Author Topic: What was the range of an ancient javelin?  (Read 1255 times)

Erpingham

  • Society Member
  • Posts: 4968
  • Country: gb
  • Interests: Medieval warfare, Old School, home made rules
What was the range of an ancient javelin?
« on: April 15, 2019, 06:19:07 PM »
I decided to lift this point of debate out from the Telamon discussion, as it was perhaps lost there, and has a wider application to our interests.  The principals in this part of the debate were Mariano Rizzi and Patrick Waterson

Quote
    Mariano : a pila was a very heavy weapon , I am  dobtful about the possibilty to throwing it effectively over ten yardes and
    the same about throwing an ordinary javelin over 30 yardes.
    Simply try it.


Patrick : I find that how far one can throw a javelin depends mainly on practice.  At school, some people I knew managed 70 yards without too much trouble (and, I must confess, with a run-up) and a few even approached 80.

Now, my interest in weapons performance was piqued so I did a little digging and turned up this article, which provides information from a variety of tests (many 19th century) as well as more recent tests in the USA and some limited ancient data.  I thought they may be of interest, if only to avoid discussion in a vacuum.

I'm sure I've seen re-enactment tests of pilum throwing at some point - anyone able to point to that to set alongside this?
« Last Edit: April 15, 2019, 07:01:26 PM by Patrick Waterson »
  • Anthony Clipsom

Patrick Waterson

  • Administrator
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 6734
  • Country: gb
  • Interests: Pretty much everything to do with warfare, especially how military systems actually work.
Re: What was the range of an ancient javelin?
« Reply #1 on: April 15, 2019, 07:02:14 PM »
[Fixed the link - it just needed an '=' :)]

Thanks, Antony.
  • 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: 236
  • Interests: Ancient Greek warfare
Re: What was the range of an ancient javelin?
« Reply #2 on: April 15, 2019, 08:49:05 PM »
  • Paul Michael Bardunias

Duncan Head

  • Former Officer
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 3476
  • Country: england
Re: What was the range of an ancient javelin?
« Reply #3 on: April 15, 2019, 08:57:44 PM »
And this one for throwing the Roman hasta veitaris.
  • Duncan Head

Patrick Waterson

  • Administrator
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 6734
  • Country: gb
  • Interests: Pretty much everything to do with warfare, especially how military systems actually work.
Re: What was the range of an ancient javelin?
« Reply #4 on: April 16, 2019, 07:36:06 AM »
Thank you, gentlemen.  The ankyle (leather throwing loop) makes a noticeable difference to battle ranges, and is well attested by classical authors - but I had forgotten to mention it!

The use of an ankyle with the doru/dory (Greek hoplite spear) in the Murray et. al. paper is interesting given Xenophon's references in the Hellenica to spears being thrown in battle, especially by Thebans, and Epaminondas being brought down by a thrown spear (doratos) at Second Mantinea (Diodorus XV.87.1).

Klenjowski's paper on the hasta velitaris is also of interest, not least because it gives some good experimental data for throwing velite-type weapons with the ankyle (and useful evidence of their employment in classical Italy) but also makes the point about training bringing about a considerable improvement in ranges achieved.  The range of techniques used for throwing with the ankyle is also illuminating.
  • 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

aligern

  • Committee Member
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2343
  • Country: gb
Re: What was the range of an ancient javelin?
« Reply #5 on: April 16, 2019, 09:14:32 AM »
Fascinating, woukd anyone be able to tabulate the results in a Slingshot article?  It would only heed light commentary. I am sure members would find it most interesting.
Roy
  • Roy Boss

Erpingham

  • Society Member
  • Posts: 4968
  • Country: gb
  • Interests: Medieval warfare, Old School, home made rules
  • Anthony Clipsom

Erpingham

  • Society Member
  • Posts: 4968
  • Country: gb
  • Interests: Medieval warfare, Old School, home made rules
Re: What was the range of an ancient javelin?
« Reply #7 on: April 16, 2019, 10:44:29 AM »
I must admit, I do find experimental archaeology with weapons interesting  :)

Several questions occurred to me when reading these studies, worthy of more consideration.

Firstly, people were all for exploring maximum distance.  Nothing on accuracy.  So, our test subjects could get the hang of throwing the weapons quite quickly but we don't know how accurately they could deliver them on target at a range below maximum - this may have been where the skill came in.

A second related point is a common point in similar tests.  Athletic javelin throwing, then as now, was about distance.  Was this what military javelin throwing was about?  Did skirmishers reach 60-70 m separation and bombard each other with javelins thrown in roughly the right direction?  Or was skirmishing done closer together with aimed shots?  I don't know the answer, but it does impact on using these results in rule design.

Talking of rules design, should we allow a range bonus for the ankyle?  Not unrelated to the above, of course. 

How much does the equipment affect range?  The tests seem to involve people in athletics gear on sport fields or beaches.  Now this might approximate to many skirmishers but velites had large shields.  Hoplites had even bigger shields.  How does this affect things?

All fascinating stuff.



  • Anthony Clipsom

Justin Swanton

  • Committee Member
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2419
  • Country: za
    • Check out my website
  • Interests: Anything in Ancients that gives a good game and adds historicity to boot
Re: What was the range of an ancient javelin?
« Reply #8 on: April 16, 2019, 11:18:44 AM »
I must admit, I do find experimental archaeology with weapons interesting  :)

Several questions occurred to me when reading these studies, worthy of more consideration.

