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Roman Pilums, Other Spears & Other Weapons

The Roman Pilum was a throwing spear (type of javelin) and had a long, relatively soft iron shaft capable of penetrating shields and armour and intended to bend when hitting it's target (or the ground) thereby making it nearly impossible to extricate and useless to be thrown back.

That's fact.

My personal opinion about the heavier, thicker straight shaft wooden spear with the large iron point is for thrusting only, and not intended to be thrown, as it could be thrown back against the Romans.

My posting here is simply to begin a discussion on Roman weapons, and how they are represented by the new S*R Mini sets. I claim not, not, not ... to be any kind of Roman weapons expert. I have exactly 35 minutes of education herein. But I know what I like, and right, wrong or otherwise proven, I like the new S*R Legion and Auxullary sets.

Re: Roman Pilums (Supplement to above)

For anyone wishing to have lots of extra Pilums for conversions, in addition to the ones in the S*R sets already, the original moulds of Esci (now Italeri) have heaps of them in each box.

The current Italeri sets are made in a stiffer plastic, making these Pilums ideal for conversions. I've done many conversions using their Pilums with the EVO and LW Romans, who only carry the short swords. They are Silver color and work "Perfectly."

By the way, the EVO (Evolution) set comes in Silver or Red colors. They have a nice shield. The red ones are the ones used on my Atlantic Roman Galleon in the Contributions section. The figures are a little chunkier than other manufacturers, making them ideal mates for your S*R sets.

Here are links to EVO (Evolution) & LW, and Italeri (the Italeri give a sub-link to Esci, but Italeri are in a nice Silver color and stiff plastic):

Re: Roman Pilums, Other Spears & Other Weapons

Hi Dave. I'm not an expert either, but my understanding is that the Romans only used th pilum and short sword. Throw the pilum and then engage with gladius. I didn't think they used thrusting spears. This would mean that the SR troops need to be grouped separately; sword and pilum respectively.

the Romans best weapon was ....


Re: the Romans best weapon was ....

the Legionaries used the pilum and short sword.

The auxiliaries used the long-hafted spear (hastae??)that could be thrust or thrown as needed. So the gladius is the main weapon of the legionary, while the hasta is the main weapon of the auxiliary soldier

I'm fairly sure that the legionaries and auxiliaries fought in different styles: The legion in close order with the auxiliary cohorts in looser(but not open)order. Maybe less ranks deep or something similar for the auxies.

Re: the Romans best weapon was ....

Their best weapons were organisation and training.

Re: Re: the Romans best weapon was ....

Discipline, organization, training ... as well as tactics or strategies are (to me) intangibles. Meaning, weapons would be tangibles, such as swords, spears, and arrows and catapults. Not the same things (again, to me).

Example: In the epic movie El Cid, the beseigers catapulted bread over the walls into the city of the beseiged, not as weapons, but as part of a strategy to encourage them to lay down their weapons, and surrender in peace.

Another Example: In our University cafeteria, we had an enourmous "Food-fight." In this case, "food" was the weapon! But the occaison was completely abscent of discipline, organization or training. Pizza made a good long-distance weapon ... :-)

Again, I could be wrong, and probably am!

Does anyone have the series of books released about 15-20 years ago (just yesterday to me) called: "The West Point Military Series?" The are the actual texts published by military men for the students of the Armies West Point Military Academy, synonomous to the U.K.'s Sandhurst Military Academy (right?). The first book teaches students (shows'em) definitions of war, and weapons and strategies etc. Some would accuse them of being as dry as an income tax manual, but I just love to read the stuff.

My 35 minutes of Roman Phd education at the "University of Google" also showed me that the Pilum, usually 2 were carried were the first weapons used, then followed up by the short sword, "Gladius" for close-combat stabbing. I want to know more about the little known "Hastae."

Thanks guys ... you'll make an Ancients fan out of me yet. Now I can justify buying those old, but really cool Atlantic Seige Towers.

Welp, guezz itz time to enroll in night courses at the University of Wikipedia!

Cheers Mates!

Re: Re: Re: the Romans best weapon was ....

Dave Hennen wrote: "... the Pilum, usually 2 were carried were the first weapons used, then followed up by the short sword, "Gladius" for close-combat stabbing."

