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Basic Information

One of the most primitive manufactured weapons known to man, the spear is, at its simplest, a long stick with a point on one end. It requires relatively little effort to manufacture - at its simplest the point can be carved from wood and fire hardened, and even when the point is made from metal it requires little of it and not much in the way of crafting. In between the tip can be made from stone, bone or antler as well.

It's also not all that hard to use - the user holds the wooden bit and sticks the pointy end in the enemy, which is not a hard concept to teach and the fact that the length of the shaft keeps the enemy at a distance (and allows the user to shelter behind a shield) makes it a good weapon for a man with relatively little training. It's also cheap so an employer can afford to arm lots of men with them. Spears work well in a closely packed formation - as the Greek hoplites proved - which is also good for the morale of poorly trained men.

Not, of course, that the spear is only a weapon for untrained levies - in some cultures, including Hellenic Greece and Dark Ages Ireland - the spear was a dominant weapon and considered a suitable primary weapon for champions. Techniques in these case went beyond the "stick them with the pointy end" principle and included staff style techniques using the haft, trips, tip slashes and other advanced wieldings; many of these are preserved in modern kung-fu spear trainings and other martial arts schools.

An important role for the spear is protecting infantry formations from cavalry - if the butt of the spear is securely planted any opponent charging onto it can expect severe damage and in general a horse will veer off rather than throw itself onto the point. If the rider's lance doesn't have a longer reach than the spear he has little or no chance of landing a blow.

The spear can also be thrown - although if it's primarily designed for throwing it's called a javelin.

Historically the length of spears has varied from culture to culture, depending on how it is expected to be used - those that are also meant to be thrown tend to be shorter, those entirely meant to be wielded by close formation infantry or used be horsemen will be longer, but if it's so long that it takes two hands to use, it's probably better called a pike. Intermediate lengths are for intermediate roles as might be expected.

The spear has been used by pretty much every human culture - as befits its primitive nature - although when deployed in mass for any length of time it seems to evolve into the pike at some point.

Arguably the non-military use of the spear pre-dates the military use: the spear probably evolved from the desire to keep a safe distance between you the animal you had just annoyed by trying to kill it, and in that role it persisted for the hunting of large, dangerous animals like boar and bear until the job could be safely given to firearms. Note, however, that boar spear - and others used for large, aggressive game - would almost always have a crossbar behind the head, designed to stop the animal impaling itself further onto the spear and the sliding down the haft towards the wielder. The crossbar allowed the head to penetrate deep enough to inflict a (hopefully) lethal wound but then hold the animal at distance until the wound took effect. This was often absent from military spears as their main targets - humans and horses - are not well known for deliberately impaling themselves.

By way of syndoche, "spear" is also used to indicate the masculine cognate of something (compare "distaff" for the female cognate) - hence "spear counterpart" for the male version of something female. However, since English tends to default to male forms, this usage is less common than the reverse - i.e., a reference to the "distaff counterpart" or "distaff line" (maternal ancestry) is more likely than a "spear" reference.


1. full source reference

See Also

The Spear of Destiny

Game and Story Use

  • Good to build on your character's contempt for spearmen - say, by having them repeatedly see spearmen as peasant levies, hastily trained (in a medieval culture) and then expose them to elite spearmen like the Persian Immortals or Heroic Age Irish warriors.
  • A good treatment of reach weapons is a struggle for anyone writing melee rules - modelling the "reach only" attack can be tricky, as can modelling the ability to hold a target at distance and prevent them from closing range. In fact, very few rulesets accurate model an ongoing impale full stop.
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