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Marcus G




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PostPosted: Tue 19 Jun, 2007 2:03 am    Post subject: Spear vs Sword         Reply with quote

I know that the sword is the stereotyplical weapon, but i have heard poeple say that the spear had a massive impact on warfare.
What would have been more commonly wielded by warriors throughtout the ages, the spear/polearms or the sword?

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David Sutton




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PostPosted: Tue 19 Jun, 2007 2:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Prior to the early medieval period, swords were an expensive item generally only available to the wealthy and powerful. Therefore most warriors would be armed with the old stand by of spear and shield. later as sword production becomes cheaper and more efficient, they become more widespread. By the c15th most soldiers can easily afford to arm themselves with a decent sword of some sort. I think a good analogy would be car ownership. To begin with they could only be afforded by relatively few people. Later, however, as production increased and they became cheaper, practically most people own one.

The polearm, however, continued to be the primary weapon of most soldiers. It has a longer reach than the sword and is more conducive to massed formations of men. Imagine a close order body of troops, all trying to swing their swords around at once, it would be chaos with, not a few being hit by their own side. Swords are generally a weapon of second resort or of use in the pursuit of a rout.

Im sure someone else could give a much fuller answer but, unfortunately I've run out of time and must be off to work! Sad

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Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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PostPosted: Tue 19 Jun, 2007 4:52 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It's not so much a spear or a sword, as they're in a different range catagory. So a sword isn't exchange for a spear or vice versa. In most cases, it was a spear or other polearm and either a sword or axe or whatever they had as short range weapon.
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David Martin




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PostPosted: Tue 19 Jun, 2007 6:10 am    Post subject: Re: Spear vs Sword         Reply with quote

Marcus G wrote:
I know that the sword is the stereotyplical weapon, but i have heard poeple say that the spear had a massive impact on warfare.
What would have been more commonly wielded by warriors throughtout the ages, the spear/polearms or the sword?


If we consider that the first weapons were probably rocks and improvised clubs, I think it's probably safe to assume that the damage potential of a pointed stick was realized fairly early on. As the arms race advanced, primitive folks probably found that longer pointed sticks had advantages over shorter ones, hence the spear was born.

To answer your question, spears have been around a lot longer than swords. Spears have also lasted longer than swords in the modern arsenal, if we consider the bayonet-equipped rifle as a spear-like weapon.

"When war-gods meet to match their might,
who can tell the bravest born?
Many a hero never made a hole
in another man's breast."

- Sigurd, The Lay of Fafnir
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C. Stackhouse




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PostPosted: Tue 19 Jun, 2007 7:06 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

You also have to take into account what you are trying to accomplish.

Swords, although shorter and employing a less effective thrusting point were far superior in slashes (as opposed to slashing with an ox-tongue or other broad headed spear), they was also less chance an opponent could cut through your haft or weaken it to such a point. Swords also have more than one main angle of attack, especially when used in conjuction with a shield/side arm.

Spears had their advantages as well; reach, thrusting power, surprise butt attacks, the ability to throw in a desperation move, two hands allow for devastating impacts. They were inexpensive to make (requiring little to no metal) and could be crafted out of any number of materials including bone, stone, wood and virtually any metal.

Spears were also -much- easier to wield, thus equipping a group of farmers with them to serve in your army required little if any training.

It all falls down to personal preference and ability with the aforementioned weapons.

Above all else, be armed

-Niccolo Machiavelli
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Tue 19 Jun, 2007 7:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Spears were the most common weapon from the Stone Age right through the 13th century. Swords were rarely used as a primary weapon, only as a backup or secondary weapon (with some notable exceptions!). Homeric heroes, Greek hoplites, and many Roman troops used spears. Germanic graves commonly have a shield boss and a couple spearheads, sometimes with a big knife and/or a javelin head. Norse requirements for ship crewmen mention "spear and shield". 12th and 13th century English militia laws require freemen below a certain wealth level to have gambeson, helmet, and spear, and Scottish laws were very similar. It is just a lot easier to teach masses of troops to use spears--very effectively!--than it is to teach them to be good swordsmen, not to mention a lot cheaper to equip them.

Modern assault rifles still mount a bayonet! The spear rules.

Matthew
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Tue 19 Jun, 2007 8:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There is no simple answer. Period.

While it is true that there were many more fighting forces that armed their men with spears alone than with swords alone (I believe the latter can be counted on the fingers of one hand), there were also many, many others that armed their men with both spear/lance/polearm/whatever and sword. Not to mention other weapons like javelins, bows, or firearms.

