Polearm Weapons

Exploring Polearm Weapons

Welcome to an exciting journey through history as we explore one of the most influential types of weaponry – the polearm. Polearms, a category of weapon that may not be as widely recognized as the sword or bow, have nonetheless played a crucial role in human conflict and the evolution of warfare across civilizations.

Polearm weapons, characterized by a blade or striking point mounted on a long shaft, were birthed in a time when reach, flexibility, and the need for formations were becoming paramount on the battlefield. Their length made them ideal for keeping adversaries at bay, offering the wielder a significant advantage in combat. From the spear-wielding phalanxes of Ancient Greece to the formidable Swiss pikemen in the Middle Ages, polearm weapons have repeatedly proven their worth in the theater of war.

In the course of this post, we’ll delve into the history and details of an assortment of polearms such as the spear, pike, halberd, glaive, naginata, guandao, and many others. We’ll also touch on their significance, the tactics associated with them, their presence in popular culture, and their enduring appeal in the modern age.

So, if you’ve ever wondered about the weapon in the hands of a medieval knight in a museum, or the unusual sword wielded by your favorite video game character, read on. We’re about to embark on an exciting exploration into the world of polearm weapons.

The Origin and Evolution of Polearm Weapons

The dawn of polearm weapons can be traced back to our prehistoric ancestors, whose need for survival and hunting led to the creation of the first rudimentary polearms. This took the form of sharpened wooden stakes or stones affixed to sticks, designed to extend the wielder’s reach, enabling them to engage threats from a safer distance.

Over time, these initial inventions transformed into more sophisticated tools of war as humans began to forge metals. One of the earliest and most enduring polearms was the spear. Originating as a simple sharpened stick, it evolved into a weapon with a pointed metal head. The spear became a universal weapon, found in every culture and on every continent, due to its simplicity, versatility, and effectiveness.

The evolution of polearms continued through the centuries, seeing increased specialization and adaptation to specific combat roles and environments. The Bronze Age and Iron Age brought about polearms such as the pike, a very long spear designed for use in massed formations, and the halberd, a multi-purpose weapon combining an axe blade, a spear point, and a hook for dismounting cavalry.

During the Middle Ages, the evolution of polearms reached its peak, driven by the need to penetrate the increasingly sophisticated armor of knights. This era saw the advent of numerous polearms like the glaive, a long blade on a pole, and the voulge, similar to a glaive but with a shorter, sturdier blade for chopping as well as slicing.

Each type of polearm played pivotal roles in many historic battles and significantly influenced the strategies and tactics employed. For instance, the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 saw the effective use of pikes by the Scottish against the English cavalry. Similarly, the Swiss halberdiers’ successful engagements throughout the late Middle Ages illustrated the power and tactical flexibility of these weapons.

Polearms may not be the first weapon that comes to mind when we think of warfare, but their impact on the course of history is undeniably profound. They have shaped not only the outcomes of individual battles but also the evolution of warfare and military tactics across different cultures and eras.

Understanding Polearm Weapons

Polearm weapons encompass a broad category of melee weapons that typically consist of a head or blade mounted on a long shaft or pole. The defining characteristic of a polearm is its reach; by mounting a blade or other offensive feature on a pole, the weapon can engage targets from a distance, providing a strategic advantage in various combat scenarios.

The construction of a polearm varies depending on its type, but a general composition includes a head, a haft, and often a butt end. The head, which carries out the actual damage, can be a blade, a point, a hammer, an axe, or even a combination of these, such as in a halberd. The haft is the pole or staff part of the weapon, giving the polearm its extended reach and acting as a conduit for the force delivered in the weapon’s swing or thrust. The butt end, while sometimes unadorned, can also be weaponized as a secondary striking point or equipped with a ferrule for durability.

Materials used in crafting polearms have changed over the ages, reflecting the overall evolution of weapon-making. Early polearms were made using readily available materials, with hafts often made of wood and heads of sharpened stone or bone. As metalworking techniques developed, bronze, iron, and eventually steel replaced stone and bone for the head of the weapon, offering greater durability, sharpness, and versatility. The shafts or hafts, while typically remaining wooden due to the material’s combination of strength, light weight, and accessibility, have also been made from metals in some instances or reinforced with metal bands.

Polearm weapons are a testament to human ingenuity and adaptability in warfare. Each type of polearm, be it a spear, a pike, a halberd, or a naginata, reflects the tactics, technology, and cultural characteristics of the people who created and used them. The range of polearms developed across cultures and time periods is a fascinating study in the diversity and development of martial technology.

Breakdown of Various Types of Polearm Weapons


  • Description: Spears are one of the oldest and most versatile polearm weapons. They consist of a long shaft with a pointed head, typically made of metal. The head can have different designs, including a simple pointed blade, a leaf-shaped blade, or a triangular shape with two cutting edges.
  • History: Spears have been used since prehistoric times and were prevalent in numerous civilizations, from Ancient Egypt to Classical Greece, Medieval Europe, and beyond. They were favored by infantry due to their simplicity, ease of use, and effectiveness in both thrusting and throwing.
  • Usage: Spears were primarily used for thrusting attacks, allowing soldiers to maintain distance from their adversaries while inflicting significant damage. They were often employed by foot soldiers, phalanxes, and formations where spearmen would create a formidable wall of points against charging enemies.


  • Description: Pikes are long polearm weapons characterized by their extended length. They feature a sharp point at the top, usually made of metal, and a long shaft, often measuring around 10 to 25 feet in length. Pikes were designed for use in massed formations, where soldiers would stand side by side, forming a wall of spears.
  • History: Pikes gained prominence during the late medieval and Renaissance periods, notably used by Swiss mercenaries and later adopted by various European armies. Their effectiveness in repelling cavalry charges made them an essential weapon in the battlefields of the time.
  • Usage: Pikes were primarily used in tight formations, such as the famous Swiss pike squares, where rows of pikemen would lock their weapons together to create a nearly impenetrable barrier. Their long reach allowed them to strike at enemies from a safe distance, making it difficult for cavalry or infantry to break through their defensive line.


  • Description: Halberds are polearms that combine elements of an axe, a hook, and a spear. They feature a pointed or axe-like blade on one side, a hook or spike on the other, and often a smaller protrusion resembling a spearhead on the top. The head is mounted on a long shaft, providing reach and leverage.
  • History: Halberds gained popularity during the late medieval and Renaissance periods and were widely used by European infantry and guards. Their versatility made them effective against both armored and unarmored opponents, allowing soldiers to thrust, chop, and hook with a single weapon.
  • Usage: Halberds were primarily used by infantry as versatile weapons that could be used for thrusting, slashing, or hooking an enemy combatant. They were often employed in formations as well as for guarding important individuals.


  • Description: Glaives are polearm weapons with a curved, single-edged blade mounted on a shaft. The blade has a cutting edge on the concave side and often a hook or point on the opposite side. Glaives have a slightly shorter reach compared to other polearms but offer excellent maneuverability.
  • History: Glaives originated in China and spread to other regions, such as Europe and Southeast Asia. They were used by both infantry and cavalry and saw significant use during the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
  • Usage: Glaives were versatile weapons suitable for both slashing and thrusting attacks. The curve of the blade allowed for more effective cuts, while the hook could be used for disarming or grappling opponents. They were often employed by elite guards, as well as foot soldiers and cavalry.


  • Description: Naginatas are Japanese polearm weapons featuring a curved blade with a single cutting edge on the concave side. The blade is mounted on a long shaft, typically made of wood, with a length ranging from around 4 to 7 feet. Naginatas often have a small guard (tsuba) separating the blade from the shaft.
  • History: Naginatas were prominent during feudal Japan, particularly during the Heian period (794-1185) and through the Sengoku period (1467-1603). Originally used by samurai women for self-defense, they later became standard weapons for foot soldiers and even mounted warriors.
  • Usage: Naginatas were versatile weapons, allowing both cutting and thrusting attacks. They offered an extended reach and were effective against opponents wielding swords due to their ability to keep them at a distance. Naginatas were used in formations, defending against cavalry charges, and were favored by warrior monks and female warriors.


