Naval Weapons of the Middle Ages

Civilizations of the middle ages were very adventurous and often sought new trade routes and territories by sea. It made sense for empires of the time to project their power through maritime weaponry because the sea was more navigable than land. Inevitably, these escapades triggered conflicts which were staged on the sea.

The Battering Ram

This was a massive log similar to a wrecking ball which armies released with force at enemy ships. The ram existed since Roman times. It was a robust weapon that could damage enemy ships by splintering through the wood structure. It could also sink ships if it made a powerful impact on the hull.


Cannons were the precursor to modern rockets and used gunpowder. They relied on the chemical energy released by the explosion to launch iron balls or heavy stones against enemy ships. Their emergence made battering rams redundant as they could cause more damage with less weight.


Medieval seafarers would attach huge crossbow contraptions to the bulwark of ships. They would then use them to fire arrows, and iron quarrels at enemies during boat racing battles. It was the most effective weapon of the middle ages and featured even in most wars.

Greek Fire

The Greek fire was the only medieval weapon capable of decimating an enemy ship consistently. It was a petroleum-based explosive which used a furnace and siphon tubes mounted on a dromon to burn enemy ships. The Byzantine Empire used it for centuries to repel Arab Muslim invasions.

Unorthodox Weapons

It was not uncommon for combatants to use unconventional weapons to engage adversaries in medieval times. Unscrupulous generals and pirates would hurl or sneak pots full of vipers, naphtha, or scorpions into target ships and wait for the chaos to unravel. The uproar would give them an excellent opportunity to dispatch the enemy or victim during physical combat.