Honestly, I think the biggest advantage of the sword is that it can be sheathed--you can carry it around the battlefield without having to risk getting cut/stabbed by your own weapon. This is why it was so often carried in conjunction with other weapons like lances, bows, or javelins. And I believe it would be wrong to say that it was always a secondary weapon in such situations. One thing many people don't know about English longbowmen is that they fought at least as often with their swords, axes, and mallets as they did with their bows. The Roman legionaries, too, preferred the sword in most kinds of hand-to-hand encounters--at least after the widespread adoption of the gladius hispaniensis and before developments in the later Empire brought out a greater need for their spear/heavy javelin to be used as a close-combat anti-cavalry weapon (or at least that's what most late Roman manuals said: defend with the spear, but in the attack the legionary should use the time-honored method of throwing the spear before drawing the sword).

And yet, it is quite true that we rarely see people carrying the sword as their only weapon or at least as their only primary weapon. The only example I can name right off the top of my head are the Spanish rodeleros and the Sherden and Shekelesh mercenaries in the armies of New Kingdom Egypt (the ancient sort of Egypt, that is). The rest, like European men-at-arms, English longbowmen, Roman legionaries, or Chinese cavalrymen, all carried some other sort of primary weapon beside the sword, such as lances, javelins, or bows. Perhaps there is something to be had from the fact that most of these other weapons are variations of the spear, but I wouldn't go that far just yet because--just like swords--different kinds of spears often called for dramatically different methods of handling. A two-handed spear is quite different from a one-handed spear and shield, and spear-and shield wielded defensively bears only a very superficial similarity to spear-and shield wielded offensively.

Now that I think of it, the sword probably had its greatest popularity in fairly modern times--that is, in 18th-cand 19th-century European armies. I don't think there were many other places where heavy cavalrymen were told to rely almost solely on their swords and to use their firearms only in dire emergencies.
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Greg Coffman




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PostPosted: Tue 19 Jun, 2007 10:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The sword was the professional fighter's weapon of choice for self defence and for up-close action on the battlefield. However, on the battlefield a spear or some polearm would be the first weapon at hand. Whether this is a spear or a poleaxe, halberd, or some other polearm depends on the historic period. The sword would function as somewhat of a sidearm. The spear and other polearms give a fighter a greater range and greater blunt force, which is good against armour. However we have plenty of historic artwork which depicts fighters in full armour running around with swords and even bucklers.

There is not a formula that says spear beats sword or spearmen beat swordmen. On the battlefield you are usually talking about armoured combat. In unarmoured combat I think the spear has a clear advantage (though certainly not overcomable).

The spear and other polearms have definitley made a huge impact of warfare. They are not quite as common off of the battlefield as they are not as portable. Swords work best in unarmoured combat but are not necessarily better than the spear in that arena, just much more common. And swords were very present and important on the battlefield as well.

I hope I am communicating "both/and."

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
-Hebrews 4:12
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Tue 19 Jun, 2007 7:47 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Greg Coffman wrote:
(though certainly not overcomable).


"though certainly not insurmountable," perhaps? Wink

Quote:
Swords work best in unarmoured combat but are not necessarily better than the spear in that arena, just much more common.


Well, this would be valid for medieval Europe, but elsewhere the sword wasn't always the most popular weapon for unarmored combat. In fact, when very few warriors in a culture had any decent armor at all, the predominant weapons tended to be missiles--javelins, slings, arrows, and the like--because lack of armor also meant lack of ability to protect oneself adequately from such things.

But if you're referring to unarmored dueling, then I suppose you're totally correct. Swords were not only a practical weapon; they were also a prestige weapon, and a culture where the sword existed at all was quite likely to use it in such duels because those duels were supposed to be prestige events anyway.
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Anders Nilsson




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PostPosted: Thu 21 Jun, 2007 3:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The ansver is found in formations. With a polearm you can use tight formations that are bristling with sharp points and that are hard to break up. The pikes were use till the middle of the 18th century, and was only then replaces by the bayonett, and that is still with us. A sword needs room to be swung properly, try that in formations and you will hack your friends. The romans used short stabbingswords just because they could be used in formations and on the battlefield, formations is the king.
And on the battlefield, one has to rememder the cavalry. You are always at risk at taking a cavalrycharge. And when the horses come, you´ll need a spearwall, not a sword. Armed with only o sword, you´ll be plowed down by the cavalry.
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Greg Coffman




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PostPosted: Thu 21 Jun, 2007 12:59 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Anders Nilsson wrote:
And on the battlefield, one has to rememder the cavalry. You are always at risk at taking a cavalrycharge. And when the horses come, you´ll need a spearwall, not a sword. Armed with only o sword, you´ll be plowed down by the cavalry.


