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Alain D.





Joined: 04 Jan 2009
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PostPosted: Tue 27 Jan, 2009 6:30 pm    Post subject: Spear Throwing Technique         Reply with quote

I'm new to the forums and I would like to begin by saying that I've been reading these forums for several years now and I have tremendous respect for the website and the forum users on the site.

For my question I was wondering if there were any specific, proper, Western European spear throwing techniques that were used in the Middle Ages. Was spear throwing actually commonly performed? How did this compare with using javelins?

I hope this isn't a repeat topic. Thank you for any responses.

-Alain
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Gavin Kisebach




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PostPosted: Tue 27 Jan, 2009 7:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hello Alain,

I'm curious like you to hear about any "proper" spear throwing techniques. I've been throwing spear in my back yard for a few years now, and I have a system that works for what I am trying to do, but I've found that there are two schools of thought on this.

First and most common in the historically minded crowd is target throwing, which involves throwing a spear at a haybale. Most people are throwing at a paper plate tied to a haybale, at rages from 10 to 30 feet. These folks aren't throwing far or for power, so they don't really put a lot of body into the throw, which isn't very helpful for the battle minded.

The other group are the track and field javelin throwers, who care a lot about range, but as far as I know not accuracy. They've got the body mechanics down to a science, if all you care about is sending a missle really far.

What I've been doing I can only describe as clout throwing, where I throw for an area in the distance, combining good range and some accuracy. I think this approximates the exchange of missles between shieldwalls better than the other, more common activities.Oddly enough I got my form from this statue of Poseidon :

http://web.mit.edu/~jsylee/www/photo/poseidon/nam_poseidon.jpg

Either the scupltor or the model knew what he was doing when this was made because by mimicking the posture and pose my power and accuracy improved immediately.

There are couple of points that seem to be universal. First, don't close your thumb over the haft of the spear. This interferes with point alignment and your missle will fly sideways and not very far. Second, whereever you want your point to go, it needs to be pointing before you start. If you are bringing the pit around sidearm as you would throw a baseball, your missle will fly sideways and not very far.

Like I said, though, I'd love to hear more from the group.

There are only two kinds of scholars; those who love ideas and those who hate them. ~ Emile Chartier
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Douglas S





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PostPosted: Wed 28 Jan, 2009 10:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It may help to note that Olympic javelin throwing descended from actual combat spear throwing from the ancient Greeks. Distance in this case is more important that accuracy because in combat you were generally aiming for a mass of soldiers.

If there are any surviving spear-throwing manuals, I don't know of them, but would be interested in seeing whatever surfaces.
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Gavin Kisebach




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PostPosted: Wed 28 Jan, 2009 11:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
Olympic javelin throwing descended from actual combat spear throwing from the ancient Greeks. Distance in this case is more important that accuracy because in combat you were generally aiming for a mass of soldiers.


This is an important point that Douglas brings up because Spear / Javelin / Dart throwing in battle has some variation. The Romans are interesting because their heavy infantry threw javelins at relatively close range, whereas I've never heard of heavy hoplites doing the same (did they?). I think the Greeks left all of their throwing to peltasts who were often naked, so they had good reason to throw from as far away as possible, and with the depth and size of Greek and Persian armies, it's not wonder that the Olympic throwing style focused on range over accuracy.

Saxon era warfare involved a lot of javelin exchanges between battle lines, but where the Romans threw two quick volleys and then ground into melee, Saxons seemed to enjoy a good long exchange of spear throwing. From what I gather they would form up walls at a distance, and then spend a good long time watching particularly brave (or rash) men run out into the no man's land in the middle to take shots at the other side.

I am unaware of any Roman soldiers aiming for a specific opponent, but in the sagas in particular, this was a chance to target specific foes, carry out grudges, and show strength and precision.

So based on this, I think you would want to pick a particular era, and learn to throw based on what they were looking to accomplish with the tool at that time.

There are only two kinds of scholars; those who love ideas and those who hate them. ~ Emile Chartier
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Douglas S





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PostPosted: Wed 28 Jan, 2009 12:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Good point. The peltasts were probably not in a "shield wall" formation; that and their lack of armor probably made it easier for them to get a running start with their throws to attain better range - which is what we see in the Summer Olympics.

BTW, is there a tradition with throwing spears in Japan?
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Nathan F




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PostPosted: Wed 28 Jan, 2009 1:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

i find most if not all civilisations threw spears. it makes sense to slow your enemy down even if you missed you still have the "trip factor". the one thing i have been wondering is did atalatals ever make it big in combat use?
for here starts war carrion birds sing, and grey wolves howl
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Alain D.





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PostPosted: Wed 28 Jan, 2009 5:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you everyone for the responses, these are all very good points.

