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Back to Basics: The Pointy Stick

By Rogerborg in Technology
Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 03:23:05 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

The first significant human tools were probably flakes of sharp stone, found lying around or fashioned by bashing two rocks together.  But when a particularly clever little hominid figured out how to use those flakes to put a point on a piece of wood, a tool was invented that revolutionised the world, and we never looked back.

In the first of a series of articles on the basic technology that has shaped human development, I present the origins, uses and cultural significance of the spear.


The pointy stick is a surprisingly complex tool.  Sharp rocks or wooden clubs can be found lying on the ground, but a spear must be planned and fashioned.  A cutting edge such as a stone handaxe is required to fashion the point, and fire hardening both strengthens and preserves it.

Once a hard point has been put on a stick, it can be used as a highly effective food gathering tool - but not necessarily for hunting.  The use of a pointed stick not as a spear but for digging can provide the bulk of the food for hunter-gatherer societies in arid climates, such as the African Kung and Australian aborigines.


A simple pointed wooden stick can be used for hunting small prey, making an effective fishing spear, for example.  However, it was the addition of a separate piercing or cutting point or head that transformed the pointed wooden stick into the spear proper as we understand it today.

Spear heads can be made from anything sharp.  Animal teeth, bone and even shell all make points that pierce better than bare wood, but it was the stone spearpoint made of obsidian, flint or chert that gained widespread use as a general purpose hunting weapon, because of its ability to not only pierce but to cut, severing blood vessels and causing more lethal wounds.

Trying to lash a stone point on to the side of a spear shaft is an optimistic endeavour, and so early stone spearheads were generally tanged, with the spear shaft being split to accomodate the tang then lashed round it to secure it and stop the shaft from splitting.

This arrangement lasted well for tens of thousands of years.  Indeed, we even date stone age cultures by the distinctive type of spearheads that they used.

After the transition from hunting/gathering to settled lifestyles and the first great industrial revolution of the bronze age, the stone spearhead slowly gave way to bronze, probably more from conspicious adoption of the newest technology than for practical reasons.  Bronze does not hold an edge well, as discovered by a team using both bronze and obsidian knives to cut human flesh.  

Bronze does have one advantage over stone.  It can be made with a longer tang, or as a socketed head which fits over the end of the spear shaft and gives a very secure fit.

As bronze in its turn gave way to iron and then steel, the form of the hunting spear remained largely unchanged.  One peculiar form was the boar spear, with lugs or a bar behind the head to prevent a charging boar from running right up the spear shaft and goring the hunter.


Used as a weapon, the spear is a very intuitive.  You point, and you thrust.  The advantage of keeping your target at a distance is obvious, and there is little chance of forgetting which end is the dangerous one.

Some modern martial artists and self styled medieval weapon experts perform displays using the spear in a half staff (usually inaccurately described as quarter staff) style, spinning, parrying and bludgeoning with it.  This is an affectation, unsupported by historical evidence.  The spear has one dangerous end.  You point with that end, and you thrust.

Even within the limitation of pointing and thrusting, spears are extremely flexible weapons; they can be used in one or two hands, with an underhand or overhand grip, and can be thrown.

The most versatile grip is the overhand, with the spear held balanced in one hand, palm facing up, with the fingers curled over the spear shaft.  The spear is held high with the point stabbing downwards, as shown on sources as diverse as Greek amphora and the Bayeux tapestry.  From this position, the spear can be used to stab or can be thrown with equal ease.  This gives great flexibility in hunting or in warfare.  Specialised throwing spears such as the javelin or pilum developed from the throwing action of the basic spear, with the atlatl being the ultimate evolution of the thrown spear.

Some of the mounted knights on the Bayeux can be seen holding their spears underhand, palm down and fingers curled under the shaft.  This was an innovation at the time; it gives a stronger grip when held tight against the body, and is particularly effective when used from horseback, when the momentum of the horse rather than the strength of the arm is being used.  It became increasingly popular with mounted knights when used with the specialised jousting lance.  As there is a tendency for your target to defend his head and face in combat, a short spear like an assegai can be used usefully with a low, underhand grip.

When used in two hands, a stronger thrust can be imparted, and much longer spears can be used.  This becomes important in warfare, when trying to penetrate armour or to hold enemies at a distance.


The spear in one form or another has been the most widely used weapon of warfare for most of human history.  Swords are luxuries, bows came and went, but the spear endured, for several reasons.

First, spears are cheap, being basically a knife on a stick.  Anglo saxon records show a spear costing approximately 33 pence, or about the price of three sheep.  Contrast with a helmet at 265 pence or a sword and scabbard at 1542 pence.  You can arm a lot of spearmen for the price of one armoured knight.

Second, the spear is an equaliser.  The most skillful swordsman in the world can't kill you if you can keep him six feet away - and he can't close the distance if you have lots of friends armed with cheap spears beside and behind you.  A solid spear thrust is easily capable of penetrating the mail armour that was the best protection available in Europe until the late 14th century.

So spears have a long and bloody history in warfare.  Look at images of armed men from almost anywhere in the world and you will find the spear being used, in Egypt, Greece, Rome, China, Japan and Africa, among others.

It was in Europe that the spear saw the most use, by all ranks of fighting men.  Greek Peltast and Hoplite troops both used the spear as their primary weapon, in the versatile overhand manner, throwing spears as they closed to contact, then retaining their last spear for use in the hand.  The early Roman infantry was armed with a spear much like the Greek hoplites that they defeated and replaced, and the enduring image of the Roman Legionnary is of a pilum armed soldier.

When the Roman Empire finally fell, it was to the Germanic tribes of North West Europe, many of whom worshipped Odin (or Woden or Wotan), who's weapon of choice was the spear.  The spear continued to be popular as a weapon of war among even the highest ranks of Anglo Saxon society: in 991, the Earl of Maldon lead his men into battle armed with a spear and slew three men with it before drawing his sword.

After the Norman success at the battle of Hastings, the mounted knight armed with the lance became the basic army component all across Europe, and jousting with the lance steadily overtook melee combat as a tournament event.  The arms race looked like becoming one of mounted knight versus archer.

The Scottish Wars of Independence in the late 13th and early 14th centuries reversed that, as armies of foot soldiers armed with long two handed spears defeated cavalry armies at Stirling Bridge and Bannockburn.  For the next four hundred years across Europe, the spear vied with the bow, then the musket, for preeminence, with the knight becoming increasingly irrelevant.  By the time of the English Civil War, the 5 metre long infantry pike outreached anything that could be carried by a cavalry soldier, and represented the ultimate development of the spear as a thrusting weapon.

The pike was eventually retired in favour of the musket and artillery.  Across the Atlantic, American abolitionist John Brown's abortive plan to arm free slaves with spears in 1859 was thwarted before it could be put to the test, but the cavalry spear did enjoy a brief European rennaissance in the form of a shortened spear carried by 19th century lancers.  When that too finally disappeared, the use of the spear died out in Europe, but its direct descendant, the bayonet lives on across the world to this day.

However, even that last vestige is now on the way out, and with fewer people leading subsistence hunter gatherer lifestyles every year, it appears that after tens of thousands of years, we may soon be saying farewell to the trusty pointy stick.


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Next article?
o Fire 37%
o The axe 22%
o Armour 19%
o Textiles 13%
o Enough already. 6%

Votes: 162
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o first significant human tools
o stone handaxe
o fire hardening
o digging
o Kung
o Australian aborigines
o fishing spear
o stone spearpoint
o obsidian
o flint or chert
o tanged
o type of spearheads
o bronze age
o bronze and obsidian knives
o socketed head
o boar spear
o quarter staff
o Greek amphora
o Bayeux tapestry
o pilum
o atlatl
o jousting lance
o assegai
o Anglo saxon records
o mail armour
o Egypt
o Greece
o Rome
o China
o Japan
o Africa
o Peltast
o Hoplite
o armed with a spear
o pilum armed soldier
o spear
o armed with a spear [2]
o Stirling Bridge
o Bannockbur n
o infantry pike
o spears
o lancers
o bayonet
o on the way out
o Also by Rogerborg

Display: Sort:
Back to Basics: The Pointy Stick | 148 comments (125 topical, 23 editorial, 0 hidden)
*points* [nt] (4.44 / 9) (#5)
by Stick on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 12:41:03 PM EST

Stick, thine posts bring light to mine eyes, tingles to my loins. Yea, each moment I sit, my monitor before me, waiting, yearning, needing your prose to make the moment complete. - Joh3n
Great HOWTO! (4.00 / 3) (#9)
by pb on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 01:00:58 PM EST

At kuro5hin, sometimes it's best to start from the beginning. I hope that in another three years, we can work our way up to the Bronze Age!
"See what the drooling, ravening, flesh-eating hordes^W^W^W^WKuro5hin.org readers have to say."
-- pwhysall
Not until you learn (5.00 / 1) (#11)
by Rogerborg on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 01:09:09 PM EST

To make a fire by rubbing two sticks together.  No skipping ahead.

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
[ Parent ]

Yes, but... (none / 0) (#26)
by dark on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 02:14:02 PM EST

Do they have to be pointy sticks?

[ Parent ]
Using a hand or bow drill (none / 0) (#30)
by Rogerborg on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 02:39:21 PM EST

The drill stick should be slightly pointed, and the heat from drilling effectively hardens it.

That's a quick taster for you. ;-)

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
[ Parent ]

Fire... (4.50 / 2) (#37)
by FuzzyMan45 on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 03:30:22 PM EST

I remember my friend trying to show me how to make fire with a bow and a stick, he got frusterated after about 15 minutes of trying. I think he was doing something wrong. My favorite method of starting fires (aside from the obvious matches and lighters) is with a battery and steel wool.

If nobody's done this, you sorta just rub a 9volt battery with the steel wool to short the terminals. You get some sparks and the wool catches on fire. You use this to further the fire along. Maybe i've said too much.

"You know you have a bad reputation when your product's name becomes a whole new type of slow." --Phil The Canuck
[ Parent ]
fun with steel wool (5.00 / 1) (#80)
by jarndt on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 01:57:21 AM EST

One thing that can be done with steel wool is to unroll/strech it and attach one end to a stick. The free end of the steel wool is lit with a 9 volt battery. After the wool starts to burn the stick is swung around. Sparks will fly off the end of the steel wool.

