The Infantry

Home ] Up ] Equipping the Knight ] [ The Infantry ]

Foot Soldiers

The Infantrymen who supported knights on the field of battle generally made up about ¾ of a medieval army. This category included men-at-arms, who preferred to use axes and swords, archers, and crossbowmen. Other weapons were also adapted in order to aid infantrymen as they attacked well-armored knights. Halberdiers in particular were quite effective at knocking knights from their horses and then using the blades of their halberds to dispatch the fallen knight. Bands of peasants could also be found recruited into armies, but these groups were without swords, flails, and halberds. Instead, they had to work with what they could obtain. This left them with crude axes, staves, and slingshots, which were widely popular due to the availability of free ammunition.


Crossbowmen used the powerful crossbow, a device that had been in existence since classical times. Crossbows had long ranges and their bolts were fired horizontally at great speeds, striking targets with tremendous force. Knights were hard pressed to find adequate defense against the deadly crossbow bolt. However, crossbows had their disadvantages. Because the bowstring had to be pulled back mechanically (it took a lever or ratchet to overcome the resistance and pull the string), reloading was a slow process. In addition, the bolts themselves were made of steel and therefore quite expensive.

The Longbow

One of the most popular weapons was the longbow, which gained a foothold (especially in England) in armies beginning around the thirteenth century. Longbows, being fired at an angle to the ground, had lengthy ranges and were deadly tools of battle in trained hands. They were much quicker than crossbows (good soldiers were able to fire an arrow every five seconds) and arrows were a good deal cheaper than steel bolts. Longbows were quite effective at thinning the numbers of an enemy’s army. Because they did not need to waste precious seconds aiming, bands of longbow-wielding professionals could unleash a constant rain of arrows on enemies.