A spear is a pole weapon 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, such as obsidian, iron or bronze. The most common design is of a metal spearhead, shaped like a triangle or a leaf.

Spears were one of the most common personal weapons from the Stone Age until the advent of firearms. They may be seen as the ancestor of such weapons as the lance, the halberd, the naginata, the bill 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 may be used with either one or two hands and tend to have heavier and sturdier designs than those intended exclusively for throwing. Those designed for throwing, often referred to as javelins, tend to be lighter and have a more streamlined head, and can be thrown either by hand or with the assistance of a spear thrower such as the atalatl or woomera.


Animal use

Spear manufacture and use is also practiced by the Pan troglodytes verus subspecies of the Common Chimpanzee. Chimpanzees near Kédougou, Senegal were observed to create spears by breaking straight limbs off of trees, stripping them of their bark and side branches, and sharpening one end with their teeth. They then used the weapons to hunt galagos sleeping in hollows.[1]. Orangutans have also used spears to fish after observing humans fishing in a similar manner.


Hupa man with spear, 1923

Archeological evidence documents that wooden spears were used for hunting at least 400,000 years ago.[3] However, wood does not preserve well. Craig Stanford, a primatologist and professor of anthropology at the University of Southern California, has suggested that the discovery of spear use by chimpanzees probably means that early humans used wooden spears as well, perhaps five million years ago.[4]

Neanderthals were constructing stone spear heads from as early as 300,000 BP. By 250,000 years ago wooden spears were made with fire-hardened points. From 200,000 BP Middle Paleolithic humans began to make complex stone blades which were used as spear heads. At these times there was still a clear difference between spears designed to be thrown and those designed to be used in hand to hand combat.

Ancient history

Re-enactor outfitted as a Roman legionnaire of the northern Roman provinces from circa 175 AD

Short one handed spears used with a shield were used by the earliest Bronze Age cultures for either single combat or in large formations. This tradition continued from the first Mesopotamian cultures through the Egyptian dynasties to the Ancient Greek city states. The Greek doru was used in large battle formations, called phalanges (sg. phalanx), to maximize its effectiveness. Both Phillip of Macedon and Alexander the Great continued this tradition using the very long two handed Sarissa to great effect. The use of the spear with two hands dropped out of European fashion from the Roman period until development of the pike in the Middle Ages. The Roman legions contained soldiers who used the shield and spear, known as the Triarii, and originally the Principes were armed with a short spear called a hasta, but these gradually fell out of use to be eventually replaced by the Gladius. However even these troops carried the pilum, which was specifically designed to be thrown at an enemy to pierce and foul a target's shield.

During this time the spear was also used by cavalry, usually with two hands, partly due to the lack of stirrups. The use of a spear by a heavily armored soldier from horseback (known as Cataphracts) was first developed by nomadic eastern Iranian tribes and spread throughout the ancient world.

European Middle Ages

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the spear and shield continued to be used by almost all Western European cultures. Since a medieval spear required only a small amount of steel along the sharpened edges (most of the spear-tip was wrought iron), it was an economical weapon. Quick to manufacture, and needing less smithing skill than a sword, it remained the main weapon of the common soldier. The Vikings, for instance, though often portrayed with axe or sword in hand, were armed mostly with spears[5], as were their Saxon, Irish, or continental foes.

Infantry Spears

Broadly speaking, spears were either designed to be kept in hand (thrusting spears), or to be thrown (throwing spears). Within this simple classification, there were a remarkable range of types. For example, M.J. Swanton identified 30 different spearhead categories and sub-categories in Early Saxon England [6]. Most medieval spearheads were, however, broadly speaking, leaf shaped. Notable types of Early medieval spears include the Angon, a throwing spear with a long head like a Roman pilum used by the Franks and Anglo-Saxons and the winged (or lugged) spear, which had two prominent wings at the base of the spearhead, either to prevent the spear penetrating too far into an enemy or to aid in spear fencing [7]. Originally a Frankish weapon, the winged spear was also popular with the Vikings[8]. It would become the ancestor of later medieval polearms, such as the partisan and spetum

The thrusting spear also has the advantage of reach — being considerably longer than other weapon types. Exact spear lengths are hard to deduce as few spear shafts survive archaeologically but 6ft - 8ft (1.8m - 2.5m) would seem to be the norm. Some nations were noted for their long spears, including the Scots and the Flemish. Spears were usually used in tightly ordered formations, like the shieldwall or the schiltron To resist cavalry, spear shafts could be planted against the ground[9]. William Wallace drew up his schiltrons in a circle at the Battle of Falkirk in 1298 to deter charging cavalry[10], but it was a widespread tactic, sometimes known as the "crown" formation[11].

Throwing spears became rarer as the Middle Ages drew on but survived in the hands of specialists such as the Catalan Almogavars[12]. They were commonly used in Ireland until the end of the 16th. century[13].

Spears began to lose fashion among the infantry in the 14th. century, being replaced by pole weapons which combined the thrusting properties of the spear with the cutting properties of the axe, such as the halberd Where spears were retained they grew in length, eventually evolving into pikes which would be a dominant infantry weapon in he 16th. and 17th. centuries[14].

Cavalry Spears

Cavalry spears were originally the same as infantry spears and were often used with two hands or held with one hand overhead. In the 11th. century, after the adoption of stirrups and a high-cantled saddle, the spear became a decidedly more powerful weapon. A mounted knight would secure the lance by holding with one hand and tucking it under the armpit (the couched lance technique)[15]. This allowed all the momentum of the horse and knight to be focused on the weapon's tip whilst still retaining accuracy and control. This use of the spear spurred the development of the lance as a distinct weapon which was perfected in the medieval sport of jousting.

In the 14th century, tactical developments meant that knights and men-at-arms often fought on foot. This led to the practice of shortening the lance to about 5ft. (1.5m.) to make it more manageable[16]. As dismounting became commonplace, specialist pole weapons such as the pollaxe were adopted by knights and this practice ceased[17].


German reenactors of pikemen

The development of both the long, two handed pike and gunpowder in renaissance Europe saw an ever increasing focus on infantry over lance-armed cavalry. During this period many different variations on the pole-arm were developed including the halberd and the bill, again used in a similar way to a spear and designed to break through the heavy armor then worn by knights. Ultimately, the spear proper was rendered obsolete on the battlefield. As muskets became more accurate and reliable, the bayonet was devised to provide musket-men with an ersatz spear capability.

Modern Usage

Surprisingly spear hunting is still practiced, notably by retired US Air Force Colonel Gene Morris, and "Motor City Madman" Ted Nugent. Animals taken are primarily wild boar and deer, though trophy animals such as cats and big game as large as a Cape Buffalo are hunted with spears. Alligator are hunted in Florida with a type of harpoon.

Spear handling

A yari (left) in mock combat

Spears, although apparently simple weapons, have a remarkable variety of wielding methods. Some are listed here from most passive to most active motions.

  1. Holding the spear or bracing it against the ground, a charging enemy impales themselves.
  2. The spear is thrust out with the arms alone.
  3. The spear is held stiffly, and the thrust is delivered by stepping forward.
  4. The spear is thrust out with the arms while stepping forward with one or both feet.
  5. The front hand releases as the back hand and back foot move forward to perform a long thrust.
  6. The spear is slid through the front hand, propelled by the back hand (a similar action to using a Billiards Cue).
  7. The spear is thrown, often at a run, releasing when the opposite foot to the throwing arm is forward.
  8. The spear is held couched under one arm, allowing a swinging motion as well as a powerful thrust.
  9. The spear is swung rather than thrust, causing the tip of the blade to slice open the foe's flesh. The sheer momentum built up by swinging can be enough to cause serious injury even with the blunt end. The spear can then be brought around in a stabbing motion.

This versatility led to the continued use of spears, in the form of pikes, for many years even after the invention of firearms.


The Japanese ronin killing a giant Miyamoto Musashinue. Print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, 19th century.

More than a weapon, a spear may be a symbol of power. In the Chinese martial arts community, the Chinese spear (Qiang 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 spear to prevent its 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 swords, while the elite triarii who formed the final line fought with spears.

