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Allen Foster





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PostPosted: Sun 25 Jan, 2009 7:29 am    Post subject: Importance of the spear in the Medieval & Dark Ages         Reply with quote

Can someone discuss the importance of this weapon in battle as it relates to the sword (by culture and time) from the late first century and through the fourteenth century? While I am no scholar, I understand that in some cultures the spear was considered a primary weapon over the sword. If this is so, wouldn't the warriors in this period have paid as much attention to the craftsmenship of their spears or lances, as they did the sword? The reproductions of this weapon that I've seen are basic. Can someone post pictures or renderings of highly crafted spears; spearheads or carved shafts for the period in question that would befit it as a primary weapon?

Thanks Allen

"Rise up, O Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face."
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Allen Foster





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PostPosted: Sun 25 Jan, 2009 7:44 am    Post subject: Re: Importance of the spear in the Medieval & Dark Ages         Reply with quote

I apologize. I meant to say late tenth century through the fourteenth century.

Allen Foster wrote:
Can someone discuss the importance of this weapon in battle as it relates to the sword (by culture and time) from the late first century and through the fourteenth century? While I am no scholar, I understand that in some cultures the spear was considered a primary weapon over the sword. If this is so, wouldn't the warriors in this period have paid as much attention to the craftsmenship of their spears or lances, as they did the sword? The reproductions of this weapon that I've seen are basic. Can someone post pictures or renderings of highly crafted spears; spearheads or carved shafts for the period in question that would befit it as a primary weapon?

Thanks Allen

"Rise up, O Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face."
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Gabriele A. Pini




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PostPosted: Sun 25 Jan, 2009 8:08 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The spear was a very important weapon, much more and widely used than the sword.

First of all, a spear is a lot cheaper, with is more breakable part, the staff, easily replacable while the iron part, the point, was very short and lighter, with a great economy of precious ore and work.

Second, a short spear can be used either in formation (like a short sword) or in one-to-one combats, like a long or arming sword, and its use is mor related to the staff, a weapon that a lot of people at the time used from their childhood.

The only drawback we of the Compagnia del Nibbio have found is the impossibility to use one in a mock battle with safety: a sword for everyone is preferible, while not historically accetable for poor company of the 12th century, when you don't know with whom you would have to fight.
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Lawrence Moran





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PostPosted: Sun 25 Jan, 2009 8:11 am    Post subject: Spear vs. Sword         Reply with quote

Quote:
While I am no scholar, I understand that in some cultures the spear was considered a primary weapon over the sword. If this is so, wouldn't the warriors in this period have paid as much attention to the craftsmenship of their spears or lances, as they did the sword?

Here is the thing, Allen. The spear is much less technologically advanced than is the sword. As such, it marks a much less significant expense. While a spear may well be a primary weapon--if for no other reason than affordability--it is also a utilitarian weapon. A useful analogy may be with cars. A top end luxury car like say a handcrafted Bently or a Rolls is going to have a great deal more effort invested in its craftsmanship than is a run of the mill Ford or Opel or Fiat. Beyond a certain level of minimum acceptable craftsmanship the warrior using a spear is not going to be looking for more. On the other hand, a warrior using a sword is likely to demand a more significant level of fit and finish commensurate with his investment.

Something else that bears mentioning...you specified the period between the 10th and the 14th centuries. The dynamic changes as the sword becomes a more available weapon. You start to see swords with a comparatively utilitarian level of fit and finish similar to that of the average spear. Its also worth mentioning that you could probably have found spears with a high degree of fit and finish based on the status of the intended user.
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Nathan F




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PostPosted: Sun 25 Jan, 2009 9:08 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

also the spear was a hunting weapon the sword has no other purpose than that of war and as such alot of people possed them and regularly used them so a level of skill with the spear was common so it offers a good use for combat and if you are poor or in a region with little ore a spear is an obvious choice over a sword
for here starts war carrion birds sing, and grey wolves howl
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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Sun 25 Jan, 2009 10:05 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As a general rule, the spear is far more important a military weapon than the sword. The sword is a backup, once your lance breaks or the enemy is too close to use your spear. For example, some classes in English Assiezes of Arms don't have any sidearm specified. Apparently, what a pikeman had at his side wasn't very important as long as he had his pike and shield.
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Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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PostPosted: Mon 26 Jan, 2009 12:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Nathan F wrote:
also the spear was a hunting weapon the sword has no other purpose than that of war and as such alot of people possed them and regularly used them so a level of skill with the spear was common so it offers a good use for combat and if you are poor or in a region with little ore a spear is an obvious choice over a sword
Was there really much hunting being done in those centuries? Oh, never mind I just found my answer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medieval_hunting

Also, is it known whether or not cattle was being slaughtered using spears? I know other cultures use spears for that purpose, as it's a quick and effective way.

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Gabriele A. Pini




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PostPosted: Mon 26 Jan, 2009 2:01 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Nathan F wrote:
Also, is it known whether or not cattle was being slaughtered using spears? I know other cultures use spears for that purpose, as it's a quick and effective way.


