A short, light spear balanced for throwing. As missile weapons go, the javelin is a fairly primitive one - once man developed the spear, it can't have taken much ingenuity to throw it, nor much more to design spears specifically to throw. Most cultures seem to have used the javelin at some point or another and some cultures never progressed far beyond it. As a weapon it is fairly hard hitting, but against that is bulky, heavy and short ranged - in some designs it doubled as a short spear for close combat, but in most cases it wasn't all that useful in melee. It also requires a significant amount of training to use well - not for nothing was throwing the javelin regarded as a worthy challenge for olympians.
The javelin formed a key part of the weaponry of the ancient and classical near East and Mediterranean, being the primary missile weapon of both the Ancient Greeks and the Romans. It was also popular throughout the Americas as well and in most of Africa - before the invention of the assegai throwing spears were virtually the only kind of spears the Bantu peoples used. In Europe and the Middle East the developement of the bow more or less drove the javelin out of existence - although Spanish Jinetes kept using it into the 1500s. Where the bow failed to develop fully the javelin - often coupled to the atlatl remained in service.
Today the javelin is little more than a piece of sports equipment, although the name has been attached to a variety of more advanced weapons, including an anti tank and surface to air missiles.
Game and Story Use
- In medieval fantasy, this should be a pretty marginal weapon - something most combattants should have, at best, a theoretical grasp of. Make it a signature weapon for less advanced cultures - medieval Europe drafted javelinmen from wilder, unorganised regions such as Ireland and the Baltic fringe so it might be a good weapon for The Barbarian or a similar 'primitive' fighter.
- That said, the javelin as a sport might be an important entertainment in a culture that no longer uses them as weapons - even once jinetes ceased to be a significant force in the Spanish military, javelin throwing still played a part in displays of mounted skill at arms, much as riding at rings and tent pegging still do today.
- As the Romans noticed, the javelin seems to make a better backup weapon for heavy infantry than it does a weapon for a missile unit. If you are planning to melee the enemy anyway, a missile weapon that requires you to get within a few tens of meters is less of a handicap.