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The spear together with the sword, the longsax and the shield was the main equipment of the Germanic warriors during the Migration period and the Early Middle Ages.



The pre-migration term reported by Tacitus is framea, who identifies it as "hasta"; The main native term for "javelin, spear" was Old High German gêr, Old English gâr, Old Norse geirr,gais apparently from Proto-Germanic *gaizo-[1], although the older form of the English word "spear" (Old English spere) was also used as where its cognates such as the Old Frisian sper and the Old High German speer[2]. Spear in origin also denoted a throwing spear or lance (hasta).

Gaesus (plural: gaesum)[3] [4] was the term for the lance of the Gauls called in Greek γαῖσον. The Celtic word is found e.g. in the name of the Gaesatae. Old Irish has gae "spear"[5]. Proto-Germanic *gaizo would derive from PIE *ghai-.


The word kêr or gêr is attested since the 8th century (Hildebrandslied 37, Heliand 3089).

Gar and cognates is a frequent element in Germanic names, male Hrothgar, Holger, Ansgar, Gernot, Rüdiger, Gerhart, Gerald, female Gertrut, Gerlint.

The term survives into Modern German as Ger or Gehr (Grimm 1854) with a generalized meaning of "gusset" besides "spear". In contemporary German, the word is used exclusively in antiquated or poetic context, and a feminine Gehre is used in the sense of "gusset".


Tacitus (Germania 6) describes the equipment of the Germanic warrior as follows:

Even iron is not plentiful with them, as we infer from the character of their weapons. But few use swords or long lances. They carry a spear [hasta] (framea is their name for it), with a narrow and short head, but so sharp and easy to wield that the same weapon serves, according to circumstances, for close or distant conflict. As for the horse-soldier, he is satisfied with a shield and spear; the foot-soldiers also scatter showers of missiles each man having several and hurling them to an immense distance, and being naked or lightly clad with a little cloak.

The term is also used by Eucherius, Gregory of Tours and Isidore. By the time of Isidore (7th century), framea referred to a sword, not a spear. Since Tacitus himself reports that the word is natively Germanic, various Germanic etymologies of a Proto-Germanic *framja, *framjō or similar have been suggested, but remain speculative. Must (1958) suggests *þramja, cognate to Old Norse þremjar "edges, sword blades", Old Saxon thrumi "point of a spear".

Anglo-Saxon gar rune

This article contains runic characters. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of runes.
Name Proto-Germanic Anglo-Saxon
*Geƀō Gyfu; Gar
"gift" "gift"; "spear"
Shape Elder Futhark Futhorc
Runic letter gebo.svg Runic letter gebo.svg Rune-Gar.png
ᚷ ᚸ
U+16B7 U+16B8
Transliteration g ȝ; g
Transcription g ȝ, g; g
IPA [ɣ] [g], [ɣ], [ʎ], [j]; [g]
Position in rune-row 7 7; 33

Gar "spear" is also the name of , a rune of the late Anglo-Saxon futhorc. It is not attested epigraphically, and first appears in 11th century manuscript tradition. Phonetically, gar represents the /g/ sound. It is a modification of the plain gyfu rune .

Old English gâr means "spear", but the name of the rune likely echoes the rune names ger, ear, ior: due to palatalization in Old English, the original g rune (gyfu) could express either /j/ or /g/ (see yogh). The ger unambiguously expressed /j/, and the newly introduced gar rune had the purpose of unambiguously expressing /g/.

Gar is the 33rd and final rune in the row as given in Cotton Domitian A.ix.


  • Gustav Must, "The Origin of framea", Language, Vol. 34, No. 3 (Jul. - Sep., 1958), pp. 364-366.
  • Mark Harrison and Gerry Embleton, Osprey Warrior 005 - Anglo-Saxon Thegn 449-1066 AD [1] [2]

See also

External links


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