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"Macedonian Pikes" Topic

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LeadLair7623 Oct 2011 6:28 a.m. PST

Were Macedonian pikes decorated or painted in any way?

LEGION 195023 Oct 2011 8:12 a.m. PST

IMHO I would say that they were not. Mike Adams

Personal logo The Nigerian Lead Minister Supporting Member of TMP23 Oct 2011 10:47 a.m. PST

I checked this out a while ago, and I concur with Mike. They were expendable pieces of wood that could and did break in combat just like spears, and thus didn't need to be decorated. When your pike broke, you got another one from the army trains.

Personal logo BigRedBat Sponsoring Member of TMP23 Oct 2011 12:37 p.m. PST

I'm not sure about that line of arguement; there are pictures of apparently-decorated Roman Pila. I wouldn't be at all surprised if bored Macedonian soldiers didn't personalise their sarissae. OTOH there is no evidence for it…


TKindred Supporting Member of TMP23 Oct 2011 6:16 p.m. PST

They are, after all, your minis. I would have no objection to seeing sarissae painted by unit, IE: one unit with red pike shafts, another with yellow, etc.

Caliban24 Oct 2011 12:24 a.m. PST

I remember seeing a large pike block of 48 figs in 28mm with the pike shafts painted in quite a bright cream colour – I think they were Argyraspides. It certainly helped to make them stand out on the battlefield, so maybe do this with the elite units?

kreoseus224 Oct 2011 12:46 a.m. PST

Some of the macedonian equipment had very colourful paint schemes,(shields, body armour , helmets) so perhaps painted pikes would quite plausible and could be a handy way of differentiating units.

French Wargame Holidays24 Oct 2011 3:48 a.m. PST

In my opinion the pike shafts may of been painted or at least coloured.

From what I have read the cornel tree (Cornus mas)(literally spear in Greek)trees were planted very closely in large clumps so it would grow very straight (fighting for the light)and trim the branches as it grows(we do exactly this also on our farm to produce cattle yard rails from stringy bark). A common way to stop the tree growing is to partially ring bark the tree so it dries and dies straight and then shoots suckers from the root system so their is no need to replant the tree, (we do this too our camphor laurel plantation) the dried timber of the cornus mas is medium red to orange in colour, this could be easily waxed with bees wax producing a waterproof red/orange pike.

Timber could also be treated with lime so it would not absorb water. Pigments have traditionally been added to lime coatings according to local availability. Ochers and earths produce warm shades, Oxides produce cool shades and are often used in small quantities with Ochers to expand the range of colors.

So in conclusion the greeks used Ocher lime washes on buildings and in art so why not weapons???? they need to be waterproofed, they would add identity to a unit.

Consequently I paint all of my pikes in my successor and Alexandrian units either red, red brown, white (lime and timber ash), yellows, creams from ochres, blue, light blue and green and black from oxides.

So my pikes can be almost any colour pikes……… no natural brown pikes for me!

of interest

my two cents


Personal logo BigRedBat Sponsoring Member of TMP24 Oct 2011 4:25 a.m. PST

Thanks Matt, very interestng!


Sane Max24 Oct 2011 4:34 a.m. PST

I would say a Pike was going to last longer than a shield, and have seen paintjobs on Wooden Shields from the 3rd Century that are real works of art. I would not blink at decorated pikeshafts.

I WOULD say that the units that did the most fightin' would also do the least paintin' !


Swampster24 Oct 2011 6:04 a.m. PST

The Alexander mosaic seems to show unpainted wood. The pikes in the rear _could_ be slightly red but Alex's spear isn't painted and I'd think if anyone's was painted then his would be.
It isn't contemporary but is generally thought to have been a copy of a Hellenistic original.


Likewise the spears on this painting which is roughly 300 BC are unpainted link


They aren't pikes, but why would pike shafts be painted and these left bare, especially since the men on this painting have various high status features such as the use of purple.

Marcus Brutus24 Oct 2011 6:50 a.m. PST

The beauty of the period is that no one can prove you wrong on this. So go for it if it suits you. Like someone else said here, they are your figures.

