Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Spear counterparts

Any soldier who wasn't armed with a bow, and some who were, would have had a spear (arštiš) or javelins.  According to Xenophon, the javelins were made of dogwood, but for your replica, any wood that works well is acceptable - ash is frequently recommended.  Herodotus notes that the Persian spears were short, at least relative to Greek ones; judging by period art, they would have been roughly 6-7 feet long (183-213cm).  The lack of reach of the arštiš relative to the 7- to 9-foot Greek doru may help account for the difficulty Persians faced in close combat with Greeks.  Ancient javelins tended to be 4-5 feet (122-152cm).  As for thickness, Legio XX (Roman, but the same principles would apply) recommends 1 to 1-1/8 inch (25-29mm) for thrusting spears and 3/4 inch (19mm) for javelins.

The spearhead was small, kite- or leaf-shaped, with a short socket and a strongly-formed mid-rib extending to the tip.  It was probably iron.  Oddly, of the many spearheads I've seen on the market, the only cheap one that answers to this description is Museum Replicas Limited's "Greek Spearhead," though it's rather too big.  If you're willing to pay more for something that looks the part, Manning Imperial sells several spearheads that appear to be small enough.  Otherwise, just get one with a bladed section less than one foot (30cm) and you'll be safe.  Avoid any with partial mid-ribs, or sockets featuring swollen rings, stepped thickness or angular cross-sections; the Achaemenid spearhead's socket was completely plain, widening gradually from the blade's mid-rib.

Speaking of safe, special spearheads will be required for combat.  These come in several forms, and different groups have different preferences:  Some prefer blunt steel with rolled or spherical points, others plastic, others foam rubber, and still others bashed-together devices of springs, tennis balls and whatnot.  The Plataeans, Hoplologia's Classical branch, will be testing various types this summer, but I don't know if Amphictyonia plans to set a league-wide standard.  In any case, XMFM won't be doing contact combat unless and until we get firsthand instructions from someone with experience.

The most distinctive part of the Persian spear was its counterweight, which was spherical, with a ring between the sphere and the socket.  It was cast bronze, with higher-status troops carrying silver or gold ones.  The sphere looks to have been about 2 inches (5cm) across.  One was found at Deve Hüyük in Syria, where T.E. Lawrence (yes, that T.E. Lawrence) excavated many weapons from Achaemenid soldiers' graves, but I've yet to find further information about it.  I'm currently looking into the possibility of using a brass ball finial for a curtain rod or similar, assuming one with a sufficiently wide socket can be found.

Next up:  It does not mean "scimitar."

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