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Discussing: Spears--what are they good for?

Spears--what are they good for?

From a bit of poking around online, it seems as if reenactors agree on two things:

1) Spears are good for massed use against cavalry.

2) Single combat with spears is a possibility.

3) Multiple spears is the smart way to stay alive in battle if that's your weapon.

Ok, so that's three things. Otherwise, it seems as if there's a consensus that spearwork is underdescribed, but that the thing has lots of potential, depending on how long it is, what kind of head it has on it, whether it's a pole arm or what not. But no one really knows whether anyone would take one of these things into a serious battle as a primary weapon if they had some other choice.

Which leads me to question whether anyone has any insight to add to what's listed above. Particulary in a case where the warrior in question isn't a member of a phalanx or in single combat, but is fighting a melee against people with different kinds of weapons, just how useful would a spear of some sort be, do you think? Is there a plausible reason why Gil-galad is particularly well-known for using a spear? Other than "He's an Elf, anything goes"?



Re: Spears--what are they good for?

There's an interesting bit here about spears, though I can't say how true it is:

"First look at the predominant advantage of the spear in realistic combat. A spear in its simplest form is a dagger on the end of a pole. This was a simple method of increasing the reach of the wielder, allowing him to strike at a longer distance than a dissimilarly armed opponent could counter. The spear immediately puts an enemy with a smaller weapon on the defensive, while at the same time increasing the wielder's own defense by the virtue of being out of reach. This is very important. A swordsman or other enemy who wants to get to the spearman must first get past the effective range of the spear, which is daunting to say the least, as trying to slip in puts one at great risk of death or grievous injury, both paralyzing possibilities in mortal combat."

He also says " In a one-on-one fight between a spearman and a swordsman of comparable skill, the spearman is the odds-on favorite to walk away."

And points out that the "spear is somehow not as romantic as the "long sword," despite the fact that it figured prominently as a heroic weapon in the mythos of many cultures, including the Norse and the Greek."

I believe the Chinese also considered it a first-class weapon.

Also going in it's favour:
-Spears are cheap
-They are easy to wield (so peasants can learn them.)
-You can hunt with them (swords...not so good)
-You can throw (some) of them
-You can salvage/replace them without a metalsmith
-From horseback you can stab someone who is prone (a sword isn't long enough)

The Vanyar were the spear-elves. (quoth Pengolod)




Re: Spears--what are they good for?

This is fascinating, Elemmíre!

But what I want to know is this: once you stab an opponent with a spear, are you not then vulnerable until you can remove the spear? It seems that if you stab someone with a sword, if necessary, you are close enough to kick him backward to remove the sword quickly. But that's not the case with a spear, unless you advance up the shaft, which then makes its length advantage moot if you have another foe to attack as soon as you withdraw the spear (if not sooner...).

That's what's always puzzled me about spears as a weapon of warfare....

- Barbara



Re: Spears--what are they good for?

Getting your weapon stuck in somebody was always a problem. Cavalry often prefered curved, slashing weapons for that reason. Against unarmoured or lightly armoured foes, slashing is a good plan. But once you get up to mail they don't do much damage; you need a stabbing weapon, which breaks the chains apart. A spear is good for this (although there were slashing spears as well,) and, most of the time, the blade probably didn't go far enough in that getting it out was a problem. After all, you're aiming for the tender and least-protected points–head, neck, elbows, &c.

I read somewhere that the reason the Chinese had a tassel under the head was that it kept blood from dripping down onto the haft, ruining your grip or making the wood sticky and increasing the chance it would get caught on something.

When you're talking about a spear line, usually there are shields involved, sometimes wielded by another set of men, sometimes not. In some cases there were special shields with a incurved edge designed to let a spear work past them effectively. Mostly you push and shove and stick your spear at whoever is in front of you, I think.

If someone did get in close, the spear could be wielded with one hand nearer the head. This would give greater speed and accuracy, and probably put you in a better position to recover and face a new enemy. Or you switch to your short sword, which (when affordable) always seems to have been carried. But the best way I've read about to get past a spear when you have a sword is to roll under it. I doubt many orcs used that tactic, although in Europe there were occassionally such specialist units. The whole goal of the spearsmen is to make sure nobody ever gets close enough to land a blow.

One interpretation could be that Gil-Galad rejected the "Noldor" tradition of swords, which are only good for killing beings and have a decided relation to the kin-slaying, and took up something far more universal among Elves, which had a peace-time connotation of hunting, as well as an "everyman" sort of thing going.

Gil-Galad was also involved in far less constant fighting than his sires. If he did not participate in the War of Wrath, he probably never led an army until 1699, when Sauron overran Eriador. From 1701-3430 there is peace again, and he's dead in 3441. Compared to the first age, his rule was very tame. He may never have been in a real one-on-one duel until he went up against Sauron (and then he died; but so did Elendil, who had a fancy sword.)

