Tools of War: History of Weapons in Ancient Times

Tools of War: History of Weapons in Ancient Times

by Syed Ramsey


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9789386101655
Publisher: Alpha Editions
Publication date: 05/30/2016
Pages: 292
Product dimensions: 8.30(w) x 5.40(h) x 0.80(d)

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A bident is a two-pronged implement resembling a pitchfork. In classical mythology, the bident is associated with Pluto, the ruler of the underworld, while the three-pronged trident is the implement of Poseidon (Neptune), ruler of the sea and of earthquakes.


The word 'bident' was brought into the English language before 1914, and is derived from the Latinbidentis, meaning "having two prongs".

Historical uses

Ancient Egyptians used a bident as a fishing tool, sometimes attached to a line and sometimes fastened with flight feathers. Two-pronged weapons mainly of bronze appear in the archaeological record of ancient Greece.

In Roman agriculture, the bidens (genitive bidentis) was a double-bladed drag hoe or two-pronged mattock, although a modern distinction between "mattock" and "rake" should not be pressed. It was used to break up and turn ground that was rocky and hard. The bidens is pictured on mosaics and other forms of Roman art, as well as tombstones to mark the occupation of the deceased.

In mythology

Neither Pluto nor Hades is depicted unambiguously with a bident in ancient art, and the antiquity of this attribute has never been determined. Two-pronged weapons do appear in Greek literature and art. The spear of Achilles is said by a few sources to be bifurcated. Achilles had been instructed in its use by Peleus, who had in turn learned from Chiron the Centaur. The implement may have associations with Thessaly. A black-figured amphora from Corneto(Etruscan Tarquinia) depicts a scene from the hunt for the Calydonian boar, part of a series of adventures that took place in the general area. Peleus is accompanied by Castor, who is attacking the boar with a two-pronged spear.

A bronze trident found in an Etruscan tomb at Vetulonia seems to have had an adaptable center prong that could be removed for use as a bident. A kylix found at Vulci in ancient Etruria was formerly interpreted as depicting Pluto (Greek Plouton) with a bident. A black-bearded man holding a peculiarly two-pronged instrument reaches out in pursuit of a woman, thought to be Persephone. The vase was subjected to improper reconstruction, however, and the couple are more likely Poseidon and Aethra. On Lydian coins that show Ploutonabducting Persephone in his four- horse chariot, the god holds his characteristic scepter, the ornamented point of which has sometimes been interpreted as a bident. Other visual representations of the bident on ancient objects appear to have been either modern-era reconstructions, or in the possession of figures not securely identified as the ruler of the underworld.

The Cambridge ritualist A.B. Cook saw the bident as an implement that might be wielded by Jupiter, the chief god of the Roman pantheon, in relation to Roman bidental ritual, the consecration of a place struck by lightning by means of a sacrificial sheep, called a bidens because it was of an age to have two teeth. In the hands of Jupiter (also known as Jove, Etruscan Tinia), the trident or bident thus represents a forked lightning bolt. In ancient Italy, thunder and lightning were read as signs of divine will, wielded by the sky god Jupiter in three forms or degrees of severity. The Romans drew on Etruscan traditions for the interpretation of these signs. A tile found at Urbs Salviain Picenum depicts an unusual composite Jove, "fairly bristling with weapons": a lightning bolt, a bident, and a trident, uniting the realms of sky, earth, and sea, and representing the three degrees of ominous lightning. Cook regarded the trident as the Greek equivalent of the Etruscan bident, each representing a type of lightning used to communicate the divine will; since he accepted the Lydian origin of the Etruscans, he traced both forms to the same Mesopotamia source. The later notion that the ruler of the underworld wielded a trident or bident can perhaps be traced to a line in the Hercules Furens ("Hercules Enraged") of Seneca. Dis (the Roman equivalent of Greek Plouton) uses a three-pronged spear to drive off Hercules as he attempts to invade the underworld. Seneca also refers to Dis as the "Infernal Jove" or the "dire Jove", the Jove who gives dire or ill omens (dirae), just as in the Greek tradition, Plouton is sometimes identified as a "chthonic Zeus." That the trident and bident might be somewhat interchangeable is suggested by a Byzantine scholiast, who mentions Poseidon being armed with a bident.


A blowgun (also called a blowpipe or blow tube) is a simple weapon consisting of a small tube for firing light projectiles or darts.

The weapon is used by inserting the projectile inside the pipe (known as a blowgun) and using the force created by one's breath to give the projectile momentum. Its propulsive power is limited by the user's respiratory muscles.


Many cultures have used this weapon, but various indigenous peoples of South East Asia, the Amazon and Guiana regions of South America, and Guatemala in Central America are best known for its use. Projectiles include seeds, clay pellets, and darts. Some cultures dip the tip of the darts in curare or other poisons in order to paralyze the target. Blowguns were very rarely used by these tribes as anti-personnel weapons, but primarily to hunt small game such as monkeys. North American Cherokees were known for making blowguns out of river cane to supplement their diet with rabbits and other small creatures.