Odin's spear (called Gungnir) was made by the sons of Ivaldi. It had the special property that it never missed its mark. . During the War with the Vanir, Odin symbolically throws Gungnir into the Vanir host. This practice of symbolically casting a spear into the enemy ranks at the start of a fight was sometimes used in historic clashes, to seek Odin's support in the coming battle.[18] In Wagner's opera Siegfried, the haft of Gungnir is said to be from the "World-Tree" Yggdrasil[19]

Chiron's wedding-gift to Peleus when he married the nymph Thetis, was also an ashen spear 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 that in the Arthurian Legends the spear or lance functioned as a symbol of male fertility, paired with the Grail (as a symbol of female fertility).

Types of spears

Spears which are not usually thrown

  • Arbir
  • Aunurgith
  • Awl pike
  • Barchi
  • Boar spear
  • Bohemian ear spoon
  • Brandistock
  • Chimbane
  • Contus
  • Doru
  • Dung
  • Fauchard
  • Guandao
  • Halberd
  • Half pike
  • Hasta
  • Ji
  • Jousting lance
  • Kadji
  • Kamayari
  • Katakamayari
  • Kontos
  • Lance
  • Magari yari
  • Military fork
  • Mon-Gil Mon-Gil
  • Ox tongue
  • Partisan
  • Pike
  • Plançon a picot
  • Qiāng (槍)
  • Ranseur
  • Rifle-and-bayonet
  • Rummh
  • Sangu
  • Sarissa
  • Sibat
  • Spetum
  • Spontoon
  • Sudis
  • Su yari
  • Taru
  • Tepoztopilli
  • Trident
  • Trishula
  • To-ono
  • Xyston
  • Yari

Spears usually thrown

  • Angon
  • Assegai
  • Ballam
  • Bandang
  • Bhala
  • Bilari
  • Budiak
  • Cateia
  • Chimbane
  • Cirit
  • Do-War
  • Egchos
  • Enhero
  • Fal-feg
  • Falarica
  • Framea
  • Gravo
  • Golo
  • Granggang
  • Hak
  • Hinyan
  • Hoko
  • Huata
  • Irpull
  • Ja-Mandehi
  • Jaculum
  • Jarid
  • Javelin
  • Jiboru
  • Kasita
  • Kan-Shoka
  • Kannai
  • 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
  • One flue harpoon
  • Paralyser
  • Patisthanaya
  • Pelta
  • Pill
  • Pillara
  • Pilum
  • Plumbata
  • Sang
  • Sangkoh
  • Sanokat
  • Saunion
  • Shail
  • Shanen kopaton
  • Siligis
  • Short spear
  • Simbilan
  • Sinan
  • Sligi
  • Soliferrum
  • Spiculum
  • Sudanese lance
  • Tahr Ruan
  • Tao
  • Tawok
  • Telempang
  • Vel
  • Te yari
  • Tirrer
  • Tjunkuletti
  • Toggling harpoon
  • Tombak
  • Tschehouta
  • Tumpuling
  • Two flue harpoon
  • Wainian
  • Wallunka
  • Wi-Valli
  • Zagaye

Famous spears

  • Spear of Destiny or Lance of Longinus; Spear that pierced the side of Jesus.
  • Gungnir Spear of Odin, famous god in Norse mythology.
  • Amenonuhoko Spear of Izanagi and Izanami, creator gods in Japanese mythology.
  • Spear of Lugh or Spear of Lúin named after Lugh, a god in Irish mythology.
  • Gáe Bulg Spear of Cúchulainn, hero in Irish mythology.
  • Trishula Spear of Shiva, a Hindu god.
  • Octane Serpent Spear of Zhang Fei (Yide) from the Three Kingdoms period in China.
  • Spear of Fuchai, the spear used by Goujian's arch-rival, King Fuchai of Wu, in China.
  • Posiden's Trident Greek sea god's three pronged spear given to him by the undersea Cyclops, also a Roman god Neptune.
  • Hokenavaloha Spear or Nine Metal Spear,the spear that Gaithong the siameses hero use to kill Chalawan the Giant Werecrocodile.

