Author Topic: Wielding a sarissa overarm  (Read 2029 times)

Erpingham

  • Society Member
  • Posts: 4777
  • Country: gb
  • Interests: Medieval warfare, Old School, home made rules
Re: Wielding a sarissa overarm
« Reply #165 on: February 18, 2019, 11:49:57 AM »
I think we are agreeing on lance lathes in the late Middle Ages, mainly for the obvious reason we have evidence of their existence.  But much as I would love a discussion of medieval lances, they are perhaps a red herring, as they aren't even period pikes and their complex shape lends itself to lathe turning. 
  • Anthony Clipsom

RichT

  • Former Officer
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 807
Re: Wielding a sarissa overarm
« Reply #166 on: February 18, 2019, 11:53:15 AM »
But we are talking about sarissai aren't we, not jousting lances? If we are talking about jousting lances then sure, lathes - look at the handle shape, look at the thickness of the wood.

Edit - cross post with Anthony.

Presumably ECW reenactors know how to make pikes?
  • Richard Taylor

Erpingham

  • Society Member
  • Posts: 4777
  • Country: gb
  • Interests: Medieval warfare, Old School, home made rules
Re: Wielding a sarissa overarm
« Reply #167 on: February 18, 2019, 12:18:53 PM »
Quote
Presumably ECW reenactors know how to make pikes?

But probably not from scratch - you can get long rounded poles these days from an industrial supplier.

Add : Found this discussion on MyArmoury.  OK, much use of power tools but the basics are probably similar.  Note incidentally that the project the pictures are of seems to be a two-part sarissa, complete with tube but no obvious counter weight.
« Last Edit: February 18, 2019, 12:32:59 PM by Erpingham »
  • Anthony Clipsom

Patrick Waterson

  • Administrator
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 6558
  • Country: gb
  • Interests: Pretty much everything to do with warfare, especially how military systems actually work.
Re: Wielding a sarissa overarm
« Reply #168 on: February 18, 2019, 06:21:48 PM »
We might note though that a lance and a pike are at different ends of the quality and difficulty line.

Agreed - the Macedonian pike would have been much more of a craftsman's product, not least because it was probably intended to last a lifetime.  Whether this would merit a lathe rather than extended spokeshave treatment is another question, although when you have a 21' or so length of wood to work with, a lathe would, as Mick points out, make life a lot simpler.
  • Patrick Waterson
"History is not merely what happened; it is what happened in the context of what might have happened. Therefore it must incorporate, as a necessary element, the alternatives, the might-have-beens." - Hugh Trevor-Roper

PMBardunias

  • Society Member
  • Posts: 199
  • Interests: Ancient Greek warfare
Re: Wielding a sarissa overarm
« Reply #169 on: February 18, 2019, 08:25:43 PM »
Just a quick reply to some comments above.  I taper my dory by rotating it up against a vertical sanding belt and using ring gauges, but they probably shaved them down.  There is a reason that the little curved knives Spartans carried as boys are called xuele, from the root word of wood. 

If you are shaving a long straight tree, then by simply following the grain lines you get a natural taper, since the tree and the heartwood taper.  But you get one spear per tree.

Dory shafts were probably coppiced, which is a means of growing nice straight shafts, but takes a bit of investment. 

Patrick, I agree that we can reconcile the two Iphicratid accounts in this manner.  Also, if the common sword in use for hoplites was what Xenophon calls an enchiridion at Coronea, then it would have been a very short xipohos, so doubling it does not give some new long sword, but the older style, medium length xiphos which was perhaps still used by cavalry when not using a khopis.

I am not sure that symmetrical pelta need indicate a two handed grip.  As I said I think there is good reason to doubt it, and we see images of thracians with long one handed spears and peltae, and read of Egyptians who do not use two hands.  That said, renaissance partisan moves fluidly between one and two handed grips, so I do not rule out that it occurred.
  • Paul Michael Bardunias

RichT

  • Former Officer
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 807
Re: Wielding a sarissa overarm
« Reply #170 on: February 18, 2019, 10:00:03 PM »
Sekunda, 'The Sarissa', Acta Universitatis Lodziensis 23 2001 has a big section on creating spear shafts. He describes tree trunks being split by wedge and smoothed to shape with spokeshaves. He also quotes:

Xenophon Cyropaedia 6.2.32
"And it will be a good thing for the man who has been taught how to smooth down a spear-shaft (palton) not to forget a rasp (xuele); and it will be well to bring along a file (rhine) too"

Xuele is better translated as drawknife. Xen Anab 4.7.16 and 4.8.25 talk of a xuele as a Spartan dagger.

Sekunda's article also discusses lengths of ash poles - under Diocletian, as pikes in 16th C Spain, and for WW1 aircraft manufacture, with lengths of 21 to 32 feet.