The above is not to be done near anything that could catch fire!

[ Parent ]

Never tried this, sounds fun [N/T] (none / 0) (#82)
by FuzzyMan45 on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 03:26:39 AM EST

"You know you have a bad reputation when your product's name becomes a whole new type of slow." --Phil The Canuck
[ Parent ]
I used to do that (none / 0) (#122)
by epepke on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 11:31:15 PM EST

I used a coat-hanger straightened out with a handle for spinning; the hook went into the steel wool. You can actually use a lighter or match to light the steel wool, the trick is to set it spinning fast so the air fuels the flames. Takes two people.

The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett

[ Parent ]
I've done it with a bowdrill (4.00 / 1) (#116)
by dennis on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 08:36:00 PM EST

Took me three days, off and on, to get my first fire...including carving all the parts out of cedar logs, and a good number of hours trying to get them to work.

Then I made another fire in five minutes.

You just have to get the hang of it, and you have to know what you're doing. Tom Brown's survival fieldguides are probably the best source for learning proper technique, short of going to a class like I did. Then if you get stuck in the woods without nifty firestarting tools, you can make fire with nothing more than dry sticks and a sharp rock. (I'm gonna have to try your battery trick, though :)

[ Parent ]

True... (none / 0) (#126)
by FuzzyMan45 on Wed Feb 12, 2003 at 02:41:55 AM EST

i learned alot of this stuff in wilderness survival in boyscouts. I also learned that the hand sanitizer with alcohol in it burns really cool. And how the inside of glowsticks, no matter how cool, stink.

"You know you have a bad reputation when your product's name becomes a whole new type of slow." --Phil The Canuck
[ Parent ]
Don't forget... (3.00 / 1) (#12)
by zealtrix on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 01:14:17 PM EST

About spear launchers (bows)

Oooh, no (3.00 / 1) (#18)
by Rogerborg on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 01:50:50 PM EST

That's a whole other article.  I was stretching it with the atlatl.  I'll put it in the poll options though.

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
[ Parent ]

Son of a diddly! (3.00 / 1) (#19)
by Rogerborg on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 01:55:41 PM EST

I swear that I did add it to the poll options (along with the sword) before unchecking edit and resubmitting, but Scoop ate it.  I wonder if it's necessary to preview any new changes before submitting?  Oh well, there's always write ins.

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
[ Parent ]

Context (5.00 / 2) (#13)
by Rogerborg on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 01:24:13 PM EST

This is intended as a casual interest tech/culture piece.  No great significance, just a brief overview of a piece of technology that we take for granted, but which was instrumental in shaping the world in which we live.

There's grounds for debate in my shockingly superficial treatment of the past couple of million years of human history.  In my defence, I think that if the article were any longer then it would be inacessible, but please feel free to correct any and all of the blithe assertions and to fill in the blanks.

I'm particularly interested in learning about the cultural significance of the spear outside Europe.  What's significant about Europe (to me) is that the spear in one form or another was always used by the very highest ranks of society, and that it was never relegated to the status of a "peasant" weapon.  I'm not entirely sure how that compares with the situation in the other great medieval superpowers of Asia, but I'd be delighted to find out.

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs

Future story idea: (5.00 / 3) (#21)
by graal on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 02:02:31 PM EST

The hammer. You know, the whole epic story from hand-sized rock with one flat side, to precision balanced Estwing.

You could even get all Jules-Verney with the title:

The Hammer

Wherein the HISTORY of this MOST IMPORTANT
piece of IRONMONGERY is told;
divers HAMMERS are described;
and several HUMOROUS STORIES featuring HAMMERS
are recounted, with ILLUSTRATIONS of an EROTIC NATURE.

For Thou hast commanded, and so it is, that every
inordinate affection should be its own punishment.
-- St. Augustine (Confessions, i)
[ Parent ]

Stop it (5.00 / 1) (#24)
by Rogerborg on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 02:11:58 PM EST

You're turning me on.  Although I rather prefer the slithery organic lines of the wood shafted ball peen hammer.

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
[ Parent ]

Wood shafted ball peen (none / 0) (#25)
by graal on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 02:13:33 PM EST

An interesting amalgamation of the organic vs. the inorganic, bound together by common purpose.

For Thou hast commanded, and so it is, that every
inordinate affection should be its own punishment.
-- St. Augustine (Confessions, i)
[ Parent ]

Martial artists (4.00 / 1) (#14)
by caine on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 01:26:49 PM EST

Except for the obviously superfluous stuff, martial artist does other stuff with the spear because the other guy probably also has a pointy stick and you want to stop that stick from entering you on top of sticking your pointy end in him. And additionally, there might be more than one other guy with a pointy stick against you.


OK (5.00 / 2) (#16)
by Rogerborg on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 01:49:26 PM EST

I was being a little harsh.  There are actually some very specific circumstances where quarter (but not half) staffing a spear makes sense, but they're vanishingly unlikely to occur outside of a regulated artificial environment.

In fact, the only one that I can think of is a spearman engaged by several opponents armed with short weapons and no shields, in a situation where he can't run but has enough space to quarter staff the spear.  Uh, so that's trapped down a very wide alley.  It could happen, but training on that basis will get you killed in all the other situations where you're likely to use that spear.

The spear is not a defensive weapon.  It can be used effectively as such against shorter weapons, but it's (literally) pointless to do so.  My gripe is really with people that use it as a half staff (because that allows a lot of control and showy moves) and then claim that his is a generally effective way to use it.  It's not, simply because it halfs the length and leaves you unable to riposte effectively.  Parry my point all you like, but if you're not threatening me with yours, it's only going to end one way.

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
[ Parent ]

So what's this half-staff quarter-staff stuff? (5.00 / 1) (#28)
by dark on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 02:27:06 PM EST

You say that it's "usually inaccurately described" but your link doesn't seem to point to a correct definition :) So what are these styles, and why is one of them more likely to get you killed?

All I know about quarterstaffs is that they do 1d6 damage.

[ Parent ]

What the... (5.00 / 1) (#32)
by Rogerborg on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 02:48:16 PM EST

Aw heck, I thought the quarterstaff link explained it.  Silly me, I must have been thinking of another site.  That one's rubbish.

Half staff is when you hold the staff with your hands equidistant from the middle.  The animation on the front page of quarterstaff.org is actually a half staff technique.  It's very controllable and showy, and it's what's usually seen used on film, which is why we think of it as "quarter staff".

Proper quarter staff is when you hold the staff approximately quarter of the way down it's length, i.e. like a big club, as shown on the foreground figure here.  It's not as controllable, but allows for much more power.

It's fairly quick to shift grips, but the problem is that people that try it against spearmen usually get stabbed in the guts (or knees or feet) while they're doing the twirly stuff.  In a perfect Hollywood (or Hong Kong) world, it wouldn't be that way, but the spear really is a depressingly, monotonously effective weapon when used to simply stab.

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
[ Parent ]

Quarterspear (none / 0) (#34)
by bugmaster on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 02:54:17 PM EST

Ok, using a spear as an N-staff is silly, but what about using a staff like that ? I could definitely envision a traveling monk of some sort using this weapon, since it is not as obviously dangerous as a sword or a spear.

Also, out of curiosity, I read in a few places that the staff is primarily a defensive weapon. Is this true ? Can the dtaff be used to effectively defend against swords ?
[ Parent ]

"It's actually... (5.00 / 2) (#36)
by graal on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 03:14:58 PM EST

...a buck-and-a-quarter quarterstaff, but I'm not about to tell him that."
- Daffy Duck

For Thou hast commanded, and so it is, that every
inordinate affection should be its own punishment.
-- St. Augustine (Confessions, i)
[ Parent ]

hmmm (none / 0) (#38)
by Danse on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 03:33:38 PM EST

I'm planning to attend a seminar soon on sword vs. spear. It should be interesting. I'll have to return to this article and divulge whatever I learn from it.

An honest debate between Bush and Kerry
[ Parent ]
That's easy (5.00 / 1) (#45)
by Rogerborg on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 03:58:50 PM EST

Spear wins.  You want to go again?  Hahahaha, spear wins again!

You can postulate chopping the end off the spear, but you get exactly one go at that, and if you miss, you're dead.  Spear wins again.

Spear vs sword and shield goes the other way because you can generally just charge the spearman down.  But that's in an artificial 1 on 1 situation.  In practice this would never happen because in any given section of a line, it's more like 4 spears versus 4 swords and shields, and when one swordsman steps forwards, he gets spitted by the three spears that he isn't facing directly.

It takes immense discipline to fight multiple sword + shield versus spear.  The Romans managed it, but offhand I can't think of anyone else that did.

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
[ Parent ]

Not so easily (none / 0) (#81)
by Greyshade on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 02:05:33 AM EST

I would bet on the better fighter. Just having a bit of reach doesn't come close to making you untouchable.

[ Parent ]
Well, sure (none / 0) (#85)
by Rogerborg on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 05:58:27 AM EST

I've been thoroughly humiliated when using a spear by a man armed with a spoon.  I jest not.

But skill only goes so far.  Incompetence or timidity in your opponents goes a lot further (old Netrek saying: AWAT - Anything Works Against Twinks), armour helps a lot, and then there's good old fasioned luck.

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
[ Parent ]

Hmmm (none / 0) (#117)
by Etherael on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 08:43:57 PM EST

Certainly 1 to 1 combat, spear vs sword is easy for the swordsman, if you're talking equal amounts of skill.

The spear gives you reach, for this reach you sacrifice mobility and speed. Debatably damage from a sword is higher as well due to increased accuracy possible from the lighter and closer ranged combat.

1 to 1, a spearthrust is easily parried over or under the swordsman and then it is easy to keep the shaft aside for the short period of time it takes to dash down the shaft and gut the defenseless spearman like a fish.

Multiple spearman vs single swordsman is a lot trickier as you can't just break the range with a single parry, thrown weapons in this situation could cause quite a bit of panic to the spearmen though as their reduced mobility makes them significantly easier targets than swordsmen.