  • Description: The guandao, also known as the yanyuedao or crescent moon blade, is a Chinese polearm characterized by a large, crescent-shaped blade mounted on a long shaft. The blade can vary in size, with the inner curve resembling a crescent moon and the outer edge typically sharpened.
  • History: The guandao originated in ancient China and gained prominence during the Three Kingdoms period (220-280 AD) when it was famously wielded by the general Guan Yu. It continued to be used throughout Chinese history, particularly during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD).
  • Usage: The guandao was a versatile weapon with both cutting and hooking capabilities. Its size and weight made it effective for sweeping strikes and disarming opponents. It was commonly used by infantry and cavalry, and its association with Guan Yu has elevated its status as an iconic weapon in Chinese martial culture.


  • Description: The partisan is a European polearm weapon with a long shaft and a spear-like blade featuring two cutting edges. The blade is typically broader at the base and tapers to a point. The backside of the blade can be either straight or curved.
  • History: The partisan originated in medieval Europe and saw use from the 15th to the 17th century. It was a favored weapon of both infantry and cavalry due to its versatility and effectiveness in close combat.
  • Usage: The partisan was primarily used for thrusting and cutting attacks. Its two cutting edges allowed for versatile strikes, and the length of the weapon provided an extended reach. Partisans were often employed by infantry in formations and were effective against armored opponents due to their piercing capabilities.


  • Description: The bardiche is a polearm weapon that features a large axe blade mounted on a long shaft. The blade is typically elongated, with a single cutting edge and a bearded shape, meaning it has a hook-like protrusion at the base of the blade opposite the cutting edge.
  • History: The bardiche originated in medieval Europe and gained popularity in the 15th and 16th centuries. It was particularly prevalent in Eastern Europe and Russia, where it became associated with infantry forces and became a symbol of military prowess.
  • Usage: The bardiche excelled in delivering powerful, chopping strikes due to its size and weight. It was effective against armored opponents, as its forceful blows could bypass or crush armor. Bardiches were used by infantry soldiers and were often employed as anti-cavalry weapons due to their ability to disable or unhorse mounted adversaries.


  • Description: The bill is a polearm weapon with a hooked blade resembling a combination of a spear and an axe. It consists of a long shaft with a blade that has a pointed tip, a sharpened edge, and a hook or billhook at the back of the blade.
  • History: The bill originated in England during the medieval period and gained popularity from the 14th to the 16th century. It was commonly used by infantry, particularly by English militias and mercenaries, due to its versatility and effectiveness against both armored and unarmored opponents.
  • Usage: The bill was designed for versatile combat, enabling soldiers to thrust, hack, and hook their adversaries. Its pointed tip allowed for effective thrusting attacks, while the hook could be used for disarming, tripping, or entangling opponents. The bill was often employed in formations and was renowned for its ability to counter armored opponents by targeting weak points.

Lochaber Axe

  • Description: The Lochaber axe is a Scottish polearm weapon characterized by its long shaft, a large axe blade, and a spike or point at the back of the blade. The axe head has a curved or concave shape and a cutting edge, while the spike is positioned opposite the cutting edge.
  • History: The Lochaber axe originated in the Highlands of Scotland during the 16th and 17th centuries. It was primarily used by Highland clansmen and became associated with their distinctive warrior culture.
  • Usage: The Lochaber axe was primarily used as a close-quarters weapon, suitable for both cutting and thrusting attacks. The axe blade allowed for powerful chops, while the spike could be used for thrusting or grappling opponents. Its versatility and effectiveness in Highland warfare made it a favored weapon for both offensive and defensive actions.


  • Description: The voulge is a polearm weapon with a long shaft and a blade resembling a large, wide cleaver or sickle. The blade has a single cutting edge and a convex curve, often tapering to a point at the tip.
  • History: The voulge emerged in Europe during the late medieval period and gained popularity in the 14th and 15th centuries. It was used primarily by infantry soldiers and became a common weapon among Swiss and German troops.
  • Usage: The voulge was designed for cutting and slashing attacks, utilizing its curved blade to deliver powerful strikes. It was effective against lightly armored opponents and was often used by infantry soldiers in both open-field battles and castle sieges.


