Caltrops: The Ideal Weapon

During my research of medieval battle methods, I stumbled upon the caltrop.

A caltrop is a weapon with four spikes, crafted so that no matter how it lands, one spike always points upwards. It is easy to make, easy to carry, requires no training to use, requires no maintenance, and can be reused again and again.

The first recorded use of caltrops was in 331 B.C. at the Battle of Arbela by the Persians against Alexander the Great in an attempt to take out his chariots, horses, and war elephants. Caltrops have been used in battle by other empires since. In 217 A.D. the Romans used them during the Battle of Nisibis fought against the Parthians. The Chin Empire used them against Genghis Kahn when the Mongols attempted to attack the main fortress in 1213. The Scots used caltrops against the British during the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Caltrops were also used in the New World, probably hinder attacks by Native Americans at night. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a predecessor to the CIA, used caltrops in WII when officers parachuted into enemy-occupied territory and scattered caltrops across enemy aircraft runways. Caltrops were dropped on enemy roads and fields in Vietnam, and are still used by the military and police today to shred tires of enemy vehicles and airplanes.

According to Dr. Stanley Lovell, CIA, Spies and Stratagems, caltrops are “the simplest weapon we ever made.”

A current caltrop. Measures 8.6 cm X 8.6 cm X 8.6 cm.

And just for fun, Q designed an automatic caltrop dispenser in the back of James Bond’s BMW 750i for popping the tires of pursuing vehicles. This was the same car (featured in Tomorrow Never Dies) that could also be driven by a special remote control cell phone.

For centuries, the caltrop has been an ideal weapon. Takes down human, chariot, horse, camel, elephant, car, and plane. Easy to manufacture. Easy to use. Very successful.

Unless one of your own accidentally stepped on one.

5 Responses to “Caltrops: The Ideal Weapon”

  1. Miniature caltrops with six spikes: Jacks. There is a reason metal jacks are hard to find these days–too many family members with foot injuries. 😉

  2. randy says:

    Love the history lesson.

  3. Evergreena says:

    I think ninjas used these. Awesome.

  4. A Dalton says:

    An interesting article. I notice that you mention the Battle of Bannockburn. However there is an error when you mention that the battle was between the Scots and the British. Actually the Scots under Robert the Bruce were fighting the English under Edward II. It is important to note that Britain did not exist at that time and is a country that is currently formed from a unification of England, Scotland, Wales, though Northern Ireland is only included if you use the title United Kingdom.

  5. Mark Newman says:

    1. When our rank fell off our uniform, stepping on one barefoot was horrible. It was bad enough as a private. I feel bad for the Sgt Major. By the way, the tiny brackets that go over the pins to hold insignia on your collar were called “damnits” because of the above scenario.

    2. Caltrops are effective. But they’re too inconsiderate to be used by a caring person: I don’t think 007 is going to drop three dozen sharp metal objects on a darkened stretch of road, then go back later and sweep them up before unsuspecting motorists, firetrucks or kids on bikes come along. Yes, I feel similarly about “oil slick” dispensers.


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