Yari (Japanese Spear)

Yari () is the Japanese term for spear, or more specifically, the straight-headed spear. The martial art of wielding the yari is called sōjutsu. Yari measured anywhere from one meter to upwards of six meters (3.3 to 20 feet). The longer versions were called ōmi no yari while shorter ones were known as mochi yari or tae yari. The longest versions were carried by foot troops (ashigaru), while the samurai usually carried the shorter versions.

Yari were characterized by a straight blade that could be anywhere from several centimeters long, to 3 feet (0.9 meters) or more. The blades were made of the same high-quality steel that the swords and arrow-heads of samurai weapons were forged with, and yari blades were very durable. Over history many variations of the straight yari blade were produced, often with protrusion on a central blade. Yari blades (points) had extremely long tangs which were usually longer than the sharpened portion of the blade. The tang protruded into a hollow portion of the handle. This resulted in a very stiff shaft and made it nearly impossible for the blade to fall or break off.

The shaft (nakae) came in many different lengths, widths and shapes; made of hardwood and covered in lacquered bamboo strips, these came in oval, round, or polygonal cross section. These in turn were often wrapped in metal rings or wire, and affixed with a metal pommel (ishizuki) on the butt end. The yari could be considered a much higher quality weapon than the average spear due to these unique attributes. Yari handles were often decorated with inlays of metal or semiprecious materials such as brass pins, lacquer, or flakes of pearl.

A sheath for the blade called saya was also part of a complete yari.

Various types of yari points or blades existed. The most common blade was a straight, flat, design that resembles a straight-bladed double edged dagger. This type of blade could cut as well as stab and was sharpened like a razor edge. Though yari is a catchall for spear, it is usually distinguished between kama yari, which have additional horizontal blades, and simple su yari (choku-sō) or straight spears. Yari can also be distinguished by the types of blade cross section: the triangular sections were called sankaku yari and the diamond sections were called ryō-shinogi yari.

Su yari (素槍, simple spear)

The sankaku yari (三角槍, triangle spear) had a point that resembled a narrow spike with a triangular cross-section. A sankaku yari therefore had no cutting edge, only a sharp point at the end. The sankaku yari was therefore best suited for penetrating armor, even armor made of metal, which a standard yari was not as suited to.

The fukuro yari (袋槍, bag spear or socket spear) sported a more European style fitting of the straight head. Instead of the yari's traditional very long embedded tang, an entirely metal socket which slipped over the narrowed end of the pole, The unit was forged as a single piece of both socket and blade. This design was rare next to the traditional 'long-tang' configuration.

A kuda yari (管槍, tube spear) was not very different in construction than another simple choku yari. However for this spear, the upper hand gripped a hollow metal tube that allowed the yari to "screw" while being thrust. This style of sojutsu is typified in the school Owari Kan Ryū.

Kikuchi yari (菊池槍, spear of Kikuchi) were one of the rarest designs, possessing only a single edge. This created a weapon that could be used for hacking and almost resembled a straight edged naginata.

Yajiri nari yari (鏃形槍, spade-shaped spear) had a very broad "spade-shaped" head. It often had a pair of holes centering the two ovoid halves.

Kama yari (鎌槍, sickled spear)

These spears were very effective weapons though their more complex blade shapes were extremely difficult to properly forge and sharpen; therefore these were far less common than the above types and were often used for ornamental purposes.

Magari yari (曲槍, curved spear), also called jūmonji yari (十文字槍, cross-shaped spear), looked something similar to a trident or partisan and brandished a pair of curved blades around its central lance. Occasionally called maga yari in modern weaponry texts. In the Koei video game Samurai Warriors, Sanada Yukimura uses one such weapon.

The kama yari (鎌槍, sickle spear) gets its name from a peasant weapon called kama (lit. sickle or scythe). However, a kama isn't a scythe as most Westerners think of it, a giant, curved blade connected at right angles to a two-meter-long wooden handle, but rather a much smaller version, with a less dramatically curved blade and a straight wooden handle approximately two feet long.