    • Description: The ranseur is a polearm weapon featuring a long shaft with a triangular blade and two flanking prongs or tines. The blade has a central ridge and two cutting edges, while the tines are often spear-shaped or fork-like in appearance.
    • History: The ranseur emerged during the 15th and 16th centuries in Europe and was commonly used by cavalry. It was designed to counter heavily armored opponents by bypassing or trapping their defenses.
    • Usage: The ranseur excelled in thrusting attacks, utilizing its tri-pronged head to pierce or entangle opponents’ armor. The central blade provided additional cutting capabilities. The weapon was mainly employed by cavalry soldiers for dismounting or disabling enemy horsemen and was effective in close-quarters combat.

The Role of Polearm Weapons in Warfare

Polearm weapons have played a significant role in warfare throughout history, offering tactical advantages that have shaped the outcome of battles and influenced military strategies. Understanding their advantages, historical usage, and eventual transition to firearms provides valuable insights into the evolution of warfare.

The tactical advantages of using polearm weapons

  1. Extended Reach: Polearms provide a longer reach compared to most other melee weapons, such as swords or axes. This extended reach allows the wielder to engage enemies from a safer distance, reducing the risk of being counterattacked.
  2. Versatility: Polearms often combine different weapon features, such as blades, hooks, or spikes, into a single weapon. This versatility enables a variety of attack techniques, including thrusting, slashing, hooking, and disarming, making polearms suitable for various combat scenarios.
  3. Formation Tactics: Polearm weapons were well-suited for organized formations, such as phalanxes or pike squares. These formations relied on overlapping or interlocking polearms to create a barrier that could repel charges from cavalry or infantry, creating a formidable defensive line.
  4. Armor Penetration: The design and construction of certain polearm weapons, such as the bill or halberd, allowed for effective strikes against armored opponents. The combination of stabbing, chopping, and hooking actions enabled soldiers to exploit gaps in armor or disable adversaries by targeting weak points.

Famous historical battles and the polearm weapons used

  1. Battle of Agincourt (1415): The English longbowmen and their defensive stakes proved instrumental in repelling the French knights, who were vulnerable to the longbows and the longspears known as “billhooks” used by English infantry.
  2. Battle of Nagashino (1575): In this battle during Japan’s Sengoku period, Oda Nobunaga’s troops employed spears and matchlock firearms to successfully repel cavalry charges led by Takeda Katsuyori. The combination of long spears (yari) and firearms proved effective against mounted warriors.
  3. Battle of Stirling Bridge (1297): Scottish forces led by William Wallace and Andrew Moray used longspears and pikes to great effect against the English cavalry, trapping and overwhelming them in the narrow confines of the bridge crossing.

The shift from polearms to firearms and the reasons behind it

The advent of firearms gradually led to the decline of polearm weapons on the battlefield. Several factors contributed to this shift:

  1. Increasing Firepower: Firearms provided a significant increase in firepower, enabling soldiers to engage enemies from even greater distances and with greater force than polearms.
  2. Simplicity and Ease of Use: Firearms required less training and skill to operate compared to polearms. The relative ease of training and mass production made firearms accessible to larger armies.
  3. Changing Tactics: Firearms offered new tactical possibilities, such as concentrated volleys of fire, which made traditional formations using polearms vulnerable to sustained gunfire.
  4. Technological Advancements: Advancements in firearms technology, such as the development of more reliable ignition systems, rifling, and cartridge ammunition, further improved their effectiveness and reduced the advantages of polearm weapons.

Polearm Weapons in Popular Culture

Polearm weapons have made their mark in popular culture, appearing in various forms of entertainment such as films, TV shows, and video games. These representations often bring polearms to life in exciting and dramatic ways, albeit sometimes deviating from their historical accuracy. Additionally, the influence of polearm weapons can be seen in the realm of fantasy literature and role-playing games, where they have become iconic and integral to the worlds and characters created.

