A javelin is a light spear designed primarily to be thrown, historically as a ranged weapon, but today predominantly for sport. The javelin is almost always thrown by hand, unlike the bow and arrow and slingshot, which shoot projectiles from a mechanism. However, devices do exist to assist the javelin thrower in achieving greater distance, generally called spear-throwers.
A spear is a pole weapon consisting of a shaft, usually of wood, with a pointed head. The head may be simply the sharpened end of the shaft itself, as is the case with fire hardened spears, or it may be made of a more durable material fastened to the shaft, such as flint, obsidian, iron, steel or bronze. The most common design for hunting or combat spears since ancient times has incorporated a metal spearhead shaped like a triangle, lozenge, or leaf. The heads of fishing spears usually feature barbs or serrated edges.
A ranged weapon is any weapon that can engage targets beyond hand-to-hand distance, i.e. at distances greater than the physical reach of the weapon itself. It is sometimes also called projectile weapon or missile weapon because it typically works by launching projectiles, though technically a directed-energy weapon is also a ranged weapon. In contrast, a weapon intended to be used in hand-to-hand combat is called a melee weapon.
The bow and arrow is a ranged weapon system consisting of an elastic launching device (bow) and long-shafted projectiles (arrows).
A warrior or soldier armed primarily with one or more javelins is a javelineer.
The word javelin comes from Middle English and it derives from Old French javelin, a diminutive of javelot, which meant spear. The word javelot probably originated from one of the Celtic languages.
Middle English (ME) is a period when the English language, spoken after the Norman conquest (1066) until the late 15th century, underwent distinct variations and developments following the Old English period. Scholarly opinion varies, but the Oxford English Dictionary specifies the period of 1150 to 1500. This stage of the development of the English language roughly followed the High to the Late Middle Ages.
Old French was the language spoken in Northern France from the 8th century to the 14th century. In the 14th century, these dialects came to be collectively known as the langue d'oïl, contrasting with the langue d'oc or Occitan language in the south of France. The mid-14th century is taken as the transitional period to Middle French, the language of the French Renaissance, specifically based on the dialect of the Île-de-France region.
The Celtic languages are a group of related languages descended from Proto-Celtic, or "Common Celtic"; a branch of the greater Indo-European language family. The term "Celtic" was first used to describe this language group by Edward Lhuyd in 1707, following Paul-Yves Pezron who had already made the explicit link between the Celts described by classical writers and the Welsh and Breton languages.
There is archaeological evidence that javelins and throwing sticks were already in use by the last phase of the lower Paleolithic. Seven spear-like objects were found in a coal mine in the city of Schöningen, Germany. Stratigraphic dating indicates that the weapons are about 400,000 years old.The excavated items were made of spruce (Picea) trunk and were between 1.83 and 2.25 metres long. They were manufactured with the maximum thickness and weight situated at the front end of the wooden shaft. The frontal centre of gravity suggests that these pole weapons were used as javelins. A fossilized horse shoulder blade with a projectile wound, dated to 500,000 years ago, was revealed in a gravel quarry in the village of Boxgrove, England. Studies suggested that the wound was probably caused by a javelin.
The throwing stick, or throwing club, is one of the first javelin is almost always a straight shaft with either a pointed tip or a spearhead attached to the front end. A throwing stick can be straight like a pointed wooden shaft or curved like the boomerang, and is much shorter than the javelin. It became obsolete as slings and bows became more prevalent, except for on the Australian continent, where it was developed to a high technology. Throwing sticks shaped like returning boomerangs are designed to fly straight to a target at long ranges. Their surfaces are shaped as airfoils. When tuned correctly they do not exhibit curved flight, but rather they fly on an extended straight flight path. Straight flight ranges greater than 100 meters' distance have been reported by historical sources as well as in recent research. There were some throwing sticks placed in the tombs of pharaohs.
The Lower Paleolithic is the earliest subdivision of the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age. It spans the time from around 3.3 million years ago when the first evidence for stone tool production and use by hominins appears in the current archaeological record, until around 300,000 years ago, spanning the Oldowan and Acheulean lithics industries.