Blowguns are depicted in paintings on pre-Columbian pottery and are mentioned in many Mesoamerican myths. Back then and today, the Maya use a blowgun to hunt birds and small animals with spherical dry seeds and clay pellets. The clay ammunition is made slightly larger than needed (to allow for shrinkage and refinement) and stored in a shoulder bag. The outside of the dry clay pellet is shaved off and burnished right before use.

Today blowguns are used with tranquilizer darts to capture wildlife or to stun caged dangerous animals. Herpetologists use blowguns to capture elusive lizards with stun darts. Blowguns are also used recreationally, with either darts or paintballs.

Sport blowgun

There are several competition styles practised around the world. A standardization of competition style, based upon fukiya, is being pursued by the International Fukiyado Association and hopes to become an Olympic event. It is a 10-metre target shooting, using a standardized barrel caliber and length, and a standardized dart length and weight, also all shooters must be under 6 feet as outlined by IFA. Two other styles are also being pursued to make up the Olympic blowgun event, both based upon the Cherokee Annual Gathering Blowgun Competition. The Field Style competition is similar to the winter Biathlon, where the shooter runs from a starting line to a target lane, shoots and retrieves the darts, and continues to the next station. The course length varies from 400 to 800 m or longer, with from 9 to 16 targets at various heights and shooting distances. The final style is the Long Distance target shoot. The target is a circle of 24 cm diameter, and the firing line is 20 metres away. Three darts are fired by each shooter, at least one of which must stick in the target. All successful shooters move to the next round, moving back two metres each time.

Sport blowgun competition is managed by the International Fukiyado Association with which national associations in the United States, France, Germany and the Philippines are affiliated.


Darts are typically made of hardwoods to prevent cracking, although bamboo skewers can be used informally. The dart's fletch can be made of many materials, such as down, feather tips, and animal fur. Modern materials, such as aluminium or carbon- reinforced plastic, are also used. In Japan, the competition darts are made of cone shaped cellophane plastic rolled into a cone (Fukiya), topped with a non-pointed brass brad. The Japanese national organization has privatized the sport, and all materials must be purchased from them. In other nations, the use of modified piano wire is used to make the .40 and .50 cal. darts, with certain manufacturers making specialty darts for odd sized or larger caliber barrels (0.35 cal., 0.625 cal., 0.68 cal, and 0.75 cal.) Use of homemade darts in the larger sizes, or for hunting is common, utilizing bamboo skewers (1/8 in and 1/4 in. diameter), wire coat hangers, and even nails, or knitting needles.


Bolas (from Spanish bola, "ball", also known as boleadoras, or Inca ayllo) is a type of throwing weapon made of weights on the ends of interconnected cords, designed to capture animals by entangling their legs. They were most famously used by the gauchos (Argentinian cowboys), but have been found in excavations of Pre-Columbian settlements, especially in Patagonia, where indigenous peoples used them to catch 200-pound guanaco (llamalike mammals) and ñandú (birds). They were also used in battle by the Mapuche and Inca army. They have also been found as a modern-day tool in North America at the Calico Early Man Site.


Gauchos use boleadoras to capture running cattle or game. Depending on the exact design, the thrower grasps the boleadora by one of the weights or by the nexus of the cords. He gives the balls momentum by swinging them and then releases the boleadora. The weapon is usually used to entangle the animal's legs, but when thrown with enough force might even inflict damage (i.e., breaking a bone). Traditionally, Inuit have used bolas to hunt birds, fouling the birds in air with the lines of the bola. People of a Feather showed Belcher Island Inuit using bolas to hunt eider ducks on the wing.


There is no uniform design; most bolas have two or three balls, but there are versions of up to eight or nine. Some bolas have balls of equal weight, others vary the knot and cord. Gauchos use bolas made of braidedleather cords with wooden balls or small leather sacks full of stones at the ends of the cords. Bolas can be named depending on the number of weights used:

Perdida (one weight)

Avestrucera or ñanducera (two weights, for ostriches)

Boleadora (three weights)

Kiipooyaq (Inuit name for bolas with three or more weights)

Bolas of three weights are usually designed with two shorter cords with heavier weights, and one longer cord with a light weight. The heavier weights fly at the front parallel to each other, hit either side of the legs, and the lighter weight goes around, wrapping up the legs. Other unrelated versions include qilumitautit, the bolas of the Inuit, made of sinew and bone weights and used to capture water birds.


The dagger-axe or ge is a type of pole weapon that was in use from the Shang dynasty until the Han dynasty in China. It consists of a daggershaped blade, mounted by its tang to a perpendicular wooden shaft. The earliest dagger-axe blades were made of stone. Later versions used bronze. Jadeversions were also made for ceremonial use. There is a variant type with a divided twopart head, consisting of the usual straight blade and a scythe-like blade.

