Book Review : WEAPON
Joining the Board of Trustees of the Royal Armouries in 2005 spun my life full circle. As a Cambridge undergraduate I spent a summer working at the Armouries, then located in the Tower of London. Had my career taken a different turn, I might easily have become a curator rather than a military historian. In one sense the two paths are not that divergent , for military history is never far from the battlefield: it is hard to think of men in battle without considering the weapons they use.
Warfare is older than civilisation-in fact it is older than the human race itself, as clues from our hominid ancestors show-and weapons are the tools of the soldier’s trade. The following ages reveal the importance of weapons, showing how they grew quickly from primitive implements used for hunting wild animals, and soon took on the characteristics that were to define them for thousands of years. First there were percussion weapons, used to strike an opponent directly, beginning with the club and proceeding through axes to swords, daggers. There were also missile weapons, propelled from a distance, starting with the sharpened stick- hurled as a javelin -and developing into throwing spears, arrows, and crossbows. Gunpowder weapons, which made their presence felt from the 15th century, did not immediately replace percussion or missile weapons. In the 17th century musketeers were protected by pikemen, and Napoleon’s · cavalry plied swords in close-quarter combat. Even at the beginning of the 21st century the bayonet, descendent of the edged weapons of yesteryear, is still part of the infantry soldier’s equipment .
The huge chronological and geographical spread of this book reveals similarities between weapons in entirely different cultures and periods.The appearance of firearms was not immediately decisive, and historians argue whether the period of change spanning the first half of the 17th century was rapid and thorough enough to constitute a “military revolution.” However, their impact was certainly profound. Fortresses built to withstand siege-engines crumbled before artillery, and in this respect the fall of Constantinople in 1453 was a landmark. So too were battles like Pavia in 1525, when infantry armed with muskets repulsed armoured horsemen. Firearms were essential to the advent of mass armies, for they became subject to mass production. Their development has been rapid: little more than a century and a half separates the muzzle-loading flintlock musket-short-ranged, inaccurate, and unreliable-from the modern assault rifle.
But weapons are more than the soldier’s tools, and leafing through the pages you will be amazed at the ingenuity and creativity that weaponry induces for hunting, self-defence, and law-enforcement. Some weapons had religious or magical connotations and others, like the pair of swords worn by the Japanese samurai or the small sword at the hip of the 18th century European gentleman, were badges of status, and reflections of wealth too.
There has been a long connection between the right to carry weapons and social position, and some societies, such as the city-states of ancient Greece, saw a direct connection between civic rights and bearing arms.
It is impossible to consider arms without reflecting on armour too, and this book also illustrates how armour has striven to do more than safeguard its wearers. It is often intended to impress or terrify as well as advertise its wearer’s wealth or status: the horned helmet of the bronze-age warrior and the face-guard of the samurai have much in common. The past century has witnessed its rediscovery, and the contemporary soldier, with his Kevlar helmet and body armour, has a silhouette which is both ancient and modern.
Weapons from India and Sri Lanka