In all out warfare swords vs spear.... It all depends on what sort of sword you're referring to, there are the 6-8 ft two handed swords which would just about negate the range advantage of all but the longest pikes which were used funnily enough, to break pike lines ;) or long swords coupled with shields for a low dash under the shafts using the shield to protect above and when it's close, cat amongst the pigeon time, roman tower shields + gladiuses made short work of the greek phalanxes, as has been previously mentioned, both by the thrown use of their pilums and the large defensive ability of the turtle formation. When the swordsman gets close to the spearman, it's all over, and in war there is rarely anywhere to run.

You've also failed to mention something quite significant to war, stabbing someone is not so easy as just poking a fruitcake with a skewer, the human muscular system will clench onto a stab wound and make freeing the weapon in short order no small feat, not a problem with a cutting attack from a sword, and even a piercing attack from a sword which results in a similiar wound is typically easier to withdraw from due to increased leverage from close proximity to the target.

Spears, when weakly wielded, have been known to simply flip flop around a skewered body whilst the swordsmen may remain useful past their first kill.

(admittedly not so much of an issue with a well trained spearman, but such is not always the case in a war)


[ Parent ]

Sword vs Spear (4.00 / 1) (#47)
by Kintanon on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 04:03:26 PM EST

Most sword wielders will, if they are armored and you are not, wade in, hit your spear haft as hard as they can with their sword, and then get inside the reach of your spear where they gut you like a fish.
So you have to maneuver your spear to keep them from hitting it, while still not letting them inside your guard. Most people do this by choking up on the spear a little bit and crouching about 2-3 feet out of the spears reach, then lunging and thrusting. Gives you a lot of impact. It will kill an unarmored opponent pretty much straight off. And gives you a decent chance of eventually puncturing armor assuming you don't break your spearhead. Against armor I'd try to attack the joints if possible. Elbow and shoulder or knee.


[ Parent ]

Agreed (none / 0) (#86)
by Rogerborg on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 06:04:23 AM EST

But that's an artifical situation.  One on one doesn't happen except in training or at the end of a Bruce Willis movie.

Even if it did happen, it's still up to the short weapon to take the initiative.  He has to force his way in.  All the spearman has to do is keep backing off and poking.  He can shorten the spear rapidly or (yuk) swing it in extremis, or he can just run like a squirrel and then start poking again.

Armour isn't so much of a leveller in that situation as a shield, but again, it's an artificial situation anyway.

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
[ Parent ]

Yes. (4.00 / 1) (#46)
by Kintanon on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 03:59:45 PM EST

As a disclaimer I'm a martial artist, I've been taught the traditional chinese usage of the Bo Staff. My staff is 5'7" long, precisely my own height. I've also been taught the european quarterstaff method with uses a staff about a foot and a half longer than that.

A well trained staff wielder can effectively hold off two to three trained swordsmen, even 2 very very good swordsmen. But this won't last indefinately. There are only 3 ways you can kill someone quickly by hitting them with a staff, the temple, the throat, and the solar plexus. If you don't kill at least one of your attackers within the first 2 to 3 minutes of combat you will lose, period. Then will wear you down until you just can't fight them anymore, or they will effectively surround you, or they will get lucky.
One effective technique for eliminating swordsmen without killing them is to break their fingers/hands/arms with strikes.


[ Parent ]

Indeedo (none / 0) (#60)
by caine on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 05:54:45 PM EST

A good spearwielder wouldn't use a spear anywhere near the way you use a staff, and a good staff-user wouldn't grip the staff in either a half or quarter-staff way but instead use a sliding-grip enabling both fast and powerful attack. But anyway, that wasn't what I was talking about. If you have two persons very skilled in the spear, the only thing you'll even be able to get near are their hands and arms, which is what you're out to cut then (because a thrust is suprisingly easy to avoid). Oh, and I might point out that I'm talking about a longer spear (i.e 180+ cm).

The spear is not a defensive weapon.

I wouldn't call any weapon defensive, because their defensive value lies in their offensive value.

And I am noway endorsing flashy show-off moves, just noting that there are some reasons why a simple thrust isn't the most effective move. (Without some years training, it probably is the most effective though.)


[ Parent ]

Agreed (none / 0) (#87)
by Rogerborg on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 06:39:58 AM EST

Sorry for trivialising it.  It's the way I tend to debate; polarise to dispell an incorrect preconception, then work inwards to the truth.  I think you've nailed it here, as far as 1-on-1 spear-vs-spear goes.  Getting past the guard of a focussed opponent with a straight thrust is hard; using the flexibility of the spear to whip the point around their guard for a quick cut is easier.

I do steel weapon reenactment combat, and what I find interesting about that is that it teaches you exactly what techniques are too effective to use.  We carefully avoid the hands and forarms precisely because of all the small bones and the ease with which they can be struck.

With spear on spear, we quite often take accidental hand and forarms injuries anyway, and the most effective technique that I can think of is to feint, then when your opponent blocks or pushes against your shaft, just whip your shaft up against his, crack him on his front hand, then follow up and stab or cut him anywhere that you can reach while he's reacting.  That's him pretty much hors de combat, unless he's really bloody minded.

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
[ Parent ]

One little thing (4.66 / 3) (#23)
by trhurler on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 02:11:49 PM EST

While it is probably true that nobody competent ever used a spear as a staff in actual combat or hunting, various cultures HAVE had entertainment that included this(China being a notable example; their present movie antics are not a brand new phenomenon, even if much of the format and the plots and so on are. Displays of skill that are more akin to dance than a real fight have been around for a long, long time.)

Also, the staff(with no pointy end,) was actually used as a weapon at various points in history, usually by people not allowed to possess obvious weapons. Whether it was effective is another question, but like many things, it was used.

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

Valid points (5.00 / 1) (#29)
by Rogerborg on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 02:32:11 PM EST

But I'll stick with my assertion that the poi purpose of a spear is to keep you alive by stabbing your enemy before he can stab you.  Half and quarter staffing looks great, but it voluntarily negates the advantages of the spear - reach and point.

I can think of one situation where quarter staffing a spear makes sense, but other than that, and outside a regulated artifical environment, it's just going to prolong the inevitable.

I'm reminded of the attempts in the late 19th century (IIRC) to resurrect a distinct parry-and-riposte in kenjutsu.  It looks great, it feels satisfying if you pull it off, but nine times out of ten, the man that just strikes hard and fast and direct will beat you to it.  Similarly with spear: I've yet to see anyone half or quarter staffing a spear stop a similarly armed man from planting their point in them sooner or later.

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
[ Parent ]

Another Instance (5.00 / 4) (#40)
by Rand Race on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 03:51:26 PM EST

Half-Pikes (AKA Espontons or Boarding Pikes) often had a spike (or hook in the boarding pike's case) on the butt end opposite the pike head and were wielded quarter-staff-style at least some of the time - albeit in a way not as flashy as one could do out of formation. However, half-pikes were carried by sergeants who were placed on the corner of the pike square where they often had to deal with three men coming at them at once. In such a situation he would wield it like a staff as he would be fighting in an almost purely defensive way and wouldn't be worrying about the men on his flanks as much. It was effective enough that the half-pike was retained by non-coms (in British service at least) even after the advent of gunpowder in order to anchor the corners of musket-bayonet squares.

Granted, this weapon was specifically designed to give up the reach of the pike for the defense of the short staff while retaining some ability as a spear/pike (mostly in order to keep horses at bay).

"Question with boldness even the existence of God; because if there be one, He must approve the homage of Reason rather than that of blindfolded Fear." - Thomas Jefferson
[ Parent ]

Superb counterexample, thanks (n/t) (none / 0) (#90)
by Rogerborg on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 07:34:25 AM EST

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
[ Parent ]

one good use for a quarterstaff or spear... (none / 0) (#44)
by Malor on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 03:57:07 PM EST

It's been said more than once that the staff beats the sword -- you have two ends you can hit with, and a sword has only one.  One can parry  and counterattack almost instantly, and a swordsman cannot.

A good solid quarterstaff is an excellent weapon in a one-on-one fight.  Having one sharp end might be useful, but I'd tend to think that you'd focus too much on the point and lose a good part of the weapon's effectiveness.  

In a true war situation, of course, a quarterstaff would be damn near useless. But it's an excellent weapon in a 'normal' fight.

[ Parent ]

you are mistaken about swords. (none / 0) (#79)
by Greyshade on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 01:53:18 AM EST

The end of the handle opposite the blade makes an excellent blunt tool when you are too close to your opponent to use your blade to maximum effect.

[ Parent ]
That's if you have only one arm... (none / 0) (#97)
by Lord of Caustic Soda on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 09:29:49 AM EST

Otherwise, having a dagger in the other hand is going to be a lot more useful.

[ Parent ]
To each their own (none / 0) (#123)
by Greyshade on Wed Feb 12, 2003 at 12:51:24 AM EST

it all depends on your style of fighting. =)

[ Parent ]
Actually (none / 0) (#98)
by Rogerborg on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 09:37:12 AM EST

One of the advantages of having a point on a staff is that your opponent becomes fixated by it, which makes it easier to smack him with the blunt end.

That said, I'd still be looking to stab him with the pointy end as the quickest and most effective way to render him hors de combat.

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
[ Parent ]

Kindling (none / 0) (#141)
by hughjaynus on Tue Feb 18, 2003 at 08:28:52 PM EST

Unless your staff is made of titanium, one good blow from a decent sword will leave you with two short sticks
Wake Up. Time to Die !
[ Parent ]
Doesn't happen in practice (none / 0) (#142)
by Rogerborg on Wed Feb 19, 2003 at 07:04:51 AM EST

A decent ash shaft can take a good sword or axe blow and survive, because its a flexible moving target.  If you swing and hit, you'd better swing hard because you get one chance at it.  If you swing and miss, well, you just blew your one chance, and are a kebab.

You can try and stomp the point into the ground and then chop at it, but that just further illustrates the lesson that sword versus spear is a win for spear by default, unless sword takes the initiative and the risks.

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
[ Parent ]

Interesting stuff... (none / 0) (#49)
by jmzero on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 04:21:23 PM EST

You seem to have a practical understanding of fighting, at least with pointy things - how about an article sometime on the realities of hand-to-hand fighting?  

