Dictionary of Medieval Words

This is the dictionary of medieval words. It covers a lot of territory including weapons of the knight, parts of castles and medieval life in general.

You can quick jump to the topics:
Parts of a castle - Knights, their armor, and weapons - Medieval life -
Names and words for Knights
- Siege Engines

Parts of Castles

Arrow Loops - These were slots in the walls and structures that were used to shoot arrows through. They came in a wide variety of shapes and sizes.

Bailey: This is a courtyard or open space surrounded by walls.The walls that make up the Bailey are also considered to be part of the Bailey. A castle could have several. Sometimes they were called the upper bailey and lower bailey or the west bailey and east bailey.

Barbican: A stone structure that protected the gate of a castle. Think of it as a gatehouse. It usually had a small tower on each side of the gate where guards could stand watch.

Battlements: These are the structures at the tops of the walls surrounding a castle. Picture what you have seen in the movies where archers are at the top of the wall and firing arrows between open slots down on the attackers. These shapes at the top (Where the archers position themselves for battle) are called battlements. They are also referred to as crenellations.

Buttress: A masonry projection used as additional support for walls. Notre Dame Cathedral is a good examlple of the use of Buttresses.

Drawbridge - This was a wooden bridge in front of the main gate of the castle. In the early centuries of castles it was moved horizontal to the ground and in the later centuries it was built so it could raise up in a hinged fashion.

Keep - This definition changed slightly over the centuries of castle building. In the early years of stone castle building the Keep was a standalone structure that could be defended and often square in shape. Over the centuries these structures were improved upon and built around. Thus a castle was made that was a larger and more complex structure. The main tower that this was built around was still called the Keep and it was usually the tallest and strongest structure in the castle. It was also used as the last line of defense during siege or attack.

Moat: A Body of water surrounding the outer wall of a castle. It was often around 5 to 15 feet deep

and it was sometimes within the outer wall -between the outer wall and the inner wall. The primary purpose of the moat wasn't to stop attackers it was to stop tunnelers. Tunneling under a castle was an effective means of collapsing the walls or infiltrating it. A moat would cause any tunnel to collapse.

Motte And Bailey: This isn't part of a castle it is the predecessor to the castle. A Motte and Bailey was an early form of castle where a large mound of dirt was built up then a wooden fortification was placed on top. This wooden fortification was in the shape of a timber fence that formed a circle like a crown at the top of the mound. The Mound is the motte, and the timber fence and the space it enclosed is the Bailey.

Portcullis - This is a metal or wood grate that was dropped vertically just inside the main gate to the castle.

Rampart: Picture the battlements in the previous definition. The battlements are the top sections of the outer wall of the castle. Now to access these battlements the archers would stand on a walk way that was a wall in it's own right. This walkway is built right up against the outer wall and is called the Rampart.


Knight stuff

Chivalry - A code of good behavior that knights would follow. Honor, gallantry, courtesy and generosity were often tenets of chivalry.

Coat of Arms - A symbolic bade that a knight would wear to show he belonged to a certain family, king or duke. These coats of arms were also often displayed on shields.

Free-lance- A knight or mercenary soldier who held no allegiance to a particular lord or king but would fight for anyone who would pay him.

Page - A young boy around the ages of 8-10 who would work for a knight usually doing household work or grooming and care of horses.

Squire - A young teen boy who was a personal assistant to a knight. He often carried messages and weapons/armor for the knight. He would help the night in his preparation for battle.


Knights Armor

Backplate - A piece of plate mail that was worn on the back as protection.

Bascinet - An open faced helmet made out of steel.

Besegor - A circular piece of platemail that covered that was suspended over the arm and covered the armpit.

Bevor (also Buffe) A chin shaped armor for the lowerface and incorporating a gorget.

Bracer - A guard for the forearm. Often used by archers to protect the forearm from the motion of the bowstring.

Breastplate - Plate armor worn on the chest and front of the torso.

Buckler - A small round shield carried by infantry troops.

Burgonet - A light and open faced helmet that was popular in the 16th century. It could also have a cover for the face opening.

Chausses - mail protection for the legs.

Codpiece - fabric covering the groin area. Could also be made of plate mail or chain mail.

Coif - chainmail armor worn over the head

Couter - Plate armor covering the elbow.

