Tanks and rifles sure are scary and lethal, so is mustard or chlorine gas. When it comes to creating weapons to annihilate adversaries, we sure can count on how the ancient people effectively forged some of the most formidable and fearsome weapons they had used. Some of them even became the foundation of how our munitions and equipment were developed. With that, here are some of history’s feared and hottest weapons during their time.

Greek Fire

Grenades filled with liquid fire and caltrops from the fortress of Chania 10th and 12th centuries
Grenades filled with liquid fire and caltrops from the fortress of Chania 10th and 12th centuries. (BadseedCC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Don’t you just hate it when you accidentally burn yourself by touching hot surfaces? Then you’ll despise the incendiary weapon used by the Eastern Roman Empire in ca. 672. Called the Greek fire, this flame-throwing weapon was what the Byzantine navy typically used during naval battles to burn down enemy ships and effectively provided them with advantages that resulted in military victories. What was truly remarkable about this Greek fire was that it could be ignited even in contact with water, and the victims would continue to burn even while on water.

The Byzantines, later on, developed this weapon by using pressurized nozzles to project the liquid onto the enemy ships, much more like an ancient version of our flamethrower. The formula for this formidable weapon was unsurprisingly a closely guarded state secret, although there were speculations and debate on what it was. The proposal included a mixture of pine resin, naphtha, quicklime, calcium phosphide, sulfur, and or niter.

Greek fire was no doubt a concoction of destruction, but that did not make the Byzantine navy untouchable. Soon, the Muslim navies found ways to defend themselves from it, either by staying out and away from its effective range or by shielding themselves with felt or hides soaked in vinegar.

The Man Catcher

The man catcher. (Royal Armoury, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons)

What’s left to do when your castle was in the middle of being besieged by horse-riding enemy forces? For the people of 18th century Europe, they could snare these attackers by catching them like fishes while they were on their horses. The weapon used was the man catcher, also known as catchpole, which consisted of a pole that was mounted with a two-pronged head. The prongs were both semi-circular in shape and had a spring-loaded “door” on the front that allowed the ring to pass around a man-sized cylinder and the victim’s head trapped. And so they would use this man catcher to fish a person from horseback and then drag him to the ground where he could be pinned to either be turned into a prisoner or helplessly killed. On some occasions, it was also used to pin down and contain violent prisoners.

Other countries like Japan also had their own version called sodegarami, tsukubo, and sasumata that were used during law enforcement in Edo-era. The difference was that the sasumata, for instance, had its forked head used to trap down the victim’s neck, legs, arms, or joints.

Morning Star

Morning star at the torture museum in Freiburg im Breisgau. (FlominatorCC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

A popular one, the morning star, was like the more evil brother of the mace. Its design was crude and simple: a stick made of either metal or wood topped with a metal ball laced with spikes and blades. This weapon became popularly used by soldiers in the 14th century, particularly in Germany, where it was popularly called Morgenstern. It was used typically by aiming at the heads and faces of foes, which didn’t sound much, but imagine being hit with a heavy ball of spikes on the nose and on your whole face. It could also be used to take enemies down by aiming it at the legs and knees instead. It is sometimes confused with mace, but the main differentiating factor between the two was that the spikes of the morning star, at most, had flanges or small knobs.

Traditionally, it was used by cavalry and infantry units, with the horsemen being given a version that had a shorter shaft. All in all, there were three types of this weapon that varied in terms of workmanship quality. The first one was well-crafted for military use and was given to professional soldiers. The second was simpler and was hand-cut by peasant militiamen, and the spikes were sometimes made from nails. The third was short shafted and made of metal and ornamented with gold and silver for decorative purposes.