Lance: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The term lance has become a catchall for a variety of different pole weapons based on the spear. The name is derived from lancea, Roman auxiliaries' javelin, although according to the OED, the word may be of Iberian origin.

A lance in the original sense is a light throwing spear, or javelin. The English verb to launch "fling, hurl, throw" is derived from the term (via Old French lancier), as well as the rarer or poetic to lance. The term from the 17th century came to refer specifically to spears not thrown, used for thrusting by heavy cavalry, and especially in jousting. A thrusting spear which is used by infantry is usually referred to as a pike.

The Roman cavalry long thrusting spear was not called lance, but contus (from Greek language kontos, barge-pole). It was usually 3 to 4 m long, and grasped with both hands. It was used by equites contariorum and equites catafractarii, fully armed and armoured cataphracts. Romans weren't the first, though; the first use of the lance in this sense was made by the Sarmatian and Parthian cataphractes from ca. the 3rd century BC, and cavalry long thrusting spear was especially popular among the Hellenistic armies' agema and line cavalry.

Norman cavalry attacks the Anglo-Saxon shield wall at the battle of Hastings as depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry. The lances are held with one-handed over-the-head grip

The use of the basic cavalry spear is so ancient, and warfare so ubiquitous by the beginning of recorded history, that it is difficult to determine which populations invented the lance and which learned it from their enemies or allies.

The best known usage of military lances was that of the full-gallop closed-ranks and usually wedge-shaped charge of a group of knights with underarm-couched lances, against lines of infantry, archery regiments, defensive embankments, and opposition cavalry. It is commonly believed that this became the dominant European cavalry tactic in the 11th century after the development of the cantled saddle and stirrups (The Great Stirrup Controversy), and of rowel spurs (which enabled better control of the mount). Cavalry thus outfitted and deployed had a tremendous collective force in their charge, and could shatter most contemporary infantry lines. Recent evidence has suggested, however, that the lance charge was effective without the benefit of stirrups.[1]

One of the most effective pre-stirrup lanced cavalry units was Alexander the Great's Companion Cavalry, who were successful against both heavy infantry and cavalry units.

The Byzantine cavalry used lance (kontos or kontarion) almost exclusively, often in mixed lancer and mounted archer formations (cursores et defensores). The Byzantines used lance both overarm and underarm, couched.

While it could still be generally classified as a spear, the lance tends to be larger - usually both longer and stouter and thus also considerably heavier, and unsuited for throwing, or for the rapid thrusting, as with an infantry spear. Lances did not have spear tips that (intentionally) broke off or bent, unlike many throwing weapons of the spear/javelin family, and were adapted for mounted combat. They were often equipped with a vamplate, a small circular plate to prevent the hand sliding up the shaft upon impact. Though perhaps most known as one of the foremost military and sporting weapons used by European knights, the use of lances was spread throughout the Old World wherever mounts were available. As a secondary weapon, lancers of the period also bore swords, maces or something else suited to close quarter battle, since the lance was often a one-use-per-engagement weapon; after the initial charge, the weapon was far too long, heavy and slow to be effectively used against opponents in a melee.

Because of the extreme stopping power of a thrusting spear, it quickly became a popular weapon of footmen in the Late Middle Ages. These eventually led to the rise of the longest type of spears ever, the pike. Ironically, this adaptation of the cavalry lance to infantry use was largely tasked with stopping lance-armed cavalry charges. During the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, these weapons, both mounted and unmounted, were so effective that lancers and pike men not only became a staple of every Western army, but also became highly sought-after mercenaries.

A lance tip from the re-enactment of the famous Eglinton Tournament as found in the nearby Lugton Water in 2008.

In Europe, a jousting lance was a variation of the knight's lance which was modified from its original war design. In jousting, the lance tips would usually be blunt, often spread out like a cup or furniture foot, to provide a wider impact surface designed to unseat the opposing rider without spearing him through. The center of the shaft of such lances could be designed to be hollow, in order for it to break on impact, as a further safeguard against impalement. They were often 4 m long or longer, and had special hand guards built into the lance, often tapering for a considerable portion of the weapon's length. These are the versions that can most often be seen at medieval re-enactment festivals. In war, lances were much more like stout spears, long and balanced for one handed use, and with decidedly sharp tips.

