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The True Workhorse of the Sahel

 October 8, 2023    

If you were going to die in martial conflict in the Sahel, chances are it wouldn't be by the sword. Rather it would be one of weapons pictured below. The humble spear.

This particular example is a large cavalry lance from the border regions of Cameroon and Nigeria, but be it a lance or a footman's spear, this simple weapon armed the majority of Sahel combatants. In combination with the power of a mount, be that a horse or in the case of many Tuareg, a camel, this was an unstoppable weapon capable of overcoming even the iron cuirasses of Bornu or maille.

The mounted cavalry were the true power in the region and the ability to field costly mounts, which were difficult to maintain in the climate, was a battle winner. Still, the killing stroke came more often than not from the lance rather than the highly prized swords. This was a thrusting weapon and the tips were often designed to pierce armor. This one exhibits those characteristics with a very acute point, but a heft rib leading into it, form a four sided shape. This is built to withstand the shock of a charge and thrust.

While there are a multitude of regional differences the basic pattern remained the same. A strong blade, often with a central rib, a thick base and socket. Often the socket was a simple compression fit. Wood warped easily in the conditions of the Sahel and hafts needed replacing. An iron foot or counterweight was common.

As with most weapons geometric line decoration was common. This one has a nicely worked base. The whole piece is an excellent example of local smith craft. Sadly I have not focused on collecting these, but happily buy examples when they become available. These are relatively unstudied with little literature available to distinguish them accurately by region. The are also damn hard to ship when the shaft is intact, meaning I have sadly had to pass over quite a few interesting examples in foreign auctions.

While I am as fascinated as most people with the sword and its noble connotations and lofty status, I think everyone should remember that across the Sahel and indeed much of the world, kingdoms were won and lost by the spear.