That's quite obvious: a legionary had only two hands and he needed one to carry his shield so he had to get rid of pila (one way or the other) before he was able to draw (and use) his gladius. :)

Re: Re: Re: Re: the Romans best weapon was ....

Some of HaT's Romans have up to 3 spears, the 2 extras carried in the shield hand. Although, even their text mentions only 2 pilums. Link:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: the Romans best weapon was ....

Tose with several spears are velites (light infantry) with javelins not pila.

Re: Roman Pilum, Other Spears & Other Weapons

IIRC, the introduction of the non-returnable pilum was tradionally credited to Gaius Marius, who replaced one of the metal rivets attaching the head section with a wooden one, which would either break or be displaced on impact - the refinement of the bendy metal section came later.
There is one famous instance of the pilum being used for thrusting - at Pharsalus Caesar specifically instructed his reserve not to throw their pila but to poke at the faces of the Pompeian cavalry, who, he claimed, were young noblemen who wouldn't risk damage to their pretty faces
Incidentally, although the thrusting spear was the main weapon of the auxiliaries, many of them also used their own native style of javelin.

Re: Re: Roman Pilum, Other Spears & Other Weapons

Here is a link to Osprey's new book on Roman battle tactics. The bottom picture shows 2 different scenes both kneeling and standing as does the S*R masters. Actually, I even wish there was an S*R master pose with the shield overhead, just like a kneeling Tortoise.

The book's cover shows the front ranks advancing with sword, the middle ranks throwing their pilum, and the back ranks moving up with pilum.

With both Auxillary Sets 1 & 2, and Set 1 having "ring-hands", it looks like just about any scene or situation with either weapons can be recreated. Link:

Re: Re: Re: Roman Pilum, Other Spears & Other Weapons

There were two types of pila usually light one thrown from a larger distance and a heavy one use when a legionary gets closer. Caesar wrote a long trained legionary could hit a target of a head size(which is really something). Pilum was that kind of javelin which usage could be compared to contemporary sub-caliber weapon. It was not meant only to stab and weigh down a shield. It pierced and killed an enemy hiding behind a shield sometimes pinning two enemies' shields together. Its long shaft supplied with a small four-angular tip could effectively pierced every type of shield made of wood/ hide or bronze. It was a deadly weapon used with success for killing not only for burdening which was a side – effect actually. In close combat as someone wrote here when it was impossible to throw away javelins, they could be used as a contemporary bayonet for thrusting possibly faces. Deadly weapon of those days.

Re: Re: Re: Re: Roman Pilum, Other Spears & Other Weapons

In the Roman three-line system used at the time of the Punic Wars, the first two lines were equipped with pilum and gladius. The third line (triari) was equipped with a thrusting spear, which I believe was called the hasta, or something like that. I think they had gladius, too.

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The third line Andy refers to were known as the Hastatii - so-called because they carried the hastatus, a spear.

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The hastati of the 'Polybian' legion were the FIRST or front line, and the first to be equipped with the pilum, followed in the 3rd Cent BC by the principes, while the triarii seem to have kept the thrusting spear until the Marian reforms. Rather confusing, but probably due to changing use of the word hasta over the centuries

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I think Mike is correct: 'Polybian' Legion-Hastati in the front line, Princips in the second line, Triarii in reserve.

To add to the confusion I recall that Livy or another Roman writer commented (in translation) that in the front rank are 'hastati who hurl hastae'!!! Clearly the writer meant the pilum, but used the generic term for spears instead!

Polybius gives the clearest description of the Republican troop types.

Re: Roman Pilum etc

On checking I find I mis-dated the 'bendy' pilum - it seems this was the original version (I suspect by happy chance rarher than design) - the 'Marius' version made weapons recovered after action much easier to repair in the field. There is much debate about how long the carrying of two pila lasted, and how the second one was held inside the shield while the first was being thrown.

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The pila was adopted from the Etruscans and was originally called a "hasta longa"; I can't imagine why, as it was shorter than the 8-footer the triarii used.

Just to avoid confusion, the second lines were the "principes"; literally, the first, but this originally referred to their social position rather than their tactical one. The Romans had a long history, and some terms became "fossilized", and didn't keep up with contemporary practices.

Just my 2 bits.