The mounted lance saw a renaissance in the 18th century with the demise of the pike; heavily armoured cuirassiers used 2 to 3 m lances as their main weapons. They were usually used for the breakneck charge against the enemy infantry.

The Crimean War saw the most infamous though ultimately unsuccessful use of the lance, the Charge of the Light Brigade.

After the Western introduction of the horse to Native Americans, the Plains Indians also took up the lance, probably independently, as American cavalry of the time were sabre- and pistol-armed, firing forward at full gallop. The natural adaptation of the throwing spear to a stouter thrusting and charging spear appears to be an inevitable evolutionary trend in the military use of the horse, and a rapid one at that.

Volunteer Representative Squadron of City of Poznań in uniforms of 15th Uhlan's Regiment of Poznań from 1939

American cavalry and Canadian North-West Mounted Police used a fine lance as a flagstaff. In 1886, the first official musical ride was performed in Regina, with this fine ceremonial lance playing a significant role in the choreography. The world's oldest continuous Mounted Police unit in the world, being the New South Wales Mounted Police, housed at Redfern Barracks, Sydney, Australia, carries a lance with a navy blue and white pennant in all ceremonial occasions.

During the Boer War, British troops successfully used the lance against the Boers in the first few battles, but the Boers adopted the use of trench warfare, machine guns and long range rifles. The combined effect was devastating, so that British cavalry were remodeled as high mobility infantry units ('dragoons') fighting on foot. It was not until the development of the tank in World War I that mounted attacks were once again possible, but its mechanical technology doomed both the horse cavalry and the lance.

"Lance" is also the name given by some anthropologists to the light flexible javelins (technically, darts) thrown by atlatls (spear-throwing sticks), but these are usually called "atlatl javelins". Some were not much larger than arrows, and were typically feather-fletched like an arrow, and unlike the vast majority of spears and javelins (one exception would be several instances of the many types of ballista bolt, a mechanically-thrown spear). Lance (unit organization): The small unit that surrounded a knight when he went into battle during the 14th and 15th centuries. A lance might have consisted of one or two squires, the knight himself, one to three men-at-arms, and possibly an archer. Lances were often combined under the banner of a higher ranking nobleman to form companies of knights that would act as an ad-hoc unit.


  • Delbrück, Hans. History of the Art of War, originally published in 1920; University of Nebraska Press (reprint), 1990 (trans. J. Renfroe Walter). Volume III: Medieval Warfare.

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

LANCE, a form of spear used by cavalry (see Spear). The use of the lance, dying away on the decay of chivalry and the introduction of pistol-armed cavalry, was revived by the Polish and Cossack cavalry who fought against Charles XII. and Frederick the Great. It was not until Napoleon's time, however, that lancer regiments appeared in any great numbers on European battlefields. The effective use of the weapon - long before called by Montecucculi the "queen of weapons" - by Napoleon's lancers at Waterloo led to its introduction into the British service, and except for a short period after the South African War, in which it was condemned as an anachronism, it has shared, or rather contested, with the sword the premier place amongst cavalry arms. In Great Britain and other countries lances are carried by the front rank of cavalry, except light cavalry, regiments, as well as by lancer regiments. In Germany, since 1889, the whole of the cavalry has been armed with the lance. In Russia, on the other hand, line cavalry being, until recently, considered as a sort of mounted infantry or dragoons, the lance was restricted to the Cossacks, and in Austria it enjoys less favour than in Germany. Altogether there are few questions of armament or military detail more freely disputed, in the present day as in the past, than this of sword versus lance.