If spear throwing was so common, does that mean that warriors carried multiple spears onto the battlefield? Or did they simply move onto another weapon such as a sword or axe after throwing the spear?

What range could an experienced warrior be expected to throw a spear for war? Is this anything like archery where the vast majority of modern users fall short of historical standards?

Nathan F wrote:
the one thing i have been wondering is did atalatals ever make it big in combat use?

Yes, I have wondered this myself as well. I've heard that atlatls and darts were used by Native Americans against the Spanish (and were, apparently, one of the most effective American weapons), but I've never really heard anything about them being used anywhere else during that time period.
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Gavin Kisebach




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PostPosted: Wed 28 Jan, 2009 5:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Speaking of other cultures throwing spears, the Numidians are often depicted using javelins from horseback; has anyone tried this? It seems to me that you would lose all of the power in your throw if you couldn't use your hips and drive off your legs. I suppose the forward speed of your horse would lend you some speed, but how much?
There are only two kinds of scholars; those who love ideas and those who hate them. ~ Emile Chartier
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Gavin Kisebach




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PostPosted: Wed 28 Jan, 2009 8:05 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
If spear throwing was so common, does that mean that warriors carried multiple spears onto the battlefield? Or did they simply move onto another weapon such as a sword or axe after throwing the spear?


I've heard pretty consistently that Roman soldiers carried two Pila, but otherwise I'm sure that the number of missles carrier would be determined by the size of the weapon and the role of the warrior; so a psiloi or skirmisher might carry a clutch of six or seven javelins, but a Saxon hirdman might only have two because that's how many he could hold in his shield hand and still control his shield, or something like that.

Quote:
What range could an experienced warrior be expected to throw a spear for war? Is this anything like archery where the vast majority of modern users fall short of historical standards?


I'll dig around and see if I can find any specific reference to range in the sagas. I can throw a relatively heavy throwing spear 23 paces very consistently, and 28 paces if I get a couple of steps into the throw and really crank it. I'm sure an experienced warrior would make me look like a girly man.

There are only two kinds of scholars; those who love ideas and those who hate them. ~ Emile Chartier
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Nathan F




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PostPosted: Thu 29 Jan, 2009 1:20 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

i know in the irish sagas nearly all armed with spears carried two. but they also had a system i have tried of fighting with two spears. but if you had the money why not carry two?
and in reply to mounted spear throwing i have seen roman reenactors do this and apparently it was common place yet the used thin iron kinda dart like spears for this. but your correct they said power was an issue but that they were more for harrassing the enemy.
also again some irish troops were well known for throwing spears from a horse and if memory serves me they were regular spears and they tended to do it en masse

for here starts war carrion birds sing, and grey wolves howl
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Darryl Aoki





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PostPosted: Thu 29 Jan, 2009 1:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Douglas S wrote:
Good point. The peltasts were probably not in a "shield wall" formation; that and their lack of armor probably made it easier for them to get a running start with their throws to attain better range - which is what we see in the Summer Olympics.

BTW, is there a tradition with throwing spears in Japan?


I don't think so, at least not during the Sengoku-period on (1530s+). Japanese yari of the period are more akin to pikes than spears in both weight and use.
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Thu 29 Jan, 2009 2:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

At least late viking age spears have quite thin sockets, wich would make it posible to carry more than one spear into combat.
The 1250s Kingsmirror says you should never throw away you LAST spear, implying that you might be carrying several.
It also says that "it is good fun and sport to put up a mark and practice how accurate and how far you can throw your spear"
This mark would probably be a man-height pole stuck in the ground.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Alain D.





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PostPosted: Thu 29 Jan, 2009 2:30 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

If spears were thrown so often it seems like there would be many spears on the ground (and other weapons for that matter). Would these be reused after a battle? I've heard that the Roman pilum was designed to bend upon impact in order to render it useless for the opposing army, but it seems like European designs might hold up better against impacts.
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Gavin Kisebach




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PostPosted: Thu 29 Jan, 2009 3:59 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Romans used Pila for throwing, which were deasigned to bend; being relatively soft and thin iron (cheap too!).

The Franks used the Angon, which is much the same idea but also incorporated a barbed head, at least in all of the examples that I've seen.

There is a character in a saga who pulls the pin from his spear so that it cannot be thrown back at him. [edit] I tried this with a socketed spear, and most of the time it worked. once or twice the head just fell off in mid-flight.

I have made several cheap chucking pila, which do bend if they hit anything substantial. The nice thing about iron is that so long as you have time and an anvil, and assuming no one is actively trying to kill you at the moment, you can just hammer it back to shape. This works quite a few times before the iron stress fractures and is no longer very useful.

