How effective is Spear/Shield combo compared to Sword/Spear?

Apr 2017
748
Lemuria
Looks like other folks have pointed out most of the answers, but it can easily get confusing when discussing multiple eras and pikes versus spears.

To *me*, a pike is a long spear used strictly 2-handed. For the purposes of a discussion like this, I'd use "spear" for a ONE-handed weapon, typically used with a shield in the left hand.

And yes, spear and shield has been used by any number of societies from the Bronze Age through the 13th century AD at least. Spears were THE weapon of choice for infantry, skilled or not, and were used on horseback as well. (Eventually, cavalry lances became distinct from infantry spears in certain ways.)

How much reach you have with a spear depends on a number of factors. Greek spears in particular were balanced well towards the butt, both by tapering the shaft and by adding a heavy buttspike as a counterweight. Plenty of reach. I don't think medieval spears had weighted butts, but they may have used tapering to move the balance point back. Or they may have preferred it in the middle so that the spear could be thrown as well as thrust.

By the time swords are long enough to compete with the reach of 8 or 9 feet of spear, infantry were mostly using pikes and polearms. Still no win for the sword, there. A big advantage of pikes over spearmen with shields is that you can pack the men far more densely. That puts a lot more points forwards, with several ranks of points projecting beyond the men. "Slipping through" with a sword is closer to "suicidal" than "easy".

I'm sure I've missed something...

Matthew
We are not talking about javelins but melee combat. Spears in all their variations were still relevant as long as you wield it two handed and you create a very concentration of spear points that were really hard to handle even for the Romans. However a spear one handed and a shield is a different mater.
I will just give you a scenario. You see a solid wall of Roman shields closing in on you; you have a spear and a smaller shield. The Romans rammed into your formation. What are you going to do with your spear in such tight space? All you see is a solid wall and arms raising in sync above the wall stabbing occasionally. It's just doesn't work in that scenario. However, if you wield your long spears two handed, you push the enemy back and possibly damaging their shields simply from the high concentration of spear points hitting the shield walls.
 
Last edited:
Aug 2016
977
US&A
I'm not so sure this is correct

Yes the pila assault afforded Roman soldiers an advantage but so did the offensive use of their shields.

Getting in close and killing with the sword was an offensive tactic rather than spear and shield which is more of a defensive mindset.
Not sure what you're trying to say. The spear could be used offensively or defensively as could the gladius or any other sword.
 

aggienation

Ad Honorem
Jul 2016
9,813
USA
We are not talking about javelins but melee combat. Spears in all their variations were still relevant as long as you wield it two handed and you create a very concentration of spear points that were really hard to handle even for the Romans. However a spear one handed and a shield is a different mater.
I will just give you a scenario. You see a solid wall of Roman shields closing in on you; you have a spear and a smaller shield. The Romans rammed into your formation. What are you going to do with your spear in such tight space? All you see is a solid wall and arms raising in sync above the wall stabbing occasionally. It's just doesn't work in that scenario. However, if you wield your long spears two handed, you push the enemy back and possibly damaging their shields simply from the high concentration of spear points hitting the shield walls.
There was only one type of spearman in the ancient period who used two handed pikes, those were Macedonian style phalangites who only existed for a bit over two centuries. There was a reason for that which made javelin and sword superior to really long pike.
 

aggienation

Ad Honorem
Jul 2016
9,813
USA
Not sure what you're trying to say. The spear could be used offensively or defensively as could the gladius or any other sword.
The gladius was a purely offensive weapon, it lacked any protective guard necessary for blocking or parrying, nor do any sources mention it. The scutum was for defense, made easier since it is designed for mobility, it was a large buckler used very dynamically akin to I.33 sword and buckler use. Without a scutum a dagger, cloak wrapped around the arm, or other object held in left hand would be used similarly.

Whereas an aspis or any shield designed to be placed in a shield wall, it cannot be used offensively in that scenario, nor can it be moved dynamically to protect various parts of the body under attack. But using a thumb back ice pick overhand grip allows the spearman to use it to parry incoming thrusts.

https://youtu.be/-ZVs97QKH-8
 

Poly

Ad Honorem
Apr 2011
6,698
Georgia, USA
Not sure what you're trying to say. The spear could be used offensively or defensively as could the gladius or any other sword.
I think a spear and shield combination is best suited to defensive tactics

The advantage of the spear is reach - you keep your enemy at bay.

Yet if you want to strike a decisive blow, you want to close with the enemy as fast as possible and kill them.
 
Sep 2017
784
United States
We are not talking about javelins but melee combat. Spears in all their variations were still relevant as long as you wield it two handed and you create a very concentration of spear points that were really hard to handle even for the Romans. However a spear one handed and a shield is a different mater.
I will just give you a scenario. You see a solid wall of Roman shields closing in on you; you have a spear and a smaller shield. The Romans rammed into your formation. What are you going to do with your spear in such tight space? All you see is a solid wall and arms raising in sync above the wall stabbing occasionally. It's just doesn't work in that scenario. However, if you wield your long spears two handed, you push the enemy back and possibly damaging their shields simply from the high concentration of spear points hitting the shield walls.
Later on the Romans went back to spear and shield as primary... and many of their units still did use thrusting spears and shields even when the gladius was more popular.
 

Matthew Amt

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
3,008
MD, USA
We are not talking about javelins but melee combat.
Agreed!

Spears in all their variations were still relevant as long as you wield it two handed and you create a very concentration of spear points that were really hard to handle even for the Romans. However a spear one handed and a shield is a different mater.
I will just give you a scenario. You see a solid wall of Roman shields closing in on you; you have a spear and a smaller shield. The Romans rammed into your formation. What are you going to do with your spear in such tight space? All you see is a solid wall and arms raising in sync above the wall stabbing occasionally. It's just doesn't work in that scenario.
And yet any number of cultures fought *offensively* as well as defensively with spears and shields for thousands of years. (And not all their shields were smaller.) So it obviously could be done. I DO agree that being charged by highly trained and motivated armored psychotic knife-fighters would have been a real challenge for most folks! But you *can* use a spear against someone who is pushing against your shield, and your buddy behind can help you a lot more easily than the Roman's backer can help him. One rank of swordsmen will be fighting 2 ranks of spearmen. That matters.

However, if you wield your long spears two handed, you push the enemy back and possibly damaging their shields simply from the high concentration of spear points hitting the shield walls.
Very much agreed! Even the Romans thought pikes were evil. And so did everyone else!

Matthew
 

Matthew Amt

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
3,008
MD, USA
Oh, and I think we need to be a little careful about how we throw around terms like "offensive" and "defensive". ALL weapons and shields were used for both. Yes, you might find a scutum better designed for smashing into the other guy's chops in several ways than for an aspis, BUT both were used by armies to attack other armies. There were spear-armed armies that charged into Romans.

On a *personal* level, yes, the shield is doing most of the defending, rather than the weapon. Usually. There are things you can do with a spear that you can't do with a sword, and vice versa. Having one or the other won't guarantee a win.

Matthew
 
Aug 2016
977
US&A
I think a spear and shield combination is best suited to defensive tactics

The advantage of the spear is reach - you keep your enemy at bay.

Yet if you want to strike a decisive blow, you want to close with the enemy as fast as possible and kill them.
Or you kill them from farther away..
 

Poly

Ad Honorem
Apr 2011
6,698
Georgia, USA
Or you kill them from farther away..
....and at a slow rate

Imagine two rows of spearmen prodding at each other from behind their shields

This is was frustrated Shaka Zulu...he broke the spear in half and conquered Southern Africa.