All of us have met that one guy who's sure his favorite discipline (Aikido / Karate / Hopscotch) is invincible - any thoughts on this kind of thing?

"Let's not stir that bag of worms." - my lovely wife
[ Parent ]

Well, it all depends... (5.00 / 2) (#52)
by Yosho on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 04:31:57 PM EST

What do you mean by "invincible"? Aikido is a purely defensive martial art; you win if the other person never lays a hand on you. So if you tried to enter an Aikido master in a tournament against somebody else, he'd probably just run away from the fight -- and he'd be the winner, since he didn't get hurt. ;-)

[ Parent ]
A poor pay-per-view definitely... (none / 0) (#54)
by jmzero on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 04:41:03 PM EST

But I'm still curious - how well does it work?  I just have no idea.  The only real fighting I've ever seen was of the "behind the school in 7th grade" variety. Would Sam Aikido hold up against Bob Karate?  What about Joe Boxer?

I'm sure there's lots of places I could look at this stuff on the Internet - but I'd rather hear it on K5 - where the more idiotic stuff is quickly ridiculed.
"Let's not stir that bag of worms." - my lovely wife
[ Parent ]

How does Aikido work? (5.00 / 6) (#61)
by BadDoggie on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 05:57:37 PM EST

"Where the fight is, there you are not."

While attending university, I ended up studying Aikido. I was drawn to it, in part, because it's defensive. You can't have an Aikido competition, only demonstration.

One night at Subway, my drunk friend made the mistake of annoying a group of frat rats. I knew these frat guys through some mutual acquaintances and tried to defuse the situation. These guys were also drunk, though. And angry. The six of them waited outside for him. I told them to give up, let it slide and leave. Nuthin' doin'.

Like the dumbass he was, my buddy went outside, still laughing at them. Three of them had him up against a car and started pounding him. One-on-one I can live with; two on him he could deal with. Three? I went outside. I used some of the most basic lessons I learned, grabbed one by the arm and around the neck, did my circles about 1 1/4 turns and blended his forehead with the sidewalk. Unfortunately, one of the three remaining jumped in to fill the empty slot. Lather, rinse, repeat. While turning the circles, I enounced "I... told... you.. not... to... do... THIS!" <smack>

I did this to four guys, all considerably bigger than me, and my buddy went apeshit on the last two. It was over in about a minute.

My Aikido instructors were not pleased. I thought I was King Shit having used my knowledge properly. They saw it differently. I explained that as I saw it, six men attacking one is wrong and I could not stand by. That they took a little better, but I was still shit-listed for a few weeks.

Another thing you learn in Aikido is how to avoid people with pointy sticks when you can't run away. No wax-on/wax-off or paint-da-fence, but the stretching exercises hurt.


"The line between genius and stupidity is very fine indeed, but you're so far away from the line that it doesn't matter." -- Parent ]

Martial Arts (5.00 / 4) (#64)
by Kintanon on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 06:19:33 PM EST

I'm a (pretty much) lifetime Martial Artist, I'm 22 and have been studying for 9 years. When I first started I was one of those "Oh yeah! I learned how to kick ass! I'm the MAN" little 16 year olds. An older kid who was in a different art (Jujitsu) told me that just learning to kick and punch wasn't the end of martial arts and I needed to slow down and think about what I was doing, big long lecture. I'm thinking, "Bah! this guys just jealous of my leetness." So I challenged him to a fight. He shrugged and said ok. A day later we met up at a place with pads on the ground and he told me to come get him. I struck my best pose and attacked and BAM. My ass was on the ground so fast I didn't know what happened. Lucky shot I think, I start to get up and realize he still has my arm, and now he has my other one, and now my head, and now... everything.... is getting.... fuzzy....

I woke up about 15 seconds later with a splitting headache and a new understanding of the word Hubris. Since that point I studied all of the martial arts I could find information on and the philosophy behind them as well as the combat. Now I KNOW better than to talk shit. I also learned to avoid fights whenever possible, but I also learned that you can't let other people get pushed around. A few years later I accidentally hospitalized a guy and from that point I started training even harder so that I would know how to avoid mistakes like that. I've made a lot of progress, but I know I have a lot more to learn, which is why I'm still taking classes and studying.
I've run up against other, "My art is the BEST! I'm t3h r0x0r j00!" martial arts kiddies that I treated to the same kind of lecture that I received and occasionally had to hand out the same kind of lesson. Unfortunately the combat culture in the US tends to breed the kind of martial arts schools that spend a lot of time talking about how to fight and very little on why you shouldn't be fighting and how to avoid it. Personally I recommend that everyone takes a martial art of some kind, it keeps you in shape and it never hurts to know how to defend yourself if necessary.

Heh, I think I had a point when I started, but I can't remember what it was... Probably one the classics, "Pride cometh before a fall" or something like that.


[ Parent ]

One point (none / 0) (#91)
by Rogerborg on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 07:46:17 AM EST

You did choose to injure the guy you hospitalized (what happened, BTW?).  I appreciate the sentiment, but consider another way of dealing with it.  Step in, and just let him throw his schoolyard-style punches at your skull.  Sure, you could stop him, but why would you?  His style was probably so pathetic that he had no chance of injuring you.

There's no glory in defeating an idiot who will leave nothing from the lesson except to pick his victims better, and no shame in demonstrating that he can't dominate you (which was probably his intention) by bruising his fist on your face.

Even if you feel that you can't avoid a fight, you still don't have to win it.  You have the power to make that choice now.

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
[ Parent ]

Actually... (none / 0) (#100)
by Kintanon on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 10:41:53 AM EST

The situation was thus, I was still in highschool. The guy had a cousin who was about half my size with a mouth twice as big. The little guy would talk all kinds of shit, and try to get his much larger cousin to clean up the mess. For some reason the little guy decided he didn't like me. They rode the same bus I did, so the little guy convinced his cousin to sit behind me and punch the back of my seat. No big deal, I can sleep through that without a problem. then he starts punching the back of my head, no big deal, he's not hitting me hard enough for me to care. THEN he nails me as hard as he can in the back of the head. This is a guy twice my size, my nose starts bleeding down the front of my face and I turn around, as I turn around he hits me again, in the face. I'm now spraying blood everywhere. He stands up, I stand up, he throws his arm around me and puts me in a headlock. At this point not only can I not see, but I am ROYALLY pissed off. So I hook my right arm around his right elbow to keep him from punching me in the head anymore, and I start punching him as hard as I can in the kidneys. I hit him probably 40 times in rapid succession at full force in the kidneys before he let go of my head. Then I threw him across the bus. About this time the busdriver FINALLY stopped the bus and "broke up" the fight. For once there was actually an investigation into the incident since I was a really quiet kid. I ended up getting like 2 days of detention and he was suspended for 5 days. He didn't come back to school for 2 weeks. I found out later he had been in the hospital with a ruptured kidney. Apparently right after I got off the bus (The fight had ended at my stop), he had started complaining about how much his side hurt and then he had passed out. They took him to the hospital righ then.
And yeah, as much as I did want to make the guy stop messing with me I didn't mean to hospitalize him. At the time I really had no idea how hard I could hit, or what it would do to him if I hit him like that. I would never make the mistake of over applying force now.

As for the idea of just letting him hit me, well, I did. And it didn't look like he was going to be stopping any time soon. Since then I've sort of ascribed to the "Defender of the Weak" school of philosophy. If someone is trying to bully me, and I let them get away with it, that just reinforces their idea that the behaviour is ok and they go on to do it to someone else who doesn't have a choice. If I can teach them a lesson now, maybe they'll stop. That's why I'll step into fights that are technically not my problem if I see someone obviously being bullied.



[ Parent ]

Fair enough (none / 0) (#104)
by Rogerborg on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 11:48:58 AM EST

Put in that situation, he left you with no choice, and brought it on himself.  I'm firmly in favour of flattening idiot while they're still young enough to learn from it. ;-)

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
[ Parent ]

Soka, soka! (none / 0) (#130)
by Matadon on Thu Feb 13, 2003 at 01:31:18 PM EST

It's a pity you aren't an instructor in my area (Sacramento, CA); I would love to have a chance to train with you. My old master had the right attitude, but he has left the area, and I refuse to go to one of those "family schools" that teach aerobics under the guise of Kenpo or Judo (e.g., where you never stand the chance of feeling pain whatsoever while training).

"There's this thing called being so open-minded your brains drop out." — Richard Dawkins.
[ Parent ]
Oh, I know that one (5.00 / 3) (#89)
by Rogerborg on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 07:16:49 AM EST

Who would win in a real fight to the death between a karate master and a hopscotch guru?

Easy.  The one with the gun and the cheating wife.

A better answer is: we'll never know, because what possible situation can we posit where we could find out?  One of the memes of most modern martial arts is to learn how not to fight.

And one of the first things that you really should be taught when doing any martial art or contact sport is how depressingly easy it is to kill or cripple people accidentally.  You can't grow muscles on your trachea, eyeballs or inner ear.

In fact, you can skip to the end of most martial arts disciplines by getting a military guy to teach you how to kill and cripple people effectively.  If you strip away the trappings of honour and discipline and dispense with the With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility lectures, you can learn everything that you'll ever need to know in about ten minutes.

After that, in any fight that you're realistically liable to find yourself in, it really comes down to your choice as to whether you want to kill some poor idiot that's still playing schoolyard dominance games by swinging punches at your head.  I can pretty much guarantee that you won't, and that you'll probably feel confident enough to talk him down or just run away to protect him, which is rather the point of most modern sporting martial arts.

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
[ Parent ]

Hmm (none / 0) (#115)
by jmzero on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 06:10:28 PM EST

Perhaps we'll have to wait until the next time a demon (who has been sleeping for a thousand years) organizes a tournament to find a human champion to fight the legions of the dead.  Or something.
"Let's not stir that bag of worms." - my lovely wife
[ Parent ]
Equalizer? I think not! (3.66 / 3) (#42)
by Kintanon on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 03:52:46 PM EST

You state:
"Second, the spear is an equaliser.  The most skillful swordsman in the world can't kill you if you can keep him six feet away - and he can't close the distance if you have lots of friends armed with cheap spears beside and behind you.  A solid spear thrust is easily capable of penetrating the mail armour that was the best protection available in Europe until the late 14th century."