The dagger-axe was the first weapon in Chinese history that was not also a dual-use tool for hunting (such as the bow and arrow) or agriculture. Lacking a point for thrusting, the dagger- axe was used in the open where there was enough room to swing its long shaft. Its appearance on the Chinese battlefield predated the use of chariots and the later dominance of tightly packed infantry formations. During the Zhou dynasty, the ji or Chinese halberd gradually became more common on the battlefield. The ji was developed from the daggeraxe by adding a spear head to the top of the shaft, thereby enabling the weapon to be used with a thrusting motion as well as a swinging motion. Later versions of the ji, starting in the Spring and Autumn period, combined the dagger-axe blade and spear head into a single piece. By the Han dynasty, the more versatile ji had completely replaced the dagger- axe as a standard infantry weapon. The ji itself was later replaced by the spear as the primary polearm of the Chinese military. By the Warring States period, large masses of infantry fighting in close ranks using the spear or ji had displaced the small groups of aristocrats on foot or mounted in chariots who had previously dominated the battlefield. Many excavated dagger-axes are ceremonial jade weapons found in the tombs of aristocrats. These examples are often found within the coffins themselves, possibly meant to serve as emblems of authority and power, or in some other ritualistic capacity. Sometimes they are found in a pit dug beneath a coffin, with a victim who was sacrificed to guard the tomb, where they presumably are intended to keep the spirit-guard armed. Normally only the head of a dagger-axe is found, with the haft absent due to either decomposition or mechanical removal. Although the jade examples do not appear to have been intended for use in actual combat, their morphology closely imitates that of the battle-ready bronze version, including a sharp central ridge which reinforces the blade. Some dagger-axe artifacts are small and curved, and could have been intended for use as pendants.


Darts are missile weapons, designed to fly such that a sharp, often weighted point will strike first. They can be distinguished from javelins by fletching (i.e., feathers on the tail) and a shaft that is shorter and/ or more flexible, and from arrows by the fact that they are not of the right length to use with a normal bow. The term has been used to describe an extremely wide variety of projectiles, from heavy spear-like ammunition for siege engines or atlatls to tiny poisoned needles for use in blowguns.

Plumbatae or martiobarbuli

Plumbatae or martiobarbuli were lead-weighted darts carried by infantrymen in Antiquity and the Middle Ages. The first examples seem to have been carried by the Ancient Greeks from about 500 B.C. onwards, but the best-known users were the late Roman and Byzantine armies. The best written source for these tactical weapons is Vegetius's treatise known as De Re Militari (1.17):


Some of the earliest evidence of advanced tool use includes remnants of an early type of dart, which can be considered the ancestor of arrows as well as bows. Reconstructions of this system have a range of over one hundred metres (yards) and can penetrate several centimetres of oak. This technology was used worldwide from the Upper Palaeolithic (late Solutrean, c. 18,000–16,000 BC) until the development of archery made it obsolete.


The darts in question are much larger than arrows, but noticeably lighter than javelins. They have a weighted point, often of stone, on a removable foreshaft. This is held by friction onto a thin, flexible main shaft a few metres in length, with fletching and a (usually socketlike) nock at the opposite end. Since they are unlike anything in Western history, the term "dart" has been adopted after some debate. Some alternate terms for this missile have included the spear, but this term has fallen out of favour since in all other uses, spears are stiff enough to be used for stabbing. In its function, an atlatl dart is more like a combination between a bow and an arrow.


Its similarity to a bow may not be immediately obvious, but in fact both serve to accumulate energy by elasticity in a fundamentally similar way. As throwing begins, a dart of this type is designed to flex in compression between the accelerating force at its nock and the inertia of its weighted point, storing energy. Late in this throw, as the point moves faster and so offers less resistance, the dart releases most of this energy by springing away from the thrower. Some energy may also be recovered by the fletching as the projectile "fishtails" through the air. However, this energy is far less than is commonly stated and only effectively increases accuracy by counteracting the downward force on the tail.


To maximize elastic energy storage and recovery, such darts should be held only by the nock and allowed to pivot freely as they are thrown. This requires a special tool that is often called a "spear thrower". Western culture has been able to borrow a name for this tool from the Aztec, who used it against the invading Spanish, and who called it the atlatl.

Replacement by the arrow

In Europe, the atlatl was supplemented by the bow and arrow in the Epi-Paleolithic. By the Iron Age, the amentum, a strap attached to the shaft, was the standard European mechanism for throwing lighter javelins. The amentum gives not only range, but also spin to the projectile.


Excerpted from "Tools of War: History of Weapons in Ancient Times"
by .
Copyright © 2016 Syed Ramsey.
Excerpted by permission of Vij Books India Pvt Ltd.
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Table of Contents

1. Introduction,
2. Ranged Weapon,
3. Gunpowder Weapons,
4. Ancient Greek Artillery,
5. Ancient Swords,
6. Ancient Roman Weapons,
7. Germanic Weapons,
8. Ancient Weapons of Crossbow,
9. Ancient Dacian Weapons,
10. Indian Ancient Weapons of Mass Destruction,

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