6 Amazingly High-Tech Ancient Weapons
When you picture a war from, say, a thousand years ago, what are the combatants fighting with? Swords, right? Maybe with the odd bow and arrow thrown in?
Well, one thing you should never underestimate is mankind's ability to come up with cool-ass ways to kill each other. Believe it or not, our ancestors were equipped with weaponry as high-tech as...
The Zhuge Nu Semi-Automatic Crossbow
In short, it was a semi-automatic weapon... from 2,400 years ago.
In fourth century B.C., the Chinese developed a new kind of crossbow that revolutionized the way siege warfare was fought:
That's a feeder on top and the lever near the end is the repeating action. The repeating crossbow was the first semi-automatic weapon ever invented. Trained soldiers could let fly 10 bolts in 15 seconds before the magazine needed to be reloaded. Due to the nature of the action, it needed to be shot from the hip in order to fire that quickly. Oh, and the bolts were often dipped in a fast acting poison so that just a scratch could be fatal. Fighting in small teams reduced the risk of friendly fire.
Siege warfare was all the rage when this baby hit the scene. It proved to be an essential defensive weapon as one could keep backing away from the enemy while shooting wildly into the advancing horde.
Seriously, just look at that shit. It was a damned crossbow assault rifle, and it existed so long ago Jesus could have owned one. An old one.
"Jesus Christ! Cover me!"
The repeating crossbow never goes out of style and in fact was still in widespread use during the early part of the 20th century as an anti-burglar weapon. This makes it the longest continuously used mechanical device in the world.
When the Byzantine Empire invented Greek fire around 673 A.D.--a terrifying, napalm-like liquid that could keep burning even sitting on water--the only thing they were worried about was finding new and exciting ways to deploy it in battle. When the "light-it-and-run" method just didn't cut it anymore, they were inspired to invent the first hand grenades. But as cool as that probably was, they had another method which they preferred: flamethrowers. Probably because they cut down on the time it took to fry their enemies into charred little pieces.
"You wanted yours well done, right?"
Flamethrowers, which experts say rank on the badass scale somewhere above Monster Trucks and just below playing the solo from "Stairway to Heaven" with your junk, were the most powerful weapon of the Byzantine navy. It allowed them to rule the seas for hundreds of years, and they somehow existed in an age when humans were pretty sure outer space was a blanket of smoke emanating from Bezelda, the She-Dragon.
Even more surprising, the way they were made and operated back then was not that different from their modern counterparts in design. The Byzantine flamethrower used a piston to shoot liquid naphtha through a lit flame.The Chinese improved the Byzantine design by adding double-piston bellows which were able to shoot fire with both the up and the downstroke, creating a steady stream similar to modern flamethrowers.
Above: either a flamethrower schematic or IKEA instructions.
But the device's roots go back even further than that. The basic idea of the flamethrower existed long before the invention of Greek fire, as early as third century B.C. The dream was always there. When mankind discovered the secret to creating fire, the next challenge was figuring out how to hurl it at people we didn't like.
This would be the Chinese model.
By the 14th century A.D., just when all of Europe was enjoying being almost completely wiped out by the Black Plague, the Chinese had mastered the many military implications of gunpowder and had become well versed in the ancient art of "blowing shit up." But trust us, they weren't just using their exploding rockets to celebrate the New Year.
The Chinese had invented goddamn missiles that could fire rockets. These beasts could climb hundreds of feet into the air before descending on their enemy. Then, once the main booster of the missile depletes, the rockets inside are automatically ignited, sending down a flaming hailstorm of pants-shitting terror on the soldiers below.
The first multistage rockets were used by the Chinese navy and were called "huo long chi shui" which translates to "fire-dragon issuing from the water." The multi-stage rockets could launch over walls and fire projectiles that would explode on impact. Packed with 750g of gunpowder and weighing five to 10 kilograms, one of these missiles could cruise up to a mile and a half.
Did we mention they looked like dragons?
And while we're on the Chinese, we should point out they also had...
While the rest of the world was busy keeping up with the latest fad known as "The Crusades," a Chinese fellow named Lou Qianxia was inventing land mines. In their most primitive form, they were hollowed out shells of cannonballs that were filled with either "magic gunpowder," "poison gunpowder" or "blinding and burning gunpowder" because apparently regular old gunpowder was so 12th century...