I disagree with this. I've seen a strong man with a sword beating on plate armor for a full 15 minutes without producing more than some large dents. This is with true to form replicas of both the sword and the armor. I personally have attempted to puncture armor with a spear and had little or no success. IF the armor is solidly your best result is usually a shallow puncture wound, certainly not fatal not even debilitating. Most of the time the spear point slides to the side.
There is a reason that the crossbow and the longbow were the weapons that turned the tide of combat from being dominated by a handful of armored knights to a game of who has the most peasants.
The most effective way to use a spear against a mounted knight is to kill his horse with it or distract him until someone with a crossbow shoots him, or another knight comes to engage him and those two beat the crap out of each other until one can't stand up anymore.
5 peasants with spears will probably STILL get killed by one armored knight.


Dear sir, (4.50 / 2) (#50)
by JChen on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 04:26:56 PM EST

you've failed to mention how the horse will react to a bunch of smelly, dirty little men with really long, pointy sticks. Even if the knight was suicidal, the horse will most likely have more common sense.

Let us do as we say.
[ Parent ]
Agreed, sometimes... (4.00 / 2) (#53)
by Kintanon on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 04:33:36 PM EST

SOME horses might balk. But a trained warhorse will quite literally run right off a cliff if it's told to. Also, warhorses are weapons in and of themselves and will attack spear wielding peasants with teeth and hooves. Of course, once you get the knight on the ground he's dead since you can peel him out of his armor and stab him to death with knives or anything else if you've got him outnumbered.
But don't expect a half dozen people with spears to be a match for an armored knight. You'd need 15-20 people most likely.


[ Parent ]

When I have a million dollars, (3.00 / 1) (#68)
by JChen on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 08:07:02 PM EST

I'll be sure to bribes some bums to wield a bunch of spears. Would you care to take on the role of my knight in shining armor? :p

Let us do as we say.
[ Parent ]
oh I don't think it would take that much... (3.00 / 1) (#73)
by dikaiopolis on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 09:33:23 PM EST

Unless of course you focus on the obvious necessity to bribe the knight ;)
gnoske seauton
[ Parent ]
Maybe (none / 0) (#93)
by Rogerborg on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 08:45:30 AM EST

The horse debate is an interesting one.  There's really only one way to find out for sure, and that would result in a lot of dead horses and people, so all we can do is speculate.

What I can say is that even thorougly trained modern riot police horses are extremely reluctant to approach a spear line, even at a walk.  I've seen them balk and throw experienced riders rather than do it.  Medieval warhorses were bred and carefully selected for aggression though, so might be a different story, and the fantastic prices that they commanded probably reflect that.  However, I still suspect that it would come down to a game of chicken between the spearmen and the riders, with a lose-lose if neither of them broke.

As regards spear versus plate, it's again coming down to morale, but given determined spearmen, it's three if he's on foot (crack him in the shins, jump on his back, stab him in the groin, or just sit on him indefinitely) and two if he's on a horse, because if they stand then one of them will get the horse, and then that's the rider pretty much screwed.

That's if they stand.  A cavalry charge is a terrifying thing, even if you're waving spears at the horses and even if you absolutely know that they're going to veer off.

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
[ Parent ]

Tactical Error (none / 0) (#101)
by Kintanon on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 10:47:55 AM EST

There's a difference between a walking horse and a charging one. The charging horse is, well, charging.  Horses aren't anywhere near as shy about things when they are running full speed as they are when they are walking. For instance, try walking a horse up to a fence and having them jump it, and then try the same thing at a gallop.>:)

Also, hitting an plated knight in the shins will result in accomplishing precisely jack nothing. It's called Full Plate for a reason. He's going to be wearing greaves, bracers, codpiece, leggings, the whole nine yards. If it was just a breast plate the guy might as well be unarmored with a brick tied to his head for all the good it will do him against a spearman. It's the guys in full plate that can walk through a crowd of peasants and lay about with their sword with little to fear. You simply have to be able to overwhelm the knight with numbers in that situation, because your weapons are going to do damn little against him.


[ Parent ]

Suck it and see (none / 0) (#109)
by Rogerborg on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 12:43:26 PM EST

You might be surprised about the horses.  During training, they're walked up to the line slowly.  The spears are held high and still, and it helps for the spearmen to pat and feed them when they get there.  Then the speed is built up gradually over time, and the spear line gets more active and aggressive as the horse's confidence grows.  You can't just point one at a line and spur it, and you can't start with a horse that's too aggressive, otherwise you quickly run out of spearmen to train with. ;-)

I take the point about jumping, and you can train a horse to jump against its instincts where it can't see the landing.  However, forcing them into a situation where they can see that there definitely isn't anywhere to go is a lot harder.  Warhorses were often blinkered for precisely that reason.

As regards the vulnerability of plate armour, you're right that a sword or spearpoint can't do much to the armour itself, but did you try getting hit while wearing it?  It's easy to overestimate the protection afforded by armour.  Indeed, the morale effect of wearing armour - on you and your opponent - is at least as important as the protection offered by it.

Try this thought experiment.  You're wearing jeans and a t-shirt.  Now imagine strapping just a 1.2mm thick steel greave over perhaps 4mm of padding onto your shin, without any of the other armour.  Picture a 30mm thick, 2m long ash club being swung two handed at your shin.

It won't break your shin, but it'll feel like it has, certainly enough to distract you so that peasant #2 can jump you.  Hmm, I guess I'm arguing against my own position that using a spear as a staff is a waste of effort.  I guess I'll make an exception for taking on tin men.

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
[ Parent ]

Be interesting... (none / 0) (#110)
by Kintanon on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 02:54:28 PM EST

I wish I could get together with someone who had some decent plate they didn't mind getting banged up. Then I could test the theory out... I'm skeptical of the pain one can inflict with a blunt weapon over padded armor, even lightly padded. The armor dissipates the impact over a larger area and the padding absorbs a lot of it... Hrmm... I'd really want to try it to be sure.
I REALLY don't think it would cause of enough of a distraction in an adrenaline filled battle to let 2 guys take down a knight though. My favorite melee weapon for dealing with armored knights is a morning star, from behind.


[ Parent ]

Indeed. (none / 0) (#129)
by Matadon on Thu Feb 13, 2003 at 01:09:07 PM EST

Personally, I'd prefer a Sig 9mm loaded with Black Talon rounds. Always seems to take care of any armored mideval knights I run into...

"There's this thing called being so open-minded your brains drop out." — Richard Dawkins.
[ Parent ]
New Movie (none / 0) (#140)
by hughjaynus on Tue Feb 18, 2003 at 08:23:55 PM EST

A Yardie in King Arthurs' Court !
Wake Up. Time to Die !
[ Parent ]
Horses (5.00 / 1) (#139)
by hughjaynus on Tue Feb 18, 2003 at 08:21:05 PM EST

See my earlier posting, but after being on the recieving end of a charge by mounted knights I can say that horses will NOT run full pelt into a wall of spears. Horses are not stupid, well they are, but not that stupid. When they get within 20yards they literally stop dead & have to be gee'd by their riders into advancing towards the pointy sticks. From Crecy to Waterloo, the main advantage of the calvalry charge was to scare the crap out of the poor infantry, & try to force them to break ranks & flee. From personal experience, when 40+ knights charge at you the ground literally shakes, your stomach attempts to exit via any available orifice & you mouth suddenly feels like the Sahara. In the case in question I knew it was a re-enactment & I was still scared shitless. What must it have been like to be a real medieval foot soldier ?
Wake Up. Time to Die !
[ Parent ]
Long and cross bows (4.00 / 3) (#56)
by aonifer on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 05:15:27 PM EST

Of course, crossbows and longbows are just more effective means of throwing a spear.

[ Parent ]
Heh... (4.00 / 1) (#63)
by Kintanon on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 05:59:21 PM EST

While they both do involve "Pointy Sticks" I believe that the two concepts are sufficiently far apart that they can not be considered the same for this article. "Spears" are not that useful against Plate unless propelled at a much higher rate of speed than most humans can generate unaided.


[ Parent ]

Million Dollar Man : One Dollar Spear <n/t> (3.00 / 1) (#78)
by carbon on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 01:31:15 AM EST

Wasn't Dr. Claus the bad guy on Inspector Gadget? - dirvish
[ Parent ]
Chain Mail vs. Plate Mail armour (4.66 / 3) (#59)
by wink on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 05:48:35 PM EST

If I understood the article correctly, the author is referring to chain mail armour, not plate mail armour. While I imagine that you are correct about plate mail withstanding a beating from both swords and spears (I'm not about to argue with your personal experience), chain mail is quite a different matter. Chain mail is best suited to stop slashing attacks, not thursting attacks. It is not hard to imagine a spear either forcing its way between the links of mail or splitting open a link as it passes through it. Either way the chain mail provides little protection.

[ Parent ]
Oh, certainly. (3.00 / 1) (#62)
by Kintanon on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 05:57:44 PM EST

Yeah, spears are great against chain. Once the point goes through the link a decently sharp blade will open you up a big tear in the armor to make it easier to hit them again. Chain is certainly vulnerable to spears.


[ Parent ]

Chain mail (none / 0) (#138)
by hughjaynus on Tue Feb 18, 2003 at 08:10:07 PM EST

Chain mail was designed to give protection against sword/axe blows, primarily by distributing the force of the blow. A gamebeson, a sort of wearable duvet, was worn under the mail to act as a cushion & prevent friction from the mail. From personal experience it still hurts a lot to be hit with a sword/axe when wearing mail, but you end up with bruises instead of internal bleeding/severed body parts !
Wake Up. Time to Die !
[ Parent ]
Full plate is heavy. (3.50 / 4) (#66)
by dark on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 06:47:57 PM EST

Kill horse. Dump knight on the ground. Laugh at knight feebly waving arms and legs about. Open helmet visor. Insert spear.

[ Parent ]
Full plate is heavy (4.00 / 1) (#84)
by richc on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 04:52:55 AM EST

Its heavy, but its not difficult to move in. Well fitted plate allows the full range of movement that you could do without it. If you ever get a chance and are in the UK go to the Royal Armouries in Leeds and watch their demonstrations.

