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Gene Green





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PostPosted: Wed 14 Mar, 2007 2:27 pm    Post subject: Use of spears         Reply with quote

Browsing this forum, I came across a link to the site with the following picture of minoan foot soldiers each armed with a spear and a shield:



I've seen similar pictures before. The soldiers are holding what appears to be a fairly long spear (over 3m long, judging by its length relative to soldier's body) with one hand close to the butt end of the spear. I am puzzled. I saw several other pictures where a fairly long spear is held in one hand, although not in such an extreme way. The leverage alone must make it extremely hard to hold for any length of time, let alone do anything with it. I don't understand what kind of damage could be done that way - it seems the soldier would get tired very quickly, and even before he's tired I can't see him producing a blow with enough force, even if he holds the spear closer to the middle. I always thought more likely that a long spear was always held with both hands, with shield hanging on shoulders. However the pictures like this one seem to prove the opposite.

Here's another one:



Now, this spear is shorter, and he at least isn't trying to defy the laws of physics holding it. But it's still pretty long, and seems to be rather unwieldy for one-hand use.
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Vincent Le Chevalier




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PostPosted: Wed 14 Mar, 2007 3:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Interesting question,

With a spear I'd say that you attack more by moving all your body, including the spear, towards the ennemy. So as long as you are able to produce enough leverage in a static position, you would be able to strike effectively because what moves the spear is not your arm but your whole body. You can also lock the spear under your armpit, maybe the soldier on the vase was doing just that before he hit his ennemy.

There is also the usual issue of the accuracy of those representations... The second one does seem more physically plausible indeed. But maybe the artist chose not to represent the second hand (as the shield position seems a bit awkward as well...)?

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Stephen Hand




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PostPosted: Wed 14 Mar, 2007 4:51 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dear Gene,

Single handed spear and shield is a far more common weapon combination throughout history than two handed spear. The Minoan pitcures look pretty odd, but I've used a spear in exactly the way shown on the Greek vase. What do you think looks unwieldy about it? There's a lot of the spear behind the hand and the motion of the spear is just forward and back - it's not a cutting weapon. Greek spears usually had butt spikes, for a number of reasons. The butt spike protects the spear butt when it's on the ground, it can be used to thrust, both in a secondary way when the spear is intact (i.e. mainly down into fallen enemies) or the spear can be reversed if the head breaks off (which if later sources are to be believed was more commonly the result of the spear smashing into armour than the head being hacked off). Finally the butt spike brings the balance of the spear back, so the hand can be held further back without you having to be Schwarzenegger.

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Stephen

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Gene Green





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PostPosted: Wed 14 Mar, 2007 5:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you for reply.

It was just my general impression, perhaps mistaken, based on the length of the spear.
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Wed 14 Mar, 2007 5:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I;ll second Stephen's opinion.

I have been collecting long staves for a Cub Scout project (hiking staffs.) I collected long limbs to allow for checking (cracking at the ends while drying) and so have many on the order of 8' tall. Medium hardness wood (ash, cherry, etc.) have "medium weight" once the first few weeks of drying is past. After shaving them down to typical quarterstaff pole diameter (1-1/4" or 31 mm), these fairly long staves are as light as some swords. Pivoting them about the grip and slashing would not be much of a problem if you only consider the weight of the wood. A 1 lb spear head would be pretty average figure historically.. I actually have a 1.25 lb bolt head so I experimented with it cantilevered off at some different distances. I would say the extra long spear length is needed to act like a pommel (some weight behind the grip) to make handling acceptable if manuvering the weight of a spear head several feet out in front of you.

As an amusing twist to the thread, I noticed some movies like the recent "Troy" showed the spear couched upon a notch at the top of the shield. This would seem like something that could help prevent a spear from being batted aside. I wonder how much this tactic was actually done.

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Gene Green





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PostPosted: Wed 14 Mar, 2007 7:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Interesting. So if I understand it correctly, the spearman would run into an opponent with his spear, vs doing a thrusting motion with his hand ? At which length, do you think, there's a need for a second hand support ? 8 ft sounds actually pretty good - that's roughly 2 ft over an average person's height, I think this would be fairly handy.

