| The javelin or pilum
of a long iron head with a small point, and a wooden
most common type, the bottom of the head widens into a flat
is riveted into the widened top of the wood shaft. The
has a socketed head, and a third type, less well-known, has
In the first century AD, some tanged pila are shown with a
presumed to be lead, behind the joint block.
had become lighter over the centuries, and the weight was
Pilum heads are 14" to 30" long, with pyramidal or barbed points c. 2" long. The iron shanks are about 1/4" thick (round) below the point, swelling to c. 3/8" or 1/2" square at the base. The tang is an inch or more wide, and can be rectangular or slightly flaired. (Before forging the tang, it's a good idea to fold up c. 6" of the shank, then flatten, to strengthen the tang and allow more width.) There is no evidence that the points were specially hardened--they penetrate simply due to their shape. Likewise, the iron shank cannot really be described as "soft", it bends on impact because it is thin.
The wood shaft is
all in one
piece, generally ash, though oak or hickory are also
Overall it is 4 to 5 feet long,
the complete weapon 5-1/2 to 7 feet in length. Most
(or all of it, for a socketed pilum) is round in section,
about 7/8" to
1-1/8" in diameter. At the top of the top of the
shaft is the
square-section "joint block", 5" to 8" long. It is
the tang, and capped with an iron ferrule or collett which
2 little iron wedges. (Since the ferrule is also
best to allow a little of the wood to project above it, to
by the wedges.) Two or three rivets hold the tang in
head needs only a small nail.
All iron parts of the
black from the forge, imitated if necessary by heating the
it with oil. The buttspike is a cone made by
wrapping a triangle
of sheet steel (20-gauge). The point is sometimes
hammered into a
square-section spike, but the seam is usually not forged
is secured to the shaft with a small nail. The head
to the shaft with regular nails if you first heat the
heads red hot and
give them a few raps with a hammer to make them look
a washer at both ends of the nail and peen the end flat
like a regular
rivet. Washers can be cut from blackened sheet steel
with a cold
chisel; round washers can be used but first remove any
The wood may be treated with linseed oil, but should not be stained. An ash 2x2 can be worked down to the proper shape by first sawing the shaft section down to 1" square, then using a drawknife and rasp to round it. Then saw the joint block to its desired shape. Starting with a hole-digger handle--mostly round with a square-section end--is another option.
| Click on the image at
a larger version. The junction blocks of two pila are
one with two rivets and one with three. Next to them
pilum head showing the flat tang, as well as a ferrule, two
forged heads, washers, and a buttspike of wrapped sheet
If your pilum head
when thrown (as it should!), and you wish to avoid
eventually breaking the metal by simply bending it
straight again, heat
the bend red-hot with a propane torch or in a forge, and
it back into shape. Do not quench it in water to
(See the page on Armoring Hints.)
A couple original
heads can be seen here: http://www.romancoins.info/MilitaryEquipment-spear.html.
The socketed pilum at the top was an old Museum Replicas
"heavy pilum", a monstrous thing with a 4-inch leaf point
and an untapered 5/8" shank. I cut it in half and
ground down the shank to make a new point. Couldn't do
much about the bulge, that's a weld... Now it not only
is chuckable, but I use it to drill holes for the signum and
The one below it was some kind of garden edger or cutter, with a heavy wrapped socket. We just cut off the blade, drilled a hole, and stuck in the shank. Kind of heavy...
On the bottom one you can just see the small nail below the ferrule, which goes through the end of the shank.
Finally, no matter what the
hit, its iron shank was supposed to bend, if only a little, so
enemy could not throw it back. When the Romans were finished
the battle they could gather their pila and straighten them.
Back in the early Republic,
to 4th century BC, the pilum was made in "heavy" and "light"
The light one seems to have been the socketed style, with a long
iron shank and a small point, with a socket at the bottom to
the wooden shaft. The heavy version generally had a shorter,
iron shank with a barbed head, widening at the base into a large
tang which was solidly riveted into block at the top of the wooden
shaft. By about the 2nd century BC or so, the tanged variety also
version with a longer, slimmer iron shank like the light pilum,
it seems the overall construction was still "heavy". The
concept was to throw
the light pila first, probably at a range of about 30 yards, then
heavy ones just before the final
charge. The men farther back in the ranks may have held onto
theirs at first, and moved up to the front as the men who started
got tired and moved back to rest.