If human beings are blessed with one gift, it’s the ability to devise new and fascinating ways of killing each other. Were our ingenuity when it came to curing disease half as amazing – and terrifying – as our capacity for warfare, we’d never have to fear illness again. While it’s easy to see this as a sad fact, it’s our bailiwick to lay waste to one another, as well as the planet, and we can be proud that we do that very well. Like cancer, we’re exceptional at destruction, and also as good at growing as any teeming viral outbreak, allowing us to always make more people to then kill off.
We’re going to take a moment to look back at some of the stranger and more impressive ways people have found to wipe out life. Today, let’s celebrate 18 delightfully dastardly weapons from history that have slaughtered their way into our hearts.
Forget about catapults, the trebuchet with its weighted swing that permitted it to be reloaded quickly and to throw whatever was on hand for a full half a mile made it a castle killer. High walls and parapets went out of style when these marvels of physics came onto the scene, laying waste to anything that stood still long enough to get hit.
A simple tool that isn’t actually a weapon itself, the atlatl is a holder that effectively extends the arm of the user. It gives carriers an easy, accurate way to enhance the deadly distance when chucking spears, not only going further faster, but punching deeper when they land.
Probably the weirdest armored vehicle ever designed – made in Russia, because…Russia – the Tsar Tank was actually a tricycle that thumbed its nose at caterpillar treads. Each wheel is 27 feet tall and has its own motor. Poor engineering caused the rear wheel to get mired on the battlefield, which forced it to be decommissioned after just one year.
Chu Ko Nu
One of the first automatic weapons, the operation of the Chu Ko Nu is something any child could have thought up, and something Nerf has managed to perfect. A repeating crossbow where bolts are loaded into the box on the top, it’s not subtle or stealthy, but it also doesn’t fire very far, preferring to throw a lot of ammo at a problem.
Another ham-handed attempt at making a weapon that could fire repeatedly without reloading, the harmonica gun had a slide that worked the same way a revolver does today, only markedly worse. It would chug along like an old-school typewriter, changing the way you shot each time by shifting the weight dramatically to the side, making it only slightly less moronic than holding a pistol sideways.
Maxim Machine Gun
Here’s where the the industrial revolution really got serious about killing people. Capable of churning out 600 rounds a minute, the Maxim was ugly destruction come to play whenever it was rolled onto the field of battle. About as accurate as a subreddit, it made up for weak aim with several metric tons of white-hot lead.
When riding over people started to bore the mounted troops of Greece and Rome, they began adding in spikes and blades that would whirl, twirl, and shimmy infantry into several manageable pieces, or cut up slaves in the gladiatorial games when they got tired of watching lions eat them.
Part whip and part sword, the Urumi’s floppy looks will lull enemies into a false sense of security, then cut them to absolute ribbons after they fall down laughing. It can also be worn as a belt if your wardrobe requires more danger.
Pumhart von Steyr
The barrel on the von Steyer beast is almost three feet in diameter. Meant primarily to attack fortifications, Pumhart also turned out to be rolling thunder when it came to eliminating charging ground troops, since distance wasn’t really its thing.
A deadly concoction of naphtha and quicklime, Greek Fire is an early example of how fatally awesome science can be when it’s used to cause problems, rather than solve them. One of the earliest flamethrowers, it was devised to burn ships since it ignites when it hits water.
Brass knuckles have been in use as long as there has been brass, and they provide a tactical blunt force instrument, but the Bagh Nakh is actually much deadlier. Concealed in the palm, it’s a set of razors in your fist that go through flesh and muscle with scalpel-grade precision, putting close combatants down with a little heavy petting.
Dyson LePetit Protector Ring
You’ll know you’ve found the right woman when this is the engagement ring she wants. Several .22 caliber barrels that are operated by lever bring a handful of shots to bear should your five-finger death slap fail to do the trick.
Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser
The only way to respond to a rogue government with ICBMs (InterContinental Ballistic Missiles) is to say: “Yeah, we’ve got lasers.” It’s the ultimate trump in the international game of “my weapon can beat up your weapon.” Nothing more than a 747 that can shoot down moving targets at long ranges, we’ll be impressed when they put it on an X-Wing.
The beloved throwing star favored by ninjas in Hollywood, the Shuriken was developed by people too lazy to actually learn how to throw knives properly. It’s more difficult to get them to stop sticking in things, and are terrible for EDC in any normal pocket.
Vespa 150 TAP
Only the French would think to weaponize a Vespa. Armed with a 75mm recoilless rifle, it was developed for paratroopers who needed mobile attack power and annoying horns, but is now favored in Italy by scooter tour guides.
Claw of Archimedes
Archimedes said “Give me a place to stand and I will move the Earth,” but less well-known is his saying “Give me a stick and I’ll knock over your boat.” Made to defend the city of Syracuse from naval attack, these cranes were surprisingly effective at capsizing ships, again proving that science trumps might.
Before technical, tactical gun shields were commonly added to vehicle-mounted M240 machine guns, they were used by riflemen who would strap a chunk of metal or wood around their weapon to prove that the best defense is a good offense. Aiming relied heavily on luck and no small amount of praying.
Schwerer Gustav and Dora
Nothing has made it clearer how much penile compensation the Nazis were doing than these two immense pieces of artillery. With a barrel that is fully 80cm, they are the largest caliber rifled weapons in the world, and use the heaviest ammunition ever made by man. They are also rumored to have made Sigmund Freud giggle uncontrollably from beyond the grave.