Javelins existed throughout the stoneage and were one of the oldest projectile weapons in history. Neanderthals did use spears, but had a large upper body that made them too unbalanced to throw javelins. It is likely that javelins allowed humans to dominate hunting, driving Neanderthals to extinction due to competition.
The Ancient Greek javelin consisted of a small bronze or iron tip on a short shaft, only about three feet in length. The Spartans would throw their javelins in waves for maximum damage. A Spartan warrior would carry up to 3 javelins on him at a time. The effectiveness of the Javelin was demonstrated by Tracian Peltasts, who were able to use their superior mobility in the Balkan mountains to both raid and defend against Greeks.
By 520 BC: Greeks no longer supplied Javelins to Hoplites; instead using lighter units, known as Peltasts (where the word 'pelting' comes from) as Hoplites were too slow and compact to use the projectile effectively. It is believed that the first Peltasts were Thracian. Peltasts wore light armor (if they wore armor at all) in order to perform hit-and-run tactics against heavy enemy Hoplites. The Battle of Sphacteria (425 BC) had Peltasts slaughter a 600 Spartan force with Javelins. Spartans, in response, wore lighter armor to better chase down Peltasts.
Javelins were used during the Viking Ages and the Norman Conquests under William the Conqueror. After this, javelins became less common on European battlefields; primarily because crossbows had superior range and Plate Armor could easily deflect most javelins.
Some of the most noticeable examples of Medieval javelins by foot soldiers were by the Gaelic Kerns, Almogavars (most noticeably the Catalans) and various tribes within North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
Tercio units of the Renaissance occasionally used javelins to substitute the pikes used in pike and shot formations. As muskets became more efficient in range and rate of fire; javelins became irrelevant on the modernizing battlefield. The Qing Dynasty was one of the last empires in the world to use javelins from horseback.
African tribes still used Assegai javelins until the Scramble for Africa in the late 1800s. Zulu warriors had both javelins and throwing clubs known as Iwisa. Some tribes still use Assegai spears and javelins for security, hunting and ceremonial purposes; but have been almost completely removed from the modern battlefield.
- Long range
- 4 feet
- 1.5 lbs
- Wood shaft with iron tip
- Spartan women would practice javelin throwing as a form of exercise. Spartan women were not expected to fight in combat, but still valued the importance of a healthy mother.