A pilum was a heavy javelin commonly used by the Roman army in ancient times. Basically just an iron shank with a pyramid-shaped head, it was about a foot long. The shank could have a socket, but most of them had a wide flat tang which was secured to a wooden shaft. A pilum usually weighed between two and five kilograms. Pictorial evidence suggests that some versions of the weapon were weighted by a lead ball to increase its power, but no archeological specimens have been found. Recent experiments have shown pila to have a range of approximately 30 meters (98 ft), although effective range is up to 15–20 m (49–66 ft).
Legionaries of the Late Republic and Early Empire often carried two pila. The standart tactic was for a soldier to throw his pilum at the enemy just before charging to engage the enemy with his gladius. They could also be used in hand to hand combat or as defense against a mounted charge.
The late Roman writer Vegetius, in his work De Re Militari, wrote:
- As to the missile weapons of the infantry, they were javelins headed with a triangular sharp iron, eleven inches (279 mm) or a foot long, and were called piles. When once fixed in the shield it was impossible to draw them out, and when thrown with force and skill, they penetrated the cuirass without difficulty
And later in the same work:
- They had likewise two other javelins, the largest of which was composed of a staff five feet and a half long and a triangular head of iron nine inches (229 mm) long. This was formerly called the pilum, but now it is known by the name of spiculum. The soldiers were particularly exercised in the use of this weapon, because when thrown with force and skill it often penetrated the shields of the foot and the cuirasses of the horse.
- This blacksmithing video shows you how to make your own Pilum shank.
Click once to view video (For full-screen view, click on the video after it starts playing.)