Author Topic: What was the range of an ancient javelin?  (Read 189 times)

Erpingham

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Re: What was the range of an ancient javelin?
« Reply #30 on: April 17, 2019, 08:13:31 AM »
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.

The consistent and persistent use of the ankyle in the classical world suggests that it conferred a noticeable and desirable edge; this can be represented  in DB-whatever by using the S (superior) categorisation, which does not adjust the combat factor per se, but ameliorates the die roll added to it, making a poor result less likely.

But the view of experienced users of the rules is that this creates too great an advantage.  You would also have to compare it with other troop types within the rules who are in the category.  For example, I don't think the Psiloi category differentiates by weapon but by function, so all sorts of archers and slingers are in the mix.

So far, we have certainly established the widespread use of the thonged javelin and experiments do point to a significant range advantage.  If one were writing a set of rules about Greek and Roman warfare, it would be reasonable to model light troops as having ranges out around 60-70m, assuming they all use these longer range weapons.  But in a more general set, it depends how many weapon types we distinguish.  Do we want two javelin types?  Do the rules differentiate different types of bows, or crossbows?
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Mick Hession

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Re: What was the range of an ancient javelin?
« Reply #31 on: April 17, 2019, 09:08:06 AM »

Thanks for this.  I have been working on Archaic hoplite battle as a war of ranges, and find something like this based on published data or study of records, with the progression being Slings 200m+ but capable of more at extreme range, Bows effective to 175m, but capable of twice that at extreme range, Javelin/ankyle out to 66m, spear with (24m) or without ankyle (16m) depending on date, and hand thrown rocks at close range.

Along with maximum ranges, these missile type have minimum ranges if they have to shoot indirectly over men in front of them.  This means there is a big dead zone in front of Persian Sparabara for example, where only an archer moving up and shooting directly over the top of a Gerra could hit a man. The thing about rocks is that they do damage more by mass than velocity, so they can be lobbed over ranks of men who are actually engaged in combat.  We see hoplites use them even late in the period.

This makes me wonder two things about your passage above.  Either the "half-spears" are meant to be chucked over the top of them men in front who have already tossed their own extra spears and are moving to close, or the mass of these dart- throwers is specifically throwing to support the  men in front as they close. Or, perhaps it is the spearmen themselves throwing light darts in the way Franks threw axes or Roman's pila as they advanced. I would like to know more about hurlbat use.

There is just one troop type - men are armed with both javelins and "half-spears" which they throw as the range closes (whether they do so on the move or not isn't specified). This episode is something of an outlier in that it suggests different ranges for different weapons; in most accounts of Irish battle the two lines come to missile range (not specified, but close enough to recognise individuals in the opposing battle-line) then shoot (with spears, bows and hand-stones, and occasionally slings) until one side or other decides it's time to close. Once the melee begins, rear ranks then continue to throw spears and stones overhead.

As an aside, smooth pebbles were preferred for slingstones, larger and more jagged stones preferred for hand-stones (being more abrasive when thrown at mostly unarmoured targets, I suppose).

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Mick



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Andreas Johansson

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Re: What was the range of an ancient javelin?
« Reply #32 on: April 17, 2019, 09:34:18 AM »
In DBMM, troop grading is supposed to be based on a holistic estimate of historical efficiency. A bunch of javelinmen with ankylai might be graded better than one without if they showed a marked battlefield superiority, but the immediate cause for the grading would be the performance, not the equipment causing the improved performance.

Now, in practice we frequently have only the vaguest idea of historical efficiency, and the lists commonly guestimate it based on equipment (javelinmen without shields are usually graded as Inferior, frex), but to automatically grade ankyle-users as Superior would single out one equipment detail for special treatment for no good reason I can see. Nobody is going to argue, I hope, that the use of ankylai automatically trumps any advantages in morale, skill, protection, weaponry, etc. that non-users may have.

If one feels that every possible advantage in equipment has to be represented by a modifier, better troop grade, or whatever, one should in any case stay away from DBX, where each +1 makes a big difference.

(Personally, I think it's a fool's errand to try and construct troop efficiency from the bottom up: you're not going to get anything real out of summing up +1 for ankylai, +1 for shields, -1 for no helmets, +2 for excellent morale, +1 for mother's lucky charm, + etc. etc., because we have no way of judging the relative contribution of these factors, still less to judge any combinatorial effects. But if you disagree, you'd be doing yourself a favour by starting with a rulesset embracing this sort of thinking from the outset, rather than one that in principle rejects it.)
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Andreas Johansson

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Re: What was the range of an ancient javelin?
« Reply #33 on: April 17, 2019, 09:38:41 AM »
Put it another way: it would be weird to give a bonus for ankylai in a system that gives no bonuses or penalties for the nature of the spears themselves!
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RichT

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Re: What was the range of an ancient javelin?
« Reply #34 on: April 17, 2019, 10:01:56 AM »
Needless to say I agree with Anthony and Andreas.

It also seems it's not established that the point (or benefit) of ankylai is greater range rather than greater hitting power and/or greater accuracy (I understand the ankyle doesn't itself confer accuracy, but a lower trajectory and higher speed missile is more likely to hit a target, especially a moving one). Range isn't an advantage if, as we've said, it just means expending more ammunition ineffectively. No doubt, depends in part on circumstances.

Atlatl experiments I've seen seem always to stress the greater power.

Also - is the benefit that it allows a heavier spear to be thrown?

Not something it's possible to determine either way I expect. The ankyle was worth having or people wouldn't have had it; but it's not certain this is because of greater range, and whether it is or not, not many wargames rules would be better off for modelling this factor explicitly (at least not ones that anyone would ever want to play).
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Justin Swanton

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Re: What was the range of an ancient javelin?
« Reply #35 on: April 17, 2019, 11:44:57 AM »
I suppose a lot depends on what one wants to model. Rulesets correspond as much to playability and the players' imaginations as to historical accuracy. Some aspects of DBM(M) - like the substantial lack of fog of war (Caesar would have stood no chance at Pharsalus if he was playing DBM) and the PIP command system - are wildly inaccurate but are used because any alternative becomes unplayable or at least burdensome to play. If players became keen about the ankyle and how cool it is that you can throw a javelin further with it then it will be incorporated in the rules - make (I) javelineers in DBMM (O) for example. It would probably give the ankyle-throwers a bigger advantage than they historically had, but overall shouldn't make the wargamed battles less historically accurate in their outcomes than they already are.
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Erpingham

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Re: What was the range of an ancient javelin?
« Reply #36 on: April 17, 2019, 12:03:53 PM »
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It would probably give the ankyle-throwers a bigger advantage than they historically had, but overall shouldn't make the wargamed battles less historically accurate in their outcomes than they already are.

It's not just about historical accuracy though.  Even if we were admitting to playing fantasy, there would still be the internal consistency of the game to think of. 

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Re: What was the range of an ancient javelin?
« Reply #37 on: April 17, 2019, 01:25:37 PM »
Some aspects of DBM(M) - like the substantial lack of fog of war (Caesar would have stood no chance at Pharsalus if he was playing DBM)

Strange, he won the DBMM Battleday refight quite comfortably.
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Re: What was the range of an ancient javelin?
« Reply #38 on: April 17, 2019, 06:29:14 PM »
Some aspects of DBM(M) - like the substantial lack of fog of war (Caesar would have stood no chance at Pharsalus if he was playing DBM)

Strange, he won the DBMM Battleday refight quite comfortably.

Yes, I've wondered how 6000 cavalry would lose against 1000 cavalry if the Pompeian player knows there are some cohorts behind the Caesarian cavalry and just outflanks them.
« Last Edit: April 17, 2019, 07:42:08 PM by Justin Swanton »
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Patrick Waterson

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Re: What was the range of an ancient javelin?
« Reply #39 on: April 17, 2019, 07:37:55 PM »
But the view of experienced users of the rules is that this creates too great an advantage.  You would also have to compare it with other troop types within the rules who are in the category.  For example, I don't think the Psiloi category differentiates by weapon but by function, so all sorts of archers and slingers are in the mix.

Fair enough.  I have only used DBM once and DBMM never, so will just accept that the system is too insensitive for historically-based differences in weaponry accoutrements to be meaningful.