Or maybe he just liked it–bigger is better, and all that. ;)




Re: Spears--what are they good for?

Thanks, Elemmíre! You rather thoroughly demolished any reservations I had about why anyone would use a spear for battle.....

- Barbara



Re: Spears--what are they good for?

This is great information! Wouldn't it be fun (ahem) to organize it into an article on spears? (heaves resource!nuzgul at Elemmire.)

If you don't want to do it, would you mind if someone - crediting you, of course - did a cut and paste for an article?




Re: Spears--what are they good for?

Hi Dwim,

Anni posted some excellent information about spears at HA today.

Here's a link: "Gil-galad and spears" 




Re: Spears--what are they good for?

Hey Elemmire,

Thanks for your insights! And Juno, thanks for grabbing a link to Anni's post.

Here are a few more that I've found that seem useful when it comes to finding your way around spears and their possible uses:

Gladiatorie is 14th century German manual. This link has illustrations of various fight moves, including some with spears. You can see the spears are "short", the swords are long, and swords apparently are handled with one hand on the blade as often as not, apparently to protect the edge. This site also has some great articles, btw.

Actually, maybe it's better to go here, since I don't want to screw with bandwidth:

Manual index page. Scroll down a bit.

NetSword: Classifying your polearms discussion.

Weapon terminology link—everything outside of daggers and swords.

NetSword: Using your spear in battle discussion. This one is, I think, very useful, but also points up the difficulty of consensus on how to use these things and what kind of damage they can inflict.

I haven't looked at any of the Japanese or Chinese fighting schools, but even in popular cinema, you get the impression that there was a developed tradition of spear work for several martial arts schools. How that tradition translated to the battlefield is likely another story, and one that I don't know.



Re: Spears--what are they good for?

Lyllyn-Let me see what I can scare up at the library. I'm wary of internet sources. Many ideas, very little footnoting. ;) If I find enough to put a short piece together, I may do so. If not you can fling it at someone else!

I could see Gil-galad wielding something like a naginata: he sure wouldn't look like a wimp!




Re: Spears--what are they good for?

I'm wary of internet sources. Many ideas, very little footnoting. ;)

Oh, don't say stuff like that! It's a dead giveaway that you would make an excellent slave for Lyllyn's personal salt mines *cough* researcher. I'm sure Lyllyn could dream up all kinds of good ways to use someone who understands the value of the footnote, and Barbara probably has templates to add said footnotes to your own handiwork.

*proud flinger of nuzgul, challenge or resource*



Re: Spears--what are they good for?

Wariness of internet sources?

I could not resist. Yes! Yes! Yes! Be wary! I am wary, too.

But still, there are ways to get at internet sources which are more trustworthy than others.

My newest favourite toy: Google Scholar

Another sneaky way to get a real scholarly sources: use normal Google, but search only for pdf files. Chances are that some research/BA/MA papers will pop up. And while not everything that glitters is gold, those things tend to be aware at least of the existence of footnotes.

I *love* research. Offline and online.

Says Juno, who has *nothing* at all to contribute to the spear in hand. 



Re: Spears--what are they good for?

Oh, don't say stuff like that! It's a dead giveaway that you would make an excellent slave for Lyllyn's personal salt mines *cough* researcher.


I do keep meaning to write some stuff up for the Resources section. I have amassed a huge amount of notes about Sauron and the Ents, among others...

More urgently, I really really need to finish the two essays I started eons ago; I've started to re-invision (read: scale back!) them and collect up more source material, but both need a lot of work.

My city library is hooked into the state library system so I've discovered that, with a little work, I can scrounge up just about anything. Strange books from every corner of California are now inching towards me...assuming a fair percentage have some useful things to say about spears, I shall see about putting something together.

My favourite toy is Google Print...

(No! Must not get distracted by strange and tantalizing facts! Must write story! Must finish **** story!)




Re: Spears--what are they good for?

Oh, don't say stuff like that! It's a dead giveaway that you would make an excellent slave for Lyllyn's personal salt mines *cough* researcher.

I was most emphatic to Marta - I don't have any salt mines. I do have a garden that always needs work, but at least it contains lovely ripe tomatoes.

Strange and tantalizing facts are a wonderful thing... Must share knowledge!




Re: Spears--what are they good for?

Another interesting tid bit about spear combat...

 When wielders are deployed in a protective "porcupine" kind of formation, said formation is only effective if the wielders stay in it.

 So, to get them to break formation, the opposing side would send out strong guys with big swords; you know, the kinds with the serated edges (they really did exist!).  What they would do is attack the spear hafts rather than the wielders and break the spear heads off, effectively taking the pricks away from the porcupine one by one.

 Obviously, this would unnerve the spear wielders after a time and the less disciplined ones would charge out on the offensive, breaking formation and opening a hole.



Bado na sídh.




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