Schöningen is a town of about 11,000 inhabitants in the district of Helmstedt, in Lower Saxony, Germany.
In History of Ancient Egypt: Volume 1 (1882), George Rawlinson depicts the javelin as an offensive weapon used by the Ancient Egyptian military. It was lighter in weight than that used by other nations. He describes the Ancient Egyptian javelin's features:
George Rawlinson was a 19th-century English scholar, historian, and Christian theologian.
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of eastern North Africa, concentrated along the northern reaches of the Nile River in Egypt. The civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh, and it developed over the next three millennia. Its history occurred in a series of stable kingdoms, separated by periods of relative instability known as intermediate periods. Ancient Egypt reached its pinnacle during the New Kingdom, after which it entered a period of slow decline. Egypt was conquered by a succession of foreign powers in the late period, and the rule of the pharaohs officially ended in 31 BC when the early Roman Empire conquered Egypt and made it a province. Although the Egyptian military forces in the Old and Middle kingdoms were well maintained, the new form that emerged in the New Kingdom showed the state becoming more organized to serve its needs.
“It consisted of a long thin shaft, sometimes merely pointed, but generally armed with a head, which was either leaf-shaped, or like the head of a spear, or else four-sided, and attached to the shaft by projections at the angles.”
A strap or tasseled head was situated at the lower end of the javelin: it allowed the javelin thrower to recover his javelin after throwing it.
Egyptian military trained from a young age in special military schools. Focusing on gymnastics to gain strength, hardiness and endurance in childhood, they learned to throw the javelin – along with practicing archery and the battle-axe – when they grew older, before entering a specific regiment.
Javelins were carried by Egyptian light infantry, as a main weapon, and as an alternative to a spear or a bow and arrow, generally along with a shield. They also carried a curved sword, a club or a hatchet as a side-arm.An important part in battles is often assigned to javelin-men, “whose weapons seem to inflict death at every blow”.
One or multiple javelins were also sometimes carried by Egyptian war-chariots, in the quiver and/or the bow case.
Beyond its military purpose, the javelin was likely also a hunting instrument, both to seek food and as a sport.
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The peltasts, usually serving as skirmishers, were armed with several javelins, often with throwing straps to increase stand-off power. The peltasts hurled their javelins at the enemy's heavier troops, the hoplite phalanx, in order to break their lines so that their own army's hoplites could destroy the weakened enemy formation. In the battle of Lechaeum, the Athenian general Iphicrates took advantage of the fact that a Spartan hoplite phalanx operating near Corinth was moving in the open field without the protection of any missile-throwing troops. He decided to ambush it with his force of peltasts. By launching repeated hit-and-run attacks against the Spartan formation, Iphicrates and his men were able to wear the Spartans down, eventually routing them and killing just under half. This marked the first recorded occasion in ancient Greek military history in which a force entirely made up of peltasts had defeated a force of hoplites.
The thureophoroi and thorakitai, who gradually replaced the peltasts, carried javelins in addition to a long thrusting spear and a short sword.
Javelins were often used as an effective hunting weapon, the strap adding enough power to take down large game. Javelins were also used in the Ancient Olympics and other Panhellenic games. They were hurled in a certain direction and whoever hurled it the farthest, as long as it hit tip-first, won that game.
In the ancient world javelins were often thrown with the aid of a throwing string, or Amentum.
