A great swordsman is a wonderful asset to any historical or fantasy novel, but it would be a pretty ordinary literary world, if the only weapon we ever came across in such literature was that versatile and elegant weapon. Variety is a virtue in itself when it comes to writing, and just as the Roman’s discovered in their gladiatorial contests, sometimes matching opponents with contrasting weapons and skills often made for the best shows. Take for example the unarmoured Retiarius armed with net and trident, matched against the heavily armoured Murmillo with sword and shield. I have no tridents in this list, but I have a few options to arm your literary characters with.
The Mace. In the Dark ages, only the richest of warriors could afford chain mail, and therefore it was relatively rare. However as we approached the 11th Century this form of armour became more common and therefore protagonists often found that more damage was inflicted by heavier concussion weapons rather than penetrative or edged weapons such as swords. The mace could break an opponent’s bones, provided it was wielded with enough strength, whether they were armoured in mail or not. Blades were later added to the mace, to make the impact that much more effective, and also being useful at breaking links in chain mail.
The Morning Star. From blades on the side of a mace, it was then only a small step to turn those blades to spikes. A sharpened spike could force its way through the links in mail and inflict a cruel wound to their opponent. The gruesome site of such weapons, also must have held a physiological advantage that shouldn’t be underestimated.
The Flail. The morning star was then developed further into the flail, with a spiked ball attached to a shaft by a link of chain. Not a weapon of finesse, but still effective in a crowded melee. The German King John of Bohemia, who was blind, apparently favoured this weapon because he could swing away in battle to either side without worrying about seeing his opponent.
The Hand Axe. A simple weapon at first site, a well-honed blade that can be used to chop and hack at an opponent, however also surprising versatile. The one shown is of Viking design and could be used with shield in a tight shield wall, and therefore a common weapon of choice. However, the hand-axe if well balanced and thrown by someone of considerable skill, could also be an effective projectile weapon.
The Battle Axe. You can’t beat a battle axe for pure ferocity. Wielded two handed, it is capable of breaking the opponents shield to splinters, or caving in the strongest of armour. Not a very effective weapon to parry or block with, so the wielder will rely on pure aggression to carry him through his enemies. Best exemplified by the Viking Berserkers, who would work themselves up into a battle frenzy that they felt would make them impervious to harm and as such be able to smite anyone standing in their path. The battle axe can come either single headed or double headed, so that the wielder can strike enemies on their backswing.
The Pole-Arm. Pole-Arms evolved in many different cultures and societies and held the advantage of a long reach, as well as being able to be used like a quarterstaff, before delivering a lethal blow from one of the many heads they can be equipped with. In Europe the weapon first came about through the use of the Bill-hook (a farming tool) that proved to be a very effective weapon on the battle-field. From that was developed the Halberd, and then many other forms of lethal blades and axes attached to their ends.
The Pike. If length of reach is what you are after, none has more than the pike. Useless as an individual weapon, it becomes incredibly effective in a large unit of men, being able to effectively pin other units. It was also invulnerable from cavalry attack, although it fared less well against archers and was vulnerable over broken ground if the unit lost cohesion.
The Warhammer. The mace and morning star were very effective weapons against chain mail, but as we approached the medieval period knights were more often armoured in full plate mail that could protect the defender from all but the most accurate and strongly delivered blows from a traditional concussion weapon. What was needed was a weapon that could punch through the solid plate armour. They came up with the Warhammer that was a weighted hammer with a spike on the end. The spike would be delivered with such force that it would punch through the strongest armour into the skull, bones, or body of the unfortunate knight underneath.