Wednesday, September 20, 2006


For a little while now, my default suggestion when people are being slow, stupid, or ignorant has been to poke them with a stick. Usually I've not go to the stage of actually finding a stick and poking them with it, but the poking people with sticks idea has certainly appeared a lot in my recent dialogues.

This links in with my Dad's theory of weapons development; that all weapons are variations and improvements on the pointy stick [1]. Improvements are usually either to make the stick more pointy (put a metal head on to make it a spear; make it entirely from metal and shoot it out a gun; essentially making it better at putting holes into people) or longer (pike; also shooting it from a distance).

My usual counterpoint is to point out weapon's that are clearly descended from the blunt stick. Today though I'm thinking about people with long pointy sticks; Macedonian Phalangites armed with sarissas (for reasons that regular readers may appreciate, here is Dr Victor Parker holding a replica sarissa).

For a long time I was terribly impressed by the fact that they marched with these enormously long pikes all the way from Macedonia to the Indus valley. Also, although the shafts do grow on trees, a 15 foot straight pole needs either some pretty industrial coppicing, or you're using trees that you'd otherwise want for ships or buildings. And if your shaft breaks while crossing the Hindu Kush, where do you get a spare?

Sadly though, when I finally got around to doing some research I found out that sarissas are made from two shafts, held together with a metal collar. It's just as easy to carry as a standard hoplite spear[2], so marching across most of south west asia becomes merely extraordinary rather than ludicrous. Also, for the hill fighting in Bactria[3] and Sogdiana[4] they were almost certainly rearmed, so once again my visions of men with stupidly long pikes charging hill forts go to show why Alexander the Great was a great general, and I just blog about great generals.

I'm still puzzled about why the Swiss, who's country is filled with mountains, would want to carry enormously long spears around, especially at just the moment when pikes became obsolescent, but until I get around to spending some time looking into it, it'll have to stay a mystery.

[1] In Dad's theory, the primeval weapon.
[2] If any hoplite army actually had standard equipment.
[3] "Northern Afghanistan"-ish
[4] "Ukbekistan"-ish
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