In 387 BC, the Gauls invaded Italy, inflicted a crushing defeat on the Roman Republican army, and sacked Rome. After this defeat, the Romans undertook a comprehensive reform of their army and changed the basic tactical formation from the Greek-style phalanx armed with the hasta spear and the clipeus round shield to a more flexible three-line formation. The Hastati stood in the first line, the Principes in the second line and the Triarii at the third line. While the Triarii were still armed with the hasta, the Hastati and the Principes were rearmed with short swords and heavy javelins. Each soldier from the Hastati and Principes lines carried two javelins. This heavy javelin, known as a Pilum (plural "pila"), was about two metres long overall, consisting of an iron shank, about 7 mm in diameter and 60 cm long, with pyramidal head, secured to a wooden shaft. The iron shank was either socketed or, more usually, widened to a flat tang. A pilum usually weighed between two and four kilograms, with the versions produced during the Empire being somewhat lighter. Pictorial evidence suggests that some versions of the weapon were weighted with a lead ball at the base of the shank in order to increase penetrative power, but no archaeological specimens have been found. Recent experiments have shown pila to have a range of about 30 metres, although the effective range is only about 15 to 20 metres. Pila were sometimes referred to as javelins, but the archaic term for the javelin was verutum.
From the third century BC, the Roman legion added a skirmisher type of soldier to its tactical formation. The Velites were light infantry armed with a short sword (the gladius or pugio), a small round shield and several small javelins. These javelins were called veruta (singular "verutum"). The Velites typically drew near the enemy, hurled javelins against its formation and then retreated behind the legion's heavier infantry. The Velites were considered highly effective in turning back war elephants, on account of discharging a hail of javelins at some range and not presenting a "block" that could be trampled on or otherwise smashed - unlike the close-order infantry behind them. At the Battle of Zama in 202 BC, the javelin-throwing Velites proved their worth and were no doubt critical in helping to herd Hannibal's war elephants through the formation to be slaughtered. The Velites would slowly have been either disbanded or re-equipped as more-heavily armed legionaries from the time when Gaius Marius and other Roman generals reorganised the army in the late second and early first centuries BC. Their role would most likely have been taken by irregular auxiliary troops as the Republic expanded overseas. The verutum was a cheaper missile weapon than the pilum. The verutum was a short-range weapon, with a simply made head of soft iron.
Legionaries of the Late Republic and Early Empire often carried two pila, with one sometimes being lighter than the other. Standard tactics called for a Roman soldier to throw his pilum (both if there was time) at the enemy just before charging to engage with his gladius. Some pila had small hand-guards, to protect the wielder if he intended to use it as a melee weapon, but it does not appear that this was common.
In the late Roman Empire, the Roman infantry came to use a differently-shaped javelin from the earlier pilum. This javelin was lighter and had a greater range. Called a plumbata, it resembled a thick stocky arrow, fletched with leather vanes to provide stability and rotation in flight (which increased accuracy). To overcome its comparatively small mass, the plumbata was fitted with an oval-shaped lead weight socketed around the shaft just forward of the center of balance, giving the weapon its name. Even so, plumbatae were much lighter than pila, and would not have had the armour penetration or shield transfixing capabilities of their earlier counterparts.
Two or three plumbatae were typically clipped to a small wooden bracket on the inside of the large oval or round shields used at the time. Massed troops would unclip and hurl plumbatae as the enemy neared, hopefully stalling their movement and morale by making them clump together and huddle under their shields. With the enemy deprived of rapid movement and their visibility impaired by their own raised shields, the Roman troops were then better placed to exploit the tactical situation. It is unlikely plumbatae were viewed by the Romans as the killing blow, but more as a means of stalling the enemy at ranges greater than previously provided by the heavier and shorter ranged pilum.
The Gallic cavalry used to hurl several javelin volleys to soften the enemy before a frontal attack. The Gallic cavalry used their javelins in a tactic similar to that of horse archers' Parthian shot. The Gauls knew how to turn on horseback to throw javelins backwards while appearing to retreat.
The Hispanic cavalry was a light cavalry armed with a Falcata and several light javelins. The Cantabri tribes invented a military tactic to maximize the advantages of the combination between horse and javelin. In this tactic the horsemen rode around in circles, toward and away from the enemy, continually hurling javelins. The tactic was usually employed against heavy infantry. The constant movement of the horsemen gave them an advantage against slow infantry and made them hard to target. The maneuver was designed to harass and taunt the enemy forces, disrupting close formations. This was commonly used against enemy infantry, especially the heavily armed and slow moving legions of the Romans. This tactic came to be known as the Cantabrian circle. In the late Republic various auxiliary cavalry completely replaced the Italian cavalry contingents and the Hispanic auxiliary cavalry was considered the best.
