History

Slavic Weapons: Types & Characteristics

Scythians and Slavs
Vasnetsov Viktor Mikhailovich (1848 — 1926) Fight of Scythians and Slavs, 1881

If there were any Slavic Warriors before the 9th century, they may have been individuals with talents and skills, but one thing that history teaches us is that the ancient Slavs may have lacked the warrior culture.

With their physical characteristics and their weapons, the Slavs needed only the proper education and training to become great warriors. Which they did, in the centuries that followed.

According to Byzantine-written history, when the Slav people first descended from the Carpathian Mountains, they lacked not only military culture but also diplomacy. However, they were unusually strong and ready for battle when it came to defending or conquering territory for settling. Therefore, the Romans described them as wild and uncivilized, or more precisely – “barbarians”.

Slavic Weapons

Slavic warrior weapons

Unfortunately, there isn’t much information in the ancient history of how the Slavic weapons looked like or what they were made of. According to the scarce information about the Slavs that showed up in the 6th century, they were equipped with many weapons such as shield, spear, ax, sling, and bow. Mostly, they used these weapons for defense rather than attack.

Traditional Slavic weapons are a large shield, sword, and short spear. The early Slavs may have used guerrilla tactics and engaged in sneak attacks using bows and three-bladed arrows (much alike the ones used by the steppe nomads). They never wore body armor.

As soon as they started acquiring more knowledge about defending themselves, the Slavs started organizing their own armies that consisted only of a few hundred men so they could move fast in and out of the enemy’s territory. They started using siege weapons from the Byzantines and learned cavalry tactics from the steppe nomads.

Throughout the centuries that followed, the Slavic warriors started using combined arms tactics, with archers, cavalry, and infantry working in unison.

The Slavs in the North learned the art of sailing with longships from the Vikings and there are some writings claiming that they even raided Scandinavia.

The Slavic Rogatina

Rogatina is a type of weapon that was widely used among the East Slavs since the medieval centuries. It is a bear spear used in hunting bears and other large animals. The sharpened blade of the rogatina was long and usually shaped like a bay leaf. Just below the blade was a crossbar that helped to fix the spear on the animal’s body and keep it at a distance from the hunter.

Russian chronicles first mention the use of the rogatina as a hunting weapon in 1255, and as a military weapon in 1149. Even though it was known all across Europe, this weapon became especially popular in the North-East of the continent due to the large bear population.

And unlike the most common bear spears whose heads weighed 14 ounces (400 grams) at the most, the Russian rogotina was made of the metal head almost half a meter in length, weighing up to 1 kilo [1].

During the reign of Tsar Peter I (the Great) in the early 1700s, he eliminated the rogotina as a weapon of the infantry, replacing it with a bayonet as a basic edged weapon. However, the rogotina remained a common tool or weapon in the homes of ordinary Russians who still had to fight off bears.

Bogatyr

Dobrynya Nikitich, Ilya Muromets and Alyosha Popovich
Three of the most famous bogatyrs, Dobrynya Nikitich, Ilya Muromets and Alyosha Popovich, appear together in Victor Vasnetsov’s 1898 painting Bogatyrs.

Bogatyr is a famous warrior from the Rus’ folklore, similar to the knight in European folklore. The bogatyrs have a special place in the Russian epic poems known as bylinas. Some of them are only fictional characters, but there are many who are based on historical figures.

One of the most popular bogatyrs is Dobrynya Nikitich. Most of the tales about him are fictional, but the character is based on the great real-life warlord Dobrynya, uncle and tutor to Vladimir the Great. Dobrynya is represented as a brave and strong patriot with supernatural strength.

He was a military leader who defended his land from foreign enemies, mostly the Turks. One of the most famous epic tales is about the struggles Dobrynya had with a female dragon who was defeated in the end.

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Meet the Slavs

Posts by the Meet the Slavs Team.

Meet the Slavs is your most comprehensive online resource about Slavic people, their cuisine, culture, history, mythology, and more.

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