Cuir-bouilli - A leather working technique that could be used for armor making. Leather is heated in molten wax or oil and molded into the desired shape.

Cuisses - Defensive plate armor for the thighs.

Elbow Gauntlet - This is a longer version of the gauntlet. It covered the hands and forearm - reaching to the elbow.

Espalier - Armor covering the shoulder. It was often of light material and made of layered laminations.

Garde-rein - defense for a man's derriere.

Gauntlet - Defensive cover for a knight's hand.

Gorget - protective armor for the neck.

Grand Guard - A piece of plate armor worn on the left side of the breastplate. It protected the left shoulder upper arm and left side of the helmet visor.

Great Helm - A helmet that covered the head.

Greave - Platemail defensive armor for the lower leg reaching from ankle to knee.

Hauberk - A chainmail protective shirt with sleeves and it usually reached down to about thigh height. It was sometimes made from materials other than chain mail.

Mail or ChainMail - Armor consisting of many small rings of metal linked together to form a homogenous and flexible armor.

Pauldron - laminated plate armor covering the shoulder.

Plate Mail - Body armor composed of plates or iron hammered and shaped.

Rerebrace - plate armor for the upper arm.

Scabbard - a protective sheath for a knife, dagger or sword.

Scale Armor - armor made of small overlapping scales or plates.

Shield - a wooden or metal plate held in one hand to protect parts of the body from enemy blows or projectiles. I have a page devoted to medieval shields that shows the different types of shields.

Spangenhelm - A type of helmet from around the 11th-12th centuries composed of a framework of iron or bronze strips with the pieces inside being beaten iron plates often overlaid with other metals or more strips

Splint armor - Light armor that covered only the outer part of the arms.

Spurs - Metal objects attached to the feet and used to goad the horse into action.

Surcoat - a sleeveless cloth gown that a knight wore over armor

Tasset - Defensive armor for the top of the thigh that covered the area between the cuisses and breastplate.

Vambrace - Protective armor for the forearm. It could also be used as a name for protective armor covering the whole arm.

Ventail - A piece of chain armor that attached to the coif and covered the chin

Visor - Protective covering for the face and eyes. It was attached to the helmet and often could be pivoted open and closed.


Medieval Weapons

Ahlspiess - This is a staff weapon used by the Swiss Infantry in the 15th century. It was a thrusting weapon that had a spike like head and a guard below the spike to protect the hands. the overall length of the Ahlspiess was usually around 5-6 feet and the metal spike as long as a yard in length.

Arbalest - A very strong crossbow that had a bow made out of steel and a mechanical winding system.

Arming Sword - A typical knights sword used for cutting and thrusting.

Back Sword - A sword with only a single cutting edge. the other edge was blunt but sometimes the blunt side was sharpend at the last few inches.

Bardiche - A polearm weapon that had a long blade on the end.

Baselard - A small sword or dagger that was comon in the 14th and 15th centuries.

Bec-de-corbin - A pole weapon with a hammer and a spike. The spike was most often used as the striking weapon. The hammer was often just a counterweight.

Bec-de-faucon - An axe or hammer with the back side having a long fluke curved to a sharp point in the form of a falcon's beak.

Bill - A staff weapon with a curved blade on one end and a spike on the other. This is based on the agricultural tool called a hedging bill.

Caltrops - small four pointed metal weapons that were strewn on the ground. They were designed in a way that one point would always be straight up. This would be a danger to enemies and in particular horses.

Club - a one handed weapon typically made of wood that was used as a percussive striking weapon. Similar to what we would consider as a one handed baseball bat.

Coronel - The blunted end of a lance. It could be blunted round or consist of several blunted prongs. This was the end of a lance that was used during jousting.

Crossbow - A bow that was held horizontally rather than vertically like a longbow. The crossbow developed into a very strong bow and in later centuries the bow itself was often made of steel and was wound by mechanical means.

Dagger - A knife or small sword often worn on the waist at the opposite side of the sword. It could be a slicing weapon but was often a stabbing weapon.

Estoc - A sword used only for thrusting.

Falchion - A short single bladed sword with a curved blade.

Fustibal - A staff sling which could throw heavier projectiles than the normal sling.

Gisarme - A pole weapon with the attacking end being a crescent shaped axe.

Glaive - A polearm weapon with the attacking end being a long blade that had a shape similar to a butterknife - only much larger (and sharp).

