A Portuguese Spearhead

Dada a extensão deste artigo, achei por bem publicar as versões inglesa e portuguesa em separado. Para a versão portuguesa, cliquem aqui.

I am delighted to share with you what I hope will be the first of many experimental hoplology experiments: a Portuguese spearhead, researched and designed by yours truly.

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The spearhead, finished and cleaned.

Design Process

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Detail of the painting Martírio de Santo Hipólito by Cristóvão de Figueiredo (ca. 1530)

If you’ll recall, a year ago I shared a post about the spear in Portugal (which you can read here), in which I fleshed out a general typology of Portuguese or Iberian spearheads (ferros or cabeças de lança) used in Portugal between the second half of the 15th century and 1530, at least. In general terms, I found that this typology (which wasn’t the only model of spearhead around; only the most widespread) featured a long spearhead (ca. 30cm), a triangular or diamond-shaped cross-section, a leaf-shaped blade with a solid tip, hollow body and a circular hollow socket, usually 2.5cm to 3cm in diametre and short (ca. 3cm) to medium (up to ca. 10cm) in length. The main (though not the only) sources that helped establish this typology were a 15th century spearhead in Lisbon’s Military Museum  (MML. No. 18/530), the Pastrana tapestries, and the painting Martyrdom of Saint Hippolytus by Cristóvão de Figueiredo (the relevant half of which you can see on the right). This latter representation, in particular, was extremely important in the design process, since it shows every important dimension of the spearhead in relation to other human dimensions, as well as including a multitude of details – including the rivet that attaches the spearhead to the haft.

After taking several measurements from the tapestries, the paintings and archaeological artefacts available to me, as well as comparing my findings with other types of spear on the Peninsula and beyond, I came up with this final design, for the smiths who took on the challenge of creating this piece:

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Final design, with two fundamental dimensions.

As you can see, this design follows the characteristics I have already presented: it is 31.5cm in length, it has a maximum width of 9.3cm, a diamond cross-section with a solid tip, a hollow body up to about two thirds of the blade, a very pronounced central ridge, and a short, hollow socket. The spear depicted in the Martyrdom of Saint Hippolytus was key in choosing some options over others.

Final Results

After consulting with several smiths, and considering the nature of the experiment, I elected to commission the good folk of the Czech company Arma Epona, to whom I’m extremely grateful for their kindness and patience. After sending them all of my sources and details, the manufacturing process took about two months. The result is what you can see here:

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Top view. Notice the well-pronounced central ridge.

All features and dimensions were scrupulously respected. The spearhead is exactly 31.5c in height and 834g in weight – a particularly hefty spearhead, compared to most archaeological specimens. The spear has been polished but retains some forge marks – perfectly in keeping with medieval practices and techniques. It has a sharp edge all around, which makes it a particularly fearsome weapon. Halfway up the socket there’s a hole for placing a rivet.

As an experiment, the result is quite positive, but not yet perfect: the spearhead is perhaps wider than it should be, even compared to the Martyrdom spear. This is completely on me and my measurements – nothing like gauging dimensions with a finished piece in your hand. Still, the estimated dimensions, particularly the socket’s, and the overall shape, appear to have been well calculated and well executed.

Next Steps

Now we have a spearhead that needs hafting, a process which I will tell you all about when it happens. In the meantime, it will be necessary to determine whether the spearhead’s dimensions will need a little bit of adjusting via grinding.  In the future, I plan to commission other spearheads with different typological characteristics, for study purposes – particularly penetration tests.

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