Certanly not! The best method to slaughter a cattle, the one used in the time of my grandfather, was to bind it securely (but without scare it, or the meat would be hard) and then drive a stake trough its cerebellum (without ruin the brain). Then you can open the jugular and extract the blood, to obtain a meat less red and more secure...

I don't think that a spear was used in farming, but is very similar to some objects that were.
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Gary Teuscher





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PostPosted: Mon 26 Jan, 2009 7:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Aside from the relative cheapness of a spear (based on some Carolinginan pricelists a sword was at least 4-5x costlier than a sword), there were advantages in combat, but it was more effective in formed melee.

First, there were a lot of different spear lengths, probably from the 6-9 foot range to 12-14 feet by the end of the period you mention, though I think the resurgence of the true "pike" type weapon fell beyond the period you mention.

I seemed as though different cultures favored different lengths of spears. The Welsh spear was somewhat in the middle of the above ranges, the Scottish on the long end, Flemish city militias using similar length spears to the Scottish ones. Seems as though Norman, Frankish, Saxon and Vikings used those at the shorter end of the range.

The exact spear lengths maybe off a bit, but they are fairly accurate, best I can do without pulling out reference materials.

But in general, spear users want to maintain formation, presenting a wall of spears to the opponent. There are a few advantages a spear has in this formed melee over a sword. One is that with spears, 2 or more ranks can fight at once. With swords this does not work. This holds true even with the shorter ones, the back rank could use overhand thrusts for instance while the front rank uses a mixture of under and overhand.

Another advantage is spears present a more daunting obstacle to cavalry. They still may have charged these united fronts of spears as the English apparently did against the Scots, but as long as the infantry held ranks it was not too effective.

The spears greatest weakness was that if the formation was broken into and it came to close combat, the spears were far less useful than a sword, something like a pike would have been rather useless in a close unformed melee. This is why Romans if they were lucky enough to get into a pike formation were extremely effective, though getting into the formation in the first place was tough, often relying on the formation breaking down some either due to bad terrain, overzealous pursuit, or morale issues causing breaks in the formation.

The above is a generalization of spear type combats. The length of the spear played a huge role here. The longer the spear, the tougher usually to break into their formation, but also the worse the were in an unformed melee. For example, a 7' spear would not be quite as effective as keeping other formations from breaking in to their own formation, now would it present quite the obstacle for cavalry. But a 7' spear would be far more effective in close, unformed combat than it's longer cousins.

The other detriment to longer spears is that they effect the mobility more of the unit. A lot of drilling can remedy this problem to a point, but even the Hellenistic Pikemen seemed to struggle in bad terrain against the Roman Legions - I'm not sure if they were trained as well as Alexander's foot companions, but I would think they had some degree of training in formation.


A byzantine manual advises the spear using foot to drop their spears after initial contact. I'm not sure how well this was translated, as I can't see them dropping spears if they are having sucess skewering their opponents and maintaining their formation, but it still implies that at some point the spear is no longer useful. I'm thinking the Kontos was the spear used, which is on the long end, but I'm not sure if the Byzantine spear changed in length during this period.
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Matt Brundle




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PostPosted: Mon 26 Jan, 2009 8:05 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Link to Mat Ravignat's article on spear. I hope it helps.

http://www.ottawasword.com/articles.asp

www.aemma.org
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Gary Teuscher





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PostPosted: Mon 26 Jan, 2009 8:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I guess a question myself here also and related. The spear seems a more effective weapon (at least the longer ones) when used two handed. Spearmen of the period mentioned always seem to be illustrated with shields.

Does anyone know in actual combat if they swung their shields on their back and used the weapons two-handed?

This would be similar to the users of the Danish two handed axe who carried the shield inot combat, but then used their axes two handed. My guess the shield was for protection against missile fire while approaching their opponents.
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Allen Foster





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PostPosted: Mon 26 Jan, 2009 9:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gary Teuscher wrote:
A byzantine manual advises the spear using foot to drop their spears after initial contact. I'm not sure how well this was translated, as I can't see them dropping spears if they are having sucess skewering their opponents and maintaining their formation, but it still implies that at some point the spear is no longer useful. I'm thinking the Kontos was the spear used, which is on the long end, but I'm not sure if the Byzantine spear changed in length during this period.


Great response Gary!

The "throw away" nature implied by the Byzantine manual could explain why there are seemingly very few examples of highly crafted spears by contrast to the sword. If they were indeed meant to be tossed after the enemy had broken inside the formation, it would not be practicle to expend large sums of money on the craftsmenship. Still however it would seem that a foot soldier would want to hold onto this weapon until all else failed at the risk of being virtually unarmed against another spearman or mounted knight w/ lance. Therefore, with the spear being such a crucial weapon, it would still seem that it's owner would covet it to the point of personalizing it and/or improving it's "fit & finish" so to speak. I guess they did fit them with colorful standards and what not. Comments?

