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Salvete,

Just a quick question: did heavy infantry in the late Roman army (about 275AD-400AD) still use throwing spears like the pilum? If so did they carry a thrusting spear as well?

Kind regards,
Wheeler (Revue des Études Militaires Anciennes vol. 1, 2004, pp. 147-175) thinks that the pilum may have already been phased out starting the late 2nd century :!: Wheeler thinks that the Niedermörmter helmet was completely unfit to thrown pila with, and that this period signalled the end of the ‘Caesarian charge-and-throw pilum volley’.
The later Roman army had spears that were (according to Vegetius: II.15 – he calls them specula and pila) a bit shorter than the pilum (6 ft.) and later also lances (up to 9 ft. – finds from Illerup). But they never became anything like the Greek pushing phalanxes – no sarissas! Only the front would have used the spear to thrust, but even in a defensive role the 2n to 4th rows used the spear to stab overhed. The Late Roman army remained a sword army, even if the lance was the first weapon of contact.
Well, for what it's worth, I just put up some guys in Leg II Parthica at Apamea, dating maybe 231-234, who are described as lanciarii and shown clutching five or so spears of identical length....
L. Septimius Viator
Aurelius Mucianus
Dan, is what you are saying that initial contact was made with the spears, then these were dropped and swords drawn? Or am I confused as usual?
were the lanciarii a different type of soldiers? I always thought that they were some sort cavalry?
If it helps, here's the quote from Vegetius' Epitoma rei militaris: II

The ordinarii, the other officers and the soldiers of the first line, ranged before and round the ensigns, were called the principes. They were all heavy armed troops and had helmets, cuirasses, greaves, and shields. Their offensive weapons were large swords, called spathae, and smaller ones called semispathae together with five loaded javelins in the concavity of the shield, which they threw at the first charge. They had likewise two other javelins, the largest of which was composed of a staff five feet and a half long and a triangular head of iron nine inches long. This was formerly called the pilum, but now it is known by the name of spiculum. The soldiers were particularly exercised in the use of this weapon, because when thrown with force and skill it often penetrated the shields of the foot and the cuirasses of the horse. The other javelin was of smaller size; its triangular point was only five inches long and the staff three feet and one half. It was anciently called verriculum but now verutum.

The first line, as I said before, was composed of the principes; the hastati formed the second and were armed in the same manner. In the second line the sixth cohort was posted on the right flank, with the seventh on its left; the eighth drew up in the center; the ninth was the next; and the tenth always closed the left flank. In the rear of these two lines were the ferentarii, light infantry and the troops armed with shields, loaded javelins, swords and common missile weapons, much in the same manner as our modern soldiers. This was also the post of the archers who had helmets, cuirasses, swords, bows and arrows; of the slingers who threw stones with the common sling or with the fustibalus; and of the tragularii who annoyed the enemy with arrows from the manubalistae or arcubalistae.

In the rear of all the lines, the triarii, completely armed, were drawn up. They had shields, cuirasses, helmets, greaves, swords, daggers, loaded javelins, and two of the common missile weapons.
Folks, don´t bet too much on unit descriptions. Take e.g. ´lanciarii´. Indeed, what were they? What did the author mean? Was it a universal name or just used for the occasion by this author? What did he think that a lancea was? Military jargon was by no means a given, names changed and authors could switch names at will.
My question was on the overhand spears... I get a mental picture of trying to fight with 1000+ spears rolling about on the ground.
okay, there is much confusion on this topic, so let me help out Big Grin

The lanciarii were a unit of men that were unique to one of the best legions of the beginning of the period the original question asked about (275-400 AD), and that legion was Legio II Parthica. However, the term lanciarii has shown up before in writings, but never attributed to a proper legion before Legio II Parthica. Another clear place where these men come into play was in 285, we hear of mounted lanciarii in Diocletian's Legio I Iovia Scythica.

And in response to the original question about the pilum

The pilum did not go out of use until at least 275 AD. Finds of Pila heads and shanks have been found at Caerlon in Wales from about 260, and at Krefeld-Gellep from 275.

Even so, Ammianus Marcellinus reports men using the spicula, another long iron shanked type javelin weapon.


hope this helps...
Lanciarii could be infantry or cavalry based on the epigraphical evidence on gravestones. Despite name changes, there were a number of throwing spears used well into what we may consider the Byzantine period. Spiculum, verutum, martiobarbuli and others are known through written accounts and archaeological finds.

The use of synonyms both Latin and Greek tend to obscure the types of spears used by the troops. Ammianus Marcellinus used several Latin words to describe missiles that included arrows and spears. Procopius preferred to use old fashion Greek thus spears are identified as doru and dorata.
I think the Notitia Dignitatum also mentiones both infantry and cavalry lanciarii - have to look it up.