Spears: One Handed

The other week I saw a photo of a model of an ancient warrior holding a spear.
A familiar image but this time something about it got me thinking. I don’t have the particular picture but the drawing below shows the same pose in the left figure.
What occurred to me was this.
Why is the warrior holding the spear in the middle?
Why carry a spear eight or nine feet long and only use four foot of its reach?
Some of you will have said “for balance” and I will deal with that in a moment.
Note that when the fighter holds his spear single handed in this way about a metre projects behind him.
Ancient warriors often fought in close formations so the length of spear behind a warrior is going to be a hindrance to the rank behind.
Often the butt of a spear was fitted with a spike such as the “sauroter” (lizard killer) used on some Greek spears and this would prove a real hazard to the ranks behind.
My favourite way to use a fighting staff is for my rear hand to grip it about a foot from the butt.
This gives me a length of material below my hand to defend or attack with which is not so long that it cannot be moved past my torso in certain movements.
Since the staff is a long homogenous cylinder this grip point is nowhere near the balance point.
The staff is mainly used two-handed but some moves just use the rear hand.
This is practical because when I make such moves the bottom part of the staff presses up against my forearm above, counterbalancing the greater length of the forward part.
I don’t know any ancient spearman, but I do have a friend who was a pikeman in English Civil War re-enactments.
I ran some ideas past him.
One thing I learnt was the balance point of a Civil War era 16 foot pike was a third of the way up from the butt. Grasping at this point it should be possible to hold the pike single-handed at chin level.
Given how pikes were used, it is logical their balance point should be more towards the user.
My friend also observed that my five foot fighting staff was actually heavier than many longer spears. He also observed that pikes and indeed many spears had their shafts tapered towards the head.
Unless the head fitted was very heavy, tapering a spear shaft would shift its balance point rearward.
We know that some spears such as those of the Persians were fitted with counterweights at the butt. Fittings such as the sauroter may have had an additional role in adjusting the spear’s balance.
There are therefore a number of techniques a spear maker could use to construct a spear that could be wielded while gripped closer to the butt end.
In Cowper’s book “The Art of Attack” he mentions spears with a swelling or other arrest near their butt and describes that these were so the spear was not lost when darted through the hand to provide more reach.
It is obvious from this statement that spears were sometimes gripped below their middle.
Gripping a spear about a cubit from its butt would give more reach and allow comrades behind to fight with less hindrance and hazard.
Rearward ranks could also move closer to the forward ranks so be able to offer more support to the forward warriors.
This source, and “Hunting Weapons” p.97 by Howard Blackmore confirms that lances and spears for “pig-sticking” were held either at the end, or two-thirds down from the point.
“The Oriental form of lance, used for sport or war, varied in length from 6-10 ft. The shaft of male bamboo was often decorated with lacquer, brocade, or silver and gilt, and was noticeable for its heavy metal butt which had a ball pommel ending in a spike. This acted as a counterweight when the lance was held well back towards the butt to give the maximum reach. The point was usually a small triangular or leaf-shaped blade…
European pig spears were rarely decorated and were fitted with much simpler types of blades and butts. There were, in the main, two sizes or types of spears.
The long spear was from 7-8 feet long and weighed about 2-3 lb. It was used ‘underhand’, grasped about two-thirds of the way back from the point, with the knuckles turned downwards and the thumb pointing along the shaft. In this fashion, with the arm hanging loosely at full stretch there was free play for the wrist, elbow, and shoulder. The boar was also kept at a safe distance and the whole impetus of man and horse came behind the thrust. The disadvantage of the long spear, like that of the lance, was its unwieldiness amongst bushes, trees, and long grass.
These snags were avoided by the short spear, which had a stouter shaft, 6½ ft. long, with a lead weight on the butt. This was used ‘overhand’. Grasped near the butt end, with the knuckles to the front and the thumb upwards, it was wielded from the elbow and plunged downwards through the back of the boar in a deadly, perpendicular stroke.”
“p.100: Roman mosaics in the British Museum show horsemen with short spears with leaf-like or arrow-shaped blades, either using them as a stabbing weapon held 'overhand' near the butt, or throwing them like darts.”
Here is a video on the single handed use of spears.