The Javelin – A Complete Guide

Key Point: A javelin is a throwing spear used as a ranged weapon, designed for short to medium distances. It was widely employed by ancient warriors, such as the Greeks and Romans, for both hunting and warfare.

This time we will discuss the javelin. What the javelin is, how the javelin was used, and if it was really that effective on the battlefield.
Now, before we start discussing this polearm in detail let’s establish a few things first.

What is a javelin?

The javelin is a long, thin spear-like weapon that is designed to be thrown. It typically measures between six and nine feet in length and has a pointed metal or wooden tip. The javelin has been used throughout history for hunting, sport, and warfare. It was a popular weapon among many ancient civilizations, including the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians.

That was the key takeaway from the article. Now, let’s discuss the history and origin behind the javelin.

The History Of The Javelin

Its origins can be traced back to prehistoric times when early humans used spears for hunting and self-defense. Over time, the spear evolved into the javelin, which was designed to be thrown at greater distances and with greater accuracy.

Let’s take a look at how the javelin was used by famous civilizations throughout history. Starting with …

The Ancient Greeks:

They were among the first to develop the javelin into a specialized weapon for warfare. They used the javelin, called an “akontion,” as a precursor to the modern-day bayonet to soften up enemy lines before charging in with swords and shields.

The Romans:

They also adopted the use of the javelin, called a “pilum,” which had a distinctive design that made it difficult to remove from an enemy’s shield or armor once it had been thrown.

Medieval Times:

During the Middle Ages warriors on horseback would often carry a bundle of javelins, called a “sheaf,” which they could throw at enemy troops while charging past them. Infantry units, like skirmishers, would also use javelins to soften up enemy lines before engaging in hand-to-hand combat.

Also, javelins were often used in siege warfare to harass defenders on the walls of a castle or fortification. Overall its usefulness in disrupting enemy formations and breaking up charges made it a valuable weapon in medieval warfare.

Now, that we took a look at its history, let’s move on to its dimensions throughout certain historical eras.

Dimensions Of The Javelin

As before, I will show you the dimensions by era. Since the size changes as the years go by.

Ancient Greek Javelins:

The ancient Greek javelin called an “akontion,” was 6-8 feet in length and had a narrow iron or bronze head that was about 12 inches long. The shaft of the javelin was made of wood and was often decorated with colored bands or patterns. The weight of the javelin was usually between 1 and 2 pounds, making it easy to throw with speed and accuracy. The javelin was designed to be thrown overhand and could travel up to 60 or 70 yards in the hands of a skilled athlete or soldier.

Roman Javelins:

The Roman javelin called a “pilum,” had a unique design that made it particularly effective in combat. The shaft of the pilum was typically around 5-6 feet in length and was made of wood. The head of the pilum consisted of an iron shank that was about 2 feet long, with a smaller barbed point at the tip.

The shank was designed to bend upon impact, making it difficult for an enemy to remove the pilum from their shield or armor. The weight of the pilum was around 2-3 pounds, making it slightly heavier than the Greek javelin. The pilum was typically thrown underhand and had a range of about 30-40 yards.

Medieval Javelins:

Javelins continued to be used in warfare during medieval times. But their design varied depending on the region and culture. Medieval javelins were typically shorter and lighter than their ancient Greek and Roman counterparts. They were often around 4-5 feet in length and had a smaller, simpler head. The weight of medieval javelins varied, but they were usually between 1 and 2 pounds.

Now that we took care of the size. Let’s proceed to how javelins were used in battles.

Javelin Tactics

The javelin was a versatile weapon that could be used in a variety of tactics and strategies throughout history.

Tactics In Ancient Times:

Greek and Roman soldiers would often use javelins as a prelude to close-quarters combat. They would hurl volleys of javelins at the enemy lines to disrupt their formation and weaken their defenses before charging in with swords and shields.

Medieval Tactics:

The tactics of using javelins changed somewhat in the Middle Ages. Javelins were still used to disrupt enemy lines and soften up their defenses, but they were also used by cavalry units to harass enemy formations from a distance.

Mounted knights would hurl javelins at the enemy lines while riding past, then circle back around to do it again. This could be an effective way to whittle down enemy numbers and create openings in their defenses.

Another tactic used with javelins was to create “fields of stakes” or “chevaux de frise” by sticking javelins into the ground to create a barrier that would slow down enemy cavalry charges or prevent them altogether. This tactic was used in both ancient and medieval times and was particularly effective against enemy cavalry charges.

Overall, the use of javelins in warfare changed somewhat over time. But the basic tactics of disrupting enemy formations and weakening their defenses remained consistent. Another polearm used to disrupt enemy formation was the lance, discover how it was used here.

Now, considering that the javelin stuck around for thousands of years … why did it suddenly stop being used? Let’s find out.

The Downfall Of The Javelin

The reason why the javelin stopped being used can mostly be traced to the development of … you guessed it. Gunpowder weapons!

Early firearms, as ineffective as they were allowed a barely trained peasant to send deadly projectiles in a certain direction. While the javelin required certain strength to be thrown effectively, putting a musket in a farmer’s hand was simpler and cheaper.

Hence why muskets turned out to be a better projectile weapon than the javelin. It was cheaper and far easier to train people to use them.

In Conclusion

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you learned a thing or two. See you at the next one.

Take care!


Connolly, P. (2006). Greece and Rome at war. Greenhill Books.
Nicolle, D. (1999). The Age of Charlemagne. Osprey Publishing.
Haldon, J. (1999). Warfare, State and Society in the Byzantine World, 565-1204. Routledge.