The original incarnation used fuses that were lit with careful and precise timing so the entire mine field would go off when enemy troops were on top of it. But by the 13th century, they'd developed a "self-tresspassing" mine that would sit quietly until some poor bastard stepped on it.
These mines were made from bamboo that was filled with oil, black powder and iron pellets. It was then buried five-feet deep to conceal it. The trigger device was two steel wheels that worked similar to the gears inside a clock. They were activated when the enemy would step on boards hidden just beneath the ground's surface, causing weights to be released which would turn the wheels. The wheels struck flint and shot sparks onto the fuse which would ignite several mines in the field.
Man, people back then couldn't draw for shit.
Other trigger methods were used as well. Proving once again that the Chinese have the best names for everything, their "underground sky-soaring thunder" was triggered by a slow burning flame placed in a bowl and buried just above a collection of fuses. They then placed weapons sticking out of a mound in the dirt which appeared to have just been left there, preying on the innate human desire for free shit.
When the weapons were disturbed by some poor sucker who just wanted that cool looking sword, the bowl would shift, the fuses would light and he'd learn the hard way that there's no such thing as a free lunch in this world.
The Claw of Archimedes
You've probably seen naval battles before in movies or on television. Two ships with high sails and the flags of their homelands pull up side by side to blow the ever-loving crap out of each other with their cannons. But actually, naval warfare was arguably more complex than your standard battle on land.
In third century A.D., the Romans attempted to seize control of Syracuse, a Carthaginian stronghold. But unluckily for them, Archimedes, the greatest scientific mind of that time, was in charge of defending the seaside city. Basically, Hiero (ruler of the city) gave Archimedes all the money and resources he needed to get creative and kick some Roman ass. With science!
"...carry the one...divide your ass by my foot..."
So Archimedes went about designing defenses to protect the city against the invaders. He constructed catapults that shot rocks and darts at various ranges. The Romans responded by lashing ships together two at a time and fashioning them with giant ladders they'd use to climb the seaside wall. That's when Archimedes deployed... the CLAW.
Though he lived in an age where having a camel with a slow metabolism was considered the cutting edge of fuel injection technology, Archimedes created a ship-capturing system of crane-like wooden arms with hooks at the ends. They would basically grab the Roman ships and hoist them out of the water. The enemy ships would then be dropped and capsized.
And laughed at.
The hook systems were positioned to lift ships that were immediately under the wall, hiding the engines from sight. The Romans couldn't even see what was lifting and tossing them around like toy boats. They began fearing that they were fighting against the gods.
The Carthaginians were able to fight off the invasion for three years using Archimedes' incredible defense grid.
In war, just like everything else, trends come and go. But big-ass war ships have been in style from the very first day somebody figured out how to build one.
So, when it came to naval warfare in fourth century B.C., the "bigger is better" movement was already in full swing. Gigantic ships of the Hellenistic era competed in the Mediterranean Sea during this time in what must have been some of the most incredible naval battles in the history of mankind. How big could these things get? Lets just say that they weren't so much ships as they were floating cities.
It's like if the Mall of America had oars.
The lengths of these ships could get up to 420 feet--you'd barely fit one in a football stadium. These massive warships carried a crew of over 7,000 which is almost twice as many crew members as any aircraft carrier ever built. The bulk of the crew consisted of rowers.
Even this can't compete.
Keep in mind, earlier naval battle techniques consisted of ramming the other ship with the bow of your boat until it sank. As the ships got bigger, they could be outfitted with catapults and ballistae. Maneuverability for ramming decreased with size, so the goal became using the catapults to kill the rowers of the enemy ship, essentially crippling it. They engineered themselves out of this pickle by making the ships even bigger and adding more rowers.
After the Battle of Actium, Roman dominance over the sea was firmly established, seeing as how they had, you know, the largest ships known to mankind that could destroy anything with which they came into contact. The giant ships served as flagships and were eventually used by rich people to cruise around in, because when you want to chill on the lake, there's nothing as relaxing as knowing you essentially have an entire small town full of slaves rowing your fat ass around.
Though you have to admit that's about the most pimpingest thing you've ever seen.
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