The lances used in the British service are of two kinds, those with ash and those with bamboo staves. The latter are much preferred and are generally used, the "male" bamboo being peculiarly tough and elastic. The lance is provided with a sling, through which the trooper passes his right arm when the lance is carried slung, the point of the steel shoe fitting into a bucket attached to the right stirrup. A small "dee" loop is also provided, by which the lance can be attached to the saddle when the trooper dismounts. The small flag is removed on service. The head is of the best steel. The Germans, doubtless owing to difficulty in obtaining bamboos, or ash in large quantity straight enough in the grain over a consider able length, for lance staves, have adopted a stave of steel tubing as well as one of pine (figs. 2, 3 and 4).

As to the question of the relative efficiency of the lance and the sword as the principal arm for cavalry, it is alleged that the former is heavy and fatiguing to carry, conspicuous, and much in the way when reconnoitring in close country, working through woods and the like; that, when unslung ready for the charge, it is awkward to handle, and may be positively dangerous if a horse becomes restive and the rider has to use both hands on the reins; that unless the thrust be delivered at full speed, it is easily parried; and, lastly, that in the mêlée, when the trooper has not room to use his lance, he will be helpless until he either throws it away or slings it, and can draw his sword. While admitting the last-mentioned objection, those who favour the lance contend that success in the first shock of contact is all-important, and that this success the lancer will certainly obtain, owing to his long reach en abling him to deliver a blow before the swordsFi man can retaliate, while, when the melee com mences, the rear rank will come to the assist ance of the front rank.

Further, it is claimed that the power of de livering the first blow gives confidence to the young soldier; that the appearance of a lancer regiment, preceded as it were by a hedge of steel, has an immense moral effect; that in single combat a lancer, with room to turn, can always defeat an oppo nent armed with a sword; and, lastly, that - tang in pursuit a lancer is terrible to an enemy, whether the latter be mounted or on foot. As in the case of the perennial argument whether a sword should be designed mainly for cutting or thrusting, it is unlikely that the dispute as to the merits of the lance over the sword will ever be definitely settled, since so many other factors - horsemanship, the training of the horse, the skill and courage of the advers a r y - determine t h e trooper's success quite as much as the weapon he happens to wield. The following passage from Cavalry: its History and i Tactics (London, 1853), by Captain Nolan, explains how the lance gained popularity in Austria: - "In the last Hungarian w a r (1848-49) the Hungarian Hussars were ... generally successful against the Austrian heavy cavalry - cuirassiers and dragoons; but when they met the Polish Lancers, the finest regiments of light horse in the Austrian service, distinguished for their discipline, good riding, and, above all, for their esprit de corps and gallantry in action, against those the Hungarians were not successful, and at once attributed this to the lances of their opponents. The Austrians then extolled the lance above the sword, and armed all their light cavalry regiments with it." The lancer regiments in the British service are the 5th, the 9th, the 12th, the 16th, the 17th and the 21st. All these were converted at different dates from hussars and light dragoons, the last-named in 1896. The typical lancer uniform is a light-fitting short-skirted tunic with a double-breasted front, called the plastron, of a different colour, a girdle, and a flat-topped lancer "cap," adapted from the Polish czapka (see Uniforms: Naval and Military). The British lancers, with the exception of the 16th, who wear scarlet with blue facings, are clad in blue, the 5th, 9th and 12th having scarlet facings and green, black and red plumes respectively, the 17th (famous as the "death or glory boys" and wearing a skull and crossbones badge)white facings and white plume, and the 21st light-blue facings and plume.


Fig.3. Fi g.4,

Shoe O O ??'?$rnnQ or9np Types Of British And German Lances. Fig. I is the British bamboo lance; figs. 2 and 3 the German steel tubular lance, and fig. 4 the German pine-wood lance. The full length of the German lance is II ft. 9 in., that of the Cossacks 9 ft. io in., that of the Austrian lancers 8 ft. 8 in., and the French lance II ft. The British lance is 9 ft. long. The weight of a lance varies but slightly. The steelstaved lance weighs 4 Ib, the bamboo 41.

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also lance




The surname is derived from a medieval given name Lanzo, short form of names beginning with the Germanic element land "land".


Proper noun




  1. A patronymic surname.
  2. A male given name, pet form of Lancelot or transferred use of the surname; by folk etymology associated with a lance.


  • Anagrams of aceln
  • clean

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