There are not so many evidences that tell us about Ethiopian Medieval Weapons. Africa, as a whole, is a great enigma especially when we speak about weapons.
The medieval weapons of Ethiopia are called nwayate haql. The basic warfare inventory of Ethiopians consisted of: swords, shields, spears, bows, arrows, slingshots, and rolling boulders.
Bows and arrows
Bows and arrows – qest and ahtsa – were the most extensively used arms. Their use is mentioned in the reigns of Emperor Gelawdewos (1540-1560 A.D.) and Emperor Sussnyos (1607-1632 A.D). Medieval Ethiopia had several vassal states, which took over their weapons and served the Ethiopian interests and borders. The most known vassal states were the neighbouring Yifat and Adel. There also were tribes that were not incorporated into the empire, but were like Roman foedus tribes. One of the known ones was the Nilotic people of the Tekkeze valley (north-west Ethiopia).
The most striking evidence of usage of Ethiopian arms by tribes is the participation of Elmaya tribe in the battle of Emperor Lbne Dngl against Ahmed Ibn Ibrahim El Ghazi (Gran). About 2.000 of Elmaya warriors were equipped with bows and poisoned arrows. The tradition says that the warriors mistook the Emperor’s camp for that of the enemy and terminated it. The Ashmen tribes of Gafat have also used poisoned arrows against Emperor Sussnyos’s army.
Swords, Shields and Spears
The structure of Ethiopian army was pretty well settled, there was distinguished traditional army division into cavalry and infantry. The infantry was basically armed with swords – asyft, shields- welatw, and spears – quiyanw.
The Ethiopian spear construction reflected three components: the sharp piercing point – quinat, tor, chmara, or chrrie; the shaft – zabia; and the end of the shaft an iron ring – megureb. The point and the ring were usually made of iron alloys or of some early steels; whereas the shaft was made of wood. The capping ring was provided to assured additional weight for perfect balance. In this way the spear represented a calculated construction which enabled the bearer to hit the aimed target within at least 20 feet. The spear actually, had a special meaning in the Ethiopian culture. One of the words meaning spear is tor, in Amharic language this also means ‘war’.
The cavalry benefited only of swords and spears, but it was heavy armored with mails – tsrur or dir’a hatsin and helmets – qur’. The mail had an inflexible construction with a separate tubular sequence for the neck – borboti. Of course, not all cavalry soldiers benefited of armor, only the high ranked ones. The rest army wrapped themselves with cloth – qnat, meqennet, thus creating some kind of protection. This kind of ‘armor’ offered maneuverability and flexibility, which made the movements more accurate and thus more efficient.
Also there are pretty well known the daggers use – methaht or shotel and javelin – armah. Their usage was especially frequent in Yifat.
The three basic weapons (spear, sword and bow) are the most frequently referred to in medieval Ethiopian chronicles. Most of them refer to the period when governed emperors like: Emperor Amde Tsion (1312-1342 A.D.), Emperor Gelawdewos, and Emperor Sussnyos. These weapons withstood the waves of western influence and were used even during the 19th century.