JJartist24 Oct 2011 9:31 a.m. PST

The Greeks used olive oil to seal their spear shafts-- and pretty much everything other peice of gear was cleaned with olive oil-- so that would change the appearance of the wood somewhat.

French Wargame Holidays24 Oct 2011 1:33 p.m. PST


Olive oil is a option if mixed with the beeswax perhaps. I know you cannot use olive oil on chopping boards as it goes rancid and moldy under wet conditions, I have used it in french polishing timber but only to help the shellac glide in the early part of the polishing process (as the oil rises to the surface and can be wiped off with the alcohol).

My biggest problem I see with the olive oil method is that the Cornus Mas timber has a high oil content already so adding olive oil may be very messy and the timber would then become tacky and not cure at all.

I must buy some timber and try this out a little experimental archaeology I think is needed.


Swampster24 Oct 2011 2:58 p.m. PST

If the cornus wood already has a high oil content, why would it need oiling to make waterproof?

TKindred Supporting Member of TMP25 Oct 2011 7:26 a.m. PST

Interestingly, olive oil, called "sweet oil" was used by the US Military for preservation of swords and firearms up until WWI. All unit Ordnance Sergeants carried it for troops to use after cleaning their weapons.

Brass, especially, but also bronze and iron were polished with pieces of cloth and a paste made of water and ash from a campfire. I've used this method, and it is easy and fast and gives a VERY bright shine to the surface. It will also remove any light rust from morning dampness, rain, etc.

So it stands to reason that any brightwork could be kept to a high state of shine if commanders enforced the issue.

Just adding a bit to the tangent this discussion is taking.

1815Guy29 Oct 2011 5:14 a.m. PST

Interesting thread, and esp matts post.

I'm a bit out of touch with pike armies, but iirc werent phalangites also able to be deployed as LTS Hypaspists depending on the need and terrain? Im sure Ive read about at least the Argyraspides working in loose formation like this, leaving the pikes in the baggage carts until needed for a set piece battle and carrying a long spear while on the march.

If so I doubt the pikes would be "personal" weapons, as a shield might be (and hence richly decorated), but there might well be some need or preference to distinguish in the baggage train pike park one unit's own set of pikes from those of another unit, in which case paint or stain might be an obvious choice.

Ive done my Corvus pikes in a creamy colour, and they look great. Ive assumed it was sun-bleached wood, but what the heck, it might be a regimental distinction now!!! :o)

I think Corvus pikes are still available from a firm in Leicestershire btw (Coalville or Shepshed iirc) and they are excellent; nice leaf blade tip, correct jointing sleeve in the centre, and accurately shaped counterweight butt-spike. You can also get Javelins and Longthrusters from the same source iirc.

piper90927 Feb 2016 12:02 a.m. PST

Very interesting thread!

I'd add, never underestimate both the often ridiculous compulsion of commanders to distinguish their troops from "those others," or find busy work for idle (perceived) soldiers. "You, there! Go and paint your section's spears, since you have nothing better to do, and report back to me by nightfall!"

TKindred Supporting Member of TMP27 Feb 2016 5:07 a.m. PST


Indeed, the one source of both frustration and nightmares for NCO's throughout history has been spare time for their charges. Anyone who has served as an NCO understands how "resourceful" idle troops can be and how they so easily end up in a situation that "sounded good at the time."

In the modern US Navy some piping and fixtures are left "bright" as in made of polished brass or bronze or even copper, in order to give the lads something to do, IE: polishing the brightwork. In addition, one of the most common sounds aboard ship is that of the needlegun as crewmen chip, grind and sand corrosion on painted surfaces and then repaint them.

I have no doubt that pike heads, butts, shield rimsand anything else left unpainted was in a fairly constant state of being cleaned and polished.

Give the men time to get adequate rest, but otherwise keep them busy when not marching or drilling. Heck, even on campaign there was time for cleaning and maintaining your kit. It wasa darned poor NCO or officer who didn't see to it that his troop's kits as well as bodies were maintained.

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