I don't think a lathe for a pike is a practical idea. Happy to see evidence that proves otherwise.
  • Richard Taylor

Erpingham

  • Society Member
  • Posts: 4777
  • Country: gb
  • Interests: Medieval warfare, Old School, home made rules
Re: Wielding a sarissa overarm
« Reply #171 on: February 19, 2019, 09:11:03 AM »
We might note though that a lance and a pike are at different ends of the quality and difficulty line.

Agreed - the Macedonian pike would have been much more of a craftsman's product, not least because it was probably intended to last a lifetime.  Whether this would merit a lathe rather than extended spokeshave treatment is another question, although when you have a 21' or so length of wood to work with, a lathe would, as Mick points out, make life a lot simpler.

We might note that artisan-made pikes made in the 16th century still exist today, so there is no obvious reason, save combat attrition, why  Macedonian ones wouldn't last a lifetime, so I don't think a "craftsmanship" angle is necessary. (You also totally underestimate the craftsmanship involved in late medieval lance construction but that another topic).  The problem with the pike-lathe theory is lack of evidence (as so often here).  What do we know of Hellenistic lathe technology?  According to this site, our evidence suggest strap or bow lathes, which wouldn't do the job.  It is thought the Romans had wheel-lathes but pole-lathes are medieval technology.
  • Anthony Clipsom

Patrick Waterson

  • Administrator
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 6558
  • Country: gb
  • Interests: Pretty much everything to do with warfare, especially how military systems actually work.
Re: Wielding a sarissa overarm
« Reply #172 on: February 19, 2019, 09:42:47 AM »
If you are shaving a long straight tree, then by simply following the grain lines you get a natural taper, since the tree and the heartwood taper.  But you get one spear per tree.

This might have been all that was expected.  The idea of conserving resources and optimising available material seems to have taken second place to ensuring quality in other aspects of the classical world; Phoenicians, for example, selected only the best wood for their ships and utilised mortise-and-tenon joining for every plank in the hull (as in the Uluburun ship).  They do not seem to have bothered how many trees they went through to get a decent ship.

Quote
Patrick, I agree that we can reconcile the two Iphicratid accounts in this manner.  Also, if the common sword in use for hoplites was what Xenophon calls an enchiridion at Coronea, then it would have been a very short xiphos, so doubling it does not give some new long sword, but the older style, medium length xiphos which was perhaps still used by cavalry when not using a khopis.

Thanks, Paul.  If our development sequence of traditional hoplite-Iphicratid hoplite-Macedonian phalangite is valid, then one would expect the Macedonians to utilise the same kind of sword as Iphicratid hoplites, at least initially.  In Plutarch's Alexander, swords are the usual trinity of xiphos, makhaira and (occasionally) egkheiridia, which unfortunately is not particularly revealing, especially as the egkheiridia used by the Macedonian monarch in Alex 16.4 becomes a xiphos in Alex 16.5) but the explanation is worth bearing in mind.

Quote
I am not sure that symmetrical pelta need indicate a two handed grip.

Indeed; it would not necessitate one, but would make one eminently possible.

We appear to have considerable evidence for shaving and whittling when it comes to spear-shaft construction.  Whether this translates to 20'+ shafts and Hellenistic engineering is something on which I have doubts.  A related matter which may shed some light on the question is how oars were made.

Traditionally, the answer is the oar lathe.  Beyond some enigmatic internet search references relating to Roman times, I have not managed to determine how far back oar lathes go or (perhaps more importantly) whether the technology would be applied to sarissa construction.  It would, nevertheless, be an interesting solution.

We might note that artisan-made pikes made in the 16th century still exist today, so there is no obvious reason, save combat attrition, why  Macedonian ones wouldn't last a lifetime, so I don't think a "craftsmanship" angle is necessary. (You also totally underestimate the craftsmanship involved in late medieval lance construction but that another topic).  The problem with the pike-lathe theory is lack of evidence (as so often here).  What do we know of Hellenistic lathe technology?  According to this site, our evidence suggest strap or bow lathes, which wouldn't do the job.  It is thought the Romans had wheel-lathes but pole-lathes are medieval technology.

