The polearm is one of the oldest and most versatile of weapons throughout the ages. The modern definition of a polearm is a weapon with a blade or pointed tip attached to a long shalf. The prehistoric man likely was the first to use a long sharpened stick to slay his dinner or his neighbor.
Rome also developed a very efficient polearm. The pilium (Roman javelin), a very sharp spear, was used effectively against the Celts. The development of this weapon was one of the reasons Rome was successful in conquering a large part of the world.
Various types of this weapon gained prominence in the Medieval and Renaissance eras in Europe and elsewhere. They were a means of dealing with cavalry; the foot soldier’s reach was extended to allow him to attack a mounted opponent while avoiding the blade of the knight’s sword.
The classic models of the European polearms were the pike and the halderb. First appearing in the l4th century, the halderb was a very versatile weapon. It was usually a little over 5 feet long and had a spiked top that was useful for keeping mounted knights at bay. It also had a hook that could be used to pull him from the saddle, and an axe head that could penetrate his armor.
The pike was a simple spear-like weapon that had a metal head attached to a wooden shaft. It came into use in the twelfth century as a defensive weapon again cavalry. The Swiss, however, turned the simple spear into an offensive weapon by employing a phalanx-like infantry formation. From this formation, they were able to use pikes as long as 22 and a half feet. This strategy employing a simple spear allowed them to become the premier fighting force of the fourteenth century.
In other parts of the world, the spear or pike was also widely used. Samurai warriors are most often associated with the sword, but in battle, they were supported by foot soldiers who used the yari (spears). Perhaps the greatest spearmen in history are the Zulu warriors of Southern Africa. Their military units, called impis, were armed with the short assegai spear. They were able to conquer most of the region in the early nineteenth century.
The common soldier was the part of the military that used the polearm. From prehistoric times to today, these are the warriors that shape our world.