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Basic Information

The lance is a piercing weapon designed to be used from horseback (historically at least). To the layman, a lance and a spear (or a pike in some of the more extreme cases) can have a lot in common and it's not always clear where the boundary lies between the two.

Some authorities would argue that the true lance is used underarm, preferrably with the aid of stirrups and allows the rider to use the weight of the mount to assist his thrust. This would exclude most "lances" from the classical period from the category, including the two handed kontos (literally "barge-pole") used by various middle eastern and west-Asian cataphracts, but this is no immediate barrier.

The apogee of lance technology is probably the European high medieval heavy war lance - an impressive wooden pole with a flared hand-guard that was nevertheless used one-handed. Properly used this could punch through the heavy full plate armour of the period, but this required a decent engagement speed and considerable skill from the user. Modified versions were used in the late medieval sport of jousting - generally similar to the war-lance but with a tip specifically designed not to pierce plate armour and a lighter construction that would shatter more easily (and therefore adsorb the energy of impact better).

Lighter examples both preceeded the heavy war lance and survived it - most cultures used something similar at some point if they deployed mounted men and discovered the stirrup - and were still issuing them on and off into the 20th century. Lances were used repeatedly in WW1 and on occasion around the fringes of WW2, with significant appearances in the inter-war years as well. today the lance is more or less extinct, except amongst medieval renactors, a few martial arts enthusiasts and those who engage in sports like tent-pegging.


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