Premodern weapons of war receive a tremendously detailed and thorough accounting in this volume — the work of a noted authority on medieval arms in Europe. Covering a period of 30 centuries, the study, like a richly woven tapestry, vividly describes the development of arms and armor — beginning with the weapons of the prehistoric Bronze and Iron Ages, through the breakup of the Roman Empire and the great folk-migrations of the period; the age of the Vikings; and finally, the Age of Chivalry.
Relying on evidence of arms found in bogs, tombs, rivers, excavations, and other sites as well as on contemporary art and literature, the author describes in detail an awesome array of the weapons and accoutrements of war: swords, shields, spears, helmets, daggers, longbows, crossbows, axes, chain mail, plate armor, gauntlets, and much else.
Profusely illustrated with more than 170 of the author’s own line drawings and 23 plates depicting many rare and beautiful weapons, this meticulously researched volume will be an indispensable resource for military historians, archaeologists, students of arms and armor, and anyone interested in the weaponry of old.

approx. 400 pages

Out October 1996


I received this book in exchange for my honest review.

There seems to be many books out regarding weapons for the period of the Age of Chivalry to present and only a few vague books about weapons and armour from Prehistory to Age of Chivalry. I’m always looking for good resources for my writing and after reading the premise of this particular book, I thought I’d have a look at it.

On first flip through, I noticed right away the clear and detailed drawings, charts, maps and photos.  Often you get books of this nature with black and white photos that are not clear or too dark to really see the details. This one had amazing photos.

The next thing I noticed on flip through was the amazing amount of information provided. Oakeshott appeared to have done his homework. There’s an Appendix that offers a timeline from 2000 BC to 1450, the Age of Chivalry. Many cultures are covered including but not limited to: The Vikings, Egyptians, Middle Minoan, Aryans, Romans, and more.

The bibliography offered is short in nature but offers a vast amount of resources that can be followed up with.  Dover offers a catalog at the end of other books they have.

This book is divided in the following manner:

Part One. Offers a look into the Prehistoric period, divided into three sub-categories:

  1. “The Pitiless Bronze
  2. Iron Comes to Europe: The Hallstatt People
  3. The Gauls

Part Two. Divides the Heroic Age into the four categories:

  1. The Great Migrations
  2. Rome in Decline: The Gothic Cavalry
  3. The Bog-Deposits of Denmark
  4. The Arms of the Migration Period

Part Three. Looks at the Vikings, dividing this section into the following three categories:

  1. Swords In The Viking Period
  2. The Vikings at War
  3. From Charemagne to the Normans

I was particularly interested in this section.  There is a lot of mystery surrounding the Vikings, especially with what happened to them.  There’s a wide range of legends that tell of abandoned villages found with no sign of life, bones or any indication where the inhabitants went. Research has discovered Inuit claims that they saw a large migration of Vikings “going North.” But nothing has ever been found to really prove these claims. What has been proven is that the villages found seem to show indications that the people suddenly up and left.  Some suggested that food, or the lack of food was one reason for their sudden departure, others suggest in inudation of Christianity forced them to flee their homes… Vikings flee?

It is without a doubt that the Vikings were advanced in their knowledge of weaponry, their skills at smelding and metalurgy apparant in the swords and weapons found today. Lots of speculation surrounds why they were so skilled, but another mystery remains unsolved.

The Vikings were feared. The day three black ships sailed into Poole harbour and up to Wareham was the beginning of raids by heathen warriors. In their hands were swords of such austre perfection in line and proportion, something that was not easily duplicated.

Part Four.  The Age of Chivalry was divided into the following sub-categories:

  1. The “Gay Science” of Chivalry
  2. Sword Types and Blade Inscriptions, 1100-1325
  3. Sword Hilts and Fittings
  4. The Sword in Wear
  5. “The Complete Arming of a Man” 1100-1325
  6. Armour and the Longbow in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries
  7. Swords and Daggers in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries

There is obviously more information of weaponry as time elapses. The more recent time, the better the condition of finds. There are records, tales and legends written. Times prior to 1100 have little records, things are destroyed over time, legends are lost.

Following the Table of Contents, the author provides a List of Plates that identify the photos between pages 184-185  in more details.

My father was a weapons expert in WWII, and later a sniper.  He loved Archery. Although he didn’t talk much about the weapons he used in WWII, he did love his bow. I now have it.  I have discovered through research that on my mother’s side, we are related to Eric the Red. So this book holds a strong fascination for me.

I found the author did an excellent job with research. There are a few holes that I wished he’d filled but overall, I’m very happy with the way this book is laid out.  I recommend you add this book to your library if you write fantasy or historical novels.

I gave this book:





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