Object: Spear Head


Figure 1    Iron spear-head from Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Museum

Iron Spear-head
Germany: Taunus Mountains, Limes Region
Likely first to second century AD
Materials: Iron

Early in Germanic history, numerous Germanic tribes settled from the mouth of the Rhine River to the Middle Danube River (James 208).  Around the first century A.D. Romans and Germans came in contact across the two rivers.  This contact included fighting and trading (James 208).  German tribes gained goods as well as ideas from the Roman Empire (James 208).  Roman writers described the Germani people as barbarian savages who were occasionally noble (James 208).

This spearhead at the Sam Noble Museum was found in the Hesse region of Germany.  It was found near Limes Germanicus in the Taunus Mountains, which were the border regions of the Roman Empire.  This spear and several other Roman artifacts have been found in this region of Germany.

The limes included the areas on either side of the border, both the Roman controlled side and the area under Germanic control (Feugére 216).  The limes Germanicus was the area where the Roman Empire interacted with German tribes.  They were densely settled with Roman forts, towers, and camps to hold the border, all of which were connected by roads (Feugére 216).  German settlements in the limes area existed so that the tribes could trade with the Romans.  The Rhine and Danube Rivers were used to transport goods along the border (James 145).

Archaeologically it is difficult to analyze settlements along the limes.  Since there were cultural as well as material exchanges between Romans and Germans, it is hard to tell the difference between the material culture of both groups. There is little context for this spear.  It was collected during 1899-1900.  There is no exact excavation location for this spear and it has no date range for when it was created.  With so little context, it is unclear if the Roman spear was last in use by Romans or Germans.  However, this spear is similar to Roman-made spears from other areas of the Roman Empire.

Since the Roman Empire traded goods with many regions, the spear may have been made elsewhere and taken to Germany, or it may have been made in Germany.  Or, the iron for the spear may have come from another area in the empire and then worked in Germany.  Iron was often first turned into ingots, pieces of processed metal, that were sent to other areas to be worked into a useable product (King 122).  Some of Roman iron production was under imperial control (King 122).  In Gaul, modern France, especially there is evidence for the manufacture of iron weapons that were sent to Germany for the Roman army (King 122).  In the early first century A.D., southern Gaul made weapons for Germania Superior and northern Gaul made weapons for the Roman army in Germania Inferior (King 122).  Later in the first century, the Roman military in Germany established their own workshops so they did not have to import iron and weapons from Gaul (King 122).  Trier, a Roman city, was the major iron production center in Germany (King 122).  With no known date for this spear, it is unclear if this spearhead was made in Gaul or Germany.  Analysis of the iron and the production method may shed some light on this question.

The spearhead at the museum is 10.5 inches (26.7 cm) long and 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) at its widest point.  The blade is leaf-shaped, which is distinct from other types of Roman spears like the pilum that had a pyramid-shaped blade.  The leaf-shaped spear has a socket on the end where it was attached to the wooden shaft.  Socketed spear heads were common from the first to second century A.D., so this spear may date to this period.  The Sam Noble spear is similar to a spear from Neuss, another area of Germany.  The other iron spear is called an extra-long socketed spearhead and has similar dimensions to the Sam Noble example. A few spearheads found in England also appear to be of the same shape.  One spear from England has a leaf-shaped blade with a conical socket for attaching to the wooden shaft (Manning 160).  However, the size of this spearhead is much smaller (Manning 160).  It appears that the Sam Noble’s spear is unique in its large size, though it has the common leaf-shaped blade.

To learn more about the Limes Germanicus and the current archaeological work being conducted there, take a look at this video:

 [Chelsea Cinotto]

Works Cited

Bishop, M. C. and J. C. N. Coulston

2006  Roman Military Equipment: From the Punic Wars to the Fall of Rome. 2nd edition. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Feugére, Michel

2002 Weapons of the Romans. Translated by David G. Smith.  Charleston, South Carolina: Tempus Publishing Ltd.

James, Edward

2009  Europe’s Barbarians AD 200 – 600. Harlow: Pearson Education Ltd.

King, Anthony

1990  Roman Gaul and Germany. Berkeley: University of California.

Manning, W.H.

1985 Catalogue of the Romano-British Iron Tools, Fittings, and Weapons in the British Museum. London: British Museum Press.

Simpson, Grace

2000 Roman Weapons, Tools, Bronze Equipment and Brooches from Neuss –  Novaesium Excavations 1955-1972. BAR International Series 862. England: Biddles Ltd.

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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.


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