[ Parent ]
It's not even as heavy or restrictive (none / 0) (#94)
by Rogerborg on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 08:47:04 AM EST

As late 13th century head to toe mail worn over a thick padded gambeson.  Plus it really gets the chicks hot.

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
[ Parent ]

True (none / 0) (#92)
by Rogerborg on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 08:29:29 AM EST

Thanks for the expansion.  I had to do a lot of skimming to keep the article down to size, and I did specify mail as opposed to plate.  I'll pick up from there.

The simple spear was already being deprecated as early as the mid 13th century, as shown by the increased use of heavy cutting pole arms on (e.g.) the Maciejowski bible for use against even mail armoured target.

It enjoyed a brief European resurgence in the 14th century after its successes against Edward I and II's cavalry armies, but then the increasing use of plate armour - and dismounted knights - did indeed begin to make it obsolete except as an anti-cavalry weapon (horses were not generally armoured except in jousts).  Against a fully plate armoured footman, I'll make an exception to my "point and thrust" rule and recommend using the spear as a staff.  You can't batter through his helmet or torso, but he's still got fingers, wrists, ankles, kneecaps, and shins.

It was only after the longbow and crossbow and later the musket made full plate armour obsolete that the spear, in the form of the long infantry pike, made another resurgence as an anti-infantry weapon.

However, during all that time, the pointy stick in the form of the lance was in active use, which supports my basic point that we just keep finding uses for the pointy stick.

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
[ Parent ]

Quite true. (none / 0) (#102)
by Kintanon on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 10:57:46 AM EST

Quite true indeed. I always appreciated the innovations that came about with the transference of spear to pike. I've seen some pikes with some wicked barbed and hooked heads that were used to yank armored men off of their horses as well. It seems the horse has always been the most vulnerable part of a mounted knight.
I by no means meant to imply that the pointed stick ever fell out of disfavor, only that the particular method of spear usage described in your article is a pre-13th century method and had little use after that point in general warfare. In fact, almost no use of the spear past the 13th century involved thrusting at the opponent. Either the pointed stick was held while the wielder propelled himself at hight speed towards his opponent (The lance as you mentioned) or the wielder braced the pointed stick in the ground and waiting for his charging opponent to run into it (Pikes vs Cavalry). So the use of the spear as a thrusting, 1 on 1, combat tool had fallen out of favor pretty much simultaneously with the advent of "modern" warfare.
Excellent article though, I'd like to see more. I'm a big enthusiast of weapons of all kinds and their usage.


[ Parent ]

Hrm. (none / 0) (#145)
by stutefish on Wed Feb 19, 2003 at 03:08:10 PM EST

The article mentions mail armor, not plate, and extends the armor-piercing capabilities of the spear through the 14th century. I can't be bothered to do any proper research, but thrust-deflecting robust plate mail couldn't have been very common in the 1300s, could it? It seems that the point (heh) that spears were useful for piercing armor is valid, in the context of the article.

Also, it's pretty well documented that horses won't charge a spear wall. Even as late as the Napoleonic wars, British infantry were trivially cancelling French cavalry charges with massed bayonets. A lone spearman's best defense against a mounted opponent might be to kill the horse, but a group of spearmen are best served simply by presenting their spears and holding their line. The cavalry never even get close.

For more on how massed infantry actually operated against projectiles, you could do a lot worse than read Bernard Cornwell's "Sharpe's" series of historical novels.

[ Parent ]
Fantastic! (3.00 / 2) (#43)
by Imperfect on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 03:55:31 PM EST

Write more! Now!

Not perfect, not quite.
CaveTech Super Stick Commercial (2.00 / 3) (#51)
by kreyg on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 04:31:02 PM EST

By Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie

(Warning: Canadian humor)

There was a point to this story, but it has temporarily escaped the chronicler's mind. - Douglas Adams
Pointed sticks, eh? (4.23 / 13) (#57)
by Drooling Iguana on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 05:30:40 PM EST

Pointed stick? Oh, oh, oh. We want to learn how to defend ourselves against pointed sticks, do we? Getting all high and mighty, eh? Fresh fruit not good enough for you eh? Well I'll tell you something my lad. When you're walking home tonight and some great homicidal maniac comes after you with a bunch of loganberries, don't come crying to me!

Monty Python (none / 0) (#67)
by smallstepforman on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 07:32:06 PM EST

So, where can I find a 16TON weight to drop on a mugger armer with a banana?

[ Parent ]
Let the quote-fest begin! <n/> (none / 0) (#77)
by carbon on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 01:29:39 AM EST

Wasn't Dr. Claus the bad guy on Inspector Gadget? - dirvish
[ Parent ]
blecth (2.80 / 21) (#58)
by turmeric on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 05:43:42 PM EST

9/10 of yr article is talking about how pointy sticks kill people .... so although you have chosen an unusual topic of technology, you have in fact not devited one whit from the standard boring ass obsession with 'how did they kill each other in the old days'.

in fact, you dont need a flint knife/axe/whatever at all to make a pointy stick. you can simply break a branch and rub it on a rough surface, like a rock.

but even more damning to your 'argument' is the fact that almost all uses of sticks involved no poitns whatsoever. buildling grass huts with stick skeletons did not require pointy sticks. ladles, well casings, carts, tipis, travois, baskets, baby-carriers, weaving looms, bridges, archways, etc, none of these involve pointy sticks, and yet they make up the bulk of civilization.

your obsession with the 'pointy stick' points to your phallus worship and latent repressed homosexuality. of which you should not be ashamed: only be ashamed that you manifest it in warfare obsession rather than soft sweet love.

the tale of turmeric, the tumultous troll (3.50 / 2) (#65)
by circletimessquare on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 06:27:07 PM EST

the tale of turmeric, the tumultous troll
C:\>tracert life.liberty.pursuit-of-happiness
[ Parent ]
tumeric is a ninja of trolljitsu on the highest. (4.50 / 2) (#71)
by dikaiopolis on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 09:12:54 PM EST

And you have done little more than proove that in your post. Tumeric has truly mastered the way of the troll.
gnoske seauton
[ Parent ]
I'll put that down (5.00 / 1) (#95)
by Rogerborg on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 08:49:10 AM EST

As a write in for a "textiles" article, shall I?

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
[ Parent ]

Now that I think about it (none / 0) (#99)
by Rogerborg on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 10:39:47 AM EST

When weaving on a loom, a pointy stick is useful for beating the weft down into the warp, thus the weaving sword.

See, it all comes back to pointy sticks.

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
[ Parent ]

applause [n/t] (none / 0) (#113)
by drgonzo on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 05:54:46 PM EST

[ Parent ]
Wow, some things never change... (3.50 / 2) (#74)
by dikaiopolis on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 09:47:21 PM EST

probably more from conspicious adoption of the newest technology than for practical reasons. Bronze does not hold an edge well, as discovered by a team using both bronze and obsidian knives to cut human flesh.
Are you serious about this? If so, this is quite amazing. Do you have any source? I am aware that the chinese used fireworks to intimidate enemies in war, but I think a bronze spearhead is hardly conspicuous to that level. FEAR US, for we use BRONZE SPEARS?
gnoske seauton
Bronze rules! (5.00 / 1) (#75)
by bodrius on Mon Feb 10, 2003 at 11:36:25 PM EST

Well, DUH!

Didn't you ever play Civilization?

Bronze Working -> Spearmen

And no one beats the Spearmen.

If you had seen your mighty 20th century army trample riflemen and marines, only to lose 5 tanks and a battleship to a Veteran Spearman from 4000 BC, you'd learn to fear the Bronze too.
Freedom is the freedom to say 2+2=4, everything else follows...
[ Parent ]

Slightly on-topic (3.00 / 1) (#76)
by GhostfacedFiddlah on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 12:22:29 AM EST


[ Parent ]
It's not clear from the linked text (none / 0) (#96)
by Rogerborg on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 09:04:37 AM EST

But another account that I read (sorry, can't find the reference) of this experiment detailed how quickly the bronze and copper blades dulled when used to cut flesh.  To be fair, a bronze spear only needs to be sharp once, and it's less brittle than very sharp stone, but I just thought I'd take the opportunity to mention how crappy bronze is at holding an edge.

Bear in mind that I had to skim over most of this for brevity.  I didn't even mention that there was a copper age before the bronze age, and that Britain had just barely made it to bronze before the Romans turned up with iron tools.

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
[ Parent ]

The Bag/container (3.75 / 4) (#83)
by Anonymous Hiro on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 04:10:57 AM EST

I agree with someone who said one of the best inventions was the Bag aka Container.

You can carry lots of stuff and have both hands free.

Pointy sticks are pretty obvious, trees and other plants (bamboo) were doing pointy sticks eons earlier.

The ultimate pointy stick? (5.00 / 4) (#88)
by Gorsnak on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 06:40:41 AM EST

By the time of the English Civil War, the 5 metre long infantry pike outreached anything that could be carried by a cavalry soldier, and represented the ultimate development of the spear as a thrusting weapon.
This may be a bit nitpicky, but I can't see anything special about a 5m infantry pike. How is it any more "ultimate" than, say, the sarissa wielded by an Alexandrian phalangite? These ran anywhere from 10 to 14 cubits (5-7m) [Cite] - and had iron points on the butts to aid in planting them while bracing for a charge (or possibly to make butt-ending fallen enemies being trampled by the advancing phalanx a little nastier?) I sometimes wonder if Alexander and his army couldn't have beaten anyone up to the advent of crossbows, longbows, and gunpowder. Somehow the legions beat Alexander's successors, but it's never been quite clear to me how a guy with a short sword manages to do anything to a Macedonian phalanx, even if he does have a couple pilum to toss at them.

Ultimate stickyness. (5.00 / 1) (#105)
by bil on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 12:10:23 PM EST

Somehow the legions beat Alexander's successors, but it's never been quite clear to me how a guy with a short sword manages to do anything to a Macedonian phalanx, even if he does have a couple pilum to toss at them.

