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Unrivited javelin heads
#1
Would javelin heads be just installed just well enough to stay on when carried and thrown but likely to come off in the ground or shield to prevent being reused by the enemy? Would this account for the large numbers found at the recently found late Roman battle field in Germany?
John Kaler MSG, USA Retired
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#2
This was tried at least once in one of the viking sagas. However in this instance it doesn't seem to have worked particularly well.

"Grettir got off his horse. He had a helmet on his head, a short sword by his side, and a great spear in his hand without barbs and inlaid with silver at the socket. He sat down and knocked out the rivet which fastened the head in order to prevent Thorbjorn from returning the spear upon him. ...

... Neither of them had a helmet. Grettir went along the marsh and when he was within range launched his spear at Thorbjorn. The head was not so firm as he had intended it to be, so it got loose in its flight and fell off on to the ground."
Henry O.
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#3
Obviously his helmet was not on as securely as he intended either! :razz:
Visne partem mei capere? Comminus agamus! * Me semper rogo, Quid faceret Iulius Caesar? * Confidence is a good thing! Overconfidence is too much of a good thing.
[b]Legio XIIII GMV. (Q. Magivs)RMRS Remember Atuatuca! Vengence will be ours!
Titus Flavius Germanus
Batavian Coh I
Byron Angel
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#4
I think it would be the best that the shaft stayed on the javelin head. This way, it hinders the enemy more by weighing his shield down.
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#5
That the head fell off in mid flight seems unlikely to me. There would be no force applied that should knock it loose from its mount, even without the pin/rivet that connected the two together. At least the ones I've made, spears and javelins, the heads fit pretty tightly to the shaft. So they might stick in something and the head might remain embedded when the shaft was pulled, but in the throwing, if the head were to fall off at all, it would more likely be at the moment of greatest force: right at the release from the hand. After that, a spear slows down until it stops.

I think this is one of those things a writer puts in because he wants it to be part of the story, not because it has any historical merit or backup.

And this says it was a heavy spear, not a javelin. Heavy spears don't get thrown much. They are used for thrusting, and you absolutely want the head to stay on in that activity.
M. Demetrius Abicio
(David Wills)

Saepe veritas est dura.
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#6
I think that Christian has said it well for this was one of the main functions of the Pilum with it's barbed or pyramid head, it locked itself into a shield and with around seven feet of this sticking out of the shield rendered it useless and had to be thown away leaving the oncoming enemy naked and without protection.
They were therefore riveted together very well indeed and I would think it's not the idea of the iron shaft bending at all, but the fact that it has gone thro' the shield and there is no time to get it out before contact with the Roman frontage of a solid shield wall.
Brian Stobbs
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#7
I think that if you're in full charge, and you get a pilum thrown in your shield, the rear of the shaft might stick in the ground and you get impaled on the head.
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#8
Quote:Would this account for the large numbers found at the recently found late Roman battle field in Germany?

Which battle field do you mean?

I'm not quite sure whether you mean that javelin heads were found on their own, rather than with the shaft, but in that case, it's probably a matter of the wood having rotted away. You'd need a closer look at the heads to see whether there are remains of wood still attached to them.

Otherwise, I've had a number of arrow-heads come lose in a target and once or twice without me really knowing what happened (just seeing the arrow bounce on the target, with no trace of the head), so I can't say whether they dropped in flight. As Demetrius says, it seems unlikely as there is no real force, unless it happened straight at the release. Of course, none of these heads were riveted, and overall, they were quite well done. I assume what happened to these arrows might also work for javelins.
M. Caecilius M.f. Maxentius - Max C.

Qui vincit non est victor nisi victus fatetur
- Q. Ennius, Annales, Frag. XXXI, 493

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#9
Most of the javelin heads I have seen do not have the two holes required for making a riveted fastening. They only have one hole suggesting that they were simply nailed on to the shaft.
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#10
I have a hasta whose shaft has warped and must now be replaced. It's riveted. Getting that one off will be much more trouble than if it were simply nailed. Wood shafts probably didn't last very long, were subject to drying out, being chopped by blade weapons, and broken all sorts of ways. So replacement was surely an issue that they had solved. Knowing the head would outlast many shafts, they probably made the nail-on system the standard.

Personal Opinion: We make the mistake of thinking that a pilum or a hasta was a work of art, shiny, neat and perfect. I believe the reality is that once it left the hand, everyone knew there was a better than average chance it would never be seen again. Those weapons were made just good enough to be effective, and probably rarely as pristine as the ones we sport today.
M. Demetrius Abicio
(David Wills)

Saepe veritas est dura.
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#11
Quote:Most of the javelin heads I have seen do not have the two holes required for making a riveted fastening. They only have one hole suggesting that they were simply nailed on to the shaft.

