Warfare, for better or for worse, has been one of the primary drivers of technological innovation throughout human history. We have produced some weapons of dazzling complexity and ingenuity, and horrifying brutality.
Recently, the US Army, along with Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, released a study they conducted on history’s deadliest weapons. The study examined data from real-world battles to calculate a “lethality index” for each weapon.
The index takes into account the weapon’s range, accuracy, radius of effect, rate of fire and mobility. The following results rank history’s deadliest weapons from least to most deadly.
The arquebus is history’s oldest shoulder-fired gun. By modern standards, it was primitive. But to the people who fired it, and were fired upon by it, it was devastating.
It was invented in Spain during the 15th Century. It was so heavy that shooters had to rest the gun on a fork to support it while firing.
Despite its weight, it was not expensive to manufacture. It spread rapidly around the globe. It did, however, have limitations. It could take up to an entire minute to load and was so loud that it could permanently deafen the people who fired it. It was also only accurate at short range.
Lethality Index: 10
The sword is one of humankind’s oldest weapons. Swords appear in the historical record all the way back to 3300 BC.
Swords were not commonly used, however, until many centuries later.
While it was the weapon of choice for hundreds of years, swords are limited by the skills of the people who wield them, as well as their exclusive utility as hand-to-hand combat weapons.
Lethality Index: 20