Out of all of the ancient artefacts we share and sell here at Pax Romana, ancient weaponry is always incredibly popular. If you wanted to start collecting ancient weaponry, spears are a great place to start. The spear as a weapon is versatile. They’re found across the ancient world and can be made of a variety of materials. For example, the oldest known examples is the Clacton Spear that’s made of wood. It was found on a beach in south east England, and is thought to be 400,000 years old. None of the spears we have at Pax Romana are that old, but in this blog post we’ll take you from the Bronze Age all the way through to the Medieval period.
As the Bronze Age begins we start to see this new material being used for spearheads across the ancient world. Following a history of spears made of stone, bone and wood, these spear heads would have revolutionised their use. They were quicker to make and were lighter than their stone equivalents. A lot of the bronze age examples we have at Pax Romana Auctions are from Western Asia and around the Aegean Sea. However, of course, they are found globally. Commonly, those from this region are very small in size and ‘leaf shaped’. They have a thin protrusion at their base to secure them into a small hole made in the spears wooden handle.
Under the armies of Alexander the Great and in Ancient Greece more widely, the spear was an integral part of an army’s ordnance. Known as the dory it was most famously the primary weapon of the Hoplite soldiers. The citizen soldiers of Athens, these conscripted men would have all been given standard helmets, shields and spears. Out of this kit however, the spear was arguably the most important. Indeed, the cultural and military significance of the spear is highlighted by Sophocles in his tragedy Ajax. He does this when he calls the spoils of war, ‘the prizes of the spear’. By calling them thus he implies it was with the spear that they primarily won these goods.
As complete weapons, the spears were mounted on either long or short shafts. The first, the long shafted spear, is thought to have been around 2m long. It’s purpose was for both thrusting and as part of the famous phalanx formation. The short-shafted spears were designed so they could be used in close range combat. As well, they could be used for throwing and were used in a similar method to the purposefully designed akon javelin. In fact, when going into battle it’s generally observed by historians that they were likely to carry two spears at once. These spear heads were normally still made of bronze and were fairly small in size.
Much like the Greeks, the Romans used spear heads on both long and short wooden shafts. They were used by auxiliary infantry soldiers as well as cavalry soldiers, and it’s thought that the infantry would have held multiple spears at once. Once again, they were used for both thrusting and throwing. They made their spear heads out of iron and all were ‘socketed’. This means they had a hollow, cylindrical base which the wooden shaft would slot into in order to increase strength. Another technical advancement made by the Romans was their use of barbed spears. These were examples where the blade was not leaf shaped but had barbed edges that came out at the base of the spearhead’s main body. These were designed to create worse injuries for the those who were at the receiving end of one of these weapons!
Known for being fierce warriors, the Vikings are often associated with Axes. However, they too used spears for both hunting and battle. Low cost and often made from just one piece of iron they were available to nearly all Viking warriors. The main examples we find are found in burials but also in bogs and ice. A famous example is the Lendbreen ice patch spear found in the ice in 1974. It was still intact with its wooden handle that had been preserved because of the icy conditions. The handle was made of birch and had a curve to it – although whether this was intended or came about from its time in the ice is undecided. Most interestingly, the small nail that kept the socketed spear on the shaft was still present.
Like most Viking weapons, we also find decorated examples of these Viking spears with silver inlays and complex designs. For example, this spear head in the British Museum that was found in the Thames has copper and silver inlay in a herringbone pattern on the spear’s base. Additionally, we find different shaped spears for different purposes. Those with a heavy but aerodynamic spear head were likely for throwing, where those with wider but sharp points were more likely used for thrusting.
Spears continued to be used well into the medieval period as they were both cheap and easy to mass manufacture. We see them being used and referred to in the Bayeux Tapestry, mainly as throwing implements. All those shown were likely 2m in length and had barbed leaf shaped spear heads. However, different spears were made for different purposes and in different forms. For example, the Frankish warriors liked to use winged spears that had small wings at the base of the blade. These were partially for decoration, easy identification and to increase the impact the spear made. Overtime, the spear became less popular but the length of the shaft increased more and the spear head larger and more elaborate and they became pikes.
As you can see, the spear didn’t change as dramatically over time as other weapons – like swords and axes. However, this is just testament to its utility and popularity amongst ancient armies. If you’re interested in owning a piece of this past for yourself, have a look at our online collections!