The kata kama yari (片鎌槍, single-sided sickle spear) had a radical weapon design sporting a blade that was two-pronged. Instead of being constructed like a military fork, a straight blade (as in su yari) was intersected just below its midsection by a perpendicular blade. This blade was slightly shorter than the primary, had curved tips making a parallelogram, and was set off center so that only 1/6th of its length extended on the other side. This formed a kind of messy 'L' shape.

The tsuki nari yari (月形槍, moon-shaped spear) barely looked like a 'spear' at all. A polearm that had a crescent blade for a head, this could be used for slashing and hooking.

A kagi yari (鉤槍, hook spear) had a long blade with a side hook much like that found on a fauchard. This could be used to catch another weapon, or even dismount a rider on horseback.

Bishamon yari possessed some of the most ornate designs for any spear. Running parallel to the long central blade were two 'crescent moon' shaped blades facing outwards. They were attached in two locations by short cross bars, making the head look somewhat like a fleur-de-lis.


Yari are believed to have been derived from Chinese spears, and while they were present in early Japan's history they did not become popular until the thirteenth century. The original warfare of the bushi was not a thing for 'commoners'; it was a ritualized combat usually between two warriors who would challenge each other via horseback archery and sword duels. However the invasions of Mongols in 1274 and 1281 changed Japanese warfare and weaponry. The Mongol-employed Chinese and Korean footmen wielded long pikes, fought in tight formation, and moved in large units to stave off cavalry. Polearms (including naginata and yari) were of much greater military use than swords, due to their much greater range, their lesser weight per unit length (though overall a polearm would be fairly hefty), and their great piercing ability. Swords in a full battle situation were therefore relegated to emergency sidearm status from the Heian through the Muromachi periods.

Yari overtook the popularity of the daikyū for the samurai, and foot troops (ashigaru) used them extensively as well. But by the Edo period the yari had fallen into disuse: with the greater emphasis on small-scale close quarters combat and the convenience of swords (as opposed to long battlefield weapons), polearms and archery lost their practical value. During the peaceful Edo era, yari were still produced, sometimes even by good swordsmiths. They existed as a ceremonial weapon for most of this era.

Kanabō (Japanese iron staff)

The kanabō (金棒) (metallic staff) is an iron or steel club used in feudal Japan as a weapon. It was constructed out of heavy oak wood, and covered with some form of metal from the end to the middle, with metal studs along the metal-shod end. Later versions were made entirely out of metal, but shorter. It was this later version that many popular pictures of Japanese demons carry. It is said to be one of the heaviest hand weapons ever wielded. The one used as a sample in the Spike TV program Deadliest Warrior weighed around 35 pounds.

Because of its sheer weight, only a few soldiers carried it. It was more of a mythical weapon, often used in tales by the great Japanese demons "oni" since the oni were extremely strong and could carry these mammoth weapons and so were feared by many superstitious people. Today there is a saying in Japanese that says, "Like giving a kanabō to an oni" — which means to give an extra advantage to someone already holding all the cards.

When used, the purpose of the kanabō was to smash enemies' armor, bones underneath and break their warhorses' legs. The art of using this cumbersome weapon, kanabō-jutsu, consisted of a mastery of both balance and strength; it required great skill to recover from a miss with the heavy club, which could leave a warrior open to a counter-attack.


A Taiaha (pronounced [taiaha]) is a traditional weapon of the Māori of New Zealand. Usually between 5 to 6 feet in length, it is a wooden close quarters weapon used for short sharp strikes or stabbing thrusts. Its several parts are named as follow:

Arero (tongue) - this is used for stabbing the opponent and parrying
Upoko (head) - the base from which the tongue protrudes
Ate (liver) - the flattened end which is also used for striking and parrying

Mau rakau is the martial art that teaches the use of the taiaha and other Māori weapons in combat. As with other martial arts styles, students of the taiaha spends years mastering the skills of timing, balance and co-ordination necessary to wield the weapon effectively.