I think this is one of the primary reason of the success of the heavy spear/pike formation. Although, in general a well disciplined and heavily armed and armoured tight infantry formation will hold it's own against cavalry. The Romans proved that. The English had their knights dismount to fight the French cavalry.

I don't know how a heavily armoured infantry formation with hand weapons and shorter polearms would do against a spear or pike formation. Towards the end of the 14th century, armour was pretty heavy for the knights that fought on foot. But I don't think that pike or spear formations were very common then.

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
-Hebrews 4:12
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Hugh Knight




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PostPosted: Thu 21 Jun, 2007 1:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

[quote="Greg Coffman"]
Anders Nilsson wrote:
And on the battlefield, one has to rememder the cavalry. You are always at risk at taking a cavalrycharge. And when the horses come, you´ll need a spearwall, not a sword. Armed with only o sword, you´ll be plowed down by the cavalry.


That's not true: At Hastings Harald's troops fought in a shieldwall with a mixture of short spears and hand weapons and still resisted William's cavalry. Weapons aren't the key to resisting cavalry, disciplined formations are. Horses simply won't charge a densly-packed formation of men with sharp bits sticking out--they're not stupid.

Quote:
I don't know how a heavily armoured infantry formation with hand weapons and shorter polearms would do against a spear or pike formation. Towards the end of the 14th century, armour was pretty heavy for the knights that fought on foot. But I don't think that pike or spear formations were very common then.


Actually, Greg, by the end of the 14th century (and long before that) English knights almost always dismounted to fight on foot, heavy armor or no. And they didn't use pikes, but they certainly used spears--both sides did. For example, at Agincourt (1415) the French (who also fought on foot) cut down their lances to fight the English.

As for fighting pike formations, the Spanish sword & buckler men defeated pike formations by being able to move under and through them in the 16th century.

Regards,
Hugh
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Felix Wang




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PostPosted: Thu 21 Jun, 2007 1:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Infantry with shorter weapons have historically had trouble with pikes, at least on a small-unit level. While Roman armies beat Macedonian armies, the texts of Polybius and Plutarch are in agreement that the Roman style infantry with heavy armour and sword did not cut their way into the pike formations. At both Pydna and Cyanocephalae, the Romans infantry were pushed back by the Macedonian pikes. At Cyanocephalae, the Macedonians were outflanked by the more flexible three-line legion, while at Pydna, the advance of the pike formation was uneven and caused breaks in the ranks which allowed the Romans to get at the flanks of pike units.

The Swiss began as crossbowmen and halberdiers before they adopted the pike. At Sempach, the Swiss halberdiers were able to hold, and then destroy dismounted Austrian knights using lances (like pikes). However, at Arbedo in 1422, the Italian condotierre men-at-arms did the same thing, and fought the Swiss halberdiers to a standstill (indeed, the Swiss were thinking about surrendering when reinforcements showed up in the nick of time - not many, but enough to scare the Milanese). This near-defeat led to an explicit change in Swiss policy, whereby any man who could get a pike, should get a pike.

In re the Spanish rodeleros, while they had some success against pikemen, it is notable that armies continue to employ large numbers of pikes into the mid-seventeenth century, while all armies, including the Spanish, allowed the numbers of sword-and-shield men to drop to zero.
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Anders Nilsson




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PostPosted: Thu 21 Jun, 2007 2:53 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In roman days and in the battle of hastings the charge with lance was not used by knights.
In the Bayuo (Whats that spelling?) tapestry it´s clearly shown that the knights was throwing spears ay Hastings, not charging with a lance. And to make matters worse, they where fighting uphill.

Same goes for the roman era. Cavalry was not used to charge. If so, weapons would have been found. They used spears, not lances.

As the weapons of the cavalry evolved so did the weapons of the footman.
At first knight used spears. And the infantry used spears as well. And was pointed out in the diskussion. Disciplined and supported shieldwalls could do the trick.
(For each leginonary cohort there was at least one auxillia cohort to support. Often with spears.)
When the cavalry started to use lances, the infantry started to use pikes and halberds.

Of course weapons isn´t the only ansvwer. As stated on this thread. Discipline and formation counts. But if you have an army of untrained peasant, dont expect them to live if you give them swords and shields.
Give them polearms and tell them to stick together, then the´ve got a chance.
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Hugh Knight




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PostPosted: Thu 21 Jun, 2007 4:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Anders Nilsson wrote:
in the battle of hastings the charge with lance was not used by knights.
In the Bayuo (Whats that spelling?) tapestry it´s clearly shown that the knights was throwing spears ay Hastings, not charging with a lance. And to make matters worse, they where fighting uphill.


