obsidian was used because it can produce sharp edges, even higher quality than steel razor blades.

A modern recreation of a ceremonial macuahuitl made by Shai Azoulai. (Zucchini one at English WikipediaCC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Macuahuitl can be traced back to the first millennium CE, during the Spanish conquest. At that time, this weapon was widely used in Mesoamerica by different civilizations like Toltec, Mixtec, Maya, and Aztec. The Macuahuitl could decapitate an enemy horse with just one or two blows, although it was not as effective against the body armors of the Europeans.

Unfortunately, no more authentic macuahuitl exists because the last one was destroyed during the Real Armeria Inn Madrid fire in 1884.


Sometimes spelled as sarisa too, it was a weapon that carried Alexander in successfully conquering Persia. It was a spear about 4 to 6 meters long and had improved the strength of the phalanx formation by extending the rows of overlapping weapons facing the enemy. The heavy and unwieldy weapon became the wall of spear points, with the first four to six rows of the formation holding their Sarissas out while the remaining rows had theirs pointed upward to shield them from attacks from above.

Depiction of a Macedonian phalanx. (F. Mitchell, Department of History, United States Military Academy, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The weapon was made of tough cornel wood and was pretty heavy for a spear, weighing around 12 to 14 pounds. Its iron head was sharp and shaped like a lead, while it also had a bronze butt-spike. The purpose of this was so the sarissas could be anchored in the ground to stop enemy charges effectively. Bronze was chosen to ensure that the butt-spike would not rust. The spike was sharp enough to pierce through the enemy shield. It also helped balance out the spear so that its wielder could easily maneuver it, plus it could also be a backup in case the main iron head was damaged.


Falx is a long-handled blade that curves sharply at around 3/4 of the way down to its sharp edge, like a bladed right angle. This weapon was used by the people of Thrace and Dacia, known today as Bulgaria and Romania. The gun was used with a strong swing with the point piercing the enemies’ helmets, while the blade was for splitting their shields, rendering even the most reinforced guard less effective against the falx. It was said that it could break two shields in a single blow. Due to its curved shape could also be used as a hook to pull away guards and cut the exposed limbs.