Modern usage

The taiaha is widely known due to its use in the wero — the traditional Māori challenge. Tradition says that when a visiting party approached a Māori pā (fortified homestead/village) they would be challenged by a warrior with a taiaha to see if they were friend or foe. A wero is commonly given to heads of state and visiting dignitaries welcomed to New Zealand.

Among modern Māori the taiaha is one of many cultural items which are used to introduce youngsters in school to some of the traditional ways. In ancient times, the taiaha, along with other weapons were used in various haka. Likewise they are also used in modern Kapa Haka competitions.

The New Zealand Army now incorporates the image of a taiaha into its official badge.


A sibat is a Filipino staff or spear, used as a weapon or tool by natives of the Philippines. It also called bangkaw, sumbling or palupad in the island of Negros.

It is typically spear made from rattan with its tip sharpened to form a point, or a head made from metal. These heads may either be single-edged, double-edged or barbed. The sibat also varies in style and function, depending on what area of the Philippines it is found. For example, the sibat used for hunting fish in beaches may not be the same as the sibat used in hunting game or wild boar in mountainous regions.

Martial arts

Since the sibat was designed for hunting prey, many fighting techniques utilizing this weapon uses motions that is similar to hunting movements. Thrusts were designed to puncture soft targets, such as the throat or neck. These attacks are reinforced by crushing blows using the blunt portions of the weapon to incapacitate at closer ranges. These attacks can be used in conjunction; a strike with the blunt portion can be used to block an enemy's weapon and then followed with a thrust into the flesh.

Some of the Filipino Martial Arts that include the use of the sibat are San Miguel Eskrima, Inayan Eskrima, Pekiti-Tirsia Kali, Doblete Rapilon and Lightning Scientific Arnis.


The sarissa or sarisa (Greek: σάρισα) was a 4 to 7 meter (13-21 feet) long pike used in the ancient Greek and Hellenistic warfare. It was introduced by Philip II of Macedon and was used in the traditional Greek phalanx formation as a replacement for the earlier dory, which was considerably shorter. The phalanxes of Philip II of Macedon were known as Macedonian phalanxes. The sarissa, made of tough and resilient cornel wood, was very heavy for a spear, weighing over 5 kg (12 pounds). It had a short iron head shaped like a leaf and a bronze shoe (also known as a butt-spike) that would allow it to be anchored to the ground to stop charges by enemy soldiers.The bronze shoe also served to balance out the spear, making it easier for soldiers to wield. Its great length, up to eighteen feet, in two lengths that were joined in a central bronze tube, was an asset against hoplites and other soldiers bearing shorter weapons, because they had to get past the sarissas to engage the phalangites. However, outside the tight formation of the Phalanx the sarissa would have been almost useless as a weapon and a hindrance on the march.

Complicated training ensured that the phalanx wielded their sarissas in unison, swinging them vertically to wheel about, then lowering them to the horizontal. The uniform swish of the sarissas daunted the Illyrian hill tribesmen on whom the young Alexander exerted his early sortie.[3]

The tight formation of the phalanx created a "wall of pikes", and the pike was so long that there were fully five rows of them projecting in front of the front rank of men—even if an enemy got past the first row, there were still four more to stop him. The back rows bore their pikes angled upwards in readiness, which served the additional purpose of deflecting incoming arrows. The Macedonian phalanx was considered all but invulnerable from the front, except against another such phalanx; the only way it was ever generally defeated was by breaking its formation or outflanking it.

The invention of the sarissa is credited to Philip II, father of Alexander the Great. Philip drilled his soldiers, whose morale was at first low, to use these formidable pikes with two hands. The new tactic was unstoppable, and by the end of Philip's reign the previously fragile kingdom of Macedon, once of the Hellenised periphery, controlled the whole of Greece, and Thrace.

His son, Alexander, used the new tactic across Asia, conquering Egypt, Persia and the Pauravas (northwest India), victorious all the way. The sarissa-wielding phalanxes were vital in every early battle, including the pivotal battle of Gaugamela where the Persian king's scythe chariots were utterly destroyed by the phalanx, supported by the combined use of companion cavalry and peltasts (javelineers). Alexander gradually reduced the importance of the phalanx, and the sarissa, as he modified his combined use of arms, and incorporated 'Asian' weapons and troops.

