Pilum (javelin)

A pilum was one of a legionary’s main weapons. It was a javelin, designed to be thrown. After that the soldier fought face to face with his enemy using his sword.

The pilum was about 2.5m long. The lower part was wooden. At the top was a thin metal rod about 50cm long with a sharp point. The metal rod was held in a pyramid-shaped block of wood. At the bottom was a spike, useful for sticking the pilum in the ground.

The pictures to the right show a painting of a legionary holding his pilum, and a reenactor with his modern copy of a pilum.

Pilum problems

Sometimes the enemy picked up the pilum and threw it back at the Romans. To stop this, the Romans made the rod of untempered iron. This means it was weaker, so it bent on impact and it could not be used by the enemy. The tip was tempered so it was hard and very dangerous. You can see a bent pilum rod above.

Another way the pilum was useful was if it got caught in an enemy’s shield. It was hard to get out and so the shield had to be thrown away, making the enemy easier to attack.


Below are some more pictures of pilum rods.