Stephen Wyley

A spear butt or shoe was a metal ferrule which was attached to the base of a spear shaft, which could have been used for a number of purposes such as: to counter balance the weight of the head; or to make it easier to stick into the ground; and in one source it is suggested that it even could have been used as a substitute weapon.

Figure 1: Examples of the Greek 'Sauroter'.

The spear butt has been used since Ancient times. The Greek term for a spear butt was a 'sauroter' which was proportional to the length of the head of the spear but was normally shorter (see Figure 1). An extant conical spear butt from Sardis (Turkey ?) from the 6th century B.C. was made from a sheet of iron, it had a length of 7.7cm and a diameter at the aperture for the shaft of 1.5cm (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Spear butt from Sardis.

The design of the spear butt which appears the most often is a cone which would have been shaped from sheet metal. The only other different spear butt design from the Medieval period is from a late 10th - early 11th century Muslim ship wreck[1]. This supposed spear butt appears to have a central spike flanked by two smaller lobes and the base consists of a ring surrounding the base which I suspect was used to attach to to the shaft (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Spear butt (?) from Muslim shipwreck.

So far I have only found one example of a spear butt from Medieval Europe, it's from a 9th century warriors grave in a pagan cemetery at Kilmainhan-Islandbridge outside Dublin. The spear butt is the typical conical design and is approximately 10cm long and 2cm wide at the aperture for the spear (see Figure 4).

Figure 4: The spear butt from Kilmainhan-Islandbridge outside Dublin

In conclusion, the most often used design for a spear butt was a conical shape and proportionally shorter than the head. I have not discovered the weight of the extant examples or if there are any other examples of other design in Europe. That will take further research, if anyone has any further information could you please contact me.

[1] Nicolle fails to note any further information about this Muslim shipwreck.

Graham-Campbell, James The Viking World, 1980.
Nicolle, David Saladin and the Saracens, 1987.
Tarssuk, Leonid & Blaid Claude The Complete Encyclopedia of Armour and Weapons, 1982.
Waldbaum, Jane C Metalwork from Sardis, 1983.

Copyright of the above article belongs to the author. Please direct all correspondance regarding this article to the author 24 Sept 1996