In the first picture, though, the spear looks like it's about 14-15 ft at least, and the way it's held seems odd - although it may just be the artist taking some liberties here.

Anyway, it's very interesting and I am really thankful for the answers !
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Wed 14 Mar, 2007 7:45 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Just experimenting with some of my lightest raw Cherry wood and the 1.25 lb (about 0.5 kg) steel nut (a nut for a 1.5" diameter bolt actually), I would say it gets pretty sluggish to maneuver with no counterweight if extended 6 ft in front of me. If you allow for counterweight/ pommel effects from longer lengths of wood (I don't have anything 14' long but tried duct taping two together to test this before posting), a tip reach of one man length out in front of the spear wielder seems credible. Far beyond that is not going to be easy to handle for someone with "average" strength and a single handed grip. If I had to handle a spear that was 14 foot long made from optimal strength wood (ash for high strength to weight and compact diameter) I believe I would appreciate something like the support notch on the top of a shield as shown in the movie Troy.
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Max von Bargen




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PostPosted: Wed 14 Mar, 2007 8:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Eight feet is pretty standard for a hoplite spear, and Stephen and Jared said pretty much everything that there is to be said about them. Spears 14-18 ft. long were in use by the Macedonians (although several centuries later than the Minoan picture you showed). In this case, they seem to have weighted the back end of the pike rather more heavily than we are accustomed to seeing, but it seems to have balanced it pretty well. I have a really good illustration drawn by Peter Connolly in one of my books that shows a reconstruction of an individual phalangite that shows pretty clearly how well-balanced such spears were. Maybe this weekend I can scan it in and post it. Getting back to the picture, either the artist drew the spears way too long or they're being used defensively, possibly with the butt-spike planted in the ground.

Just my two cents.
Max
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Thu 15 Mar, 2007 2:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well, the minoans WHERE whiped out so fast noone knows what hit them :P


We use onehanded spears quite extensively. In my experience, there are three basic modes for holding them;
-Overhand, which generates lots of power, but requires you to hold the spear near the middle, and as such "wastes" a lot of reach. We don't use this for sparring, as tip controll is a bit dodgy, and we don't have masks... But when we get hold of some, its high on the "to do" list. This grip is also used for throwing.
-Underhand, as seen on the greek amfora. The spear is held under the hand, and rested underneath the elbow. This balances the spear, so that you can hold a fairly long spear at the end, gaining reach. This is however done at the expence of tip manouverability.
http://i40.photobucket.com/albums/e202/Elling...C_0550.jpg
-Couched. Basically underhand held close agianst the body, for support. Less tiring, and lets you move the tip quickly by moving your body.

Ours one handed spears are generally in the 2-2,4m range, which is quite sufficient for our skirmishing use. Longer spears might be preferable in mulitiple rank formations. It is also possible that overlength spears, such as the 4m light spears used by byzantine skutaoi where this long to alow overhand use while retaining some range...

"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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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Thu 15 Mar, 2007 4:41 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The use of the long spear in two hands in the initial photo is possible because the shield has no hand grip. It is controlled entirely by means of a neck strap. Horodotus reckons that the Carians were the first to put hand grips on shields.
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Thu 15 Mar, 2007 9:08 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Not really "running into." More like lunging forward, using the legs and the hips to generate most of the power in the thrust. Ask any fencer nearby and I bet he/she'd be glad to show you how to do it, since the full-arm extension preferred in modern and classical fencing prevents the arm from developing much thrusting power on its own without aid from below.

As for holding the spear so close to the butt, that's actually how the heavy lances of the late Middle Ages and the early Renaissance were held. Granted, those lances were couched under the armpit (and often with the aid of arrets and grapers), but it shows that the position is far from being impossible. Even when we take account of the fact that the shape of the lance with its vamplate and all would bring the weight much closer to the butt, it was also sometimes a great deal longer than ten feet!

Now, we'd still have to take account of the fact that the mechanics of massed battles were often quite different from those in single combat. If the spearmen in the picture were meant to stand or charge together in a shieldwall, they wouldn't have needed to maneuver their spears much so I don't think the position of their hands on the spears wouldn't have been much of an impediment. Moreover, the interesting slope of the sides of their shields makes it possible that, when these shields were interlocked in a proper shieldwall, the spear was wedged in v-shaped nook formed between two adjacent shields. This might have helped quite a bit with bearing the weight of the spear. As a matter of fact, I've seen an Anglo-Saxon reenactment group where the warriors who got tired after several rounds of fighting and lulls rested their spears precisely in this way--in the crook formed between the curved tops of two round or kite shields. Still, I don't know how practical this would have been in a life-or-death fight.
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Thu 15 Mar, 2007 3:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lafayette C Curtis wrote:
Moreover, the interesting slope of the sides of their shields makes it possible that, when these shields were interlocked in a proper shieldwall, the spear was wedged in v-shaped nook formed between two adjacent shields. This might have helped quite a bit with bearing the weight of the spear. As a matter of fact, I've seen an Anglo-Saxon reenactment group where the warriors who got tired after several rounds of fighting and lulls rested their spears precisely in this way--in the crook formed between the curved tops of two round or kite shields. Still, I don't know how practical this would have been in a life-or-death fight.


Great insight! Thanks Lafayette.

I am thinking hard on the previous lance analogy. Heavy joust lances may not have been particularly maneuverable. Some late period technique illustrations seem to depict it as being carried vertically initially, and being permitted to gradually "fall towards the target" during the charge. The war lances were much thinner (and some surviving heads have surprisingly light weight and fragile construction...looking like expendable items to me.) There was a photo on one of our other recent posts in which joust and war lances are shown side by side in a museum. The difference is quite obvious. War lances were much lighter (thinner and shorter.) I have not been particularly successful on finding weight and length statistics of 13th to 15th century war lances though.

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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Fri 16 Mar, 2007 1:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Onehanded spear shafts can be quite thin; they are seen as utterly expendable, and binding with one handed spears isn't all that efficient anyhow.
Most of the later viking spearheads have sockets around 20mm, even the long bladed ones.
I do not have stats on the early/high medevial specimens, though...



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"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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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Fri 16 Mar, 2007 8:11 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Elling Polden wrote:
Onehanded spear shafts can be quite thin; they are seen as utterly expendable, and binding with one handed spears isn't all that efficient anyhow.
Most of the later viking spearheads have sockets around 20mm, even the long bladed ones.
I do not have stats on the early/high medevial specimens, though...


Very interesting thread. This is something I have wondered about for years.

I have experience of about 20 years of 'sparring' with padded or rebated pre-industrial weapons of various types, mostly Historical European types. Been doing actual HEMA for about six years. Knowing that spear and shield was possibly the most common form of fighting kit in history, I have tried it several times. I've never seen anything in the Fechtbuchs about it so we pretty much had to just guess. I have had little luck. The problem is that control is so weak it's very difficult to attack in an unpredictable way, and it's so easy to bind, beat aside, or grab the haft of that spear and simply rush inside the guard and kill the wielder. We have also tried this with small group units but never more than maybe ten or twelve people on each side at the most.

With som experience it is possible with a shorter spear to learn to balance in such a way that you can displace or parry blows with some effectiveness (often with the back end), and transition from shorter to longer grips etc., but it's still considerably inferior to a longsword, a sword and shield, or even an axe or mace with a shield.

A spear on it's own (i.e. used two-handed) is of course a very effective weapon in indivudal combat, especially if you know how to use it right (but even if you don't - the reach makes it reasonably effective so long as you have adequate control).

I suspect there must be some martial techniques by which to use spear and shield effectively that I simply haven't heard of and cannot imagine. Either that or the massed use of this weapon combination is far more effective than I can extrapolate based on my experiences with individual and smaller group fights (i suspect having spearmen several ranks deep makes even a weakly controlled thrust far more effective - because it's much harder to see them coming). A third possibility is that the prevalence of missiles, particularly javelins and in some areas bows and slings, combined with the lack of very widespread body armor, made the use of the shield pretty much imperative even if it limited the effectiveness of your infantry somewhat in hand to hand fighting... also I have often wondered if the spears were not sometimes used only in the the opening moments and then sidearms (usually swords) were drawn. As you say, the spears being 'utterly expendable' maybe they were used up pretty quick, rather like lances in Medieval times.