The sarissa, however, remained the backbone for every subsequent Hellenistic, and especially Diadochi army. The Battle of Raphia between the Seleucids and Ptolemy IV may represent the pinnacle of sarissa tactics, when only an elephant charge seemed able to disrupt the opposing phalanx. The Successor Kingdoms of Macedon's empire tried expanding upon Alexander's design, creating pikes as long as 22 feet, but all of these ideas were eventually abandoned in favor of the battle-tried Alexandrian sarissa. Battles often ended up stalemated in what Oliver Cromwell later described as "the terrible business of push of pike".

Subsequently, a lack of training and too great a reliance on the Phalanx instead of the combined use of arms (Alexander's and Philip's great contributions) led to the final defeat of Macedon by the Romans at the Battle of Pydna. Part of the reason for the rapid deterioration of the sarissa's ability was that, after Alexander, generals ceased to protect phalanxes with cavalry and light-armed troops, and phalanxes were destroyed too easily by flank attacks owing to the sarissa's tactical unwieldiness. The sarissa was gradually replaced by variations of the gladius as the weapon of choice. Only Pyrrhus of Epirus was able to maintain a high standard of tactical handling with armies based around the sarissa, but with the dawn of the manipular system, even he struggled for his victories.


A quarterstaff is a medieval English weapon, a shaft of hardwood, sometimes with metal tips. The name is also used for the fighting staves such as the Japanese , Chinese gùn, or French bâton, Portuguese pau and Italian bastone.


The origin of the weapon's name is unknown, though many suggestions are advanced with little justification. Connection to a unit of length called a "staff" is likely false. The name may come from the way that the staff is held: one hand at the center of the staff, and one hand halfway between the center and one end. However, this grip is not prescribed in early sources. Other theories link the word to the manner in which the wood is split from the tree, or to its length being equal to the wielder's height plus another quarter. It can be employed as a less-lethal weapon, so the name may refer to the act of giving quarter (showing mercy to a defeated enemy).


The quarterstaff may be made from many kinds of wood, commonly ash, oak, hazel, or hawthorn. It may have metal spikes or caps at one or both ends; these are depicted or referred to in some Elizabethan and Jacobean sources. The length of the staff varies, typically ranging from 1.8 m to 2.7 m (6 to 9 feet); long staves of 3.6 to as much as 5.4 metres (12 to as much as 18 feet) were employed in Early Modern times. The weapon seems to be shorter and lighter later in history, though 3-meter staves (made of bamboo or ash wood) were employed in Victorian England.

The quarterstaff is a long two-handed club, the wood's weight distribution is even through its length though metal tips would be additional weights. It could deliver crushing blows, and be thrust like a spear. The art of using the staff was related to that of other polearms, and it was often employed as a training weapon for the latter. Moves include many different forms of blocks, thrusts, strikes, and sweeps.


The staff, being a simple weapon to manufacture, has a long history of use, and a wide cultural dispersion. The staff is a traditional weapon of many Asian martial arts. The quarterstaff proper was a common weapon in England, where it is featured in the Robin Hood legend as the favorite weapon of Little John. There are many tools that can easily be used as or quickly converted to a staff.

The oldest surviving treatise describing staff combat dates from the 15th Century[1] though George Silver describes its use as being similar to that of the two handed sword. During the 1500s quarterstaves were favoured as weapons by the London Masters of Defence and by the 1700s the weapon became popularly associated with gladiatorial prize playing. A modified version of quarterstaff fencing, employing bamboo or ash staves and protective equipment adapted from fencing, boxing and cricket was revived as a sport in some London fencing schools and at the Aldershot Military Training School during the later 1800s.

A simplified form of quarterstaff fencing and training was practiced by members of the international Boy Scouts movement during the early decades of the 20th century.

Contemporary practice

The use of the quarterstaff is among the variety of traditional European weapon styles that have been revived within the historical European martial arts movement.

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