The Roman thrusting spear or hasta was carried in battle from the ninth century B.C. to the fall of the Western Empire in A.D. 476. This Roman spear was a 6 ½ foot ash pole topped with a 6 inch iron spearhead. For 1200 years the Roman army integrated the Roman spear throughout its formations.
Foundations of the Roman Army (800 B.C. – 315 B.C.) Early Roman warriors used thrusting spears in intra-tribal battles. By 315 B.C. an early Roman infantry overthrew the Etruscan occupation using Greek hoplite tactics carrying spears and shields.
Army of the Roman Republic 315 B.C. – 31 B.C.) With the territorial victories of the Second Punic War, Rome began developing a professional Roman Army. Roman citizens were organized into discliplined mobile units called legions. Each soldier carried a shield, short sword, and two throwing javelins, or pila. The pilum was a heavy offensive weapon featuring a long thin iron shank (neck) and heavy shaft. Around 200 B.C. Roman allied troops were organized to support the legions. The auxilia were comprised of non-Roman citizens used as light infantry, skirmishers, and light calvary support. Auxiliary units were lightly armed with shields and thrusting spears or hasta.
The Imperial Roman Army 31 B.C. – A.D. 284) While Roman legions were invading and capturing new territories, the non citizen auxilia or auxiliary troops were used to occupy conquered Roman provinces such as Judea. In A.D. 212, citizenship was granted to all free-born inhabitants of the Empire. Over time the distinction between the professional Army’s legionary and auxiliary forces declined and disappeared. The Roman Army became a defense force charged with maintaining the Empire’s vast borders in fixed garrisons. The army underwent changes in response to these new needs. In the Roman Empire the auxilariary forces grew to comprise more than 60% of all Roman formations.
Late Roman Army (A.D. 284 – A.D. 476) In the third and fourth centuries, Rome struggled to maintain its vast territories with its salaried and professional army. More allied and mercenary troops were recruited to meet military requirements. Mercenary troops grew to represent the major part of the Empire’s armed forces. Uniformity of structure found in Rome’s earlier military disappeared. Late Roman Empire troops were lightly armed mounted archers and infantry, in units of varying size and quality. The Roman spear or hasta was a primary weapon of light cavalry and infantry units.
The Spear of Longinus. According to New Testament accounts, a Roman soldier pierced the side of Jesus with a spear. Tradition names him Longinus. The spear was most likely a Roman hasta. In the early Church, this spear became a religious relic. By the fourth century, the Byzantine Emperor Constantine the Great gave his mother, Helena, unlimited funds to locate relics of the early Christian Church. From A.D. 426 to 428, Helena traveled to the holy places in Judea. In Jerusalem, Helena oversaw the excavation of a Roman temple built over the Tomb of Jesus. According to tradition, holy relics found included the true cross, the nails of Christ’s crucifixion, and the Spear of Longinus.
- ON THE COVER: The resin reproduction of the Roman spearhead, is on a representation of the discovery of the Spear of Longinus.