What we know is unfortunately somewhere between little and nothing.  What we can surmise based on Hellenistic enginering generally is another matter.  Siege machines, polyremes, doors opened by steam and all manner of attested craftsmanship and engineering indicate that the Hellenistic world far surpassed the mediaeval in its capabilites and in quality of construction.  The production of masts, spars and oars for ships in general and polyremes in particular hint at lathes far more powerful and capable than the individual craftsman's strap or bow lathe.  So while we know very little, we can ontologically deduce that in order to achieve these feats of engineering the tools must have been of a commensurate level of sophistication.
  • Patrick Waterson
"History is not merely what happened; it is what happened in the context of what might have happened. Therefore it must incorporate, as a necessary element, the alternatives, the might-have-beens." - Hugh Trevor-Roper

Jim Webster

  • Society Member
  • Posts: 3563
Re: Wielding a sarissa overarm
« Reply #173 on: February 19, 2019, 10:00:08 AM »
Alternatively here is how to make a mast without a lathe  ;)

https://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Solid-Boat-Mast
  • Jim Webster

Erpingham

  • Society Member
  • Posts: 4777
  • Country: gb
  • Interests: Medieval warfare, Old School, home made rules
Re: Wielding a sarissa overarm
« Reply #174 on: February 19, 2019, 10:51:26 AM »
Alternatively here is how to make a mast without a lathe  ;)

https://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Solid-Boat-Mast

Thanks Jim.  I think we should be cautious again evidentially that oars, spars or masts were lathe-turned. 
  • Anthony Clipsom

Jim Webster

  • Society Member
  • Posts: 3563
Re: Wielding a sarissa overarm
« Reply #175 on: February 19, 2019, 11:50:54 AM »
Alternatively here is how to make a mast without a lathe  ;)

https://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Solid-Boat-Mast

Thanks Jim.  I think we should be cautious again evidentially that oars, spars or masts were lathe-turned.

Isn't it in 'Swallowdale' where one of the young people makes a new mast for a dingy with a spokeshave, sandpaper, calipers and linseed oil?

I tell you, we search all the literature for quotes  8)
But the author was a man who messed about in small boats and would know his stuff
  • Jim Webster

Erpingham

  • Society Member
  • Posts: 4777
  • Country: gb
  • Interests: Medieval warfare, Old School, home made rules
Re: Wielding a sarissa overarm
« Reply #176 on: February 19, 2019, 12:23:37 PM »
For those fascinated by craft made things - carving oars

I'm not claiming this is how the ancients did it but you will see a square timber turned into a round one using planes and a draw knife.
  • Anthony Clipsom

PMBardunias

  • Society Member
  • Posts: 199
  • Interests: Ancient Greek warfare
Re: Wielding a sarissa overarm
« Reply #177 on: February 19, 2019, 01:29:46 PM »
I preface this by saying I have never tried to lathe a spear, but I have done a table leg. I think it comes down to diameter. I have a hard time imagining how you damp the vibrations down in a 20' shaft that is less than an inch in diameter in some places without a long series of rings and a crap load of grease.
  • Paul Michael Bardunias

nikgaukroger

  • Former Officer
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 188
  • Country: 00
Re: Wielding a sarissa overarm
« Reply #178 on: February 19, 2019, 01:34:14 PM »
Having a friend who uses a pole-lathe regularly for living history demos I asked him about using one for a sarissa length spear shaft. Basically no was his view.
  • Nik Gaukroger
"The Roman Empire was not murdered and nor did it die a natural death; it accidentally committed suicide."

Patrick Waterson

  • Administrator
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 6558
  • Country: gb
  • Interests: Pretty much everything to do with warfare, especially how military systems actually work.
Re: Wielding a sarissa overarm
« Reply #179 on: February 19, 2019, 07:11:39 PM »
Having a friend who uses a pole-lathe regularly for living history demos I asked him about using one for a sarissa length spear shaft. Basically no was his view.

Although we have not considered the (mediaeval) pole lathe for the (Hellenistic) sarissa.  But worth knowing, so thanks, Nik.

I preface this by saying I have never tried to lathe a spear, but I have done a table leg. I think it comes down to diameter. I have a hard time imagining how you damp the vibrations down in a 20' shaft that is less than an inch in diameter in some places without a long series of rings and a crap load of grease.

This would presumably also be a problem with a lance lathe.

Some points are emerging from this discussion.

1) The traditional way of making spearshafts involved a man and cutting/planing implements.
2) The lathe is an attractive idea but unsupported by evidence.
3) Masts, spars etc. can be made without lathes by the simple but time-consuming sixteen-side method.

We might wish to add the societal dimension.

The obvious way to make a pikeshaft using traditional methods would be to have two men work on the length rather than just one.  In the days of Philip II, this is perhaps how things were done.

Enter Alexander, exit Alexander and enter the Hellenistic monarchies.  These are rulers who have access to engineers with the kind of skills which created the Antikythera mechanism, and who also perhaps have a dearth of colonists with traditional spearshaft-making skills.  The temptation to devise a new means of production for pikes which are now almost three times the length of the traditional doru would be strong.

So I think they could have.  This of course does not prove whether they did or did not, but I am reluctant to dismiss the idea.
  • Patrick Waterson
"History is not merely what happened; it is what happened in the context of what might have happened. Therefore it must incorporate, as a necessary element, the alternatives, the might-have-beens." - Hugh Trevor-Roper