Goedendag - A wooden staff weapon approximately the size of a baseball bat and with a metal spike on the very end of it. It could be used as a club and as a spearing weapon.

Halberd - A polearm weapon with an axe blade ( for slicing ) one one side balanced by a hook (for hooking and pulling the enemy) on the other side. It also had a point (for thrusting) at the very top.

Javelin - A spear that was designed to be thrown rather than thrust.

Lance - A long thrusting weapon used by mounted knights. It typically was about fourteen feet in length. Variations were used for jousting.

Longbow - A traditional vertically held english bow used between the 13th and 16th centuries.

Lucerne Hammer - A polearm weapon with a hammer head and a spiked or curved flute opposite the hammer.

Mace - A short hand held weapon much like a club but having an end that was either ball shaped or flanged. This end was often made of steel.

MorningStar - A hand held weapon similar to a mace or club but with spikes.

Pike - A polearm weapon with a small steel head. It could often be between ten and twenty feet in length.

Poleaxe - A pole weapon with an axe blade balanced by either a spike or a hammer. Often a poleaxe often had a spiked point at the end.

Ranseur - A pole arm weapon with three points. The center point was spear like and extended further than the two secondary points. Often very similar to a trident. The secondary points could be of varous shapes and lengths and often the ranseur was used to capture and break an enemys weapon by catching it between blades and twisting.

Rapier - A long thin and light sword used predominantly for thrusting. Earlier centuries had bladed rapiers but the blade became less and less used over time. 16th century predominance.

Rondel Dagger - A conical shaped dagger, rather than flat bladed, that came to a point.

Runka - A polearm consisting of three spikes at the end. The central spike was a long blade and the two other spikes were at about 45 degree angles to the main blade.

Skeggox - A single handed ax used for hand to hand combat and for throwing.

Spear- A pole weapon used for thrusting. Primarly it was a held weapon but could also be used for throwing.

War Hammer - A short handled hammer used as a percussive weapon.


Medieval Life

Bastide: Term for a Fortified Medieaval town. Typically these Bastides were built in the 13th and 14th centuries.

Crusades - A period of time in the middle ages from the 11th to 13th centuries where a series of military actions were undertaken on behalf of the pope and religious beliefs. Knights would travel to the holy lands from the Muslims. These holy lands were once occupied by christian forces but were taken over by Muslim forces. There were nine crusades in all.

Dark Ages - Period of time approximately from 500 AD to 1000 AD where there was a lot of turmoil and strife. Very little progress and much uncertainty. Much of the European continent was embroiled by small battles and wars between varying factions and warlords vying for supremacy.

Melee - Combat amongst groups of knights. This describes combat where there are more than just two combatants.

Scutage - A tax or fee paid by wealthy sons in order to forego military service as knights.

Quintain - A target fixed to a swiveling pole with a weight on the other end. Knights would use this to train with the use of a lance. It would rotate as they hit it.


Names and Words for Knights

Caballero - The Spanish word for Knight

Cavaliere - The Italian word for Knight

Chevalier - The French word for Knight

Knight - This is the English term and is derived from the Anglo-saxon for Cniht which means servant or household retainer. This was in the early centuries of knights. In later centuries, after the 12th, the term knight became more associated with chivalry.

Ritter - The German word for Knight. It literally means "Rider" as on a horse.


Siege Weapons and Machines

More information including pictures and products on siege engines here. Siege Engines

Assault Ladder - A large ladder that would be propped up against castle walls.

Ballista - A large siege engine much like a crossbow.

Battering Ram - a ram used to break in castle walls or doors.

Catapult - A large siege enginen used to hurl projectiles at castle walls. They came in many different types and the term catapult defines a large number of different types of siege engines.

Mangonel - A catapult that used twisted rope as the source of power to launch projectiles. The projectile would be in a bucket at the end of the throw arm

Onager - A catapult that used twisted rope to power the launching of projectiles. Differing from the Mangonel in that the end of the throw arm would have a rope and sling. In this sling would be the projectile.

Petard - Explosive device placed against a castle tower or gate.

Siege Tower - A tower that would be moved up against the walls of a castle so the attackers could get up on the wall and into the castle keep.

Trebuchet - A siege engine that used the force of a counterweight to swing a projectile.








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