I also can't help thinking that the Romans defeated the Macedonian / Greek phalanxes using heavy infantry with javelins, swords and shields.

On counterweights, I have read that the Greeks claimed that the Persian 'Immortals' had counterwieghts on their (fairly short IIRC?) spears which were made to look like apples or pomegranetes and were made of gold or silver. I think thats in Herodotus. I always assumed this was kind of a secondary weapon but it might actually make more sense as a balancing weight like a kind of a pommel.

Incidentally, I disagree with the contention that a spear is only a thrusting weapon. A spear with any kind of blade on it more than a couple of inches can be a very effective cutter. I was first made aware of this from the Cold Steel video where they cut up sides of beef with their 'hewing spear'. Some Celtic re-enactors I knew had a few spear replicas that we tried test-cutting with, one of them cut both hard and soft targets as well as my Albion Constable which cuts very well.

J

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Daniel Staberg




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PostPosted: Sat 17 Mar, 2007 1:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Henri Chandler wrote:


I also can't help thinking that the Romans defeated the Macedonian / Greek phalanxes using heavy infantry with javelins, swords and shields.


The spear armed hoplite phalanx had long since vanished from the Greek armies, the Macedonian style phalanxes used by the Epirotes, Macedonians and Seleucids against Rome were armed with pikes, not spears.
In a frontal clash with well order & trained phalanx the Romans were at a great disadvantage and they made little or no impression on it. The only way the Romans were able to defeat the Phalanx was by striking it from the flank or rear, attacking it before it was fully formed up or by forcing it to fight in terrain that disordered the phalanx and created gaps which the legions could exploit.

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Daniel
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Sat 17 Mar, 2007 4:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

the synergy effect of the one handed spear is quite large.
In a static line, like the front ranks of a formation, a spear armed fighter can reach a lot more enemies than one armed with a short weapon. This means that he is better at exploiting openings, and supporting his friends. breaking the line, backwards or forwards, against a spear armed foe can be quite disasterous, as you will either be stabbed by five spearmen from all directions, or the guy standing next to you will be hit in the side of the neck by the guy you just backed away from....

it is a irrevocable fact that a onehanded spear is inferior in one on one combat. However, a spearman can instantly transform into a full blown swordsman by throwing away his spear, and pulling his sword.

How long one retained the spears would be quite dependent on how the fight was going. Conventionally, one would keep stabbing until the enemy line started breaking up, then charge, as the enemy would be to occupied defending themselves to kill the first people to step forward.
Alternately, you could do this the roman way, and not issue spears to the front ranks, so they would all have to attack right away...

"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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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Sat 17 Mar, 2007 5:35 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have been fighting with a saxon/viking era group when time permits and their main tactics revolve around the sheild and spear. A person that is good with a spear and shield can take on a person with a shield and sword or axe quite well from what I have seen. Much of the advantage of the combination of spear and shield is the line of them though. Shorter weapons are not useless but at a great disadvantage to people in the line with spears. Often it is not the guy before you that gets you but the one you were not watching a few men down. Its interesting. We do not aim for the heads (as few wear helmets and we use steel weapons) but I can imagine that would be a main target and partially open on at times as well. You also can twist the spear ot use it overhand as in the bayeaux tapestry shows. It has given me a whole new respect for the one handed spear and shield tactic. Wish I had more time to play around. Early period is not really my thing but it seems to have held on, sheild and spear for sometime. Italian troops especially spear and shield was used all the way to the 15th at least to defend the crossbows. I do agree its main strength is in mass not one on one but I have seen some dang good fights with men using shield and spear.

RPM
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Sat 17 Mar, 2007 5:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Henri Chandler wrote:
Either that or the massed use of this weapon combination is far more effective than I can extrapolate based on my experiences with individual and smaller group fights (i suspect having spearmen several ranks deep makes even a weakly controlled thrust far more effective - because it's much harder to see them coming). A third possibility is that the prevalence of missiles, particularly javelins and in some areas bows and slings, combined with the lack of very widespread body armor, made the use of the shield pretty much imperative


Both of your points are probably correct to some degree. I once went through a riot squad training course in a civil defense organization, and it was amazing to see the effect of a relatively small shieldwall of just a hundred men in four ranks from the receiving end. If the shieldwall is sufficiently trained to keep its alignment at a jog or a controlled run, all you can see is one huge wave barreling towards you and you'd be unable to think about anything other than running away as fast as you can. We proved that when we charged a mob of high-school student brawlers--they broke and fled when we were still a thousand miles away, and some of us grumbled because we didn't get the chance to strike a single blow. Of course, we used batons rather than spears, but we were mostly taught to use them as thrusting weapons, and it didn't matter anyway since the "enemy" fled before contact.

So, when using the combination of spear and shield in a massed formation, 1) the shield is more important than the spear and 2) the morale impact of the charge is more important than all of spear, shield, armor, and individual fighting skill combined.

My limited experiments with spear-and-shield single combat seem to point out that, just like swordfighting, the best technique fro massed fighting is not necessarily the best for single combat and vice versa. When I held my shield in a static shieldwall position, I got stabbed and thwacked all over the place. But with the shield used like in sword-and-shield, it was easier to combine the two weapons together especially in the attack.


Quote:
Incidentally, I disagree with the contention that a spear is only a thrusting weapon. A spear with any kind of blade on it more than a couple of inches can be a very effective cutter. I was first made aware of this from the Cold Steel video where they cut up sides of beef with their 'hewing spear'. Some Celtic re-enactors I knew had a few spear replicas that we tried test-cutting with, one of them cut both hard and soft targets as well as my Albion Constable which cuts very well.


Very true. Additionally, a spear can also be used to administer light thwacks to the extremities--not lethal or disabling in any way, but quite annoying to the enemy. I mostly do this in single combat, whipping the shaft inwards when I withdraw the spear from a failed thrust.


Elling Polden wrote:
How long one retained the spears would be quite dependent on how the fight was going. Conventionally, one would keep stabbing until the enemy line started breaking up, then charge, as the enemy would be to occupied defending themselves to kill the first people to step forward.


If everything went right, then the charge would have been the first thing in the sequence and the enemy would have started running away before the spearmen even reached them. This was what often happened when the Spartans fought their enemies, or when the Greek hoplites bore down upon inferior infantry. Xenophon's Anabasis explicitly mentions the Persian infantry breaking before contact when the Greek mercenaries in Cyrus's employ charged them:

Quote:
And now the two battle lines were no more than three or four furlongs apart, when the Hellenes began chanting the paean, and at the same time advanced against the enemy.

But with the forward movement a certain portion of the line curved onwards in advance, with wave-like sinuosity, and the portion left behind quickened to a run; and simultaneously a thrilling cry burst from all lips, like that in honour of the war-god--eleleu! eleleu! and the running became general. Some say they clashed their shields and spears, thereby causing terror to the horses[4]; and before they had got within arrowshot the barbarians swerved and took to flight. And now the Hellenes gave chase with might and main, checked only by shouts to one another not to race, but to keep their ranks. The enemy's chariots, reft of their charioteers, swept onwards, some through the enemy themselves, others past the Hellenes. They, as they saw them coming, opened a gap and let them pass. One fellow, like some dumbfoundered mortal on a racecourse, was caught by the heels, but even he, they said, received no hurt, nor indeed, with the single exception of some one on the left wing who was said to have been wounded by an arrow, did any Hellene in this battle suffer a single hurt.


(from Dakyns's translation)

So, a good line of spears and shields shouldn't even have to start stabbing unless they caught up with the fleeing enemy. But sometimes the enemy had enough moral resolve to stand up to the charge, and then the stabbing would begin. Even in these conditions the action of pushing and shoving and the shield was probably at least as important (if not more so) than stabbing with the spear. The Spartans once drove an opposing line of hoplites quite some distance by the momentum of its charge. What's surprising is not that the Spartans managed this feat but that the enemy didn't break and run right away after such rough handling!
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Martin Wallgren




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PostPosted: Sat 17 Mar, 2007 7:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here is a link to a thread on Roman Army Talk on spears and massformation you guys might find interessting!
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