Roman Weapons - The pilum
The pilum (plural pila) is one of the weapons most typical for the Roman army. Everyone can have spears and javelins, but only the Romans had javelins that would bend on purpose.
Iron pilum shanks, LWL Museum Haltern
consisted of an iron shank about 60 cm in length that ended in a pyramidal head. The shank was attached to a wooden shaft either by a flat tang and clamp or a socket and rivets, bringing the entire length of the pilum
up to 2 metres. It weighed between two and five kilograms - the versions during the Empire were usually the lighter ones, and it also seems the legionaries carried only one, not two as in the late Republic.
The point was hardened iron, but the shank was left unhardened which led to the following result. (I had imagined fighting the Romans to be quite different.)
would be thrown in salvas from a distance of 15-30 metres. The energy of the impact concentrated in the pyramidal point of the weapon. Not only would opponents be wounded, but the pila
went through the shields where they got stuck. Since the shank was not hardened, the pilum
bent and was almost impossible to jank out of the targe during battle. The only way was to drop the usueless shield. That was particularly effective against people who did not have much in the way of body armour but relied on targes, like the Germans.
There seems to have been a version where one of the rivets was made of wood which would cause the shaft to twist even if the impact was not strong enoug to bend the iron shank. The invention is ascribed to the late Republican consul Gaius Marius (which would make sense because he was the first who had to deal with large numbers of raw recruits he had to train in a hurry). Another advantage of the pilum
construction is that it could not be thrown back by the enemy; moreover, the iron parts could be collected after battle and reforged.
Another fine display of pila
from the APX Museum in Xanten, going by the title 'Crooked Lances'. Well, not so much lances as javelins, but crooked they were.
The pieces in the middle are original finds, framed by two reconstruced versions. The one to the left has a wooden shaft shaped in a way it would give the hold better leverage (you can see it in the background drawing as well). Another method was to wrap the shaft with leather or linen straps to prevent the hand from slipping on the wood.
There is pictorial evidence that some versions of the pilum
were weighted by a lead ball at the end of the shaft, but so far no such balls have been found. The second photo above was taken in the APX Museum in Xanten as well.