In addition to being one of the most ancient tools created by humans, the spear was also arguably the very first dedicated weapon. In distinction to the early knives and axes that were both tools and weapons, the spear is purely a weapon - whether for hunting or warfare it is for killing. From the earliest stone spearheads, to the pikes of the Renaissance, the spear was a preeminent weapon of war and an essential hunting tool.
Clovis culture spear points, North America circa ~12,0000BC
In this post we explore medieval spears through an examination of some of our products at Arms and Armor, all of which are historically accurate reproductions. Though we occasionally make items from antiquity as custom pieces for clients, including Greek and Roman spears, we will save those for another day.
Greek Spear Combat
When we set out to examine the variety of medieval European spears there are a few categorizations we can immediately make to help us consider their variation. The first useful distinction might be between spears made for throwing and spears made for use in the hand or hands. Throwing spears must be light enough to throw and balanced for accurate flight. This means that they are usually smaller than two handed spears and with thinner shafts. Sometimes throwing spears were fletched like an arrow, and sometimes they were not, depending on when and where they were in use. Here at Arms and Armor we make two varieties of throwing spears, our Javelin and our Greek Javelin. The former, pictured below, features a head of diamond section, making it very durable, while the later has a head with a leaf shape. Check out this video examining our javelins here, and a video of them in use from Kult of Athena (the larger spear they are testing is a Celtic Spear we will be introducing soon).
The other major category of spears are those made to be used primarily in the hand. This is not to claim that these larger spears were never thrown, they surely were. But rather that for the most part these spears were retained and utilized as a primary weapon. These spears tend to have thicker shafts than throwing spears, though this isn't always the case. For example, long Pikes of the Renaissance, which were often over five meters in length, often featured a shaft that tapered substantially toward the point nad butt, thereby reducing weight and making the weapon much more wieldy. In his seminal 1919 work "The Norwegian Viking Swords", Jan Petersen lays out a typology of spears that provides useful observations for distinguishing between varieties of spears. The Viking Age Compendium wiki provides a useful illustration of these types, check it out here. Importantly, Petersen uses the presence or absence of 'wings' or 'lugs', and the geometry of the spear blades to categorize spears into groups.
Our Norseman Spear is a replica of a 10th century original found in Norway. Based on its straight edge geometry and tapering socket, this spear is a good example of a Petersen type M spear. The approximately 16" head features cutting edges of about 7.5" and a very acute point. Just like the historic original, the ash shaft is friction set in the socket without pins or nails. The sockets are hand forged and each shaft is shaped to perfectly fit in the socket. This detailed fitting is very tight and will not fall off easily (seriously, once they are mounted that thing is not coming off). The shaft is 6' long and 1.2" in diameter. All of our ash is hand selected, cut, and rounded. Check out this blog post about our ash supply.
Side view of the Norseman spearhead.
Our 12th Century Spear features a leaf shaped blade and wings, attributes that place it within Petersen type C or D1. This type of spear was popular for hundreds of years, from the Viking age through the medieval period.
Our Friedrich IV spear is also lugged, but features a straight blade geometry similar to Petersen type D2. This is based on the ~1430 jagdspiessen (hunting spear) of Duke Friedrich IV, Ruler of Triol, that is currently housed in the museum at Innsbruck. This stout socketed spear is incised with foliage, a shield, and the inscription "dux Federic". This style of spear is often called a lug spear that developed from the Carolingian period fighting spear. The lugs were used in the fencing style of the time, to help control the opponent's weapon. On the hunting spear they were thought to keep the boar from becoming too deeply impaled on the spear. The total length of the spear is approximately 6'10".
Of course, these examples cover only a few of the types of spear that evolved over the centuries, but they do give a sense of the variety of spears used during the Medieval period. Until you've held a well-made, historically accurate spear in your hands it is difficult to appreciate how important and how formidable these weapons were.
A plate from the Gladiatoria group of fight manuals showing spear combat
We now also offer our spears as just the head for mounting on your own hafts. This allows a more economical solution for international shipping and those who have a need to minimize shipping costs. There is a link on each spears page for the unmounted head page.
Nathan Clough, Ph.D. is Vice President of Arms and Armor and a member of the governing board of The Oakeshott Institute. He is a historical martial artist and a former university professor of cultural geography. He has given presentations on historical arms at events including Longpoint and Combatcon, and presented scholarly papers at, among others, The International Congress on Medieval Studies.
Craig Johnson is the Production Manager of Arms and Armor and Secretary of The Oakeshott Institute. He has taught and published on the history of arms, armor and western martial arts for over 30 years. He has lectured at several schools and Universities, WMAW, HEMAC, 4W, and ICMS at Kalamazoo. His experiences include iron smelting, jousting, theatrical combat instruction and choreography, historical research, European martial arts and crafting weapons and armor since 1985.