Obscure historical ways to slice, dice, and fry your opponents.
1. The Fire Lance
First find a spear. Now fill a bamboo tube with gunpowder and sharp objects and tie the tube to the end of your spear. Next, aim this contraption at someone who has seriously pissed you off and ignite the gunpowder by way of a fuse. Congratulations, you've just made and discharged a Chinese Fire Lance.
Considered one of the earliest gunpowder weapons, the Fire Lance was invented in the 10th century and was used throughout the Ming dynasty, often deployed in the defense of fortified cities when an invading or marauding army appeared at the gates. While these were unpredictable one-off weapons, Fire Lances were cheap, very effective at short ranges, and psychologically terrifying for enemy soldiers.
If the initial shrapnel volley didn't kill you, you were now dealing with a guy more or less wielding a flamethrower. The Fire Lance and other early Chinese gunpowder weapons are the direct precursor for more advanced Middle Eastern and European firearms that would come to dominate warfare in the following centuries.
2. The Mancatcher
Have you ever seriously considered kidnapping an armored nobleman on horseback in order to ransom him back to his vassals? No? Well you really should and if you do, your best bet is the bizarrely designed Mancatcher.
Photo: London Science Museum
This weapon is described by Wikipedia as an "esoteric pole-arm," probably because it looks like something out of a Terry Gilliam film. The mancatcher's primary purpose was the non-lethal dismounting and capture of high value targets on the battlefield. Those spikes on the inside of the collar pictured above are predicated on the assumption that anyone you're trying to catch with the mancatcher is wearing armor, or else I suspect there would have been some severe neck injuries to explain during the ransom negotiations.
The Japanese have a similar weapon called the sasumata which is interestingly still in use today (albeit with a very different design) as a non-lethal way to apprehend criminals and troublemakers.
3. The Bagh Naka
Anyone with a Wolverine fetish should appreciate this Indian hand-claw, which was a favorite among thieves and assassins of the 15th and 16th centuries. The Bagh Naka (tiger claw in Hindi) consists of a crossbar with four or five sharp blades and two finger-holes for the wearer's thumb and pinky finger.
The weapon could be worn so that the blades extend over the knuckle, functionally turning one's hand into a mauling device, or worn so that the blades are hidden in the palm of the hand, for a more, shall we say, sneaky approach. Some models, such as the one pictured above, had additional blades jutting out from the side to add to the Bagh Naka's versatility and carnage dealing capabilities.
4. The Ballista
This early artillery siege weapon makes the list not only because of its pretty badass name but also because it hurtles spears the size of tree trunks at opposing armies.
Developed by the Ancient Greeks, the Ballista is basically a very large crossbow that discharged an ordinance capable of flattening enemy troop formations at a distance of up to 500 yards. They were often placed at the top of large siege towers and moved within range of enemy fortifications to lighten a besieged city's defenses. A smaller model, called the Scorpio, was one of the first sniper rifles to see extended action in war and probably deserves its own entry on this list. Perhaps most impressive, the Ballista remained in use for more than a thousand years which is pretty rare for such a specialized siege weapon.
5. The Macuahuitl
Photo: Wikimedia/Zuchinni one
The Macuahuitl was a meso-american club which was affixed with numerous obsidian blades on its sides. It could be used to lacerate opponents or bludgeon them into unconsciousness.
The conquistadors were greatly impressed with the effectiveness of this weapon during their conquests and we have multiple reports of Macuahuitl being used to decapitate horses with a single swing. They were also reportedly used by the Aztecs to knock out targets during raids to acquire sacrificial victims.
There are surprisingly no known authentic Macuahuitl left, however reconstructions such as the one pictured above have been extensively tested and confirm the weapon's deadly effects. It is the only obsidian based weapon I am aware of and that makes it pretty badass in my book.
Also at HistoryBuff.com: