Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

 p587  Hasta

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on pp587‑589 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

HASTA (ἔγχος, παλτόν), a spear. The spear is defined by Homer, δόρυ χαλκήρες, "a pole fitted with bronze" (Il. VI.3), and δόρυ χαλκοβάρες, "a pole heavy with bronze" (Od. XI.531). The bronze, for which iron was afterwards substituted, was indispensable to form the point (αἰχμη, ἀκωκή, Homer; λόγχη, Xenophon; acies, cuspis, spiculum, Ovid, Met. VIII.375) of the spear. Each of these two essential parts is often put for the whole, so that a spear is called δόρυ and δοράτιον, αἰχμη, and λόγχη. Even the more especial term μελία, meaning an ash-tree, is used in the same manner, because the pole of the spear was often the stem of a young ash, stript of its bark and polished (Il. XIX.390, XX.277, XXII.328, Od. XXII.259; Plin. H. N. XVI.24; Ovid, Met. XII.369). In like manner the spear is designated by the term κάμαξ (Aesch. Ag. 65; Eurip. Hec. 1155, Phoen. 1421; Brunck, Anal. I.191, 226; Ant. Sid. 34), meaning properly the strong tall reed of the south of Europe, which served both for spears and for various other uses (Hes. Scut. 293; Schol. in loc.; Xen. de Re Equest. XII.12).

The bottom of the spear was often inclosed in a pointed cap of bronze, called by the Ionic writers σαυρωτῆρ (Hom. Il. X.153; Herod. VII.40, 41; also Polyb. VI.25º), and οὐρίαχος (Il. XIII.443, XVI.612, XVII.528), and in Attic or common Greek στύραξ (Xen. Hellen. VI.2 §19; Athen. XII p514B; στυράκιον, Thuc. II.4; Aen. Tact. 18). By forcing this into the ground the spear was fixed erect (Virg. Aen. XII.130). Many of the lancers (δορυφόροι, αἰχμοφόροι, λογχοφόροι, woodcut, p237), who accompanied the king of Persia, had, instead of this spike at the bottom of their spears, an apple or a pomegranate, either gilt or silvered (Herod.; Athen.; ll. cc.). With this, or a similar ornament, the spear is often terminated both on Persian and Egyptian monuments. Fig. 1 in the annexed woodcut shows the top and bottom of a spear, which is held by one of the king's guards in the sculptures at Persepolis (Sir R. K. Porter's Travels, vol. I p601). It may be compared with those in the hand of the Greek warrior at p135, which have the spike at the bottom. The spike at the bottom of the spear was used in fighting by the Greeks and Romans, when the head was broken off (Polyb. VI.25).

An engraving of a small spear.

A well-finished spear was kept in a case (δορατοθήκη), which, on account of its form, is called by Homer a pipe (σύριγξ, Il. XIX.387).

[image ALT: An engraving, much stylized, of a man in an ancient Greek costume, holding a spear, to the middle of the shaft of which a sort of strap is attached.]
The spear was used as a weapon of attack in three different ways:— 1. It was thrown from catapults and other engines [Tormentum]. 2. It was thrust forward as a pike. In this manner Achilles killed Hector by piercing him with his spear through the neck (Il. XXII.326). The Euboeans  p588 were particularly celebrated as pikemen (Hom. Il. II.543). 3. It was commonly thrown by the hand. The Homeric hero generally went to the field with two spears (Hom. Il. III.18, X.76, XII.298; Pind. Pyth. IV.139). On approaching the enemy he first threw either one spear or both, and then on coming to close quarters drew his sword (Hom. Il. III.340, XVII.530, XX.273‑284). The spear frequently had a leathern thong tied to the middle of the shaft, which was called ἀγκύλη by the Greeks, and amentum by the Romans, and which was of assistance in throwing the spear (Pollux, I.136; Schol. ad Eurip. Orest. 1477; Xen. Anab. IV.2 § 28; Virg. Aen. IX.665; Ovid, Met. XII.321; Cic. de Orat. I.57). The annexed figure, taken from Sir W. Hamilton's Etruscan Vases (III pl. 33), represents the amentum attached to the spear at the centre of gravity, a little above the middle.

We are not informed how the amentum added to the effect of throwing the lance; perhaps it was by giving it rotation, and hence a greater degree of steadiness and directness in its flight, as in the case of a ball, shot from a rifle-gun. This supposition both suits the expressions relative to the insertion of the fingers, and accounts for the frequent use of the verb torquere, to whirl, or twist, in connection with this subject. We also find mention in the Latin grammarians of Hastae ansatae, and Ennius speaks of Ansatis concurrunt undique telis (Macrob. Sat. VI.1). The ansa was probably the same as the amentum, and was so called as being the part which the soldier laid hold of in hurling the spear.

An engraving of three long thin sticks or rods, to each of which is attached a small loop of cord or leather. It is an illustration of the 'amentum', or hurling-strap, of an ancient Roman spear.

Under the general terms hasta and ἔγχος were included various kinds of missiles, of which the principal were as follow:—

Lancea (λόγχη, Festus, s.v. Lancea), the lance, a comparatively slender spear commonly used by the Greeks. Iphicrates, who doubled the length of the sword [Gladius], also added greatly to the dimensions of the lance (Diod. XV.44; Nep. XI.1.3). This weapon was used by the Grecian horsemen (Polyb. VI.23); and by means of an appendage to it, which is supposed by Stuart (Ant. of Athens, vol. III p47, woodcut, fig. 2) to be exhibited on the shafts of three spears in an ancient bas-relief, they mounted their horses with greater facility (Xen. de Re Equest. VII, XII).

Pilum (ὑσσός), the javelin, much thicker and stronger than the Grecian lance (Flor. II.7), as may be seen on comparing the woodcuts at pp135 and 136. Its shaft, often made of cornel (Virg. Aen. IX.698; Ovid, Met. VIII.408), was four and a half feet (three cubits) long, and the barbed iron head was of the same length, but this extended half way down the shaft, to which it was attached with extreme care, so that the whole length of the weapon was about six feet nine inches. Each soldier carried two (Polyb. VI.23) [Exercitus, p497A]. It was used either to throw or to thrust with; it was peculiar to the Romans, and gave the name of pilani to the division of the army by which it was adopted. When Marius fought against the Cimbri, he ordered that of the two nails or pins (περόναι) by which the head was fastened to the staff, one should be of iron and the other of wood. The consequence was, that, when the pilum struck the shields of the enemy, the wooden nail broke, and as the iron head was thus bent, the spear, owing to the twist in the metal part, still held to the shield and so dragged along the ground (Plut. Mar. 25).

An engraving of a spear head.

Whilst the heavy-armed Roman soldiers bore the long lance and the thick and ponderous javelin, the light-armed used smaller missiles, which, though of different kinds, were included under the general term hastae velitares (Liv. XXXVIII.20; Plin. H. N. XXVIII.6). For γρόσφος, the corresponding Greek term (Polyb. I.40; Strabo, IV.4 § 3), the velites, or light-armed, are called by Polybius γροσφομάχοι (VI.19, 20). According to his description the γρόσφος was a dart, with a shaft about three feet long and an inch in thickness: the iron head was a span long, and so thin and acuminated as to be bent by striking against any thing, and thus rendered unfit to be sent back against the enemy. Fig. 3, in the preceding woodcut, shows one which was found, with nearly four hundred others, in a Roman entrenchment at Meon Hill, in Gloucestershire (Skelton's Engraved Illustrations, vol. I pl. 45).

An engraving of zzz.
An engraving of a spear head.

The light infantry of the Roman army used a similar weapon, called a spit (veru, verutum, Liv. XXI.55; σαύνιον, Diod. Sic. XIV.27; Festus, s.v. Samnites). It was adopted by them from the Samnites (Virg. Aen. VII.665), and the Volsci (Georg. II.168). Its shaft was 3½ feet long, its point five inches (Veget. II.15). Fig. 4, in the preceding woodcut, represents the head of a dart in the Royal Collection at Naples; it may be taken as a specimen of the verutum, and may be contrasted with fig. 5, which is the head of a lance in the same collection. The Romans adopted in like manner the gaesum, which was properly a Celtic weapon (Liv. XXVIII.45); it was given as a reward to any soldier who wounded an enemy (Polyb. VI.39)º. Sparus is evidently the same word with the English spar and spear. It was the rudest missile of the whole class, and only used when better could not be obtained (Virg. Aen. XI.682, Serv. in loc.; Nepos, XV.9 § 1; Sallust, Cat. 56; Gell. X.25).

 p589  Besides the terms jaculum and spiculum (ἄκων, ἀκόντιον), which probably denoted darts, resembling in form the lance and javelin, but much smaller, adapted consequently to the light-armed (jaculatores), and used in hunting as well as in battle (Thucydid. II.4; Virg. Aen. IX.52; Serv. in loc.; Ovid, Met. VIII.411; Cic. ad Fam. V.12; Flor. II.7), we find in classical authors the names of various other spears, which were characteristic of particular nations. Thus, Servius states (in Aen. VII.664), that, as the pilum was proper to the Romans, and the gaesum to the Gauls, so the sarissa was the spear peculiar to the Macedonians. This was used both to throw and as a pike. It exceeded in length all other missiles [See p488A.] It was made of cornel, the tall dense stem of which also served to make spears of other kinds (Theoph. H. P. III.12.2; σάρεισα, Arrian, Tact.; κρανέϊνα, Xen. de Re Equest. XII.12). The Thracian romphea, which had a very long point, like the blade of a sword (Val. Flacc. VI.98; rumpia, Gell. l.c.; ῥομφαία, Apoc. I.16), was probably not unlike the sarissa; since Livy asserts (XXXI.39), that in a country partly covered with wood the Macedonian phalanx was ineffective on account of their praelongae hastae, and that the romphaea of the Thracians was a hindrance for the same reason. With these weapons we may also class the Illyrian sibina, which resembled a hunting-pole (Festus, s.v.; σιβύνιον, Polyb. VI.23;º sibon, Gell. l.c.; Ant. Sid. 13).

The iron head of the German spear, called framea, was short and narrow, but very sharp. The Germans used it with great effect either as a lance or a pike: they gave to each youth a framea and a shield on coming of age (Tacit. Germ. 6, 13, 18, 24; Juv. XIII.79). The Falarica or Phalarica was the spear of the Saguntines, and was impelled by the aid of twisted ropes; it was large and ponderous, having a head of iron a cubit in length, and a ball of lead at its other end; it sometimes carried flaming pitch and tow (Liv.XXI.8, XXXIV.18; Virg. Aen. IX.706; Lucan, VI.198; Sil. Ital. I.351; Gell. l.c.; Isid. Orig. XVIII.7; Grat. Falisc. Cyneg. 342). The matara and tragula were chiefly used in Gaul and Spain; the tragula was probably barbed, as it required to be cut out of the wound (Plaut. Cas. II.4.18, Epid. V.2.25; Caes. B. G. I.26, V.35; Gell. l.c.). The Aclis and Cateia were much smaller missiles (Virg. Aen. VII.730, 741).

Among the decorations which the Roman generals bestowed on their soldiers, more especially for saving the life of a fellow-citizen, was a spear without a head, called hasta pura (Virg. Aen. VI.760; Serv. in loc.; Festus, s.v. Hasta; Sueton. Claud. 28; Tac. Ann. III.21). The gift of it is sometimes recorded in funereal inscriptions.

The celibaris hasta (Festus, s.v.), having been fixed into the body of a gladiator lying dead on the arena, was used at marriages to part the hair of the bride (Ovid, Fast. II.560).​a

A spear was erected at auctions [Auctio], and when tenders were received for public offices (locationes). It served both to announce, by a conventional sign conspicuous at a distance, that a sale was going on, and to show that it was conducted under the authority of the public functionaries (Cic. Offic. II.8; Nepos, Attic. 6; Festus, s.v. Hasta). Hence an auction was called hasta, and an auction-room hastarium (Tertull. Apol. 13). It was also the practice to set up a spear in the court of the Centumviri.

The throwing of spears (ἀκοντισμός) was one of the gymnastic exercises of the Greeks, and is described at length by Krause (Gymnastik und Agonistik der Hellenen, vol. I p465, &c.).

Thayer's Note:

a The fuller and more explicit passages in Plutarch should have been cited here: Roman Questions, 8 and Life of Romulus, 29. See also the dictionary's entry Matrimonium.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 6 Jul 20