This appears to be a recurrent problem; we identify what appears to be a useful historical practice conferring an effective historical edge only to find that our current rules sets are too insensitive to accommodate it.  Assuming people see this as a problem, of course.
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Erpingham

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Re: What was the range of an ancient javelin?
« Reply #40 on: April 18, 2019, 08:49:38 AM »
But the view of experienced users of the rules is that this creates too great an advantage.  You would also have to compare it with other troop types within the rules who are in the category.  For example, I don't think the Psiloi category differentiates by weapon but by function, so all sorts of archers and slingers are in the mix.

Fair enough.  I have only used DBM once and DBMM never, so will just accept that the system is too insensitive for historically-based differences in weaponry accoutrements to be meaningful.

This appears to be a recurrent problem; we identify what appears to be a useful historical practice conferring an effective historical edge only to find that our current rules sets are too insensitive to accommodate it.  Assuming people see this as a problem, of course.

I think there is a whole package of rule writing theory and practice wrapped up there.  You favour, as I recall, bottom-up systems and a level of granularity which distinguishes quite similar weapon types.  Others prefer "effect" based systems which contain more abstraction.  Other than having sound evidence that thonged javelins can be thrown further and hunting practice suggesting they could be thrown with some accuracy, we have no obvious "effects" to model.  Even with range, many modern rules don't use strict ground scale, so the differences in javelin throwing distances may not be significant.
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Re: What was the range of an ancient javelin?
« Reply #41 on: April 18, 2019, 09:39:21 AM »
Even with range, many modern rules don't use strict ground scale, so the differences in javelin throwing distances may not be significant.

The old conundrum: different enough to matter, but not to show.  That is, different enough to matter in real life but not in wargame rules.  As you correctly mention, currently popular rules have a higher degree of abstraction than their forebears, which tends to swallow up such niceities.  This can be mildly disappointing to some who spend time and effort answering historical equipment analysis questions and then ask: "How do we reflect this in wargame rules?" - and find they cannot.

The only real harm I can see is that when people are brought up on abstract rules, they tend to have an abstract approach to how armies fought, which can be less than conducive to clear perception when addressing historical questions.  That said, the day I find a rules set which is quick and easy to play and reliably includes all equipment, doctrinal and command/control effects, I shall let you know. :)

One feature of the javelin-and-ankyle arrangement is that it was part of an overall combat doctrine, a thought-out approach: long, thin weapon heads increase penetration and deform upon impact, resulting in casualties tending to be incapacitated rather than lightly wounded, and being difficult to reuse.  This indicates an emphasis on a short and presumably sharp skirmishing period as opposed to an extended session, whereas the longer lonche (and perhaps the Romans hasta) remained reusable, perhaps encouraging an anklye-less foe to throw them back, thus helping with the supply of friendly ammunition and keeping open options about when to commit the heavy infantry.  If we assume correctly that the ankyle improved accuracy as well as range, a lonche-equipped skirmishing force could have a range and accuracy advantage over their grosphos or akontion*-equipped targets.

*ordinary javelin

This could be relevant when Hannibal's peltasts encountered Roman velites, as the shorter, lighter hasta velitaris, Polybius' grosphos, might well have been outshot by the Carthaginian lonchophoroi.  Just a thought, and one which raises the question: has anyone attempted to work out the useful range of a lonche?
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Mick Hession

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Re: What was the range of an ancient javelin?
« Reply #42 on: April 18, 2019, 09:50:49 AM »
All of which assumes that

- javelin-armed troops with a throwing strap chucked their weapons at maximum range, not the range when they're likely to hit anything
- the opposing javelin-armed troops without a throwing strap didn't advance 10 paces to return the compliment.

Mick
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Erpingham

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Re: What was the range of an ancient javelin?
« Reply #43 on: April 18, 2019, 10:29:02 AM »
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The old conundrum: different enough to matter, but not to show.  That is, different enough to matter in real life but not in wargame rules.
Was it different enough to matter?   Certainly, the use of thonged javelins was pretty universal in classical times, which must mean it was advantageous.  You could throw further with it.  But was it just a marginal advantage?  Do we model all these marginal advantages?  There are rules out there that do this.  I remember a set of Western gunfight rules that modelled the characteristics of different types of revolver.  Outside skirmish games, it seems to me few people would want this.