The Numidians were indigenous tribes of northwest Africa. The Numidian cavalry was a light cavalry usually operating as skirmishers. The Numidian horseman was armed with a small shield and several javelins. The Numidians had a reputation as swift horsemen, cunning soldiers and excellent javelin throwers. It is said that Jugurtha, the Numidian king "...took part in the national pursuits of riding, javelin throwing and competed with other young men in running." [Sallust The Jugurthine War: 6]. The Numidian Cavalry served as mercenaries in the Carthaginian Army and played a key role in assisting Hannibal during the Second Punic War.
There is some literary and archeological evidence that the Norse were familiar with and used the javelin for hunting and warfare, but they commonly used a spear designed for both throwing and thrusting. The Old Norse word for javelin was frakka.
The Anglo-Saxon term for javelin was france.In Anglo-Saxon warfare, soldiers usually formed a shield wall and used heavy weapons like Danish axes, swords and spears. Javelins, including barbed angons, were used as an offensive weapon from behind the shield wall or by warriors who left the protective formation and attacked the enemy as skirmishers. Designed to be difficult to remove from either flesh or wood, the Angon javelin used by Anglo-Saxon warriors was an effective means of disabling an opponent or his shield, thus having the potential to disrupt opposing shield-walls.
The Almogavars were a class of Aragonese infantrymen armed with a short sword, a shield and two heavy javelins, known as azcona.The equipment resembled that of a Roman legionary and the use of the heavy javelins was much the same.
The Jinetes were Arabic light horsemen armed with a javelin, sword and a shield, they were proficient at skirmishing and rapid maneuver, and played an important role in Arabic mounted warfare throughout the Reconquista until the sixteenth century.
The Welsh, particularly those of North Wales, used the javelin as one of their main weapons. During the Norman and later English invasions, the primary Welsh tactic was to rain javelins on the tired, hungry and heavily armoured English troops and then retreat into the mountains or woods before the English troops could pursue and attack them. This tactic was very successful, since it demoralized and damaged the English armies while the Welsh ranks suffered little.
Various kingdoms and dynasties in China have used javelins, such as the iron-headed javelin of the Qing dynasty.
Many African tribes have used the javelin as their main weapon since ancient times. Typical African warfare was based on ritualized stand-off encounters involving throwing javelins without advancing for close combat. In the flag of Swaziland there is a shield and two javelins, which symbolize the protection from the country's enemies.
The Zulu warriors used a long version of the assegai javelin as their primary weapon. The Zulu legendary leader Shaka initiated military reforms in which a short stabbing spear, with a long, swordlike spearhead named iklwa had become the Zulu warrior's main weapon and was used as a mêlée weapon. The assegai was not discarded, but was used for an initial missile assault. With the larger shields, introduced by Shaka to the Zulu army, the short spears used as stabbing swords and the opening phase of javelin attack the Zulu regiments were quite similar to the Roman legion with its Scutum, Gladius and Pilum tactical combination.
In Norse mythology, Odin, the chief god, carried a javelin or spear called Gungnir. It was created by a group of dwarves known as the Sons of Ivaldi who also fashioned the ship of Freyr called Skidbladnir and the golden hair of Sif.It had the property of always finding its mark ("the spear never stopped in its thrust"). During the final conflict of Ragnarok between the gods and giants, Odin will use Gungnir to attack the wolf Fenrir before being devoured by him.
During the war (and subsequent alliance) between the Aesir and Vanir at the dawn of time, Odin hurled a javelin over the enemy hostwhich, according to custom, was thought to bring good fortune or victory to the thrower. Odin also wounded himself with a spear while hanging from Yggdrasil, the World Tree, in his ritual quest for knowledge but in neither case is the weapon referred to specifically as Gungnir.
