Spear & shield vs pike

Which weapon or weapon combination is the most effective?

  • Total voters
Oct 2011
The pikes not in the first rows provided some protection from missiles and like other troops, they had their own support troops to cover them against light troops. Ideally, one would want their own light troops to pick up the slack as far as missile protection goes rather than their heavy infantry being forced to sit under fire.
You are right. The pikemen should have been supported by adequate number of light infantry and heavy cavalry. It seems that after Alexander and Pyrrhus, later Hellenic armies ignored it. In my humble opinion there was the lack of effective heavy cavalry in the late Hellenic armies. At first, the heavy cavalry was replaced by war elephants, and it was a good idea. But when elephants were abandoned the Hellenic pikemen were weakened greatly.
Last edited:
Oct 2011
We do know that javelins and other missiles were going back and forth all through a battle, so it's possible that men behind the front rank held on to one or both until they saw a good opportunity, or a strong need. Accuracy was certainly valued, but a massed volley of pila was intended as more of an area effect--you did not have to kill very many men to disrupt a charge, for example.

Another good question. The answer I usually give to my audience is "Farther than I can throw!" My range is, what, 15 yards, maybe? Not too shabby for a completely unathletic middle-aged desk jockey. For a trained and very fit soldier, twice that. That's the maximum range, of course. Short range would be "in your face", and sometimes they were used as thrusting weapons.

What's interesting is how rarely one reads of legions engaging in complicated flanking maneuvers and such. They tend to be frontal assault kind of guys! Even the attack on the Macedonian rear at Cynoscephalae was not part of the battle plan, but an opportunity seized by a tribune. But there were a couple battles where Spartan hoplites marched part of their phalanx off to one flank in column, then turned to outflank their opponents. I believe Alexander did similar things with his infantry, as well. Curious!

Hi Matthew,

Thank you for answering my questions. I like to know that javelins were going forth and back during the battle.
I have never thought about throwing a pilum at long distances. I like boxing, and I have found an interesting similarity between the boxer's tactics and the Roman legionary tactics. You do not need to throw a pilum at long distance, the enemy would see your movings, contrary, I would like to make my enemy nervous by threatening him with my javelin. I would like to find a breach in his defense, or to provoke him to open and then to punish him by throwing the pilum at the shortest distance. Only at the shortest distance! The effect should be terrible, it is like a strike with your fist. At the same time I would have had to protect myself with scutum against enemies attack. After I used my pilum I would like a Legionary behind me gives me his. That would have been my imaginary fight in front rank of Roman legion.:D