Quote
One feature of the javelin-and-ankyle arrangement is that it was part of an overall combat doctrine, a thought-out approach: long, thin weapon heads increase penetration and deform upon impact, resulting in casualties tending to be incapacitated rather than lightly wounded, and being difficult to reuse.

You are muddling your reading here, I think.  The hasta velitaris appears to be a Roman tactical innovation unconnected to the use of the amentum, which was widely used by other cultures, presumably with their favourite type of javelin.  Whether velites should have an advantage over other skirmishers because of their special javelin, heavier kit (big shield, proper sword), different tactics or historically recorded enhanced effect is another question which you are free to open another topic on - I note that you were discussing velite tactics elsewhere with Mariano.

The lonche is an interesting question.  As the dory could be thrown with a thong, it seems plausible that the lonche could be - it was used in hunting, I believe.  Do we have any evidence on this?



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Re: What was the range of an ancient javelin?
« Reply #44 on: April 18, 2019, 10:54:26 AM »
But was it just a marginal advantage?  Do we model all these marginal advantages?  There are rules out there that do this.  I remember a set of Western gunfight rules that modelled the characteristics of different types of revolver.  Outside skirmish games, it seems to me few people would want this.

It becomes a case of: what do all these marginal advantages actually add up to?  Who won the skirmishing at the Trebia or Cannae, and with what effect?  Did it make any difference to the next stage of the battle?  Or did the battle proceed much the same but with a lopsided casualty ratio between both sides' skirmishers?

I have reason to suspect the latter at the Trebia; there were of course other 'marginal advantages' Hannibal cunningly added in, notably encouraging the Romans to use up most of their javelins against the Numidians and to get themselves thoroughly wet before engaging his troops.  The Carthaginian skirmishers operated effectively during each phase of the battle (once they had done their usual skirmishing, they pulled back through their own heavy infantry, split and came round the Roman flanks).  The velites appear to have been comprehensively outfought.

At the Trebia, Hannibal added up the effects of several minor advantages, none of which in themselves made a significant diference, but taken together resulted in clear superiority.  If reflecting this in rules, I would favour a 'star system' in which mini-advantages each accrue a star (*) and if you have three more stars than your opponent, you get a combat factor (or whatever) advantage.  This would of course only be meaningful in a system where the random element was not very great.  Since any stars conferred by equipment and training would be permanent, the only ones requiring to be checked for would be (usually) one to three situational modifiers (e.g. wind? wet? weariness?).

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Quote
One feature of the javelin-and-ankyle arrangement is that it was part of an overall combat doctrine, a thought-out approach: long, thin weapon heads increase penetration and deform upon impact, resulting in casualties tending to be incapacitated rather than lightly wounded, and being difficult to reuse.

You are muddling your reading here, I think.  The hasta velitaris appears to be a Roman tactical innovation unconnected to the use of the amentum, which was widely used by other cultures, presumably with their favourite type of javelin.

Kind of you to say 'reading' rather than 'thinking', but yes, fair point.

Quote
The lonche is an interesting question.  As the dory could be thrown with a thong, it seems plausible that the lonche could be - it was used in hunting, I believe.  Do we have any evidence on this?

There was an instance where Alexander the Great found a soldier still winding the thong on his lonche as a battle was about to commence, and dismissed him on the spot, saying there was no room for sluggards in his army (sorry, forgotten the reference).

All of which assumes that

- javelin-armed troops with a throwing strap chucked their weapons at maximum range, not the range when they're likely to hit anything
- the opposing javelin-armed troops without a throwing strap didn't advance 10 paces to return the compliment.

And that the men of the ankyle-equipped side were in a position to fall back when the other side threw.  Yes, it predicates a ceretain tactical approach and that at any given range the chaps with thongs would have a better hit rate than those without.  Au fond, it is just one of those assumptions that if you bother with an extra bit of kit, it is because the extra item is worthwhile.
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