Allen

"Rise up, O Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face."
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Allen Foster





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PostPosted: Mon 26 Jan, 2009 9:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matt Brundle wrote:
Link to Mat Ravignat's article on spear. I hope it helps.

http://www.ottawasword.com/articles.asp


Thanks Matt! I will enjoy reading this.

Allen

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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Mon 26 Jan, 2009 11:01 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gary,

Depends how you are fighting and the formations employed by either groups. Fighting in a shieldwall does a great deal counter long pole weapons from what I have seen as they get up close and personal. Single handed spears are very effective in such a setting.

RPM
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Gary Teuscher





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PostPosted: Mon 26 Jan, 2009 11:11 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks, Randall.

It seems as that in individual type combat, like the manual posted above, the spear was often used in two hands. Of course what time period the maual correlates is an issue.

But of course, this is a lot different than formation fighting as well.

It seems as though those who favored shield wall tactics like Saxons and Vikings used the shorter spears. What this implies I have no idea, particularily since a common weapon of the day, the 2 handed Danish axe did not lend itself to use in a shield wall! Big Grin
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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Mon 26 Jan, 2009 11:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There are some very, very fine surviving spearheads (from every historical period I can think of)--better craftsmanship than many surviving swords. More complex construction and decoration as well. Here are some personal favorites from the late 15th c. and early 16th c. IIRC, the long, broad spearhead shown here is an Italian export to England for the use of Henry VIII's guards. This one is in the Tower of London, but there's a plainer example in the Frazier Museum of International History (Louisville, Ky.)


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-Sean

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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Mon 26 Jan, 2009 11:35 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It is important to keep in mind that spear and shield was used into the late medieval period in some very developed military systems, not just fringe places. Italy especially comes to mind as one of the main types of infantry there. I am not sure when the pike really picks specifically in each location but I know it is not uniforn across europe or is it always over night so it is very likely the spear continued as part of their respective military forces for some time. Since 16th century is not my specialty I cannot say for sure but I think there are illustrations I have seen from the era of gunners mixed in with shields and spears.

RPM
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Gary Teuscher





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PostPosted: Mon 26 Jan, 2009 2:04 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
It is important to keep in mind that spear and shield was used into the late medieval period in some very developed military systems, not just fringe places. Italy especially comes to mind as one of the main types of infantry there. I am not sure when the pike really picks specifically in each location but I know it is not uniforn across europe or is it always over night so it is very likely the spear continued as part of their respective military forces for some time.


I don't doubt that spear and shield was the standard way spear carriers were armed for this entire period. Even the Scottish Schiltrons and Flemish Spearmen carried a shield with their spear, and they used some of the longer spears of the time.

My question is really not did spear users carry shields during this time, but did they sling the shields over their back to use the spears in combat shortly before combat?

And if so how common was this to do?

I would think it would have been more common in one on one combat or small skirmishes. The manual posted above has the spear wielder not using a shield, though I believe this was from a later time.

I guess one thing too is even though the manual is from a later time, it does not mean tactics like this were not used earlier, they generally don't spring from nothing.
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Mon 26 Jan, 2009 3:03 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gary Teuscher wrote:
A byzantine manual advises the spear using foot to drop their spears after initial contact. I'm not sure how well this was translated, as I can't see them dropping spears if they are having sucess skewering their opponents and maintaining their formation, but it still implies that at some point the spear is no longer useful.


Interesting. Writing much later, Smythe wanted pikemen to do the same thing. Various 16th-century military writers noted how useless pikes become in a press. They expected pikemen to draw swords and/or daggers to continue the fight.
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Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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PostPosted: Tue 27 Jan, 2009 2:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gabriele A. Pini wrote:
Nathan F wrote:
Also, is it known whether or not cattle was being slaughtered using spears? I know other cultures use spears for that purpose, as it's a quick and effective way.


Certanly not! The best method to slaughter a cattle, the one used in the time of my grandfather, was to bind it securely (but without scare it, or the meat would be hard) and then drive a stake trough its cerebellum (without ruin the brain). Then you can open the jugular and extract the blood, to obtain a meat less red and more secure...

I don't think that a spear was used in farming, but is very similar to some objects that were.

But how can you be sure that was the same in medieval times when they did have spears? Like I mentioned, there are current cultures that do use spears to slaughter cattle (in Africa f.e.). Other methods include strangling, cutting the neck, hitting the head with a club etc. From these methods, from what I saw the spear was by far the quickest and easiest. With one well placed thrust between the ribs, the cow goes down instantly, no need for tieing it down. So unless there's proof otherwise (like period texts prescribing the method to slaughter cattle), the spear could have been use for this purpose. If I look at much earlier times, the bronze age, spears are very common too. Remains of slaughthered cattle generally have the skull intact, and they didn't have big knives available (aside from swords, but rare in my country). So the spear there is a likely possibility there as well. I'm quite positive that the role of the spear as potential farming tool is overlooked.

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