US Park Ranger Jeffrey Edel, Supervisor of Historic Weapons at Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, provides weekly segments from the park’s educational program for the entertainment and enlightenment of Historic City News readers in St. Augustine and St. Johns County.
A Spontoon (or half-pike) is a type of European style lance that came into being alongside the pike. Unlike the pike, which was an extremely long weapon (typically 14 or 15 feet) with a pointed blade, the spontoon measured only 6 or 7 feet in overall length. Generally, this weapon featured a more elaborate head than the typical pike so its function in close combat warfare must have been different. The head of a spontoon often had a pair of smaller blades on each side, giving the weapon the look of a military fork, or a trident.
The spontoon was in wide use by the mid 17th century, and it continued to be used until the mid to late 19th century. The Italians might have been the first to use the spontoon but it was quickly adopted throughout Europe and in its early days, the weapon was used for combat, but as the musket replaced the pike as the primary weapon of the foot soldier, the spontoon became more of a symbolic item being used as a symbol of rank and as a signaling device. Non-commissioned officers carried the spontoon as a symbol of their rank and used it like a mace, in order to issue battlefield commands to their men. Commissioned officers carried and commanded with swords, although some English officers used spontoons.
The spontoon was one of the only pole weapons that stayed in use long enough to make it into American history. As late as the 1890s the spontoon could still be seen accompanying marching soldiers. Lewis and Clark brought spontoons on their expedition with the Corps of Discovery. The weapons came in handy as backup arms when the Corps traveled through areas populated by bears.
U. S. Park Ranger
Historic Weapons Supervisor
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer