Medieval Lance

The lance is a special kind of a very long spear. It is similar to javelin and pike, but unlike those weapons, it was designed to be used by cavalry soldiers. During battles, lances were not thrown on the enemy.

They were used for thrusting, but because of their size and weight, they weren’t suitable to be used repeatedly during one fight.

A lance had a small round plate called a vamplate, which kept the soldier’s hand on the right place during an assault. Lances were a part of the standard equipment of European knights, and they used them in battles and sports activities, such as tournaments.

Vargas Swamp Lancers memorial in Colombia.

The use of the lance

A lance was extremely heavy and long. For that reason, during a battle, a warrior could use it only once. That’s why lancers had other weapons too. Most usually, those were swords, hammers, maces, or axes.

In the middle ages, the Byzantines had formations in which lancers and archers – both on horseback – fought together as a team.  A lance was held horizontally, either overarm or underarm, and Byzantine soldiers used both ways.

Other European peoples preferred underarm-couched lances. They would typically use this weapon in full gallop, against the enemy’s infantry, cavalry, archery, and even embankments.

The couched lance charge was not the same in all European armies. French lancers formed a double line, while the Germans had deeper, wedge-shaped formations.

Further developments

In late middle ages, infantry started to use pikes. A pike was a lance that was adapted to infantry. It was very long – longer than any other type of spears – and soldiers used it to stop lance-armed enemy cavalry. Western armies depended on lancers and pikemen so much, and those skilled soldiers quickly became very popular mercenaries.

The jousting lance was the kind of lance that was used on tournaments, and that is still used at medieval reenactment festivals. Those lances have wide blunt tips. That’s because their purpose is not to hurt the opposite rider but only to unseat him.

Lances fournies

The equipped lance, also known by the French name the lance fournie, had a purpose similar to that of the modern army squad. Those were units that followed and supported knights in battle. A lance fournie was under the command of a captain, and it typically consisted of several types of troops, including light cavalry, infantry, and of course the knight whom they accompanied.


What is the difference between the lance and other types of spears?

Lances were very long and heavy, and only cavalrymen could carry them.

What other types of weapons lancers had with them during battles?

They had swords, hammers, maces, or axes.

What was the name of a medieval army squad that often accompanied and protected a knight?

It was the lance fournie.

What was the jousting lance for?

The jousting lance was designed to prevent people from being hurt during tournaments. It had a blunt tip, and it would be useless in a battle.