Hunting spear and knife, from Mesa Verde National Park.
Hunting spear and knife, from Mesa Verde National Park.

A spear is an ancient weapon used for hunting and war, consisting of a shaft, usually of wood, with a sharpened head. The head may be simply the sharpened end of the shaft itself, as is the case with bamboo spears, or it may be of another material fastened to the shaft. The most common design is of a metal spearhead, shaped somewhat like a dagger.

Spears were arguably one of the most common personal weapons from the late Bronze Age until the advent of firearms. They may be seen as the ancestor of such weapons as the lance, the halberd, the naginata and the pike. One of the earliest weapons fashioned by human beings and their ancestors, it is still used for hunting and fishing, and its influences can still be seen in contemporary military arsenals as the rifle mounted bayonet.

Spears can be used as both melee and ballistic weapons. Spears used primarily for thrusting tend to have heavier and sturdier designs than those intended exclusively for throwing. Two of the most noted throwing spears are the javelin thrown by the ancient Greeks and the pilum used by the Romans.


The utility and longevity of the spear as a universal personal weapon rises from several factors, including versatility, cost efficiency, ease of use and effect.

A spear was a relatively low cost weapon or tool compared to other weapons available in the time of the spear's greatest use. In pre-industrial societies, where metals and the ability to work them were expensive, the spear was seen as "cost effective". The steel required for a sword, for example, would be sufficient to make two, three or more spear heads. A spear not only takes less metal, but does not require the same quality of material, the same amount of time, or the same level of skill to manufacture; the result is still a weapon of potentially lethal effect.

A spear is relatively easy to use. Again, in comparison with other weapons in the periods of the spear's widest use, a spear requires less training and practice to be effectively (though not necessarily expertly) wielded. Modern experiments by reenactors have shown that a group of people can be trained to use spears in an effective shield wall as militia in a few weeks of part time training.

Spears are effective in several senses, some of them already mentioned. It is effective in being a cheap, relatively easy to wield weapon that could be quickly manufactured in large numbers, can be used at a considerable distance from the target and, in the hands of an experienced user, it is fast and lethal.

Unlke what is thought by many people, the spear attacks by one hand holding it still and the other letting the hand which is holding it slide though the other hand and back.


More than a weapon, a spear may be a symbol of power. In the Chinese martial arts community, the Chinese spear (qiāng 槍) is popularly known as the "king of weapons". In ancient Greece it was a yoke of spears that had to be borne when submitting to an enemy. The Celts would symbolically destroy a dead warrior's spears to prevent their use by another.

Livy records that the Romans and their early enemies would force prisoners to walk underneath a 'yoke of spears', which humiliated them. It has been surmised that this was because such a ritual involved the prisoners' warrior status being taken away. In the early Roman armies the first two lines of battle, the hastati and principes, fought with javelins, while the elite triarii who formed the final line fought with spears.

Odin's spear (called Gungnir) was of ashwood, made from the "World-Ash" Yggdrasil, and it may be remarkable that Chiron's wedding-gift to Peleus when he married the nymph Thetis at a wedding attended by all the Olympians, was an ashen spear (although this could be coincidental, as the nature of ashwood with its straight grain made it an ideal choice of wood for a spear).

Also in Greek Mythology Zeus' bolts of lightning can be interpreted as a symbolic spear, and some would carry that into the spear that is frequently associated with Athena, interpreting her spear as a symbolic connection to some of Zeus' power beyond the Aegis.

Another spear of religious significance was the Spear of Destiny, an artifact believed by some to have vast mystical powers.

Sir James George Frazer in The Golden Bough noted the phallic nature of the spear and suggested the spear as a lance in the Arthurian Legends, paired with the Grail (as a symbol of female fertility), functioned symbolically as a symbol of male fertility.

Types of spears

Spears which are not usually thrown

Spears usually thrown

  • Angon
  • Assegai
  • Ballam
  • Bandang
  • Bhala
  • Bilari
  • Budiak
  • Cateia
  • Chimbane
  • Contus
  • Do-War
  • Egchos
  • Enhero
  • Fal-feg
  • Falarica
  • Framea
  • Gravo
  • Golo
  • Granggang
  • Hak
  • Harpoon
  • Hinyan
  • Hoko
  • Huata
  • Irpull
  • Ja-Mandehi
  • Jaculum
  • Jarid
  • Javelin
  • Jiboru
  • Kasita
  • Kamayari
  • Kan-Shoka
  • Kannai
  • Kapun
  • Kiero
  • Kikuki
  • Koveh
  • Koy-yung
  • Koyuan
  • Kujolio
  • Kuyan
  • Laange
  • Lance-Ague
  • Lanza
  • Lama-pe
  • Leister
  • Mahee
  • Makrigga
  • Makura Yari
  • Mandehi liguje
  • Máo (矛)
  • Mkukt
  • Mongile
  • Mongoli
  • Mu-Rongal
  • Nage-Yari
  • Nandum
  • Nerau
  • Paralyser
  • Patisthanaya
  • Pelta
  • Pill
  • Pillara
  • Pilum
  • Plumbate
  • Sang
  • Sangkoh
  • Sanokat
  • Saunion
  • Shail
  • Shanen kopaton
  • Siligis
  • Short spear (or common spear)
  • Simbilan
  • Sinan
  • Sligi
  • Soliferrum
  • Spiculum
  • Su Yari
  • Sudanese lance
  • Tahr Ruan
  • Tao
  • Tawok
  • Telempang
  • Vel
  • Te yari
  • Tirrer
  • Tjunkuletti
  • Tombak
  • Tschehouta
  • Tumpuling
  • Wainian
  • Wallunka
  • Wi-Valli
  • Zagaye

Famous Spears

See also

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