When the god Baldr began to have prophetic dreams of his own death, his mother Frigg extracted an oath from all things in nature not to harm him. However, she neglected the mistletoe, thinking it was too young to make, let alone respect, such a solemn vow. When Loki learned of this weakness, he had a javelin or dart made from one of its branches and tricked Hod, the blind god, into hurling it at Baldr and causing his death.
The god Runesocesius is identified as a "god of the javelin".
The lance is a pole weapon designed to be used by a mounted warrior or cavalry soldier (lancer). During the periods of classical and medieval warfare, it evolved into being the leading weapon in cavalry charges, and was unsuited for throwing or for repeated thrusting, unlike similar weapons of the javelin/pike family typically used by infantry. Lances were often equipped with a vamplate – a small circular plate to prevent the hand sliding up the shaft upon impact. Though best known as a military and sporting weapon carried by European knights, the use of lances was widespread throughout Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa wherever suitable mounts were available. As a secondary weapon, lancers of the medieval period also bore swords, axes, or maces for hand-to-hand combat, since the lance was often a one-use-per-engagement weapon; assuming the lance survived the initial impact intact, it was usually too long, heavy and slow to be effective against opponents in a melee.
The pilum was a javelin commonly used by the Roman army in ancient times. It was generally about 2 metres long overall, consisting of an iron shank about 7 millimetres (0.28 in) in diameter and 60 centimetres (24 in) long with a pyramidal head. The shank was joined to the wooden shaft by either a socket or a flat tang.
A peltast was a type of light infantry, originating in Thrace and Paeonia, who often served as skirmishers in Hellenic and Hellenistic armies. In the Medieval period the same term was used for a type of Byzantine infantryman.
A spiculum is a late Roman spear that replaced the pilum as the infantryman's main throwing javelin around 250 AD. Scholars suppose that it could have resulted from the gradual combination of the pilum and two German spears, the angon and the bebra. As more and more Germans joined the Roman army, their culture and traditions became a driving force for change. The spiculum was better than the old pilum when used as a thrusting spear, but still maintained some of the former weapon's penetrative power when thrown.
The army of the Kingdom of Macedon was among the greatest military forces of the ancient world. It was created and made formidable by King Philip II of Macedon; previously the army of Macedon had been of little account in the politics of the Greek world, and Macedonia had been regarded as a second-rate power.
Roman military personal equipment was produced in small numbers to established patterns, and it was used in an established manner. These standard patterns and uses were called the res militaris or disciplina. Its regular practice during the Roman Republic and Roman Empire led to military excellence and victory. The equipment gave the Romans a very distinct advantage over their barbarian enemies, especially so in the case of armour. This does not mean that every Roman soldier had better equipment than the richer men among his opponents. According to Edward Luttwak, Roman equipment was not of a better quality than that used by the majority of Rome's adversaries.
The lancea was the Roman auxiliaries' short javelin. According to the OED, the word originally came from the Celtiberian language, also cf. zλόγχη (lonche), the Greek term for lance.
The verutum, plural veruta, was a short javelin used in the Roman army. This javelin was used by the velites for skirmishing purposes, unlike the heavier pilum, which was used by the hastati and principes for weakening the enemy before advancing into close combat. The shafts were about 1.1 metres long, substantially shorter than the 2-metre pilum, and the point measured about 13 centimetres (5 in) long. The verutum had either an iron shank like the pilum or a tapering metal head. It was sometimes thrown with the aid of a throwing strap, or amentum.
Falarica, also Phalarica, was an ancient Iberian ranged pole weapon that was sometimes used as an incendiary weapon.
Heavy infantry refers to heavily armed and armoured infantrymen trained to mount frontal assaults and/or anchor the defensive center of a battle line. This differentiates them from light infantry which are relatively mobile and lightly armoured skirmisher troops intended for screening, scouting, and other roles unsuited to the heavier soldiers.