Representation of polearm weapons in films, TV shows, and video games

  1. Films: Polearm weapons frequently appear in historical and fantasy films, portraying epic battles or showcasing martial skills. Examples include the portrayal of spears and pikes in the battle scenes of movies like “Braveheart” or “Gladiator,” and the fantastical glaives in “Krull” or “The Chronicles of Narnia” series.
  2. TV Shows: Polearm weapons are often featured in TV shows that depict medieval or ancient warfare. Shows like “Game of Thrones” prominently display various polearm weapons, including the iconic longspears of the Unsullied or the halberds used by knights.
  3. Video Games: Many video games incorporate polearm weapons as selectable or usable items. Games like the “Total War” series or the “Mount & Blade” series offer players the opportunity to command armies utilizing polearm units. Additionally, role-playing games such as “The Elder Scrolls” series often include a wide array of polearm weapons for players to equip and wield.

Accuracy of representations compared to historical counterparts

While polearm weapons in popular media may capture the essence of their historical counterparts, artistic liberties are often taken for dramatic effect or gameplay mechanics. Design elements, proportions, and functionalities of polearm weapons are sometimes exaggerated, modified, or combined with fictional elements to enhance their visual appeal or utility in the context of the medium.

Influence of polearm weapons on fantasy literature and role-playing games

Polearm weapons have had a significant influence on fantasy literature and role-playing games, shaping the lore, character archetypes, and combat mechanics. Many fantasy novels, such as the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, include polearm weapons as integral components of the weaponry used by various races and cultures. In role-playing games like “Dungeons & Dragons,” polearm weapons often have distinct characteristics, abilities, and fighting styles attributed to them, allowing players to immerse themselves in the world of polearm-wielding characters.

Polearm weapons have become symbols of martial prowess, nobility, and fantastical combat in popular culture, enriching storytelling and gameplay experiences while paying homage to the historical roots and enduring appeal of these formidable weapons.

The Art and Sport of Polearm Weapons Today

Polearm weapons, with their rich history and enduring allure, continue to captivate enthusiasts in the modern era. Today, the art of polearm combat is kept alive through various martial arts disciplines, while sports and reenactment events provide opportunities for individuals to engage in the thrilling experience of wielding these formidable weapons.

Modern martial arts and the use of polearm weapons

  1. Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA): HEMA focuses on reconstructing and practicing historical European martial arts. Many HEMA schools and organizations offer training in polearm techniques based on historical treatises and manuals. Practitioners study and learn the intricacies of various polearm systems, including spear, halberd, and other polearm styles.
  2. Asian Martial Arts: Some traditional martial arts from Asia, such as Japanese Naginatajutsu or Chinese Guandao techniques, continue to be practiced today. These martial arts preserve the techniques, forms, and philosophies associated with polearm combat in their respective cultures.

Sports and reenactment events involving polearm weapons

  1. Historical Reenactment: Reenactment groups and societies organize events that recreate historical battles, allowing participants to engage in combat using historically accurate weapons and equipment. These events often feature polearm weapons, and participants can experience firsthand the tactics and techniques employed by warriors of the past.
  2. Modern Polearm Sports: Some organizations and clubs have developed sportive activities centered around polearm combat. These activities, often inspired by historical forms, offer a competitive platform for practitioners to test their skills in sparring, forms, or simulated battles using safe and padded equipment.

Where interested readers can learn more or get involved

  1. Martial Arts Schools: Seek out martial arts schools or organizations that offer training in historical European martial arts, Asian martial arts, or specific polearm systems. Experienced instructors can guide students through the techniques, footwork, and strategies associated with polearm combat.
  2. Historical Reenactment Groups: Join local historical reenactment groups to immerse yourself in the world of historical battles and weaponry. These groups often have experienced members who can teach you about polearm weapons, their usage, and the historical context.
  3. Online Resources: Utilize online resources, including instructional videos, forums, and websites dedicated to historical martial arts or specific polearm weapons. These platforms can provide valuable insights, training tips, and resources to enhance your knowledge and skills.


Polearm weapons continue to captivate and inspire people today, both as an art form and as a sport. Through modern martial arts practices and the participation in reenactment events, individuals can explore the rich heritage of polearm combat and experience the thrill of wielding these iconic weapons. Whether you are drawn to the historical accuracy, the physicality of combat, or the cultural significance, the world of polearm weapons offers a fascinating journey into the past while providing a vibrant and engaging pursuit in the present.