Arms & Armor Javelin
A hands-on review by Bill Grandy
The use of ranged weapons has played a significant role in warfare throughout history, from slings to bows. Before the advent of modern firearms, however, many of the long range weapons were too slow to load for closer encounters. Thrown weapons were much more practical in many of these cases, and everything from the axe to the spear was used for this. Even the sword was known to be thrown on occasion, as evidenced by the 15th century Italian master Fiore dei Liberi, who has a brief description on how to throw one's sword at an opponent if necessary.
Naturally many cultures developed weapons that were specifically designed for throwing. Darts and javelins are among the most common throwing weapons throughout history. Whether a formation of Greek Hoplites or Irish Kerns, these small spears were light, easy to carry in bundles, and deadly at short range.
I originally heard about these javelins from Craig Johnson of Arms & Armor before they were officially added to the catalog. According to Craig, he had made some to sell at the local Renaissance Faire because they were fairly simple to make, and they fit into a large number of time periods. To his surprise, they kept selling out, which partially owes to the fact that they were quite inexpensive (at roughly $50 US), so Arms & Armor decided to add them to the product line.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Arms & Armor of Minnesota.
These javelins are not only nice, simple historical replicas, but they are a lot of fun to use as well. The hafts are simple rods with steel heads riveted on. They are very lightweight and easy to heft. While such a weapon historically could have been used in hand-to-hand combat if necessary, it is obvious when holding it would have been best for ranged combat.
These weapons do require some dedicated practice in order to use accurately. Because of the light weight, if you torque your body in the throw, there is a tendency for the javelins to spin out of control in the air. The method I have used is to hold the haft with both hands, dominant near the rear, weak hand near the head. Take a steady stance and aim, then let go with the weak hand (using it to help aim) before extending fully with the dominant arm for the throw. After some practice, it is possible to be very accurate with these over a range of roughly fifteen to twenty feet. I was using empty soda cans as targets, which were propped up against a dirt hill for a back drop (for when I missed).
I had purchased a few of these with some friends due to the fact that they are fairly inexpensive. We managed to break two of the shafts after a few days of usage. I think this is a combination of the amount of shock that goes into a thrown weapon and the fact that Arms & Armor was likely using inexpensive wood in order to keep the price down. This is not much of a worry, though. Not only can these be sent back to Arms & Armor to be repaired (for a small fee), but it is actually quite easy to replace the hafts with hardwood dowel rods and small nails. Considering the price and the ease of replacement, it is of no bother to me if I break another one. The steel heads appear to be unhardened, or at least of a low hardness, which is actually ideal for a throwing weapon. I would occasionally hit a rock while practicing and light dings would appear. This is far preferable to the head cracking or shattering, and it probably also helps with keeping the price in line as well.
Fit and Finish
For such inexpensive pieces the heads are very attractive. I wouldn't mind mounting one on a longer haft as a spear at some point. They are cast to shape, and the polishing job, while rough, looks good for what it is. The shape is generic enough to be claimed for many different time periods and cultures.
The shaft is a simple, circular cross-sectioned piece of wood. There are no rough spots or splinters. The heads are riveted on securely, so if you need to replace the haft, you will have to remove them with a grinder or file.
This Arms & Armor javelin design is proof that one needn't throw a fortune away to own a historically accurate weapon. It is small enough to store away if desired, attractive enough to display, generic enough to fit into many periods, and inexpensive enough that you'll want more than one. They are good for reenactors, but they are also excellent fun for historical arms and armour enthusiasts who want to try their hand at throwing weapons.
About the Author
Bill Grandy is an instructor of Historical European Swordsmanship and sport fencing at the Virginia Academy of Fencing. He has held a strong passion (obsession?) for swords and swordsmanship for as long as he can remember. He admits that this passion comes from a youth spent playing Dungeons and Dragons, but he'll only admit that if there are no girls around.
Photographer: Bill Grandy