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As a physics student, I am currently writing an independent assignment about applications of continuum mechanics (the study of waves, deformation, and stress in objects), in this assignment, I have chosen to look at the deformation of the ancient Macedonian Sarissa pike due to gravity.

To describe this system I do, however, need to have some idea about how the mass of the Sarrisa was distributed along the length of the pike.

There are in particular two things I need to know – which I have not been able to find satisfying answers to:

Firstly; in this article (page 20) I have found that the diameter of the Sarissa at the spear-head and spear-butt was 4 to 5 cm, but I do still not know if this diameter was constant along the entire length of the weapon, or if the shaft was thicker at points, and – if yes – how the radius varied along the length of the shaft

Secondly; in some – but not all – images of reconstructed Sarissae or diagrams, the shaft is depicted as being made of two pieces of wood joined together by a metal cylinder; this cylinder can be seen on this image:

modern reconstruction (I presume)

but is absent from these historical images:

from from the Tomb of Agios Athanasios 400BC, that is before Alexander the great

enter image description here I, therefore, want to know if this metal cylinder is historically accurate, if it was always used, and -- if it existed -- where along the length of the pike it was placed and what mass it had.

If at all possible, I would very much prefer if you in your answers either refer to studies, historical documents or archaeological findings.

  • Seems like one would only want the metal sleeve if wood of sufficient length is not available. How long is the weapon? – Aaron Brick Oct 5 '18 at 16:56
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    @AaronBrick 12 cubits, according to Theophrastus. – sempaiscuba Oct 5 '18 at 17:09
  • Another good question is: was there also any sort of metal counter-weight at the non-pointy end? Weapons such as swords usually have a heavy hilt so that their center of mass is close to the point where it is held. This is useful because it's much less tiring to hold such a long object if there are no spurious moments to counterbalance. – Federico Poloni Oct 6 '18 at 11:15
  • @FedericoPoloni Yes. There was a bronze spike. Apparently, that allowed it to be easily driven into the ground when facing cavalry. See Markle's article linked from my answer below. – sempaiscuba Oct 6 '18 at 21:38
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I'm only aware of one surviving iron coupling-sleeve that joined the two halves of the sarissa spear-shaft. The discovery was reported in the 1970 paper Sarissa by Manolis Andronicos in the journal Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique, (vol 94-1 pp. 91-107). The iron sleeve is shown in figure 8:

figure 8

and the measurements that will be of particular interest for you are on page 98:

(fig. 8). Douille en fer. Plus étroite au milieu, elle s'évase aux deux extrémités, présentant ainsi un profil légèrement concave. Elle est de section circulaire à l'intérieur, et polygonale à l'extérieur (à quatorze côtés). Les deux bords de la plaque n'ont pas été parfaitement ajustés, de sorte qu'il subsiste entre eux, du haut en bas, une fente, qui est plus large sur les 3/4 de la longueur. Long. : 0,17 m. Diam. a : 0,028 m., b : 0,032 m. Épaisseur de la paroi a : 0,002/0,003 m., b : 0,003/ 0,005 m.

Google translation:

(fig. 8). Iron socket. Narrower in the middle, it flares at both ends, thus presenting a slightly concave profile. It is of circular section inside, and polygonal on the outside (with fourteen sides). The two edges of the plate have not been perfectly adjusted, so that there is between them, from top to bottom, a slot, which is wider over 3/4 of the length. Long. : 0.17 m. Diam. a: 0.028 m., b: 0.032 m. Wall thickness a: 0.002 / 0.003 m., B: 0.003 / 0.005 m.

(The original paper was written in Greek, but the version linked above is a French translation. I'm not aware of an English version)


The problem with metal artefacts is that they can be readily melted down and re-used, so there is no way to know how often they were used in practice.


Another paper that you might find helpful is The Macedonian Sarissa, Spear, and Related Armor by Minor M. Markle, III, published in the American Journal of Archaeology (Vol. 81, No. 3 (Summer, 1977), pp. 323-339) which is available to read free on JSTOR.

A discussion of the dimensions and weight of a Sarissa (based on 'the well-preserved remains of both a Macedonian spear and sarissa of the late fourth century B.C.") appears on page 324. The diameter seems to be rather less than the 4-6cm in the paper you cite in the question though.

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