The Roman Pilum: A Lethal Weapon

While swords were in full swing during the days of ancient Rome, there were times when they couldn’t quite make the cut.  In those instances, it was the pilum that came to the rescue.  Basically a long spear or javelin, there were two types of pilum.  One was thin with a long iron head that attached to the handle with a socket and was about 2 meters long with a barbed point.  The other was a thick version about the same length and was attached to the shaft by a 5 centimeter wide tang.  It also had a wooden block to secure the metal head and offer protection.  Both pilums’ shaft was about 7.5 millimeters in diameter and had a pyramid-shaped barb on the tip.  Depending on the occasion, soldiers chose the thin or thick pilum and would sometimes carry both.

Roman Weapons:

Thin Roman Pilum:

Thin Roman Pilum

As with every weapon, advancements were always taking place.  Thus, improvements were made to the pilum in the 1st century, one of which was a weight reduction.  The thick pilum was lightened to a weight of a mere 2 kilograms, with a weighted ball at the top of the shaft, to aid in maintaining balance.  This was a nice change for the soldiers carrying it, allowing it to be a much easier companion in battle.  In addition, the newer pilum also had a point of softer iron than before, allowing it to bend on impact and preventing the enemy from throwing it back.

The Weighted Roman Pilum:

The Weighted Roman Pilum

In battle, the pilum could serve as a throwing weapon or a hand-to-hand combat piece.  More often than not, it was hurled at the enemy at the start of engagement in fighting before using a sword.  For those that carried both versions of the pilum, one was used for throwing and the other was used for thrusting.  The spear proved to be powerful, being able to puncture armor and cause some serious damage!  With the pilum at the forefront, along with the scutum and the gladius, the Romans had great victories and built one of the greatest empires in history.  Indeed it is true that there is power in the small things!

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