The Hellenistic armies is the term applied to the armies of the successor kingdoms of the Hellenistic period, which emerged after the death of Alexander the Great. After his death, Alexander's huge empire was torn between his successors, the Diadochi. During the Wars of the Diadochi, the Macedonian army, as developed by Alexander and Philip II, gradually adopted new units and tactics, further developing Macedonian warfare and improving on the tactics used in the Classical era. The armies of the Diadochi bear few differences from that of Alexander, but during the era of the Epigonoi, the differences were obvious, favoring numbers over quality and weight over maneuverability. The limited availability of Greek conscripts in the east led to an increasing dependence on mercenary forces, whereas in the west, Hellenistic armies were continuously involved in wars, which soon exhausted local manpower, paving the way for Roman supremacy. The major Hellenistic states were the Seleucid Empire, Ptolemaic Egypt and the Antigonid kingdom (Macedonia). Smaller states included: Attalid Pergamum, Pontus, Epirus, the Achaean League, the Aetolian League, Syracuse, and other states.
Numidian cavalry was a type of light cavalry developed by the Numidians. After they were used by Hannibal during the Second Punic War, they were described by the Roman historian Livy as "by far the best horsemen in Africa."
Velites were a class of infantry in the Roman army of the mid-Republic from 211 to 107 BC. Velites were light infantry and skirmishers who were armed with a number of darts, each with a 30-inch wooden shaft the diameter of a finger, with a c. 10-inch narrow metal point, to fling at the enemy. They also carried short thrusting swords, or gladii, for use in melee. They rarely wore armour as they were the youngest and poorest soldiers in the legion and could not afford much equipment. They did carry small wooden shields called parma for protection, and wore headdresses made from wolf skins so their brave deeds could be recognized. The velites were placed at the front partly for tactical reasons, and also so that they had the opportunity to secure glory for themselves in single combat.
Hastati were a class of infantry employed in the armies of the early Roman Republic who originally fought as spearmen, and later as swordsmen. These soldiers were the staple unit after Rome threw off Etruscan rule. They were originally some of the poorest men in the legion, and could afford only modest equipment—light chainmail and other miscellaneous equipment. The Senate supplied their soldiers with only a short stabbing sword, the gladius, and their distinctive squared shield, the scutum. The hastatus was typically equipped with these, and one or two soft iron tipped throwing spears called pila. This doubled their effectiveness, not only as a strong leading edge to their maniple, but also as a stand-alone missile troop. Later, the hastati contained the younger men rather than just the poorer, though most men of their age were relatively poor. Their usual position was the first battle line. They fought in a quincunx formation, supported by lighter infantry. The enemy was allowed to penetrate the first battle line consisting of hastati, after which the enemy would deal with the more hardened, seasoned soldiers, the principes. They were eventually disbanded after the Marian reforms of 107 BC.
Principes were spearmen, and later swordsmen, in the armies of the early Roman Republic. They were men in the prime of their lives who were fairly wealthy, and could afford decent equipment. They were the heavier infantry of the legion who carried large shields and wore good quality armor.
Humans have used weapons in warfare, hunting, self-defense, law enforcement, and criminal activity for thousands of years. Weapons also serve many other purposes in society including use in sports, collections for display, and historical displays and demonstrations. As technology has developed throughout history, weapons have changed with it.
The Roman army of the late Republic refers to the armed forces deployed by the late Roman Republic, from the beginning of the first century B.C. until the establishment of the Imperial Roman army by Augustus in 30 B.C.
Ancient Greek weapons and armor were primarily geared towards combat between individuals. Their primary technique was called the phalanx, a formation consisting of massed shield wall, which required heavy frontal armor and medium-ranged weapons such as spears. Soldiers were required to provide their own panoply, which could prove expensive, however the lack of any official peace-keeping force meant that most Greek citizens carried weapons as a matter of course for self-defence. Because individuals provided their own equipment, there was considerable diversity in arms and armour among the Hellenistic troops.
The Caetrati were a type of light infantry in Ancient Iberia armed with a caetra shield, swords, and several javelins who often served as skirmishers.