Tournaments have been defined as “military exercises performed not in a hostile spirit but only to practice and put prowess on display.” Knights and their superiors wanted to show off their skills. During the Medieval period, tournaments took more than one form. Jousting came into play as one of the later displays within tournaments.

One of the early forms of formal tournaments was the melee. It was a type of mock battle fought in an enclosed area in which two teams of knights battled each other using couched lances. One team was the “home team,” while the other was the “away team.” They were also known as the defenders and the attackers. The melee included a parade of teams, war cries, brief rests in the center and charges that pitted young knights against one another in individual jousts.

Sometimes melees would spread out into the surrounding countryside and into the streets of the town.


Because of the dangers inherent in melees, often resulting in serious injury or death, tournaments began to use the joust as a means of displaying martial prowess.

In a joust, the knights held couched lances and rode toward each other, intent upon knocking their opponents from horseback. Over time, a central barrier called the tilt separated each knight. Early tilts were probably made of a cloth and rope, while later tilts were padded wooden barriers.

Jousts started out as sideline or preliminary events, secondary to the primary melee. They grew into prominence as they became more popular with medieval audiences.

Knights enjoyed jousting because it allowed them to display their skills in individual combat. Although dangerous, it was safer than previous mock battles had been, especially since the risk of being trampled by horses was much less.

Tournament equipment included helmets, suits of armor, shields, lances, and various other knightly accessories. Each one is a consideration as part of a knight’s costume for participation in mock tournaments today.