I think you should take another look at the Bayeux Tapestry (which isn't really a tapestry, but that's only of interest to us pedants). One of the remarkable things about it is that it shows lances being held both overhand (which, by the way, doesn't necessarily mean they were thrown--there's strong evidence in many sources for overhand thrusts) and couched--one of the first (possibly *the* first) sources to show such. So yes, they *did* charge with lances.

May I suggest you read Kelly Devries book entitled Medieval Military Technology (Broadview Press, 1998)? He cites several sources that put the use of the couched lance in a mounted charge as having come into use sometime between 1050 and 1150, and one of the sources specifically cited was the Bayeux Tapestry (p. 13).

Likewise, in Philip Contamine's War in the Middle Ages (Blackwell LTD 1984) we're told that the Bayeux Tapestry is the earliest source showing the couching of lances fro the charge--again, as one of several ways of using the lance depicted therein (p.184).

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Hugh
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Robin Smith




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PostPosted: Thu 21 Jun, 2007 4:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In the Bayeux tapestry the Normans, though primarily shown carrying light spears in an overhand grip, most certainly ARE shown using a couched lance for charging. See far right here, where the Norman milites ride to battle with couched lance bearing gonfalon pennants, those behind have lighter spears.
http://www.hastings1066.com/bayeux25.shtml
The Normans most certainly did use the lance in a couched charge, however they had other tactics in their bag of tricks as well. At Hastings, the Saxon shieldwall was so strong, 9-10 deep at some areas, that no horseman could hope to break through, even with the strongest charge. So the Normans were forced for most of the day to ride uphill, throw their spear into the shield wall, or turn shield side to the wall and engage the line, and finally turn and ride back down to "reload" with another spear and make ready to do it again. The overhand grip, though it can be used to throw, it is also used in an overhand thrust. As seen here
http://hastings1066.com/pics/tap30.jpg
So the Normans certainly knew how to use the heavy cavalry charge...

A furore Normannorum libera nos, Domine
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Robin Smith




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PostPosted: Thu 21 Jun, 2007 4:31 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hugh, you beat me to it. You must have been writing as I was gathering sources Laughing Out Loud Darn it...
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Hugh Knight




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PostPosted: Thu 21 Jun, 2007 4:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Robin Smith wrote:
Hugh, you beat me to it. You must have been writing as I was gathering sources Laughing Out Loud Darn it...


LOL! I'm quick with a book, I am! But you supplied visual references, for which I'm grateful. The web site I had saved with broken-out pictures of different kinds of activity depicted on the Tapestry has gone down, so I'm pleased to have the one you cited to replace it--thanks!

I think one thing that needs to be emphasized here, however, is your point that couched or not, no one *charged* the shieldwall. Horses don't charge fixed bodies of men. It is likely the horsemen rode along the front of the shieldwall stabbing overhand with their lances while relying upon their long kite shields (hanging on the guige) to protect them as they did so. The notion of a "thundering charge" slamming into a fixed position, so beloved of ignorant fiction authors, simply wasn't done.

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Hugh
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Gary A. Chelette




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PostPosted: Thu 21 Jun, 2007 7:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hugh Knight wrote:

LOL! I'm quick with a book, I am!


All I can do is Google. Wink

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Anders Nilsson




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PostPosted: Fri 22 Jun, 2007 3:08 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I stand corrected.

I had only read about the norman knights riding uphill and throwing spears.

If you use cavalry in tight formation and at high speed, the horses ride into anything. They even continue in formation even if the rider is killed. That was a favourite tactic of the Swedish cavalry from ca 1650 and well inte 1700. They rode knee by knee and in tight formation and at highest spees. That´s how the Swedish with a significally smaller army could beat larger armies. (Worked well until 1709 when they were crushed by superior russian firepower at Poltava.) Sheer mass of tighly packed horses in high speed break most formations. (except pikes) Thats why the Swedish and Russian continued to use pikes well into the 1700. 1 in 3 Swedish soldiers were pikemen.

Btw, cavalry charges was of course best used when in combination with infantry. Bind the enemy infantry with you own and then flank charge with well timed cavalry.
Something that was impossible at Hastings. Sheildwall at the top of a hill, with no way of flanking. Not ideal even try a charge with horses.

But that a bit OT.
The diskussion was about the use of spears by foottroops. Not if cavalry did charge or not.

I still think that the resaon that the spear/polearm remained popular for so long was the reason of:
It´s cheap to produce. Thus enables the raising of big forces.
It´s easy to use. Thus enables those big forces to be fairly effective at a low traingcost.
It´s effective against cavalry.

The use of the pikes squres started to dimish first when rapid firepower was used. Gustav II Adolf used volley fire at great effect against the German squares in the 30 year war.
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