Firstly, people were all for exploring maximum distance.  Nothing on accuracy.  So, our test subjects could get the hang of throwing the weapons quite quickly but we don't know how accurately they could deliver them on target at a range below maximum - this may have been where the skill came in.

A second related point is a common point in similar tests.  Athletic javelin throwing, then as now, was about distance.  Was this what military javelin throwing was about?  Did skirmishers reach 60-70 m separation and bombard each other with javelins thrown in roughly the right direction?  Or was skirmishing done closer together with aimed shots?  I don't know the answer, but it does impact on using these results in rule design.

Talking of rules design, should we allow a range bonus for the ankyle?  Not unrelated to the above, of course. 

How much does the equipment affect range?  The tests seem to involve people in athletics gear on sport fields or beaches.  Now this might approximate to many skirmishers but velites had large shields.  Hoplites had even bigger shields.  How does this affect things?

All fascinating stuff.

Wasn't throwing javelins on a battlefield more about range than accuracy since it was impossible to miss - your enemy was 1km wide and 8 or more deep. Somebody was going to get unlucky.

DBx seems to work on 1 inch = 50 yards, which wouldn't make much difference between a javelin thrown to 60 yards and one thrown to 80. Though one could increase an ankyle range to 2 inches I suppose.
  • Justin Swanton

Duncan Head

  • Former Officer
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 3476
  • Country: england
Re: What was the range of an ancient javelin?
« Reply #9 on: April 16, 2019, 11:31:08 AM »
Wasn't throwing javelins on a battlefield more about range than accuracy since it was impossible to miss - your enemy was 1km wide and 8 or more deep. Somebody was going to get unlucky.

"... they discharge their javelins indiscriminately, expending ten of them on one chance kill" - Julius Africanus on the performance of Roman infantry C3rd AD.
  • Duncan Head

Erpingham

  • Society Member
  • Posts: 4968
  • Country: gb
  • Interests: Medieval warfare, Old School, home made rules
Re: What was the range of an ancient javelin?
« Reply #10 on: April 16, 2019, 11:54:20 AM »
Quote
Wasn't throwing javelins on a battlefield more about range than accuracy since it was impossible to miss - your enemy was 1km wide and 8 or more deep. Somebody was going to get unlucky.

Which is OK with one side throwing javelins and the other standing there playing target and everyone staying at the same distance.  What if somebody did something clever like deploying their own skirmishers or even moving forwards?  I think maybe there was a bit more skill involved :)

That said, Duncan's quote certainly implies precision was not a high priority.  That said, a 10% hit rate would not have been sniffed at in many periods of history.
  • Anthony Clipsom

Justin Swanton

  • Committee Member
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2419
  • Country: za
    • Check out my website
  • Interests: Anything in Ancients that gives a good game and adds historicity to boot
Re: What was the range of an ancient javelin?
« Reply #11 on: April 16, 2019, 11:56:58 AM »
Wasn't throwing javelins on a battlefield more about range than accuracy since it was impossible to miss - your enemy was 1km wide and 8 or more deep. Somebody was going to get unlucky.

"... they discharge their javelins indiscriminately, expending ten of them on one chance kill" - Julius Africanus on the performance of Roman infantry C3rd AD.

Shields and armour?
  • Justin Swanton

RichT

  • Former Officer
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 845
Re: What was the range of an ancient javelin?
« Reply #12 on: April 16, 2019, 12:18:41 PM »
Is Julius Africanus criticising Romans of his day, with the implication that those of the Glorious Past would have done better (been more accurate, or expended fewer javelins, or both)?

DBx - IIRC DBx doesn't do ranged attacks at all so it's moot. I don't think 30, 50 or 80 metres would make much difference to any rule set - it certainly shouldn't, since what matters is not maximum range but effective range or battlefield range (same as in the various archery discussions), and that is much harder to determine (and could be much shorter than maximum range).

I always assumed combat javelin throwing would be at a lower trajectory than athletic javelin - both for greater accuracy and greater penetration. I don't know that I've any basis for thinking that though.
  • Richard Taylor

Justin Swanton

  • Committee Member
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2419
  • Country: za
    • Check out my website
  • Interests: Anything in Ancients that gives a good game and adds historicity to boot
Re: What was the range of an ancient javelin?
« Reply #13 on: April 16, 2019, 12:22:59 PM »
DBx - IIRC DBx doesn't do ranged attacks at all so it's moot.

True, not for javelineers or skirmisher archers but only for massed archers. Perhaps give ankyle-thrown javelins slightly better combat factors?
« Last Edit: April 16, 2019, 12:28:28 PM by Justin Swanton »
  • Justin Swanton

Erpingham

  • Society Member
  • Posts: 4968
  • Country: gb
  • Interests: Medieval warfare, Old School, home made rules
Re: What was the range of an ancient javelin?
« Reply #14 on: April 16, 2019, 12:46:33 PM »
DBx - IIRC DBx doesn't do ranged attacks at all so it's moot.

True, not for javelineers or skirmisher archers but only for massed archers. Perhaps give ankyle-thrown javelins slightly better combat factors?

But was the thonged javelin more effective or did it just go further?  If range doesn't matter in the rule set, it is hard to rationalise a better combat factor.

  • Anthony Clipsom