Hasta or Pilum head?
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#12
A spear head. If you have a pitch resin glue as well, the one nail is a pretty secure fastener!
Visne partem mei capere? Comminus agamus! * Me semper rogo, Quid faceret Iulius Caesar? * Confidence is a good thing! Overconfidence is too much of a good thing.
[b]Legio XIIII GMV. (Q. Magivs)RMRS Remember Atuatuca! Vengence will be ours!
Titus Flavius Germanus
Batavian Coh I
Byron Angel
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#13
I find tanged javelin heads come loose easily (I am probably not mounting them brilliantly.
I have un nailed/ riveted socket javelins come off hafts once in a while (not the worlds greatest rounder of spear shafts but most do OK. riveted/ nailed ones do not get lost as quickly.
One trick for those that dont wish to nail their javelin head on that I have heard of is to coat the shaft in hotwax so that it slips on easily then jams. easily heated up to remove broken shafts- though I am sure some of u dont mind throwing them into the fire to burn them out

regards
Richard
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#14
Many surviving spear and javelin heads have no holes at all. However, even that does not mean that they were not fitted very securely to their shafts.

A few years ago I bought a spearhead which still had part of its shaft fixed into the ferrule (the previous owner thought he was being helpful in sawing off all but eight inches of the shaft before sending it to me). It was not nailed or riveted but had been extremely well fitted all the same. The end of the shaft had been expertly shaped to fit snugly into the ferrule and the head had been hot-fitted with wax. Try as I might, I simply could not get the shaft out of the ferrule.
This did not change until I got around to buying a propane torch about two years later and was able to heat it up enough for the wax to melt, after which I was able to remove the remains of the shaft (even then it look some effort to get it off).

Unfortunately I was not as good as the original owner at shaping the end of a shaft to fit the ferrule so after several unsuccessful attempts to securely hot-fit the head to a new shaft I gave in, drilled a single hole in the ferrule and then fitted it with hot wax as before, finishing this time by driving a nail through the hole I had already drilled in the ferrule (and a small pilot hole in the shaft). After this it was very secure and has remained so.

I think I can say with some confidence from my own experience with this, that if a spear or javelin head has been fitted in such a way as to be able to detach itself on impact, it will come off long before this point simply by knocking against things or being put down heavily and will never get to be used in battle. Small cavalry javelins with heads designed to come off on impact would similarly knock against each other in their quivers and most of the heads would detach themselves before the javelins were even withdrawn to be thrown.

At this point I would like to offer a couple of other possible solutions to the quandry posed at the start of the thread.

If a large number of weapon heads have been found, were they gathered together? If so, we might have something similar to the assemblage from Alesia which appears to have been part of some sort of trophy. As evidence of the shafts would be unlikely to survive anyway, hot-fitted heads would show no evidence of them nineteen hundred years later. Was there anything found with them which might support this identification, such as ashes or fragments of helmets, shields or srmour? Do any of the heads show any evidence of having been symbolically 'killed' or put beyond use?
If they were not found together, could any sort of pattern be discerned from their position which might indicate a symbolic act of deliberately scattering the remains of such a trophy across the former position of a defeated enemy line or command?

As an alternative solution, given the numbers of missiles which would be thrown across the length of a battle, there might be the possibility, especially if there was a lot of undergrowth or long grass, that a few might be missed in the post battle cleanup, especially if their shafts had snapped and/or for some reason the cleanup operation did not have the chance to be as thorough as would normally be expected. There were no metal detectors in those days after all.

As a variation on this last scenario, thinking of the catapult bolt heads from Hod Hill, if the soil of the battlefield overlay a heavy clay or chalk sublayer, some projectiles which had landed with force might stick securely and be very difficult to recover, especially if the shafts had broken on impact, as they might do if projectiles struck chalk or stones.

Crispvs
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#15
Quote:Personal Opinion: We make the mistake of thinking that a pilum or a hasta was a work of art, shiny, neat and perfect. I believe the reality is that once it left the hand, everyone knew there was a better than average chance it would never be seen again. Those weapons were made just good enough to be effective, and probably rarely as pristine as the ones we sport today.
Agreed. Spears (especially javelins) were not for showing off. Shield could also be very nice, but were there for protection and would have suffered badly. I guess one would adorn these weapons only when one had time to kill.
Robert Vermaat
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FECTIO Late Romans
THE CAUSE OF WAR MUST BE JUST
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