There are only two kinds of scholars; those who love ideas and those who hate them. ~ Emile Chartier
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Chris Fields




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PostPosted: Thu 29 Jan, 2009 8:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Don't forget that many civilians used spears to hunt with as well through out time probably more so than they used them in battle. For hunting, distance and accuracy are very important. You don't want to get to close that you scare you prey away, but you also don't want to be to far that you miss. Isn't boar hunting from horse back with spears quite common in history as well?
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Gavin Kisebach




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PostPosted: Thu 29 Jan, 2009 9:23 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Speaking of throwing from horseback, I ran across two pictures of a sport called "Jirit" which involves - you guessed it - throwing jareds from horseback. From the copyrght information on the sight I take it that the photographer is protectve of his work, but here is a link: http://pro.corbis.com/search/Enlargement.aspx...D948E26%7D

It's interesting to me that he looks to be throwing sidearm, does it look that way to anyone else? Unfortunately there is a serious dearth of pictures or videos of this sport online. It would be great if anyone can shed some light on this, as it should be revealing.

There are only two kinds of scholars; those who love ideas and those who hate them. ~ Emile Chartier
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Fri 30 Jan, 2009 9:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Spear or javelin heads are pretty common finds on Roman military sites, but it's often hard to make any distinction. A few are quite large, clearly thrusting spears, but most are a wide range of sizes at the small end of the scale, down to things which *might* be large arrowheads. Sockets are often surprisingly narrow. So "spear" and "javelin" includes a big gray area of weapons which could be thrown or thrust.

There are also depictions of Roman auxiliary soldiers holding a pair of spears as tall as the man, each with a clear throwing loop. We generally refer to a weapon like this as "lancea" or throwing spear, rather than "hasta" or thrusting spear, with the knowledge that the Romans might not have been so particular all the time.

While the long metal shank of the pilum has long been held to have been *designed* to bend on impact, there is a growing theory that this is not necessarily the case. Probably it was originally just meant to allow the point to penetrate the shield and still reach the man behind it. Clearly some originals are beefier and less likely to bend, but there are references to pilum shanks bending, or even not bending as they should, so I do think that was at least an important side effect. But it's very hard to get really accurate dimensions of originals, and at that thickness a fraction of an inch can make a big difference. Not to mention the exact composition of the metal, any hammer-hardening, etc. So we can't necessarily trust how our modern reproductions might act, even if they look like they're pretty darn authentic.

There are accounts of Roman cavalry "games", training displays in which the riders threw wooden-tipped javelins at the shields of other riders. As I recall, speed of riding, rapidity of throwing, distance, and accuracy were all praised, though presumably in actual battle some things might be more important than others. (I.e., "Slow down, take your time, and nail THAT guy", or maybe, "Haul ass!! Keep throwing!!")

Valete,

Matthew
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Gary Teuscher





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PostPosted: Fri 30 Jan, 2009 10:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Interesting, Matthew.

Any idea how well various javelins penetrated shields? Or if they were expected to?

The Vikings Hirdmann (and I guess others would have as well) carried javelins referred to as Aegir IIRC. They were apparently a fair amount smaller than one that could be used as a thrusting weapon. I wonder what the effective ranges on something like these might have been? I'm wondering if there is a comparable Roman weapon who's ranges we have an idea of.
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Fri 30 Jan, 2009 8:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

My guess is that only the pilum (and maybe similar weapons such as the angon or the Spanish soliferrum) was designed to penetrate a shield. Smaller javelins or light throwing spears just didn't have the right head shape and mass to be very effective at that. I think they were more of a harrassing weapon. They might cause more casualties during melee, being thrown by guys in the second and third ranks over their buddies' heads, into enemies who may not be paying more attention to the action directly in front of them. Many battle accounts make it clear that missile throwing continued all through the action. Caesar mentions skirmishes, particularly cavalry, that go on until men start to get wounded, though he doesn't often mention anyone killed in such fights.

But the pilum is scary! I threw mine at a reconstructed scutum, and it went right through and *split* the 2x4 post that the shield was leaning against. Now, I'm not sure the shield was quite as tough as many originals, but then I'm just an office jockey. All I could think was, "Imagine that's your femur..." Ow.

Matthew
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Gavin Kisebach




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PostPosted: Fri 30 Jan, 2009 10:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

That's awesome Matthew, are you using one of the later pila with the lead weight on it? I agree with you on the head shape. It's interesting that the pilum has a bodkin-esque head, whereas most javelins are closer traditional spears in shape. It appears that the emphasis was indeed on penetration, not blood loss.
There are only two kinds of scholars; those who love ideas and those who hate them. ~ Emile Chartier
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