Easy, you hit them in the side of their phalanx big pointy sticks are great against an enemy to the front but aren't very manouverable. The phalanx relies on it formation to provide mutual support and hold the enemy at a distance, if you can break the formation then the short sword weilding guys get inside their guard and win.

The English civil war pike is great more because you sprinkle musketeers in amongst them and gun down the enemy while the pikes hold them at a safe distance, then for any technical detail of the pikes themselves. Its a tactics thing.


Where you stand depends on where you sit...
[ Parent ]

Well (none / 0) (#112)
by Gorsnak on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 03:12:35 PM EST

Remember that the phalanx isn't the only unit in the army. There is cavalry and light infantry supporting it, and the cavalry carries those great long pointy things too. Hitting the phalanx in the flank is of course a surefire way to win, but it's not as simple as just running around to the side and having at it.

[ Parent ]
Fascinating link, thanks (5.00 / 1) (#106)
by Rogerborg on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 12:14:25 PM EST

I've never looked in depth at Greek, Macedonian and early Roman armies.  I was aware that they used long spears, but was thinking more like 12 than 16 or 18 feet.

I notice that even the long spear armed troops are equipped with shields.  Offhand, I'd point at that as a weakness.  You simply cannot use that length of spear effectively with an unslung shield.  If the shield is slung, then it's always in the back of your mind that you need to have enough room to unsling it, which opens your order, more so than if you form up with shields unslung.

Now here comes the Roman opposition in very close order with large shields and short swords.  I'm postulating that they throw pilum from just beyond your spear range, then simply duck behind their shields and charge.  Their lower legs are exposed, but only the front row of spears can effectively aim there, and you get one chance to stop them.  After that they're in amongst you, and you're jumping back into your own ranks while trying to unsling a shield and draw a sword.

It takes a good deal of discipline to charge to contact in good order like that, but the Roman army had discipline in spades.

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
[ Parent ]

Easier said than done (none / 0) (#111)
by Gorsnak on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 03:06:13 PM EST

As I understand things, the shield is hung from your neck and covers your left shoulder. It's a little thing, and just hangs there throughout the battle. You don't actually ever grab onto the thing, leaving your hands free to wield the sarissa. I know, it sounds a bit awkward to me, too.

From what I can tell, the length of the sarissa starts out at about 15', and after Alexander's death climbs up close to 20', making me suspect that his squabbling generals were looking for a tactical edge over each other. The phalanx with longer spears can start poking the enemy before it's close enough to poke back, though there rapidly comes a point where the thing becomes to unwieldy to be very effective.

The problem with charging the phalanx behind your shield is that there isn't just one row of pikes leveled at you - there's 5, at varying heights and depths (which makes a nice forest of shafts for pilums to hit before they get to you, too). I can't see how there's enough room to go between them, which leaves your charged stalled out while the phalangite in the third row takes your head off with a lucky thrust when you peep over your shield to see wtf is going on.

You're right that once you get inside the points, you're homefree - the phalangites didn't even carry swords, just daggers as a secondary weapon - but I can't see that getting there is that straightforward, even with highly disciplined troops. I wonder if Merk00's point about tactical mobility might not have more to do with it than close order charges, though. Keep the phalanx occupied with pilums and feints in the front while you maneouvre a maniple around to take their flank. These formations really did only have one business side - not that Alexander was in the habit of exposing his flanks, of course, but his successors inherited his army, not his battlefield command ability.

[ Parent ]

Armies (none / 0) (#120)
by Merk00 on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 10:10:03 PM EST

Phalanxes were the exact opposite of mobility. Basically, they could move forward and that was about it. It's important to remember that phalanaxes were usually not made up of professional soldiers but instead of just ordinary citizens. This meant that they weren't particularly well trained but could execute simple manuevers. This had a lot to do with how phalanaxes fought.

The main advantage that the Spartans had over everybody else was that they slightly weighted one side of their phalanax with more elite soldiers. The idea was that it would push around the enemy phalanax and attack in the flank. It was a simple idea and it worked for the Spartans, mostly. These extra soldiers were set as a somewhat separate unit to act independently in battle so it's the first we see of any tactical mobility in warfare.

The real thing that Alexander did right wasn't the use of phalanaxes alone. Alexander was very good at combining the use of spearmen (phalanaxes), archers, and calvalry (particularly calvalry). It was the combined arms approach that was new to the western world at this time. That was what gave him an advantage over his enemies; much more so than the phalanax.

I'd also add that the Roman soldiers, while carrying a short sword, also carried three throwing spears. These spears thrown at close range would decimate the front ranks of a phalanax as the Romans could easily move faster than the phalanax as they didn't need to stay in quite such a tight formation. A phalanax can easily be destroyed once it's lost it's unity (i.e. holes appear in the formation).

As for Alexander's successors, you should also remember that they were constantly fighting among themselves which makes it much easier for the Romans to pick off the survivors.

"At FIRST we see a world where science and technology are celebrated, where kids think science is cool and dream of becoming science and technology heroes."
- FIRST Mission
[ Parent ]

Alexandrian phalanx != hoplites (none / 0) (#124)
by Gorsnak on Wed Feb 12, 2003 at 01:27:56 AM EST

You're correct about the mobility of a phalanx, of course, but you seem to be confusing Greek hoplites with Macedonian phalangites. A phalanx of phalangites is far, far more formidable than a phalanx of hoplites.

[ Parent ]
Romans (5.00 / 1) (#107)
by Merk00 on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 12:33:04 PM EST

The primary innovation that the Romans had (that wasn't seen again until the time of Napolean) was of a military force that had smaller organizational units that were able to operate independently. Or, in other words, the Romans divided their armies into smaller groups, each of which could manuever separately from the army as a whole. This allowed unprecedented tactical ability because the Romans could easily move onto, and attack, an exposed flank of an enemy formation while presenting another force to the front of an enemy. This is what enabled the Roman legions to beat the Greek phalanaxes.

"At FIRST we see a world where science and technology are celebrated, where kids think science is cool and dream of becoming science and technology heroes."
- FIRST Mission
[ Parent ]

The Roman Maniple vs. The Macedonian Phalanx (5.00 / 3) (#121)
by michaelp on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 10:35:44 PM EST

Polybius (c.200-after 118 BCE):

Polybius basically states that the phalynx was invincible on the proper ground, but that the Roman legions knew this, and so avoided fighting the Phalynx on flat ground.

With this point in our minds, it will not be difficult to imagine what the appearance and strength of the whole phalanx is likely to be, when, with lowered sarissae, it advances to the charge sixteen deep. Of these sixteen ranks, all above the fifth are unable to reach with their sarissae far enough to take actual part in the fighting. They, therefore, do not lower them, but hold them with the points inclined upwards over the shoulders of the ranks in front of them, to shield the heads of the whole phalanx; for the sarissae are so closely serried, that they repel missiles which have carried over the front ranks and might fall upon the heads of those in the rear. These rear ranks, however, during an advance, press forward those in front by the weight of their bodies; and thus make the charge very forcible, and at the same time render it impossible for the front ranks to face about.

Now, a Roman soldier in full armor also requires a space of three square feet. But as their method of fighting admits of individual motion for each man---because he defends his body with a shield, which he moves about to any point from which a blow is coming, and because he uses his sword both for cutting and stabbing---it is evident that each man must have a clear space, and an interval of at least three feet both on flank and rear if he is to do his duty with any effect. The result of this will be that each Roman soldier will face two of the front rank of a phalanx, so that he has to encounter and fight against ten spears, which one man cannot find time even to cut away, when once the two lines are engaged, nor force his way through easily---seeing that the Roman front ranks are not supported by the rear ranks, either by way of adding weight to their charge, or vigor to the use of their swords. Therefore, it may readily be understood that, as I said before, it is impossible to confront a charge of the phalanx, so long as it retains its proper formation and strength.

Why is it then that the Romans conquer? And what is it that brings disaster on those who employ the phalanx? Why, just because war is full of uncertainties both as to time and place; whereas there is but one time and one kind of ground in which a phalanx can fully work. If, then, there were anything to compel the enemy to accommodate himself to the time and place of the phalanx, when about to fight a general engagement, it would be but natural to expect that those who employed the phalanx would always carry off the victory. But if the enemy finds it possible, and even easy, to avoid its attack, what becomes of its formidable character?

So the Phalanx is ubeatable on the attack, a perfect formation for an army of conquest. Not such a good formation to rely on for defense, since a disciplined enemy who knows how the Phalanx fights can always go around it.

So it wasn't superior strength, but better education that defeated the Macedonians;-).

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."

[ Parent ]
Excellent (none / 0) (#125)
by Gorsnak on Wed Feb 12, 2003 at 01:40:16 AM EST

Thanks, that exactly answers my question. As it seemed to me, such a formation was impregnable to frontal assaults, and yet we see how the Romans exploited its weaknesses.

[ Parent ]
more pointy sticks (none / 0) (#137)
by hughjaynus on Tue Feb 18, 2003 at 07:55:48 PM EST

In short yes, remember most battle up until the late middle ages would only last for 1-2 hours. The first to blink lost
Wake Up. Time to Die !
[ Parent ]
Poll write-in: the Bow (5.00 / 2) (#103)
by Ricochet Rita on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 11:16:02 AM EST

...from primative its beginnings to the knight-stopping 6' English longbow.

And then (if you're at a loss for words =) perhaps onto mechanical crossbows & heavy ballistae.



poke poke (none / 0) (#108)
by ibbie on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 12:40:25 PM EST

i'll start by saying that a spear generally is used for thrusting. duh, that's why it's a "spear". however..

