A heavy javelin, normally used as a shock weapon immediately before contact, the pilum was designed with a particular specialty: it could penetrate a shield and carry on into the individual behind it. Relying on mass rather than velocity, at short range a volley of pila had much the same effect on a charging enemy as musketry would in later periods. The design was not uniform, with a wide diversity of types throughout the developmental history of the weapon, but for more than four centuries it remained a vital part of the arsenal of weapons at the disposal of the Roman legionary. Drawing upon recent major finds in the Iberian Peninsula and the Balkans, as well as written records and rigorous scientific analysis, this enthralling study lifts the veil on the evolving nature of the pilum, the Roman heavy javelin that helped to conquer the known world.
In addition to short swords, Roman infantry typically carried a spear or other type of pole weapon. The most common was known as the javelin, a heavy spear that could be either thrown or thrusted. Similar in function to the javelin was the fuscina. Although not used by the Roman military, this fork-like trident was one of the most popular gladiator weapons. A version of the javelin that had a much longer and thinner tip was the pilum, which could pierce armor or shields when thrown. Several pila could be thrown to initiate combat, disrupting the structure and defense of enemy armies and providing an opportunity for close combat, where the gladius would take over. The design of the pilum allowed it to become lodged in an enemy shield. Removing a pilum from a shield was often difficult and time-consuming during combat. In fact, most were not reusable after removal.
The pilum was a heavy javelin comprising a wooden shaft, a long metal projection, and an armour-piercing triangular head. It could be hurled either in defence or, more typically, in attack, devastating and traumatising the enemy line before contact.
A simple straight rod that has a sharp end and can be thrown could be represented with these statistics. A weapon with great reach, too heavy to be thrown, and too cumbersome to wield in one hand should instead use the pike statistics. A smaller weapon, or one designed primarily for throwing, might better use the javelin statistics.
The Marian reforms appear to have abolished the light legionary infantrymen, the velites, that had been created during the Second Punic War. We find that the sources mentioned in their place light infantrymen called antesignani, supplemented with other skirmishers with a round shield, the parma bruttiana. For the most part the legionary (miles legionis) was now armed with a heavy shield (scutum), javelins and a sword. The standard Roman javelin, the pilum, was now carried without distinction by the hastati, principes and triarii, the latter having previously been equipped with the hasta (spear).
The gaesum, a javelin of Celtic origin, was also employed by the Late Consular soldiers, as is visible on the Julii monument in Glanum (2b, 2f). Antonucci suggests that it was especially used by the milites of Celtic origin, as part of their own armament (PLATE I). It was a heavy javelin, originally made of a thin narrow shaft of forged iron, also known by the Romans as soliferreum, of about 1.4 m in length. When thrown, like the pilum, it bent once it had hit the enemy shields, and could not be reused. Like the pilum it also wounded the enemy badly. The Romans kept the shape of the head, but changed its iron body to a wooden one. 2b1af7f3a8