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Lance vs Spear: Whats the Difference?

In medieval times there were a lot of different weapons used on the battlefield, and from today`s perspective, it can be hard to define how a certain weapon was used. Who used them? Foot soldiers, cavalry, or siege crews? What weapon was best suited for what situation? And what set them apart? I wanted to take a glance at this topic and pay special attention to lances and spears.

So, what is the difference between a lance and a spear? A lance is a heavy pole weapon dominantly used by cavalry. A spear is also a pole weapon, but lighter and used both by the infantry and cavalry.

Lances and spears had their use on the battlefield and were not that similar weapons. Different strategies and situations demanded different approaches. We have a lot of facts to cover in this article to fully understand the differences, so stay with me!

Defining The Lance And Spear

A whole group of weapons is called pole weapons, and lance and spear are amongst them. Every weapon from that group has its purpose and way to be utilized the best.

  • A lance is a heavy wielding weapon utilized by the cavalry. The shortest lance was used in the Byzantine empire, and it was around 2.5 meters long. On the west, it was even longer.
  • Lance is a thrusting weapon and it uses the speed of the horse to make the impact strike. It was too robust to be used by infantry, or as a stabbing weapon.

On the battlefield, the cavalrymen made one strike with it and then continued to fight with other melee weapons, like swords, maces, or axes. It was also used as a throwing weapon, but not that often.

Cavalry armed with lances were called lancers, and they used their sheer power to produce a powerful charge that would result in a lot of dead enemies.

Pikes were the first weapon massively used by the infantry and utilized against the lancers. Pikes were long enough to stop lancers in their charge before they would use their lance.

The spear is one of the first weapons that humans made. In the beginning, it was used for hunting, but later it was added to the military arsenal as one of the main weapons.

  • A spear can be defined in more ways. Some spears could be used as throwing weapons, or as a stabbing weapons. Shorter versions are known as javelins and they are throwing weapons, either used by the infantry or the cavalry.
  • Most spears were usable by both infantry and horsed soldiers because they weren`t that long and heavy like a lance. In Ancient Greece, some soldiers exclusively used the spear, called Hoplites.
  • They were often seen using the phalanx formation that allowed them to fight off a larger number of enemy soldiers. They used the spear as a stabbing and a throwing weapon.

Roman legionaries were also armed with a spear called pilum. Romans later used spears more as an anti-cavalry weapon as it was long enough to hit the rider.

In the medieval period, a spear was often used. It needed only a small amount of steel for the head, it was cheap to produce. It was widely used by the infantry and the cavalry. In this period the spears were made between 1,8 and 2,4 meters long.

Both the spear and the lance were deemed useless with the development of gunpowder weapons. They were still kept in limited service until the late 19th century.

Spear Lance
Used by Infantry and cavalry Cavalry
Used as Throwing and stabbing weapon Thrusting and rarely throwing weapon
Length Between 1.8 and 2.4 meters At least 2.5 meters

FAQ About Lance And A Spear

Are lance and a spear the same?

Lance is in the same weapon type as the spear. They are both pole weapons, and sometimes lance is considered to be a type of spear. They are not the same because their use on the battlefield was quite different.

Lance was dominantly used by the cavalry, while a spear was used by both infantry and cavalry. The difference is also in the use – while a lance was usually used by the cavalry, the spear was often used against the horseback soldiers.

What is the difference between a javelin, spear, and lance?

A javelin is a light spear, predominantly used as a throwing weapon. It was used in cavalry and infantry. A lance was used by cavalry as a thrusting weapon.

A regular spear saw wide use in different ways – from the ground or a horse, it could be used as a stabbing weapon or a throwing one. The main thing to know is that all these weapons have their unique way of use, and a soldier should know when to use a lance, a spear, or a javelin.

What is the difference between a lance and a pike?

A pike is a type of spear that was made to counter the strong cavalry charges. They were long, and their main purpose was to stop the horseman in their charge against infantry that didn`t have adequate weapons to counter their attacks.

Pike was the first highly effective anti-cavalry weapon. A lance on the other hand was made with the purpose to produce those powerful charges against either infantry or enemy cavalry.


When on the battlefield, soldiers needed to know what weapon was the best for a certain situation, and what was the best way to use it. That could be a line between life and death. Now today, we don`t have those things to think about, but knowing and learning about the past and its weapons can be interesting.

I tried to start this wide topic with an interesting article that a lot of you, hopefully, found interesting and educational. If you agree, I will continue with similar topics in the future.

James Smith

James is a passionate explorer and the creative mind behind, a platform dedicated to unraveling captivating distinctions. With an insatiable curiosity, he uncovers hidden nuances in various aspects of life, from cultural traditions to scientific phenomena. James believes that appreciating differences fosters personal growth and societal empathy.