> Some modern martial artists and self styled medieval weapon
> experts perform displays using the spear in a half staff
> (usually inaccurately described as quarter staff) style,
> spinning, parrying and bludgeoning with it. This is an
> affectation, unsupported by historical evidence. The spear
> has one dangerous end. You point with that end, and you thrust.

i would have to disagree. often a spin is quite helpful after you've buried the "dangerous end" in somebody's gut, to build enough momentum to pull the spear out. in reality, there wouldn't be much of a "spin", but when practicing the technique without the aid of something (or someone (: ) to be thrust through, putting a lot of torque into your spin is the closest simulation you'll get.

many times when the blunt end of a spear is used, in various styles of fighting, it's to deal with multiple opponents - because they might just realize that there's only one dangerous end, as well. (:

of course, i'll be the first to admit that i'm no expert. after all, i prefer to train with heavier weapons than the spear.

george washington not only chopped down his father's cherry tree, but he also admitted doing it. now, do you know why his father didn't punish him? because george still had the axe in his hand.
poke poke poke (none / 0) (#136)
by hughjaynus on Tue Feb 18, 2003 at 07:53:57 PM EST

The point of the spear, no pun intended, was that you could gather the untrained local milita, give them a spear each & after a couple of hours training, and with decent officers turn them into an effective infantry.
Wake Up. Time to Die !
[ Parent ]
Point (and edge) taken (none / 0) (#144)
by Rogerborg on Wed Feb 19, 2003 at 07:18:25 AM EST

I have to admit that I was trolling just a little with that statement. ;-)

Incidentally, the difference between thrusting and cutting pole arms was one of the many areas that I carefully resisted wandering into in the article body, as it's probably a little too special interest.  Maybe some other time?

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
[ Parent ]

your next article (1.66 / 3) (#114)
by iamadingy on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 06:03:15 PM EST

if you do write it about fire, you might want to include something from shelly's frankenstein. there was a whole bit about how the monster discovered fire.

The ecological consequences. (none / 0) (#118)
by Apuleius on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 08:51:11 PM EST

The ecological consequences of twig technology are best covered in Douglas Adams's last book, Last Chance to See.

There is a time and a place for everything, and it's called college. (The South Park chef)
Notable for its absence: Humans vs. Neaderthals. (none / 0) (#119)
by Wulfius on Tue Feb 11, 2003 at 09:19:42 PM EST

As we know there were two species of Humans
on this planet. Humans and Neaderthals.
This alone is worth our awe. Imagine if both
survived. Would we have racism if there was
another species of a human around?

In regards to the spear.
From archeological evidence it is evident that
it is because of the spear that Humans truimphed
over the Neaderthals. Thus affecting the first
genocide (and certainly not the last) in human

Initialy both Human and Neaderthal spears
were the same. Bulky and heavy.
However Humans had one apparent jump on Neaderthals.

Whilst Neaderthals apparently had to rediscover
their advancements with each generation
the humans kept passing the knowledge on from
generation to generation.
Neaderthal spears stayed the same.
Human spears got slimmer, longer and lighter.
Humans could throw them longer distances
giving them advantage in hunting and combat.

The final killing blow (or thrust) was when
humans mounted the spear on another wodden
stick, thus increasing its throwing power
almost two fold. Its a device still used
by Australian aboriginees and conspicously
absent from your article.
Not long thereafter all traces of Neaderthals
seem to have been obliterated.

So it looks like the first arms race was
won with a sharp, pointy stick.

"We must believe in free will, we have no choice."
http://wulfspawprints.blogspot.com/ - Not a journal dammit!

"... apparently ..." (none / 0) (#127)
by drgonzo on Wed Feb 12, 2003 at 06:24:45 AM EST


i'm not a neanderthal expert nor do i want to dis you but i had to wonder why they couldn't pass on the knowledge.
is it because they had no language?
and even in this case there are animals that pass on knowledge; which speaks against your(?) theory ...

so maby next time throw some link in ...


[ Parent ]

More info (none / 0) (#128)
by Wulfius on Wed Feb 12, 2003 at 11:36:34 PM EST

It is apparent from all the artifacts that
are left from Neaderthals. They all show
no sign of evolutionary improvement like human
goods do. Its like they 'invent' it and leave
it in its raw form.

Apparently thats how they went about things.

No links since it is based on a very good
documentary (British) I saw on Discovery channel.

"We must believe in free will, we have no choice."
http://wulfspawprints.blogspot.com/ - Not a journal dammit!
[ Parent ]

"Conspicuously absent"? (none / 0) (#131)
by railruler on Fri Feb 14, 2003 at 03:46:04 PM EST

The final killing blow (or thrust) was when humans mounted the spear on another wodden stick, thus increasing its throwing power almost two fold. Its a device still used by Australian aboriginees and conspicously absent from your article. I believe you are referring to an atlatl, which is mentioned in the article.

[ Parent ]
Correct (none / 0) (#132)
by Wulfius on Sun Feb 16, 2003 at 06:51:36 AM EST

I stand corrected, I couldnt remember its name.
The Australian aboriginees call it the WOOMERA
not Atlatl hence I did not pick it up.

"We must believe in free will, we have no choice."
http://wulfspawprints.blogspot.com/ - Not a journal dammit!
[ Parent ]
the missing link was a meme (2.00 / 3) (#146)
by PlautusSatire on Sun Feb 23, 2003 at 06:19:12 AM EST

Memes are like wetware viruses that inhabit human minds. A meme is what most people would call an idea. Memes require a habitat like the human brain to live comfortably, but they can reproduce in many ways. Memes are similar to quines. Memes can be dormant in written form or in any known or unknown medium used to communicate data by organisms that are infected with memes.

One way memes can affect an organism is by changing their environment. Memes that produce stimulus to the organism that are conducive to that meme's propagation have an evolutionary edge.

One meme is speech. There are many memes for vocalization or other auditory signalling in organisms throughout the world. Humans have a meme known commonly as speech, which allows them to communicate memes between one another with fidelity, which is an obvious boon to memes carried by human brains.

It's likely that if neanderthals lacked the ability to communicate memes with fidelity that either they didn't possess memes for speech (or the variants of the speech meme; writing, singing, et al) or else they were just collossally stupid and were just bad at coming up with good ideas.

"You have to be lucky all the time, we only have to get lucky once." - Anonymous
[ Parent ]
Bah (none / 0) (#147)
by Rogerborg on Fri Feb 28, 2003 at 01:17:02 PM EST

You mean the atlatl that I mentioned and gave a link to?

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
[ Parent ]

Spelling mistake (none / 0) (#133)
by wji on Mon Feb 17, 2003 at 02:45:46 AM EST

It's !Kung ('[click]kung') not 'Kung', don't you know anything? ;)

In conclusion, the Powerpuff Girls are a reactionary, pseudo-feminist enterprise.
High tech is coming ... (5.00 / 2) (#134)
by Michael Moser on Mon Feb 17, 2003 at 04:51:46 AM EST

I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.
--Albert Einstein

Pointy sticks ! (none / 0) (#135)
by hughjaynus on Tue Feb 18, 2003 at 07:48:03 PM EST

Don't knock the pointy stick. I speak from personal experience I was a member of an Anglo-Saxon re-enactment group, Regia Angolorum, for 5+ years & the 1st weapon anybody had to master was the spear. Until you had mastered it you were not allowed to fight with axes, scrams, swords or dane-axes (a weapon consisting of a 6' wooden shaft with a 1' wide axe head on the end, hmmm nice). One of the last major events I was involved in was a re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings on the actual battle field with 1000+ combatants. I would say that 70%+ of the combatants were only armed with a shield & 5' spear, plus a scram (a sort of 11th C bowie knife). These poor guys had no body armour, in most cases not even a helm. Being sensible, I had a nice spear, axe, sword, shield, a helm, plus a nice thick mail shirt. Being on the Saxon side we had to withstand a charge by 40+ screaming mounted Norman knights, on a side note if you suffer from blocked bowels I recommend being charged by angry mounted men with swords as a cure. I discovered to my relief that horses will not charge a 200yard line of pointy sticks. When they got within 20 feet, the horses would pull up & the knights would jab at us with their lances, which were shorter than our spears, (hurrah !). In the end the knights retired after inflicting virtually no casualites on the Saxon side. The next wave of bad guys consisted of 100+ unmounted Norman knights in the center, armed with shields, swords & maces (the mace is a evil nasty weapon), with an equal number of unarmoured spearmen on each flank. When the two sides meet the spearmen would end up in a game of poke & shove, trying to jab each other, but basically their lines would not move too much if each side held firm. Those facing the armoured knights had the more difficult task. Spears are great for keeping scary people at arms length, however once they close with you & get past the speartip you are in the shit, as they can stab/jab/hack/bludgeon you over your shield, hence the need for the scram. However the one major advantage of the spear though, is that you don't have to be an expert to use one, an hour or two's training in formation will teach you everything you will ever need to know. So with a shieldwall with spears poking over the top, and some luck, you can keep at bay a group expert swordmen/axemen. Funnily enough, thats exactly what happened on the day. The line of beginner spearmen held back a dozen waves of knights mounted & on foot. Of course being a re-enactment we had 'lose' by mid-afternoon 'cause thats what happened in the real battle. So, don't knock the pointy stick. It's easy of use, cheapness, & effectiveness against both foot & horse was the reason that it was the basic infantry weapon as late as the 1700's, until the introduction of cheap, sort of accurate, reliable muskets.
Wake Up. Time to Die !
Small world (none / 0) (#143)
by Rogerborg on Wed Feb 19, 2003 at 07:13:11 AM EST

I've recently left Regia as well (other committments, no bad feeling), and it was extremely hard to resist launching off into the technicalities of spear + sheildwalls in the article body.

Something to always bear in mind is that reenactment combat is exactly the opposite of real combat, i.e. the goal is to prevent rather than cause injury.  That said, Regia uses the spear underhand rather than overhand, which actually reduces its effectiveness.  Used overhand, and stabbing at faces and feet, it's even more useful.

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
[ Parent ]

What about WHAPPING! (none / 0) (#148)
by Sesquipundalian on Thu Mar 06, 2003 at 09:46:52 PM EST

Here in the distant north,

|.............\.BEWARE polar bears
|..............\.be thar!
|..................../ ....\__
|.............../ Ontario

(Winnipeg, Maniba, Canada)

We have had to make do with flimsy little tundra versions of the bonzai tree that grow here, so we resort to WHAPPING, rather than stabbing when we are competing for mates, or food and such.

The tundra is very hard this time of year and I'm finding it difficult to locate a certain kind of snow that I use to rub dry frozen grass with.

Oh well, "The sun feels warmest just before the river opens up to swallow you" as they say!

Did you know that gullible is not actually an english word?
Back to Basics: The Pointy Stick | 148 comments (125 topical, 23 editorial, 0 hidden)
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