Menavlatoi and menavlion,
(A greek reader speculated that this may mean literally "short-job" or "short-work"… which may have all sorts of double meanings)
A summary of what I know or think; arguments invited.
I reviewed Phokas (Sowing the teeth of the Dragon) and went through the facts... that it was heavy – as thick as you can hold comfortably and securely (which to my medium large hands is 2 inch diameter, thicker at the base) , with a long metal point in the 20-25 inch range with another 5-7 foot shaft so possibly in the 7-10 foot range total… I think 8-9 feet total is good. One of the published articles seemed to argue for an ancient roman-style sword & philium soldier, one seemed to suggest it was something along the lines of a polearm and perhaps something like a boar spear.
(I looked at info from
and also McGreer,
Infantry versus cavalry: the Byzantine response, REB 46 1988 pp 135-45
Menaulion-menaulatoi, Diptycha, 4, 1986-8 pp 53-57.)
Also, that the shaft should perhaps be not from hewn lumber, but from a complete sapling… perhaps with the implication that it should still be somewhat green. This would certainly be springier than a shaft cut from a hewn oak tree, which may be critical if the planted spear is taking the weight of a moving dying warhorse.
The menavlatoi story seems extraordinary and well worth telling in a living history setting. The role of the menavlatoi is that of elite light infantry, armed with the short spear and a slightly smaller shield. The roles include (in the early 10th C. ) running out many yards in front of the infantry to attack heavy cavalry, especially by gutting the horses and then killing the riders as they fell. (A contemporary source was quoted who assured us that it looked lunatic but worked marvelously. ) It sure would be courageous. Possibly, it worked best as a surprise tactic, such as if the cavalry was approaching to fire missiles rather than to charge home, thinking it was out of range of any danger save for the odd arrow, and the menavlatoi changed the agenda with a spirited shock attack. (Presumably the heavy infantry would start advancing to cover the menavlatoi and drive back the enemy who would otherwise cut down the menavlatoi as they tried to disengage)
Later the role was to reinforce – at the last moment- the line of heavy infantry but not from the rear, but as the front rank. Presumably, the longer spears of the heavy infantry would partially cover the menavlatoi.
Another role was to plug any normal gaps between formations and stop incursions of cavalry, and also to plug potentially catastrophic gaps forced by the enemy; another was skirmishing.
All roles for only the best most independent self-possessed, self-motivated, fit and mobile, highly trained professionals. All NCO material, at least.
Having reviewed the evidence, I personally feel the menavlion is a sort of polearm, (not to be thrown). When I was reading the requirements I envisioned something like a hunting spear, with a long blade and a smaller set of flanges that perhaps hooked back, so that a missed thrust might still serve to hook and dismount a rider. I thought that partisans, glaives, voguls and ranseurs and others might be along the right path. As I researched the various shapes, I noted that several seemed to originate from around 1000CE, and primarily as an infantryman’s anti-cavalry tool. Thus these seem entirely in the spirit of the menavlion. However, I think that if the menavlion was something like an axe on a stick that would have been mentioned. So if I think of it as something like a partisan, it would be a very simple partisan that is mostly just a long slightly wide spear blade with some small wings.
I looked at the iconography and found some interesting items.
First, a couple of fellows sitting around on a silver plate
holding what seem to be heavy 7 foot long spears with an interesting blade that
looks a bit like a stylized skinny Christmas tree…. Mostly a thrusting blade
but would be nasty if swung at or raked across any target not heavily protected,
like a human face or equine nose. They
are wearing sandals and have bare legs, so probably they are infantry…
infantry with smallish shields.
I attached an interesting set of hunting spear illustrations. (Photos/menvalion) One (gladiators with tiger) seems to have a fairly simple spearhead that is fairly long – 12 inches at least on a modestly heavy pole that may be 1.5 inches diameter. Since they are gladiators, the cross bar may be an intentional 'sporting chance" omission.
The bas-relief one seems to show a perhaps 2 inch diameter pole with a simple triangular head.
The mosaic with boar is most interesting. It shows a venabulum as a stout 6-7 foot pole that seems to taper from very thick in the back ( 2.5 inches?) to 2 to about 1.5 inches in the handling area. The blade is a wide triangle that narrows, and is followed by a curved hook back blade that will also serve to keep the animal from running up the shaft.
I illustrated this venabulum point, and a speculative menavlion war variant that is longer, say 20-26 inches as called for in the documentation, and also pointier, as would be appropriate against a potentially leather or mail armored warhorse or warrior instead of an unarmored boar. for war use.. given the larger size and reach of the target, I think the overall length would be a bit longer than the 6-7 foot used for boar hunting… but not by much so I'm still thinking in the 8 or at most 9 foot length. (since this does not seem to be a close formation unit, the length may be customized to the man's height)